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The Flat World Library Corporation, Revisited

The post below was written nearly 10 years ago. After spending the morning with a vendor yesterday offering a large collection of e-books, reading metrics, teaching materials, etc., my concern was rekindled that "packaged" libraries will be a temptation for many schools looking for bargains, rather than as supplements to good in-house library programs....

October 7, 2007

Superintendent Dennis Wormwood
Left Overshoe Public Schools
Left Overshoe, MN 56034

Dear Superintendent Wormwood:

We at the Flat World Library Corporation can offer you a complete library services at a very attractive price.

For considerably less than you currently pay for your K-12 library program, we can provide a full range of library resources AND library expertise – all online.

For only pennies a day per student, FWLC will:

  1. Provide a full range of reading materials (periodicals, picture books, fiction and non-fiction titles), videos, and reference sources that are tailored to your state standards, your district’s curriculum, and your digital textbook series. These resources are being continuously updated, and are available, of course, in a wide range of lexiles to support your differentiated instruction efforts. Our filters allow you to specify access only to the materials supporting your community’s views on issues ranging from abortion to gay rights to evolution. Select from “university community” to “small town Kansas” in your settings.
  2. Provide ready reference services, student research help, readers’ advisory service, and curricular planning advice through our real-time connections (video, chat, or e-mail) to our experts in Bangalore, India. These highly-qualified MLS certified professionals will be available 24/7 to both your staff and students from school or home. (Do you currently get service from your library staff outside of school hours, in the summer, or on weekends?)
  3. Allow teachers to submit student work for comment and assessment. Our staff will give each project a grade, check for plagiarism, and provide a report for each child to share with parents about the technology skill level of that student. We can even help your teachers design assignments and assessments so they are free to lecture.

Just think of the advantages:

  • No musty books from the 1950’s cluttering your library shelves, driving up your insurance rates. No more lost or missing books. No gum under library desks.
  • No library facilities. Turn that old library space into those badly needed special education classrooms.
  • No annoying librarians who want more money for materials, support staff, and staff development (or a living wage and health insurance). Our highly-skilled Indian workers are delighted with their $5 per hour jobs!
  • Your entire library program can be maintained by a single, semi-competent technician in your district.
  • You can justify your district’s expensive, unpopular 1:1 computer/student initiative.
  • No ugly book “challenges” since all materials have been “tailored” to your parents’ religious views.

Please read the attached study (scientifically-based research conducted by FWLC’s very own research department) that empirically demonstrates that the FWLC product can dramatically improve student performance where it counts - on high stakes tests. (FWLC has been approved by the DOE for Title II, III, IV, and IX funding – unlike traditional library materials and librarians.)

AND take advantage of our offer by December 31, and we will throw in absolutely free, 50 of MIT’s $100 laptops for families in your district that qualify for FRP meals! Act today!

Coming soon – special pricing for regional and state-wide purchases.

Bob Screwtape,
President and CEO
Flat World Library Corporation
300 Gates Drive
Redmond WA

Will you, as a librarian, be prepared when this letter appears in YOUR superintendent’s mailbox in the next couple years?

Oh, and please don’t kill the messenger!


BFTP: What do our school building say about us?

A weekend Blue Skunk "feature" will be a revision of an old post. I'm calling this BFTP: Blast from the Past. Original post March 26, 2009. Serving on teams which are planning our new middle school for the district and an addition to a wing to our current 7-8 building, I've been thinking about facility design again. This was a good one review for me. 

We shape our buildings; and forever afterwards our buildings shape us.
                             - Sir Winston Churchill

Architecture is an expression of its time and place. It reflects the values, power, and dominant elites of the prevailing social structure and the relevant position of nation states in the global context. It even demonstrates the attitudes of imperial powers to their subject peoples. Jack Diamond of Diamond and Schmitt Architects

To what extent do our school buildings show respect or disrespect for children? Do we adult overlords design spaces that purposely subjugate and control rather than encourage growth and individualism?

One of the ugliest buildings both inside and out has to be Minnesota State University's Armstrong Hall of Education.

Squat, square, and Spartan both inside and out, it's windowless, right-angled, and utilitarian classrooms couldn't have been exciting even when the building was new in 1964. Might one not expect graduates of this school to think in straight lines and exhibit one-right-answer mentalities? 

Designers of most educational spaces seem to concentrate on low cost construction, ease of maintenance, security, and visual control. Comfort, aesthetics, and inspiration don't much figure into the design process. Hey, it's just kids that will be in these buildings after all - what do they care?

Here are two pictures from projects I've been proud to be a part of designing. Look at the pictures as see if you note anything they have in common:

Give up?

While it's a little difficult to see, both media centers use curves in their design. The St. Peter media center above has a curved circulation desk that mirrors the curved lines of the greenhouse above it. The Eagle Lake media center has a curved couch (and its unseen story area is curved as well).

There are many other ways to show respect for facility users beyond creating interesting lines. Indirect lighting; varying elevations in ceiling heights; real windows and skylights; warmth-creating wood and fabric surfaces; and comfortable work/study/reading areas, both social and private. And of course, a place to display art on either a permanent or rotating basic.

Our students are no longer the captive, "subject peoples" they once were. Few students have to attend your school with the growing number of alternative education options like charter schools, home schools, open public school enrollment, online schools, and private schools from which they have to pick.

Shouldn't to start designing schools for people with choices? And for children we respect?


The Peter Principle revisited

The Peter Principle: people will tend to be promoted until they reach their "position of incompetence." Laurence J. Peter.

I've been thinking about the Peter Principle* a lot this spring. It's the time of year many in education start looking for greener career pastures.

When most people think about the Peter Principle it is as an explanation for why people are not good at their jobs. I've never been a total believer in Peter Principle, working with many people who know themselves, appreciate their personal skill sets, and strive to do the best job possible rather than climb a career level until they find themselves unable to perform well. I'd put most classroom teachers and librarians in this category - they like what they do, feel competent doing it, and know they are making a difference in the world. 

What I am bedeviled with are those wonderful people with whom I work who are career climbers and who have not yet reached their level of incompetence. These are younger, early or mid-career people who do great work at their current position and are looking for more responsibility, more challenge, and possibly more prestige, if not better pay.

As a supervisor and faithful district employee, I should be doing everything in my power to keep these folks where they are because they benefit the district. In creating a positive, flexible work environment, not micro-managing, and empowering whenever possible, I am proactive in this regard. 

But I also recognize that in an organization/department of our size, career paths are rather stunted. If a person wants more responsibility and greater remuneration, he/she will probably have to move elsewhere. I've long come to accept that we are sort of a farm team for bigger schools and even the private sector in producing good tech people. 

So when people in my department talk to me about other positions they've applied for, my question is always: "Will this new job offer you the opportunity to stretch, to grow, to be challenged?" and remind them that one has to make a hell of a lot more money to see much difference in the individual paycheck. If the job is bigger than the one they have, I'll do what I can to help them get it.

Doesn't everyone deserve the chance to rise to the level of their incompetence?

Any tips for keeping career climbers when you can't offer more pay or a lot more responsibility?


*The 1969 book The Peter Principle is now available as an e-book. I am going to re-read it. 

See also:

Career Evolution

Peter's Laws (The Creed of the Sociopathic Obsessive Compulsive)