Category Archives: Libraries

For the love of sixth grade

Can you find me?

When I was in sixth grade, I had the coolest teacher ever. I now suspect that Mr. Warbrick, the first male teacher I ever had, was fairly new to the field. Teachers who so enthusiastically do their own thing, I’ve come to learn, are either fresh and green or comfortable veterans.

The memories that stand out to me from that year of school are consistent for the way our activities made me feel – excited, interested, capable, respected and fun. Aren’t those the emotions school is supposed to inspire? Our classroom, the former library, was a suite of three rooms. We were tasked, as a class, to agree upon a theme (we chose jungle), sketch out a design and then paint our main classroom space. The smaller room on the right became the designated reading room, which we furnished with a couch we had fundraised to purchase. The smallest of rooms was a kitchen and, again, we worked together to raise the money needed to buy a secondhand refrigerator which we used to keep our lunchtime ice cream sandwiches frozen until class movie time.

I learned a lot that year. Things like how to do the hustle, what it feels like to be recognized as more than merely the girl who’s always reading and the possibilities of what can be achieved with collective effort. It was a fantastic academic year for me despite the fact that I recall nothing of what we studied during official class time. The lessons I learned were more about how to be a human being.

As I approach my twenty-fifth year in my profession, I find myself becoming more reflective of who I have been as an educator – and who I want to be. I’ve shared a library for the past fifteen years and, while collaboration can be stimulating, this year I am feeling compelled to break out a bit and do things a little differently. My way.

I want to create an atmosphere which allows children to grow, while also reflecting my experiences and viewpoint. I want the library to be welcoming and comfortable and I want to make connections – between myself and students, kids and books, and information and the world.

I got started last week with 15 orientation classes for 6th graders. It was a hectic three days, but I was exhilarated. We talked about areas of the library and dystopian literature and the amount of pressure – social, academic and athletic, students feel and I vowed to not add to that burden. That doesn’t mean we won’t tackle academic tasks, just that we both need to remember that these students are eleven years old.

My students were awesome and I’m filled with gratitude that my job is to work with all these kids. I’m so lucky – and my goal is to make as many students as possible feel exactly the same way. I think it’s going to be a very good year.

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Filed under Education, favorites, Librarians, Libraries, musings, Observations, Schools, stress

Finding your voice to Speak and Shout

Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, originally published in 1999, is one of those books that has stayed with me since I first read it many years ago. This YA novel relates the story of a high school freshman, Melinda, who is ostracized by her peers because she calls the police while at a party during the summer after eighth grade. What no one other than Melinda knows is that she called for help because she had been sexually attacked by an upperclassman. She told no one. She did not speak.

Recently, I read the graphic novel edition of the title and was completely taken in by the story again. Updated to include social media, cell phones and other contemporary details, the story translated beautifully to the visual medium of a graphic novel. Our copy has already disappeared from the collection, a sure sign to librarians of a book being a winner. We have two more copies on order.

The latest title written by Anderson is Shout, an autobiography written in verse and, again, it is exceptional. Subtitled “The true story of a survivor who refused to be silenced,” this book tells the story, at last, directly from the author’s perspective without the protection a fictional character can provide. It is raw and harrowing and at times deeply sad, but there is a thread of defiance that is awe inspiring. The story manages to span a time period from World War II to #metoo and has left a mark upon me that I suspect will remain forever.

Below are a few of the lines that stole my breath.

 

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Filed under Books, girlhood, Librarians, Libraries, Recommendations, Schools, secrets

The miseducation of Megyn Kelly

EA35741F-D438-4A06-BCD2-191A164884E8Last spring I ran a half marathon in NYC, kind of a bucket list item if I were to have such a thing. I originally registered for the race because a childhood friend brought it to my attention and it sounded fun. Anything to go to NYC, you know?

It wasn’t the cheapest half I’ve ever run, but I was ok with the entry fee because it was an all women race and I think there may have been some charity component to it. Until I saw that Megyn Kelly was the media sponsor for the event, that is. Then, in all honesty, I considered bailing because, yes, she bothers me that much.

195CD914-570A-4548-A772-0D5CFDE6FBE8Why? Because anyone willing to sit down with, provide a forum to, and pose for photos with, a man who denies that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School ever occurred, is despicable, in my opinion. I’m not going to even mention his name because I find him so reprehensible, but I’m sure you know about whom I’m speaking. I have some understanding about journalism and the fact that media professionals don’t necessarily endorse the beliefs of those they interview, but, this guy has deeply offended and caused pain to families who lost their children in a horrific way. He doesn’t get a pass, nor does she, in my book.

Yesterday, I hosted a Halloween related event in my library and I was a bit dismayed by the some of the behavior I observed. We had set out some snacks for the kids, like you do, but failed to stand guard at the table where the huge box of goldfish crackers, Oreo cookies, clementines and candy corn were being offered. Without direct adult supervision, the middle school kids were shockingly selfish about helping themselves to as much as they wanted to have without consideration of the fact that the kids behind them might end up with nothing. I was kind of appalled. I wanted and expected better.

Reflecting on it last night, I couldn’t help but see a parallel between the pattern of actions of Ms. Kelly, beginning with that controversial interview referenced above, and those of the children yesterday afternoon. There’s a sense of entitlement and lack of consideration for anyone but themselves that, quite honestly, repulses me on some level.  This failure to demonstrate empathy for parents who have lost their children, and, on a much smaller scale, those who may not enjoy the same treats we have due to our own greediness, distresses me.

What do we expect from our children? What should we expect from personalities who want to be in our homes via social and more traditional media? I want and expect better. How about you?

 

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Filed under Education, Libraries, Local, moms, musings, Observations, politics, Schools, television, upstate New York

Telling stories – Adam Gidwitz

Last week, author Adam Gidwitz visited my school and spent the day doing presentations and hanging out with kids, and it was incredible. I haven’t read everything he’s written, but last year’s The Inquisitor’s Tale was one of my favorite recent reads. It’s a book that is difficult to sort into a definitive genre, but it has historic fiction, fantasy and adventure elements that combine beautifully into a wonderful story told in multiple voices a la The Canterbury Tales. Except that, unlike my high school experience suffering through Chaucer, this book was a joy from start to finish.

Adam did three separate presentations for my students and each was slightly tweaked to meet the population, in this case, our school’s grades of sixth, seventh and eighth. I was totally impressed with his comfort level with our students and his genuine interest in them. For instance, as students were filing in to the auditorium he made a point of introducing himself to those already seated with an easy “Hi, I’m Adam. What’s your name?” His past career as “the worst teacher in NYC,”* was proven impossible to believe. He gets kids.

We had lunch as a group of about 25 and it was relaxed and fun. I know the kids who were present won’t ever forget the experience. It was so cool. The last presentation was with our sixth graders and it was magic to see him wrangle that group of pre-pubescent kids, on the last Friday afternoon of the school year, with just four words: Once upon a time…

Read his books and see him speak, if you have the chance. There’s a possibility that he might pop up in the area next year and I’ll keep you posted if I hear anything.

*laughingly self-defined as such

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Filed under Books, Education, Events, favorites, Librarians, Libraries, Local, Recommendations, Schools, Uncategorized

Living the dystopian dream

As a young adult librarian I read a lot of books. I have to – it’s my job. When I’m not reading books, often I’m talking about them as I try to get kids excited about different titles. In recent years, some of the most popular fiction books have been kind of dark and usually part of a trilogy. Think Hunger Games, Divergent, Matched, all set in a bleak future which I can’t imagine any of us would want to live in. Kids love them.

In the past week I’ve heard a lot of words that are reminiscent of that particular genre of books. Words like Resistance, Protest, Chaos, Rebellion, Corruption and Power. I’m not suggesting that we’ve arrived in a post-apocalyptic and dystopian society, but I’m saying that, to me, the similarities are undeniable.  Our government is actively and aggressively shutting down and drowning out voices that refute their party line. We’re being spoon fed official falsehoods and government agencies are being muzzled for sharing scientific truths. I’ve never been more fearful of our country’s leadership and international representation.

These words, written by George Orwell in a letter in 1944, have never been more relevant –

“…the horrors of emotional nationalism and a tendency to disbelieve in the existence of objective truth because all the facts have to fit in with the words and prophecies of some infallible führer.”

The number one selling book right now on Amazon is 1984. There’s an excellent essay in the New York Times about why this book, written in 1948, is a must read for 2017.

Has anyone seen Katniss?

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Filed under Books, Libraries, musings, News, Observations, politics

Counting by 7s

I just finished a wonderful novel, Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.  It’s from the middle school library where I spend my mornings, but the unique voice of the main character transcends preadolescence in a distinctively refreshing way and I am completely in love with this book.  In honor of Willow Chance and her fondness for the number 7, I offer seven observations she made which struck me.

  1. “I have given in.  But that’s different from giving up.”
  2. “…says that nothing is for certain.  That is the truest statement I’ve ever heard.”
  3. “books = comfort”
  4. “Life, I now realize, is just one big trek across a minefield and you never know which step is going to blow you up.”
  5. “Maybe that happens when you’ve been through a lot.  All of your edges are worn off like sea glass.  Either that, or you shatter.”
  6. “It happens as most things do, in the smallest of ways.”
  7. “…is life so filled with random action that the very notion of caution is futile?”

In a world filled with stuff to read, this little gem stands out.  Read it.

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Filed under Books, favorites, Libraries, Recommendations

Reading between the (budget) lines


A number of years ago, then Attorney General Andrew Cuomo conducted a press conference in the library where I have worked for the past 8 years. The topic was predatory lending to college students and the media was there with notepads and cameras. This may have been the first time I became aware of Cuomo’s self proclaimed assertion that he was to be a voice for the students, their powerful ally in a world looking to take advantage of them. We spoke briefly. I earned his laughter when I responded to his question regarding why the librarian field was so dominated by women with a cheeky, “because the job requires a lot of multitasking,” letting the reply lie there for the moment it took for him to get the joke. His aide said it was the best answer to a question he had received all day.

But maybe my answer was incomplete. Maybe it’s time to consider some additional factors that might make the position more appealing to woman than to men. Because, while dividing my attention, sometimes in 200 ways when “my” library approaches capacity is something I do every single day, there are some other aspects of the role of school library media specialist to consider. And, no, they’re not on the evaluation form Mr. Cuomo has strong armed districts around the state to adopt. I have a facility with more than 40,000 items – books, movies, audio books, electronic items such as databases and e-books, equipment, newspapers, 60 computers stations… There is a budget to be supervised and staff as well, but these items will prove to require less attention as money and staff are further eliminated each year, I suppose.

Another reason females may be more prevalent in the librarian field is the fact that women are typically more accustomed to being marginalized. Year after year librarians are made to justify their contributions to the academic success of students. Elementary librarians are continually being replaced by untrained clerks and parents because the state does not mandate trained professionals fill a position that is often perceived as one where reading and shelving books are the primary focus. And we all know anyone can do that.

My library is anticipating a reduction in our staff by nearly 50% for next year. People, just so you know, the fat is gone – we’re cutting through muscle and bone at this point. I’m disturbed, dismayed and disappointed by the decisions which have been made regarding which positions to eliminate, but I can’t be angry with my district. Not to the degree that people seem to be angry with teachers, that is. Can we clarify a couple of things here? Thanks, I’ve got a couple of points to make…

For the last three years my union has voluntarily given our salary increases back to the district to preserve programs. We were under no legal obligation to defer our raises, but it was the right thing to do in these economic times (for which we, as a profession, are completely devoid of responsibility) and it was done with very little grumbling. I haven’t ever noticed a professional athlete returning their salary due to their having a less than stellar season, but teachers, who will never make in a lifetime what an exceptional baseball player makes in a single season, allowed their anticipated income to be redistributed for the benefit of the students. And I don’t ever hear anyone complain about how few days a year a professional athlete works either.

The salary and benefits package a teacher earns are negotiated and agreed upon. For teachers to be vilified for coming to an agreement with the representatives the residents have freely elected, is unfair and small minded. Health insurance premiums continue to increase, yet, I don’t recall demands for fiscal conservatism or retention of current rates, being made of these corporations. We all recognize that our economic situation as a nation has suffered in the last decade and future contracts will certainly reflect these conditions, but please, can we stop blaming teachers for the current fiscal state of affairs?

My district is moving ahead with an action to challenge the governor’s 2% tax cap. I was proud of the leader of my district for taking this stand, yet found it more than a little bit ironic that the news conference to discuss this legal action was held, again, in my library. I couldn’t help but consider why the library media center is perceived as such an ideal location for news conferences, yet is held in such low regard educationally. I have to wonder if future news conferences might be just as convincingly conducted with the backdrop of a magical green screen and an lcd projector. It seems that the library media center after all is merely the setting for a story which I’d rather not have to read.

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Filed under Libraries, politics, Rant, Schools