Saturday, December 19, 2009

Books of 2009

My reading taste is idiosyncratic. I am always surprised when other people like the same books I do. But after booktalking it for more than four years, I finally persuaded a student to check out Dodie Smith's masterful I Capture the Castle this week

... I hesitate to say, "of 2009," because of course you read things that weren't published this year, and how much richer I find writing about reading (Nick Hornby's Believer columns spring to mind) when a whole and full reading life is shared rather than just mock Printz or some pub-date obsessed cult of the ARC. That being said, I have read more recent things than probably ever before. These are some of my favorites:

Recent YA

Liar by Justine Larbalestier (2009) For almost two hundred pages, I thought I was reading this rather gritty realistic piece of fiction, and then it shifted to something else entirely. Really fresh.

Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd (2009) This book capture suburbia better than any I can remember, and the bittersweetness of the romance only adds to the overall melancholy tone. Perfect teen angst.

Skeleton Creek  by Patrick Carman (2009) I know a few readers didn't like the genre-shifting, but I loved the way the video integrated with the text. An entirely new experience.

Geektastic: stories from the nerd herd  by Holly Black and Cecil Castelucci (2009) Obligatory short story pick. Black and Castelucci are only two of the all-star YA stable penning pieces of ever variety of geek-dom, from theater geeks to comic-cons to academic teams. Interspersed with comics, too.

Some older books

The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (1991) I can't believe this book existed for so long without me knowing about it. It is the past and the future, simultaneously. I predict I can hand-sell it to a dozen boys post-Guy Ritchie incarnation of Sherlock Holmes.

Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer (1999) I found a reference to the book when watching an episode of television series online. Sawyer's novel is set among particle physicists working on the large hadron collider at CERN, and the flashforward effect described is entirely different, it's great fun.

Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden (1995) Marsden's seven-book series charts the revolt of rather ordinary Australian teens after their country is invaded. The action sequences are fun, and Marsden's characters and their attachments original.

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (2006) In this novel and its companion, The Dead and the Gone, the moon is knocked much closer to the earth's orbit, disrupting tides, electricity, transportation, and blocking out the sun. Grim but enthralling. A third one comes out in 2010.

Frankly, I Expect No Less

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (2009) When I try to tell someone what anything by Niffenegger is about, I start babbling like an idiot. It is about many things, none of which sound like they go together but somehow do is this amazing, dazzling, creative mass.

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby (2009) A book about fandom, but also love, loss, and aging. The first few pages depressed me profoundly enough for me to assent to the break-up of the fictional long-term relationship, proof if needed that Hornby's powers of persuasion are considerable. I would buy anything Hornby writes, he hasn't disappointed me yet.


Class by Jane Beaton (2008) A just-slightly-updated look at boarding school life, told through an endearing ensemble cast with students and teachers all keeping their own secrets.

Bad Housekeeping by Sue Limb (1995) Some naughty stories by the author of the Girl, 15 books. Like a smaller press, more intellectual version of I Don't Know How She Does It.

The Bride of Lowther Fell: A romance by Margaret Forster (1980) My knowledge of Forster was limited to Lady's Maid before this year, when I read most of her stuff. The memoirs are especially good, but this tale -- a modern and intellectual young woman moving her truculent nephew into the Lake district among menacing neighbors -- is an effective thriller.

London: the biography by Peter Ackroyd (2000) Obligatory nonfiction pick, more than nine hundred pages on the Kindle for iPhone, mostly read in the city. My favorite chapter was the one about the evolution of the tube, which listed the now-closed stops your hurtle past underground.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Is realistic YA fiction just too sad?


I love to recommend books to teens. But I've been having a tough time moving much of the excellent recent YA fiction. I've been listening to the words teens use to describe realistic fiction and "problem novels" like Jumping Off Swings and Speak. Depressing. Sad. I actually tried to persuade a group of girls that Speak was a landmark work, "important," thus deserving props, if not affection. When you try to persuade readers after-the-fact of a book's worth, something is wrong.

While I have never been a fan of adult misery memoirs, the YA novels are gritty and realistic might just be "too much like life" for my readers. In the words of Women's Studies survey courses everywhere, I come at books from a position of privilege, both age and income related.  I like to peek into the lives of teens when I read, while my teens might want to read for diversion from their own realitites. Something for reviewers and prize juries everywhere to bear in mind, and quite possibly the reason full-fledged fantasy and its analogs in the genres, like the Simon Pulse imprint, are so popular at my school.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

YA in the real world

I read children's books. I say this confessionally, because I am so accustomed to being the only fully grown-up person around reading this stuff. So it is slightly surreal to attend the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents , in a ballroom ranked with hundreds of other people who get my literary allusions, arrayed to receive the more than sixty authors who spoke for as little as five minutes. But it was another YA author event in Philadelphia that literally shifted my perspective on what it is these people are doing.

Children's Book World in Haverford hosted a benefit signing for the Philadelphia Free Library last Sunday. Like the best indie book store experiences, CBW requires a cognitive shift to a place where bookstores contained books you actually wanted to buy. And last week you could have a conversation, immediately afterwards, with the author, in an environment devoid of the press and grab of the exhibit floor. And these were the authors: Laurie Halse Anderson, T.A. Barron, Sarah Dessen, Steven Kluger, Justine Larbalestier, David Levithan, Lauren Myracle, Scott Westerfeld, and Jacqueline Woodson. Wow, huh? (Westerfeld & Myracle above) But seeing these rather august individuals compelled to mill about with their readers make me think there is something to the industry quite apart from writing.

Perhaps its because of
NaNoWriMo , and the extremely workmanlike advice I have seen distributed over the course of the month, but I began to see the process of working at this sort of writing for young people as distinct from sitting in a garret, waiting on the muse. It is more like content creation, crafting tools which will engage young people and push them forward on a path to full literacy and democratic participation. And we are like wholesalers for this work, connecting it with the end consumers, quite apart from any sense of literary merit. And I began to wonder about readership of YA outside of institutional settings, and how my own fangirl enthusiasm can help serve my students when I am too star-struck to attempt conversation. Meanwhile, the close proximity to these amazing authors will give me something to sigh about while shelving.

Prediction: As chain bookstores stock an increasingly limited range of materials, professional development opportunities connecting school librarians with noteworthy fiction will be more important than ever.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Technorati wants me to insert the code XSGUY2E7CEUH on this site to verify ownership. Still upset about someone stealing my url when I forgot it wasn't set up to auto-renew. Will keep you posted.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

From deep within the 11th Circuit

My Google News alert started popping up yesterday morning. The Supreme Court was not going to hear the ACLU's case surrounding the removal of Vamos a Cuba from Miami-area school libraries. I am no legal scholar, but that refusal leaves the ruling -- that individuals can call for the removal of material they personally deem factually inaccurate from school library collections -- standing in the 11th Circuit Court, which includes Alabama and Georgia as well as Florida.

I don't even want to get into the claims on the part of the self-described former political prisoner who lodged the complaint against a picture book. I went to Cuba in 2004 and have pictures of Cuban children laughing and smiling, much like those pictures on the cover. But that is a story for another day.

Until yesterday,  I had been confident in my laboratory for intellectual freedom, as Justice Brennan described it, feeling that Board of Education of Island Trees versus Pico had once and for all established that school boards should not bow to community pressure to remove "objectionable" materials from the shelves. So the high court allowing this decision to stand chills me to the marrow, for the same reason I have never wanted our library's catalog online for home access. I want to preserve our students' right to intellectual freedom, which means preserving their ability to a receive diversity of opinions. Meanwhile, in region where selection is often muddied with censorship, it will be interesting to see how this will be played out next. Will it be the books on non-Christian religions? From authors affiliated with left-wing political causes? Or will it merely offer a mechanism for blanket protest against those lists of books, the ones we hear are disseminated at some of the churches?

I got a phone call last spring.
"Do you have 'My Daddy Has a Roommate'?" said the caller, who did not bother to identify himself.
"No," I said, not bothering to correct him on the title or share that, as a high school library, our number of picture books is small and almost all curricular.
"Do you have the Bible?"
"Yes," I said.
"Good." he said, and hung up.

I don't know who preached about homosexual lifestyles seeping into the school via the library collection. But next time, it might be question about a book I hold, and if it comes at the behest of a community member, not a parent whose student has selected that book from our collection, I might have to begin to think about another sort of laboratory altogether.

Monday, November 9, 2009


I'm on the way home from Charlotte, thinking about the series of days that made up the 14th Annual AASL conference. It was one of the best experiences, personal or professional, I’ve ever had.

I eased into things by going for the Wednesday night paddleboat dinner cruise on the Catawba Queen around Lake Norman. Despite the full moon, it was difficult to see much beyond the powerplants ringing that man-made body of water. But the dark night provided an opportunity to talk with local North Carolina librarians as well as some from Connecticut, Arkansas, and Illinois. There was an especially anticipatory air as five of the eight women at our table were attending the conference for the first time.

Thursday, the Blogger's Cafe kicked off, and I actually acted as a guinea pig, sharing my own students' accounts of what they do online (slides linked from here) in the cafe's first session. Many people wandered in from the registration area and listened to a little or chimed in with their own observations, and I was able to share some of the teens' favorite sites for online content creation and consumption. That Blogger's Cafe, a stone's throw from the requisite Starbucks, was an amazing experiment where anyone could stop in to hear some fresh ideas in an informal space or get some hands-on help with online tools. Over the four days, I learned about Intel's online site to promote visual thinking, scenario-based online netiquette, and my own personal favorite, Robin Williams' amazing work melding real life and virtual worlds in video.

I have long been a fan of danah boyd's ethnographic research talking with young people about social networking, so it was especially terrific to see her is person at the opening session Thursday afternoon. I spent part of Friday volunteering, counting heads, passing out evaluation forms, and mostly trying to keep latecomers from crowding into the already-full session on electronic note-taking.

Midday Friday, I helped with the Web 2.0 smackdown, sharing digital storytelling strategies along with Brenda Anderson and Shonda Brisco, while other amazing progressive school media specialists talked about information fluency, digital citizenship, and reading promotion. The most exciting portion of the presentation was the audience participation, via the microphones set up for that purpose or via twitter and chatzy.

A quick trip around the exhibits revealed debut novelist Carrie Ryan signing her debut novel, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, a current fave among my students, I especially enjoyed a late-afternoon session from a group from the University of Georgia on the role of class in children's literature, The panel touched upon a range of depictions of non-Western cultures, affluence and poverty, and labor issues.

The Ethics in a Web 2.0 World session Saturday morning used table-talk to present a range of scenarios, most based on real life, challenging our understanding of everything from intellectual property to student privacy to censorship involving read/write wrinkles. I also spent some time talking about my own doctoral work on the recursive and reiterative nature of new literacies with other doc. students and faculty.

After Marco Torres' closing session, the gala at the ImaginOn children's space gave everyone an opportunity to dance, talk, play, and explore an amazing space full of media. Every nook and cranny of the space offered opportunities to engage young peoples' creativity at this combination library and theater. The video production space, along with the stop motion cameras, has me more determined than ever to explore the free online storytelling tool Scratch.

Sunday, authors Linda Sue Park and Richard Peck spoke at the author's breakfast, both with much laudatory to say about the role of school librarians. That was a sort of relief, since much of the conference being shot through with anxiety about the future of the profession. Park's description of bookstores in Korea, which serve as de facto libraries in a culture where libraries are usually associated with higher education, was particularly striking when contrasted with her own childhood access to libraries in the U.S.. Despite the baseball theme, her Keeping Score is something I cannot wait to read. Peck was hilarious, provcative, and profound.

I feel lucky to have been part of the conference technology subcommittee producing content behind-the-scenes to share the experience with those who has purchased the bThere pass or for those looking for backchannels to connect with like-minded media specialists. I uploaded photos to flickr (mostly the work of my friend Cyndy) and tweeted almost compulsively about the goings-on. For those of you without a track pass, the tagged conference content was aggregated onto another site by Donna Baumbach. 21st century librarians can be clever like that.

Sunday, I headed away from the conference center to swing by the Levine Museum of the New South, currently housing Changing Places, an exhibit on multiculturalism and cross-cultural understanding. It was a really pleasant ending to a stimulating five days full of new and old connections.

AASL will be in Minneapolis in 2011, and I hope that its conference's organizers take a page from this one and remember that learning is always more fun when participatory and inclusive.

Monday, November 2, 2009

How to have a productive conference

In honor of my friend, Cyndy, who will be attending the American Association of School Librarians conference for the first time this week, I have made a list of my own indispensibles, both tangible and attitudinal:

The tangible:

Business cards for new connections and pre-printed return-address-label-style stickers for vendor sign-ups and drawings, so you don't spend all your time writing your particulars.

A snuggly shawl for too-cold rooms, comfy layers and your favorite hold-all.

Your laptop, fully charged, with an extension cord for your adapter.

Google docs versions of your itinerary and conference schedule with sharing enabled.

The intangible:

Openness to speak to everyone you sit down beside. These are YOUR people. For introverts like myself, this can be the hardest, but ultimately most rewarding aspect of conferencing.

Committment to get the most out of the sessions, the backchannels, and the exhibits. This will require GTD or some sort of organizational scheme to separate out what you need to hang onto versus that which isn't right for you, right now.

The wherewithal to get up and leave the session if it's not meeting your needs without guilt.

I will be working on the last point in particular. Even at the national conference level, most professional development for school librarians is still undifferentiated. I have found that I get more from sessions on topics about which I know absolutely nothing rather than choosing those attractive-soundings sessions which touch upon areas in which I am already working. I get more from stretching myself into new areas of our profession rather than sitting in sessions which are replicating information I am gleaning from my PLN on a daily basis. So if you could lead a session on the topic, I would say sitting in it is probably not the best use of your precious professional development time....

see you in Charlotte!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

When a book makes me blush

Let me preface this by saying not much gives me pause. I read all those BBYA titles and could never imagine keeping them from anyone, not even the wide-eyed fourteen year olds at my school. I have written about and presented on students and censorship, and am excited about the new YALSA interest group looking at intellectual freedom issues. I like to think that I am pretty unflappable. But I had a strange sensation this week, reading Michelle Embree's Manstealing for Fat Girls. It's about two high school seniors, maybe friends, maybe lesbian, maybe bisexual, or maybe just libidinous. I can't tell you too much about it because I couldn't get too far into it. The book is descriptive in its preoccupation with, if not with sex acts, with genitalia. I've noticed regretsy  has a similarly pronounced vulval theme.

A few weeks after Banned Books Week, this is my personal exercise in intellectual freedom.  Even in my sheltered middle class existence, I will encounter some things I do find offensive and  would not recommend it to minors, but, unlike these women, I would never try to prevent anyone from accessing them. I am much more concerned with preserving our right to choose what it is we want to read. As Colleen Mondor describes, our bookbuying options are in danger of winnowing to a few blockbuster titles, so I salute the bravery of Soft Skull Press  in publishing Embree's quirky, if bawdy, book.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Anticipating Charlotte

I've had a series of email exchanges this morning with the elementary school librarian who I'll be rooming with in Charlotte next week, and it's helping me see the conference in a new way. I haven't begun to think about what to pack or gotten all my contributions uploaded to the smackdown wiki, or revised my presentation for the blogger's cafe, but she reminded me how magical it is that all thes people will be descending on Charlotte. It will be her first AASL, and I like to think I helped persuade her it was a good investment in her professional life. We're more than a week from leaving, and her enthusiasm is infectious. I hope to see some old friends and spend as much time as possible learning about the ways school librarians are connecting with learners in these very exciting times.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


At the close of the intense, day-long meeting organizer Pam Coughlan (Mother Reader) thanked the librarians who were in the audience in particular for taking a leap of faith and attending the third annual Kidlitopshere Conference. It was a very different sort of event for me, but almost relaxing to be a spectator in this world. When I step back and think about it, perhaps the very fact that this sort of online content -- all related to and derived from print, for the most part -- is being produced by an engaged group of individuals is really remarkable. These bloggers are grappling with all sorts of ethical and practical matters related to what often stared out as a very private passion. Perhaps that in itself rather indicative of life in the 21st century. And as someone (I am sorry I can't tell you who) from the closing panel noted, none of these books were written for us.

If there was a theme of the day, I would think it was overlap and connection -- authors interacting with readers online and the growing social networking imperative, librarians who read and write reviews, the bloggers whose work benefits librarians doing selection and literacy advocates. I expected to hear more about the blog creation stories, the impetus between this devotion to what is usually unrenumerative and sometimes stressful manifestation of one's reaction to literature online. That aspect of the process was eclipsed by talk about search engine optimization and FTC disclosure, and the careful negotiation in writing a review that was less than entirely favorable while still preserving the good graces of the author. There was also a lot of talk about participation in memes, blog tours, and other programatic elements which link blogs together.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The social side of reading

This weekend, I'll be eavesdropping on the biblioblog-types at the third Kidlitosphere conference. I'll be desperately trying to come up with some social aspect of reading that will intrigue my faculty committee and reinvigorate my stalled dissertation progress. That, and after reading these blogs for a bit, I am utterly taken with these women (because they are largely women) documenting their intellectual lives in these complex and interconnected ways, and if the NYT story yesterday about Nina Sankovitch was any indication, I'm not the only one interested. I'm thinking about data modeling (recommender systems?) for visualizing viral aspect of bookblogging, to lend some chops to the squishy-ness of the social web, but what I would really like to talk about are the strange external factors that govern the books we buy and read, like Janice Radway's A Feeling for Books: The Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire or Joan Shelley Rubin's The Making of Middlebrow Culture. I will keep you posted.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Our virtual author visit with Melissa Walker

This morning, nine enthralled young women enjoyed a half-hour conversation about writing, books, and youth culture. It was one of those mornings you knew that the students would always remember.

I had purchased Violet on the Runwayfor our library because books about fashion and modelling tend to be popular with students at my school. Crystalby Walter Dean Myers and the Airheadbooks by Meg Cabot are favorites. When I found Violet a smarter-than-average read, well-informed by author Melissa Walker's own experiences in fashion journalism, I suggested it to my teen advisory board. Who doesn't love a book whose "key phrases" include skinny jeans and ballet flats? I had been following Melissa (@melissacwalker) on Twitter and knew she seemed accessible and really pro-teen, so I shot her an email and Melissa kindly agreed to Skype with us. I ordered the last two in the Violet series, and they are being passed around.

Some things of which the chat reminded me:

* Teens really, really DO judge books by their covers. And they are fascinated by that design process, as their questions proved. Melissa was kind enough to send links to blog entries about those, which I know the students will devour.

* Authors are genuinely curious about what teens are into. I actually had no idea one of my students was into Fringe until the chat.

* We don't always share a vocabulary. When Melissa was sharing the awesome-sounding premise for a new project, I asked if there was pressure for authors to write about the supernatural. The students didn't believe that they read about what we termed darker themes, but Vampire Academy books was a unanimous fave, as were many other paranormal books.

* Sometimes, it's the little things that makes you love a book. One girl obviously felt the entire Violet series was elevated because Violet read manga.

Girls are looking forward to Melissa's October 22nd Readergirlz Teen Read Week chat with with Cassandra Clare, whose Mortal Instruments the girls adore. Meanwhile, I actually circulated two rather dusty Christopher Pike books, after Melissa confessed a fondness for his stuff. I'm always trying to push students to read things I loved as a teen.

I wish the crowd had been a little larger, and we had several more students sign up. But two girls reported that, despite their invitations, they weren't allowed to leave class. Some teachers were under the impression that there was standardized testing in the library, but the guidance department has worked with us to accommodate Melissa's call. She was terrific!

Monday, September 21, 2009

A dip into historical fiction

"It's historical," precedes most of my students putting down whatever title they've just asked about. And why not? So much historical fiction for young people is either saccachrine or dreary. And perhaps my intense concentration on the Newbery over the last year made me forget that historical fiction for kids and YAs could take place in any era other than the Middle Ages and the Great Depression, but it was a strange sensation to return to that genre twice in the past week. I began my trip into the past with the National Book Award Winner What I Saw And How I Lied by Judy Blundell.

Blundell rather gently evokes post-war Florida. The historical backdrop provides explanations for certain elements of the plot, surrounding an infantilized teen, familiar to students with hovering parents, whose stepfather, mother, and would-be lover are caught in a love triangle. As well as introducing the idea that certain part of the country were quite uninhabitable before "air cooling," but the history there is rather scant, along the lines of Revlon lipstick colors. Then I read Bliss by Lauren Myracle, an occult thriller set in 1969 Atlanta with the Manson family murders as a recurring motif. Bliss was much more about a time period (think of all the little consumer details from To All My Fans, With Love, from Sylvieby Ellen Conford) rather than the less period-conscious What I Saw.

I suppose I actually read a third historical novel for young people recently, The Bride's Farewell by Meg Rosoff. The reviews I've looked at claim it was set in the 1850s, but I found scant little historical support in the forty percent of the text before I just couldn't take the HORSE anxiety. Instead, it seemed to be set in some amorphous medieval past. I preferred her post-apocalyptic How I Live Now.

All this begs the question: what I have been doing avoiding the genre? Anachronism, especially in dialogue or extremes of characterization, will cause me to throw a book down is disgust. I know many of my readers will feel a book isn't applicable to them if the central character doesn't send and receive a text message in the first three pages. Oh tempora, oh mores!

But how much of what we choose to read is a reflection of the current publishing market? Much of what I loved growing up (Gone with the Wind, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) was actually historical fiction, I adored the Sunfire series and champion Scholastic's Dear America books even to my high school students. And I have also realized that pretty much every adult title I have been reading (Margaret Forster, lately, and Julian Fellowes' Past Imperfect, which moves seamlessly between the 1940s, 1960s, and present-day, with technology intact).

Actually, if you had told me twenty years ago, most of what I was reading would be science fiction, I would never have believed it. But post-apocalyptic stuff is pulling me these days, and some fantasy and horror, genres I would have run from in the past. But I don't think I'm pushing myself as a reader as much as capable authors perhaps choosing to write for these rather lucrative niches? Just a guess.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I'm with the books

Sorting out my fall goings-on, I noticed a trend:
  • Kidlitosphere Crystal City VA October 17, to bask in the book blogging.
  • AASL Charlotte NC November 5-8. I'm presenting on digital storytelling in Joyce Valenza's ALA/NECC/AASL new tools for school libraries trifecta and will be tweeting and blogging as well.
  • NCTE/ALAN November 21-25. I'm presenting "Reinventing your school library to support adolescent literacy" in "Literacy as Community" Sunday morning, but I'm sticking around Philadelphia for ALAN afterwards.
So you'll glean there's no ASIST, however much I want to go to British Columbia, and probably no ALISE in January 2010. This is definitely a more bookish era for me.

Meanwhile, I'm feeling a little spoiled about taking this time off, consdering our school hasn't any money for professional development this year. It's not so much a funding issue, sine I'm not precluding any one else doing anything -- in my eight years there, I have taken a scant $150 from our pooled funds for 2005 AASL registration, and felt pangs of guilt over that ever since. It's more a sense that I can afford to contribute to my own professional knowledge -- not to mention the fact that I find it all terrific fun, practically recreational -- while not all my colleagues can do that. My feeling of being blessed at being released to go into the world and learn in turn means I never balk at presenting to my faculty or district. I just want them all to stretch the tiniest bit and become a little bit more responsible for their own professional growth.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Demented reading

Have you had the sensation? You realize it a few pages in, or chapters if it was particularly forgetable. "I have read this book before." It's especially frustrating when it's someone like Agatha Christie or Graham Greene who has so many books, so many editions existing of each, and multiple titles for many of them... an easy-to-make mistake, right?

I had the reverse sensation this weekend. I picked up Whitethorn Woods at the library resale shop. I knew I didn't own a copy, and figured a tidy mass market copy of Maeve Binchy would not be unread. I do like Maeve Binchy, and I love the idea that you can buy a new, readable book for $5, which inclined me to this edition. I would have sworn on a Bible I'd read all of hers, including this one. I could tell you the skeleton of plot: a bypass threatens a shrine. I am almost positive I checked it out of the Ann Arbor public library. But evidently I didn't get around to reading this one. I think I might have been buried in Brookner. So I had the sensation of reading, waiting to see if I recognized the next vignette, but I never did... and now I will never be altogether sure whether I have read anything, really, ever again.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Are you a books librarian or a computers librarian?

I can't be the only one feeling slightly torn. I went to library school focused on all the books held in institutions. It was only a little later that I realized how important the machines were, for retrieving bibliographic information which made the collection more useful and for accessing networked information, from citations to databases, beyond the walls.

I am no technophobe, I usually adopt early and could not manage a fraction of what I do without digital tools. I was using many of the 2.0 tools in my private life before it ever occurred to me there might be pedagogical applications for them. I'm not a content-area teacher. Not having classes of my own, playing with educational technology means I help teachers make their projects work with digital resources. There isn't a technology specialist, not here at this school, so teachers can't really envision how they can turn their projects into ones which use the read/write web. So while I have helped the teachers who have expressed an interest in this direction, setting up blogs, gcast accounts, showing students how to record digital audio and use Windows MovieMaker, I am burning out on all this. At my school, where labs are slow and hard to get into, technology hasn't become a seamless part of the content area classroom. Instead it's an add-on that gives the teacher a break while I grapple with technical issues in a space with 14 student machines, not enough for half of most classes.

Is it any wonder, four years after playing with the read/write web in the classroom, I have found myself returning to my first love, those bound bits of paper. In the past year I have done more thinking and writing about books and how they are being promoted and extended online, but the root is the book itself. A student who feels a deep engagement with a piece of literature can use digital tools in sophisticated ways to pay homage to the author, characters, and setting. Fan fiction, which existed in analog format a long time before the online archives, demonstrates the importance of content to the manufacture of information. If read/write assignments managed to relate to that fundamental underpinning, the curriculum, in the same way, I think we would see more exciting digital student work. But we struggle here with limited hardware, with teachers micro-managing assignments, and, for a faculty many of whom do not have computers or Internet access at home, with general fear of anything with which there might be even the slightest learning curve.

Meanwhile, I'll be in the stacks.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

To the new faculty

It is so exciting to have new teachers in the halls and classrooms. I hope you will get a chance to meet your librarian and talk about resources to support your curriculum. I wanted to share a few guidelines to improve the quality of your teaching life in my school and I'm sure many others.

Plan ahead. When you submit lesson plans to your department chair and the assistant principal, call the library if you anticipate needing research time or audiovisual resources. It is difficult to accommodate requests at the last moment, for obvious reasons.

Communicate with your librarian about your curricular objectives. The librarian can help you tailor an integrated research task to reinforce the technology course of study or standards for the 21st century learner. The librarian can also save you time, by supplying, for example, a list of reptiles on which the library has ample resource. This also makes the research task more streamlined, so students are better able to focus on making sense of new content. And, if given some lead time, the librarian is likely to supply a bibliography of related materials, multimedia clips to embed in your instruction, and current magazine articles on the topic. That's what librarians do.

Respect the library resources. Unfortunately, a few faculty members in the past have seen the library as a place to obtain overhead projector bulbs or AA batteries, make emergency photocopies, or send a bored student or two. Consider the cumulative effect if this sort of request is multiplied by all the faculty members (79!) in the building.

Friday, July 17, 2009

About ethics

Two days ago, the Alabama state legislature made to changes to the state's ethics laws for teachers. This came after the Mobile newspaper ran an editorial claiming that, though the language was "subjective," the rank-and-file educators had nothing to worry about within the legislation, and tarred the association's challenge of the change with the damning taint of unionism.

The fact of the matter is that the new law is overly broad. It allows for dismissal of teacher for failure to supervise students sufficiently or using inappropriate language, for example. Who among us cannot think of an exemplary educator who could have been indicted and removed 0n those grounds? So the legislature, which has already succeeded in preventing any state employee, including teachers, from holding office, now wants the latitude to remove public school teachers at-will.

The two recent special elections in our area have both been won by large margins by far-right Republicans, one of whom argued with a school principal in front of a reporter in support of abolishing the state teacher's association. Both candidates claimed their cause was ethics reform, but what sort of ethics preclude schoolteachers in the state legislature and teacher's unions? I can think of no better model of citizen politicians. No, I think it is a backlash against Obama and perceived socialism. As a public school employee, I am scared.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

NECC for the Second Time

Whenever I meet friends, they don't understand where it is I'm going or where I've been. I know "librarian meetings" and thoughts thereof are considered by some to be quite dull, so if that's you, you can leave now...

but if you don't consider that sort of thing quite dull, perhaps you'll agree that NECC was a wonderfully stimulating opportunity to hook up with LMSes who really know their technology. There, and at the Constructivist Consortium event at Sidwell Friends last Sunday, I met some amazing people, some of them I'd been in touch with via Twitter, & other who were there sharing amazing things they were doing with digital literacies.

Unfortunately, my excitement was tempered as I know I probably won't get to return to the conference (which from here on out will be known as ISTE, the name of the parent organization rather than NECC) since it always conflicts with ALA. Making that choice means you have to decide which relationship you privilege, school libraries within libraries writ large OR school libraries within schools. 

Some people say go to AASL  & ALA Midwinter, but go to ISTE not Annual. Other say, fly from one to the other. I tried that last year, it produced two deeply unsatisfying conference experiences. I am not sure what the answer is, but it was sad to leave NECC and my ed tech world friends for now.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Social Reading Experiment

I participated in Mother Reader's Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge, albeit in a completey spontaneous and uncoordinated way. It was too difficult for me to differentiate reading time from time spent multi-tasking, especially as far as screen time was concerned, so I stopped trying, relying instead on approximate start times and end times for each volume.

Among my 7 books were one re-read and one false start, as well as one comic under the page limit established in the guidelines. I wish I had planned ahead and coordinated reading with some friends, but I enjoyed tweeting back and forth about Meg Rosoff. It is interesting to look at the results on the social web, and the tiniest bit jealous-making to see people reading Catching Fire. The crazy thing is that while I read 1606 pages, it feels altogether like I spent too much time NOT reading over the weekend.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Nine months a year

"Must be nice to have the summers off."

What a fiction! Of course, some of my colleagues might spend two scant months by the pool, but I will be working pretty much every week. School was over Thursday, but I was back yesterday for a couple of meetings and have promised to pop in Monday as well. I am going away Tuesday, so will not be accessible for the rest of next week. What will they do without me? Muddle through, I am sure.

I have been keeping summer at bay with school. It is easier to check out books and make small talk about Sara Zarr and Barry Lyga than scramble around putting together all sorts of presentations and handouts, which experience have taught me are absolute requisites, no paper handouts having been well-noted in evaluations.  And why am I running around the country like a madwoman, spending all my disposable income on supporting my own and other people's professional development? Once I am caught up in the conferences themselves, meeting all sorts of amazing librarians and authors, I will forget these doubts. For now, the pool is looking rather attractive.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Do Something, or the Squeeky Wheel

Last week, I had a personal triumph. After begging my local school tech contact time and again to defrag my student machines and remove the student profiles downloaded whenever even one logs in (and some on the computers had THOUSANDS of profiles, accumulated over 5 years of computer life), I was really at the end of my rope. I know our young people are ridiculously impatient when it comes to the school hardware, what with the slowness concurrent with live virus scanning and net nannying, but some of the machines had available disk space in the single digit percents. Students couldn't even log I raised a cry, going beyong the building and getting almost instant help from my district computer services folks -- the same group had told me last fall it was the building contact's responsibility to maintain them. But it was a case where voicing my need worked well to rectify the situation.

This weekend, reading Barbara Ehrenreich's column "Trying to Find a Job is Not a Job," , I realized that I, too, was guilty of the passivity Ehreneich identifies a current phenomenon. Since I could grouse all the time, I worry I will be branded "the problem" or "the complainer." I have never asked my principal for anything for the library -- not one thing. But I need more computer furniture, new carpet, and money for books since we won't be getting any next year.

In the same vein, I have been too scared to call the faculty assigned to act as my dissertation committee. What if they are mean to me, what if they tell me no? It's all hazing, the doc. process, but I am going to screw my courage to the sticking post and do something. After all, it could turn out a lot better than I have hoped.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Casting into dark waters

When public school teachers achieve National Board Certification in the state of Alabama, they receive $5,000 for classroom materials. This year, we only received $4,000, but that's a story for another day. Like everything involved with education, there are some strictures and limitations. I can take 60% of the materials with me, should I choose to leave the district for another school in the state, 100% of my materials should I transfer to another school in the system, and I forfeit it entirely if I leave Alabama public K-12.

It was exciting have money to use to really enhance my instructional space. Unfortunately, I had to break down and buy and a $850 PC first thing, so maybe I could run my circulation system and read email simultaneously without restarting the computer four times a day. Then I was seduced by technology, and bought a $400 Mobi tablet that's no better than the $35 one I have at home for my minimal requirements. My funds were dwindling, but I had my eye on one more splurge, one that just about me that 60% I could take within the state, too -- a Mac.

Now, I work in a PC district. When I asked our instructional technology specialist about Apples (she has a very cute little Macbook, I have seen it), she passed word up what I wanted. I had to write a rationale and get my principal to sign it, harrowingly enough. When I finally got around to ordering the thing, I was slightly horrified at the sheer cost of it. I was spending $2400 for a computer (and that didn't include the $400 for Microsoft Office!) when I could have bought a dozen netbooks for my students. Well, in an ideal world -- at my school, I could have bought 5 PCs, of 2 1/2 laptops, given the network requirements.

But when I see the iMovies and the really slick slideshows people cobble together with that software, I want to play, too. But part of me wonders why am I spending this money for an Apple? What is it about them that is so seductive? I'm not even a position to answer, I haven't really played with one since I left my little box at college in 1995. Take that back, did play with one at a multimedia workshop in Ann Arbor, it left me in tears. I remain utterly dependent on the right click. Did I throw all my classroom money away on this computer which doesn't interface with our school networks basically at all? That remains to be seen, I suppose.

Friday, April 3, 2009

How could Microsoft help improve my teaching?

Microsoft "can help me teach better" by funding my trip to Washington, D.C. for NECC 2009...of course, Microsoft has already helped me by providing...

* office software which harnesses students' creativity and productivity
* unparalleled lesson plans & templates for teaching about that software
* site licenses for refurbished, donated machines to make them network compliant and update the software
* a secure way to communicate with parents and students via our Exchange server
* a free, html-based email service that I have been using for more than ten years now with ample storage space for the increasingly large files I am sent and send
* professional development opportunities for educators to visit Redmond and learn more about best practices in technology integration

I am always happy to help our students explore the functionality of the Microsoft Office productivity suite because I know that will be the standard for workplace and higher ed. as well.