Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Contemporary Angst

I'm reading The Bell Jar again. The intro by Frances McCullough struck me with some very interesting points. Plath's novel would not be half as interesting (or sad) if she hadn't killed herself shortly after its publication. Similarly, Anne Frank's Diary wouldn't be nearly as fascinating (or sad) if she had survived the Holocaust. It may, in fact, never have seen eyes other than Anne's aging ones.

Sometimes outside influences or knowledge of a story or author greatly influence our take on the story itself. 

That may be the same reason I have no interest in seeing any movies starring Tom Cruise. Outside information has tainted my view of his portrayed characters.

I do like the sad books. The ones that don't seem sad, that is (and there IS a difference). 

Sad books that don't seem sad 
(you know you should be sad, but are enjoying yourself too much):
The Bell Jar -Plath
The Diary of Anne Frank -Frank
White Oleander -Fisch
Angela's Ashes -McCourt
The Glass Castle -Walls
Cold Mountain -Frazier

Sunday, May 3, 2009

I was recently asked whether, as a teacher in today's economy, I feel my job is threatened. I answered honestly that for the first time in 6 years, I have a sense of security in my position as a media specialist. I am the youngest media specialist (by at least a decade) in my very large district and while this does not bode well for my seniority, there is a very large group of my co-media specialists who are nearing retirement. And, let's face it, library media education is not something that many young college students even consider as a possible future career (I know I didn't). I am looking forward to what the future of my field has in store, as I have several decades left to climb the library media specialist beanstalk before I reach that seemingly mythological place in the clouds called retirement.

On that note, and after reading Essential Reference Services for Today's Media Specialists, specifically chapter 11 on evaluation, I think it is critical to not get complacent in my seeming security. I have long been a fan on informal surveys of my students to see how they think things are going in class, what I could improve on (they ALWAYS get this one 100% correct!), and what their favorite part of the class was. My district requires student and parent surveys to be given yearly by every professional seeking tenure, and in many ways I think it is a more relevant method of determining how effective a teacher is than standardized tests (and of course, as there is no MCA in library/media skills, there needs to be some measure to keep us accountable).

I'm not currently in a library that is used very often when it comes to reference, my clientele is more interested in finding the newest Junie B. Jones than anything else, so I worry a bit that my skills in being a reference librarian will grow quite rusty however I had the thought as I read chapter 11 that a "How Did We Do?" survey might be of good use. A modified version of the form on page 109 (I'm thinking simple 1-5 rating, it's what students are most familiar with) that with a simple "by the way, could you rate your experience here today and drop it in the box?" reference librarians could gain immense insight into their effectiveness. I'd probably even go so far as to put a big bowl of candy right next to the surveys to draw attention to it. Or better still, create an anonymous online survey that students can access anywhere and leave comments at their convenience (because if they can do it at SuperTarget, it must be a good idea).

Also one thing I appreciate in my district is the dedication to peer evaluation. All achievement of tenure candidates must go through a peer-coaching training. My biggest problem with this is that the vast majority of the time I am not being evaluated by peers that have any idea how a library media center is run. I like the ideas given on p. 111 but I think ultimately it is up to me to seek out job-alike peers to evaluate my performance, and take the time to observe other media professionals to gain insight into how they run things differently (and more efficiently in some cases).

Ultimately, as "a school media specialist, you have an obligation to be the expert at your school in current technologies" and effective reference practices. It does not do to become complacent, even if you feel secure in your job. The cliche "if it's worth doing, it's worth doing well" comes to mind, and as cliche as it is, it is a truth worth remembering.

Monday, April 20, 2009


I just had a breakthrough. I realized I've always had a fear of research papers, compounded by a heavy wariness of all things reference. Seriously. My pulse quickens a bit to just think of accessing information needed to adequately understand (and write about!) any given topic. Of course I do blame my k-12 education for this. Having been educated for 13 years in "open" programs, I literally did not know how to write a paper when I got to college, and nearly failed all of my freshman english classes as a result. I shudder when I think about Professor WhatsHerName's diabolical essay topics in Shakespeare 101. Yet by the time I graduated college I could whip out a 10 page paper on Atilla the Nun in Late Antiquity (definitely NOT her real name, I can't remember an iota of that woman's life, but I found her fascinating at the time). 

What happened? I discovered the internet.

And probably used it very poorly.

Research via the internet saved me. I passed my liberal arts courses, and my fear of reference was abated somewhat. But the fear still lingered, because I felt as if I had cheated somehow. My google-search based paper had earned me a B, but I had no way of knowing if the information I had accessed online was legitimate or not. Thankfully my nun paper was on a woman so obscure nobody would have bothered making anything up about her, and Wikipedia had yet to be invented. 

Now as a media specialist I am thrilled that I can show students a much more reliable source to find obscure and not-so-obscure information. Trustworthy information. And free to all Minnesotans. 


ELM (the Electronic Library of Minnesota) has essentially compiled all those stuffy, dusty, scholarly journals into one (relatively) easy to access from your La-Z-Boy via laptop location. Any topic that has been written about is catalogued in ELM's databases in some form or another, and with your MN library card number, you can find it, or at least find where to find it. You can often download a PDF of applicable articles (perfect for procrastinators) or read abstracts of pertinent articles which are fairly simple to get via interlibrary loan (just ask your local librarian for help with this one) if it's not easily available. 

Check out be you scholarly, or research-phobic like me. Click on the Help link on the left, and then check out the Tutorials for a quick run-through of how the ELM databases work. 

There is a lot of information out there. Thank goodness someone had the sense to organize it for us. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

a card in the hand?

It's ironic really. The more dependent we become on web-based technology, the more easily accessible books become. Library websites (and WebPACs) are becoming the norm for most libraries. From small schools to large public libraries, patrons can not only access their account, but they can search for any book they might want to read, see how many copies are available (and where), request books, find related books, and even write reviews. Reading has become increasingly interactive, thanks to technology. 

I have one faint memory of shuffling through the small drawers in a card catalog, and I vaguely recall having to use a MicroFiche at the big Minneapolis Public Library downtown. As a child and teen the way I found books at my library was by wandering up and down the aisles, my fingers on the spines, until I found a spine that was more intriguing than its neighbors. It seemed the best way to me at the time. 

As an adult, I am increasingly envious of what today's children have access to. The interaction available through WebPACs, online book clubs, author websites (which usually include chat rooms where you can discuss your favorite character or even write your own fan fiction), and the World Wide Web has transformed reading from a solitary activity into something much bigger. A quick Google-search of a favorite author might lead a reader on a virtual journey of the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, which might prompt a family vacation to Walnut Grove. Or a school media specialist might see that James and the Giant Peach has been listed in the Top Ten Books in Our Library section of her WebPAC, which might lead to ordering more books by Roald Dahl, which could then lead to the formation of a Roald Dahl Book Club. 

A caution, however: the more dependent we become on our technology, the more lost we become when it fails us. As wonderful as the internet is, it's foundation built of books cannot be taken for granted. 


Saturday, January 31, 2009

cool vs. practical

As I am learning all sorts of new things in my LME Certification classes I find myself filtering out information and ideas that wouldn't be applicable for my students, and I wonder if that's such a wise idea. I teach K-4th grade, so many very cool ideas are not practical for lower elementary. Podcasts, for example. I know how to teach them, my school has the technology, but when I did an informal survey of my students, none of them had ever heard of a podcast. So I wonder, is it really worth it? Probably not. Most of my students are still learning internet and Word basics, so as cool as a Podcast lesson would be, I feel their VERY limited class time would be better used on more practical lessons.

I have some coworkers who really want to start some VERY cool things at our school, like a TV studio where we can broadcast morning announcements. Now don't get me wrong, I love the idea, but with the time I have in class with them, they have about 1/2 hour a week to get their actual tech lessons. I have to prioritize. But I also have to appease my coworkers. I think it's a balance I'll always have to struggle to find.

Monday, January 12, 2009

ooh a blog! the beginning

Hi, I'm really starting this blog to make life without a laptop** easier. I'm taking online classes through Minnesota State University, Mankato, working full time as a library media specialist in North Minneapolis, am a busy mama of two (Eli is three, Lola is 6 months) and quite honestly I've found that keeping all my documents web-based is just plain easier. So since my Information Resources teacher made blogging a reflection option, I though why not!

(**when I reach tenure through Mpls next year I get either $1000 or a computer. If I had a laptop then I could keep all my nice documents in one place at work or at home, but since I don't, I'm resorting to the web. However my dear husband hinted that a laptop might be a good investment with his yearly bonus money. . . yes there are still places that actually give bonuses. Weird, I know.)