Tuesday, December 21, 2010


It was a banner year. Some of my personal high points:

January: Presenting "Flip Your Library" with Laura Pearle and Buffy Hamilton at the YALSA Institute preconference at ALA Midwinter in Boston.

February: Presenting an Elluminate session on Google Searching for the Alabama State Department of Education Technology Initiatives.

March: Visiting Sedona, Arizona over spring break.

April: Hosting fifty-odd youth services librarian for an Alabama Library Association preconference

May: A long weekend in Chicago including Topolobampo, The Green Zebra, Billy Elliot, Avenue Q, and some terrific company.

June: Chairing the YALSA preconference on online reading promotion, WTF? They ARE reading.

July: Attending training at the Library of Congress as part of its Teaching with Primary Sources Mentor program, which included spending lots of time with Joyce Valenza.

August: Beginning coursework towards administrative certification, which helped me think about the library from other viewpoints.

September: A month marked with literacy as our Teachers as Readers group skyped with Alabama author Irene Latham, the public library comes to school to visit every ninth grader, and our book club orders cute, student-designed tee shirts.

October: I really start enjoying the Computer Applications curriculum I cobbled together for our College and Career Readiness curriculum, and at least a few juniors are as fascinated by location-based technologies and hardware as I am.

November: With both the YALSA Lit Symposium and NCTE/ALAN, November was a terrific month for talking about literature for young people.

December: The advertisement for a second librarian unit threw me into temporary paralysis, but everything seems to be resolving in an absolutely exciting direction. More on that in 2011!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hanging on

The interviewing for a second librarian position for our high school is underway, and I am riding a daily rollercoaster from elation to despondancy about this coming librarian. Some of the candidates have been top-notch, especially the ones who found out about the gig through social networking...more on that later. Others don't seem to have ANY qualifications and seem to be playing application roulette.

This has such great potential to change the culture of our school, but it seems like everyone has a different idea of what they want...

... some administrators are all about "getting you into the classroom to work with teachers on technology."

... some administrators want someone to design a better website. Difficult, when we are hobbled by the district's Microsoft Sharepoint software.

... some administrators want someone to work on the community library project.

All of which leaves me wondering, what about the library? The actual school library?

But, seriously, social networking has proven invaluable in turning up viable candidates. My administrators are taken aback that people are willing to come from distant states, leave academia, even, to come to work here, with me. If I had been left to the candidates who hadn't found out about the gig through social networking, they might be looking for TWO librarians.

Some things I have learned in general about interviewing for jobs:

Having a website? Can be impressive. Doesn't have to be fancy or hand-coded. They seem to like templates just fine.

Submitting a vita instead of a skeletal one or two page resume? Can be impressive.

And now, the most shocking thing. The fact that the administrators were able to dissect in detail the CLOTHES the candidates wore. I'm sorry, I was too busy trying to assess their skill level. But on that note, shoes matter. And you might want to tuck your shirt in.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Books of 2010

It's been a very good year. I could have added another dozen, but these are the ones which have stuck with me.

The real thing, and better than

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand/ Helen Simonson (2010) Major Pettigrew is a widower whose main concern Is reuniting the pair of guns he and his late brother inherited from their father, that is, until her begins a misalliance with the south Asian widow of a local shopkeeper. The two sensitive and intelligent creatures communicate in a pure and rare way that is more romantic than little else but perhaps the Moyes.

Zuleika Dobson/Max Beerbohm (1926) We all know Zuleika, but not only is she an innocent who cuts her way through Oxford society, she is refreshingly un-selfconscious in a way that presages Bridget Jones and every subsequent novel with a pink cover.

Aga sagas plus

The Truth about Melody Browne/Lisa Jewell (2009) is slowly following Kate Atkinson into the realm of the thriller. I loved this book because the twist is so extreme, I could never have anticipated it.

The Other Family/ Joanna Trollope (2010). Coming on the heels of Friday Nights, I’d say Trollope’s in her prime.

A Winter’s Tale/Trisha Ashley (2008) An adorable romance with a heady Shakespearean twist, sure to be beloved by English teachers everywhere.

The Last Letter from Your Lover/JoJo Moyes (2010). This structurally complex, riveting narrative follows the intergenerational, interrelated stories of an amnesiac. From the South of France to 1950s and current-day London, the book reeks of a romance too real to be puppy love.

Older teens

Ballads of Suburbia/ Stephanie Kuenhart (2009) If you’ve have a special place for flannel shirts and mosh pits, this is a book you’ll adore. A heartfelt and compelling story framed by an older narrator remembering the fraught incidents of her youth. A realistic depiction of the nuanced nature of female friendship over time, too.

The Hole We’re In/Gabrielle Zevin (2010) The economy sucks. But this family has been living beyond their means for a long, long time beginning when the assistant-principal father went back to school for a doctorate he never finished. The passage describing his advisor’s birthday celebration should be required reading for all graduate students.

Finding H.F./ Julia Watts (2001) The world needs more Southern lesbian YA, and Watts' voice is spot-on. Heavenly Faith and her friend Beauregard are two of the best-drawn teen characters I've encountered in a while.

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares/Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (2010) The third co-authored book from this winsome duo, it beats the Will Grayson any day of the week in my book. From the Glass family to the Strand to the OED, geeks of all persuasions will find much to love in this charming, quirky novella.


Leaving Gee’s Bend/Irene Latham (2010) I read this book twice, and each time Ludelphia became dearer as the heads towards town for the medicine that will save her mother. Latham’s narrative uses dialect and poetry to evoke mythology and folk tradition. A really nice piece of work with faithful attention to and reverence for the places Latham describes. Plus, our teacher book club skyped with Latham, and she was delightful.

Sources of Light/ Margaret McMullan (2010) I think of this as the anti-Help. A book where the depictions of people of different races that manages not to be patronizing or self-congratulatory. This story of a young girl who moves to her dead father’s Mississippi hometown with her bluestocking mother in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. They bear witness to the atrocities of that period.

Nemesis/Phillip Roth (2010) Who knew the story of a polio outbreak  in the Newark tenements could be so compelling, and Roth manages it in a book that manages to include a scant few curse words and only a couple of allusions to sex. Is this Roth’s bid for a curricular title?

Quirky Nonfiction & Graphic Formats

French Milk/Lucy Knisley (2007). Knisley draws (and writes) about a month-long trip she and her mother make to Paris after her college graduation. Full of youthful exuberance, true affection for all things Parisian, and a fresh approach to storytelling.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks/Rebecca Skloot (2010) While not the best-written piece of literary nonfiction , this book is all about one woman, her extended family, and the bizarre persistence of her cells. Strangely humanizes the world of cellular biology.

Smile/ Raina Telgemeier (2010) A charming, all-ages graphic novel about the transition to high school.

Mass observation

Nella Last’s War (2006)/ Nella Last’s Peace (2008)/Nella Last in the 1950s (2010)

I have been reading Mass Observation all year. It’s sort of an earlier equivalent of the web diary circa 1998, people just babbling away. My hands-down favorite Mass Observation contributor was Nella Last, and a third volume in her story was published just this October. It’s my dream to go to Sussex and see her papers, though entire months were lost in the archive. Nella’s story has also been turned into a television movie, which didn't quite do her subtle observations of her neighbors justice.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Will two librarians be better than one?

Last week, I got the happy news that my school would be hiring a second librarian. For the past seven years, we've been at the threshold for an additional unit. Until now it, the second librarian salary was going to the assistant football coach, make of that what you will.

I am DESPERATE for some help -- serving 80 teachers and 1300 students single-handed has me at the end of my tether. But will we get qualified applicants at midyear? I am encouraging our administration to consider tech-y librarians with public library orientations instead of teachers "leaving the classroom" for this position. I have taught both groups, and find students going into public libraries to be heads-and-shoulders above their school library counterparts. Sorry, but that's what I've seen from an instructional perspective. And ALA program accreditation matters.

I have started thinking about what this person needs to know.

First, the negatives:
  • I work a lot. I am here at 6:30, an hour before the school building opens, most mornings. I don't get a planning period, and I see classes most of the day, not the 60% recommended by ALSDE. Hopfeully, another set of hand may alleviate some of that workload.
  • We haven't had a materials budget for two years. I spend a lot of my own money on this program. I have been buying the cleaning supplies, the office supplies, and most of the books. If you're not willing to chip in, you had better be an ace fundraiser. We don't have a PTO.
  • On a related note, there isn't a budget for professional development. If you want to go to a conference or workshop, you pay your own registration and expenses. That said, they are quite kind about encouraging professional growth, and will always let you away from school.
  • Our teachers are spoiled. I will set up technology projects, pull books, fix their webpages and their gradebooks. Expect unrealistic expectations.
  • The computer network is locked down like Ft. Knox. You won't be able to do much of anything requiring plug-ins, and the filters are typically Draconian, but easily permeable when you don't want them to be.
The positives:
  • The administrators ROCK. They have tremendous support for what goes on in the library. Just don't expect any money, because there isn't any.
  • The students are, for the most part, well-behaved. There are few discipline concerns.
  • The collection is so much better than it was eight years ago -- lots of recent fiction, and nonfiction and reference are looking up, too.
  • Our paraprofessional aid is a real pro and knows the school culture quite intimately.
If you are interested, we are in Madison County Schools, District 8.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Affected or infected

It's World AIDS Day. Any mention of HIV make me think of my friend Tony. Tony and I worked together on the early morning news back in the mid-1990s. We bonded in the way that only morning people that go to work at 4 a.m. can do. The son of a Harlem-raised WWII G.I. and his Italian war bride, Tony told some hysterical cross-cultural stories. I still remember him demonstrating his mother's pasta puttanesca for a cooking segment, relishing the idea of proper southern women making a Neapolitan streetwalker's supper. Tony himself was a former Navy man, had been stationed at Guatanamo, and he was one of the best reporters in our region. When I started working at this school, I caught him on the morning show on my way to work. My husband teased me that Tony was my favorite reporter.

The last time I saw Tony was at a Nappy Roots concert in 2004. Only two months later, I was out of town when my husband gave me the news that Tony had died. "Of what?" I was flabbergasted. Tony made no bones about being "that way," as we say in the south, and it seems that, at the radio station where he worked, his declining health was an open secret. To me, the saddest part was that so many of his friends didn't know he was sick. But I understood his reticence. I lived throught he AIDS scare of the 1980s. Remember Alice Hoffman, the realist, with At Risk? I thought we were past that.


As Kanye says, Magic Johnson's got the cure for AIDS. I'm still sad Tony didn't find it.