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.

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