Sunday, October 24, 2010

October 25 - Cast your (library) ballot

It's municipal election time, and public libraries are impacted by the decision-makers at the city level. The welfare of school libraries is also on the line, as school board trustees can be key to keeping school library staffing and funding healthy, despite the fact that education is a provincial responsibility. I've tried to read up on the various candidates in my area and I think (with the exception of the mayor's position) that I've made up my mind for whom to vote. I hope that tomorrow's winners will do their best to represent their community responsibly and will support library issues.

While one election ends, another begins. Tomorrow, the nominees for the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading Awards are announced. This is a contest that I must confess I pay more attention to than the political competitions. In the past, I was part of the committee that selected the titles, but for various reasons I've taken a semi-permanent hiatus from the task. Like with any list, there are sure to be people critical of the options presented, but I hope that the students enjoy the variety and that there's a worthy candidate that the young voters can rally around and be confident in honouring it with their vote. Voting's a serious matter - running and participating in a fair election is part of what it means to be a democratic society - so if you qualify, get out there and vote!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

October 18 - "The Media" and The School Library

This coming Wednesday, a television crew is coming to my school to film. The topic is on innovative uses of technology in education, and their focus is on my school's use of - I will co-teach a grade 3 class and they will shoot the kids in action using Bitstrips. I will be interviewed, as will some grade 8s that used Bitstrips for their history project last year and one of the founders of Bitstrips. I'm very excited about this opportunity, as are my students.

At the risk of sounding egotistical, I'll mention that this is not my first experience with what's often called "the media". I've spoken on CBC Radio commenting on the funding directed towards school libraries, and I've appeared on TVOntario as a panel member discussing whether or not school libraries need books.

I think it's very positive and promising that news organizations are doing features related to school libraries. In a past article in The Teaching Librarian magazine, PR people from various school boards gave advice on how to "handle the media". If I recall correctly, lots of the points involved not making grand political statements or stooping to sensationalism. The thing is, the relationship between school libraries and media outlets is one of "mutual usership" - this sounds terrible, but what I mean is that each needs the other for their own purposes. I think that as long as you remember to help the media get what they want, you can both be happy by the encounter. Let me give an example. When my school board was considering cutting the teacher-librarian allocation, several of us attended the board meeting. Many newspaper reporters were there and asked for some comments to use as quotes in their articles. A friend of mine wanted to rant about how principals misue allocation by making TLs prep fairies and minimize partnering slots, as well as budget diversions from the per person recommended funding model, but another friend held her back. Prep vs partnering? Principal discretion? These were details that would confuse the general public. I was asked how many teacher-librarians would lose their jobs or have to be fired because of the decision. As tempting as it would have been to talk about out-of-work-TLs, that would have been a misunderstanding of the issue. No one would be fired, but they would be diverted to other jobs, and the school library would suffer. I don't recall exactly what I said (I was quoted and I think it was in the Toronto Sun), but I tried my best not to go to either extreme - neither TL-edubabble, nor simplistic & inaccurate scare tactics.

So, "mass media", thank you for giving time to school libraries, for whatever reasons you have to do so.

Monday, October 11, 2010

October 11 - Themed Book Displays

Last Friday, I had a fantastic day at school. The tasks the students and I were working on were engaging and ripe with worthy discussion. The team-teaching in the lab with the grade 1/2s (where they taught us what they had discovered in their explorations of Notebook 10 software, and we discussed our new school Webkinz toy) led to some great ideas for future lessons for both me and the class teacher. The grade 3s working on an interactive map of the library had a side conversation on teacher as leader vs guide. Even my photography club impressed me with their analysis of what they deemed the best photos they took during our recent Terry Fox run. It must have been because of all these feel-good moments that I did something after school that I rarely do: I created a Halloween / scary book display.

I've never been big on pulling books for themed displays for several reasons. I thought it prevented teachers and students from becoming informed and skilled users of the library; they should be able to locate books using the online catalogue, rather than relying on me to find the books for them. I also worried that it limited my usefulness to the "book recommender" or "resource manager" of old, instead of being someone who integrates curriculum and information through collaborative lesson planning. Then, there was always the equity piece - was I being fair to certain books by pigeon-holing them into certain categories, or was I being fair to all cultures and religions by highlighting one particular one in a display form over another?

So why did I do it then, when I have all these misgivings? I tried it out because I had a couple of grade 9 volunteers who were eager to assist. I did it to explore my collection again, not using the catalogue but by perusing the shelves; in doing so, I found several books I didn't realize I had. I also had to admit to myself that teachers and students are rushed for time. I've been often asked for "scary books", and the way books are sorted in my library (everybody section, fiction, non-fiction, periodicals, reference, dual language, comics, etc.), there isn't a "spooky spot". I don't "do" holidays as lessons on their own usually, but I know teachers that do, and finding a quick read-aloud for the season will help them, and hopefully generate more goodwill to the library (and teacher-librarian).

I've done new book displays for kids to borrow (what's the point of having a display if you can't take the books?) and that's been successful. I'll see how well this experiment goes and how I feel about it a few weeks from now. Happy National Library Month!

Monday, October 4, 2010

October 4, 2010 - Define Appropriate

Procrastination can really bite you in the behind sometimes. During Library Camp OTF this summer, we had an incredible presenter, Karen Beulter, talk to the group about interactive whiteboard technology. The presentation itself was awesome, as she modeled a three-part congress lesson structure and incorporated differentiated instruction in her tasks. (For those of you who are not teachers, please forgive the edu-babble.) Back then, I planned to create a spectacular Smartboard file on something very practical for teacher-librarians: a lesson on how to choose appropriate books for themselves. Fast forward two months and here I sit, the night before I want to actually teach the lesson, and not only is the file uncreated, I can no longer find the notes I scribbled with the plans of how to craft it.

The thing is, I won't be able to just whip it up in 15 minutes. There are no manuals for me to refer to. Teachers and teacher-librarians are always using the word "appropriate" - "that's not appropriate language for school" / "was that an appropriate response?" / "make sure you choose an appropriate book" - but do we ever take the time to go over what appropriate means? It's so much more than an age rating on the back of a book or the presence/absence of a swear word. Appropriateness in choosing a book depends on the individual as well as the context - there are many books that are appropriate for me to read by myself that I'd never read aloud, such as the Larissa Ione series my good friend lent to me. I'm also concerned about condemning books that may deal with sensitive or mature subject matter - my friend Rum's blog dealt with banned books this past week and many of the groups that complained about certain titles felt that the content was inappropriate, yet many of these touchy issues shouldn't be swept under the carpet. I want my students to develop an inner thermometer, so that they can judge for themselves if a book is beyond their current stage of reading comprehension, social development, or maturity. With my graphic novel collection, I do have age limits set, but I know that sometimes I have to make exceptions to those rules, to ensure a boy that dislikes reading isn't turned off forever, or to challenge a reader that has read everything we have and can handle some scenes different from those read previously.

October is National Library Month in Canada. During the month, I'll be tweeting the responses my students made to my September question: what is our school library most like? While I post answers from them, I'll be wrestling with a new question of my own: how can I define appropriateness in a way that encourages individual judgment, reflective thought, and responsible choices?