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Filtering Follies

Filtering Follies, my most recent TechProof Column for Education World (November 2007) is now available.

Feedback, as always, is welcome! 


Lunches and libraries

Jeff Hastings sent this great (and saddening) post to LM_Net and has graciously given me permission to repost it here.

...lunches and libraries. This is a topic well worth revisiting often because schools are becoming more rigid and inflexible with each passing year it seems, and accommodating walk-in traffic during lunch periods is so, well, FREE, ELECTIVE, and NON-PRESCRIBED that it can be difficult to pull off in increasingly locked-down institutions...

You know, everyone seems to want our school libraries facilities to include a Starbucks and a stage for folk quitarists these days, and I'm all for kicking back our buttoned-down reputations, [as long as I can station a tip jar on the circ desk] but it's good too, to survey the realities we're up against.  Here are some of mine listed totally anecdotally:

  1. I was really surprised once when one of my most faithful patrons, a kid who hung in the library during his lunch period each day, was "busted" by a teacher. The teacher -- who was also a lunch supervisor -- tried to explain to me that the boy "was hiding in the library to avoid going outdoors." Apparently this was somehow deemed severely dysfunctional. The kid was a great reader, by the way, and repeatedly this scholarly ectomorph was literally dragged out of the facility kicking and screaming by said, burly, lunch supervisor. I admit, I passively, umm, forgot to bar the kid from hanging for a few minutes each day and reading his way through noon. I also admit that I came to find witnessing this absurd cat-and-mouse game to be quite entertaining--not unlike Pink Panther cartoons can be if you're in a certain mood.  Anyway, the point here is that, for reasons sometimes unfathomable to us, NOT ALL ADULTS NECESSARILY WANT KIDS IN THE LIBRARY DURING LUNCH. This includes parents, teachers and administrators. I've found this to be the case more often than one would think.
  2. WHICH IS WHY I now operate my library facility in a sort of DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL fashion during lunchtime hours. Meaning that, with a tacit nod from my principal, I cheerfully allow kids to pop in during lunch, though I have also been asked not to actively promote the facility as a lunchtime refuge, probably for some of the reasons I'll try and remember to mention below. The basic philosophy: allow anything that does not become a problem.llu.jpg
  3. THE LAISSEZ-FAIRE THING only goes so far, though: I've found myself quietly contacting parents now and then to say hello and let them know how nice it is to play host to their son or daughter during the mid day hours. I tend to do this, especially, with kids who eschew lunch completely, to see if there are dietary concerns to discuss. Parents universally appreciate this kind of contact, by the way.
  4. THE CUSTODIAL ANGLE. Here's news: We're not exactly rolling in school funds here in Michigan and that translates into less and less custodial help. Our cleaning staff was privatized lately in an effort to squeeze still more Pine-Sol out of the old mop. Even before that dire move took place, I was approached by our day custodian who demanded that I STOP LETTING KIDS EAT IN THE LIBRARY. The problem had nothing to do with the students being little piggies--they were actually neater than I'll ever be. The problem was that the remnants of their lunches --due to the dearth of custodians -- had plenty of time to rot and even ferment between garbage pick-up, attracting all sorts of rodentia and even a few really desperate alcoholics.
  5. THE STAFFING ANGLE. Man, I had no idea how wonderful I had it back in the 1990's. Back then I had a full time library secretary, which gave me tons more flexibility to serve multiple patron groups simultaneously. These days, I have secretarial back-up in the afternoon hours only, which means that when I am actively teaching classes during a.m. hours, including early lunch periods, I have no choice but to close the facility to other traffic for lack of supervision and staffing at the desk. My lunch kids have grown used to the idea of looking for the closed sign on the door, but I REFUSE TO GET USED TO THE IDEA OF PUTTING IT THERE.
  6. THE PASS THING. The hall pass is still the golden ticket of student mobility and, in terms of lunch traffic, the question is who grants a pass to a kid who wants to hit the library during lunch (which translates into: who is responsible for kids in-transit) There doesn't seem to be a perfect answer for that one, so I'd be interested in hearing from colleagues about that. I'm really lucky to be positioned directly across from the caf: We get long lunch lines and kids can pop out of them and visit us for a while instead. I've also had to chat it up with some of the lunch supervisors to let them know that it is quite okay for them to allow students to cross the great divide and visit us.

...I look forward to hearing from others and maybe brewing a more even-handed and realistic discussion about what school libraries can and cannot do within the current exigencies many of us are forced to work within.

Jeffrey Hastings,
School Librarian,
Highlander Way Middle School
E-mail: hastingj at howell schools dot com

My question: Is there a formal means of giving a wide range of stakeholders a voice in policy-making for libraries? Is Jeff's school, like many, "ruled" by only a few pushy folks? How are they counter-acted? One way is here:


Getting the most bang for your tech buck…

budgetgraphic.jpgI'm doing a couple sessions on tech budgeting over the next month. While I've done workshops on library budgets for a number of years, this is a new "area of expertise" for me. I'd appreciate comments about this small list of tips and any strategies you use for stretching your technology dollars. I am sure there will be differences of opinion about some of these things - especially since open source is a religion as much as an economic model. I'll just make sure I'm wearing my iron underwear when I read the comments.

PDF of a draft of handouts can be found here


Getting the most bang for your tech buck…

1.    Limit the life of your equipment. We don’t touch any computer except to put it in recycling that is over 5 years old.
2.    Re-purpose. We use machines until they stop working, but we spend no time, effort or money on keeping old machines going – they have to be placed in a non-mission critical areas. It’s a little embarrassing but we still have a kindergarten teacher using MECC programs on an AppleIIe in her classroom.

3.    Get price quotes on EVERYTHING. Watch the legal requirements for getting bids. Over a certain amount, state law requires we go to formal bid. We get at least a couple quotes on everything, even if it is on a state contract. Takes little time and saves us a lot.  Even with tried and true vendors, get quotes now and then just so they keep their pencils sharp.

4.    Low cost without support is expensive. We are willing to pay a little more, especially for large systems when good support and warrantees come with the product. I like buying local for this reason to. It’s nice to have a near-by throat to choke if something goes wrong (and taxpayers like seeing money kept in the community.)

5.    Should you use open source? I like open source as a philosophy, but it may not be as practical as one would want since it often requires a high level of maintenance by people with specialized skills. What you save in licenses is often spent many times over in labor costs.

6.    Share your budget with anyone who asks. Total transparency in the budgeting and spending is required. Every expenditure should be documented, spent to budger, and you should be able to explain why the material or services were acquired. This means…

7.    Explain it to me like I was 5 years old. This means that if you are a pointy-haired director, you need to understand on at least an operational level why buying that Level Seven switch or managed wireless transmitter or network management software is necessary.

8.    Standardize. It’s easier to stock parts, maintain, cannibalize, and train when you have a single model of about anything to support. This is not always possible, but we strive for it.

9.    Make sure all equipment purchases go through your department. Equipment we don’t order doesn’t get district services.

10.    How do we best spend referendum funds (capital referendum vs. operating ie. on-going referendum)? Don’t take out a 20 year mortgage to by a car that only lasts 5 years. Unless there is an ongoing source of funds or there is a desperate need for a large influx of computers, don’t spend one time monies on stuff that has a short life span. Network upgrades and wiring – stuff that will last is a better use of these sorts of funds.

11.    Should you lease? Leases lessen your overall buying power. It’s better to figure out a 5-year replacement plan if possible. Leases can trap you since you almost have to take a new one out when the old one expires since all the leased equipment is old. It also can commit you to future years where the funding may be less.

12.    What’s an ASP? Application service providers who host and maintain a service for a district can be a real labor and cost savings. I also (perhaps mistakenly) assume these folks understand and are diligent about security, back-ups, upgrades etc.

Your tips? Links to good information on this topic?