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!