Thursday, August 7, 2008

Whew! Renovation and Renewal!

Shortly I'll post some photos of the new library. Oh -- but it's no longer a "library"! It's now got one of those new fancy names, decided by Higher Powers (not library people). For years I've resisted attempts by other people to call me the "media specialist" or the library the "media center," not because I'm an Old Fogey opposed to change, but because, as a native -born Yankee and of partial Quaker parentage I have an inbred disposition to plain speaking and a dislike of pomposity and bloviated verbiage. But the Powers That Be have overruled me, and I do think the results will be good. I'm working hard this week at trying to reshelve our remaining books on the small remnant of shelving and am consoled only by two thoughts: that our book collection will look much fresher and newer, and that the local prison system will be the grateful recipients of hundreds, thousand, of wonderful books. And when our book-loving parents visit ands say in shock, "What happened?" I will throw up my hands and my shoulders as if to say, "That's the Way It Is. Not my decision." I won't say much, out of loyalty to my school, but I will be sympathetic to their distress. (There won't be too many of those parents, but there are some who will be upset.)

Today a lot of the new furniture arrived, and it's beautiful. I agree that overall it's a Good Thing. The new place will look great, and it will serve our digital natives well. For those boys who still read or consult books, there will be a core collection which I hope will be attractive and useful.

This kind of change represents a huge paradigm shift in the life of a school. And it's upsetting, and a lot of work for those involved. But I do think it's good. Sometimes the sudden change is effective and is better than incremental change.

I'm just deeply grateful that the prisons want our books. Otherwise, it would be MUCH more difficult to lose so many.

They kept telling us in library school that "the only thing constant is change," and boy, were they wise to instill that idea in us. It's helpful both in school life and in regular life. But changes are painful and somewhat worrisome. We'll see how the year goes.

I hate to have a blog post without a picture, so I might just find one of my own summer pictures -- maybe a butterfly, as a symbol of change. For my one reader, and for me, who needs to write to understand things, here is today's post.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dunstan's Sea Lion of Approval (with apologies to Doug....

Inspired, as always, by the Blue Skunk, St. Dunstan offers his own Sea Lion of Approval as a pledge that anything you see or hear here is but idiosyncratic reactions to hearsay. Anything over on the more polite "St. Dunstan's Notes," however, a similar pledge to the Blue Skunk's should appear: that is, that Dunstan will recommend only personally experienced or otherwise validated Good Stuff. Dunstan must have been there, read it, tasted it, sniffed it, felt it, listened to it, kicked its tires, and otherwise subjected it to examination. Here, though, no such polite restraint applies, only such as keeps ourselves out of trouble.
There is a rumor afoot, soon to be checked out, that the good saint is to be retired, that his was is the old way and the new way is much more given to verbosity and high-falutin'-babble. But hey, I read Clay Shirky this summer (that makes TWO -- count 'em, two -- non-fiction books this summer (see "Notes" for the other), and speaking as maybe the old saint's only spokesperson I would like to report that -- watch out, here comes everybody, and we are here! So who cares if anyone's listening, we are speaking!
Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Estivation, and a reply to the Blue Skunk

Ahhhhh, summer.... What was that? Did I hear someone speak of work? St. Dunstan feels a bit like Johnny Bunko here, not sure where his brain went. But Dunstan can be a bookish fellow -- remember his story -- and needs what Phillip Pullman prescribes for us all: "books, time and silence." While some thrive on activity and are the ones who Get Things Done, others need to take in the quiet and take a look at the world around.

Dunstan's scribe thanks the good Doug Johnson of the Blue Skunk Blog for his continuing support and encouragement and for the stimulus to think about summer learning. (He tossed a meme in this direction, and out to other parts of the globe, and it's only fair to hold it, roll it around in the hands, and think of what to do with it. If your meme is a round rubber ball, mine's more like a gradefruit, irregular, lumpy in spots, yielding to pressure but in all a delightful glowing pale yellow.

And if Doug is energetic, why look at Michael Guhlin, with his lists -- my lists are various and lie about on scraps of paper.

I have to say that my focus is dual this summer. To think about the school year gone and the one coming up, to envision the new library (it's begun to appear in dreams in interesting ways) but just as important to nourish those parts of my life which are not given enough time during the school year.

The picture above and the bookpile below suggest the plan. (I hear Jonny saying, "There is no plan!)

Here's an anecdote: during the last days of school a colleague asked at lunch, "What's on your summer reading program, Jane?" I was gobsmacked. I thought of one of the lines on the reading poster in my office: "Read at whim, read at whim!" But as usual when confronted by the cool light of a left-brained person person I couldn't think of a ready repartee and no doubt said something lame like, "Uh, ah,, I don't really have A Plan, but there are a lot of books in the pile." It's much more fun to read at whim. So far I've read Johnny Bunko and two very long mysteries, Thornton Burgess's Billy Mink (retrieved from the past via Powells), Ben Hamper's Rivethead, and some others. Pink's A Whole New Mind will make the short non-fiction list, since I want to read it anyway, AND we were all given it by the new academic dean. Maybe the winds will be blowing from a new direction -- it'll be interesting,.

Otherwise, some of the work energy has gone into weeding and packing up all the books, between a two week trip to Portland, Oregon to see my son and a long weekend in Pennsylvania for a Bar Mitzvah. So there hasn't been a lot of time at home, and now -- at Midsummer -- it's time to stake stock of time.

What do I want to learn this summer? How to manage my iPod (which was a gift in September, and then went missing till May) and my cell phone; to manage stuff: pictures, books., papers. To pursue family history. To keep up my personal blog ( and get this one kicking again and to think about the virtual library and the look and feel and practices of the school library in 2008 with a new design.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Only Thing Constant Is...

To blog or not to blog? To Twitter, or chat, or email; to join a Ning, or play around in Second Life; to create wikis or websites -- which of the old and new tools at the disposal of a teacher-librarian shoudld we spend our time on? How much time do we spend "messing around" with new tools (or toys?), or should we stick to the known? Only one thing is clear, and I heard it over and over in library school -- THE ONLY THING CONSTANT IS CHANGE.

Or maybe they only said it once and it's the main thing that rings in my head after fourteen years, because it's so true.

Last week I spend a lot of time reading blogs and replying and discovering new ones -- but then I wasn't working on projects that affect my school more immediately. I think we need to "play in the sandbox" of Web 2.0, School 2.0, or whatever AND keep doing the old things we do, as long as they're worth doing. I entered the world of libraries relatively late in my life but also just at the beginning of the Web explosion. So it's been quite a roller coaster*, and it's still going.

Part of what's so appealing to me about working as a school librarian, or teacher librarian, is that there's so much variety to what we do. And that's the thing that makes it sometimes maddening, that we scurry about doing all kinds of things and then at the end of the day wonder whether we've accomplished a thing. It's kind of like being at home with a baby or small child; you know it's supremely worth doing, and yet it can feel very frustrating as the day is nibbled away, bit by bit, and you're not sure what you've "gotten done."

Clearly, we have to be selective in our enthusiasms. And we need to remember that learning new things is messy and confusing, and that that confusion is a necessary part of the process. Now that there are so many more school librarians blogging than there were a year ago, and a few have risen up as beacons, any one of us out there can still use a blog as a way to clarify our own thoughts. I write to find out what I'm thinking. And even if no one else is listening, because it's pretty noisy out there, I can hear myself a bit more clearly. And if I connect only tangentially with others in the same situation, and wherever they are in their process, the connection is invaluable in breaking through our isolation in the school setting.

Now it's time to "work."
* The Crescent Park (Riverside, RI) roller coaster is long gone, but the merry-go-round is gloriously still there.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Wikis Are Too Much Fun

Our school needs a research guide with various parts to it, and especially a section on plagiarism. So I'm making a wiki on wikispaces. It's very easy and a lot of fun. It took a couple of sessions to figure out how to edit the navigation column and how to link pages, and I'm finding the formatting a bit frustrating, but overall I'm very happy. I've set it so that anyone can look at it but only members (our faculty) can edit it. it's at

The Web 2.0 tools are great for users like me, who are not afraid of technology and use it a lot but are not technically oriented by nature and don't want to learn html and the like. Blogs, wikis -- yeah!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

My Wishes for 2008

Well, I lost the first draft of this and will try again. Following the lead of Doug Johnson, I will articulate some wishes for my library and school for the new year. Since my blog is a general one about the library, and not specifically a tech blog like Doug's, the items will be diverse.

I wish:

* that the administration and board continue to support educational technology at a high level

* that faculty continue to improve their skills at using all the new tools, both hardware and software, becoming more and more comfortable with such and thereby enhacing the classroom experience

* that we make time for more faculty in service sessions where we can practice using new tools

* that more teachers will catch on to the value of blogging

* that faculty work together to draft a manual of good research practices, with an emphasis on practical ways to avoid student plagiarism (such as lessons in how to summarize and paraphrase)

* that my budget might permit me to buy more high quality books

* that those students who enjoy reading continue to do so, and that more readers are tempted by our materials

* that our eighth graders really get involved in reading for Battle of the Books and make us proud at the competition!

* that all faculty attend a conference or a workshop to learn about new tools and practices

* that more students in classes engage in constructive discussion rather than just memorizing lists of facts

* that the library gets its web page, now to be a wiki, up to snuff! and that it is used by students and faculty

* that the arts receive their fair share of support

* that all teachers feel valued and empowered

* that dstudents more and more take responsibility for their own learning
Photo by jlh of art by Bri Johnson, West Barrington, RI

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A little bit goes a long way, or, Don't give up hope

It's interesting how our perspective can change, when we look at something through a new lens. The other day I completed a survey of technology use in independent school (done by NAIS) and when it was over I thought, gosh, we're farther along than I'd thought we were! Part of me felt a bit insecure: did I misrepresent our level of technology proficiency? Certainly we're not ahead of the pack. And I think the answer is that while not all people are equally adept at using technology in the classroom, we've definitely made some long strides in the past few years.

Here's a summary. All classroom now have SmartBoards and projectors. All teachers have laptops which interface with these. Sometimes the results are surprising. Everyone knows that a laptop is convenient, but it's more than that. A laptop can really change your approach to work. In my case, rather than sequester myself in my office to use the computer I can stay out at the front counter, in the thick of thins. I can get things done at home that I would never had on my desktop there, which doesn't have all the school stuff on it. I can carry my laptop to a meeting or a presentation or even on vacation/. And because it's so loaded with software and space, I can use lots of cool tools, like Flickr and YouTube as well as MS Office.

There was some anxiety among the teachers when all these tools were introduced just a year after they'd been required to learn BlackBoard. But most of them passed over the learning curve and found they could make classes so much more participatory with the new tools. And students began creating Powerpoint reports because the classrooms had to capacity to share them. Video content from United Streaming also enhanced lessons. So we're not using technology just to say we're using it but actually to enhance and increase learning.

In the area of the new web 2.0 tools, we're just beginning, but these things catch on and spread through example and word of mouth. We've had a couple of inservice sessions were faculty could learn to produce movies, and use blogs and wikis. And just this morning I had an email from the fellow who while not a classroom teacher is assistant athletic director and is in charge of our weight training program. He was asking me, because he knew I used blogs, if a blog might be a good place for him to share information with the students. I told him the difference between blogs and wikis and suggested that a wiki was really what he wanted, it being a super easy way of creating a simple webpage, with text, pictures, and videos. I directed him to wikispaces and told him to take a look and that I'd be glad to help.

So, in both big pushes, like the sudden introduction of a large amount of new technology, and in smaller ways, by example and the "each one teach one" approach, we are definitely making progress. I think the next step is to create a mini-course for the second semester fashioned along the lines of Helene Bowers' 23 Things, for our faculty to learn on their own time. because time for in-service is limited in a boarding school, and because these are things that people can teach themselves as long as they have others to turn to.