Friday, December 31, 2010

An organic 2011


photo © 2009 Martyn Hutchby | more info (via: Wylio)

I spent a lot of 2010 making myself crazy. Immersed in my RSS feed, I saw so many new things I could accomplish for our students. Our learning commons is a sign of change in our school and over the past few years, I have been working very hard at leading the charge from the front.

This year I am in a very different place. Why the change? It isn't because the need for ratcheting up collaboration in curriculum planning to include information and media literacy skills is any less crucial for our students. It isn't because students no longer need to understand the power of their digital footprint and what citizenship means in 2011. None of that has changed.

The change is in how I approach student learning and progress. We will still be keeping data on curriculum, skills, and standards. I'll still be teaching as many classes as I can shoehorn into the day. But the watchword is going to change. It has been "21st century skills," and I will tell it to you true, everybody hates that phrase. You can see the hackles rise. It is too strident, accusatory, and has become empty jargon.

Leadership from the front spreads the message, and I think the message is pretty much out there.  Leadership in the field is what we need right now - nurturing new skills and new literacies with personalized professional development when and where it is needed.
This year my watchword is going to be "organic."  I'll cultivate students and teachers by focusing on their specific need or task and build the skills into the educational moment.  I'll look to nurture each student and teacher with what they need, when they need it.

I came to this model after reviewing what worked over the past academic year to date.
  • Our new student CCHS YA Galley Group Blog.  New staff member and YALSA Teen's Top Ten Committee Chair, Jennifer Barnes (you can read Jennifer's blog here) worked with our passionate student readers to create a review blog for YA galleys. These students are credentialing themselves in their joy of reading and publishing to the world. My favorite part is they not only assign a number on a scale in their reviews, they describe the book as a food experience. An example from a recent student post: "The combination of terrible emotions and timeline, yet satisfying ending that gives those silly characters what they deserve add up to give the book 3 stars. Imagine a funny tasting candy that's nice to just crunch down on and finish."
  • Our new ebooks aren't gaining as much traction as I would like, but this is okay. We are building the information infrastructure ahead of need. This is important behind the scenes work that will keep our school moving forward and well situated for the coming transition to a more digital learning environment.
  • Introducing new, more user friendly databases is working. Text-to-speech functionality and UDL compliance are the nectar luring teachers to this one.
  • Supporting teacher requests for more rigorous source evaluation skills for students is working.
  • Supporting teachers in more rigorous citation expectations is working.
  • Supporting teachers and special education staff requests for guidance in identifying and obtaining alternate versions for students with reading disabilities is working.
  • Supporting students in media production to synthesize their learning is working. Our media lab is busier than ever and the role of learning commons staffed skilled in advanced media production more crucial than ever.
  • Going to a paperless pass system, making life easier for faculty and more accountable for students, is working.
  • Establishing the learning commons as a place for academic as well as community building activities is working.
    All the things that have worked best so far this year have come from an organic need. They dovetailed with work already being done and/or served our community. Transformation has come by nurturing and tending to teachers and students based on a personalized approach that goes beyond good, responsive patron services. It is both more holistic and more effective.

    So for the balance of the 2011 academic year, I am going organic. I'll be working in the fields alongside teachers and students, checking in on them, seeing what their needs are, and seeing how we can support them. The nutrients will be skills and resources, and the sunshine will be collegial service with a smile.

    Wishing my fellow teacher-librarians an exciting 2011 filled with happiness, health, and a wonderful harvest in June.

    Farmer Robin : )

    the farmer in love - il contadino innamorato      photo © 2010 Uberto | more info (via: Wylio)

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    Friday, December 10, 2010

    Cushing: A new model for libraries in the digital age

    Two years ago Cushing Academy's  Fisher-Watkins Library was at the center of a firestorm. The radical and sudden decision to throw out their library books  polarized school librarians on everything from their philosophy on reading, to student rights, to process, to the fundamental question of whether a space without books had the right to call itself a library. I recently had the unique and wonderful opportunity to visit Cushing, tour their physical space, learn about the changes, explore their virtual space, and gain a greater understanding of the pedagogy behind their evolution. From pariah to powerhouse, the "bookless library" has a lot to teach us, and offers much to ponder.
    “When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,’’ said headmaster James Tracy. (Mark Wilson for The Boston Globe)

    As an early supporter of Cushing I am happy to share my notes, impressions and the big take-away's. Please note that my notes are just that - quick notations. Any errors or misrepresentations are mine alone. I urge those interested in learning more to investigate the Fisher-Watkins portal and email Director Tom Corbett directly. He is a great guy seeking input and would welcome feedback on the site to continue its ongoing development.

    Important contact information:
    The Fisher-Watkins Library has two main purposes:
    1. To promote reading and make sure it survives in a digital environment
    2. To promote research and information literacy in the digital age
      Upon entering the Fisher-Watkins Library one is struck by the beauty and elegance of the space. It is an architect designed space, built below grade. Upon entering the original 1865 red brick structure you go down a level. Walking a short distance lit by ground level skylights, you go down again. The path is filled with natural light, lined with student work, class gifts and floor-to-ceiling full color glossy, foam core mounted wall displays of speakers ranging from poet laureate Robert Pinskey to Ishamel Beah.

      Descending down to the library is a light filled experience. Bow shaped, it looks out onto a grass semi-circle lawn with treetops in the distance. It may be below grade, but on the cold and overcast New England day we visited (12.3.10) it was filled with light. Students are scattered throughout studying by themselves or in small groups. There are a few teachers working independently or conferencing with students. The vibe is relaxed and scholarly. And there are some books.

      My visit to Cushing Academy was coordinated by our wonderful local educational collaborative of 22 Boston area schools, EDCO.  Fisher-Watkins librarians greeted us and we were ushered to the cafe where we were treated to our choice of coffees and teas. It is professionally and cheerfully staffed, and well stocked with muffins, yogurts and other tidy snacks.

       I was immediately struck by the diverse areas and seating arrangements. Great chairs with swivel desktops, study carrels with sea glass green dividers, silent study areas, group study areas, and at each end of the library are two open classroom areas with touch screen white boards.

      I saw students working in collaborative groups, studying individually, and students meeting with teachers. The vibe was relaxed, focused and scholarly. It wasn't quiet, but it the noise didn't distract from the academic feel. The space was filled with student art and three flat screen displays; one with student news, one with student productions, and one with CNN. Very cool.

      In this photo you can see down one half of the library. What is now open space dotted with diverse seating and group work areas was formerly low book stacks. The circulation desk was moved from what was once the cafe area and is now open and centrally located in the library. This shift has made the library staff is much more accessible.

      There is a designated silent study area, but for those students who want to sit in the main space Fisher-Watkins has 10 Bose noise canceling headsets.  These are very popular and are always checked out during evening hours.

      The Faculty Lounge is located at one end of the library and is very popular with staff. Free coffee from cafe staff keep teachers coming to socialize, meet with students, and moving through the space, creating opportunities to talk with the librarians.

      There is a wonderful energy to the space.


      Fisher-Watkins did not throw out all their books. What they kept and why:
      • Art books because they are not as readily available in digital format. They will not be purchasing additional art books in future.
      • Donated nonfiction books because they represent an investment by the Cushing community. The nonfiction collection and reference collections are interfiled. No future print purchases are planned.
      • Fiction, YA fiction and short story collections were deeply weeded and the remaining high interest titles were kept. There will be no future purchase or collection development. It is now an on demand collection.
      The Kindles
      Collection development is based on a patron request model. An ebook is  purchased because someone wants to read it. New titles are promoted via a digital display in the library and on the library website.

      The Kindles are cataloged and checked out to students who can keep them for as long as they want.  Of their 99 Kindles, 85 were checked out on the day of our visit. At this time they don't keep track of which title is on which Kindle. Each purchased title comes with six licenses. Once six copies have been loaded onto six different Kindles the license has been fully allocated. If there is a seventh request for a title they buy an additional copy, which translates as six additional licenses.

      Amazon Kindle titles are cataloged using print Marc records and edited to reflect it is an e version.

      When they started two years ago the process was very confusing but now works well for staff and students.

      A few Kindles (maybe five) have come back with damaged screens but were covered by warranty.
      Faculty and curriculum planning has increased but like all school libraries it continues to be an area  they would like to see grow. Stats indicate database usage is up. Space is used more by students than before.

      Other factoids:

      Building DVD collection for curriculum as well as personal enjoyment.

      Kept print magazines for a browsing collection.

      Nonfiction collection is purely donated books. About 5000 books left are left in the print collection, 2000 nonfiction. Makes it a funny, eclectic print collection.

      Reference is purely digital database and e-reference. Paper reference has been inter-shelved an is allowed to circulate.

      In addition to regular information literacy classes taught to support research activities, Connections is a required class for all freshmen and new students. It is a year long course that covers life and study skills, and Tom Corbett takes a semester which serves as library orientation. Students are trained in a core list of tech tools all students and teachers are expected to use, digital tools, information skills, ethics of social media, copyright. Tom teaches digital literacy skills, gets their computers set up correctly and teaches them to navigate digital information environment of school.

      There are also regular library orientation classes in the open classrooms at either end of the library.

      Digital services are the main front door for delivering support to students where they need, it when they need it, where they live. There is an embedded Illuminate widget on each page for students to text a request for help, questions, whatever. All staff members receive a notification when a student is requesting support and will reply up until 10pm. Sometimes later if a staff member is online when a question is posted.

      The school's nonfiction collection is fundamentally entirely online. In addition to databases and ebook purchases from Gale, academic content is purchased through eBook Library (eBL), an Australian group working almost exclusively at the university level - until now. Cushing is their first high school account in the United States. eBL allows the patron to either "buy" a book which provides the patron with access for an entire year, or check it out as a loan. Books can be previewed for five minutes and then the school account will be charged. The cost for borrowing is 1% of the retail price. There is an initial fee to set up the platform. This is new for Fisher-Watkins and they are still in the process of publicizing it with teachers.

      This is another example of a patron request collection model. With eBL students have access to over 150,000 high quality university press titles. Resources are paid for as they are used. Purchasing is not just in case, but as needed. There are no costs associated with processing, shelving or, eventually, with weeding. Libraries need to look more closely at this model.

      This is the core of the Fisher-Watkins philosophy. The library is not the place students and faculty go to get material. It is the place they go to learn how to effectively search digital resources to find what they need, and it is an environment designed for studious inquiry and work. An example of this philosophy can be seen in a screen shot from their Kindle page. Students are guided to Amazon, the biggest print and digital book vendor in the world, as their personal library.

      The Web Site
      The philosophy of the website is really important.

      The Fisher-Watkins website was created using Drupal, an open source content management platform. This web interface merges the catalog and databases using a federated search called Deep Web Technologies. They dropped their ILS (integrated library system) catalog!

      Why? OPACS are transaction focused. Fisher-Watkins decided they needed a new approach that was not focused on managing inventory. Their platform is designed to focus on patron support. They have moved away from a collection maintenance philosophy. The catalog is viewed as a starting point to launching the student on a quest to find what is needed.

      A little more on DeepWeb. This federated search engine was developed and is used  by Stanford University, and they have picked up a number of additional "big users." This is their first high school project. It pulls results from all the databases and digital resources, evaluates them and displays returns based on a ranking algorithm. A sidebar provides metadata for a richer search experience that helps develop skills in evaluating returns.  This is a very Google-like search experience.

      The Fisher-Watkins Drupal platform is totally customized and the goal is to make the template available to other libraries. It is still being developed.

      The Catalog
      Catalogers would have a heart attack over the thinness of the records. No tracings! Basic genre tags. The "catalog" supports students in exploring their wants/needs, and purchasing it on the spot. The library is a gateway to global digital content, paid for by the school.

      The Budget
      1. Approximately  $50,000 for materials, $20-30 for databases and ebooks. 
      2. Former book budget was rolled into digital content, got a small bump for additional ebook purchases. 
      3. Kindles purchased with capital funds, not budget. 
      4. $30-35,000 now for digital content. 

      After our tour our group shared a wonderful lunch, and a fascinating and far reaching discussion.

      One question was "If you had to do it over again what would you not do?" Tom said it would have been helpful to clarify how they were organizing reading and maybe minimize the initial bad press. However it really got the conversation going. Also, he wouldn't have gone so thoroughly digital all at once, and maybe would have rolled it out more slowly.

      Tom Likes the iPad with Kindle app. It can be distracting having everything available, but this is what we have to teach our students.

      My time at the Fisher-Watkins Library was one of the most powerful professional development experiences of my career. As a private school Cushing has more latitude than is possible in the public school sector. What they are exploring is print information evolving in a digital world of what seems like ubiquitous access. They are providing curated access to digital content for academic inquiry and personal reading. They are scaffolding students in developing the critical thinking and technology skills necessary to navigate this environment. They are changing the fundamental model of school libraries.

      As I continue to evaluate our curriculum, our collection, our service model and our web presence the lessons I learned at Fisher-Watkins will guide me.

      My sincere thanks to Director Tom Corbett, Head Librarian Liz Vezina, and library staff members
      Karen Lemieux, Susan Larkin and Jill Henry. The fortitude of the staff during a time of radical change must be commended. A personal thank you for your warm hospitality and the thoughtful time you took with our group.

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      Monday, December 6, 2010

      eBooks just got more game

      At long last Google announced the long anticipated launch of Google eBooks. More options for more readers! The non-proprietary nature of the platform should be making Amazon nervous. It certainly changes the terrain for school libraries. As we all wait and wonder which way to jump Google eBook gives options.

      Official Google Blog: Discover more than 3 million Google eBooks from your choice of booksellers and devices

      The ubiquity of eBooks is indisputable.  Platforms and vendors have already changed gears and incorporated Google eBooks into their interfaces. As an example take a look at GoodReads which has already incorporated Google eBooks with comparison pricing from Barnes and Noble (Nook) and Amazon (Kindle) options.

      We will be updating our wiki with news and information about Google eBooks and pushing it out via our CCHS LC Facebook Fan page and district email. More options for more readers using diverse devices sounds good to me!

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      Tuesday, November 30, 2010

      Hijacked by Gutenberg

      In the cacophony following the publication of Growing up digital, wired for distraction (Matt Richtel, NYT) there have been a flurry of articles and blog posts. The story of poor Vishal, the 17 year old now immortalized for not reading more than 43 pages of Cat's Cradle during his summer break, has added grist to many a mill. (Maybe the article should have been about choosing a more relevant and engaging book.)

      These are, indeed distracting times. If I am honest with myself I have to recognize how difficult it is for me to unplug, to stop compulsively checking in on my online world.  You will get no argument from me that our young people are highly distracted with their digital lives. (Maybe the article should have been about the importance of teaching time management skills at an early age, and not leaving it up to the immature teen brain.)

      What has been interesting to me is the "ah HA!" response. The gleeful vindication that all this technology is distracting teens, and us, from REAL engagement. From REAL critical thought. From REAL learning.

      Take, for example, Clifford Stoll's Newsweek article The Internet? Bah! in which he states "What Internet hucksters won't tell you is that the Internet is one big ocean of unedited data, without any pretense of completeness. Lacking editors, reviewers or critics, the Internet has become a wasteland of unfiltered data." Really? (Maybe this article should have been a request for a librarian to teach him how to search effectively.)

      In the midst of the hubbub appeared what is, to me, the most elegant response to Richtel's article. Jeff Jarvis, board member of Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, asks Who says our way is the right way?

      Citing research done in Denmark, the Gutenberg Parenthesis is generating a lot of interest. The theory is that we are leaving Gutenberg's "structured, serial, permanent, authored, controlled era of text and returning, perhaps, to what came before the press: a time when communication and content cross, when process dominates product, when knowledge is distributed by people passing it around, when we remix along the way, when we are more oral and aural."

      This describes the behaviors I see on a daily basis. Add to the possibility that Gutenberg and the print mentality of learning, the concept that information will ever be "complete", that the print based knowledge that has served us so well for centuries may actually be limiting the potential and power of the human brain, and Richtel's hand wringing is actually damaging.

      This is an evolutionary time featured by profound, abrupt change. It is hard, it is frightening and it can be divisive. It can also be joyous and elevating.

      Don Tapscott, original researcher and author of Growing Up Digital (1997) and the subsequent Grown Up Digital (2009) addresses changes in brain performance, social skills and yes, education, in this scholarly response  New York Times Cover Story on "Growing Up Digital" Misses the Mark.

      In defense of teens and the digital environment Tapscott poses, among other things:
      "Rather than creating dysfunctional brains that can't focus, the evidence is just as strong that experience being "bathed in bits" is pushing the human brain beyond conventional capacity limitations. So-called multitasking may in fact result from better switching abilities and better active working memory. Young people are likely developing brains that are more appropriate for our fast paced, complex world."

      There are two sources (among many) that have helped me process and make sense of this changing environment, and my role as a teacher librarian. Joyce Valenza's stirring response to the charge that libraries and librarianship are anachronistic remind me of where I need to focus my energies. As always she brilliantly articulates the rights of students to an education that values and teaches the skills necessary to navigate this faster paced and evolving world.  Indeed, if Matt Richtel had a librarian like Joyce he never would have written this article.

      Please take a moment to read - and listen - to this.
      What librarians make. A response to Dr. Bernstein and an homage to Taylor Mali

      Always ahead of the information curve, Libraries and Transliteracy is a scholarly blog dedicated to making meaning and deep understanding of the new multiple literacies necessary to be truly educated today. Some good foundational material can be found in this post:
      On Defining Transliteracy and Why Transliteracy Matters

      We are shifting from centuries of tradition to a new model of thinking, learning and sharing. Libraries stand at the fulcrum of this change. As librarians it is our responsibility to deeply invest ourselves in this ongoing conversation.

      A final thought on the role of libraries from  On defining transliteracy:

      Libraries are on the front lines of traditional literacy initiatives. But, libraries are also the vanguard for information literacy and digital literacy. In fact, if you can call it a type of literacy, you'll probably find it in a library. This is important because it follows that libraries should be the natural proving grounds for exemplary instances of transliteracy.

      Photo Credit:

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      Wednesday, November 24, 2010

      Double Rainbows

      The week before Thanksgiving is a unique opportunity to reap a harvest. This is when students who have graduated stop by to say hi, email updates, and as an educator you get to peek further down the production line and see the fruits of your labor.

      Not only do returning students tell you how they are doing, stories of roommates and their plans for travels and their thoughts on a major, they bring social media.

      This one had me hanging on the table and laughing so hard I couldn't breathe. It builds. Wait for it. Every human emotion in one heartfelt rant.

      Double Rainbow - So intense

      And then comes the social media mashup. Pitch perfect!

      Double Rainbow Song

      This is a double rainbow week. Happy holidays and safe travels.

      Photo Credit:
      Flickr Creative Commons
      Double Rainbow

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      Sunday, November 21, 2010

      Feasting on language

      Before things get crazy this season here are some fun language resources to send out to your faculty.
      WORDCOUNT is an artistic, minimalist site that sequences the vocabulary of the English language ranked in order of commonness. The data (currently 86,880 words) comes from the British National Corpus that collects samples of spoken and written British English language. 

      The site is fun when you look up words and see the contiguous words in the sequence. Thanksgiving was followed by mania. I know the grocery store is going to be pretty manic by the time I get there. Black Friday is the official kick off to holiday shopping mania.

      Conspiracy theorists should try looking up conspiracy. Does is mean anything?

       Take a look at the words on either side of "librarian":

      Stephen Abram's blog had a recent post  with a fascinating and fun 2.5 minute video called
      Tracking the 18th century social network through letters. Social network hold outs will find this offers some compelling evidence that this latest trend is nothing new and promotes intellectual growth. It is also an incredibly entertaining visualization of 18th century thought.

      I already posted about the Oxford English Dictionary and their "Save the Word" site, but it is just so much fun I can't help returning to it. Scrolling across the canvas of forgotten words and hearing them call out "Pick me!" "No, no, pick me!" adds a sense of delight and urgency, as if I can actually save words from the past.

      So as we all gear up for the mania of the holiday season, I hope your kitchens aren't filled with too many coquinators and that your soup pots are jussulent. This librarian is urging everyone to have a happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday.


      Saturday, November 20, 2010

      Meebo me

      Like most librarians I know, I am online constantly. There are always multiple tabs open and I am checking, toggling back and forth. Continuing to build our capacity to reach out to students with help, support and resources is our ongoing educational mission.

      When I go to check email and see that my account logged out twenty minutes ago and a student tried to reach me from the classroom with a citation question, or a teacher took a shot and emailed asking for a resource (or even sent up a flare for help with a technical problem),  I realize the opportunity was lost. This drives me crazy.

      I know our CCHS Learning Commons wiki gets a lot of traffic during the school day, and I have wanted to figure out how to make it more effective as a communication tool.

      Browsing through my RSS feed this afternoon a fascinating post from Information Tyrannosaur caught my eye. Check out his post on using Meebo in the library :

      Meebo Bar for Libraries | Information Tyrannosaur

      This is a really useful description of Meebo:

      "Enter the Meebo Bar. It’s a piece of javascript code that’s sits as a layer on top of a website.  This allows it to be on multiple pages so your widget is not just on your “ask a librarian” page or your homepage; it’s everywhere without taking up a bunch or room. In addition, it’s fully customizable so you can include your library’s Facebook page, posts from your Twitter stream, Flickr photos, YouTube videos, and more. Users can get help from a librarian and also connect with them on social media all from a single bar on any of the library’s pages."

      I have seen Meebo on university sites and our regional public library system site, but never really thought about integrating it into our web presence. This is going to be a fascinating trial.

      Information Tyrannosaur closed his post with a question.

      Is anyone currently using this? Would this be something that could be useful at your library?

      We are trying it! I'll let you know how it goes. Thanks Information Tyrannosaur!

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      Tuesday, November 9, 2010

      A new kind of resume

      Each year I get more and more requests from student teacher librarians to do observations and pre-practicums. This year  I will have my first full practicum student and am really looking forward to the experience.

      Just as the requests start to roll in, Joyce Valenza once again delivers timely and useful advice. Apps for student teacher librarians is a great list of tools and skills I can use to frame the discussion with the graduate school students who will be visiting and observing. It is also an excellent checklist for me to self-assess my professional practice. What should I be adding to my repertoire?

      This past summer I had the wonderful task of hiring someone for an assistant librarian position. The fascinating thing was recognizing what a game changer that skills and products proved to be when deciding which candidates would be asked in for interviews.

      I'm going to add to Joyce's list and offer advice to people graduating and entering the field. Giving evidence of mastery is crucially important. It can be tough if you don't have experience, but with some imagination it can be done. Hiring someone is a huge commitment. Everybody needs to grow into a position, but in choosing between candidates I want someone who I know can hit the ground running on a series of fronts.

      Skills and products I would look for:

      • Build pathfinders for the library you hope to run
      • Launch a Facebook fanpage for the teens you hope to connect with
      • Blog about items in your RSS feed and share your ideas on how you might incorporate various tools and ideas
      • Embed GoodReads and other widgets into your blog to promote reading
      • Add your Twitter roll to give evidence of the educational leaders you follow
      • Link to a Google site you created as a forum for the reading group you hope to start
      • Create a wiki and turn it into your digital portfolio
      • Upload a powerpoint to Slideshare and embed it in your wiki
      • Add a YouTube video on 21st century skills that speaks to your philosophy on the skills we need to teach our students and faculty

      Showing your vision for what is possible makes you an attractive partner on our team. Bring your ideas, your entrepreneurial spirit and your comfort with the tools and platforms necessary to turn your plans for a school library program of distinction into a reality.

      Do some of these things and your resume jumps to the top of the stack.

      Day 9 NaNoWriMo
      (Not writing a novel. Using this as a prompt to blog daily for a month.)

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      Saturday, November 6, 2010

      Book bigot

      On Friday, during the last block of the day, I was walking around, straightening chairs, with my iPad tucked under my arm. A group of students, seated in a circle in our comfy chairs, asked about the iPad and if they could play with it a bit. I said sure, handed it over, and after about 10 minutes cycled back to see what they thought.

      We talked about gaming, some of the apps, and then about what it was like to "really" read digitally. Like a novel. Like, real reading, not school reading. (Hmm. That was an interesting comment.) I took the opportunity to introduce my favorite topic at the moment, ePub. I showed them the conference notes that I had transformed into an ebook and uploaded to iBook. We looked at the text to speech and other accessibility features, notes and bookmarking, and talked about how teachers could create their own digital textbooks using material they had already created. It was a great discussion.

      And then one of the boys asked "But Mrs. Cicchetti, won't you miss books?" He held up a worn paperback he had been reading, flipped the pages against his cheek, and said "I'd miss doing this. I'd miss holding it in my hands like this."

      It was an interesting moment. He sounded like many people my age who wax on about their attachment to the physical book. I wondered, at that moment, if my bias toward digital text wasn't, perhaps, a form of bigotry against the traditional book. Am I a book bigot? 

      Or have I taken on the role of digital crusader because it takes that degree of energy and focus to shift the entrenched cult of THE BOOK? 

      This article from The Guardian made me think about the conversation today.
      Is the ebook the new hardback? | Books |

      "As e-readers move towards the mainstream, publishers' increasing interest in web-first publishing could leave luddites waiting up to six months longer than the cool kids to read their favourite author's latest novel."

      Web-first publishing, the well documented rise in eBook and ereader sales and the ready access to free and accessible (text-to-speech, etc.) books all mean the emotional connection to THE BOOK might be holding this student back. 

      I am so excited about our Kindle pilot. I am so energized about ePub and the implications for learning and providing students with the skills to access quality content that is becoming more ubiquitous by the day.

      This book bigot is, indeed, on a crusade. I won't be ripping books out of the hands of children, but I look forward to the day when I can put an e-reader in their other hand and guarantee their understanding and skills in this evolving literacy landscape.

      Day 6

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      Friday, November 5, 2010

      Glogster, Andalucia, Prague and the Matrix

      Our Spanish 2 classes have been doing research on Andalucia. They are divided into groups with different topics (architecture, economy, the arts - you get the idea.) Each group will present on their topic and together build an overview understanding of the region.

      Glogster is a great platform for this kind of synthesis/sharing work. It has been around for awhile now and last year glogs were everywhere in our school. It was a real work horse of a platform.

      I was really excited to introduce it to a new group of students this week. Unfortunately, over the past two days we have been looking at a spinning wheel. On Wednesday I chalked it up to a glitch in the matrix. Stuff happens out there in server world. The students had lots of research to do and used the time well. Thursday they were ready to start building their glogs, but the spinning wheel was still there. I called our IT guys who confirmed the problem wasn't on our end.

      I checked the website to try and find some contact info (when was the last time you saw a website with a phone number?) but ended up using the online white pages. They are based in Boston and I called and spoke to a wonderful person who also went through some trouble shooting with me. She told me that the Glogster programmers are located in the Czech Republic and had been doing upgrades. Given the time difference they were not working at the time, but she would email and have an update for me in the morning.

      Three minutes later I received an email. The friendly Glogster person had called Prague the the team was working late! They hoped to have issues resolved in the morning. Neo would have said "Woah."

      The interesting thing was the response of students. There was understandable frustration, but I started hearing grumbling like "I don't trust the digital age."  and "the Internet is always broken." Not woah.

      A few quick discussions about flexibility and contingency planning calmed things down, but also highlights the pressure students are under to produce and the extra challenges when things go wrong. Everybody got project extensions.

      By the way, when the platform wouldn't load I needed a quick way to demonstrate the various editing features. I found this great 90 second tutorial on YouTube. The music is punchy and I provided the voice over. It worked out really well.

      The matrix, if you will, can still be glitchy. Things don't always work to plan. And sometimes it still takes a telephone call to sort things out. Woah.

      Day 7 NaNoWriMo
      (Not writing a novel. Using this as a prompt to blog daily for a month.)

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      Thursday, November 4, 2010

      Mindless Friday Fun

      This is fun. Oxford English Dictionary lets you save the words.

      "The Oxford English Dictionary has launched something very charming and playful: a campaign to save forgotten words from obsolescence. As you move your mouse over the collage of words they call out for you to pick them, and when you click, a definition pops up, as well as an invitation to adopt it. I just adopted primifluous. I also learned that vitamin G was the original name for riboflavin. You can also sign up for the word of the day email program, and read handy suggestions about how to use these forgotten words in your day to day life (or in Scrabble). Adopt your own here."

      Save the Words is the home site and I guarantee you can waste some excellent time here. I chose jussulent, because I liked the way it looked as I rolled my mouse over it.

      Why is this important? Few of our students know what I am talking about when I say "study carrel." They have never heard the term. Today I suggested to a student that if she needed to concentrate and get away from her friends she should go to sit in one of the third floor study carrels. She gave me a blank look, snapped her gum, turned her head to follow my pointed finger and said "Oh, you mean those boxy things?"

      Words matter. Vocabulary is changing quickly. Perhaps if we had evolved into more of a soup consuming culture instead of a burger/pizza culture jussulent would still be in use. Maybe some day, years from now, someone will say "Hey, did you know that they used to call the boxy things carrels?"

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      Game changer

      It isn't about the device. I am lucky enough to have both a Kindle and an iPad. They are synched which makes digital reading easy and a joy. Truth be told though, I was a little frustrated. The iPad still felt more like a consumption device.

      At the MassCUE Conference last week I went to a session on the iPad. I knew it was possible to get free ePub books for the iPad, but I still wasn't sold on its role in schools. I walked out of the session room a convert. 

      Why? Because of ePub.  After a 1 hour session I was able to convert my conference notes into an ebook and by synching with my laptop iTunes account, download a beautiful ebook rich with links and embedded video. It was easy, intuitive and fast.

      Think of the ramifications! Curriculum that is currently paper based can be copy/pasted into an ebook and pushed out through a district network as an alternate textbook. Teachers can collaborate and keep materials updated with all the ease of simple word processing.

      The iPad, or whatever the digital reading device turns out to be, is a pipeline for delivering teacher created content to students. Content that has text to speech and other accessibility features built right into the format.

      What a great way to showcase student work. This has fascinating implications for student publishing. Our student literary magazine could be published this way, and expanded to include rich media resources. These are dynamic skills for Humanities students.

      This is something I can champion, promote, and support through professional development. We are nowhere near ready for an initiative like this, but seeing what is possible will help us prepare for this future, which isn't too far off.

      At this stage in the game you need to use Pages, which is a Mac word processing platform. Things are evolving so quickly that very soon it won't matter if you are Mac or Windows based. The important thing is talking about it and getting tech directors, administrators and teachers to see the potential. Laying the groundwork for rolling out the capacity for digital publishing in the next couple if years is important work, and has jumped to the top of my planning.

      ePub Best Practices

      Day 6 NaNoWriMo
      (Not writing a novel. Using this as a prompt to blog daily for a month.)

      Photo Credit:
      Flickr Creative Commons
      eBook Readers Galore

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      Extending your Readability

      In our region of Massachusetts we have a wonderful educational collaborative made up of 22 school districts in the Boston area. It was during the monthly meeting for school librarians that I learned about Readability. This nifty little toolbar extension strips ads and other sidebar distractions from the page.

      This article from the Washington Times on the results of the mid-term elections is a great example. The first screenshot show the article with ads, video and pop-outs. Very distracting, especially for students with attention or reading disabilities.

      With Readability on my Chrome toolbar I click the Blue R and the page looks like this. Just text, no distraction.

      Readability also provides this embedded toolbar so the student can print or email the article in this cleaned up format. It works with Diigo, Evernote and other collaborative and note-taking platforms. What a boon for students!

      Chrome and Firefox have lots of add-ons to improve accessibility. Just Google:
      Firefox extensions or
      Chrome extensions

      You will find lots of tools to improve student productivity on the web, as well as your own.

      Day 5 NaNoWriMo
      (Not writing a novel. Using this as a prompt to blog daily for a month.)

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      Stale bread

      After a month long hiatus from blogging I was feeling really out of it. I was tagging things in my RSS feed to potentially blog about later. Things that made my think, new information, practices I might want to try - but I wasn't making time for the next step of synthesizing my thoughts in a blog post.

      It wasn't a good feeling.

      And October was such a great month for new information! eBooks Libraries at the Tipping Point, the virtual summit hosted by SLJ and Library Journal on September 29, 2010, was a flood of challenging and inspiring blogs, tweets and Facebook posts. I was tagging things but not deeply focusing on them and working to make connections. Now, when I revist links I feel as if some of the spark has dissipated. Not from the conference and the great information, but from me and my process. By waiting so long my initial excitement turned a little stale. It is as if that by not participating, I dropped out of the conversation.

      October also saw the Massachusetts School Library Association and MassCue educational technology conferences in Massachusetts. Even more good stuff!

      So I am walking away from things I tagged to think about later. Tired of stale bread. Ready for a fresh loaf.

      Day 4 NaNoWriMo
      (Not writing a novel. Using this as a prompt to blog daily for a month.)

      Photo credit:

      Flickr Creative Commons
      Stale Bread
      By Faith Durand

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      Wednesday, November 3, 2010

      Just call us the X-Men!

      Like a lot of school libraries, we have had retirements over the past three years. Three years ago when a part time an assistant librarian retired I realized we had an opportunity.

      Instead of looking for someone who would cover the circulation desk during lunch, shelve and sign passes, we looked at what our program needed. We were upgrading technology and media production and I knew I couldn't handle it on my own. A call to our local cable access station led me to an amazing person. Jane-Sarah MacFarlane is a video production specialist who has produced award winning independent films. She handles our technology, provides upper level support to students in video editing, and has also produced videos for our school. Her most recent program won a local award, and focused on our sister school relationship with a school in Turkmenistan. (Awesome video embedded below.) She traveled there with a delegation of our teachers last spring and her coverage placed her at the heart of a diplomatic exchange, and the promotion of our school. Oh, she covers the circulation desk, shelves, and signs passes, too.

      On the last day of school last year another of our assistant librarians announced she would be retiring. As sad as I was to say goodbye to a valued partner, this was another opportunity. In an instance of pure serendipity I got a call from one of our local public library directors. They had just lost their Teen Services specialist and asked if I might  be interested in partnering in finding a candidate to cover both of our libraries. You betcha!

      After a wonderful collaborative process and extensive interview process we hired Jennifer Barnes. Her title is "Teen Services Consultant - Reader's Advisory & Social Media", and she is amazing. Jenn launched our Facebook Fan page and is running the contest to get us to 500 fans. She ran a promotion for Teen Read Week getting teacher participation by asking for their favorite books, and then displaying them for students to check out - which they did! The new YA Galley Group is a program that already has a group of eager readers who are launching a review blog. Jenn is really busy splitting her time between two libraries, but the public/school crossover is invaluable, and her unique position brings a new and fresh perspective to our program. Her blog Baby I was Born to Read is terrific and touches upon her experience as a YA reviewer for SLJ, and about her reading and role as a member of  the ALA 2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults Committee.  Oh, she covers the circulation desk, shelves, and signs passes, too.

      Our long-timer, LouAnn Franke, has a great relationship with our public library network, handles our robust inter-library loan program, has organized Wii gaming tournaments, runs all the holiday themed contests like guess the weight of the pumpkin, and trivia contests. Oh, she covers the circulation desk, shelves, and signs passes, too.

      I was talking about our wonderful staff to an English teacher not too long ago and he said "Wow, it's like each of you has a super power. You guys are like the X-Men!" I didn't like that at all ;)

      The age of the generalist has passed. Every library employee needs to be a specialist, to bring unique strengths, skills and passions to the table. This is the era of super-powers. This is a job for the X-Men!

      Jane-Sarah's video:

      Turkmenistan trip CCHS/Charlestown from Jane-Sarah MacFarlane on Vimeo.

      Day 3 NaNoWriMo
      (Not writing a novel. Using this as a prompt to blog daily for a month.)

      Photo Credit:
      Google Images
      x-men v1

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      Tuesday, November 2, 2010

      Jumping into new waters with floaties

      We are in the process of ordering six Kindles. Not because we are going to throw out our books. Not because I believe Kindle is necessarily the way to go. Nobody can make that call at this point in time.

      We are purchasing Kindles for two specific reasons:

      1. To play in the digital device waters. To learn how to swim. How do we manage the titles? What is the impact on staff? How will we integrate this into our catalog and circulation system? How will our students respond? What does purchasing look like?
      2. We have started a YA Galley Reading Group. Students can access digital YA galleys from NetGalley and respond on our newly minted YA Galley Group blog. Students are reviewing galleys and will be recommending titles for purchase. (The details of this incredibly exciting program will be coming.) There is a lot of discussion about galleys going paperless. Early reviewers will get digital copies, and by laying the groundwork now and getting Kindles into their hands our students will be well poised to jump into the digital water.
       There is no doubt in my mind we are on the right track. Take a look at this robust best seller reading list:
      Most Downloaded Audiobooks and eBooks from the Library

      Reading digitally requires us to re-think our definition of reading. There are new skills involved in this new world of reading, and school librarians need to be there to lead and teach our faculty and students. The accessibility features for people with reading disabilities are so exciting that we are morally obligated to do everything in our power to advocate for funding to provide digital reading devices for our students.

       It makes me think of one of my all time favorite school library quotes:

      "In the nonstop tsunami of global information, librarians provide us with floaties and teach us to swim."
      Linton Weeks

      Which brings us to the best Kindle "floatie" of them all! Thanks to Buffy Hamilton for sharing her process. Talk about a how-to manual! Buffy's blog The Unquiet Librarian must be considered required reading. Her recent post On the Eve of our Kindle Pilot made me clap my hands and dance a jig!

      I am so excited about this new era for our school library, and will be sharing our process, our mistakes, and our successes.

      Day 2 NaNoWriMo
      (Not writing a novel. Using this as a prompt to blog daily for a month.)

      Photo Credit:
      Flickr Creative Commons 
      The official start of swimming season has begun!

      By rachel.plowman 

      May 31, 2010

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