Monday, December 28, 2009

The Three 'Principals' of a Successful Book Talk

In November, with the help of the three fabulous principals in my building, the Gaynor Campus Library hosted its first ever author visit and talk. Thanks to my principals and some fantastic classroom teachers, it came off without any major hitches.

Briefly, here are the elements that worked well:
1. A generous author who was easy to work with.
2. Principals who helped make sure it all came together.
3. ELA teachers who selected student attendees and accompanied them to the talk.
4. Students who have some familiarity with the book and are engaged during the talk.
5. A way to serve food in the least disruptive manner possible.

It all began when the wonderful Ms. D_____ of The Green School told me last Spring that a friend of hers, Peter Kujawinski, along with his co-author Jake Halpern, were embarking on a national tour to promote their book Dormia. Bonus: because they were new authors, they were doing their visits free of charge. Ms. D_____ handed them off to me via e-mail and between the three of us, it was decided that the talk would happen in the Fall 2009 and that Peter would probably be on the East coast at that time and would be the visiting author.

As the 2009-2010 school year began, I was informed that my three principals had decided to rotate their responsibilities and that my administrative contact would be Talana Bradley of The Yound Women's Leadership School of Brooklyn. Last year, Talana had organized a school-wide book talk for her school in the auditorium, so when I told her about the upcoming visit I knew she'd be able to speak from experience. I told Talana that I'd be more comfortable doing something smaller in scale and she agreed that this was probably the best way to go.

In addition, Talana agreed with me that the talk should take place in the library and suggested that 12 students from each school be nominated to attend. At the next Building Council meeting, Talana informed Karali Pitzele of The Green School and Taeko Onishi of Lyons Community School of the talk. Talana and Taeko each decided to purchase 12 copies of Dormia for each student attendee to keep, while The Green School opted to buy about four copies.

Having read the book, I felt it was geared a bit more toward middle school readers than high school students, although Peter assured me that his talks had gone over very well in high schools. Each school settled on its own system for nominating attendees. Lyons ended up with a mix of middle school and high school attendees, while The Green School, with high school grades only, had their ninth grade ELA teacher, Mr. R_____ accompany his whole class of about 12 students to the library. The Young Women's Leadership School, which currently has middle school grades only, selected students through their ELA teachers.

I took care of the catering out of my own pocket. I ran to the closest Subway Sandwich Shop the morning of and bought a tote bag full of footlong sandwiches. At a nearby dollar store, I filled another large tote bag with two-liter soda bottles and salty snacks. Back at school, I stowed everything away in an office fridge, with the soda in the freezer for the approximately two hour wait.

Peter's timing coincided with the second half of my beginner ESL class, so I had told my students that they'd be attending a talk that day, and they seemed up for a change of pace. When Taeko came to the library with the Lyons students, I was able to run to the fridge and grab the food and begin slicing the sandwiches into four pieces each. Peter arrived right on time and we finally met face-to-face. Mr. R_____ and I made the executive decision to serve lunch to the kids as they listened to the talk, rather than have a free-for-all or a long queue while Peter was talking. Mr. R____ and I playing waiter worked out beautifully.

As everyone got settled, we made sure that Peter got his food and when he had finished his plate he began to speak. Peter radiates an air of calm and kindness that the kids really responded to. Although I was busy serving for much of the talk, I know he discussed the inspiration for Dormia and I remember hearing him tell a story of visiting Poland when he was a teenager and meeting one of his uncles and some of his cousins who lived there.

By the time Mr. R_____ and I finally got to sit down, it was almost Q&A time. Students asked some really good questions, such as, "What was it like working with a co-author?" (a pleasure, according Peter) and, "Will there be a sequel?" (yes). Finally, as Peter wrapped up, he autographed a few more books and was on his way.

Some things I might do differently the next time include:
1. Recruit helpers to serve ahead of time.
2. Budget money to have food brought in by a local caterer.
3. Record the talk on video with the author's permission for a more vivid record of the event.
4. Make sure the timing works with all three schools (a small contingent of students ended up missing the event due to a scheduling conflict).
5. Elicit book reviews and on-the-spot written reflections about the author visit.

Overall, it's nice to have the first iteration of something go well. As I mentioned, I have the author, the principals and teachers who participated to thank for that. The students, too, deserve a word of thanks for their time and attention. It was great to see them engage with an adult from outside their circle and do so graciously. I'm looking forward to the next author visit opportunity. If I can organize things just a touch better, I can spend more time capturing and analyzing the ways in which such an event benefits the students.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Things Heat up as the Temperature Cools Down at the Campus Library

It's the first Friday of December after a whirlwind week. TYWLS Humanities classes have been visiting every morning. A Lyons eleventh grade research class was in for a talk on Proquest vs Google. While each session had its high and low points, today ended on a high note when ESL teacher Joshua Lewis brought his class in to hold a public reading of the vignettes the students have been working on for the last few weeks.

Joshua had orchestrated a similar reading in a classroom last year and the kids seemed to get a real charge out of having an audience that listened to their writing and responded to it not only chuckling at some of the intentionally humorous stories, but by participating in a question and answer session at the end. This time Joshua booked the library and made sure to run out to buy snacks and drinks, which was a very nice touch. As he did last year, Joshua was thoughtful enough to make printed packet of the text of the vignettes so that the audience members could follow along as the students read.

The vignettes themselves were adorable and well thought out and it was amusing to see these usually boisterous students shy and quiet with what appeared to be collective stage fright as they sat a table before their audience. They had to be encouraged to raise their voices as they read for the group of teachers who had turned out for the reading. I had to laugh to myself at how a subtle shift in situation caused such a marked change from the ordinary.

Kudos to the kids who read their work aloud and to Joshua who led them through the writing process. I know how hard they all worked as their class is held in the library twice a week, affording me the the opportunity to see it all take shape. Well done!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fall Library Conference Rich in Ideas

Tuesday, November 3rd was not only election day, and a day of meetings and planning for most teachers, for teachers of information literacy (i.e. school librarians) it was the Fall Library Conference, which was held at Brooklyn Technical High School. Organized by the New York City Department of Education's Office of Library Services, the event drew hundreds of school librarians from across the city as well as library and related vendors from around the country.

While it's absolutely crucial for school librarians to be integral participants in-house meetings, professional development seminars and planning sessions alongside their subject-area teacher colleagues, we also need to time work network with each other to share ideas and best practices in order to enrich our library programs. The Fall conference provides an opportune time early in the school year to do just that.

Praise is due to the organizers, who got the conference program out early through the Fall Conference Wiki, complete with a handy grid on the back page showing all the sessions and their locations, allowing attendees to get an idea of which sessions would be of interest to them. The absence of a requirement to register for each workshop made it even easier than at most professional conferences I've attended. This "freestyle" session attendance policy leaves participants free to change their programs at will, also a boon.

With about 80 session to choose from there was something for everyone. Again, this is due to the work of the Office of Library Services, who actively recruited speakers from among the ranks of school librarians. The sessions were conveniently coded for grade-level interest as well. E for Elementary, M for Middle School and H for High School. As a participant and a presenter of one of the sessions, I found the day gave me lots of opportunities to learn and to exchange ideas. I walked away with a list of things I wanted to start working on, which, to me, is the mark of a good conference.

Dr. Ross J. Todd of Rutgers University's School of Communication and Information and the director of the Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries, delivered an impassioned keynote address. One idea that really caught my attention was the concept of the school library as an "inquiry commons". As part of the Green School, one of the core concepts we are cultivating this year is that of "the commons" or the shared, sustainable pool of community resources, either physical or conceptual. In an August seminar with the The Cloud Institute, the Green School's partner organization, the notion of The Commons in general came up in our discussions as part of what a community needs to remain sustainable.

In his address, Dr. Todd urged us to think ourselves less as providers of information or collections books, but as teacher/facilitator/managers of a vibrant space that not only makes intellectual inquiry possible, but in all ways leads those who enter toward it. While my current library is indeed a room of books that teachers want to reserve because there's lots of space for their students to spread out and a group of internet-connected computers, I've been making small changes to help teachers and administrators think of the library as a place where students can get some work done without the pressures and strictures of the classroom. The Inquiry Commons idea, however, gives me a related, loftier and ultimately more sustainable objective to work toward.

In fact, I think by "getting some work done", I wasn't necessarily referring to rote work. What I meant, without having put words to it, was something more akin to inquiry: asking questions, wondering what the answers might be, gathering information and synthesizing that information into an original answer, which itself leads to further inquiry. That said, however, I'm currently taking small steps in this direction. For example, I have a group of three (sometimes four) girls who've been given administrative approval to use the library at lunch for the sole reason that they wander the halls endlessly during class hours as well as during lunch, and the cafeteria is on the same floor as the library. If they wander the halls of the second floor, they are effectively outside of their school, which is housed on the floor above. So they've been instructed to wander right into the library until lunch is over.

Initially, I let the girls do what they wanted to do as long as they kept their voices low. What they seemed to want to do was send and receive messages on a portal at cluster of computers. I started to ask their teachers how they were doing in class and the answer came back a resounding, "They never even come to class." I asked if I could get class work or homework assignments they could do independently (i.e. without having to read through class textbooks or be present at teachers' lessons). A science teacher volunteered some homework worksheets that were doable in and of themselves. I approached the girls and the two of the three who I didn't expect to do anything with them at all took them and worked on them, while the one I thought would be the most amenable said, "I ain't doin' that shit!" Baby steps.

On a subsequent day, I asked one of the girls who had done the science worksheet, who happened be in the library without her girlfriends that day, if should could write something, a personal narrative, using a Web-based word processing system. To my surprise, she agreed. She wrote a solid paragraph, albeit with lots of non-standard spelling in non-standard English, but it was actually compelling reading. It surprised not only me, but some of the teachers who had never seen her produce anything before. The student only gave me permission to show it one of the teachers at her school who she trusts and who said he'd give her credit for any work she did in the library. He says he'll try to catch her in the hallway soon and talk to her about her writing and work with her on expanding it. More baby steps.

In my building we have a wide range of student abilities. In a large chunk of the population, reading, writing, study skills and even social skills are what one might charitably call "emerging". Oddly, the library seems to attract the few students whose skills are well developed and who come to get new books (and are frustrated at how slow the process is and how little NYSTL money I receive to feed their reading habits), very few kids in the middle of the spectrum and a core contingent of students in extreme need of intervention. This last group insists that the library is a place to "chill" which, as far as I can tell, doesn't even wave at critical thinking or inquiry, at least not in a way that could be argued in academic language. They can be so disruptive it's hard to house them at all, and they often drive the readers away, which is a shame. However, if I can try to get the academically neediest of students who visit to calm down long enough to speak civilly to me, do some intellectual musing and put some of it on paper, then I'm going in the right direction.

For the time being doing worksheets, rote though they may seem to me, may be a good step toward eventually opening up to inquiry in the long term. Luckily, the school that has been sending me a high percentage of students in this needy group has been very understanding and supportive in terms of how much I can take on. With time I hope to increase my stamina, but I need to be realistic in how much I can handle. For now, as a worker, my contact with them needs to be in small doses and in small groups.

At the same time, it's clear to me that this is a population I need to focus on, where I can really have an impact. As much as I want to please the avid readers and as easy as it would be to work with the quieter kids, I can't let myself gravitate toward the path of least resistance, tempting as it is. I sometimes liken some of the more challenging students to injured, angry and frightened wild felines who leap out at you, as if from nowhere, with their claws fully extended. All they seem to want is to survive another day. With patience and persistence on my part, perhaps the library can play a role in slowly and steadily turning these students into the powerful lions they have the potential to become.

Bringing Dr. Todd's notion of The Inquiry Commons home to my schools from the Fall Conference helps me put language around the aims I have for my library. Together with my students, the readers, the resisters and the middle of the pack, we can all begin to push each other toward this goal.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Oh, the Humanities!

Now that The Young Women's Leadership School of Brooklyn or TYWLS has hired a part time ESL teacher to teach the handful of ELLs at the school, the time I spend with TYWLS will be dedicated to teaching library and information literacy skills only for the entire school year. Because TYWLS is the youngest and currently the smallest school on campus, they fund only about 20% of me, which means they can now get about one period a day of library instruction. Progress!

Now, a word about TYWLS (everybody pronounces it "twills" even though that's not really how it's spelled): last year, they were simply a dream to work with. Talana Bradley, the principal is so friendly and easy to talk to and is so intelligent and good at getting things done it's almost hard to believe. How she remains so calm, composed and open in the face of everything principals in city schools have to contend with is a mystery to me.

The teachers are similarly wonderful and the students are just great. Right now, the school only has sixth and seventh grades. Over time, they'll grow all the way to 12th grade, adding one grade per year.

After negotiating the librarian's schedule that accommodates all three schools on campus, which took literally the first two weeks of the school year, it worked out that I'll be able to give one-hour library and information literacy lessons to all the Humanities classes at TYWLS in both grades if I cycle through one a day over the course of about a week and two days. This is great news: I now have an entire student body for which I can design and execute a library and information literacy curriculum throughout 2009-2010, dovetailing my lessons with the TYWLS Humanities curriculum.

This week I'm doing an orientation lesson in the students' classrooms, rather than bringing them up to the library. The main reason for this is that I'm spending about half the hour on orientation and behavior expectations, and the final half hour having the girls use the Tool for Real-time Assessment of Information Literacy Skills (TRAILS). Unfortunately, there aren't enough computers in the library to accommodate whole classes, and the computers I have too old and cranky to get the job done efficiently, while TYWLS now has laptop carts for their classrooms.

I'm having each class take the sixth grade TRAILS assessment as a baseline, which we can then compare to follow-up assessment at the end of the year. Currently the sixth grade assessment covers all of middle school grades and the ninth grade versions cover all high school grades.

One of the things I like about TRAILS is that when you have teachers and administrators take it, the idea that there should be a library curriculum and standards for library skills teaching becomes much more clear than just having them listen to me pipe off about it all the time. Taking the test demonstrates how library and information literacy skills cut across all disciplines, and by extension shows that explicit teaching of these skills can benefit students in all their studies, not to mention in college when research becomes so much more important.

TRAILS covers five information literacy categories:
  1. Develop a Topic
  2. Identify Potential Sources
  3. Develop, Use, and Revise Search Strategies
  4. Evaluate Sources and Information
  5. Recognize How to Use Information Responsibly, Ethically, and Legally
The sixth grade assessment has 25 questions and distributes them evenly, with three for each category above. Here is one of the simplest examples from the sixth grade test:

If you want to find books by Christopher Paul Curtis, what kind of catalog search should you try?
  • Title search
  • Author search
  • Subject search
It may sound simple to us as adults, but I have to say, in two classes of intelligent students so far, about half of them have got this question wrong. One girl called me over and asked, "I don't know who Christoper Paul Curtis is. How can I answer this question?" This is the kind of thing that requires some explicit instruction. In middle school, the students are making the transition from loving reading to using their reading skills for both practical and leisure applications.

The assessment doesn't impact the students' grades and I tell them to relax and put a reasonable effort into it without stressing before they open up their laptops. What it does do is provide the librarian a very clear idea of which skills need to be emphasized in library lessons. It will be interesting to revisit TRAILS in the Spring and see if all the library time has made a difference.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Jogging Librarian Commutes Eight Miles on Foot!

Last Thursday I jogged to work again for the fifth time this school year. It was the third time I've been able to complete the trip without stopping, since the first two times I bonked and had to take a bus. I've changed my route since the first try, as the most direct route from my apartment in Kew Gardens, Queens to Williamsburg, Brooklyn has two long stretches without sidewalks. The route I take now is a bit more circuitous, but is much more pedestrian-friendly. If you're curious about the route, you can click here to see it on Google Maps.

I'm running wearing a backpack that holds my work clothes, my swim clothes (keep reading), my lunch and a few other items. I'd been leaving a pair of work shoes at school, however this past Wednesday I forgot to do so, which meant I had to carry those as well. That made it my heaviest pack run so far and my time did suffer. I'm trying not worry so much about the speed on these jogs though; I'm just focusing on getting in the miles and building up the stamina that running with a pack requires. The result is that my short, unencumbered runs are already getting faster.

Once I'd decided to try jogging to work, I had to choose the right backpack for the job. I looked at a few different packs through a mix of virtual and old-school physical shopping. I decided to go with a North Face pack called the Recon, which has both chest and waist straps to keep it steady en route. It can also accommodate a hydration system, which I may purchase one day. I got the yellow-ish color, called Chai Yellow, because it's slightly reflective and as it's quite dark out at 6:00 AM when I begin my long jog/schlog, it seems like the best color choice for the purpose. Luckily, it was available at a local sporting goods shop less than 15 minutes on foot from where I live, Emilio's Ski Shop in Forest Hills. Not only did I avoid waiting and paying for shipping, but I was able to support a local business in the bargain.

I've been very happy with the pack, even though I did read on the Bloggling Joggler's blog post on the subject that a simpler pack, without the extra chest and waist straps, can actually improve your form by forcing to you to shed any swaying or other wasted movements in your stride. I tested this theory with a small, light, unstructured pack that folds into a pouch when not in use, on a five-mile round-trip run to the farmer's market at the Atlas Park mall. It's true: the apples and tomatoes I'd bought started alternately slapping each of my kidneys as the pack flopped back and forth, until I was somehow able to correct my form in response to this feedback and steady the load. Interesting, but I still wanted to feel more secure with larger loads on longer runs, so the Recon it is, at least for now. And if really want the swaying effect, I can always unbuckle the straps.

Now, you may be asking yourself, "So how does this relate to being a school librarian?" Here's why I mention it: sustainability. Ever since I started teaching, I've been driving a car to school. I was not a driver for most of my adult life before teaching, save a brief period when I worked at LexisNexis and had large clients in both New York in Boston so I took a second apartment in Wallingford, CT. There aren't a lot of ways to get to and around the small towns of mid-Connecticut without a car, so I had one then, too.

One of the schools on my campus is The Green School: The Academy for Environmental Careers. Sustainability is literally the key word, the driver, if you'll excuse the pun, of The Green School's ethos. The other two schools on campus are no less committed to forging better and more sustainable ways to live our lives than we did in the 20th century than The Green School is. When I first arrived at the William Gaynor Campus last year I noticed lots of very young, energetic, idealistic teachers riding their bikes to school. I would love to ride my bike to school, but there's always some "but" involved in bike commuting for me. Always always has been.

I've had bikes stolen. I've had cramped apartments that hardly had enough room for me to turn around, and roommates who made it impossible for me to keep a bike indoors. My supportive partner and I tried it in one apartment, but the five flights up and down the building's narrow staircase made it untenable. Not to mention the tension bike rack we tried that popped one day while we were out. We found the bikes on the floor and our terrorized cats hiding under the bed wondering why they'd been attacked by flying bicycles in the middle what had probably been a pretty ordinary day. In our current coop, we tried hanging the bike directly on the wall, but it seemed to dominate the living room. Now, stashed behind a rolling kitchen cart, it seems like a huge effort to maneuver it into our tiny elevator or fight with six flights of stairs in order to ride it.

At one point, I even researched renting garage space for a bike, but there was no such thing at the time (I think such a setup may exist now, but I'm not sure). The kicker was, after moving to Kew Gardens, I went to visit a good friend of mine who still lives in the Manhattan building I'd moved out of and when I went downstairs with her to drop off a trash bag I was stunned to see a full-fledged, fully utilized bike rack. I'd been trying to get the building's management to get a bike rack for years and no-one listened. Then, after I leave they get one?!? This could only be the universe telling me to try another way.

Concurrent with all of this, I've always used jogging and running as a way to attempt to stay in shape and to clear my head. In fact, during periods when I slack off, I find myself sinking into a depression that only lifts when I start regularly making tracks on pavement again. Last semester was one of the slack-off periods, unfortunately, and I made a commitment to myself in August that I'd put those running shoes to good use again. What better way to get back on the road than to take my car off the road one day a week, thereby alleviating my guilt about driving, at least by one-fifth and forcing myself to do what for me is a long run? This, and the fact that one of my goals as always been to run a marathon at some point in my life and I might as well start training now. Between living more sustainably, getting more training miles under my belt and combining exercise and commuting time, jog-commuting (jommuting?) fulfills a lot of needs.

As sustainability has been on my mind a lot, since even before I started working with The Green School, it's starting to slowly permeate my thoughts and deeds, if even in small ways. I've been thinking of how libraries provide a sustainable model for information sharing. All this makes me think of the bulletin board I put up outside of the library at the beginning of the school year:

The "Third Century" line on the display refers to the original Library of Alexandria. I can't be the first person to have thought of it, but I particularly pleased with the whole "Read, Return, Recycle" riff on the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" motto.

My sustainability/training goal for this year is to boost the jogmuting to at least two days a week, possibly adding Tuesdays to the Thursdays I'm already jogging. I'm currently using mass transit to get home on Thursdays, but I'm mulling over perhaps jogging back home at some point as well.. As a person who prefers 5K races and training runs of about three miles maximum, I used August to build up to about ten miles a week, of which the Thursday commute became my long run. I'm now up to about 14 miles per week total. I'm trying to be as sensible as possible to avoid any over-training injury that would result in my bagging the whole endeavor. At this rate, I'm on track for a second weekly jog by late November.

One of the big logistical problems in this undertaking is the lack of showers in the locker rooms on our "campus" (i.e. run-down old junior high building). The locker rooms are right across from the library. Wouldn't it be just perfecto if they were in working order? Wouldn't it be even more perfecto if the kids who go to the schools in our building could actually shower after their required gym classes?!? It's kind of hard to believe that these kids are forced to run around and sweat, without a way for them to get clean afterward. In April and May the poor things walk around soaking wet the rest of the school day after they have gym class.

As far as my jogmuting is concerned, it means I have to run about mile beyond the school building to the Metropolitan Pool, the beautiful public pool, built in 1922 in Williamsburg, to take a shower. So much the better. I get in more mileage, and while I'm at it I swim for about 20 to 30 minutes, which stretches out my leg muscles and joints as well. You can see a video of kids taking swim classes at this pool here. I'm there during morning adult lap swim time, of course. I then walk back to school, holding my pack by the top strap, because at that point the back panel is still drenched with perspiration.

By the time I get home on Thursday evenings, I'm dog tired. Good tired. I feel as though I've really pushed myself, but for a good, healthy reason. On Friday mornings, after my self-inflicted Thursday ordeal, I get in the car with a heightened sense of appreciation for being able to drive to work and more than a twinge of guilt that I'm back behind the wheel. The Kenyan runners who easily trounce Americans in races always say in interviews that all their lives, if they ever wanted to go someplace faster than walking speed, their only option was to run. They ran to relatives homes, to markets, to school, or to neighboring towns on errands. Now I'm giving myself a small, belated dose of that very human experience. Seated comfortably, looking out the windshield, adjusting the volume on the radio as I zip schoolward I now have a deeper sense of what a luxury driving to work in the morning truly is.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wednesday Morning at the Gaynor Campus Library

Today, Wednesday, was my early day: 8:00 to 3:00. Because The Green School has an early release schedule on Wednesdays, the whole schedule for the day gets flip-flopped. On Wednesdays, my fourth period ESL class happens first period (9:00). Getting in at 8:00 makes me available for multiple functions: prepping for my ESL class at 9:00 (if I haven't prepped earlier), processing the good old "legacy collection" I've been blogging about for so long and which is still a work in progress, or giving a library lesson or hosting any other kind of class visit for the other two schools, which begin their days by 8:00. Today, it was processing and a little bit of ESL class prep.

One of the things that's been happening this year is that since The Green School starts at 9:00 (8:58, actually), there are kids entering the second floor by 8:30 or so, strolling around and thinking about going to the cafeteria for breakfast. If I'm in the library between 8:30 and 8:58, as I would be on Wednesdays, of course, with my 8:00 start time, I get kids knocking on the door, even if I'm clearly engaged in some kind of solo prep work. Unless I'm giving some kind of New York State ESL test and have a sign taped on the door stating "Testing: Please Respect the Students Taking the Test," the kids will just knock and knock until I break what I'm doing and let them in, or at least open up and speak with them, which for me is effectively the same thing, since both break my flow. Such are the hazards of being a public service...

This little wrinkle requires me to be strategic about how and when I enter the library. Don't get me wrong. I'm not avoiding the kids all the time, but sometimes I have to. Yes, yes, I'm doing what I do so the kids will have a library service, so although it may sound kind of hypocritical, but if the kids don't let me get any behind-the-scenes work done, there won't be anything in place for them when I do open the doors. Things are still in a jumble and I'm just starting to make a little headway. This means my usual entry strategy on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, when my hours are 9:30 to 4:00, is to enter only after 8:58, after the students are situated in their first period classes. I'm usually there just around that time because I don't like to be late. I can then have an entire 30 minutes just to do what I need to get done, or at least a good chunk of it, without being interrupted.

On Wednesdays, with my 8:00 to 3:00 hours, this isn't possible, so I've decided to fling the doors open on Wednesdays at 8:00 and let the kids wander in if they want to. In fact, I'm having them sign in on Wednesday mornings so I can show their visits to the powers that be at some point in the future when I go back to advocate for a two-person library staff: if the kids do want to come and visit both before school and after school, there's no way one person on teacher's hours can swing staffing both ends of the school day.

This morning I had it in my head to finish some book processing. Yesterday afternoon I'd trained my 12th grade intern E. how to use Follett's Destiny online OPAC system to enter uncatalogued, unprocessed books. It requires several steps, and missing any of them makes the process even more tedious in the end, so it's worth paying attention as you go to keep things running smoothly. E. did great, but we didn't have time to do the final steps: printing out the bar code and spine label stickers for the books that had just been entered and sticking them on the correct books. Just before closing, as we were working along, a student saw that Stephenie Myer's New Moon was in the stack of books getting processed and asked politely if she could take it out the following day. "Wow," I thought, "that's a huge lot better than screaming, 'Hey!!! New Moon!!! Gimme that!!!' and grabbing it," which wouldn't surprise me in some of the kids who've got what I'd call emerging social skills. But this young lady was very polite and had the insight to realize that E. and I weren't done with everything we needed to do to get the book ready for the public. I told her I'd put it on hold for her and she could have it the following day.

"When can I come and pick it up?" she asked. I was so impressed with her maturity that I said, "First thing in the morning," not wanting to make her wait after being so good, and knowing I'd be in early. I hate to have a bunch of books in the OPAC that haven't had their bar code and spine labels stuck on yet: it's just begging for disaster and confusion. So today, I came racing in and printed out the labels and was finalizing the stack of books we had done last night when, sure enough, a couple of my regulars came loping in. Now that I'm expecting it, baking it into my day, as it were, it was actually kind of fun to have them there in the morning. In fact one of the kids who came in, K., also likes to help out with things and she helped me shelve the newly processed books. Just before first period began, which is fourth period on Wacky Wednesdays, my New Moon reader came by and I was glad the book was ready and signed out to her. Finally, at least a few things are going along as they should. Baby steps.

Another thing my schools' administrations have been great about is letting me take a lunch break. This happens to conflict with The Green School's lunch, when the kids should have what I call a Free Choice library period. Given that I spend most of my Green School time as the ESL teacher, however, something's got to give and it's The Green School's lunch. Today, however, the Wednesday schedule being what it is, I was actually in the library during The Green School's lunch time, rather than having run out immediately at the beginning of the period, and had the pleasure of two of my regulars happening by and, seeing I was there, coming in for a visit. One of them, T., began to show me his sketches for a comic book he's doing and they're really great. I had no idea this student was even interested in art! "What am I doing?" I thought. "Here are some kids who could use a little breather in the library during lunch time, I'm not making that happen."

I don't want to get too starry-eyed about it, though. Last year, I hosted Open Access (which I now call Free Choice) lunch for both Lyons Community School and The Green School and the latter proved to be among the worst experiences of my working life. And I'm old and have worked in a lot of places. It was so bad that we all agreed that for the remainder of 2008-2009, I would only work as the ESL for The Green School and we'd deal with me as The Green School's librarian later on. It's now later on and as of yet, I'm not dong it. If I'm going to open up for lunch time this year, and I could possibly take a break a little later to make this work, there would have to be a lot of conditions and maybe some backup from the Dean's office to make sure kids didn't repeat the same performances they did last year.

Some of the students, a few of whom were the very angels who so abusive to me last year, have asked why I haven't provided lunch time access. For now I'm just toeing the party line: I'm using my hours as an ESL teacher during the day, but they're welcome to come after school.

Opening up for The Green School at lunch time is a service to seriously consider. It's something that should happen, and if I were employed full-on as a librarian rather than being split between ESL and library, it would be happening already. I know I'm sort-of, kind-of making it work for Lyons now, after a lot of trial and error last year. This is a question I'll come back to some time soon on this blog as I think it through in writing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Bananas Split

The school year is in full swing, Columbus Day has come and gone, yet it seems like the doors opened just a couple of days ago. It took me most of September to open my library's doors. One of the reasons I got off to a slow start was managing the split between what are now my three job titles and the three very different school schedules going on in my building. Much of September was spent negotiating my schedule with my three truly wonderful and very library-supportive (in spirit if not in funding) principals.

While we all discussed having a more closely aligned bell schedule last year, the reality is that we're even less aligned now. How that happened I have no idea, but since my work time and my library program are shared by all three schools, it's what I have to deal with. To add to the fun, each of the schools has at least two different schedules running: at Lyons high school has a different bell schedule than middle school; at The Green School Wednesday is a short day; at The Young Women's Leadership School (TYWLS) Friday is a short day (short days are created from using 37.5 minutes of extended day in different ways). In both of the schools that have a single short day per week, the schedule for that day is completely different from the other four days of the week. Even the periods are different lengths than normal. This by itself makes setting up a schedule for a single unit of operations and its sole worker that accommodates all six different schedules at all three schools virtually impossible.

To add to these challenges, my job split this year is more complex than it was last year. I can't complain, because I agreed to it: I am the ESL Coordinator for Lyons and The Green School, the ESL teacher for The Green School, and the librarian for the whole campus. Luckily, TYWLS is has tasked their newly hired ESL teacher take care of both teaching and testing coordination. What this means is that during my contractual 6 hour and 20 minute plus 37.5 minute day four days a week, the campus gets one-third of two-thirds of a librarian. Kind of skimpy.

Now, I mentioned I had agreed to this arrangement and it's true, I did. Mostly out of my own insecurity. It be due to my scarily-close-to-the-poverty-line upbringing, which I so openly hated living through when I was younger, that I've managed subconsciously to internalize some extreme survival strategies on some level, because I've noticed I do this a lot: I instinctively try to make myself difficult to replace. It's a self-preservation instinct to be sure, but on closer examination, the results are less than optimal. What obedience to this instinct has usually amounted to, for me, is that I end up spreading myself too thin, resenting it completely as time wears on and doing a less than admirable job of everything, rather than really focusing on the one job I'm supposed to be doing in the first place and doing it well. I'm mature enough now to see it happening, but not secure enough to stop it, evidently. And now the library program is suffering because of it.

On the positive side, there's never a dull moment. For a view of what my schedule looks like, click on the Google doc version and look at the Summary B tab. In addition, there are some bright spots in the way I'm set up this year. Some of the good things about my schedule are:

  1. The principals see that I'm split in all these different directions and are very understanding about it.

  2. I get to learn a lot: multiply the normal learning that happens in an education job by three; that's a lot of learning.

  3. It's helping me with my seemingly never-ending struggle to better manage my time and stay organized.

  4. I have the support of the New Visions Campus Librarians' Network and the NYC DOE's Office of Library Services.

  5. I get to continue teaching my own self-contained ESL classes, which I'm not ready to give up doing at the moment.

In September I learned that the three principals had decided, unbeknownst to me, that they would rotate responsibility for the library between them each year. This year I'm working with Talana Bradley, the principal of TYWLS and she is a pleasure to work with. Last year, I got a lot of support from Taeko Onishi of Lyons Community School, who oversaw library service for the year, and Talana is proving to be just as supportive. We have a regular Monday morning library meeting for 30 minutes and Talana takes the issues from that meeting to the Building Council meeting the following day. Why I don't present these weekly issues to the Building Council directly is a mystery to me since I've seen other services doing it, including custodial and food services. No disrespect these very important services, but I have to wonder why the manager (yours truly), of an instructional unit that is shared between the three schools is not present at the Council meetings. It appears, on its surface, to be yet another slap in the face to libraries and librarianship, but perhaps there are deeper reasons I haven't quite grasped.

The good part is that I'll be working very closely with each principal as the years go by, which is a benefit, as I like and respect them all already and can only hope to build even deeper bonds with each as they take turns having the library under their day-to-day supervision.

All told, this year will be challenging, and now that the September rush of new students and ESL testing has subsided somewhat, I can begin work on the many tasks that still need to be completed to make this library truly functional.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Biblio-WHAT?!?

(Continued from the previous post, entitled "Happy TRAILS")

Work with the 10th grade ELA class continues. S. is doing a fabulous job of making sure the students stay on track with their Persepolis PowerPoint presentations. She is a truly wonderful teacher and it's inspiring to work with her. At this point, the students have taken their first 9th grade TRAILS assessment and had a lesson on Google precision searching with Boolean operators, both in the library. Today, I went to S's classroom to give a mini-lesson on using MLA style guidelines when citing web sites for the bibliography slide before students broke out laptops to continue their research.

Now, I know for certain S. mentioned bibliographies during one of our previously co-taught lessons in the library. I remember at least one class confusing "bibliography" with "biography" and we explained it to help them understand the difference between the two. That said, the Aim question on my worksheet, "Why is it helpful to use a standardized format for our bibliographies?" threw the first class for a loop. I wrote, "Bibliography: a list of sources used in your research project" on S's white board, and we made sure that this definition was there in big letters the next two times we taught the lesson.

One of the challenges a student brought forth in the first class was, "Why are you making this so hard?" This, I thought, was a reasonable question, so I addressed it. I told them that if we let them head toward college without an understanding of how to do a bibliography, we would be doing them a disservice; failing them, in effect. I went on to talk about some personal experience with someone I'm close to who'd gone to college, with less than stellar grades, based on artistic talent who promptly failed out due to poor classroom performance. Of the plethora of reasons he had difficulty in college, one significant factor was failure to demonstrate adequate academic writing skills.

In the second of the three classes, I incorporated much of what I'd learned from the students in the earlier class into my talk. They seemed to respond well. In fact, about four students from that class showed up with library passes signed by S. to work on their projects at lunch time. From what I could see, they were doing a marvelous job and making tons of progress. Naturally I was thrilled with the idea that S. and I may have had something to do with their motivation to do research.

The last of the three classes, also the school's last period of the day, on a Friday, no less, was the rockiest, yet in some ways the discussion was the deepest. That period is normally co-taught by S. and a Special Education teacher I call Mr. F., who helps individual students in the room stay focused on their work, among other things. Even with three adults in the room, however, the class was unruly and completely uninterested in bibliographies. I got off on the story about a close relative getting into college on artistic merits only to be forced to leave due to poor classroom performance and received moderate interest from the class. I happened to mention that I, like this family member, was a middling to poor student in high school, but because I had waited until the age of 25 to go to college after years of working and living on my own, my college experience was different and I was successful.

When I spoke about how much I hated high school and how little I'd paid attention, one student yelled out, "Well, then at least you know how we feel!" I confirmed that I most certainly did. Then another student, who had been paying attention to my ramblings from early on asked, "How did you decide to become a librarian?" I hadn't really planned on this mini-lesson being about me, but I remembered my supervisor and teaching mentor at previous school, Ms. D., telling me how personal experiences that resonate with students can be very motivating. She was right, and I began to use them more often in my ESL teaching. Given the sudden interest in my background, I thought I would quickly answer the question to keep the dialogue going.

I explained how I'd felt when I took a job shelving books part time in a public library, meeting all these intelligent librarians and library users. "I felt like an idiot for not having paid attention in high school," I said. "Here were all these well-read people, with so much knowledge and I thought to myself, "Where was I all that time?'" I told the class how I asked the librarians how they got their jobs and how they rattled off the their credentials: an undergraduate degree and a masters in Library Science. By the time "Sci--" was out of my mouth the students in the room were all saying, "Wait-wait-wait! What? You have to have all that just to be a librarian???"

"Yup," I replied as S. nodded in agreement. "And I also went on to get a Masters in Education," I added.

"I want to do like you," said the first student who had paid attention. I told her it was a tough way to go. College takes longer and it's harder to pay for when you're older and working full time. I told the whole class they'd be better off trying to get what they could from school now rather than getting out in the work force without a degree and that I would always be behind people who went straight to college in some ways.

With all this talk about school, its delayed value and my foibles, we were running late on the bibliography discussion. I quickly covered the main points of citing web sites, all of which were printed in examples and explanations on my worksheet, so that the students could get their laptops and I could get out of their hair. Oddly, this difficult class turned out to be the most rewarding, in way. Students always teach teachers. The trick is to be able to listen to what they're telling you and adapt accordingly.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I'm so lucky. Really. Classroom teacher colleagues from the school on my floor have reached out to collaborate on library lessons, even though the library and I are still getting our acts together. First, the Freshman biology teacher, J., worked with me on a short biome project that involved students doing research in the library and now I'm working with the Sophomore ELA teacher, S., guiding her students in creating an informed PowerPoint presentation on Iran in preparation for reading Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis.

In both cases, the teachers agreed to two sessions dedicated exclusively to running TRAILS (Tool for Real-time Assessment of Information Literacy Skills)--one right at the beginning and one to be completed after the research has been completed--in addtion to the actually library instruction lessons. Last Friday, we had all three of S's sections sit down and do the TRAILS 9th grade assessment. They seemed a little flustered by some of the questions, and the question that met with the most consternation by far was this:

Which of the following is not a Boolean operator?

This, I realized, was the datum I needed, even before the scores were in, to develop my research lesson for this week, which I delivered with S. in the library today (the Wednesday after the first TRAILS session). I wrote a quick Aim/Do Now worksheet that then gave a brief overview of George Boole and Boolean operators, complete with Venn diagrams, and examples of the kinds of search results you get when you use and, or and not on Google. I also printed out a precision search tip sheet on Google searching focusing how to use the operators:
And is the default and is a stop word as well, so there's no need to key it in.
Or must be typed in all caps (both caps?) to recognized as an operator and not a stop word.
Not is represented by a minus sign [ - ] directly preceding the word to be excluded.

I also briefly went over using double quotes to get exact phrases, but my audience is too restless to take any more than that in by listening (five minutes is an eternity to sit and listen to a teacher jabber away), so I left lots and and lots more on the sheet I gave them. To my surprise, many students did use as they searched away on their own, hurrah. S. and I had developed a Pathfinder/Webquest sheet as well, which I both printed and made available on my Wikispace. This way, the students could browse the printed pathfinder in their hand to choose potential research web sites for their chosen topic, and simply click on sites from the Wikispace to look them over.

Whereas the bio class is balking at actually turning in their biome projects for some reason, I have high hopes that the Persepolis PowerPoint presentations will get done. I'm giving a quick classroom mini-lesson on putting together a bibliography slide on Friday and S. has set a deadline for completion early next week. Another round of TRAILS testing will give us data on whether the students boosted their library skills acumen, which I believe, through anecdotal observation, they did. That will make the Persepolis project my first fully completed data-driven library-powered research project this year. Next up: a biography project with the dance teacher. Never a dull moment!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Millions of Reasons for New Yorkers to Read

The books for the New Yorkers Read grant have arrived, so get ready for more gratuitous bookshelf shots!

This impressive collection of hardcover non-fiction goes a long way toward to sprucing up the library's formerly sad looking shelves. The students are coming in to take a look and many are borrowing the new titles. All the student visitors seem pleased, which is the objective after all. It's really a breath of fresh air.

A big thank you goes to the student intern, E., from the Green School, who helped me get them all stamped and put the date-due Post-Its inside the back covers, making them shelf-read. I had a little hitch in signing circulating the materials: as easy as it is to upload the MaRC records through Follett's Titlewave service, I couldn't find my records initially.

It turns out my Follett field rep, J., way back in the October, during his first and only visit, told me to set up a Titlewave account using a self-created user name, which I dutifully did. However, the Library Services group at the DOE had already given instructions to set up all school librarians using their "root" of their DOE e-mail addresses, which in my ase is mfinn4. I wish J. had mentioned this back in the Fall. Perhaps he was unaware of the practice. I know it's hard to stay on top of all these things. I worked in field sales for LexisNexis for eight years, so I really have experienced this type of thing from the rep's perspective.

However, I thought that the problem had been solved. I was told any confusion between the two accounts had been cleared during an earlier mishap, when a Follett back office rep informed me that he had canceled the mfinn4 account. Turns out the MaRC records for these beuties when straight into the mfinn4 account, after all. I finally broke down and went online to request the password, which took almost a day to arrive in my e-mail and am now resigned to having to maintain two Titlewave accounts. No biggie. I'll ween myself off the "gaynorcampus" account next year.

The moral of the story: Don't listen to your field sales rep! (Just kidding, J.)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mr. Shushy

Even as a classroom teacher I surprised myself early on, in a bad way, by becoming an expert shusher. I quickly mastered the kind of loud shush that combines the "sh" sound with a little bit of "pssssst" mixed in for extra oomph, like some of the TV judges do. Now that I've moved from the classroom to the library, wondering how I can break librarian stereotypes I'm alarmed to find myself slipping ever deeper into the embodiment of a stereotypical, prudish Mr. Shushy.

Spring break is over. It's the first day back in school after over a week off and my library customers are back and well rested. After teaching a quick morning ESL class I use my two preps to get into a good frame of mind for open access lunch time. It rained in New York today and I expected a bigger, more unruly crowd than I actually got. It was mostly my regulars, who I'm getting to know well, but I had a few students who haven't been in for a visit in a while, for months, actually, and they managed to behave passably. Beyond the behavior, however, there was a lot of dishonesty on the library passes today.

The library request form (basically an elaborate pass designed expressly for lunch-time open access) requires that students specify what kind of academic work they plan to do in the library during lunch time. After all, if they're going to spend recess cooped up in the library instead of running around, there should be a good reason why; something other than playing mindless and repetitive computer games. For this and many other reasons, lunch-time open access is limited to school work of some kind. Independent reading of books is one possible option given on the form as well.

Today, the majority of lunch-time customers did absolutely nothing related school work and hardly anyone cracked a book. By the end of lunch period, there were maybe five or six out of 2o or so students who were actually reading or doing class-related work. In fact the number was much lower until I finally put my "It Is Now Too Late to Come In" sign in the door, relinquishing doorman duty, and circulated around the library with my stack of completed forms to see what was going on. After confronting many of the students who said they were going to do class work but weren't, the number of those who did at least log into their web-based reading/writing sites increased.

On top of the preverication, some of my manga readers, longtime regulars, were disturbingly loud. I started shushing early on and it seemed like I was doing my broken steam pipe imitation pretty much as a replacement for normal exhalation for most of the period. In the afternoon, after teaching ESL at yet another school on campus, I came back to the library to get ready for after school open access.

During the after school period, from 3:30 to 5:00, I'm less strict about doing class work. When the kids come in, they just sign a sheet for statistics' sake. I got my usual crowd of middle school Yugio players (I have only the vaguest idea what this fantasy card game is really about, but seems to involve lots of reading about each character's special powers and tons of strategy, so I allow it), a couple of high-schoolers who quietly surfed the web for a while, and my crowd of young, boisterous middle school computer gamers.

The last group were in rare form. They are learning English at the moment, so I repeatedly ask them, in Spanish, to keep their voices down when they speak to each other in the library. I often model how, even speaking softly, we can all hear each other, but they simply go back to speaking at a yell immediately thereafter. I always need to a be a little shushy with the Yugio kids, who are slowly getting better at moderating their voices, but the gamers required constant attention this afternoon and I almost kicked them out once when L. let out a huge cry about something inconsequential.

Then, R. pulled me over to come see the games L. was playing on the computer, knowing I wouldn't approve, and L. was too slow to close out his browser window so I got to see one of the most obnoxious video games I've seen in a while: a naked, zaftig cartoon woman, bent over almost in two, shot a cannon ball of bodily waste out so that it flew straight up in the air. The objective of the game actually comes later, but it's too unseemly to describe here. Now, these charmers are part of the group that's responsible for my loading Windows Steady State to essentially lock down all the student PCs, yet they were still finding a way to use the computers for something I consider vile. And they're only about eleven years old.

I explained to L. that this kind of game was crude (grosero) and the school computers were not put at his disposition for such things. He defended the game as just a game and seemed truly dismayed by the idea that it was offensive. In fact, he showed me another game on the same site, hoping it would mollify me. A hail of cute little cartoon baby chicks rains down on an upturned rake with sharp tines. The player has to position the rake in order to skewer as many of the helpless earthbound chicks as possible. Cartoon baby chick blood was everywhere within seconds of launching play.

Another lecture to L. and the gang: I and many of the adults on campus agree that violence and killing are wrong, etc. I insisted the three gamers find another kind of game or leave. They told me they didn't know of a game I would approve of, so I steered them to Funbrain, which is really kind of hokey compared to the wild stuff they had been playing, but I was desperate. As it turned out, they were at least mildly amused by Funbrain, or so it seemed as they remained in place for about 30 more minutes.

So now, not only am I shushing more times in a single day than I ever thought I would in lifetime, but I'm the censor and arbiter of computer game taste to boot. What has happened??? These eleven-year-old types can be fun, but they test your limits and your outlook on life about two seconds after you get to know them. I'm bound as a teacher to make sure these kids don't get into materials that would be considered too violent and pornographic, and this crew has already displayed their talent for getting around the Department of Ed. firewall to find steamy, glistening closeup photos of sex acts, for which they were ejected from the library and reported to school administration.

And yet my pro-rights side asks why kids who have a natural curiosity about sex can't look at some pictures. My brothers and I once found a deck of scandalous playing cards in a back corner of a drawer in my dad's bedside stand. We spirited them out of the house long enough to get a few good gawks. And we lived. What's different about internet pornography? Aren't librarians to allow users access to all kinds of materials, whether they personally find them reprehensible or not? Of course we are. Yet the school system can't be a place for kids to look at dirty pictures without reports being made and parents being called; we'd be accused of being louche.

Just take a look a the Code of Ethics posted on the American Library Association's web site, and I quote:
II. We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.
VII. We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.
Meanwhile, the DOE has a firewall up that I once considered too restrictive and now see as too lax. I suppose the DOE firewall blocking violent and racy internet images is in keeping with the "aims of our institutions". But still, number II looms large.

I suppose it comes down to teaching kids what is considered "appropriate" in a public setting. I've never been the King of Good Judgment, but I'm pretty sure most of the stuff my gamers like to look at would be considered inappropriate behavior by most sentient adults. I sometimes tell them they'll have to wait until they get their own computers to play around at will. To some of them, that seems like a lifetime away, but it's plausible that they'll get their hands on small, cheap computing devices that are as powerful as good quality laptops were a couple of years ago by the time they get out of high school. For now, I'll just have to keep hovering, shushing and lecturing until I can think of a better way.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Backstory: How Libraries Saved My Life

In the early 1980s I was a newly minted adult (chronologically speaking), living on my own. I was out of high school and not in college after some abortive attempts at higher education. I was making mediocre-to-bad life decisions almost daily and wasn't sure what to do with my life when Ms. I. and Ms. M. in the Art and Music division of the Rochester Public's Central Library on South Street decided to give me the chance to add library work to the ever-evolving list of part-time jobs I had cobbled together make a living. I became a part-time library page at the Rochester Public Library's central location in the venerable old Rundel Memorial Building, and later a library clerk at the Arnett Branch before I packed up and moved to New York city.

My last years in Rochester were a difficult period for me. One of the few bright spots was my work at the library. I was too shy to be a rock star and not as talented as I wished I had been; not even at air guitar. Some of the poems I wrote around that time seemed to wow my friends, but looking back on it I think they were just being nice. And most poets have trouble paying the bills without a full-time job as their "side" gig. As I started to get to know and understand libraries, however, I began to think of librarianship as a possible direction for me. And the collection of quirky and interesting coworkers I encountered and their infectious intellectual curiosity didn't hurt, either.

Decades later, after years of putting myself through college and grad school by working full-time in both Paris, France and New York City, I can now call myself a former library page/clerk, turned business librarian, turned LexisNexis trainer, turned LexisNexis sales rep, turned LexisNexis JurisClasseur back office manager, turned ESL teacher, turned school librarian.

I earned my MLS years ago at Pratt Institute and my MS Ed. in TESOL much more recently at Long Island University. As a New York City Teaching Fellow I taught ESL at a fairly enormous high school on the Queens/Brooklyn border. After those first two tumultuous years, I had the good fortune of meeting T. O., the principal of one of the the three schools in the building where I now work, while attending the Prospect Summer Institute in Vermont. At the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year, I had the opportunity to change schools and moved to the William J. Gaynor Campus in Brooklyn to split my time between transforming the library and teaching ESL.

In addition to serving as the campus' Library Skills Teacher and the sole ESL teacher for Green and TYWLS, my goals for future years include getting certified in and teaching French and Music while continuing to make the campus library a vibrant learning place. More will emerge about why I have such specific goals as I blog along, I'm sure.

I had originally posted this along the side of the blog, but it made the whole thing too text-heavy. I'm now posting so that if anybody wants to fish around, here it is.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Dawn Breaks Over the Gaynor Campus Library

Lots of positive things have been happening in "my" little library, including the first couple of boxes of new book orders finally arriving. I immediately set them up on some "New Arrivals" shelves I'd had the foresight to set up.

In fact, after days of applying little labels to all my shelves, I was surprised to notice what looked like extra space for a New Arrivals area. Only today, almost a week later, did I realize I'd skipped the skipped the 700s completely. Odd, since my very first library job, the one that saved my life and put me on track to become a librarian, was in the Art (actually Art and Music) Division. Herr Doktor Freud, any thoughts?

So, after having pulled off all the metal clip-on shelf label holders (some a really wretched old battleship gray with rust marks, which I discarded, and others a more modern looking beige, which I kept, just in case) I have decided to remove the labels I taped onto to the non-fiction shelves and affix the same Helvetica font labels to the beige metal clip-ons. Lots of trial and error going on in the minutiae department, here.

As for the new arrivals, my book jobber sends them pre-processed for a song thanks to a New York City Dept of Ed. volume discount and posts the MaRC records to my account on their order system which takes about five seconds (from thinking about importing it to test-searching the records after it's done) to upload into my OPAC. So, even thought still have completely process one legacy book yet (raise a clenched fist in an actorly way and shout, "Damn you, spine label sizes!!!") I've been able to check out and check in the new books, which are flying off the shelves as if they had wings. The kids, the teachers and I all feel like we're in a "real library" (finally) when they can come to my desk and I can "beep the book out" to them with the scanner attached to my PC. Hurrah!

Other good news: I conducted several co-taught/co-planned library lessons this past week with one more coming up tomorrow (Friday). On Monday I had two middle school groups coming in to research Ancient Egypt, using a guided worksheet their teacher prepared and some pre-pulled resources I culled from the shelves. The teacher really wanted a scavenger hunt, but since the books are in no particular order yet, it wasn't in the cards. I've been buzzing about the library, getting familiar with what's on the shelves and I was able to pull out virtually all the resources in advance. I know this sixth grade cohort pretty well by now, and structure is what they need, so a pre-pulled batch of books is not such a bad thing for them. The teacher is new to the school, replacing the third sixth grade Humanities teacher to run screaming from the building, and none too pleased with the marauding band of frenzied youth to which he has been assigned, but I think the extra structure helped. Scavenger hunts will have to wait until next year, when I'm quite sure they will happen.

I ended up giving a lesson on finding/using an index to find precise information in a book, including how to look for the index in a set of books, such as an encyclopedia. It went over well. The kids were given the choice of using the books I had pulled and/or the Internet and were split about 70/30 in favor of books. It came up pretty quickly that using an index was without a doubt a quicker way to get the answers to the worksheet (not planned, but it often does go this way, I find) and that did the trick. The books won, while the Internet held its own, of course. A good day for info retrieval.

Another lesson was about using both Internet and hard-copy sources to write a two-page paper on a biome. Each student was assigned a biome by their ninth grade biology teacher and he and I gave a talk about how to make sure you have all the citation elements you need to write an MLA-style bibliography (including examples on a sheet I'd printed out) and how to include this information with each piece of data you collect for your paper. We also touched on plagiarism and why teachers are so insistent that students synthesize their research into something new.

In addition, I had written a brief pathfinder for them to use, rather than sending them willy-nilly onto the Internet, which seems to have worked. We discussed Wikipedia as a good overview source, but not something you would cite and most of them already knew that it might not be authoritative and that it could be changed by other users. Those who didn't know found out during our pre-research discussion. Some did go on Wikipedia for an overview and that was fine. They then moved on to other sites and began checking for authorship (if they were off the pathfinder, which had author information on it already) which was a great sign. Overall, the students responded well to the lesson/discussion and really tried to complete their research and make a note of where they were getting their information with an eye toward doing a solid bibliography. Props to them!

On top of all this, my open access periods have, knock on wood, become a little quieter, a little more library-ish, for the most part. This seems like a fragile beginning that could be shattered at any moment, but the classroom teachers, the people in charge of discipline and I are conspiring on several fronts to make this happen. I'll post with more specifics at a later date. This is already becoming one of those TMI posts!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Past Due: My First Blog Entry as a Teacher-Librarian

It's Sunday, March 8th. The first week of March is over, the second semester is well underway and I'm worried about getting the physical book collection of the library I took over last September in order. But first, indulge me while I grouse about losing one hour of our precious weekends to adjust the clocks forward. In the nineties and into the 2000s I worked for LexisNexis where we were told not to complain about something unless we had a solution, so here's my solution to the problem of feeling unhappy about losing an hour every time we "Spring forward": everyone should be able to adjust their clocks on Monday rather than Sunday, exactly one hour before quitting time. In other words, instead of feeling punished by losing an hour of weekend to the collective delusion of following the sun, we all get a rewarded for doing so by lopping off an hour of work.

Teachers and students would get to leave before their last period of the day. Hurrah! Nine-to-five office workers would head out at four o'clock after adjusting their desk clocks to five, and so on. I know, I know, we'll lose a golden hour of productivity. Boo-hoo, Mr. Boss-Man. The fact is that virtually no-one truly stops working right after work hours end anymore, so we're not losing anything. We'd only gain a psychological boost. Everyone would be so happy about changing daylight hours this way that we'd surely gain productivity from the emotional pick-me-up created by shifting our practice ever so slightly.

Now, back to the book collection. When I started at the campus where I teach, I was running under the assumption, albeit rather shaky, that we had $750,000 to renovate so, during much of the Fall semester 2008, the physical collection, already in a state of duress, was ignored while I held meetings between groups of students, teachers, administrators, parents and any other interested community members who would listen about how this renovation would be accomplished. What would we change? How would we change it? What student-centered features would work best? What kind of technology? Etc. However, as the holiday season approached it became clear that the renovation funding was more in some long-gone, previous administrator's imagination than a reality, and reality had to be dealt with.

Long stories short(ish), I managed to get the OPAC system (Follett's Destiny) the prior school that occupied our building but never used transferred to me/us/the new schools now being served by the library. This saved us about $8K, and I thank the outgoing school for agreeing so readily to transfer the software license. I've received the New Yorkers Read grant for approximately $3K worth of middle school non-fiction, much of which will also be of interest to high schoolers in the building as well.

Lyons Communitiy School graciously agreed to fund a two year renewal of Destiny at $650 per year and I'm using The Green School's NYSTL Library Book funds (about $1,200) to buy materials collected from a suggestion box, placed out back in the days when we thought we enough money to dream, and a couple a Library Advisory Council (LAC) meeting where anyone who hadn't made a suggestion yet get their final licks in.

Now, the legacy collection continues to cough up gems, even while appearing, at a cursory glance, like an abused pile of jumbledness. According to the LibraryThing list some parent and student volunteers had helped me create we had over 3,000 books, many outside of the reading level of building housing 6th through 12th grade and quite a few were so old they seemed too Bobsey-Twins-ish to ask any modern-day student to read. Virtually all the the reference materials are out of date according to New York City school library guidelines. New urban teen fiction titles, much in demand, are few are far between and seem to have appeared as charitable leave-behinds.

Nothing had ever been entered into the Destiny OPAC, as mentioned above, and only about 25% of the collection on the shelves shows any sign of ever having been processed for library use: no identifying stamps, no spine labels, no protective covers, etc. And to top it all off, LibraryThing doesn't export into MaRC format, so all that work the parents, students and I did can't be automatically uploaded into Destiny (full disclosure: I knew this fairly early on, but didn't have Destiny until later in the game, so I kept going with LibraryThing since it was our only catalog). I'm playing around with Oregon State's MaRCEdit freeware, but cataloging class was seems like a lifetime ago and wasn't exactly my strong suit in the first place, making me feel as though I'm stumbling through a dark room trying to get these titles into MaRC format. From a cost-benefit perspective, I feel I've put in more than enough work-hours into unsuccessfully trying to create a MaRC upload and it's time to move on and go old school: manual entry.

There is a silver lining here, however. Since I'm going to have to weed the collection and interact physically with each and every book at some time or other, and I'll need to process 75% percent of the books I end up keeping (assuming the ratio of processed to unprocessed monographs stays roughly the same) the fact that all I have to do is to enter the ISBN into Destiny as I'm going along with this labor-intensive labor of love is a relatively minor step and prevents me from importing titles from LibraryThing that I may only have to turn around and de-accession anyway. Even the 25% of books that bar codes, spine labels and protective covers will have to be scanned into the new system. All the better to make a weeding decision.

So that's where we are with the legacy collection. The New York Reads books will be coming in soon, so I'll have to start clearing out the non-fiction shelves to make room the new books. Some shelves have already been consolidated during the LibraryThing project, which is good. The non-fiction shelves will have to be labeled with Dewey numbers as the old Dewey labels are either faded beyond recognition or have fallen off; plus, as the collection evolves, the old labels will correlate sporadically, if at all, with what's on the shelves.

I participated in Project Cicero yesterday. This is a wonderful although hectic event in which teachers can come to a hotel ballroom and claim new or slightly used books donated by publishers and other schools. We were given one-hour shifts in which to make our selections and were allowed to fill one cardboard box about the size of two Xerox paper cartons with our finds. In the end, I didn't fill my box to the brim, but am happy and grateful for what I did get.

The Destiny OPAC allows me to enter a funding source for every book that comes in and later generate lists and circulation stats and the like for them. I'll log in my Project Cicero books accordingly and will be able to see if it makes sense for me to go to this event next year based on how useful the books were to my students and colleagues. (I'll do the same for all my funding sources, of course: New Yorkers Read books, NYSTL books, etc.) If the event is held again next year and I do go, I learned a few things during the process:

1. Do bring a wheeled suitcase (as recommended by the organizers) rather than a cart or bag with handles (also recommended by them, but not by me) and transfer your selections into the suitcase instead of trying to schlep the box home.
2. If you live near a stop on the LIRR, the one 1, 2, 3, A, C, or E subway lines, don't drive into Manhattan; take one of these transit lines.
3. Pick an early time slot if you can. The volunteer staff are great, but, like anyone, they get a little frazzled by the end of the day.

Time to get some rest and get ready for a day of book ordering and processing tomorrow. The ESL class I teach at The Green School as been pre-empted by that school's Green Week project series, which happens each quarter. This leaves me with only one regular ESL class to teach: The Young Women's Leadership School's ESL class, which I teach during the TYWLS enrichment period from 8:10 to 8:50. The rest of day, then, can be largely dedicated to library-land. Should be fun.