Monday, June 28, 2010

My little secret

I have a little secret. Sort of a cross between a compulsion and an addiction. I don't talk about it too often because I have it pretty well under control. I'm not ashamed or anything. There are millions of people who understand and share my problem. In fact, most of the people in my profession fall somewhere on the spectrum. I am a life-long obsessive compulsive reader. This used to manifest itself as book hoarding but has evolved with recent advances in technology.

There is one restriction to my reading. I only read for free. Working in a high school library and being a regular patron of our public library system means I don't have to buy books. There might be a bit of a wait for popular titles, but with so much choice there is always something great to read.

The digital options are even more liberating. Through GoodReads it is possible to download new titles being promoted to give exposure to new authors, as well as classics. When J.D. Salinger died I downloaded a pdf of Catcher in the Rye and had the joy of reacquainting myself with Holden Caulfield. (I learned that I didn't love reading off Adobe Editions. Reading for extended periods off a laptop just wasn't comfortable.)

Through my beloved Kindle I read classics in the public domain and also peruse Amazon's Kindle Promos on a fairly regular basis. This has been a good way to infuse contemporary titles and new authors into my Kindle list.

Since I got my iPad I have learned how to synch my Kindle and transfer titles between devices. Just before school let out a graduating senior asked me to sign her yearbook. As I wrote something pithy we talked about her passion for English literature and I shared some of my favorites. That night I got a hankering for Howard's End and bounced it over to the iPad. The awesome thing about reading on the iPad is you don't have to turn on a light at night. Both devices are a joy for this reader.

Through LibraryThing where I am signed up as a reviewer (and often get free books - paper and digital), I got an invitation to join NetGalley.


"NetGalley delivers digital galleys and promotional materials to professional readers and helps promote new and upcoming titles. Using NetGalley, publishers can build communities, invite contacts to view galleys and promotional materials, and track who has viewed their titles.
Professional readers--reviewers, media, journalists, bloggers, librarians, booksellers and educators--can join and use NetGalley at no cost. Register Now to get started."

Creating an account and synching it to my Kindle was a little fiddly, but mostly because I rushed and didn't follow the instructions as carefully as I should have. However, the customer support was fast, helpful and personal. I really like this company. And I like the four new YA galleys that appeared in my Kindle list this morning.

Aside from the fact that I have a lot of reading fetishes (don't even get me started on bookmarks!) I manage to read widely, and for free. As a public school librarian I mean it when I tell students and parents that they should never have to purchase a book for education. I'll track it down somewhere, in some format. I may have to fight the compulsion to read it first before handing it over, but let's keep that between ourselves.

Photo credit:
Flickr Creative Commons
Shh. I have a secret.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

QR for your library and a new site for your RSS feed

At our high school I can tell you one thing for sure. Teenagers don't read signs. Period. I struggle with signage.

Let me give you an example. We have a LCD screen behind our main desk and use it to promote events and showcase student life. For the past couple of weeks we have been using it to remind students to clear their student network server accounts before the vacation as all work would be deleted. I was standing right under the display when a student asked if there was a limit to how much he could leave on his network account over the summer. I pointed to the Keynote presentation advising students to clear their accounts that was running right above MY HEAD!

I just came across a great blog that had a neat idea. Shelf Consumed: Cool Tools for Libraries...QR Codes. Click through to the post, which is rich in links and resources.

The short version is that this free (yay!) service allows you to generate a QR code for anything. It is a neat way to tag your collection, promote events, promote books - anything! Tagging is a core skill in organizing web-based information, so why not incorporate it in other ways as well?

Our students don't seem to read signs very well, but they read their cell phones with great skill. Smartphones can be used to read QR code. Hmmm... Using a free mobile barcode and an app like Ingima  a student can "read" a QR code and automatically link to a website, video or any web-based destination. This could be a great way to publicize the learning commons in September. Or to showcase some of our new books. Shelf Consumed has even more suggestions for uses of QR codes in your learning commons or library.

Additional links:
QR Code Generator
Sticky Bits

I can see that Shelf Consumed is going to be a valued addition to my RSS feed.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Close the library?

This post first appeared as a guest post on Doug Johnson's Blue Skunk Blog. Thank you for the opportunity, Doug!


As we wind up the academic year, I've been thinking about our transition from a traditional school library to a learning commons. It became official this year, and judging by our traffic and circulation numbers, it’s been a big success.

The kind of work that students are now engaged in looks different than it did even just five years ago. Our instruction reflects this and has evolved, with lessons that now include topics such as source evaluation, advanced search skills, web-based information platforms, and fair use media. Our website has turned into a 24/7 support portal featuring tutorials and rich resources for students working out of school hours.

The things that are working:

    * rewarding collaborations with teachers for extended research activities and multi-media projects (instructional class use went up 74% over the past year!)
    * media production - through the roof
    * new informational web tools for :
          o location
          o evaluation
          o synthesis
          o presentation
    * new formats
          o eBooks
          o CD / MP3 audio books
          o web-based sources for free digital content
          o graphic novels of classics and for curriculum related topics

The things that are not working:

    * lines of students waiting to get in because we are often beyond seating capacity
    * requests for extended hours which we struggle to staff
    * learning commons staff stretched t-h-i-n by our increased student and class use

And one thing that surprised me:

    * a few teachers who prefer the traditional library model of silent, individual study

I was genuinely taken aback when someone expressed to me that there were a few faculty members who weren't pleased with the new learning commons model. Where I see engagement, creativity, differentiation, diversity, collaboration, and relevance, they see noisy students. Where I see new sources of information with text-to-speech, translation options, and ways to manipulate and understand digital content, they see students using computers instead of reading books. Where I see innovation, they see distraction.

Books are wonderful, but they aren't necessarily accessible by all learners. Common decency, and the US  Federal Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 Universal Design Law, demand accessible alternatives. While handing out a xeroxed reading packet may be a comfortable tradition, it does not allow access for all students nor does it allow them to learn the skills of navigating links to original sources, annotating for web-based collaboration, or seeking alternative perspectives. These are critical thinking skills, and it is our job is to advocate for students who are otherwise locked alone in an analog world.

During moments of self-doubt, when I wonder if perhaps we've gone too far, I look around at other programs in our state where a number of traditional libraries have been closed due to budget cuts. At the same time, many other districts, including some in highly cash-strapped towns, are protecting their learning commons. Why?

Perhaps it’s because the learning commons has taken the lead in educating not only students, but also faculties, in new informational technologies. Perhaps its because the learning commons has become a leader for incorporating special tools for students with learning disabilities. Perhaps it’s because the learning commons has become essential to the educational mission of the school.  

As I have been thinking about these things, an interesting blog post appeared in my RSS feed. In YALSA Blog: Save Libraries? Linda Braun posted her recent discussion with  YALSA Blog manager MK Eagle. They talked about the Save Libraries Campaign, advocacy, and the quandary of what to do about bad libraries. They gave voice to the unspeakable. Do all libraries deserve to be saved? What is our obligation to advocate for poor programs?

This to me highlights the perception gap between a "traditional" library and a modern learning commons. Here we have professionals in the field of librarianship talking about the difficulty of supporting library programs that fail to maintain their relevance to modern educational needs, and yet I know there are a few people in my own building who long for the days of books, hard-copy periodicals, and silent individual study.

For the next academic year, I will continue to try to improve communication with the remaining holdouts in our building. I will continue to build collaborative bridges with these colleagues who question technology and the new terrain of information literacy.

Nevertheless, I know that no matter how hard I try, I will not be able to convince everyone. I sometimes feel like a missionary who finds a few souls that do not wish to be saved. So they won’t be.

Nor will traditional school libraries. They will continue to close.


Photo credit:
R. Cicchetti
CCHS Learning Commons

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Is a phonebook a book?

The Japanese push the boundaries of digital appliances, particularly in cell phone based reading. In fact, cell phone books are the biggest growth area for publishing in Japan. It is estimated that 86% of Japanese teens read cell phone novels.

From the Mobile Art Lab in Japan comes a new twist on digital reading. The youngest children get this concept and turn the "page" with the same muscle memory used with paper. What an engaging way to read! Is it less valuable because it is digital? I don't think so.

We need to be studying the literacies associated with digital reading and preparing our libraries and faculties. Our collections need ebooks and digital readers to understand and gain experience working with and understanding what it means to truly read digitally. And we need to do it with an open mind.

I'd like to put in a plug for Libraries and Transliteracy, a blog I find very useful in clarifying my views and learning more about the topic of evolving literacies. 

"This blog is a group effort to share information about the all literacies (digital literacy, media literacy, information literacy, visual literacy, 21st century literacies, transliteracies and more) with special focus on all libraries."
 
An example is a recent post by Bobbi Newman, Information Literacy for the 21st Century.

This is the future of reading.



Source:
Ewan MacIntosh's edublogs:

iPhone + Book = Book: beautiful transmedia book

Friday, June 11, 2010

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?

Friday, the last day of classes, and final exams are scheduled for next week. Everyone is frayed at the edges. The media lab is choked with students finalizing multi-media projects. The printers are giving off heat, we are churning out so many papers.

Frenzied? Yes. Creative? YES! As buried in work as students are, many are looking beyond the rubrics and bringing creativity and craftsmanship to their work. It is incredibly inspirational to work with students who care about doing well, but who also care about adding their own voice and creativity to their work. When you consider the obstacles so many kids face in the course of their school career it is all the more impressive.

What about us? As school librarians how do we feed our creativity? Does our creativity give us new ideas? Connect us to the world? Do we let our creativity out to play, or do we allow it to be stifled by budgets, colleagues, and maybe by a sense of  frustration that we are not recognized for our work?

On my desk is a heavy stainless steel paper weight that asks "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?"

This question feeds my creativity. It gives me courage to try out new ideas, to go for grants, to approach teachers with ideas for collaborating on units, to work with students trying out new platforms to give them options to show their learning. To showcase their creativity.

Let Out the Creative Beast is a great cartoon by Betsy Streeter that cleverly gives a peek into the working lives of students. And us, as well. Enjoy! And nurture your creative beast.

Let Out the Creative Beast
View more presentations from Betsy Streeter.

Photo credit:
Flickr Creative Commons
Where does creativity hide? ~ Amy...
from Abby Lanes

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Greetings and salutations!


 Under the category of digital "footprint", what DOES your email address say about you? I don't really get this blog (The Oatmeal) but the graphic is great (click to enlarge), and the concept compelling.




 Summary:
@owndomain = skilled and capable techno-wizard
@gmail.com = pretty tech savvy
@hotmail.com = still thinks MySpace is hip (haha - I liked that one)
@yahoo.com = types in capslocks and forwards alarming emails about conspiracies
@aol.com = prints emails out and brings them to your house for you to read

This is an interesting time in communication. Many educational institutions are doing away with their email platforms in favor of Gmail or just leaving it up to students. Email is already seen as dated and an outmoded technology. Social media platforms, wikis, Moodles and the ubiquitous cell phone texting have eclipsed email.

The question is, who is teaching communication conventions? Letter writing used to be taught in the classroom. I have vivid memories of lined paper and various forms of "salutations". Is "Yo" an acceptable salutation these days? If we polled students I think we would get a unanimous "du-uh".

I have a gmail account. Am feeling good about my placement on the chart.

Source articles:
 EduDemic � What Your E-Mail Address Says About Your Computer Skills

The Oatmeal: What your email address says about your computer skills

Photo credit:
Flickr Creative Commons
Email me. 1/365.
from Mona rocks.....not

The perils the plagiarist

As sure as the sun rises, kids are going to get caught by deadlines, and some of them are going plagiarize. By way of Stephen Abram's excellent blog Stephen's Lighthouse, comes a funny and fabulous anti-plagiarism video from Germany. Some sketchy sexuality kicks it out of the high school classroom and firmly into the college realm, but boy, does it get the point across with humor and relevant references to popular culture.




Helping students avoid plagiarism has to be part of our mission as librarians and information specialists. In addition to an academic honesty contract every student signs, our school also has a TurnItIn account which is a very efficient filter that puts kids on notice that their work is being checked. When I collaborate with teachers in planning research and multi-media activities I advocate (strongly) for the use of NoodleTools. This (surprisingly affordable) platform allows teachers to set deadlines for citations, notecards and outlines so students can't so easily miss deadlines and fall behind. I can check student sources and make recommendations. Interacting directly with students during their research process allows me to intervene and support students when necessary, and also support the teacher with expertise that may not be part of their content area or skill set.

In a recent project it was apparent that, despite admonitions that Wikipedia would not be allowed as a source it was being heavily cited. I discussed it with the teacher and worked with the class on how to check Wikipedia articles for recent changes and the history tabs to evaluate discussions around the content. We also talked about "mining" articles for scholarly sources that are appropriate for academic work. The citation process became a robust platform for teaching source evaluation, and students were engaging more critically with content. Their notes became more meaningful with sources they had spent time evaluating. And they were meeting deadlines. It was also really nice to be using Wikipedia constructively. Like Google, it needs to be explicitly taught and added to student's information toolbox.

Anything we can do to give our students and teachers the tools to avoid plagiarism is worth it - and that may include producing an in-house adaptation (sans sketchy sex) of this wonderful video. With proper credit, of course ;)

YouTube - Et Plagieringseventyr
Photo credit: R. Cicchetti

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sunscreen and Zombies

One thing I never saw coming was a fascination with zombie lit. Seriously. And then came Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. With a bad attitude and disdain I condescended to give it a read, just to see how bad it was, and I got schooled by zombies. Meiji Japan? Elizabeth Bennet and the ninjas? Poor Charlotte Lucas! I. Loved. It.

Then came Monster Island and those rocking, school uniformed, Uzi toting,  Somali teen-girl band of warriors and an omniscient zombie named Gary in post-infection Manhattan. I needed more zombies.

World War Z was the perfect follow up. As one of the most popular books in our library this year I had to wait (impatiently) for my turn. An oral history of the global zombie wars, complete with data, statistics and primary source documentation, it was worth the wait.

My zombie orgy culminated with Zombieland, a video of the U.S. after the zombie plague. From all my zombie reading I felt pretty confident of my zombie survival skills, the most important being disposal of the head, so it was nice to be able to add a few tricks to my skill set.
  • The double tap - not one, but two shots to the head, to be sure the brain is really destroyed.
  • Wear a seatbelt - an accident in a get-away car can kill you, too. Buckle up for safety. And always check the backseat!
  • Cardio - being able to out run zombies can save your life.
So what does this have to do with sunscreen? I can't think of a better genre for summer reading than zombie lit. Perfect for the beach, funny, horrific, ghoulish, page-turning fun. Great for reluctant readers, great for smartie-pants (like me) who think they  know everything and that they can't be surprised anymore. I now have collegial bonds with fellow zombie afficionados - students with whom I might otherwise never have had the opportunity to make a connection.

That is why I featured zombie lit on our CCHS Learning Commons homepage.

Summer reading offers students a rare opportunity to read for pleasure, for fun, for joy! Our new paperless list, CCHS Summer Reading 2010, features books that are engaging and offer different perspectives and global themes.

Kids are busy during the summer, with Juniors preparing for college interviews. All the books on our list would provide a lively discussion to that classic interview question "what are you reading?".  If I were an interviewer you can be sure I'd remember the applicant who could speak with intelligence and passion about zombie lit.

Students, and their librarians, need to get out of their comfort zones sometime, and try something new. It is a great gift to be surprised by a book.

When the zombie apocalypse comes, and it will, I'll be ready.