Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ambiant Findability: Foursquare & When You Reach Me

Is it YA? It's on BBYA's top ten for 2010. Is it middle grade? It won the Newbery. It obviously has a wide reader base, but the L'Engle homage that is Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me sure isn't contemporary.

Miranda is like the younger sister of one of Norma Klein's spunky and streetwise New York City teens of the 1970s. Though I bet few librarians see this as historical, the era it depicts is very much a thing of the past. As a sixth grader, Miranda -- her name itself so wonderfully, wildly evocative -- is afforded off-campus lunch privileges and even turns those 45 minutes to her own advantage working for Jimmy, without child labor concerns. As a "latchkey kid" she roams the streets -- which are portrayed as slightly harrowing -- without the cell phone lojack that keeps tabs on kids today. I have been thinking about Miranda's comings-and-goings as I have played with the location-based technology, Foursquare. How checking in could have checked those conundrums of time and space!

I downloaded Foursquare after reading how it might be "the next twitter" on Mashable. When I began, my town was utterly unmapped, but I played in Philadelphia in November and December and Boston for ALA Midwinter. After a while, I noticed a venue or two in my area, proof of its expansion into the provinces. I added my own spot -- a cemetery a stone's throw from my house -- and began checking in and accruing badges. I checked in at Starbucks, and the local grocery, both established if sloppily described. I became mayor of place after place. I added my hair salon, and the occasional place to eat. I began to realize I was documenting my own poor behavior. I often go to dinner too late & remembered the story about FB and insurance. If eating late was unhealthy, in our nanny state, did I need to produce my own evidence?. 

I have read about interactions between Foursquare and newspapers, and heard someone pondering in Foursquare could improve attendance, and thought about the clickers that students at the University of Michigan were buying in 2006 to clock themselves in at large lectures. Of course, one individual could manipulate several handsets, cheating the notion of the technologically-enforced attendance system.

When I worked for a library automation company, we actually have a similar directive to check-in to the network when we got into the building. We could do it via the command prompt (other commands produced a list of the checked-in or displayed everyone's current in-or-out status) and there were graphical "in" and "out" buttons on our thin clients. If you looked at the reports, it became pretty obvious that anyone with any sense wasn't using this system of stating their whereabouts. The more intelligent and experienced ignored it for months or years at a time. I deleted my Foursquare profile and am seriously, with the advent of iPad-linked tiered data, thinking about moving to some sort of anonymized phone (versus the infernal device that is the iPhone). I am ready for the privacy revolution. I am tired of snitching on myself.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Day in the Life: January 26, 2010

I've always wanted to participate in this project, but thought it would be impossible. I usually teach more than I did on this day, which made it a little more practical, but it was a fun exercise nonetheless.

(For the record, I'm the only librarian in a 1200-student 9-12 high school in north Alabama. I do have a full-time pararprofessional aide and student help throughout the day.)

5:00 Wake up, stew about day ahead, make some resolutions.

5:40 Leave the bed and get hurridly dressed in my typical "school clothes" -- cords and cheap Chinese cashmere sweater, hand-made driving moccasins I bought in Argentina, stripy knee socks.

Breakfast is a slice of toasted cranberry walnut bread & half a pot of Early Grey tea from Tao of Tea  in Portland my bestie sent me for my birthday. Don't know what I would do without my electric kettle.

6:20 Leave the house, which is expedited because of not having to scrape the windshield this morning. 42 degrees.

6:39 All the traffic heads into town as I head past the suburbs into my rural school. I pull into work & sign in in the teacher workroom.

6:41 Open the library, turn on the copiers, printers, laminators and wax machines. Log onto network, check my 4 email accounts (which I do really need to consolidate), Twitter, Google calender, & Google reader, which will all be up in browser tabs throughout day. Complain about incipient carpal tunnel on twitter.

7:10 1st student shows up to talk about video project for the state competition.

7:25 A faculty member pops in to return The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy and The Liar's Club by Mary Karr, two books from my office that I loaned her over the holidays after she expressed an interest in memoirs.

7:30 The library officially opens. 7:30-7:50 is our busiest time of the day. My para typically gets in between 7:30 & 7:40 -- she's not a morning person. We're juggling checkout with printing from students USB drives & letting them use our circulation computers to pull up their email to retrieve their homework since that's blocked under their logins. We have to write down every 5 cents (per day fine for overdues) and 10 cents (per printout or photocopy) that we take from students, which is hugely time-consuming.

Really quick reader's advisory: I have a conversation about The Confederacy of Dunces and suggest a couple other "New Orleans books" to one student and the Gemma Doyle books with another.

Students are bringing books in for checking in and out, and using the student computers to finish powerpoints and essays and also reading manga and looking at One student is obviously accessing facebook, which the filter should be blocked for student logins. I have to break up some mild PDA.

I get into conversation about tea with senior boy. He has concocted his own peppermint/green tea blend. He urges me to try it, I agree to sniff it.

I get into conversation with Asperger's-spectrum kid about out foreign exchange teachers and speaking other languages. He says he has heard that these teachers often shift into other languages when leading class. I turn what I fear is a slightly xenophobic conversation to wishing I spoke more languages, and he shows off his rudimentary Japanese. He leaves with First 1000 Words in Japanese.

I also field inquiries about our upcoming Quiddich tournament, a student-run fundraiser planned for March. No, I do not know how they plan to get flying balls.

I look at some proofs of senior pictures and give my opinions.

7:50 Play Channel One.

7:51 I go to talk to self-contained special ed teacher about a particular student whose color printing is about to bankrupt the library. She is surprisingly accommodating.

7:55 I inform the assistant principal for curriculum about the special education negotiations. She confirms that the principal has told the department I am not to be pulled into their IEP meetings and to alert her immediately if they try to do so. We commiserate briefly about the death of one of our retired teachers in an automobile accident yesterday. His wife is still in the hospital in critical condition. They collided with a student from another high school in our system.

8:06 I begin brief blog post for AASL on award deadlines next week.

8:35 Developmental reading class comes in to check out books, which always required booktalking. Everyone wants Dear John. We have one copy with ten holds. I need to comb the used bookstores for more copies -- out of my pocket as we have no materials (or any other kind) of funds.

Show one student from the class the movie trailer for Diary of a Wimpy Kid on DVD I received at NCTE.

8:47 Post to AASL Blog.

8:52 Another students comes to me "needing help printing" when what he really needs is a file he can open. I typically convert about three Microsoft Works files to MS Word on a daily basis, using my old laptop from home since I don't have administrator access to install those converters on my machine. And though I show the students each time how to avoid compatibility issues in the future, they never seem to learn that skill.

8:58 Remember to donate $5 to YA librarian/tweep Kate Pickett's roller derby benefit for Special Olympics.

9:05 Asked to go to a joint meeting of all three school boards in our county regarding legislation allowing for charter schools in the state tomorrow night, but it conflicts with my hairdresser's appointment.

9:12 End of an era: moving the great red books, The Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, to the storage room. Something went awry with our paper suscription from H.W. Wilson when I was on sabbatical, so we haven't received it in two years, and I just can't justify the expense considering only one teacher uses it regularly.

9:19 My para is working on discarding magazines, and I check Serials Solutions in our state databases for digital availability of The Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. Looks like we can eliminate the majority of those.

9:33 Discard 1953 Collegiate dictionary. For the record, this book does not include the word "oral" to say nothing of "oral sex."

9:25 Break begins, our second-busiest time of the day. Lots of circulation. I talk to a senior student about becoming a teacher (contrasting teaching English versus drama in terms of increased options), talk with another student about the teachers who have really been at the school for an extended period versus those that are just older, and to a third about the best methods for studying for the ACT.

I lend post-it notes to one student, who came in to rave about the ARC of Radiant Shadows, the new Melissa Marr I picked up at Midwinter.

Take details from two students needing rides to the Feb. 11 poetry slam to attempt coordinating carpooling.

9:40 Break over, announcements & the pledge of allegiance over the intercom. Preview instead of play Channel One for 9th grade academy. Find copy of MacBeth for student who had checked out criticism instead of the play. Another students comes looking for Beowulf recreationally, says she has discovered "a love for old literature."

9:50 My weekly senior economics class comes in to work on their MovieMaker globalization project. They are still in the research phase, using World Book and my delicious bookmarks if they are lucky enough to grab a computer. I have to throw a special ed aide off one of our 14 limping-along machines for student access, and he is grumpy with me.

Student comes in for The Secret Beach. Leaves with The Secret Life of Bees.

10:12 Take a call from the librarian from another high school in our district about state funding for library units and upcoming monitoring of our program by the state department of education. Unlike her school, we have more than 1000 students, which means our district is allocated the salary for a second unit, but our system does not place that person in the library. We are all hoping this will be addressed in the state monitoring visit.

10:15 Use Excel to some make flyers promoting our Feb. 11 Valentine's themed poetry slam. Our color printer is down, so I spend some time messing with that before xeroxing, all the while talking to a former student aide who has come up to have a heart-to-heart. She agrees to draw a jigsaw template for our tree-shaped whiteboard (idea copied from Chicago PL YouMEDIA).

10:40 Send email to a vendor who had promised to send materials for giveaways and goodie bags for the April 13 youth services preconference for our state library association's convention which I'm hosting at our school.

10:57 Signed up for the official day-in-the-life list as number 154.

11:11 Start copy-cataloging a half-dozen nonfiction books I reviewed for Gale/Cengage this month. I had attempted it yesterday, but couldn't establish a Z39.50 connection with LC. I'm happy because they will be our first 2010 copyrights!

11:13 Play Channel One.

11:15 Hunt down the ancient paper cutter missing from our workroom so student can cut handouts into quarters.

11:25 Grapple with spine label printer alignment before handing books to a student aide for property-stamping & shelving.

11:30 Show a new teacher where she can find discarded magazines for classroom use and stop her when she attempts to walk out with a portion of our old but not discarded National Geographics.

11:35 Call business supply place to set up a photocopier machine maintenance appointment

11:40 Assign a second student to even up corners on handouts that were not cut to my satisfaction. Find band-aid when she cuts herself.

12:00 I handle all the circulation for about an hour and a half while my para has lunch and then goes downstairs to cover another desk since one of the secretaries is out.

12:19 Eat lunch at the circ desk -- blueberry Chobani yogurt. Talk with student aide about our wildly divergent taste in leading men in movies.

12:27 Talk with calculus teacher about using the library this afternoon for registration space for local community college duel enrollment courses.

12:34 Read and express thanks to some of the responses to my twitter query earlier in day about preventing carpal tunnel

12:46 Write thank-you note to my assistant principal for Christmas gift, bread & butter letter for my friends who put me up overnight in Norwich, Vermont, last week.

12:50 Add a couple of delicious bookmarks about the pharmaceutical industry for Economics class.

1:00 History teacher looking for VHS tape of The Lost Battalion, we determine it is checked out to another faculty member. Find television and VCR combo workable for this teacher. Since this classroom's doorway is only 5'8", she can only use one of our dozen-or-so sets. And the powerstrip on that cart doesn't work, so I scrounge for an extension cord.

1:12 More reader's advisory -- novels in verse recommendation post-Ellen Hopkins. I suggest Sonja Sones and Margaret Wild.

1:18 Arguing with student about whether or not poetry slam should be juried this time, and if so whether teachers or students should be jury.

1:20 Then student, expressing distress about not having access to email, shares with all the assembled students how to get on facebook despite filters.

1:21 Play Channel One.

1:25 Proofread student's college scholarship application.

1:40 Para's 1st grandchild makes her 1st visit to the school. Little other than mass admiration ensures for next half-hour.

2:07 Score! Vendor send very nice email offering subscription & tons of swag for April conference.

2:10 Call former Social Studies department chair I'm hoping to recruit to judge student projects for our regional National History Day competition, Feb 26th.

2:21 Former student, now a discharged Marine, comes by to talk about difficulties with accounting course at community college. I try to give him some strategies to appeal to the instructor.
2:43 Student drops by to scope competition for next poetry slam. She won the last one.
2:49 Daily chat with awesome custodian about maintenance needs. He says it feels like snow out!
2:51 The freshman academy is out for the day, so a couple dozen student rush in to check books in or out before the buses leave at 3:05.
2:55 Teacher drops his two little ones off (we have a school bus transport faculty kids from the feeder every afternoon) for my afternoon babysitting duty while he watches the parking lot. They always play really LOUD computer games.
3:00 School's out for upperclassmen. Teachers leave at 3:30. Typically spend that half-hour restarting all the computers (because that seems to help prevent network connectivity issues in the morning) and zeroing my inbox and reader.
I know most of the day-in-the-library-lifers go until bedtime. Normally, I would go home and work on projects until my husband gets home about 6ish. He's jealous of my computing so I usually spend nights away from machines. But today I'm staying to work the gate at the 4:30 basketball game and plan on curling with my Robin Benway ARC in the meantime.
I do think I have the best job in the school!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

ALA Midwinter, in retrospect

I'm back from ALA Midwinter in Boston, and you've probably heard the biggest AASL news: the association formally adopts "school librarian" as the position designation in organization parlance. No, that doesn't affect your degree, or probably even your job title. Some colleagues feel it's a step backwards, I personally think it describes both my ALA-accredited library school education and function in the building more precisely, making it preferable. In the next biggest news, YALSA's BBYA becomes...BFYA? Or some variation thereof? Isn't it hard enough for nonfiction writers? Interesting thoughts on that here.

Friday, I attended the YALSA Web 3.0 preconference, which included my own presentation with fellow school librarians Laura Pearle and Buffy Hamilton, which was generally well-received. That morning, state librarian and futurist Stacy Aldrich sounded like the Californian she is, a few librarians from Vermont and New Hampshire were there to stridently attest to the lack of infrastructure for cell phones and broadband that Aldrich presented as ubiquitous.

There was a lot of twitter going on, including the now-infamous Youth Media Awards leak. (Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me had swept so many of the mock Newbery predictions, it wasn't the shocker it might have been.) Deborah Sloan and Mitali Perkins hosted an amazing tweetup. Seeing the warm, wonderful Adriana Trigiani (right), whose Very Valentine won a RUSA genre award, was a personal high point. (BTW, I thought it was very cool that Harper Collins had ASL translators at their events.)

Sarah Kelly John's campaign for ALA president provide a rallying point for school librarians, our allies in youth services, and progressive librarians of a variety of stripes. The networking uncommons (a better-appointed version of the blogger's cafe at AASL in Charlotte) gathered some momentum Sunday. I felt the age issue was huge all conference, and really tried to welcome younger librarians braving the organizational meetings.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


The American Library Association midwinter meeting  is upon us. For a long time, I heard that midwinter wasn't the conference to go to -- "too boring," "just meetings." Well, as far as I am concerned, midwinter is THE conference to go to. The crowd is intense and committed. The Youth Media Awards are an experience unlike no other. The teens at the BBYA are a surefire gauge for my purchasing decisions. And I have had some lovely invitations in the past from friends and vendors, making it worth trudging out through the snow in Philadelphia or Denver.

Boston in January would never have been my choice for a destination, and I haven't been to New England since my Sirsi days (2002). Nonetheless, it can't get much colder than my library right now, and I can't wait to participate in the YALSA institute with Laura Pearle and Buffy Hamilton next Friday. I'm going to be talking about what is engaging teens at my school and share lots of interesting technologically-facilitated ethical conundrums that have been popping up lately. There will be committee meetings for AASL and YALSA, but I'm also looking forward to the Kidlit Tweetup and the HP exhibit at the Museum of Science , which I must have been the only librarian not to catch in Chicago this summer. I'll spend a night in New Hampshire with a college friend afterwards. Not such a bleak midwinter, huh?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Kindle: a tortured romance

For a long time, e-readers struck me as a sort of single-function electronics, something akin to a $5 handheld electronic football game.

But when I saw Amazon's Kindle iPhone application, an impulse for instant gratification coupled with a desire to make use of the hardware I already owned compelled me to browse theie e-book selection. The immediacy of getting the book delivered as soon a I press a button is every agoraphobes' fantasy. It was a text equivalent of Audible , another service I loved initially, but grew to resent for its licensing strictures, and as exciting as the Project Gutenberg , if much more expensive.

My first Kindle purchases were two novels, Maeve Binchy and Sarah Dessen, maybe the worst possible choices for electronic book reading. Those are books you want to take into the bathtub, so I didn't get beyond about page forty of either in this format, eventually finishing them both in print. Content-wise, I felt the Kindle format came into its own for me with more informational text. I turned to the format for a piece of dense nonfiction, London, the biography by Peter Ackroyd. The book was too big to carry comfortably and would invite too many conversations if I took it out anyway. I began to notice the shortcomings of the format for scholarship then because of absence of pagination and indexing, but expediency trumped my misgivings and I did buy another Kindle title for my iPhone, Barbara Bradley Hagarty's Fingerprints of God . I began the book, about the neuroscience of religion, at six one morning and was literally too impatient to wait for a bookstore to open for me to hunt for a print copy.

The worst part of the Kindle is what happens to the book when you are done reading it. You are purchasing a license, rather than an object. You can't pass it on to a friend, trade it is at the used bookstore, or donate it to your library. I wrote about my lukewarm feelings on the concept for the AASL blog. So after spending a week raving about Fingerprints of God to anyone who would listen and then not being able to share it, I really didn't think about e-books for several months, but when I was going to Europe this October, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to test the newest wafer-thin generation of Kindle hardware. I rationalized that, given Amazon's returns policy on the thing, I could always send it back after the trip if I was displeased. It was a wonderful way to minimize my luggage.

I had some of the same issues with the "real" Kindle as with the iPhone app. For example, I immediately regretted downloading After by Amy Efaw . Normally, that would exactly the type of book I would order in hardback from Amazon and put in the collection at my school library after I finished it. Both versions cost $10. But with the Kindle license, you essentially pay a per-reader fee. Divide that by the number of total readers for a print book. So, for bookworms, it can be an expensive habit. My wonderful public library does provide access to Overdrive e-books, but they aren't Kindle compatible, and I don't want to read on a laptop. I would gladly pay the $1 or so to convert the .pdfs to Kindle to have access for the two-week loan period, but even then another limitation has to do with the format. Not that many books I really want to read are available as e-book. Once, I attempted to compute a ratio, and something like 85% of books I read over three months weren't. The Kindle might offer plenty of titles if you enjoy current New York Times bestsellers, but with publishers threatening to embargo , I'm no so sure that is even the case.

Nonetheless, there are some aspects of this weird, white, stand-alone device that I adore. One seldom talked-about aspect of the Kindle I'm particularly into is a so-called "experimental" that feature gives you rudimentary internet access. It gives you access to T-Mobile's data network without any sort of fee. That alone seems to justify the device. And I did find the Kindle store's samples were particularly wonderful for locating books on the fly, remembering titles, and reading that all-important first chapter. It's a 21st century version of Books-in-Print, whether I ended up buying it in an electronic format or not.

My ambiguous feelings about the Kindle became moot one day when I was in the middle of an A.S. Byatt book. When I turned it on, the display was smudged, a smear of e-ink rendering one-quarter of the screen unreadable. Thankfully, I had only had the device three weeks and was within the 30-day money-back period, so I printed out the return label. "Another broken Kindle?" the woman at the UPS Store asked. I asked for a refund instead of an exchange.

I had pretty much resigned myself to living Kindle-less, finally finishing the Maeve Binchy on the iPhone app, when my husband gave me another, with a rigid protective case, for Christmas. I downloaded and giggled through Grace Dent's Posh and Prejudice.

I am not sure if I am going to keep the second Kindle, but if so, I will definitely get the $70 year extended warranty. And I will be altogether prepared to buy another piece of hardware the moment those two years are up. Kindle and subsequent e-readers will do to books what digital audio files, making it entirely too easy to lose an intellectual product altogether in the digital ether.