Friday, December 21, 2012

Unintentional Techie

It cracks me up whenever someone else or myself thinks of me as a "techie". It doesn't seem like that long ago when the elementary computer class seemed so intimidating, even if we were just playing Oregon Trail and doing basic skills. I learned to type on a typewriter (ok, it was electric) as a freshman and we got our first computer around that same time. I learned programs in Mac Applications senior year (1998) that I don't think even exist anymore. Coding seemed so intimidating, although now I wish I had taken the computer science classes. Email in college was basic and journal article research was a mix of new material available online and rolling apart shelves to get to the bound volumes. By the end of grad school (2003), IM was still all the rage, distance education courses were picking up and you still had to be in college to get on Facebook.

I realized one key thing that took me from "tech is ok" to "I can do this" - realizing I can't break it. Oh, you can very easily lose whatever you are working on, but unless you physically drop the computer or device it is very hard to break it. Understanding this simple notion can be quite liberating. I learned how to use computers because I had to. It was part of the curriculum and I just picked it up along the way.

People assume that certain age groups are genetically predisposed to using technology and others are too far over the hill to get it. That couldn't be further from the truth. I teach high schoolers and university students and have seen these lines blurred many times. Some teens are resistant to technology and some AARP members are some of the most creative technology users I know.

I constantly tell my university students, many of whom are distance ed, that I make them use technology to try something new. I grade on content, not the scary program they were forced to use. I'm constantly reminding them that it is great that their teen helped them import the pictures, but they must learn how to do it for themselves because junior won't be at work with them. It is a tough job market out there and being afraid of technology just isn't an option anymore. My ultimate goal with my courses is not to just impart wit and wisdom - it's to prepare them for their dream job. Social media is critical for outreach to patrons and e-readers are taking a large portion of the market. Web 2.0 tools can take a library program from good to fantastic - often for free.

Technology isn't replacing libraries - it is making them evolve. Yes, it can be overwhelming at times, but it isn't impossible. Dismissing technology as something for the young or computer geeks isn't cute, funny, or professional. It is now a mandatory part of our job. You don't have to be Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. You just have to remember you can't break it - so what's the worst that could happen?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Everybody Collection

My library serves a wide range of patrons, as all do. My high school is a bit unique in the number of special education students we have. The number is rather high and includes quite a range of abilities.

When I started working at my former district many special education services were contracted out to the Intermediate Unit (IU). Although these students were in our building (such as life skills and emotional support), they were in classrooms and didn't generally mix with the rest of the students. The district later decided to move those services in-house, the library had a new sub-group of patrons to meet the needs of . The new life skills teacher wanted to bring the students to the library, but we didn't have books on an elementary level. Initially, we borrowed books from the elementary schools, partly because we weren't sure if the new classes were a permanent change. They would send over a crate of books, but that quickly became a pain for both them and us. Finally, we established a small collection of books on an early elementary school level.

When I arrived at my new position I started a similar collection. I used some budget money and received a grant from the Home and School Association (HSA) to get it started. I focused on non-fiction that life skills teachers could use in their lessons and award winners. I tried to avoid anything too babyish, while maintaining the appropriate reading level. This year I am adding more books that the pre-school lab needs. The high school students do lessons on specific topics (concepts, seasons, nature) and need books that are more academic than have been donated to the classroom library. I was able to add some concept books recently through a grant.

It is difficult to meet so many patron needs in the library. How do you reach out to your special education students?

Monday, December 17, 2012


Ah, audiobooks. I love'em. I forget how I started getting into them, but I became an addict quickly. Frankly, I don't have time to read. Or shouldn't, between work, dissertation, adjunct work, and all the fun things that come with being an adult. BUT I do commute (although it is a short one), work out (infrequently, but I'm trying), travel, etc., and audiobooks make all of those things more enjoyable by providing a quality distraction. Audiobooks, especially with a talented reader, have also gotten me through many titles that I may not have picked up (gotta keep up with the YA lit) or have time to read (Game of Thrones - awesome but llllooonnnggg). This past summer audiobooks made moving my entire collection for the genre-fy process more painless (thank you George R. R. Martin). Sometimes I buy audiobooks if they are on clearance somewhere (CDs still work best in my car), download from iTunes or, most frequently, download them from the public library. I haven't been inside my local library since signing up for a card, but my circulation stats are pretty high.

I'm contemplating starting an audiobook collection in my school library, beginning with the required reading titles to help out the special education students.

What are your favorite audiobooks?

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Kindle

Last year I got a Kindle and I love it. I just got a basic one since I figured I would be getting an iPad within the year or two. I never thought I would like reading books on a device, but after reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand on my iPhone for a book club, I realized it wasn't so bad. If the story is engaging, it doesn't matter what format the book is in. Oh, and moving last year helped me decide to investigate ebooks, as well. Let's not get into how many boxes there were of just cookbooks, but children's books are the only thing I buy in paper format anymore if I can help it.

What do I like about reading on a Kindle?
  • Battery life - absolutely insane
  • Easy to hold when lying down
  • Adjustable print size - my vision is very good, but it is nice to be able to adjust the print size and screen contrast
  • Storage - frees up so much space in the house
  • Cheap ebooks - Kindle Daily Deals get me trouble quickly - and books needed for my dissertation were cheaper in e-format
  • Free ebooks - so easy to download from the public library
  • Kindle apps - I can use any of my devices to pick up reading right where I left off
What device do you use for e-reading and where do you get your books from?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Funding Small Projects

There never seems to be enough money in the budget for what you want to do. I have a budget that is decent, especially considering what is happening in other libraries and the elimination of staffing and budgets altogether. My vision for what the library could be, unfortunately, exceeds my annual budget. I feel I have a good framework to work from, but the collection could use some updating, I would like to make reference materials ebooks, and I have a wish list of databases I would like. I could give up on my dreams (ok, a little melodramatic) or look for additional funding sources. So this year I have decided to enter the world of grant writing.

Grants can be intimidating, especially if you have never done it before. I have applied for some big ones of several thousand dollars, but that is a discussion for another day. Today I'm focusing on small project funding, specifically is a site where teachers post a list of materials they would like for their classroom, such as art supplies, books, or technology, and donors can help fund the projects. I had seen this program listed on many grant opportunity sites, but hadn't tried it. I decided to give it a shot now since I had heard the site gets a lot of traffic in December from companies and individuals looking for last minute tax deductions. Setting up the request turned out to be a very easy process, from selecting the materials I desired to  describing (aka selling) the project. The site recommends posting small projects since they tend to get funded quickest. Initially I couldn't decide what to apply for so I opted for material for our Everybody Collection which I started last year for our Life Skills and pre-school lab classes. I posted a request for about $400 of pre-school concept books and the total project came to $513 after various fees were tacked on. The project ended up being funded by two very generous donors. The books I requested will be shipped to me after the holiday break and then I have a certain amount of time to fill out the thank you packet. Overall, it has been a very easy process. I have another project posted for holiday books.

One thing I have figured out about funding it that it pays off to try to get monies from outside organizations. The worst that can happen is you lose an hour or two filling out paperwork and they say no. But when they say yes, your patrons can really benefit.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

In defense of "Spartan Style"

Last night I saw a former co-worker post on Facebook about a video that was made by students at my former district called "Spartan Style", a parody of Korean singer Psy's "Gangnam Style" hit video. The student video, like the original, has gone viral. However, unlike it's predecessor, this work has been labeled the worst video on the Internet. Why?

I'll admit I was a bit biased when I watched the video. I have obviously seen other student created videos in the years I worked at Garden Spot and was curious to see how this group of students did. I enjoyed seeing former co-workers and students getting in on the fun and creating a video that was supposed to promote school spirit. Was it the highest quality production and the best student parody of "Gangnam Style" I have seen? No. But it was a STUDENT PRODUCTION. What I saw was creativity (original lyrics), school spirit (was not surprised at admin, faculty and staff participation), and courage (as much as I love my students you are most likely NOT going to get me on film doing that). Others have expressed different opinions.

On November 21, 2012, a user by the name of Cym4tic uploaded the video to YouTube, posting "THIS IS NOT MY VIDEO. This is from my high school. And I hate my high school, so no shame. Feel free to hate it and share it with the world!". This warm invitation led to the video going viral and the following headlines:

What Hath Psy Wrought: PA High School’s ‘Gangnam Style’ Parody Dubbed ‘Worst Video on the Entire Internet’ (

Garden Spot High School's 'Spartan Style' video goes viral on Internet (Lancaster Newspapers)

Internet Proclaims This the Worst Video Ever (

And this one with the time-stamped snarky commentary. Can you really hate the video that much to spend time doing this?

I was appalled when I saw the headlines on international news outlets screaming that this was the worst video on the Internet.  And who determined this? The ANONYMOUS user who uploaded the video. I must disagree - I have seen worse. It appears to me that the "journalism" involved in these headlines is no more than jumping on a bandwagon of cruelty. The investigative reporting is further evident on the number of articles that get the name of the high school wrong (Spartan is the mascot, not name of the school, which a simple Google search would turn up). 

This whole event appears to me to be a reflection of our current society. Rather than say, "Hey, good for them. It took a lot of work and representatives from the whole school came together to entertain and promote school spirit. "A" for effort.", many ANONYMOUS people would rather post negative comments online. Watching teachers, administrators and support staff willing to go the extra mile for Garden Spot students - including dancing in a video - was not shocking to me because I witnessed that dedication repeatedly in my time there. In an era of budget cuts, staff reductions, a constant barrage of negative articles on public education, and high stakes standardized testing, we NEED videos like this. The fact that there is still a high school class where students can be creative and not just prepped to fill in dots on a high stakes testing is commendable. Opportunities like this are quickly disappearing as art, music, technology education, family and consumer science, and libraries are being eliminated from our schools. 

I want all participants to know that I enjoyed the hard work they put into this production. And that comment isn't ANONYMOUS.

Steph Sweeney