Friday, August 15, 2014

Toeing the Line between Selection and Censorship

As a school librarian I constantly toe this line.  Parents and teachers want their children to find what they need and what the adults in their lives think the children want.  Children often want something more.  More exciting, more romantic, more violent, more rude… 

Rude is the easy part.  When someone fusses at me about a book with fart jokes (R.L. Stine’s “Rotten School” series is a case in point.)  I can smile and shrug and say “I don’t really like fart jokes so much either.  That’s really not my taste in humor.  But I’m not in second or third grade…”  Often questions about rude humor are brought up by students in 4th or 5th grade who are developing their own, very necessary, internal censor and I can assure them that their feeling uncomfortable shows that they are very grown up. 

Language is also fairly easy.  The question becomes not whether our library should have books with “words like that” but do the words (all the words – not just the “naughty” ones) serve a purpose.  Is the story or the information worth the shelf space in the library and the mind space in our students’ brains?   These issues are again often raised by fourth or fifth grade students who are concerned that the library has books with “inappropriate words.”   I haven’t yet had a case where that student felt that they shouldn’t have been allowed to read the book – only concern that others might!  Students who bring up these issues often want to and are ready to talk them through.  Part of reading is discovering that characters sometimes act and speak in ways that might be distasteful to the reader, but that can be part of realistic behavior.  Some people behave badly, and a good and truthful story can include people like that.

Violence is harder.  I read, reread and think hard as I select books.  My library is a school library, so it serves the school’s needs as well as the students, and shelf space is tight.  If I am going to bend the rules a little and carry a book that is “rated” in the review literature for middle school students, is there a purpose besides satisfying a student’s desire for more gore?   As with language, it comes down to the story or the information.  Is it worth the shelf space?  Is it good, interesting, readable, entertaining, thought provoking,  etc?  Walter Dean Myers may at times be disturbing, but is always worth reading.  I do have students who crave “scary books” and even some who specifically ask for books with “more violence,” so every year I search to find a few more books that are readable, age appropriate, yet scary.  “Goosebumps” is a wonderful series, but – then what?  It is hard to find books that live up to the expectations of young people that have been watching slasher movies and playing violent video games since second grade, but I keep trying!  Short story collections such as R.L. Stine’s Beware:R.L. Stine picks his favorite stories and the Guy’s Read Thriller give students craving a scare a place to start looking for new favorite authors.

Now about romance…  We live in an era where many fourth and fifth grade girls want to read “up” not so much in reading level as in maturity level.  Many ten year old girls want to pretend at least some of the time that they are in high school.    The good news is that many authors work hard to make their books accessible to younger girls.  Ann Martin, Judy Blume, and Meg Cabot are just a few of the authors that make young girls feel that they are reading very grownup books.  I have read and loved The Fault in our Stars. Yes there is romance.  There is even a sex scene.  But all we “see” is that he removes his prosthetic leg and her oxygen line gets tangled up as he tries to undress her.  It is “rated” in the reviews for grades nine and up.  I know that most of my sixth graders bought it and read it last June.  This year we only go up to fifth grade so I probably won’t add it to the collection.  Part of me feels that I am holding out, not offering this prized book to my students.  Is this selection?  Or is it censorship?  What do you think? 

Friday, August 8, 2014

School Librarians as Curators and Developers of E-content

One key role of a school librarian has always been curator; organizing and making the knowledge in the library accessible.  In the last quarter century that role has expanded to selecting, organizing, and making accessible the knowledge available electronically and over the internet.  Librarians will continue to organize information using shelf order systems such as Melville Dewey’s well known decimal classification system, but now their expertise is expected to range far beyond their own shelves.

Curating beyond our own shelves is a requirement of the job!  In the sample job description for the position of school librarian provided by the American Association of School Librarians, the importance of electronic and web based information is clear.  The school librarian’s job includes evaluating software, modeling teaching of “multiple literacies,” as well as 
evaluating, promoting, and using existing and emerging technologies to support teaching and learning, supplement school resources, connect the school with the global learning community, communicate with students and teachers, and provide 24/7 access to library services .  (AASL 2010)
So how can we even begin?  There is no one perfect, universally accepted template for organizing the plethora of information and tools available electronically and over the internet!  Approaches range from using and understanding search engines and their algorithms to exploring the deep web (information that while housed on the internet is not usually available to search engines), locating curated lists provided by libraries and professional organizations,  to using tools that leverage the crowd and connections  such as professional learning networks (PLNs), listserves, and crowd sourced tools such as tags.

Search engines cast the widest net.  They attempt to provide an index to at least part of the web by using algorithms to search, recording links, descriptions, and addresses.  Some popular search engines attempt to give the user access to everything that fits your search terms, while others search within limits or focus on particular aspects of the web.  While searching the web even good researchers can drown in overwhelming numbers of “relevant hits.”   This is a sign to limit a search, perhaps narrowing search terms, or limiting by date or even reading level. 

Another level is the deep web.  This includes exploring inside public sites, digging into sites that require specific searches, such as the Library of Congress (LOC), museums, or other libraries, or into databases that require subscriptions.  Often the information or document that you really need resides in this deep web.  Services such as Graphite attempt to guide searchers to relevant, timely, and appropriate sites that the user can then search, while content aggregators such as One Search from Follett Destiny apply your search terms to a preselected group of sites or databases.  Graphite  features many excellent sites from the deep web as well as sites with lists and indices that will help researchers locate content specific wells of information on the deep web. 

As researchers dig deeply into a topic they will benefit from exploring lists and bibliographies and research guides created by other researchers.  This will often lead to content specific wells of information on the deep web.  A classic example of this type of research is when I searched for a guide to colonial America by first going to LOC  Virtual Reference Shelf,   selecting the Best of History websites from EdTech Teacher and clicking on the colonial period.     

When the researcher or the teacher or librarian finds useful sources, it is imperative to record what they find so they can continue to refer to this site.  Every researcher needs a bookmarking tool to record and organize the sites they find during their research.  Graphite features a few of this diverse basket of tools useful  to create files of websites and electronic resources.  Diigo, Delicious (formerly, and Evernote are some bookmarking tools available on Graphite.  Portaportal, an old-school favorite isn’t represented here, and others are constantly emerging. Here is a list from the Search Engine Journal.

It isn’t the tools you use to build your collections that matter, it is the quality and usefulness of your ever changing collection.  Let’s join together, share “boards” on Graphite, and on Pinterest and openly share our lists and the tools we use to build those lists.  So choose your tools, search web, and dig deeply into e-encyclopedias, library and museum sites, tag, create, organize, and make sure that clear citations are available whenever possible. 

Wait a minute!  That sounds like a job!  Teachers don’t have time to add this to their very full plates! Your school librarian may not have time either, but at least it is in the job description.  Your school librarian will help you find what you need, often by reaching out to other school librarians and using tools and supports such as those represented on Graphite.  Organizing and curating information is in their job description – even on the wild, wild web.

Elizabeth Dejean

Graphite: A new service connecting teachers to technology

Last month I joined a group of teachers, the Graphite Accelerated Educators, that have been recruited to help develop content and review websites for Graphite .  Graphite is a service provided by Common Sense Media to “help preK-12 educators discover, use, and share the best apps, games, websites, and digital curricula for their students by providing unbiased, rigorous ratings and practical insights from our active community of teachers.” ( “About us.”)  In the course of my explorations of Graphite I began to ponder how the role teacher librarians could play in making Graphite a better tool.  After all, the purpose stated in the “About us” statement on the Graphite website is a very close match to part of the Sample job description for the position of school librarian provided by the American Association of School Librarians.  I can imagine using Graphite as on of my information tools and I will recommend it to my teachers as a source of information about websites.  However I would not use it exclusively.  The information world is not static and no one gate-keeper can possibly include all the “good stuff” inside one walled garden.  Meanwhile I am actively working with the Graphite community, fostering connections between the teachers on Graphite and their school librarians.