Dirty books!

05/14/2011
Books

I’ve been going through all the books in my school’s library and I’m amazed at what I’ve found.

Our school opened in 1956 and I’ve found books that were there when the first students arrived. I’m not talking about ageless fiction; I’m talking about books on fast-changing technical topics like cameras, automobiles, telecommunications and undersea exploration.

Computers were not such a big deal in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s or 1980s, so I’m not really surprised that prior to this year our collection seems to have only three books on computers, all of them featuring pictures of giant room-sized mainframes and massive desktop units.

Our one book about the latest developments in medicine was published in 1975. I guess research has stood still since then.

But my most startling discovery has been the dirty books. I’m don’t mean a little risqué, I’m talking about true filth. In a middle school library!

The woman I’m replacing, our librarian since 1956, told stories about her strict parochial school education and was happy to display her precise parochial school handwriting. I’m stunned that she’d allow dirty books in the library.

I’m not talking about a volume here and there, I’ve discovered boxes of dirty books, shelves of them, some wordy and some filled with pictures. It’s a disgrace.

After all, we all know what dirty books lead to… dirty thoughts.

Also dirty hands, dirty clothes and dirty faces.

Who knew a library was such a hazard?

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Is it worth $69.64 to you?

02/12/2011
USB flash drive

Image via Wikipedia

In December I became the librarian at my school, replacing the woman who has held the position since the school opened in 1956.

I’m really enjoying the work. Perhaps it is needless to say, but I’ve made some immediate changes. I’ve started a long-term plan for bringing the library into the 21st Century, but in order to follow-through and turn those plans into reality I have to jump through some hoops.

Every middle and high school in the state of New York is required to employ a certified school librarian, now called a school media specialist. That is why I am a graduate student once again.

In order to get temporary certification so I can continue being a school media specialist in September I have to have 18 credits toward my Master of Library Science (school media division) degree by the end of August.

Do the math. Credits come in little packages, three at a time and I need six of those packages in the next six months. I’m taking three classes – nine credits – now and will take another three classes over the summer.

Taking three classes while working full time is taxing, but this essay is not about that marathon.

This is about one session of one of the classes. At least I hope it is only about one session.

The class is called The Technology of Information and it is a required introductory course. We had our second session earlier this week.

Students are not allowed into the computer lab in which we take the course until the professor arrives so we were all hanging out in the hallway outside chatting and checking our email and text messages on our smartphones or Blackberries. When the professor arrived we all filed into the lab, sat down and logged into the computers, launched the browser and navigated to the class website before the professor took over our computers remotely to broadcast his PowerPoint for the lesson that would teach us about…

…the parts of a computer.

Yes, friends, we spent the next 155 minutes learning that the keyboard we had just used is called a keyboard, that the mouse is called a mouse, that computers are filled with wires in circuits that connect every part of the computers with the central processing unit (CPU) through the mother board.

We learned that peripherals are called peripherals, expansion slots are used for expanding the capabilities of the computer, and that those little USB drives use a different kind of memory than the typical internal hard drive.

We got to look into an opened-up computer, circa 1999. We even got to hold an actual CPU, an actual hard drive and a circuit board in our not-quite-eager hands.

Die of an Intel 80486DX2 microprocessor (actua...

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Help me decide: was this a well-developed lesson that was differentiated for auditory, visual and tactile learners, or was it an insult to the notion of graduate-level education?

What would you pay for a lesson like that?

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Jumping Through Certification Hoops Should Be For Everyone

01/10/2011
Cathie Black Visits Hillcrest High School, Dec...
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I’ve spent the day learning about the hoops I have to jump through — a 2nd master degree, for one — to be certified as a school librarian. Oh, and I have until August to get 18 of the 36 required credits if I want to be able to do the job I’m doing now next year.

I think our new school’s chancellor should have the same opportunity I have, get half the credits for an education leadership degree to be allowed to continue to do her job past Labor Day.

If I worked at an elementary school it would not be an issue but certified librarians are required at all secondary schools.

That I’ve done more in one month in and for the library, and for the students and teachers who now can use it than the certified librarian (certified in 1956, btw) did in the past six years is apparently not as important as having that piece of paper certifying me.

That I can teach the students and teachers about technology and how to use it effectively and safely where the certified librarian thinks the electric typewriter is a threat to society is not as important as having that certificate.

The "QWERTY" layout of typewriter ke...
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If the certificate is that important for me to have, shouldn’t the school chancellor have one, too?

This post started as a comment on The Innovative Educator blog.Enhanced by Zemanta

Making a Point, Missing the Point

12/21/2010
Lava Lamp Red
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I am still astounded at the new things I’m realizing now that I am responsible for taking a library that stopped progressing sometime in the mid-1970s and bringing it into the 21st Century.

The first thing is that organization, never my stro

ng point, is essential in a library. There is so much to keep track of: books, borrowers, the card catalog (more on that in a bit) return dates, trends (more on that, too, in a minute) and new releases.

There are likely more things to keep track of, but those are the ones I’ve discovered in my first two weeks. I hope some more experienced librarians I’ve come to know will inform me what I not paying attention to that I should also be focusing upon.

The second thing I’ve realized is that it is almost impossible to go directly from being an excellent 1970s library that unfortunately finds itself in 2010 to being a 2010 library ready for whatever develops in the next decade or two.
Let’s start with the card catalog.

The subject catalogue (
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We have a lovely wooden card catalog unit with a matching four-drawer file cabinet. Both pieces would look terrific in my house. The newest item in that file cabinet is a clipping from the New York Times of November 8th about the results of the Presidential election held the day before.

The card catalog is an anachronism. I just uncrated 15 cases of books and have a stack of catalog cards about a foot high that I need to file. I can’t begin to estimate the amount of time it will take to do that filing, but I have to think there is a better use of my time than doing that.

One potentially better use of my time would be to organize our non-fiction section currently in total disarray. It does one no good to look up a topic, say the grammar of Old French (perhaps you wonder as I do why we have two books on that topic), and not have a clue where to find the books filed under 841 in the Dewey decimal system.

Or perhaps an even better use of my time would be to figure out how to sell off that non-fiction section (complete with six — count them! — six different encyclopedias) and the lovely wooden card catalog and file cabinet in order to buy a few e-readers.

My friend and colleague Lisa Nielsen has been hosting an interesting conversation about e-readers vs. books on her blog. The conversation started with the news that Principal James McSwain of Lamar High School in Houston, Texas got rid of many of the books in his school’s library and replaced them with e-readers and a coffee shop.

I’m not at all interested in the discussion of whether a

coffee shop belongs in a high school, but I am interested in the fact that Lamar High School can afford to buy a bunch on e-readers. So can a lot of schools around the country. But I’m scrounging for bookends.

A black metal bookend.
Image via Wikipedia

Think about that for a minute. E-readers for a rich district and school, but my poor students get to watch me try to scrounge bookends.

While you’re thinking about that I hope you come to understand that until we find a way to make sure every student in America has access to the same resources, whether they are great teachers, e-readers, or classrooms with heat, all the other talk is meaningless.

All the education reformers, all the politicians, all the teacher unions and all the teacher-training colleges are all avoiding the central issue affecting the future of education and the future of our country: the large and growing gap between the rich and the poor.

Find a way to fix that and you’ll see a whole bunch of other problems you waste time talking about disappear.

E-readers? Maybe someday.

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My New Thinking About Tenure

08/22/2010
Girls in classroom, Traveling Library at Publi...
Image by New York Public Library via Flickr

My school has an old librarian.

I have no idea how old she is but I’d guess she’s well into her 70s.

She’s a lovely lady with beautiful script handwriting. She’s lively, opinionated and completely out of date.

She’s so out of date that she has become one more obstacle in the way of my students’ success.

Renovations completed a year or so ago doubled the size of our library. There are more shelves, more tables, more room to move, some computers and a printer or two.

We also have a big, wooden, card file with those narrow pull-out drawers. It is not maintained, but it is the only way to find out what books may or may not be on the shelves.

We may have the only library in NYC still using a card file. I hope so.

Two years ago I went to the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians because it was in Manhattan and because I was a member of the group.

At the meeting they have a smallish trade show for history book publishers to show their wares and for history-related organizations to try to entice new members.

One of those organizations was one of school librarians. They were showing the latest technological innovations in their field. I was drooling.

I told the woman behind the table that I wish my library were more technologically advanced but that we still use a card file.

“How is Mary,” the woman asked. “Hasn’t she retired yet?”

No, and she shows no signs of planning to any time soon.

I go to other schools where the librarians are using computers to teach students how to research beyond Wikipedia, how to tell a legit web site from a bogus one, and how to create a web page.

I go to other schools that have librarians who teach students about blogging, podcasting and creating animations.

I’ve only taken one class of students to our school library and that was six years ago.

I thought I’d arranged for a lesson on how to do research.

Mary decided to teach them cursive writing.

My students thought I was nuts.

My principal thinks it is time for Mary to move on.
I think it is time for Mary to move on.

All the students think it is time for Mary to move on.

Come the first day of school Mary will be in the library.

Mary doesn’t think it is time for Mary to move on.

Sometimes tenure sucks.

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