I’m a librarian. Use me!

02/14/2013
Narsarsuaq Airport, Greenland. Terminal, Nanoq...

Narsarsuaq Airport, Greenland. Terminal, Nanoq Duty Free shop. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today sent my principal an email telling him I am underutilized.

I have seven assigned teaching periods a week, slightly more than 1 per school day. Our day is eight periods long. I have open access two lunch periods every day. The rest of the time I am allegedly doing “library administration.” As far as I can tell after two years of doing the job, library administration takes about 10-20 minutes a day which I spend re-shelving books. When I still have money to spend, I might take another 30 minutes a day reading book reviews to select my purchases.

That still leaves me four more periods a day plus my contract-mandated duty-free lunch period (which I hardly ever take – I read trade magazines and answer work emails while I eat).

I reminded him that I did a lot of different things before becoming a teacher and I carry a diverse set of skills he could take advantage of and gave him suggestions on how I might be more useful to him and the school.

I could write grants. I write and win a couple or three for the library each year. My record is seven applied for, six won. When an assistant principal needed an essay for a grant proposal she was submitting that day, I wrote what she called a great one in twenty minutes. I could write more.

I could plan and do PD. We used to get a lot of PD on differentiating lessons but none of it was differentiated. When I pointed that out to my principal he said there wasn’t enough time to plan differentiating it. I managed to hold my tongue and not point out that teachers, too, are under time pressure, what with all the paperwork they have to do. I could plan differentiated PD – more differentiated than he might imagine (unconference model; Educon conversation model, EdCamp model, etc.). I could create PD on Project-Based Learning, on interdisciplinary unit design, on becoming a connected educator, and more.

I could create, or facilitate students creating a webpage for the school. Right now we have the dull, cookie-cutter NYCDOE school webpage and it doesn’t give a clue about who we are, what we do, how we do it, or any of the great things happening in our school. I’m currently working with three sixth grade classes to develop a website for our library – right now they’re deciding what will be on the site and the more artistic students are investigating other school and library sites to get design ideas (and a list of things not to do!).

I could produce an online school magazine.

I could, I could, I could.

I’ll let you know how he responds.


Meeting a Different Student Need

03/18/2012
English: A painting of a teardrop I did.

Image via Wikipedia

Something had happened but I had no idea what.

An announcement told students and teachers not to move to their 7th period assignment when the bell rang ending sixth period, it was being extended…indefinitely.

I had the high-level 8th grade class, the ones I taught social studies to when they were in the 6th and 7th grades. I’ve written about them before

. We’re comfortable with each other and used the extended time to talk about the high schools they’d be going to in September.

The halls were strangely quiet as we’d been told not to give any passes for any reason during this time.

Like many, if not all schools these days, we have procedures to lock down classes if an unauthorized person gets past security, or if anyone has a gun, but those codes had not been given. It wasn’t even a drill.

We waited.

Finally, after about a fifteen minute delay, everyone moved to their 7th period assignment. I still had no idea why we’d been detained.

That is when the four 8th grade girls came into the library sobbing, wailing, and shaking. I feared the worst, that someone had died, perhaps even a student. The girls were so distraught they couldn’t talk. Finally one calmed down enough to tell me that the boyfriend of one of these girls had gotten so upset about something that girl said to him that he had punched his hand through the wall of the cafeteria. In doing that he had sliced the back of his hand open and was bleeding profusely.

An ambulance arrived to take the boy to the hospital. Only after that, permission to move to 7th period came.

The girls were deeply upset. All four had witnessed the punch. One of the girls, a hold over, older than the other by a year or two, said she’d never seen a boy cry before but the puncher was crying while the nurse and an assistant removed his hand from the wall.

The girls worried that the boy would bleed to death. I said it was highly unlikely, but they told me of pools of blood in the cafeteria. Again, I reassured them, telling them that the body has a lot of blood, can afford to lose a pint or two. I also knew from my frequent blood donations that a pint of blood looks like a really large amount.

Middle school is a difficult time for most students. Bodies are changing, emotions are expanding, interest in members of the opposite gender grows, accompanied by worry about one’s own attractiveness. At the same time, there is little time in their school day to ease up, to reflect, to react to trauma.

Not one of those four girls is a reader. They’ve never checked out a single book in the 12 school months I’ve been the librarian. I don’t have a strong relationship with any of them. Still, they came to the library when they needed a place to react, to emote, to be comforted and reassured.

They came to the library when they needed to feel safe.

Earlier that same day one of the veteran teachers, and not one who has been particularly friendly to me, came in to use copier, looked around, and thanked me “for making the library look and function like a library again.”

New books, organized shelves, new decoration on the walls, automated checkout and an online catalog have made the library a more active, more dynamic, and a more attractive place. I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish in little time and with almost no budget.

But what pleases me most is one of those things that will never show up on any evaluation of how I do my job. There’s no standardized test for it and it is not on any principal’s observation form.

I’ve made a safe place for students.

Nothing is more important than that.


One Year as a Librarian, and What a Year It Has Been

12/18/2011

On a late Friday afternoon about one year ago my principal told me I was going to be the school’s librarian starting the next week.

At the time I knew nothing about being a school librarian and was taking over a disaster of a library. 

Three weeks later I enrolled in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Queens College. This past week I completed my 21st, 24th and 27th credits in 11 months while working full time. I’m very tired.

I reorganized all the books in the library, twice. I began automating the library, a process of putting barcodes on all the books and scanning them into our now online catalog. Oh yeah, I had to learn that software (and thanks to Shannon McClintock Miller for turning me onto it).

Five unpaid Saturdays were spent in 7-hour long training sessions to learn more about my job, I won a small technology grant. I presented at the NYC school library system’s fall conference.

My library was selected to be part of a pilot program of having a shared catalog and other collaboration with the New York Public Library.

English: A panorama of a research room taken a...

That meant learning another system of library automation software.

Oh, I’ve also been teaching information fluency skills, trying out two different website development tools, finding and sharing resources with my colleagues in my school and in my district.

In my free time, I taught a class at SUNY Empire State College, helped organize and run EdCampNYC, and managed to lose the last half of a 60 lb. total loss that I’ve managed to keep off.

So much for this year.’

Next year?

English: 2012 Calendar, sized as A4 page

I’ve got a lot more work to do.

I need to improve my teaching, redecorate the library and try to find the money for a renovation.

I need to finish my degree. After 27 credits in 11 months, thanks to budget cuts it will take me another 11 months to complete the final nine required credits.

I need to continue to weed old, outdated and damaged books from our collection and finish the barcoding and cataloging.

I also need to purchase books, magazines and databases with the twin foci of providing quality recreational reading options and better aligning the collection to our curriculum.

I need to continue to learn my job and continue to be thankful to all the members of my PLN, including my colleagues in the NYC school library system who help me do so.

Yes, I still have a lot to do, but right now I need to rest, to get to know my wife and son again, to take some time for myself.

I’ve earned it. Haven’t I?

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An Open Letter to Rupert Murdoch

06/13/2011
Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and Chief Executive O...

Image via Wikipedia

Dear Mr. Murdoch,

Congratulations on getting a nice juicy contract for your corporation from the New York State Department of Education. A contract worth $27,000,000, is that right. A nice healthy piece of change, that is.

And do I understand it correctly that you got this contract without bidding on it?

How does that work? No, seriously, I want to know. Not because I begrudge you getting a $27,000,000 contract without having to bid on it; after all, that seems to be how things are getting done these days. Bidding just delays things and creates a needless level of bureaucracy, right.

No, I’m asking because I want to get in on the act.

Now I’m not looking for $27,000,000. It sounds great, but I have no idea how to handle that kind of money. You do. That’s why you’re a businessman and I’m a librarian.

That’s why I’m having the problem I’m having. You see, I want to buy a circulation desk for my middle school library and I have to get bids from three different vendors to do it, even though I know which circulation desk I’m going to buy. It is not really the one I want, but at $1,231, I know it is the one my school can afford.

Sure, I’d like to have a more efficient, better-built circulation desk, but I’d probably have to get a dozen bids. It doesn’t matter. My public middle school in the Bronx (that’s part of New York City just like Manhattan, but the way) doesn’t have that kind of money, not $2500, no sir.

Now you’re probably thinking this letter is looking for money from you. Perish the thought!

All I want is for you to teach me how to get money from the New York Education Department, the New York City Department of Education, or any other entity without having to get bids and without begging.

I know you’re a busy man and don’t have the time to teach me stuff yourself. But you do have employees who could do it. Maybe that fellow Klein who works for you now, the one who was NYC schools chancellor for a few years. I bet he knows how to work the system.

With the highest regard for your business acumen, I remain,

Deven Black

Librarian

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Dirty books!

05/14/2011
Books

I’ve been going through all the books in my school’s library and I’m amazed at what I’ve found.

Our school opened in 1956 and I’ve found books that were there when the first students arrived. I’m not talking about ageless fiction; I’m talking about books on fast-changing technical topics like cameras, automobiles, telecommunications and undersea exploration.

Computers were not such a big deal in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s or 1980s, so I’m not really surprised that prior to this year our collection seems to have only three books on computers, all of them featuring pictures of giant room-sized mainframes and massive desktop units.

Our one book about the latest developments in medicine was published in 1975. I guess research has stood still since then.

But my most startling discovery has been the dirty books. I’m don’t mean a little risqué, I’m talking about true filth. In a middle school library!

The woman I’m replacing, our librarian since 1956, told stories about her strict parochial school education and was happy to display her precise parochial school handwriting. I’m stunned that she’d allow dirty books in the library.

I’m not talking about a volume here and there, I’ve discovered boxes of dirty books, shelves of them, some wordy and some filled with pictures. It’s a disgrace.

After all, we all know what dirty books lead to… dirty thoughts.

Also dirty hands, dirty clothes and dirty faces.

Who knew a library was such a hazard?

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Jumping Through Certification Hoops Should Be For Everyone

01/10/2011
Cathie Black Visits Hillcrest High School, Dec...
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I’ve spent the day learning about the hoops I have to jump through — a 2nd master degree, for one — to be certified as a school librarian. Oh, and I have until August to get 18 of the 36 required credits if I want to be able to do the job I’m doing now next year.

I think our new school’s chancellor should have the same opportunity I have, get half the credits for an education leadership degree to be allowed to continue to do her job past Labor Day.

If I worked at an elementary school it would not be an issue but certified librarians are required at all secondary schools.

That I’ve done more in one month in and for the library, and for the students and teachers who now can use it than the certified librarian (certified in 1956, btw) did in the past six years is apparently not as important as having that piece of paper certifying me.

That I can teach the students and teachers about technology and how to use it effectively and safely where the certified librarian thinks the electric typewriter is a threat to society is not as important as having that certificate.

The "QWERTY" layout of typewriter ke...
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If the certificate is that important for me to have, shouldn’t the school chancellor have one, too?

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Making a Point, Missing the Point

12/21/2010
Lava Lamp Red
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I am still astounded at the new things I’m realizing now that I am responsible for taking a library that stopped progressing sometime in the mid-1970s and bringing it into the 21st Century.

The first thing is that organization, never my stro

ng point, is essential in a library. There is so much to keep track of: books, borrowers, the card catalog (more on that in a bit) return dates, trends (more on that, too, in a minute) and new releases.

There are likely more things to keep track of, but those are the ones I’ve discovered in my first two weeks. I hope some more experienced librarians I’ve come to know will inform me what I not paying attention to that I should also be focusing upon.

The second thing I’ve realized is that it is almost impossible to go directly from being an excellent 1970s library that unfortunately finds itself in 2010 to being a 2010 library ready for whatever develops in the next decade or two.
Let’s start with the card catalog.

The subject catalogue (
Image via Wikipedia

We have a lovely wooden card catalog unit with a matching four-drawer file cabinet. Both pieces would look terrific in my house. The newest item in that file cabinet is a clipping from the New York Times of November 8th about the results of the Presidential election held the day before.

The card catalog is an anachronism. I just uncrated 15 cases of books and have a stack of catalog cards about a foot high that I need to file. I can’t begin to estimate the amount of time it will take to do that filing, but I have to think there is a better use of my time than doing that.

One potentially better use of my time would be to organize our non-fiction section currently in total disarray. It does one no good to look up a topic, say the grammar of Old French (perhaps you wonder as I do why we have two books on that topic), and not have a clue where to find the books filed under 841 in the Dewey decimal system.

Or perhaps an even better use of my time would be to figure out how to sell off that non-fiction section (complete with six — count them! — six different encyclopedias) and the lovely wooden card catalog and file cabinet in order to buy a few e-readers.

My friend and colleague Lisa Nielsen has been hosting an interesting conversation about e-readers vs. books on her blog. The conversation started with the news that Principal James McSwain of Lamar High School in Houston, Texas got rid of many of the books in his school’s library and replaced them with e-readers and a coffee shop.

I’m not at all interested in the discussion of whether a

coffee shop belongs in a high school, but I am interested in the fact that Lamar High School can afford to buy a bunch on e-readers. So can a lot of schools around the country. But I’m scrounging for bookends.

A black metal bookend.
Image via Wikipedia

Think about that for a minute. E-readers for a rich district and school, but my poor students get to watch me try to scrounge bookends.

While you’re thinking about that I hope you come to understand that until we find a way to make sure every student in America has access to the same resources, whether they are great teachers, e-readers, or classrooms with heat, all the other talk is meaningless.

All the education reformers, all the politicians, all the teacher unions and all the teacher-training colleges are all avoiding the central issue affecting the future of education and the future of our country: the large and growing gap between the rich and the poor.

Find a way to fix that and you’ll see a whole bunch of other problems you waste time talking about disappear.

E-readers? Maybe someday.

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My New Thinking About Tenure

08/22/2010
Girls in classroom, Traveling Library at Publi...
Image by New York Public Library via Flickr

My school has an old librarian.

I have no idea how old she is but I’d guess she’s well into her 70s.

She’s a lovely lady with beautiful script handwriting. She’s lively, opinionated and completely out of date.

She’s so out of date that she has become one more obstacle in the way of my students’ success.

Renovations completed a year or so ago doubled the size of our library. There are more shelves, more tables, more room to move, some computers and a printer or two.

We also have a big, wooden, card file with those narrow pull-out drawers. It is not maintained, but it is the only way to find out what books may or may not be on the shelves.

We may have the only library in NYC still using a card file. I hope so.

Two years ago I went to the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians because it was in Manhattan and because I was a member of the group.

At the meeting they have a smallish trade show for history book publishers to show their wares and for history-related organizations to try to entice new members.

One of those organizations was one of school librarians. They were showing the latest technological innovations in their field. I was drooling.

I told the woman behind the table that I wish my library were more technologically advanced but that we still use a card file.

“How is Mary,” the woman asked. “Hasn’t she retired yet?”

No, and she shows no signs of planning to any time soon.

I go to other schools where the librarians are using computers to teach students how to research beyond Wikipedia, how to tell a legit web site from a bogus one, and how to create a web page.

I go to other schools that have librarians who teach students about blogging, podcasting and creating animations.

I’ve only taken one class of students to our school library and that was six years ago.

I thought I’d arranged for a lesson on how to do research.

Mary decided to teach them cursive writing.

My students thought I was nuts.

My principal thinks it is time for Mary to move on.
I think it is time for Mary to move on.

All the students think it is time for Mary to move on.

Come the first day of school Mary will be in the library.

Mary doesn’t think it is time for Mary to move on.

Sometimes tenure sucks.

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