Monday, July 1, 2013

Goodbye, Hello

These are the first pictures I have of my library.

I took them after my interview, about 15 minutes after I was offered the job. I'd gone out to my car, grabbed my camera, and asked if I could be let back in to take a few pictures. 

A couple weeks ago, I said goodbye to my library. 

I thought a lot about whether to think of it and describe it as saying goodbye to "the" library or "my" library--because these are the things you think about as you are saying goodbye to an empty room. I settled on calling it "my library" because what I was saying goodbye to was not that empty room, but to the time I've spent there, and the people I've spent it with. 

About a week before I packed up my office, a recent graduate contacted me to ask for some book recommendations. After suggesting some titles and authors, he said, "Thanks. I told my mom I was going to call my librarian."

No past tense. No definite (or indefinite) article. My librarian.

My library continues to exist, just as I hope my students always think of me as their librarian.

The past six years in the library--and the experiences my students have had there--have been guided by my principles and philosophy of education and librarianship. And this philosophy has been shaped and influenced by thinkers and writers inside and outside of school libraries.

With that in mind, and as I look towards the next phase of my career as an educator, I have created a new blog in order to share the ideas, articles, videos, and conversations that inspire me and shape my thinking about the future of education: When I Run the School

Please check out my first post, and share some of what inspires you. 

Because in reality I don't think of the library I said goodbye to as "my" library--I think of it as "our" library, belonging to students and teachers who shared that space with me. And they shared more than the space--they shared ideas, they shared passions, they shared frustrations, and they shared their hopes. 

Education is not an individual pursuit. Our education, throughout our lives, is shaped by the people we interact with, and the ideas that inspire them. It is what we all bring to this conversation that will shape the future. I look forward to continuing the conversation. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

On Sisyphus and Shoes

When I first started working here the default password for most library accounts was set to "sisyphus." In retrospect, that maybe should have been a red flag. But it was my first librarian job, the library was newly renovated, and I was so excited to jump in and get started that I looked right past that and started digging through boxes and making plans.

Six years later, as I look back on what I've accomplished here, I get it. There have been times when I've felt like I was pushing a boulder up a hill--and there have been times when I've felt like I've been crushed by the boulder rolling back down the hill and right over me. But as I look back I'm kind of amazed and overwhelmed by how far up the hill I've managed to get this boulder.

There are tangible successes (the average age of my collection went from 1984 to 1996), and far more intangible successes. The other day I was watching a group of students in an Improv class do their final performance, and one of the games they played was "World's Worst" (the audience suggests job titles, and the performers do their interpretation of what the "world's worst ___________" would be like). Curious to see what they would come up with, I called out, "librarian." Afterwards, a student came up to me and said, "I couldn't think of anything. How do you be a bad librarian?"

I have dozens of stories like that to carry with me (seriously, I keep them in a file for when I need cheering up), and as proud as I am of the program I've built and the lessons I've taught, what I'm proudest of are the relationships I've built with students and teachers. Knowing that students leave this school with a positive impression of librarians and libraries is one of the greatest things I've ever accomplished.

When I first started to tell people I was planning on leaving my position and going back to school next year, several people said, "they're never going to be able to fill your shoes." To which I would reply with the line often attributed to Charles De Gaulle: "The graveyards are full of indispensable men." I do appreciate the sentiment more deeply than I can express, but I also believe that everyone is replaceable. No, the new librarian will not be like me. Which is fine. Good, even. I will know that the library is truly an integral part of the school if someone else can step in, take over, and keep it moving forward.

I've been asked what I want to see continue after I'm gone. What I most want to continue is not a specific program or unit (though I hope many of them keep happening and continue to get better), but the feeling faculty and students have about the library--that it's a place you can come with all kinds of questions and ideas and find support and encouragement. I know many people are capable of doing that, but it's not something I know how to write in a manual. But I also know it's something I didn't do on my own, and that that feeling will persist long after I'm gone. I will know I've been successful if faculty and students don't just feel this way about me and our library, but about all libraries and librarians.

But I do worry about that sometimes. How much of the success of my program is built on what I do, and how much is built on who I am--the personal connections I make with faculty and students? As much as I believe that you can't build a program on a personality, I know that in no small part what I do is successful because of who I am. What becomes of a program that has a specific personality as its cornerstone? It will take time for the new librarian to build the same relationships and connections, but it is possible. The foundation is made of a solid philosophy of librarianship that I believe will endure.

I also know that the colleagues I'm leaving behind are interested in building those relationships with a new librarian, because they are the same colleagues who welcomed me and helped me build this program. I want to thank them for so many things: for sharing their good ideas with me, and letting me jump on board; for jumping on board when I shared my (good and. . . less good) ideas with them; for pushing back, as it helped me refine what I believe in and what I think is important; for being so passionate about what they do, and sharing that passion with me; for laughing with me--and laughing at me when I needed it.

I'm going to miss working with them. All of them. Really.

The thing I'm struggling with most about being a full-time student next year is that I won't be working with students on a day-to-day basis. I didn't really realize how important that is to me until I was faced with not having that as part of my day. Realizing that has been a valuable confirmation that I am in exactly the right line of work for me--and also made saying goodbye to students at yesterday's graduation particularly difficult.

As anxious (and overwhelmed and excited and nervous) as I am about this next step, I am eager to take the philosophy of education I've developed while working as a school librarian and think about how to apply it to schools as a whole.

I know I haven't written much this year. It has been, as you might imagine, a tumultuous year, and so much of what I've been thinking about has been hard to put into words. I have struggled with writing this post, because I want the people I work with to know how truly important they've been to me, and I want people reading this from afar to know how truly incredible the people I work with are.

I think work that you're passionate about always feels a bit like pushing a boulder up a mountain, and I am so, so grateful to have had so many people pushing this boulder with me. I couldn't have done it without you.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Relentless Optimism at CIL

I was so honored to be a part of Tuesday night's Innovative and Awesome Tech panel at Computers in Libraries. It was a total blast. My Relentless Optimism slides are below (they might not make much sense without me speaking along with them, but I think they're still fun).

I've also written about Relentless Optimism on my blog before. And if you're interested in learning more about how we're wired for optimism, I highly recommend The Science of Optimism by Tali Sharot.

Learning 2.0 and 23 Things in Schools

On Monday I was lucky enough to present with Polly Farrington and Sarah Ludwig on "Learning 2.0 and 23 Things in Schools" at the Internet @ Schools track at Computers in Libraries. My slides are below:

You can also check out the 14 Things to Tame blog I used at my school.

And, of course, here's the video about the symptoms (and cure for) TADIS:

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dear GoogleReader: It's not you, it's me

When Google announced that they'd be phasing out iGoogle (for which they gave 16 months notice), I moved several of the feeds I had on my iGoogle homepage over to GoogleReader.

In hindsight, this does not seem like the smartest move ever.

I know this isn't the type of thing I usually write about here (though I'm not sure I could actually define what I "usually" write about), but GoogleReader has been incredibly important to how I gathered information for so long--and the information I found there was very influential for me as I started my career as a school librarian.

I am probably not what you would call a "power user" of GoogleReader, but I loved my GoogleReader. However, the past tense of "love" in the preceding sentence is not preemptive. For the past several months I find myself more and more often going into GoogleReader and Marking All As Read on a lot of my feeds (and on the same feeds over and over again, but I can't bring myself to delete them because I am that kind of crazy). Or marking posts as "Keep Unread", telling myself I'll go back later when I have more time. And, as I'm sure you've already guessed, I very rarely do.

It's not because I no longer find the information there useful or meaningful. Oftentimes by the time I get to the posts in my Reader, I've already seen and read it on Twitter or Facebook or through Diigo groups or through my paper, or through a variety of other sources. And here's the thing I love about all those other sources--I often find things I never would have discovered if I was just relying on my GoogleReader. The sense of discovery and serendipity I felt when I first started gathering feeds for my GoogleReader (including blogs that helped me discover new feeds) is a constant with these other sources. My GoogleReader--in large part due to my own neglect--has grown stagnant.

The timing of the GoogleReader shutdown is also significant for me. As some of you know, I'll be leaving my current position at the end of the school year, and enrolling in a graduate program in Independent School Leadership in the fall. The types of information and resources I'm going to be looking at and for are going to be changing (though there is definitely overlap)--it seems appropriate that the tools I use to gather that information will be changing as well. I move out of my on-campus apartment on June 30th; GoogleReader closes on July 1st. This is, obviously, simply a coincidence. But I'm going to attach significance to it anyway.

I don't know what I'll move to, and I'm still deciding what exactly I'm looking for as I pick a new service. I'm not ready to jump feet first into something new, and I certainly don't want to simply transfer a bunch of unread feeds to a new service. And I'll keep using GoogleReader until the end of the school year--there are still feeds there that I rely on for ideas and information. But rather than bemoaning the loss of my once-beloved GoogleReader, I've decided to take this as an opportunity to reflect on what kinds of information I'm looking for, and to create a system for myself that incorporates the sense of serendipity I love about the other tools I use to gather ideas.

Monday, March 11, 2013

CASL/CLC Conference Presentation: 14 Things to Tame

Here are my slides from Saturday's CASL/CLC Mini-Conference. Thanks to all who came and made it such a great day!

Be sure to check out the 14 Things to Tame blog as well for more information.

Friday, March 8, 2013


I spent last Sunday afternoon at MoMA. They had an exhibit called "Inventing Abstraction" which chronicled the development of abstract art. Outside the galleries they had a huge diagram (it covered the entire wall) detailing the connections between different artists.

You can see an interactive version of the connections on MoMA website.
The names in red are the artists who had more connections. And you'll notice (particularly if you look at the diagram on the website) that the names in red are well-known names--artists who are particularly prolific, or influential, or have stood the test of time.

As I looked at this diagram (and I spent a long time looking at it, and even longer thinking about it), I wondered--does being connected make you more creative, or does being creative lead you to form more connections? The answer is, I think, both.

I know the opportunity to connect with people online and in person has fueled my work in many ways--I gather ideas and inspiration when other people share their passions with me. And I also know that when I have an idea or project I'm excited about, I'm more likely to reach out to people to share those ideas--whether it's sharing the idea with a colleague over lunch, or using this blog or Twitter or any of my other networks in order to share with a wider audience.

The interconnectedness of creativity and connections has implications not only for our own work as educators, but also for our students. Are we providing opportunities for students to connect with each other and with a wider audience in order to be inspired? Do we create avenues for them to share their ideas and what they're learning? These connections--and the creativity they inspire--are, I believe, inextricably connected.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Why Do We Read?

A few weeks ago a colleague approached me about doing an independent reading project with all of our seniors. We often hear from alumni that they're overwhelmed by the increase in the amount of reading they need to do, so the overall goal was to help our students ramp up their reading (in terms of both speed and comprehension) before heading to college. But I grabbed at the opportunity to sneak in a few of my goals around promoting reading as well.

I believe that helping students develop a love of reading is one of the most important things I can do--and the one that will have the greatest impact on students over the course of their lives. Lifelong readers and lifelong learners. And there's more and more research pointing to the idea that reading helps people be more empathetic--and the ability to look at an issue from different points of view is, I believe, another vital skill for all people.

I see a lot of my students struggle with picking out something they want to read "for fun." The idea of "pleasure reading" is, for many of them, an oxymoron. So I wanted to focus on both why reading is something people choose to do even when it's not assigned, and on how to pick out something that will be enjoyable to read.

For the first part, I turned to Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail in order to gather responses to the question "why do you read?" Reading those responses was pretty much the best thing ever (I'm still getting replies, and will hopefully have a chance to update my presentation at some point). The responses were better than I could have hoped for in the breadth of perspectives they offered. I organized the presentation based on major themes that emerged in the responses, and then focused specifically on responses from faculty and staff at my school.

After spending some time talking about why to read, we segued into picking out what to read. I love the "speed dating with books" projects I'd seen other librarians do, and wanted to build on that idea. But given how I've seen many of my students try to pick out books before (grab first book they see, quickly flip through it, ask to check it out), I wanted to avoid time pressure. So I did more of a "mixer." Students still had speed dating-type scorecards to keep notes on the books, but were free to move from book to book and table to table at their own pace.

And let me tell you--it was awesome. Using the dating analogy gave us plenty of jokes and terrible puns to use as we talked about the books, which also took the pressure off. We talked about knowing what your "type" is--do you like blondes, brunettes, or mysteries? I encouraged students to look at a books they thought they wouldn't like, telling them it's good to know what doesn't work for you in a reading relationship, too. I offered to play matchmaker for students who were having trouble finding a book they connected with. I emphasized that they did not need to worry about hurting a book's feelings if they rejected it. And when I checked a book out to a student, I told them, "I hope you two will be happy together."

I love doing reader's advisory (and wish I was better at it) and I love when a student comes in to talk about what they're reading, or thank me for picking out a good book for them. What I love most about this project is that instead of students coming in and saying "I love the book you picked out for me" they're saying "I love the book I picked out."

Sunday, January 20, 2013

This is what happens when you require certain types of sources

During lunch on Saturday a student came up to me to ask me about sources he wanted to use for a project.

Student: You know how on Wikipedia they list their sources on the bottom of the page? Is it okay to use those?
Me: Of course. That's how research works--you see what sources other people are using when they research similar topics and then you use those sources for your own research.
Student: So I can cite a book even if I haven't seen it?
Me: Wait, what?
Student: There's a book on my topic in the references on Wikipedia, and I want to cite it in my bibliography.
Me: Even though you've never read any of the information in the book, or even seen it?
Student: Yeah.
Me: No.

And then we talked about how to get to our Biography databases and other places to look for actual information, and then I sat down and banged my head against the table for a while and then ate my lunch.

I often hear other librarians get frustrated with teachers who require that students have X number of print sources (particularly when they won't accept digital content as meeting that requirement) and I occasionally share those frustrations (though anytime I have approached a colleague with concerns about such requirements, every last one of them has been receptive and flexible). Selecting sources based on container rather than content seems counterintuitive.

But I also understand why teachers have those requirements, and the goals they're trying to accomplish make sense to me.

Sometimes consulting a print book is the best possible starting point for a student simply because the information in there is limited. Even the largest book is puny compared to a list of search results on Google. The table of contents and index of a book are far easier to navigate and interpret than most database search result--and learning how to navigate a table of contents and index is helpful when it comes to understanding how other types of searches work. And yes, students need to learn how to navigate all kinds of search results, but those aren't necessarily the skills they need to be focusing on at every stage of every research process. 

More importantly, without the requirement of having to have a print book, or a database article, or any particular type of source, there are many students who would never even consult these resources.Without (seemingly arbitrary) requirements, many students would not push themselves out of their comfort zones when researching. They'd simply stick with the resources and formats that they've always used. And good research strategies and skills are, in many ways, about moving out of your comfort zone; most of us don't leave our comfort zone easily, and those requirements can help pull students out of theirs.
But sometimes the sources that meet the requirements aren't the best sources for a project. Sometimes what I have in physical format in the library is inferior to what can be found online, through a database or a website. And sometimes a book on the library's shelves has the perfect bit of information that will become an "aha!" moment for a student.

This is one of those "easy to answer in an ideal world" questions for me. In an ideal world, there would always be the time, and structure, and support for students to consult a diverse array of sources before settling on the ones that best met their needs. Students would willingly move out of their comfort zone--or at least not actively resist.

But most of us don't work in that ideal world. There are limits to our time. There are limits to our resources. But we can nudge around the edges. We can encourage, and we can push, and we can cajole. We can challenge ourselves, and our colleagues, and our students to think broadly about what types of sources we use, and why. And at the very least we can be clear that someone else's Works Cited page can be an excellent source--but not one to copy and paste into your own.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A tale of two conferences

While going through my inbox the other day I clicked on a link about an upcoming conference in my area; I was hoping to find out a bit more, but also saw that they were still seeking proposals. Having been on both ends of the request for proposals, I'm always interested in to see what different organizations ask for.

The request was pretty standard, until I got to the section on AV requirements; the form specified that standard AV equipment would be provided, including overhead projector and VCR/monitor. Presenters were asked to bring their own LCD projector, if possible.

About an hour or so later I got another e-mail, asking me to participate in a conference program described as "Battledecks meets TED."

The first call for proposals was like almost every call I've ever seen, until I got to the AV section. The only distinguishing feature was the listing of technology that I did not think was still in popular usage

The second call was also very similar to requests I've seen. Except in this case the distinguishing feature was how they described the "feel" they wanted a presentation to have.

I go to a lot of conferences (fewer this year than in years past, but I still have several under my belt), and I have a pretty extensive online network for resources and ideas. And there is a lot of overlap in terms of sessions, topics, ideas, and even attendees. Which is great. But even with that overlap, different conferences and different online communities often end up having a different feel for me. Despite being able to get the same types of information from many different places, I often feel myself pulled towards particular learning communities.

I'd never given that much thought, but seeing these two very similar--and very, very different--calls for proposals so close together brought the idea to the forefront of my mind. While these two conferences are likely to have a significant overlap of ideas, there's only one I'm interested in attending (just to be clear, it's the "Battledecks meets TED" one. Because, obviously).

There are a lot of ways to present and share the same information. I've been to sessions (or read articles) on very similar topics that leave me with very different feelings. In one I may walk away feeling energized and ready to put an idea into action; in another I may walk away feeling like I've just been chastised for being behind the curve.

I'm thinking about this more consciously as I "Mark All As Read" some blogs in my Google Reader, while reading and reflecting on others. I pore over every article in some journals, while casually flipping through others before tossing them aside. I make plans to attend (in person or virtually) some conferences, while saying, "Eh, maybe some other year" to others.

When I talk to my students about research, I tell them that the issue I most regularly faced when doing research in high school was not being able to find enough information; that is, most often, not the challenge they face. The challenge they confront is focusing and narrowing and separating the wheat from the chaff.

I'm working on applying that idea more consciously to my own professional research. Finding ideas and information is no longer the challenge. Finding a professional network that inspires and challenges and supports me is. And this is not just about surrounding myself with people who share all the same ideas--I want to be surrounded by people who push my thinking in new directions, without making me feel like I'm a failure if I'm not already doing X, Y, and Z.

So I'm trying to more consciously look for the feel I get from really inspiring conference experiences from my online networks. Do they leave me feeling overwhelmed? Underwhelmed? Inspired? Chastised? Excited? Encouraged?

The right network for me will be the wrong network for someone else. But I should be as discerning in selecting my sources as I encourage my students to be in selecting theirs.