Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Am I the only one who didn't know about this??

Have you seen the Google blog for librarians, Librarian Central? From the blog:
We began our outreach to the librarian community with the intention of sharing information with you about Google. This includes information about our library partnerships, products that you might find useful and details about Google Book Search. We're still committed to these goals.

To that end, we're going to provide news, product features and other Google-related announcements through our Google Librarian Newsletter, which we'll send out every few months.
The archives range over an interesting array of topics, from how Google ranks its results to Google Scholar, Google Docs--basically, all things Google and how it relates to the library. Put it in your RSS feed!

First Class vs. Real World Apps

The book I blogged about a few days ago--In Command--arrived yesterday. It's fantastic, so far, and fortunately one of our new teachers in the high school is looking for a place to build a collaborative space for his students, so I can actually play around with this.

But here's the thing: our school forks out thousands of dollars a year for First Class. For obvious reasons, they want us to use it. I'm not going to go into its limitations here. What I'm wondering about these days is whether we're doing our students a disservice by using a tool they won't have access to once they leave King.

We're supposed to train students to be thoughtful users of technology and media. Yet if we do everything behind the safety of the firewall (and F.C.), what are we teaching them? Certainly not how to use Web 2.o tools--how to evaluate them for their usefulness, how to mold them to their needs.

And First Class is still very teacher-focused: teachers create the forums, add the content, etc. What I especially like about the book's ideas of using Google to create personal learning spaces is that it's very interactive. Sure, teachers add content, but so do students, and they create the space to their own design and needs, rather than a generic one-size-fits-all.

Teacher Tools

I'm starting to work on a page of links to useful teacher tools. It's a work in progress, but you can find it here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Pogue Confirms It: Google Reigns

Read his post on searching in Google here. Interesting--but we knew that already. He obviously needs a good librarian!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Re-Thinking Libraries: Are We Obsolete?

Christos, our History Department Chair (I blog about him a lot, don't I?) taught a research class over the summer. He wandered into the library one day, griping about how he taught the students all these skills, they nodded in agreement, then proceeded to jump onto Google. I laughed, commenting "Welcome to my world!"

But it did get me thinking: I spent hours last year re-designing the school library site, creating pathfinders and newsletters and all sorts of nifty little information tools.

To what purpose? The older students are, the more they ignore the pathfinders and just start Googling. They want to be in control, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

I found two books on the LMC Source that look promising: David Loertscher's The New Learning Commons and In-Command (both are co-authored). The first is a comprehensive re-thinking of libraries as a combination of the computer center and library, with both a virtual and a physical learning environment. Sounds interesting, though I'm not really sure how that' s different from what we do now.

I'm very interested in the In Command book, which has students create their own learning environments with iGoogle. They divide their home page into three sections: Personal Space with assignments, calendars, etc; Group Space for collaborative projects/learning, and Outer Space, with controlled access to the internet at large. Intriguing idea. I'll write more once I've read the book!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What Publishing Black Hole Did Ancient China Sink Into?

The 6th grade history teacher came to me last week and said, "I'm starting a research project on Ancient China next week. Will you help?" After assuring her I would, I ran down to the Lower School library, knowing I wouldn't have much age-appropriate material. I found about 5 books, so decided I'd just order some.

After poring over at least 12 different catalogues, I came up with a whopping 10 books. I found shelves-full on Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt--even Mesopotamia, for Pete's sake! Books on politics, daily life, sports, art, religion, architecture... every subject you can imagine. And 10 books on Ancient China. I couldn't even find much online.

What gives?? I assume it's not the publishers, since they only provide what they have a market for. Are schools not studying Ancient China? Seems pretty bizarre, given China's historic importance and rising international significance.

I mentioned this at lunch, and the History Dept. Chair said it's actually a subject of debate in historical circles--that it shows an inherent euro-centric bias. Makes sense.

It will be interesting to see if that changes in the next several years as China continues to hold most of our debt and grows increasingly important. It would behoove us to understand the country and its citizens!

In the meantime, I'm emailing publishers asking for more material.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Searching for Truth

Here's an excerpt from an interesting email I received from John Kerry today--(well, not a personal email!)

First, we're initiating an innovative new way to reach people with the truth. We're instituting a new strategy for search engine ads, so whenever anyone searches for information about a smear in races up and down that ballot and across the country, we'll be there with a link to the truth. One of the most common ways people get political information now is through Internet searches, so we can make an enormous difference if we have the resources we need to get the truth at the top of all the searches.

It's well known that the Obama campaign lives on the cutting edge of technology, networking and the internet. This could be interesting to watch. I assume it's something like Sears paying Google, so that whenever you search for "dishwashers," they pop up at the top of the hits. So here, if you search, say Obama and terrorists, I suppose the first link would lead to the Obama site.

I'm torn on this. I've never liked skewing search results, and I know if I were searching say, Palin and First Amendment, I'd be pretty annoyed--probably even outraged--that a paid piece of pro-Palin propaganda came up first. No reason why a McCain support wouldn't feel the same about Obama ads. I suppose it will be clearly marked that it IS an ad.

But it does make you wonder at the increasing ability of politicians--whether you like them or not--to work their way into our lives in even the smallest ways. Unnerving, to say the least.

"I Love My Librarian" Award

The NY Times is sponsoring the "I Love My Librarian" award, acknowledging public, academic and school librarians across the country. They'll choose up to 10 winners, with awards of $5,000, and a travel stipend to attend the ceremonies in New York. The deadline for nominating school librarians is October 15th.

Now you just have to figure out a tactful way to point this out to all your faculty and students! If you have any great ideas, post them here!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Support Libraries: Join the National Debate

Obama and McCain will debate town-hall style on October 7th. Tom Brokaw, the moderator, will use questions from the audience and from questions submitted online.

In all of their talk about education, the candidates have talked little, if any about the important of adequate funding for libraries. The ALA encourages all librarians to post questions to myDebates.org, which will go live in the days leading up to the debate. The more library-related questions, the better chance a library question will be asked.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


The St. Petersburg Times and CQ joined to bring the public Politifact.com, with it's fantastic Truth-O-Meter (and related Flip-O-Meter), measuring the veracity of various political claims and political ads. Kids will love this. The mere ranges from True (or barely true) to the hilarious "Pants On Fire." Here's a fun music video for the site.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Those Pesky Gays....

I was very curious what books Sarah Palin was concerned about when she questioned the Wasilla librarian about banning books. At least one of the books is now out of the closet, as it were. The NYT reported Daddy's Roommate to be the cause of all the brouhaha.

I should have known.

I know the moral argument here. We can't expose young children to corruption. But whatever your moral beliefs, can we have a little compassion for the children in same-sex partnerships? Heaven forbid kids of same-gendered parents see their lives mirrored in print. Heaven forbid they feel a little less weird compared to their friends.

And heaven forbid we let the first amendment interfere with our political agenda.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I'm not so sure it's funny...

Peters, Mike. From the Dayton Daily News: 09.11.2008

More Decision '08

Some great resources from an article by Eric Langhorst in this month's SLJ.

Budget Hero: An online game that lets students plan the 3.3 trillion dollar national budget--and see the effects 10 years later.

eLECTIONS: A 1-2 player game (similar to Life) where students conduct their own virtual campaign for the presidency. Created in partnership with CIC, CNN, C-Span and History.

Select a Candidate: A game matching unattributed candidate quotes with your own opinions on key issues. The report generated "matches your answers with the candidate who best fits your views." The results could surprise your students--and you.

27o To Win: An interactive map predicting the presidential election outcome based on current polling data and the electoral college. Students can change the results by modifying the winner in any state, and judging the impact. It's not necessarily popularity that wins elections. Who knew?!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Decision '08

Some good resources for teaching the elections and the process:

The Living Room Candidate: Online exhibit from the Musuem of the Moving Image. Presidential campaign commercials from 1952-2008, along with links to resources and lesson plans. Also includes a link to 40 different ads from the current campaign. Very cool!

PBS Vote 2008: Multimedia resources to "discover the power of social media and promote students' civic engagement." Includes both elementary and secondary lesson plans.

C-Span Classroom: Great site with downloadable video archives of political speeches and interviews. TONS of free resources.

Factchecked.org: Educational version of factcheck.org, a site that researches/verifies/debunks the candidates' political statements.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Let Your Voice Be Heard!

Doug Johnson kindly gave a shout out to my blog posting yesterday (grin--though I asked him to. But ONLY if he thought it was worth mentioning. So I'm proud he obviously did. He's what I strive to be when I grow up!) You should check out the 'posters' he has in his blog. Hilarious!

Anyway, Doug's post got me thinking. I blogged a while back about Palin's attempts to fire an Alaskan librarian for not banning some books Palin opposed. At the time I didn't comment on it, figuring I'd let the words speak for themselves. And they do! But now I wonder if I also wasn't silenced somewhat from that LM-NET brouhaha a few weeks ago. I didn't want anymore accusations on national list-servs that I had a hidden agenda.


I guess the accuser achieved her aim of silencing me. Because that, of course, is always the goal of anyone, left or right, who loudly not just attacks those they disagree with, but tries to stop others from exposure to those points of view.

Shame on her. More imporantly, shame on me for allowing myself to be silenced, however briefly.

Palin's attempts to fire the Wasilla librarian fortunately came to naught, thanks to 100 hardy souls who came to the librarian's defense. But it should cause anyone who values their freedom to speak their mind in a public form to take pause at the voting booth.

The past eight years have seen loud and public attacks on freedom of speech, from the government to Don Imus, to the British holocaust denier who was jailed in Austria.

As librarians, we have a special obligation to stand witness and speak out against any attacks on this fundamental American right, whether it come from the left, the right or the wackos. We many not like what they say, but we need to defend their right to say it.

I have a Michael Moore quotation as the signature on my email address at school. Mostly because I thought it was funny, playing against the stereotypical librarian. I need to do more to make it true....
"I really didn't realize the librarians were, you know, such a dangerous group. They are subversive. You think they're just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They're like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn't mess with them."

Friday, September 5, 2008

Rant: Arabs, Shabanu and YA Lit.

9/11 raised American awareness of Islam in general and Arabs in specific to unprecedented heights. There's no more insidious attack against Obama than the rumor he's a secret, madrassa-trained Muslim, though why that makes a difference, I'm not sure. Do they think he's going to hijack the Koran and crash it into the Constitution?

And therein lies the problem. Even after five years of war with Arab countries, Americans in general remain shockingly ignorant of the Arab race and Islamic religion. They even conflate the two, not realizing Arabs make up only 20-23% of the Islamic religion (or that 63% of Arab-Americans are Christians). Mention the word "Arab," and many Americans picture swarming hordes rioting through the streets while burning the American flag. Or fully-covered women peeping through grilled slits in their hijab.

Worse, as with the Japanese during WW II, many Americans fail to recognize the difference between native Arabs and Arab-Americans. Since 9/11, hate crimes against Arab-Americans have sky-rocketed, increasing 500% percent between 2000 and 2006, according the the FBI, and we won't even get into governmental violation of basic civil rights.

A Newsweek article a few months ago discussed a Wal-Mart in Dearborn, Michigan (home to a large Arab-American community and home of the Center for Arab-American Studies), that began stocking items like falafel and Islamic greeting cards, just as a Wal-Mart in a Greek community might contain feta, baklava and Kalamata olives. If you read the few comments, however,or the response in this blog, you'd think they were installing Sharia law.

More significantly, the NY Times ran an article detailing the outrage over a public school for students of Arab descent. Although only 20% of the 60 students were actually Arab-American, critics pummeled the director, a well-respected community member, claiming she was a 'jihadist' and a '9/11 denier.' Even when she was forced to resign, the Stop the Madrassa Coalition continues to call for the school's closure
It was...the work of a growing and organized movement to stop Muslim citizens who are seeking an expanded role in American public life. The fight against the school, participants in the effort say, was only an early skirmish in a broader, national struggle.
BTW, at this point I'd like to point out that, in Arabic, madrassa simply means 'school'--not the radical Islamic training camps the word has come to be associated with in the West.

So what does all of this have to do with a library blog?

I just bought a book for the library entitled, What the Arabs Think of America, as part of my school's global awareness curriculum. It's an excellent book by an experienced journalist, doing a good job of showing alternative viewpoints to world events. But I was horrified by the cover, a perfect example of the stereotype above, a cover I worry will color students' perceptions before they even start reading.

If part of our job, in an increasingly multicultural country where it is predicted the white race will be a minority by 2050, is to raise students' tolerance for and understanding of other points of view (and given the examples above I believe it is), we must be aware of the stereotypes the books we choose perpetuate. Which, at last, brings me to the main point of this blog entry, and an issue I've been pondering the last year and a half.

Since I returned from the Middle East, I've grown increasingly concerned over the portrayal of Arabs in young adult literature, and , moreover, the complete lack of more than a few novels depicting normal Arab-American teenage life. As Dilara Hafiz, (co-author of The Muslim Teenager's Handbook) stated when I interviewed her for an article I've been working on for ages, "My daughter would read these books [e.g. Shabanu] and see nothing she could relate with." (If her book isn't in your library [she co-wrote it with her teen-aged daughter], it should be. It's a fun, factual look at being an American teenager who also happens to be Muslim.)

To return to my rant....

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Shabanu thoroughly. She's a feisty heroine, worthy of admiration. Yet she falls into the stereotypical role most Western writers depict for Arabic women: forced marriage and a life of subservience to men. The West insists on seeing the veil as a sign of oppression; for some it is. Yet many Arab women see it as just the opposite: freedom. Freedom from being viewed as a sexual object, freedom from being judged based on looks.

I talked to several of my students in Egypt who had made the decision to cover. All of them expressed deepest satisfaction with their decision and what it meant to them in their relationship to God and those around them.

This is not to deny the horrors inflicted upon many in the name of religion, but to insist that the realities are far more varied and nuanced than most in the West realize. My 11th graders read The Kite Runner eagerly, but it was almost as exotic to them as it is to American teens. These young men and women ate at Pizza Hut, listened to the latest groups hot from America, dressed in the latest fashions, many of them shockingly revealing to my middle-aged eyes. I will never forget my favorite student, Zeina, who stood up to the boys and gave as good as she got in every debate, taking second seat to none. She was unusual only in her eloquence, not her attitude. She's now attending University in Cairo, with plans to do graduate work in Europe. How oppressed!

Shabanu's life is every bit as alien to her as it would be to an Arab American teen at your local high school. Yet aside from Randa Abdel-Fattah's Does My Head Look Big in This? there is a paucity of modern YA fiction showing the average life of an Arabic/Islamic teen in America (and even that one is set in Australia!).

Never mind the importance of seeing one's self mirrored in one's reading. This is about educating our students and the public-at-large. It's about confonting stereotypes and putting a human face on "the enemy." The argument to the ignorant statement that Obama is Muslim should be not, "No, he's not," but a puzzled, "So?"

Ex-English teacher and librarian that I am, I believe literature can transform lives and change minds. By imaginatively experiencing other lives and modes of thought, students (and adults!) gain familiarity with the foreign and recognize the humanity in us all, regardless of differences.

More importantly, I hope we start seeing more fiction depicting Islamic/Arabic life in America. Multi-culturalism is not globalism, and we tend to confuse the two. I was guilty of this myself until I attended an excellent multicultural workshop last month, which I'll blog about next.

We can't keep handing students Shabanu or McCormick's excellent Sold, and think we're doing our job. As well-written as they are, they are only one perspective, and they are not about Arabic life in America.

In addition to the article I'm working on (however slowly!), I'm compiling a list (however short) of Arabic/Islamic-themed fiction that moves beyond the stereotypes. If you know of any, please post to the comments, and I'll post a 'completed' list soon.

This is a discussion I hope we can develop and continue.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Political Bedfellows: Free widget from CQ Press

As the presidential elections near, social studies classroom pay more attention to the political process. This widget from CQ Press allows students to compared congressional members' voting records directly. Try it out to the right. (Or what shows up of it!)

Another widget allows you to immdiately find your US Representative by zip code.

Worrisome, whatever your politics

From yesterday's NY Times: (click here for the full article)

Shortly after becoming mayor, former city officials and Wasilla residents said, Ms. Palin approached the town librarian about the possibility of banning some books, though she never followed through and it was unclear which books or passages were in question.

Ann Kilkenny, a Democrat who said she attended every City Council meeting in Ms. Palin’s first year in office, said Ms. Palin brought up the idea of banning some books at one meeting. “They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her,” Ms. Kilkenny said.

The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, pledged to “resist all efforts at censorship,” Ms. Kilkenny recalled. Ms. Palin fired Ms. Emmons shortly after taking office but changed course after residents made a strong show of support. Ms. Emmons, who left her job and Wasilla a couple of years later, declined to comment for this article.

In 1996, Ms. Palin suggested to the local paper, The Frontiersman, that the conversations about banning books were “rhetorical.”

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Live and Learn

I'm so excited about all the new books we have in, and I wanted to encourage the faculty to take some time to look them over. It's easier to plan lessons assignments if you know what resources are available, right?

I worked with our principal to have a Lunch in the Library after our faculty meeting, giving teachers 45 minutes to eat and wander.

Of course, the faculty meeting ran over by an hour, I gave my spiel, turned them loose to look and the Dept. Heads were immediately declaring "Department meetings in 10 minutes!" GRRRRRR!

So two people look at my carefully arranged tables of books. I need to take them down in the morning, as the students are coming.

So it goes....