Saturday, May 28, 2011

Both new vintage Drabble and the next-best thing

Left-leaning, intellectual with working class cred, Margaret Drabble stands alone among contemporary novelists as uniquely loyal to socialist ideals almost unknown today.  I don't typically associated her with short fiction, but was elated when the publication of her uncollected stories, A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman, was announced for this spring. There is a rich range of material spanning decades with Drabble's attendant preoccupations represented.

Tessa Hadley's The London Train is a novel I never would have selected based on the cover -- still not sure about that U.S. version -- but the novel itself is preoccupied with both the same intersections of private life and society which typifies her work. Hadley's protagonist of the first half, Paul is precisely situated, "Most of the cohort of cousins in his generation had done well for themselves, they had made the archetypal baby-boomer move out of their parents' class, they were in local government or in hospitals, or worked in middle management." 

Hardcore Drabble fans, and there are such things, will delight. When I was working for a library automation vendor, I was sent to a very lovely liberal arts college outside Toronto for the go-live date of their new catalog. Troubleshooting, I searched for Drabble's The Millstone to check how one of the bibliographic fields was reflected after the data conversion. The assistant director caught my query and told me that the sys admin was a Drabble fan as well. She told him of our affinity, a strange thing to share. Another time, I encountered a Drabble cache. Some friends in Ann Arbor had arranged a house swap with their London place. There were multiple copies of he Penguin paperback among the academic couple's books.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The end of a long, strange school year

Looking back, this has been a long, strange year for me at school. It began with the defection of my chief instructional collaborator, the senior economics teacher, who left to become director of a local park. For four years, we had team-taught a documentary project where every student in the school was required to do research, practice citation, and learn to manipulate audio and video. I saw her classes every week, and stayed late late at night for lab time when the projects were due. It was part of the senior experience, and its loss meant that now we didn't even have anyone who could put together a senior slideshow without hand-holding. It gave me a lot more time to work on other things, but I realized there was no coordinated way to reach the number of students I was able to work with through her.

In January, we had the exciting advent of a second librarian. That has really helped both my stress and workload, and it is lovely to be able to confer with someone sitting beside me about their opinion on a professional topic. Plus, Carolyn's strengths and interests are entirely different from mine. She like desktop publishing, which drives me nuts, and doesn't hesitate to raise her voice to control behavior, something I have always been lax about. My favorite experience has been hearing her tell the parent of a graduating student that their child was irresponsible for having had a book out for four year and yes, they would be required to pay for the fine and the book. I am much more mealy-mouthed and forgiving.

Also, I think because of this third person behind the desk, it seems I don't have the same close bonds with as many students. I think, with three adults, there's more an "us against them," dynamic present.

The year itself was unusual in that we lost a week of instruction to winter weather, and then another to the catastrophic storms April 27. I would say about half of our school, students and faculty, are still suffering with either PTSD or depression. We got a state waiver so we don't have to make up those five school days, but it was really little consolation. The landscape on the drive out here is still scarred past recognition.

Even before our inventory, we were noticing an unprecedented level of theft. Since we don't have state materials funding, and haven't for three year now, so many of those books were the results of hard-fought grant funding, or brought back from conferences like ALAN, or purchased out of my own pocket. Those holes in the collection are causing me tremendous grief right now.

I won't be at graduation, I have a class Monday night so I won't even see my students at their happiest. What class? Well, regular readers will note that I have been allowed to complete my administrative credentialing, almost eight months after the beginning of the wrangling with the state department of education about whether or not I had sufficient teaching experience (shades of the L.A. Inquisition, no?), itself a draining process, even if it did shake out in my favor.

And I expect over the next year, that I will have more tough choices to make as I am forced to contemplate what I want to do next and the long-term viability of school librarianship as a profession, and try desperately to complete my dissertation

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why I actually wish I had a school-aged child

This isn't about the Godin stuff. mk Eagle and Bobbi Newman expressed the bulk of my sentiments and reservations on that one, other than the fact I would bet money Godin hasn't been in a library in a decade. He's just downloading digital files as he needs them and then crowing about how inexpensive those happen to be, for him. I wrote quite the epic response (for me) response to that all yesterday and lost it in the interwebs.

But I do want to talk about the Los Angeles school librarian interrogations, and what I feel this will come down to, in the end. Parents are going to have to to take up the cause, not my speaking to individual boards or even state legislatures, but by litigating. I don't think many of our schoolchildren, either avid readers or those who need more literacy support, will have access to the print resources they require to understand or extend content objectives or improve their own reading and writing without the range of text in our libraries. And I think we will have to seek legal redress, to ensure school libraries and certified personnel are court-mandated.
I wish I had a child (and I have certainly never typed that before!) at a school where services are impacted, because we need a plaintiff.  Even in Alabama, where our state-mandated staffing levels for library media specialists lead the nation, and our district recently got told it needed that second unit (that had been funding athletic coaches) in the high school libraries, there have been some upsetting trends emerging. Two of my feeder elementaries will be without paraprofessionals next year. I heard a neighboring district will be filling a librarian vacancy with a half-time employee rather than a full-time one. I plan to make some calls to check in on the legality of all this today. I think this may be a more productive avenue for us than the tired suggestions for grass-roots advocacy.

Monday, May 9, 2011

ASLA/Library Symposium/AETC

I am still a little beside myself about my election to ALA Council. I have a really full ALA Annual conference schedule looming, but before that, there will be a whole week in June which our state devotes to professional learning...and helping Alabama librarians and teachers improve their practice is something very dear to my heart.

I was very flattered to be asked to give the keynote for ASLA, our recently-renamed (was AIMA) state school library association at their annual conference on Monday, June 13th. It will be about "Future-Proofing The School Library:"  In the era of dispensable librarians, there are some easy, digitally-enabled ways to make yourself the school's lead information broker and technology point-person. Discover ways to make increase your program's profile, integrate information literacy, and real-world technology skills, and boost your circulation and increase both student and teacher door count. 

I am also going to embed a lot of the experiences I have had recently dealing with our state department of education and their view of librarians as less than classroom teachers, suggesting ways we can change that mindset.

For my breakout session that afternoon, I will be looking at "The Librarian as Technology Leader: One Dozen Ways to Create An Information-Rich, Technologically-Enhanced School Culture:" Online applications can create real opportunities for global connectedness, offer opportunities for authentic information literacy, and showcase student work and learning. Learn about ways to keep your students in the swim of things with an emphasis on free applications and lowest-common-denominator hardware solutions.

This session will be extra-fun because I will get to share the inspirational work of my PLN, so will get to look at a variety of library settings and network restrictions and how school librarians have worked around limitations.

The educational techology conference, AETC, run by our state department of education Technolgy Initiatives division, begins Tuesday June 14th with preconference workshops, including a full-day School Library Symposium. I will be giving some "inspirational" opening remarks as well as a concurrent session  on "Reading with Google: Search and Embed Google's Books, Scholar and RSS Reader in Your Library:"  Dip into the world of electronic reading using the rich trove of content available via online application. The Google Certified Teacher will present tips and techniques for identifying and accessing the content you and your students want for reading on and offline, on any web-enabled mobile device, and using dedicated e-readers.

That Wednesday, I will get a bit of a breather to enjoy the AETC opening conference session and some of the concurrent ones, but I am presenting again the afternoon of Thursday June 16th. My first session will be "21st Century Reading" and will look a lot like the Google session from Tuesday, and the second will be "eReaders for the Classroom," an e-reading presentation with Carolyn Starkey, not too dissimilar from the ones we have given at Computers in Libraries and the Alabama Library Association conferences. 

With our school year extended until June 4th (yes, that is a Saturday) because of the recent weather events, I will be scrambling to pull all this together, and I am thankful for that week between the state stuff and ALA Annual. If you are an Alabama school librarian or teacher, be sure to register for ASLA, the Library Symposium (through AETC), and AETC today.

Monday, May 2, 2011

After the storm

We spent two hours with the students, without electricity, in the halls under tornado watch last Wednesday. Our school was mentioned by name as the site of a hit that morning, so my cell phone lit up with texts and tweets, but the damage was limited to some smashed safety glass and an detached awning -- entirely superficial. By the time we were released early, I thought the worst of the storms had passed and hurried home.

Dozens of tornadoes went on to hammer the northern part of the state into the night. This Monday is the third of at least four days of school we're out, after the deadly storms which killed a ninth grade girl in our district among more than 200 hundred other people, devastating Tuscaloosa in particular. Lots of people want to know schools they can help. Right now, they are still accounting for people, a task hobbled by lack of electricity. More than a half million homes and businesses in North Alabama lost power when the TVA transmissions lines from Browns Ferry nuclear plant were demolished. TVA and Huntsville Utilities basically had to recreate the power grid from scratch. This morning, they said in the media briefing that about 30 percent of their electricity load was coming through, but that's a lot more than the one percent making it to the hospitals and water treatment plant on Friday morning. We're one of the fortunate households with power.

It was an exercise in patience, but also gratitude. So many people offered me a place to stay. I wanted to be with my home and husband, but I would have been ready to leave town like so many people did if we had lost water. Everyone who stayed was sleeping better without the streetlights and electronic distractions (and the dusk-'til-dawn curfew). I was so grateful not to have significant damage to our house or to have lost family and friends, everything else seemed insignificant. I was also appreciative for all of the people who have ever given me candles (I had some I knew were fifteen years old) because they came in particularly handy. I didn't miss warm water as much as I did cooked food, but I think I was in the minority there.

What would I do differently? Charge up all my electronics. My cell phone battery was less than half-charged when we lost power, and even sending texts required numerous, draining attempts, but at least I had a car charger. And I would fill up my gas tank. I wanted to stop on my way home from school Wednesday, but all the pumps I passed were taken. Lack of gas led my husband and I on an awful trip south Thursday, where he had to abandon his truck in Birmingham. We had to have a friend bring us gas to get home, which was an awful thing to ask under the circumstances. I think charging my devices and keeping the gauge near full will my new compulsions.

So many people around here had generators, and gas or charcoal grills, and ingenuity. I have really been impressed with the community as a whole and the generosity out there. When I went to pharmacy yesterday, to pick up the refills I had called in Wednesday, they were working off generators. It was terrific to see the cashiers I recognized. "Are you making it all right?" one woman asked. I almost cried. And I feel barely affected. I am not sure if we will have to "make up" the days at school, but I can tell you one thing, we are all going to be very happy to see each other.