Concurrent Leadership and Advocacy in the School Library

I’ve been reading about leadership and advocacy this week and I got to thinking about how these things in successful school library programs really are concurrent activities. As you behave as a leader in your school library, you become an ambassador for the school community and even the wider local community (or state). When people see enthusiastic programming and a positive welcoming environment, they are more likely to value the work that you do and less likely to offer your position up to the chopping block when budget cuts come around.

For example, I have a colleague who announced that she would be leaving the district at the end of the school year. She has been sharing ideas and resources with the entire district (through the mass email list) all year long. She hasn’t said as much, but I suspect her very visible efforts are a conscious way of demonstrating her and her program’s worth to the district. If the administration values her role, perhaps they won’t decide to have us go down a librarian due to attrition. Nothing is certain, but this kind of program advocacy doesn’t hurt—and the approach is to simply do exemplary work as an instructional leader.

In fact, my principal told me himself that [an instructional leader] was what he needed me to be in his school. I had been cautious in my interactions with staff as the new kid on the block, not wanting to step on toes or make a bad impression, and I told him that I didn’t want to tell anyone how to do their job (at least not while I’m still new). He encouraged me to push the staff to think critically and be someone who sees the big picture. If you are working hard side-by-side with other teachers, the respect and even loyalty is sure to follow.

I’ve actually had the opportunity to see my predecessor in action a few times at conferences. She’s a very dynamic person and dives right into the action. I understand a little better now the kind of leadership that she brings to the table, and to which my principal was alluding. She and I are very different in quite a few ways and I worried a lot at first that I was a disappointment to the staff as her replacement. It’s not that I am not just as dynamic or haven’t already had success in my new role. Some of my hesitation though is due to the humility I have toward the profession—I am not a seasoned veteran in the library and don’t even have my full license yet. It’s hard to proceed with confidence and, yes, leadership when you’re not sure if you’re even “doing it right”!

I have given myself permission to feel out the situation and scramble around in survival mode for now, but it can’t last for too long. Unfortunately, the attitude around the state is that school librarians are optional. A librarian friend of mine works in a district similar to mine that had someone leave and instead of rehiring a librarian, they reassigned a non-librarian teacher to be a tech integrator to fill the role (and my friend has to cover the missing duties). I met some librarians from Milwaukee Public Schools a few months ago—they have something like 12 librarians now for the entire district, covering something like 165 schools. They said that they basically go from school to school and select books. There are similar situations in Sheboygan and Menasha.

This isn’t just happening in Wisconsin—I read a newspaper article earlier this year about Philadelphia Public Schools going from 176 certified librarians in 1990 down to 11. One of the principals there fought back to restore the librarian position at the school saying, “The library was the center of the school program. I just don’t see a library as an extra,” which is amazing—but the advocacy and leadership necessary to preserve school libraries has to also come from the front lines, i.e. the librarians who convince the leaders, community and decision-makers that school libraries are, indeed, not extras.

Organization is Everywhere: Teavana Tea Wall

I began drinking tea when I lived in France and I often felt peer-pressured by colleagues to drink some kind of hot beverage during our break. I was not interested in coffee, but tea with sugar was acceptable to me then. In the last year, I started drinking more loose-leaf tea and got hooked on Teavana. I understand that they are Starbucks corporate-evil (and overpriced) and the employees basically work on commission (caveat emptor), but man, their tea is YUMMY! My faves: Youthberry, Precious White Peach, Caramel Chai, Cha Ven Thai and others… I have about 20 kinds at home, and they are “organized” in jars in six stacks of three, with some stragglers that I don’t have jars for right now.

Teavana sells its tea either by the cup (prepared) or in bulk with a 2-oz minimum. (Note: rip-off to buy a cup. Also note: they will upsell you–“Is 2.4oz okay?”) Along the back wall, they have all their teas displayed in color-coded tins, based on what kind of tea it is. The display is kind of rainbow-like, with the teas alphabetized within their grouping.

I am not sure how they decided the order of color-coded types: it’s not alphabetical since it starts with white tea, then green tea, then oolong, then maté, etc. I’m not sure it’s by caffeine-content either, but maybe the higher caffeine teas are in the middle. My guess is that it’s purely aesthetic, for the rainbow effect. The arrangement is basically the same from store to store and you can see an interactive version here.

  1. What is being organized? bulk tea
  2. Why is it being organized? sales, aesthetics, ease of retrieval for employees
  3. How much of it is being organized? all bulk teas, except for prepackaged blends for gift sets
  4. When is it being organized? Whenever a new variety of tea is launched, they probably have to rearrange and replace one of the tins on the wall.
  5. How or by whom, or by what computational processes, is it being organized? The Teavana corporate types tell the stores how they will display it; the stores comply.

Comic Sans? Really?

I saw this on Twitter a while back:

Sigh… No. I will not defend a 20 year-old fad. No.

A colleague brought my attention to the movement to ‘weaponize Comic Sans‘… Really, does it make me a web-hipster to hate the font? Come on.

I still say no one takes Comic Sans font-users seriously, except maybe 3rd graders. An elementary teacher friend of mine likes to set it as her default because “it’s the only one that looks like handwriting and it helps the kids with their penmanship.” Oh, lord. There are such better choices.

In case you are unaware of the argument I support, consider the Ban Comic Sans website or Comic Sans Criminal.

Humorous anecdote

My department at my old job knew my distaste for the font and humored me by using other fonts for fliers instead if they knew I had to look at/share/use them. Right before I left, the new supervisor in charge of us made a bunch of yucky changes and followed up with some “rah-rah” leadership emails written in PURPLE Comic Sans.

I guffawed (if that is possible for someone under 60) and thought, “Oh, she has no idea how deep she just dug her own hole with me.” Even if I had wanted to be open-minded, I simply couldn’t at that point. 😉 My colleagues were very amused.

The alternatives

There are other fonts out there. For example, these: http://www.fontscape.com/explore?9BU or these: http://www.blogclarity.com/ditch-that-font-alternatives-to-comic-sans/ or these: http://www.onextrapixel.com/2013/02/15/25-free-comic-fonts-to-use-instead-of-comic-sans/. A quick Google search actually comes up with tons of suggestions!

If your reasons are for dyslexia, no worries there either: http://www.dyslexic.com/fonts. Or this (plus a dictionary!): http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/11/11/363293514/for-dyslexics-a-font-and-a-dictionary-that-are-meant-to-help?utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=2036

When should you use Comic Sans?

Jason Brubaker at ReMIND gives us 30 reasons. Consider #1: “When accompanied by Braille.” Also, #20: “You’re writing a letter to your clown friend.” Good reasons.

Library Websites Worth Looking At

If you haven’t ever read/seen Aaron Schmidt’s work, he’s got that snarky sense of humor that I very much appreciate. For example, his take on QR Codes in Libraries.

Anyway, he and his organization posted some evals of quality library websites. Worth a look, especially if you’re ever looking for libraries/features to model a library website after in the near future!

Helping Google stifle Black Hat SEO

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) seemed to me a strategy that web vendors and spammers used to generate traffic to their sites. As a web user and novice web designer, understanding how Google separates white-hat and black-hat SEO—literally, the good guys from the bad guys—helped me make sense of it a little more.

Google also depends on regular searchers to help by pointing out when something is wrong with your search results. If you do a search, and there is something that doesn’t fit or is sketchy, you can point it out to Google. Kevin Purdy, in his TechRepublic article “Give Google better feedback and get better results” shows us how. 

screenshot of Google Feedback link and popup

Have you ever noticed the “Send feedback” link at the bottom of your search results and thought, “Yeah, no thanks. I’m not writing an email to Google or going to another tab to fill out a form. I just want some better search results, so I’d rather spend my time trying it again.”? As it turns out, it’s Javascript that keeps you right in the page, where you describe in words and then show Google by highlighting what was wrong. And you can go back to your search. Google takes the feedback seriously and uses the user feedback to improve its algorithms. Maybe you don’t see the direct results, but it’s for the “betterment” of the web!

I also have to give credit where credit is due, I learned the most about SEO and what Google does from this article I read in another library school course, LIS 451 (but liked Purdy’s visual view of one of the biggest takeaways I got from the article): Cahill, K., & Chalut, R. (2009). Optimal Results: What Libraries Need to Know About Google and Search Engine Optimization. The Reference Librarian, 50(3), 234-247.

Reference:

Purdy, K. (2012, February 21). Give Google better feedback and bug reports and get better results. TechRepublic. Retrieved December 5, 2014, from http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/google-in-the-enterprise/give-google-better-feedback-and-bug-reports-and-get-better-results/ 

What I like about WPBeginner

I started with a WordPress.com blog in fall 2012 (well, actually my instructor hosted WordPress.org blogs for those of us in his course that summer, but I had to transfer the content after the course ended). I played with WordPress.com for a year before I decided that it was time to take back control and have access to the HMTL code again (not that I was using it more than pasting in Goodreads widgets, but still.)

For me the transfer process and install of a self-hosted WordPress.org site was daunting. It still is. There is something about domain hosting that trips up my little brain. However, I do follow detailed, step-by-step instructions well, and lucky for me, they are out there.

WP Beginner was exactly what I was looking for, more than once: http://www.wpbeginner.com/

For example, here were the instructions I needed to transfer WP.com to WP.org. I think as we start the actual coding for our upcoming redesign projects, this article about creating child themes is really going to come in handy because it explains how to modify some of the stuff the WordPress takes care of for you by providing themes. When we sketched out our ideas and chose color schemes in the early planning stages, we based them on our creative imaginations, not existing WP themes, so we’ll have to compromise those idea or pitch them unless we do some modifying. So in this case, I’m pretty jazzed about having some instructions.

Another thing this site does really well is answering the question, “How can I do X with WordPress?” and enlightening you to some of the possibilities that you might tap into within the realm of this CMS. I had no idea that you could password-protect a single post, for example, but here’s how. Let’s say you want to mess with the line spacing in the CSS, which we learned how to do from our course readings, but since we didn’t handcode the content, it might not be obvious what the classes or IDs were tagged with–maybe not the hardest thing to examine and figure out on your own, but I think I would appreciate someone just telling me what to look for specifically in WP. I still need help with Google Analytics, and I am encouraged by the help WP Beginner has to offer for that too.

So, if this is your first experience with WordPress, this is where I would start: http://www.wpbeginner.com/guides/. In fact, the guides pretty much go in order of the things you would want to do:

  1. How to Pick the Right Domain Name
  2. How to Choose the Best WordPress Hosting
  3. How to Install WordPress on Your Site
  4. How to Select a Perfect WordPress Theme
  5. Recommended Plugins for WordPress
  6. How to Install and Setup Google Analytics in WordPress
  7. Setup a Professional Email Address for Your WordPress Blog

Eddie Bauer’s Survey-Game Marketing

I got the following email from EddieBauer.com the other day, because I had been “selected to help them choose new styles for the upcoming season…”

Eddie Bauer survey email

I followed the survey link because it sounded appealing to participate in. This is what I got:

survey landing page

survey instructions page

Basically, they had gamified the survey process by trying to make it feel like The Price is Right as if you were guessing the prices of the items instead of offering feedback. Clever, because it kept me engaged in the process, even if it was apparent early on that the things I shop for at Eddie Bauer (trousers and long-sleeve shirts) were not the items being survey (mostly cargo pants and running pants). I’m afraid because the survey was set and not adaptive to focus in on the few things I did respond to positively, they missed the “target” by targeting me!

I was a little disappointed at the end of the survey when there was no fanfare or results on if I had “done well” with the What Would They Pay? survey-game. Missed opportunity, Eddie Bauer! (It would have been neat to see the average results of what people stated would be appropriate pricing–though I’m sure this would mess with their marketing if they decide to price higher than the average when potential items launch.)

A look at the FamilySearch.org genealogy form

This February, I was out in Salt Lake City for a snowboard trip, and while there, I spent an evening après-ski at the LDS Family History Museum. (I’m not LDS, but their genealogy library is a-maz-ing, and when in Rome…) Anyway, long story short, part of the experience was a “guided introduction” to the FamilySearch.org genealogy tool with my own personal church elder.

The thing about the way FamilySearch works, compared to Ancestry.com for example, is once you’ve entered enough of your family tree that it overlaps with the content of another user’s research, your content merges and you’ve basically crowd-sourced your research (for the good and the bad–errors and all). It’s nearly as powerful as Ancestry.com, but free.

The initial form that FamilySearch uses takes you through entering information about your father, your mother, your father’s father, your father’s mother, your mother’s father, your mother’s mother, etc. to build your tree. It allows you to skip family members or details that you don’t have information on (recommended so that you don’t taint others’ trees). Once you register, the form is available here: https://familysearch.org/first-run/#/

It’s a pretty nice way to enter genealogy information because it is linear and guided. The caveat is that once you leave the series of forms, by clicking out to another part of the website, you can’t go back. When you try to return to your tree, you get the bare structure of the tree, not the form. This is what happened to me in SLC when I was working with Elder Summers (and he didn’t know how to get back to it).

The other day, I was doing a “family tree research” workshop with high school students during an enrichment period and it happened to a student. I did manage to peek at the URL of another student’s browser, and try the “first-run” path and it worked for her, since she wasn’t very far. However, I am beyond that point in my use of the site that the handy-dandy guided form is not available.

So, final analysis: nice form if you can get it!

Color Accessibility in Web Design

My boyfriend is slightly colorblind and often complains about the contrast on our GPS devices when they switch to night mode (we use the Waze app and also a Garmin). He can’t see the magenta road highlight against a dark background (and I can see it just fine)–so we have to use day mode, or I navigate verbally. He also had a lot of trouble with the Ian’s Pizza (a local Madison fave) website before their redesign because it was dark red on black. For an idea of the scheme, see here: Ian’s Pizza site in Internet Archive

When I was adding color to a recent website assignment with CSS, it occurred to me at the end of the process that the color combinations I chose might have been [relatively] pleasing to me, but maybe not so much to someone with color vision problems. Since we weren’t designing for beauty at the time, I left it be, but later I did go out seeking solutions. While I can recognize color schemes that seem to go together, picking them is another thing!

Here’s what I found:

I really like this tool: http://paletton.com/. There’s a lot to it that is above my web design skillset at the moment, like using the widget and scripts on your page to get your color themes and the accessibility right. What I liked most is that you could pick a color and scheme and it serves up a palette for you with the hex codes. Kind of like someone handing you paint swatches that work together at Sherwin-Williams. Then you can add a colorblindness simulation and see how your choices might look to certain populations. (In fact, there are all sorts of goodies to play with–I suspect this could be a powerful tool, once you learn to work its features. Similarly, my instructor mentioned http://www.checkmycolours.com/ in one of our discussions, but I liked that you could be proactive too with Paletton and address it before it’s embedded in a live url. For kicks, I ran the Ian’s Pizza link above through it… Major fail, Ian!

color test results

In this article, Designing for Color Blindness, the author suggests not designing specifically to accommodate for colorblind people, because you’ll choose weird colors to everyone else. Instead, he says to make your pages valid, accessible and appealing. I guess, but I know someone who would have appreciated a little foresight and extra checking…

my first bulletin board

I am not a bulletin board kind of person. This is probably also part of the reason that it would be hard for me to be an elementary school teacher. I can decorate a classroom with realia–you should have seen all the awesome French posters covering my walls when I was a French teacher, like this, for example:

French classroom posters

my French classroom posters

But not bulletin boards.

I had some in my ESL classroom, that I displayed the Read 180 rotation schedule on or student bios called “All About Me”, but there was no “theme” or “lettering” or “borders” or any of that.

But, now that I am a school librarian, and my library space doubles as a hallway during passing periods, I have to back on opportunities for displays! Here is my first effort, which I recruited a sweet GEDO student in need of service hours to help me with. I spent some time at the Early Learning Center school this morning using the Ellison die-cut machine. Here was the result:

bulletin board about Read On Wisconsin

my September Read On Wisconsin bulletin board

I’m really kind of proud of myself! It looks great and I’ll be able to cycle monthly book titles for book club discussions. Excellent. I also have plans for the matching bulletin board space on the opposite side of the library. (Wisconsin Battle of the Books… yes!)

librarian things I must share!

Here are two resources that I am absolutely raving about:

  1. Bound By Law, a graphic novel all about copyright and fair use… Awesome! Thanks, Duke Law! Read it at http://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/comics/pdf/cspdcomichigh.pdf (And their main page, if you don’t like the PDF and want to get a paper copy or support them otherwise http://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/comics/digital.php) Fair use and copyright aren’t easy, but this helps.

  2. O’Reilly’s Head First tech guide series. They are using brain-based research to teach so that you remember. It’s like having a talented, real-live teacher built into your book. I am using Head First HTML and CSS as an optional textbook in my Information Architecture course this semester, and I feel like HTML might actually stick this time! Every time I try to learn it, it’s gone two weeks later. If you are looking to tackle a new tech skill, programming language, whatever–this is the way to go.