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Friday
Feb232018

How many books should your school library have?

Rather than relying on quantitative standards for tire pressure or oil life that promote compliance with an inflexible and minimal threshold, automobile owners need to demonstrate the dispositions of deep commitment and inquiry required by continuous tire and engine wear monitoring. 

Sometime we need actual numbers...

This came across LM_Net a week or so ago:

I am looking for a recommended number of library books per student and it appears that the AASL no longer recommends an actual number.

Yup, AASL has not included quantitative recommendations in it standards for 20 years. In fact, it has a 2013 position statement that reads in part: Rather than relying on quantitative standards that promote compliance with an inflexible and minimal threshold list, school librarians need to demonstrate the dispositions of deep commitment and inquiry required by continuous program assessment and advocacy with stakeholders. (AASL, National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries, 2018 p216)

So commitment is the judge of the adequacy of a collection. You, and you alone, as a professional determine how many materials your library needs. Why do I think a lot of school administrators will simply roll their eyes when you tell them this?

When AASL abandoned quantitative standards for school library programs with the publication of the 1998 version of Information Power, Minnesota librarians stepped up and included them in their 2000 Minnesota Standards for Effective School Library Media Programs:

 

Other states, including Texas, have done the same with more recent revisions of their own standards.

For better or worse, a lot of decision-makers like hard numbers that come from an authoritative source. Too bad AASL or other national organizations which might lend some weight to budget requests based on collection size and age refuses to provide them for terribly idealist reasons.

Hopefully other organizations will fill this void.

Wednesday
Feb212018

The need for community - still

Each time a school shooting occurs in this country, many Minnesotans, I'm sure, are taken back 13 years to when our own state was rocked by a similar tragic event - the Red Lake School school shooting. 

The smart people in my office held a short discussion about steps that need to be taken to prevent school shootings. I believe we are a microcosm of American society. The "cures" ranged from arming the staff to an outright ban on guns in the country; from better mental health services to less press about such incidents. Anyone with the least amount of humility in regard to their intelligence has to be stymied about a sure-fire means of stopping mass shootings in this country.

I wrote the column below soon after the Red Lake shootings. It asks how librarians can help drecrease the likelihoods of angry people venting their rage in desparate ways...

The Need for Community

Head for the Edge, Library Media Connection, October 2005
Doug Johnson

As I write this, Minnesotans are still in shock and mourning over the tragedy at the Red Lake School and its community. On March 21, 2005, sixteen year-old student Jeff Weise brought a gun to school and killed five students and two staff members and wounded seven more before killing himself. This was after he had earlier killed his grandfather and his grandfather’s companion in their home.

According to news reports, Jeff was considered an “outsider” in his closely knit, but impoverished community on the Red Lake reservation. He participated in online “communities” – ones that espoused violence and intolerance at nazi.org and www.abovetopsecret.com. Ones made accessible via the Internet even in this remote northern Minnesota location.

One of my first question was how much did Jeff’s access to the Internet contribute to his terrible decisions and actions? I am sure I am not the only parent, educator or community member who wondered that if he had been able to express his violent thoughts and receive support from other like-minded individuals in his community, would he have made the choices he did?

Establishing cause and effect in incidents like these will always be speculative, and there are plenty of places at which we can point accusative fingers. Jeff’s life had been horrific. He reportedly had been abused and neglected as a child. His father committed suicide and his mother lived in a nursing home after a serious car accident. Jeff was American Indian, one of the state’s (and nation’s) most impoverished and disenfranchised ethnic minorities. And of course, the “bad seed” theory always surfaces as well. Jeff did not leave a note explaining why he took the actions he did, leaving us only sadly speculating.

One factor might be that Jeff, like all kids, looked for and did not find a sense of community “on the res.” When he could not find like-minded, sympathetic, caring individuals around him physically, he looked elsewhere and found it online.

So what does this have to do with technology, libraries and schools? We can ask how and why was Jeff “allowed” to visit and interact with others on web hate sites? Do the dangers and risks of such groups outweigh the useful, productive resources available on the web? Who was monitoring Jeff’s Internet use? Were the adults in his life even aware such vicious places on the Internet exist? Important questions, to be sure, but to me, Jeff’s Internet use ought to be considered more symptomatic than causal.  

Most kids look for and find “communities” with values that are life affirming and socially responsible. Boy and Girl Scouts, 4-H clubs, church groups, and both formal and informal groups revolving around special interests such as bicycling, hunting, literature, or sports play a big role in most young people’s lives as they grow up. Schools provide opportunities for socialization through athletics, music, drama, newspapers, business or art clubs. In these groups, young people learn not just about personal interests, but also about one’s fellow students and mentors and why they are worth caring about. And they are where kids often find that others care about them as well.

In our efforts to improve our schools and reduce school expenditures, the “extra-curricular” activities are often first on the chopping block. Politicians and taxpayers see music, arts and athletics as superfluous. The “basics” are reading, writing, math and other purely classroom pursuits. Guidance counselors, teacher-librarians, coaches and club sponsors are nice extras only tangentially related to the real purpose of school. Sigh…

How many of us as librarians or technology coordinators make a conscious effort to create “communities” for our own students, especially for those kids who do not seem to have much success with the traditional organizations? Do you have a “geek squad” in which members gain self-esteem by helping students and staff with technology problems? Do you have library volunteers who watch the circulation desk, help re-shelve materials and created displays? As a former member of the “projector sector” – students who assisted technology-challenged teachers set-up 16mm projectors in my high school, I personally recognize how important such a seemingly small thing helped me establish a sense of belonging and camaraderie in school. And it’s why I, as an educator, encourage all of us to enlist the aid of kids for whom football or band are not exactly their thing.

I am not so naïve to believe that there is a single cause of school violence or a single way to prevent it. But St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter David Hanners wrote, “In the online world where he felt most at home, Jeff Weise has gained more attention in death than he ever did in life.” We all crave attention. What small part can we as librarians and technologists do to make sure the Jeffs in our schools get that attention in positive ways? Are we helping create “communities” for everyone? You never know what one thing may make a difference.
Friday
Feb162018

Why read "literature"?

To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn to be dropped from Duluth area classes because of ‘uncomfortable atmosphere’ their use of racial slurs creates. The Guardian, Feb 12, 2018

Why do we have kids to read "literature?" As a former English teacher and librarian, you'd think I'd have this figured out by now. But I don't.

I am certainly a proponent of reading -  for recreation, for knowledge acquisition, for gaining an understanding of current events, for learning how to complete a task.

But reading the classics? 

I've been pretty tough on math teachers, often expressing that time spent learning algebra and trig would be better spent on more practical math applications rooted in the real world. On of my favorite t-shirt reads "Well, another day has passed and I didn’t use algebra once."

My math friends could easily counter, "Gee, how did you use what you learned reading Antigone or Macbeth or Old Man and the Sea today?"

Is reading literature the equivalent of studying fine art, listening to classical music, watching ballet? Is it a nice extra for those who appreciate such things?

Probably the primary reason it has been my mission to get kids reading fiction is that it is one of the best ways to hone the ability to view other people and situations empathetically. In an old column "Building Capacity for Empathy" 2009, I wrote:

Reading fiction - especially when the setting is another culture, another time - has to be the best means of building empathic sensibilities. How do you understand prejudice if you are not of a group subject to discrimination? How do you know the problems faced by gays if you are straight? How does it feel to be hungry, orphaned, or terrified when you’ve always lived a middle-class life? By harnessing the detail, drama, emotion, and immediacy of “story,” fiction informs the heart as well as the mind. And it is the heart that causes the mind to empathize. 

So for me, the question of whether we ask kids to read literature and what titles we place in our curricula boils down to which works best build empathy. Are Huck and Jim, Scout and Tom characters who resonate with today's kids? Do the problems they face or the questions they try to answer still remain in today's society? Or do characters in books set in more contemporary times and places help kids more easily slip into another's shoes?

Do we wistfully let Twain and Lee slip into the hallowed historical archives of Debussy and Shakespeare and Rembrandt?