Being (self) judgy

Recent email from a colleague at my school:

Click here for quick (Screencastify) tutorial. It was a one-take video, don’t judge!

Don’t judge. 

Judgment as a whole is a bit much to wrangle, so let’s focus on the one-take video. 

I was new to Screencastify when we moved online in the spring. Well, not quite new, but certainly not comfortable. This fall, I continued to create what was necessary but spent an awful lot of time deleting, re-recording and attempting to edit.

Until recently, when a Gr 9 teacher asked me for some resources with little notice. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity, so I quickly produced 5 short videos:

  • Noodletools (setting up account; the basics; more advanced)
  • Using SIFT to evaluate a resource
  • Doing a basic database search

I don’t consider this my finest work, but the teacher was thrilled! Really…I couldn’t believe how grateful he was for what I produced.

We know that buying into editing culture is damaging, but I’d never before thought of editing/re-recording my own videos in that light. It got me thinking about what I’m aiming for. Certainly my work needs to be clear, thorough and understandable, but it need not be perfect. If I appreciate imperfection in others, why the heck am I worrying about it in me?

I now rarely edit or re-record; the time-saving has been considerable, I think the delivery seems more natural and I’m even making (some) peace with hearing my own voice when people are listening to it.

I’ll be over here toning down my self-judgement – hope you’ll join me.

Best laid plans

What I had planned to write about this month: something about growing into the early-twilight stage of my career, or how to prioritize/plan for collection development. 

What I ended up writing: nothing. I’m sure this is not a surprise to anyone living the 2020 back-to-school experience.

So here, in the spirit of Oprah, are some things I know for sure:

It is SO much better being on campus than online.

I am enormously grateful for the PD communities that have kept me afloat since the world went sideways. AISL is a significant part of my library life. I LOVE that I have people I consider close colleagues spread across much of this crazy continent we call home, people I lean on as much as I do those I work with in person.

Ensuring that everyone is masked and physically distant is a challenge indeed.

I don’t want to get sick. I don’t want to make my family sick. I don’t want to be online again. 

This hard. And I know that we can do hard stuff. But still.

Thinking of you all and counting the days until #DC2022,

Shelagh

Self-auditing

Last summer, I attended the excellent AISL Summer Institute on diversifying collections (offered by the wonderful people at John Burroughs School).  During the iceberg activity (my quickly-sourced reference, not theirs), I felt a much needed slap to my privileged face to realize that when I walk into a room, people see a white, middle-aged woman. Gender and age may preoccupy my attention a bit, but thinking about my race is something that I, as a white person, am not forced to do on a constant, relentless basis.  If you’ve had any uncertainty about white privilege, THIS IS IT.

I am grateful for all that I learned at this SI and have been applying it to my senior school library. For example, an audit of the past 7 years of our summer reading program revealed a preponderance of white, male authors, so we were very intentional in having better representation in this year’s list in terms of authors and characters – the smallest of baby steps.

I’ve recently realized though that I’ve been slow to turn my eye inward – looking at the books and blogs I read, the podcasts I listen to, the social media accountsI follow. Keeping in mind that this is very much a cursory glance and I have much more work to do, here’s what I found when I dug in:

Books: while my taste runs to narrative nonfiction (heavy on anything involving food – I love reading cookbooks, the older the better), I am a high school librarian and so read quite a bit of YA. While much of it offers racial diversity, it turns out that I read more with plots involving socio-economic diversity and/or featuring LGBTQ+ characters. When it comes to race I’m still leaning heavily towards mirrors, rather than seeking out windows and sliding glass doors.  Noted and on it, with my summer goal being to alternate YA/popular fiction and NF books specifically about racism/antiracism.

Social media: I tend to use Twitter for professional development and Instagram for personal use (I have two accounts – one private, and one public).  My Twitter feed is much more racially diverse than my IG feed, so I am grateful for IG recommendations such as @ava and @cleowade. I am now following authors whose books have made a profound impact on me (@ijeomaoluo, @ibramxk). A shoutout to @monachalabi, a remarkable data journalist and artist whom I had the good fortune to hear from at this past January’s provincial library conference – the work she shares through her IG feed is superb (appalling, heart-wrenching and superb).

Podcasts: Looks like I’m pretty selective, heavily on NPR and CBC content. While their stories are fairly diverse, all of the hosts are white men. So again, I’ve been grateful for suggestions from others; as  I enjoy learning about personal finance, I am currently enjoying Frugal Chic Life and Popcorn Finance. 

The more I learn, the more I feel that what I am doing is inadequate, but the alternative is to let myself become overwhelmed and do nothing. Which I refuse to do as this is too important. I’d love to hear what you’re reading/watching/listening to – more recommendations welcome!

Verily vulnerable

I can’t be the only librarian who follows the work of Brene Brown, particularly her study of vulnerability. Under normal circumstances, I would say that I embrace being vulnerable, but these are not normal circumstances, and it seems glaringly obvious to me now that I’ve not been walking my talk. 

The transition to e-learning and working from home has made me feel particularly vulnerable in a few ways that challenge me. From silly to serious, here are some thoughts:

My online appearance

As in awe as I am of those of you who look so polished when I meet you at conferences, I’m just not that kind of gal. However, whether it’s the lighting or the paint colour in my storage room home office, I’d been feeling (and therefore acting) kind of schlumpy, even though I continue to dress as I would for school – likely because it’s not the clothing that’s mostly showing up on screen (although perhaps not in this case). I am now paying a bit more attention to my hair and actually putting on some mascara and lip colour before opening up the virtual library for the day. Taking these extra 3 minutes makes a positive difference in how I look, and therefore feel – who knew?! (all of you, I’m sure…I’m keenly aware that I’m late to this party)

Parental engagement

Like many of you, I love having parents engaged in the life of the school but it’s a bit unnerving having them actually in the classroom. At the end of a recent AP Research class, the mom of one of my students leaned into the video to say hi – so lovely but so unexpected. Once the gerbil wheel of panicked thoughts (was she there the whole time? what did I say today? how did I sound? I often joke with my kids – did my informality come across as unprofessional?) finally slowed down, I realized that it can only be good for me to teach all the time as if a parent is in the room.

The future

I love working at an independent school, where my job depends upon how well I support students and staff; I think the accountability helps to keep faculty engaged and evolving in how best to serve students and families.

Of course this means is that my position is inexorably linked to pandemic / economic-affected admissions; I assume this is the case for many of you as well. The B side to my anxiety about the virus has been concern about what September looks like. I feel valued and supported at my school but I don’t teach math (my slightly-in-jest litmus test of all things necessary). While our virtual library has been steadily busy in the online environment (me being available during the academic day in a Google Meet link for research support & readers’ advisory, as well as visiting virtual classes for instruction), I feel that what I offer to the school is not as obvious as it was on campus. This knot of concern was fairly debilitating for the first few weeks but through much100 walking, I’ve been trying to park it in the land of things-I-cannot-control, and focus on the here and now. Where I am healthy and employed and have much to be grateful for.

Brene tells us that vulnerability is showing up and being seen. Well done you (and me), for doing this each and every day.

A rose by any other name

I recently wrote an article for our school newsletter and in doing so, struggled with how best to refer to myself (job title: librarian) and my colleagues (job titles: library assistants).  I ultimately went with “library team” as it acknowledged how I view us collectively, while allowing me to conveniently sidestep the issue.

Which apparently is something to do with the fact that I am very proud of being a librarian; graduate school was tough and I feel that I earned the title – plus it is my official job title. In the same vein, my two colleagues hold the official title of “library assistant”.  Why do I worry that this somehow implies something negative? That the definition of them being people “who rank below a senior person” (OED), while technically accurate, is demeaning? Or that someone might think they’re my assistants? I too rank below a senior person (and had a short but satisfying stint as an assistant in my former corporate life), so what’s my problem? 

This issue came up in a workshop discussion at a recent library conference. I learned that there had been a big dustup about an association-level document referring to anyone working in a school library as “library workers”.  Some people were upset about not being referred to as librarians; others were upset about teacher librarians and ‘non-professionals’ being lumped in with professional librarians. “Library workers” seemed to be a good example of a compromise that satisfied no one.

So when does a title matter within our school community? I guess when putting the staff directory together. Certainly when the buck stops with me regarding a sticky issue. And absolutely in terms of compensation and being viewed as a stakeholder. But when it comes to our students, most do not distinguish us by job title; to them, we are all librarians. At my school, they focus on the interaction rather than the title of person with whom they are interacting – is this the same for your schools?

I like the slightly facetious wording suggested by one person at the workshop: “all beating hearts who work in a school library in support of students”.  This doesn’t address my weirdness, but it does in some way reflect how I feel. Roses all 🙂

We See You #aislsi2019

What a great pleasure it was to attend my first summer institute, put together by the phenomemal team at John Burroughs School in fabulous St Louis!

Our two days together were founded on the importance of acknowledging who we are so that we can participate in conversations about who others are. Having a diverse library collection allows for a wide variety of representation reflecting a range of human identifiers – reflecting diversity of content not equality of numbers.

So much important content was covered, I can’t do it justice here, so I simply offer some nuggets from the valuable presentations, engaging activities, phenomenal panels and all the wonderful ensuing conversations. (Thanks and credits below)

Deep Dive into diversity in the library

Defining diversity

I appreciated learning about “The Big 8” identifiers (most common but not exclusive and can be adapted as relevant), which offer such a useful framework:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Mental & physical ability
  • Socioeconomic status 
  • Race (skin colour)
  • Ethnicity (cultural/geographic background)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion

There was good discussion around the importance of recognizing which identifiers are more visible than others, and how that visibility affects our decision-making.

Representation matters

“That teenage feeling of being social awkward, the strangeness of finding love for the first time, the importance of discovering lifelong passions, and being supported by loving famiies – none of these things are exclusive to white, straight cis people and so should not be relegated to white, straight, cis characters.” – Sadie Trombetta Bustle Jan 31/18

Cue mike drop.

Booth’s work on mirrors, windows, and doors is more relevant than ever. What are my readers looking for? What will they find in our collection, and what won’t they find? 

Student Voices

One of the most amazing parts of #aislsi2019 was a panel of 12 teen readers who spoke with us about why they value representation in our collections. They were honest, articulate, and appreciative of how their librarians support them, as well as being well-read in such a wonderful variety of genres. Everyone listening left with some serious insights and solid recommendations.

It was interesting to hear that their defaults for finding good books are Google searches and asking their librarians for suggestions; they really reinforced my goal to better train my students on meaningful use of our catalogue (and how it differs from our databases). It was also great to hear how much these students appreciated curated lists for different types of representation.

Diversity Audits

I truly appreciated the time to wrestle with the logistics of preparing and performing a diversity audit. It is critical to set a goal that is uniquely relevant to our library, and achievable (it was immediately clear that there are many rabbit holes to be avoided if I want to complete an audit in the foreseeable future). Don’t be afraid to set narrow parameters to keep the audit manageable, and carefully consider the timing of the audit in your school year.

A variety of models were offered:

  • using a print checklist vs using a Google form to populate Google sheets or your own version of one or the other
  • auditing print books by hand vs auditing online (looking at a catalogue records) vs doing an audit of recent book orders

I’m excited by how local and creative I can make this process – loved the suggestion about doing an audit of a book display. I also appreciated the encouragement to start with the end in mind; think about how you’ll want to manipulate your data so that you get the data you want in a format you can use.

Diversity Audit IRL

On Day 2, we had a good chunk of time to test an audit out. We reviewed a great variety of possible goals, and with encouragement to choose a couple specific to us, we set out to independently audit a small group of books (from an available selection of print, or accessing our own through our catalogues).

I chose to audit the first 20 audiobooks in my library’s Overdrive fiction collection. Keeping in mind that this is a VERY subjective process, I chose a very small sample size, and this is my very first time doing this, I share the results in the spirit of collegiality (with a red face and gigantic face palm):

50% feature white male protagonists
30% feature white female protagonists
15% feature female protagonists of colour
15% feature indigenous protagonists
15% feature protagonists with a disability
75% written by white authors (male/female equally represented)
10% written by authors of colour
10% written by indigenous authors
40% offer own voice

I have some work to do, people.

Everyone present was very encouraging, reminding each other to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Engaging in this process will be of benefit to those we serve through our libraries, however imperfect our first kick at the can may be. I truly appreciated doing this in such a judgement-free zone (although found it hard to silence my inner critic).

Thank you to hosts, organizers and presenters Linda Mercer, Jennifer Gosnell, Jennifer Jones, Jennifer Kinney, Jennifer Millikan, Marybeth Huff, Kate Grantham and everyone else who made this happen – it was truly meaningful time together. John Burroughs is a beautiful school and St Louis is an amazing city! #gocardinals

PS: I highly recommend attending SI in the future – it was lovely having post-school time to delve into some amazing PD without being distracted by what was happening back at school 🙂

The courtesy email

Today I’ll share a small gain we’ve made on a rather mundane topic: overdue notices, produced via Destiny.  For years, this has been our schedule:

7-14 days overdue > regular 1st overdue notice emailed

15-21 days overdue > regular 2nd overdue notice emailed

22+ days overdue  > report produced to me for follow-up individually (ie. I’m the heavy)

The 22+ day report produced was usually 3-4 pages long. Which means not only did we often have popular books being held hostage, but it took a good deal of time and energy to follow up.

Until the dawn of the courtesy email!

I’ve lost the thread of where I heard about this (please tell me if it was you so that I can send you flowers). It’s been a huge improvement.

Sending the following email to borrowers who have materials due in the following week has cut that long overdue report from 3-4 pages to less than one:

“Just a friendly reminder that your book (or books) are coming due soon. Please return by the due date or contact us if you wish a renewal. Thank you.”

Students and staff are renewing and/or returning in greater numbers and people have expressed appreciation to us for giving them a heads up – customer service for the win! It’s also opened up more conversation with readers who take a bit more time to read, which is making me wonder if, rather than having a set borrowing period, we should start asking borrowers how much time they’d like (within reason).

Is anyone out there trying user-driven due dates?

“So, what do you DO all day?”

While I am fortunate to have extremely supportive colleagues, every once in a while, someone makes a comment that reminds me not everyone knows exactly what we do in the Library. Particularly when we’re not doing something obvious like working with a class. And to be honest, days can fly by without me even realizing how we’re filling the hours.

So when the unimaginable recently happened ( I had a day that was completely clear on my schedule), I decided to track it to see how an unplanned day played out –

  • Worked the desk for the morning so my brave colleague could dig out & re-organize our supply cupboard:
    • Welcomed students new to library study (reviewed guidelines with them)
    • Assisted innumerable students resolve a new printer glitch
    • Assisted innumerable students set up new Noodletools accounts
    • Helped a student fine-tune her References written from scratch (and then helped her set up Noodletools for future use)
    • Provided reader’s advisory to an English teacher looking for books for her new reading initiative ‘First Chapter Fridays’ (love it!)
    • Scheduled a postponed summer reading book discussion
    • Tried to catch up on professional journals but was reminded how this never works while I’m on the desk
  • Did some book club planning with student leaders
  • Prepped for my next AP Research class
  • Met with 2 advisees (once about a course change; one feeling overwhelmed)
  • Prepped for some upcoming classes about accessing audiobooks
  • Went to school store to pick up school-crested gift for an author visit
  • Reviewed metered titles that had expired in Overdrive, selecting some for re-purchase
  • Submitted an order for Grade 9 Lit Circle books to a local bookstore
  • Met with our school environmental rep about updating training for student reps (based on my housemaster perspective)
  • Confirmed upcoming research visit to Queen’s University
  • Reviewed revised interview forms for Admissions (I sit on the committee)
  • Set up attendance roster for chapel choir attendance (I’m helping with management)
  • Submitted a reference for a former library steward who has applied for a volunteer position
  • Moved ‘update budget’ to another day for the 17th time (I really need to make this priority) and called it a day

This exercise reminded me of one of my best all-time experiences at my school. In advance of fundraising for our new Commons (including a library renovation), an Advancement director met with me to learn more about the library (so he could speak more knowledgeably when approaching potential donors). Not knowing where to start, I opened my planner and reviewed the past 2 weeks of activity. He was literally gobsmacked; “I had no idea”.

It was awesome.

 

 

Pondering post-secondary

While our schools have evolved from solely preparing students for post-secondary to helping them become engaged citizens who carefully and critically use information to meet their needs, I would be failing in my role if I did not make every effort to ensure that our students have mastered some key basics before heading off to college/university.

I find inspiration for this through work done by many members of AISL, offered through this blog and at annual conferences (research conducted by Courtney Lewis being particularly helpful), and also through visits to academic libraries. My family and friends know that if I’m travelling to a new place, I’m going to be reaching out to university librarians in that area. Besides being good fun, being able to reference recent conversations with academic librarians can enhance my ‘street cred’ with students and faculty.

I was fortunate to visit 3 universities on two of the Canadian coasts this summer: Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Vancouver, British Columbia. What I found was immensely ‘do-able’ and reassuring.I don’t think this is because I’m nailing it, rather that despite constant changes in technology, some key tenets remain the same:

  • Arriving at school with the knowledge that support and resources are available from a magical place called a library puts them ahead of the pack
  • Knowing a particular citation style is not as important as them knowing when and how to cite
  • Information/media literacy is key – students who are used to looking at sources critically, considering potential bias, will be best set up for success

What do they see lacking in their first-year students?

  • Having the ability to read deeply, and with intention
  • Knowing how to back-plan for time-consuming reading & research
  • Recognizing that theft in a larger community is real – don’t leave your laptops/phones unattended in the library!

Based on all of this, I’m feeling good about having gotten our long-stalled library orientation off the ground again this year; resuming my winter sessions with grads to prepare them for using academic libraries; and implementing NoodleTools. I need to ramp up my PR on working with teachers on information literacy and continue modelling deep reading.

I remain enormously grateful to be part of a profession which happily blurs “divisions”. I have never had an academic or public librarian be less than enthusiastic about meeting with me to look at how to better support students, and I happily keep a stash of school-crested gifts and thank you notes to show my appreciation.