This year ALA was in Las Vegas, a venue that lived up to its stereotype, in the eyes of a first-time visitor. Next year's location - San Francisco - will be more my style perhaps.
But ALA is always an enriching experience, no matter where it's held.
The problem is to figure out what and who you want to see in the small time and huge space of the event (the exhibition hall alone is worth four days).
You can search offerings and construct your own schedule online ahead of time -- and there is a mobile app -- but the lack of fast/reliable/free internet access (especially Sunday) made that fairly irrelevant. And for those of us with overseas phone accounts, the smart-phone solution for internet data access wasn't very economical. So making off-line lists and lugging around the fat, physical ALA Guide was a sad, but comforting, necessity.
Here is my public debrief of the conference, filtered through my international, K-12 (primarily middle/high) librarian focus :
Pre-Conference: SCHOOL VISITSThere was a half-day pre-conference event on Friday, visiting three independent (i.e., private) school libraries -- Alexander Dawson School, Faith Lutheran Middle and High School, and Las Vegas Day School. A few photos of each are here on Flickr with notes below.
-- the librarian pointed out how, in designing the school, no electrical cables or wiring is hidden, so kids are very aware of where electricity is being used, e.g., for air conditioning, for internet access, etc.;
-- the library had an "Aurasma" wall -- where we could pick up iPads, scan images, and watch videos the kids had made for one unit of inquiry (e.g., Irish castles);
-- two authors a year do two-week residencies, including 2 days in each classroom, e.g., Brian Falkner (from NZ) and Paul Owen Lewis -- during which time each student creates a book;
-- had quite a few full-size physical displays, e.g., military uniforms and a skeleton;
-- had an author/illustrator wall, where each visiting celebrity's name is added each year;
LV Day School:
-- they offer a "Classic Reader" program -- where students read more "quality" literature, and then discuss with an adult, four books above and beyond their other reading;
-- they run an "Adopt a Shelf" program for parents -- where parents are responsible for re-shelving and keeping one shelf looking tip-top -- they say it's quite competitive!
NETWORKINGThis is no small part of ALA. Many of us international school librarians managed to find each other (and we are determined to make it more organized next year).
The four of us from Singapore (Kim Klein from Stamford American International School, Kate Brundage from Singapore American School, and Susanne Clower and I from United World College of Southeast Asia - East campus) arrived as a nucleus -- and soon found Leanne Mercado from Nishimachi International School (Tokyo), as well as Candace Aiani and Barb Middleton from Taipei American School. Later we connected with Leslie Henry from Jakarta International School and Victoria Robins from ASF Guadalajara Mexico. There were others on the list of international attendees, but poor connectivity (and our overseas phones) made it hard to communicate. I kick myself that I didn't put out a general call on the social media channels (like the ECIS iSkoodle listserv) beforehand.
During the pre-conference session of school visits, while getting on or off the bus, I overheard one woman say the word"Sakura" -- and I quickly determined to talk to her at the next stop, knowing she must have been referring to the Japanese international school librarian book award program, which is how I met Leanne Mercado. Only when I later I put a face on the name "Barb Middleton" did I realize that she was on the same Friday school library tour, but because her registration tagged identified her as being from Minnesota, I didn't realize she was one of us - from Taipei American School.
Those of us that managed to meet up did our best to "divide and conquer" in terms of session attendance.
- Finish de-briefing with those who attended this year, especially my Singapore colleagues when we all get back in August;
- Next year: advertise on social media for all going to ALA to connect ahead of time;
- Next year: maybe have a group of us do a panel presentation on International School Librarians - as an employment opportunity - pluses and minuses, etc.
EBOOKSA big complaint about Overdrive for schools has been the annual fee -- as much as US$4k/yr in the past. But at their ALA booth, an Overdrive representative confirmed they have recently lowered the cost for school libraries. Now it is US$1k/yr for up to 999 students and US$2k/yr for up to 1,999 students. This cost is content purchase per annum -- it's not an annual usage fee -- which is great.
For those of us in international schools, a ongoing issue with all ebook vendors has been digital rights management (DRM) -- where popular titles are often not available to us, being situated outside the countries that are the biggest publishers (USA, UK, Australia, etc.). I asked the Overdrive rep where I could preview the titles actually available to us in Singapore -- and she suggested I contact the sales force and get access to a demo overseas account.
StarWalk KidsMedia is a new ebook vendor -- headed by the famous (and charming) non-fiction author for kids, Seymour Simon (and his wife). 500 titles available so far, for grades K-8, half fiction, half non-fiction. Leveled according to Fountas and Pinnell. Only US$895 a year (at least for big schools like ours -- I forget if it's cheaper for smaller schools.) Unlimited, simultaneous access. Device neutral -- in fact, they assured me that if users downloaded a title (as you have to do to read on a mobile device), the title will stay accessible on the device for as long as the subscription (e.g., a year). And they will provide MARC records. It sounds a lot like BookFlix -- but going as high as Grade 8 in interest and complexity. They were happy to offer us a 1-month free trial -- which I intend to do.
Kindle, Kindle, Kindle....? Candace Aiani (High School) and Barb Middleton (Primary School) have embarked wholeheartedly on a Kindle-loaning program at Taipei American School - and have a wealth of experience. Back in February she put a call out to the SILCAsia listserv, starting a discussion on the management of Kindles in schools - which some of you may have seen.
They organize their Kindles into "pods" of 5 devices each -- as each Kindle account can be synced to five devices. Each Kindle (in a pod) will have up to 30 titles or so on it. Click here to see what a search for "Kindle" and "pod" turns up in Candace's High School catalog. Click here to see what one Kindle might have on it, e.g., Pod "I". (Now that Kindle Unlimited has been launched, I wonder how many of their titles are available to overseas subscribers.)
Taipei American School has gone for Overdrive in a big way -- see their Overdrive homepage -- even though the Overdrive books can't be downloaded to overseas Kindles, they said. They also aren't thrilled about the fact there is often a 6-month delay getting the latest titles into Overdrive. Note: Barb affirms that FollettShelf is far easier for primary school students to use than Overdrive.
- Contact firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for access to a demo overseas account -- now that the Overdrive annual fee is reasonable for school libraries -- for secondary school.
- Start 1-month free trial in September of StarWalk KidsMedia -- for primary school.
GAMING / COMPUTING FOR KIDSJane McGonigal was the opening keynote for ALA -- and didn't disappoint. She reminded us of all the positive emotions gaming releases: CREATIVITY / CONTENTMENT / AWE + WONDER / EXCITEMENT / CURIOSITY / PRIDE / SURPRISE / LOVE / RELIEF / JOY.
-- not to mention the development of RESILIENCE.
I was glad to be reminded of her experience developing a game for the New York Public Library and the quote by Brian Sutton-Smith: "The opposite of play isn't work. It's depression."
Later, in the exhibits hall, I ran into Scott Nicholson, professor at the iSchool in Syracuse and expert on gaming -- (I attended one of his workshops last year at ALA) -- and was thrilled to hear he is due to come to Singapore in November to work with the National Library Board (NLB). Scott did several sessions at ALA this year -- and is particularly keen on the cognitive benefit of creating games, not just playing them. Read some of his past papers here.
In the course of our conversation, he also alerted me to the Math Fairs for students being held annually in Toronto -- which I could definitely see our campus implementing.
There was also a Poster session on Computational Thinking for Tweens and Teens -- see http://ala14.ala.org/node/14901 where you can download the four PDFs. It's where I came across Cubelets....
- Connect with Scott Nicholson before November -- and with the NLB -- and see if I can organize an ISLN or school event as well when he is there.
- Talk to Tilson Crew, our primary school math coach, to learn more about the math games that she has created and made available in our primary library for borrowing.
- Talk to all our math teachers about the possibility of getting a math fair going at our school.
READINGALA is one big reading-love-fest. Everyone there is full of book-talk, whether ebook or pbook. And walking down the aisles of the exhibition hall, I just kept snapping photos of book covers, if not picking up free ARCs. I refuse to fetishize signed editions, making it easy to avoid the urge to join any queues in front of author booths in the exhibition hall -- though I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to chat with authors when given the casual chance, e.g., attending a reception with the author/illustrator Kevin Hawkes who happens to live in Gorham, Maine, one town over from my hometown.
Donalyn Miller, aka The Book Whisperer and Grade 5 teacher extraordinaire, gave a talk on "Fostering Positive Reading Identities". I was sitting between two international primary school teacher-librarians (Leanne Mercado from Tokyo and Barb Middleton from Taiwan) and we just kept nodding and laughing as Donalyn enlightened us with her research and entertained us with her personal experiences as a reader and reading teacher.
Like her, my identity as a reader was clinched in 3rd grade thanks to "SRA" -- that popular color-coded series of comprehension exercises in a box (which introduced me to speed reading as a competitive sport) -- and a memorable teacher, Miss Poole, who not only read "Charlotte's Web" to us, but also the delightful (though 1950s antiquated) "Mrs. Piggle Wiggle" series of magic solutions.
Donalyn talked about the power of reading communities and reiterated the influence of book "commercials" arising out of the natural community (e.g., peer-to-peer recommendations) -- and the role modeling of being a reader and read-alouds -- and all the things we know and have been doing, but need to remember are terribly inter-connected and important.
She challenges her students to read 40 or more books a year -- without any other reward system. (Reading is its own reward, as she says.)
She talked about the intersection of reading interest (motivation), reading level (ability), and background knowledge (fertile ground for understanding) in terms of book choice. Which makes me think of my beloved Design Thinking intersection of desirability (are you interested in the topic?), feasibility (does it match the assignment?) and viability (do we have the resources to support you) -- relating to research questions.
Though when it comes to reading levels, she reminded us that lexiles are only scaffolds (e.g., Fahrenheit 451 and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid have the same lexile band (true??)) -- and that text complexity is about what is NOT found on the page.
She recommends having a small pile of "Special Class Books" -- ready to hand to any child who says they have no book to read.
I like her idea of "Epicenter Readers" -- that category of people who influence other people's reading, whether in the classroom or in life. Her own include John Schumacher (@mrschureads) and Teri Lesesne (@professornana). I happened to meet two long-standing online "Epicenter Readers" of my own at a Random House reception: Lynn Rutan and Cindy Dobrez (aka the Bookends bloggers) -- and gushed over them like a proper groupie.
Donalyn also reiterated the wisdom that less-than-highbrow series helps develop readers. They are not to be sneered at. Neither is the habit of re-reading. As she reminded us, close reading is re-reading with a purpose.
- Contribute to Donalyn's Nerdy Book club blog
- Don't miss her regular Twitter chats, e.g., #bproots - on roots of best practice for literacy teaching
INFORMATION LITERACY and THRESHOLD CONCEPTS
There are so many information literacy sessions to attend at ALA, some school-focused, some university-level. As a high-school teacher-librarian, I am often indifferent to that distinction, as much of the information literacy instruction is focused on students just entering tertiary education.
A big difference, however, is that school-based librarians are almost all trained teachers, while university ones aren't (necessarily).
One flipped university classroom session I attended was a bit of a waste, as it mainly extolled the benefits of using curriculum design models in designing flipped courses, which any teacher-librarian would already appreciate. And I already knew about the handy tools for flipping the classroom being recommended, e.g., Screencastr, Prezi, Google Docs, etc.
But another session by university librarians teaching information literacy was brilliant in every way -- content, design, and presentation -- "From Stumbling Blocks to Building Blocks: Using Threshold Concepts to Teach Information Literacy." See their Powerpoint slides here.
I’d read about threshold concepts, as defined by Meyer and Land (academic instruction experts) — and discussed by David Perkins (of Harvard fame and general teaching expert), before — but had never read or heard anyone talk about them with specific reference to the field of information literacy, which is what this panel of academic librarians did.
Korey Burnetti, Amy Hofer, and Lori Townsend reviewed five characteristics of threshold concepts:
- Transformative -- they change understanding
- Irreversible — one you get them, you can’t not see them anymore
- Integrative -- part of a network of interconnected understandings
- Bounded — meaning they are usually discipline-specific
- Troublesome — meaning often counter-intuitive
They then discussed some basic information literacy threshold concepts they had distilled as "enduring understandings," using theWiggins and McTighe model of backward design, for their teaching practice.
FORMAT AS PROCESS
INFORMATION AS COMMODITY
AUTHORITY IS CONSTRUCTED + CONTEXTUAL
METADATA = FINDABILITY (aka GOOD SEARCHES USE DATABASE STRUCTURES)
DATABASE = ORGANIZED COLLECTION
PRIMARY SOURCES DEPEND ON PERSPECTIVE
For example, in exploring FORMAT AS THE RESULT OF A PROCESS, they showed the following typical search results, which to the average student would all look like "websites":
Go read the seminal articles by Land + Meyer -- and other resources available on the wonderful webpage page of the three presenters: http://ilthresholdconcepts.com.
Another librarian showed how he promotes some of his library's more unusual digital collections as a means of exploring primary vs. secondary sources with students, e.g., presenting students with an archive of 1950s women’s magazines and having them imagine for what research question would particular advertisements or articles be a primary source. Showing how questions develop, to a large degree, from the resources being used - in an iterative cycle.
The mantra they left us with: READ -- SHARE -- ACT.
Many sessions were preceded by awards for best practice. In the case of the Threshold Concepts one, an award was given to Library DIY (by Meredith Farkas) — a flipped classroom example of teaching procedural (as opposed to conceptual) stuff. I'd already starred the project in my Diigo bookmarks as something to emulate -- and was thrilled to see it so publicly recognized.
There was also a poster session on a website called InfoSkills2Go - http://infoskills2go.com/ -- which allows college-bound high school students to earn badges in four categories: academic integrity, information seeking, information organization, and information evaluation, using TRAILS as the pre-test and post-test.
Another poster session I missed was -- "Student to Superhero: Freshmen Tell Their Research Stories" -- see http://bit.ly/studentsuperhero -- where they described how they had students create a graphical narrative using the software called Comic Life to reflect on their entry-level university information literacy course.
- Re-think my own teaching modules with these info lit threshold concepts in mind
- Look at the InfoSkills2Go website
DISCOVERY (AND FAST CATALOGING)
There is a tension between the Google single box search — and the box (or boxes) we provide as windows into our local information resources. Between what is out there in the largest sense of the world and what we can actually deliver (from our physical collection and our various virtual ones).
Candace (of the Taipei American School) told me she has recently implemented the EBSCO discovery layer. I didn’t get a chance to really get into this with her (which is why I am determined to get up to Taipei to spend concentrated time absorbing her school’s information environment and how she is tackling these common problems of ours).
In terms of our library catalogs — Follett Destiny, for both Candace and me — the new Universal Search interface is an improvement (e.g., useful filtering via the sidebar). But it's still slow and cumbersome compared to Google.
Should we still be trying to steer students to our catalog? What if we the library just focused on delivery of what students find elsewhere? Leave the catalog there as our best inventory tool and perfect Subject Headings for our own discovery purposes, but not expect students to desert their best-friend Google? (NB: I've been heavily influenced by the thoughts of Aaron Tay (an academic librarian in Singapore) -- see this Sept 2013 blog post of his and his ongoing Flipboard magazine on Web scale search and discovery systems.)
The single search box -- allowing for multiple fields and combination of terms to be searched at once -- demands a re-think of subject headings. Which is why I've been following the FAST cataloging project for years -- and chose to attend the Faceted Subject Access Interest Group sessions at ALA this year.
FAST (Faceted Application of Subject Terminology)
As much as RDA(1) is about moving bibliographic metadata forward, FAST cataloging is the cutting edge of subject heading progress. Which is perhaps why it was standing room only in this session where Cornell University librarians (one of whom is a Discovery Metadata Librarian by title) relayed their experience as guinea pigs converting their data from LCSH to FAST — in collaboration with OCLC Research (who were also in the room). They're hoping to go live on July 1st. (See their Powerpoint slides here.)
A lot of the technical stuff was beyond me -- and the scale difference between Cornell’s converting their holdings and a school library like mine are enormous. But I still got a lot out of the session -- and think we should be moving to FAST subject headings instead of Sears/LCSH.
Facets can be in eight categories: Personal names, Corporate names, Geographic names, Events, Titles, Time periods, Topics, and Form/Genre.
The FAST mindset was described as:
- Use what you find
- Subjects do not cross facets, e.g., you can't have "Italy - History"
- Observe difference between topical and genre/form facets
- Fewer application rules, e.g., the order of headings is not significant, no constraints on combinations of topical and geographic terms
- Dates can be whatever you need to assign, e.g., "1992-2011" is fine if that's what the resource covers
Links re FAST:
- ALCTS: FAST for cataloging and discovery - newsletter
- OCLC FAST Research page
- OCLC Classify tool -- to get suggested FAST headings for a book
- Cornell Library FAST webpage
Library design is of on-going interest, no matter that my library is theoretically all built now. I went to a session on “Science + Form = Function: The Impact of Neuroscience on Architecture and Design” -- a subject for which is there is an Academy -- see http://www.anfarch.org/ and especially their recommended reading list: http://www.anfarch.org/recommended-reading/.
The session opened with a quote from Winston Churchill who said, "We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us."
The speakers talked about the ten senses: touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight.... plus pressure, balance, temperature, motion, and pain.
Imagine a grid where these ten senses are the y-axis. Then put these library space functions across the x-axis: assembly, contemplation, data collection, presentation, reading, refuge, retreat, storage, studying, and teaching. Consider the intersection of each -- and decide priorities and possibilities.
We need to consider the intersection of three things: Behavior, Experience, and Brain Activity in a space like a library.
Speakers talked of Inspiration, Trust, and Empathy, as well as Symbolism, Wayfinding, and Exploration -- linking hand, brain, and symbol. They asked us to consider what Affordances the library provides, to invite or indicate desired actions -- and the tension between Function and Representation (symbolism) in our spaces.
Frankly, I didn't get any practical inspirations from the session, but felt mentally stretched from sitting through it.
Meanwhile some other teacher-librarian went to a discussion meeting (one of those smaller things in the schedule that you could miss in the blink of an eye, unless you were observant) on The Information Commons. Of all the things I was listening for in her brief summary in the time we had for debrief, I latched onto her reporting of someone who had “pink things hanging from the ceiling” that absorbed sound. The ALA notes on this meeting also mention "pink noise machines" (see here). I am now searching for this mysterious product/item. (Contact me if you can help!) (Could the person have been talking about "pink noise" - in contrast to "white noise" -- see distinction here -- instead of something literally pink?)
- Track down "pink noise things"
- Contribute to http://librariandesignshare.org/
As my school already has an extensive Design and Technology department and set-up (with 3D printers, laser cutters, et al.), I'm thinking the library should focus on making to do with books -- like setting up a Writing Center (a project several of us have been trying to get off the ground for three years now) and promoting Book Art.
One poster session was about an annual RE:BOOK altered book contest -- at the Claremont College Libraries. See the PDF here. What a great way to re-purpose donated books -- of which I have plenty.
- Connect with the art teachers and get some regular altered book art going -- perhaps with a permanent book art workspace in a corner of the library -- or up on the Art Floor. I like the idea of an annual contest.
PDA (Patron Driven Acquisition)
There were several small sessions on PDA as it relates to e-book and video purchases, e.g., see here, here, and here.
Candace was telling me how she has instituted an online ticketing system for all library requests -- whether book purchase recommendations or queries about database passwords, etc. I forget the name of the software package she said she bought, but it is one where people can search the database, to see the status of their problem or request. Our Facilities and IT Depts both use a basic ticketing system, but we users don't have the ability to search their records. Must look into it for our library. I know there are requests that fall off my radar.....
The Latest and the Greatest: ARCs and AwardsFor school librarians, there are two important annual lists that get announced at ALA.
Here are a few I picked up:
- Jared Diamond's "The Third Chimpanzee" - Young Readers edition
- Frank Einstein and the Anti-matter Motor - by Jon Scieszka
- Hold Tight, Don't Let Go - by Laura Rose Wagner - a YA novel re Haiti and the earthquak
- Vango - by Timothee de Fombelle
- Imaginary - by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett
- There Will Be Lies - by Nick Lake
- Young Houdini - by SImon Nicholson
- The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency - by Jordan Stratford
- On a Clear Day - by Walter Dean Myters
- A Path Appears - by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wu
- Last year at ALA I did a full-day pre-conference on RDA (Resource Description + Access). What I immediately love about RDA is its simple hierarchy, distinguishing between Work, Expression, Manifestation, Item (WEMI), not to mention its elaboration of dates — so one can distinguish between work creation date, original publication date, particular edition date, and manufacture date.