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EdTech Update





Librarians behaving badly

I have to say I was taken aback when reading this posting on this morning's LM_Net listserv:


It's the last day before winter break and I'll be spending it in traditional fashion: acting as an accessory to a federal crime.

Yes, friends, nothing imparts that holiday glow quite like the teeny thrill of naughtiness and the lingering sense of guilt that comes with being part of a willful breach of copyright guidelines.

Bust out the eggnog and pass the DVDs!

Oh, come now You know what I'm talking about: The holiday film festival. Isn't it pretty much de rigueur in every school on that last day before break? I know I've been asked to do it every year since entering the profession and, though I always, gently, point out that it's actually naughty, not nice, to bend copyright law, teachers and administrators alike always simply nudge me toward the play button with a wink and a nod.

Ah well, it's for the kids...

This year's line up is pretty hot, too: Our library will be hosting a gathering of about a hundred kids who'll grab some popcorn and get cozy in our Kiva area (I installed a dedicated presentation system complete with gut-rumbling cinema sound a few years back) and be treated to a big screen showing of "Christmas with the Kranks." By bypassing any pesky admission or rental fees, we'll be stealing bread off the tables of Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis and the hundreds of other artists and tradespeople responsible for the production and distribution of the show.

But that's not all:

For those who can't make it down to the library, I'll be pumping out "Madagascar" on our schools in-house TV distribution system. You heard me right! The just-released on DVD blockbuster will be available in every classroom in the house!

Now that I've shared my dirty little secret, tell me yours. Does your school system do this too? Are you and I part of what is perhaps the most overlooked mass act of civil disobedience in the nation? Are you doing it right now? Do you feel badly about it or do you kinda like it? Do you ever bring the nasty realities of the matter up to faculty and administration? Do any of you work in a district that has actually taken steps to arrest this sort of practice?

Tell me about it. I wanna know. And, if you tell me, I promise, I'll write you right back. The library's pretty much closed anyway.

We're watching movies!!!

Happy Holidays!

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Say no more?  To the author of this e-mail, I would simply say, "Yes, what you are doing is wrong, wrong, wrong." (Yes, I've ragged on this topic before.) But, I do admire your courage for bringing the dirty laundry out.

Let's leave aside any financial ramifications this act might have. I don't worry about Jamie Lee Curtis not eating well tonight. Let's leave aside that this is a common practice in schools (and churches) across the country. Let's not even worry about a school getting fined if caught illegally showing films for entertainment purposes without a public performance license. Let's not even discuss whether this is a good use of school time or taxpayer dollars.

But let's do talk about the message a professional librarian, who as a part of his training knows and is regarded as expert on copyright, to students, is sending to other teachers, the administration, the parents, and the community: that breaking a law is just fine so long as it is common practice and there is little likelihood of getting caught. That it's better just to shut up and go with the flow than to be unpopular.

To our students who will almost certainly be making their living through the creation of intellectual property, we are doing a grave disservice. In a knowledge/information/conceptual/whatever economy which runs on ideas and creativity, not widgets or manual labor, the theft of intellectual property is no more or less moral than the  theft of physcial property - an idea that too few people seem to grasp. (Even by educators who, in most cases, are earning their paycheck because of brain rather than back power.)

Yes, I find it hard to tell people I won't illegally duplicate software or videos. It's not pleasant when I send a copyright work back to a teacher saying that my shop won't duplicate it. Other professionals get mad when I suggest that copyright images painted in our hallways be painted over (and put the recommendation in writing.) But dammit, I do it.

My district, like that of the author of the e-mail above, willing violates copyright. I never claimed to be a saint in this area personally either. But I sure as hell don't have to be an accomplice. It won't be my finger that pushes the button. I will keep on file memos pointing out activities I believe may be illegal. If we as librarians don't show some moral fiber, who will? I've always thought we were a bit better than the run of the mill educator. The request for dispensation above disappoints me.

OK, I will dismount from the pulpit. Am I being over-reactive or are there other professionals out there who find this problem serious and have taken a principled stand as an individual, even when the district seems to be saying, "Nnudge, nudge, wink, wink?"


Budgeting for books

Must be budget time since lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions asking “how do I determine a budget for print resources in my library?”

First, nearly the entirety of my accumulated knowledge about budgeting practices, pathetic as it is, can be downloaded from the workshop handouts, “Budgeting for Mean, Lean Times.” Please use the information as you can.

For me, the quick and dirty of budgeting for print (and other things as well), has always been to establish a maintenance budget. Administrators tend to understand the wisdom of maintenance. They certainly have to do this when it comes to tuck pointing brick work, resurfacing parking lots, replacing carpeting, etc. Since a library print collection represents a major capital outlay, it too should be regarded as something that needs to be maintained.

My magic formula is simple. To determine the dollars needed to maintain a print collection you need three pieces of information:

  • Size of collection to be supported.
  • Life expectancy of the material.
  • Average cost of a book.

How do these things get determined?

The supported collection size in our district was established some years ago using old library standards (when they were more quantitative and less qualitative) and then approved by the district library advisory committee. For schools of under 500 students we maintain a collection of 10,000 volumes; for schools of 500-1000 students we maintain a collection of 12,000 volumes; and for schools over 1,000 students we maintain a collection of 14,000 volumes. Your numbers may vary, but you should have them officially recognized as viable via a district advisory committee or your building administrator. (Note that collections, if not weeded will grow to more than the “supported” size. This is not a good thing.)

For life expectancy of the material, we chose 20 years. Too long, yes. Some materials will be worn out or obsolete in 5 years. Some Newbery Award winners will last longer than any child now reading them. Again, make sure the life expectancy is validated by people who are in a position to make budget decisions.

Average cost of a book is easy. Instead of using the School Library Journal figures that come out each spring, we take a few book purchase orders, add them up and divide by the number of volumes purchased. This reflects discounts, cataloging, shipping, processing etc.

So the formula is easy. It’s just collection size X rate of replacement X average book cost. Replacement rate = 100%/number of years in the life span of material. For our books this is 5% (100% divided by 20.)

So our 10,000 volume print collections need about $7.500 each year to be maintained if the average cost of a book is $15. If this amount is not spent each and every year, the collection will either get older (if not weeded) or smaller (if weeded). I strongly recommend weeding. See the handouts and “Weed!

So how does the influx of commercial online resources impact this budget? Well, in only one way that I can see. We need to look closely at how large our supported print collections need to be. Currently at the elementary level, I don’t see a lot of print information being replaced by online resources – yet. But at the secondary level, we should look closely at how our reference and non-fiction collections are being used by our Net Genners. A small but vital print collection supplemented by good commercial online resources might better serve these kids' needs. (Or is is it, gulp, good commercial online resources that are supported by a small, vital print collection?)

I’d be delighted to hear from other librarians if they have found an effective means of determining ways to justify their library’s book budget.


A gift idea

cal1.jpgAn number of years ago, my family (mother, brother, sister, aunts, etc.) decided we all had about as many knicknacks, tea towels, and other junk as we needed to dust and made the vow that we would give our gift dollars to a charity in each others' names instead. It's been a good plan, although there has been some back sliding. (Thanks for the oranges, Sis.)

For the past three years I've been making "The Johnson Family Calendar" for each member of our relatively (pun intended) small group. Old scanned photos of long-gone relatives and baby pictures of my siblings and I are mixed with digital photos from family events from the past year. The calendar is not very artistic, but it is meaningful to those who receive it. Takes about a day, selecting, resizing and pasting photos into a calendar template from AppleWorks. I create PDFs of each month, take them to the local Kinkos for printing and binding - badda bing, badda boom.cal2.jpg

OK, it's not so original, but it takes me back to the days when Mom gushed over some nice handcrafted ashtray I'd made in school. 

Give it a try sometime and let me know there is a good calendar creation tool that runs on Mac OSX! 

A. Merry Christmas
B. Happy Hannukah
C. Joyous Kwanza
D. Happy Eid
E. Blessed Solstice
F. Happy Holiday
G. Season's Greetings
H. Other
Choose one (or two) of the above and know that I send it in a most heartfelt way to the readers of the Blue Skunk.  - Doug