Saturday, January 23, 2016

#1Lib1Ref, Wikipedia and Me

I love Wikipedia.  For a long time librarians were supposed to ban the online user-edited encyclopedia (maybe we still are), but man, it's just too useful.  What we have to teach our students is that, just as with all tertiary sources, researchers have to move beyond the encyclopedia's text, mine it for clues and get closer to the primary source of the information.  Just as with revenge, Wikipedia is a great place to start, but not a place to stay.

Ok, so I love Wikipedia, and here's an example of why.  At the beginning of this January short term, Catharine came in looking for books of Greek mythology.  Her class was reading Yeats' sonnet "Leda and the Swan," and Catharine wanted to find an "original" version of the myth to add to the discussion.  We headed over to the 200s "religion" area on the shelf and checked book after book in vain. The few that mentioned Leda didn't tell the story at all.  Ovid's two lines also weren't satisfactory.

As so often I do when I need context and clues for a search, I checked into good ol' Wikipedia, which has a substantial article on "Leda and the Swan," but it's all about depictions of the myth in art and poetry.  The article mentions "many versions of the story," but didn't point to any of them. I scanned the whole article, but no luck.  No links, no pointers to any actual sources for the myth. Aargh.

At the end of the second paragraph, though, the sentence "Thanks to the literary renditions of Ovid and Fulgentius it was a well-known myth through the Middle Ages . . ." held the clue I needed!  I did a web search for Fulgentius and Leda, and came up with Fulgentius the Mythographer, a 1971 translation from Latin with citations and commentary, of the five known works of Fulgentius, and on page 78 begins "The Fable of the Swan and Leda."  A couple of screenshots later (we librarians have our ways to get the info to our people), and I get to present Catharine with what she'd come for.  Yippee!!

About a week later, I heard about Wikipedia's 15th Anniversary project #1Lib1Ref, which is asking librarians around the world to add one reference, a citation to a reliable source, that backs up a statement in any Wikipedia article.  Participating was a no-brainer -- I already had the goods! So as of right now, the 3rd footnote in the article (near the end of that second paragraph) is the addition of yours truly.  And a link to another source, attributed to Latin writer Hyginus, in the External Links section.  Cool, huh?

 Are you a Wikipedia fan or a skeptic?   Have you ever edited a Wikipedia article?  What do you think of the #1Lib1Ref project?  Comments welcome!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Awards Time Again (and I Got One Right!):
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

After the National Book Award for young readers shortlist was announced last fall, I had a plan to read all three before the final Winner was announced.  I read Bone Gap, and loved it.  I read Nimona, and liked it a lot.  I've renewed Challenger Deep from the public library 3 times (yep, I often borrow a book from the public library before deciding whether to buy it for Paideia or not. My tax dollars at work!) and am still working my way through it.  It's quite good (I think), but incredibly intense -- while I'm reading it I feel like my head's swimming and kind of lost.  Given that the narrator, 15-year-old Caden Bosch, is awash in the first onset of schizophrenia, that's probably a good and intended thing, but I'm finding it tough going.  I'll let you know when I finish!

In fact, the National Book Award folks decided that Challenger Deep, by established and talented author Neal Shusterman was the best of the crop, and gave it the 2015 Award for Young People's Literature.  On the other hand, on Monday morning Bone Gap, by author Laura Ruby,  was given the 2016 Printz Award (technically, the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, quite a mouthful).  Yay for me!!

Bone Gap is a story of love lost and found, and about the difference between being being visible and being truly seen.   A mysterious young Polish woman suddenly appears in the O'Sullivan brothers' barn one night, bruised and silent.  For a while, Roza lives with them, healing herself and caring for them, as friend and confidant to spacey Finn, and eventually as fiancee to serious, responsible Sean.  And then she disappears, stolen right in front of Finn -- but he can't come up with enough details about the man who took her for anyone to believe him.   The only way to make things right again is for Finn to find Roza himself.

Bone Gap is a fine example of rural magical realism -- characters and situations that are real enough, but that tilt over into the otherworldly before tilting right back into real again.  Corn that murmers secrets and a boy who can hear them.   A barn that produces not only Roza, but later on a magnificent black horse that seems to know things, and can run on and on in the night.  A boy with arms too long, a girl who looks like a bee.   Is it magic or is it allegory?  In the end, the ability to look through the stories everyone knows, to see a person for who and how she truly is and not what she looks like, is what makes relationships real, and rescues joy from its dark captor and brings it back to Bone Gap.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Clean Sweep 2015:
Dorothy Allison at Paideia in October

Gosh, it's just become 2016, and there are a bunch of things I meant to write about way back in 2015 that never made it to the blog. Do you ever get paralyzed by having too much going on in your head at the same time, so nothing ever makes its way out?  Kind of like a logjam in timber territory.

So here we go -- making a clean sweep of 2015, and onward with 2016!


Back in October, acclaimed author Dorothy Allison spent time with classes, and gave two talks in the theater (a morning talk/reading at a student assembly, and an evening reading for the public).   My notes are something like this:
- a compelling speaker,  teenagers actually paid attention for an hour.  Many (including me) were leaning forward to catch every word.
- she definitely goes for shock value; topics & vocabulary not used in public often (even at Paideia!!)
- Allison spoke directly to the students (flattery ;-)
- she's very funny
If Dorothy Allison wrote poetry, she'd be a slam champion!  The roots of her writing are definitely in storytelling and performance, which comes through brilliantly when she's on stage.  I went to elementary and junior high school in northeast Alabama, and felt as though Allison could have been one of the girls I went to school with -- maybe my best friend, maybe an academic competitior, maybe (in honesty) one of the girls the others talked mean about.  Somebody I knew.  Whatever it is, she is able to really connect with her audience. Oh, and she's got a killer smile!

There were significant differences between morning and evening talks:
• in the morning she kept coming back to the idea that "all writing is about revenge"
• in the evening the theme was more about "grace & glory," growth and acceptance

I mention this because it came up later in the week when we met with our advisee groups to discuss Allison's visit.  My tiny group of four 9th graders met with Magnus' larger group for better discussion dynamics.  We started with sharing reactions to the assembly -- the "shock value" was definitely noticed -- and discussed the value of talking about stressful events.  Does writing or talking about such events cause greater stress by re-living it over and over, or does it release stress by processing and controlling it?   A couple of students got stuck on the notions of anger and revenge and had negative reactions to the author, so I was glad I'd attended both and could talk about the wider, gentler themes of the evening talk.

So what did Allison mean by "revenge is a good place to start, but not a place to stay?"  In her introduction to the anniversary edition of her short story collection Trash, Allison writes that sometimes she wrote for revenge, sometimes out of rage, sometimes to refute other authors' stories of ignorant poor Southerners, of stupid, morally deficient white trash -- but also that "I grew up [while] writing these stories. I made peace with my family. I forgave myself and some of the people I had held in such contempt . . . in large part through the writing of these stories."

We talked about writing prompts & catalysts,  then moved to personal writing, writing for an audience.  Teenagers write ALL the time, for all kinds of audiences -- Facebook, Instagram captions, Twitter, lit papers,  test essays.   Do they think of who's likely to be reading their words while they're transmitting what's in their heads into a public statement?  Should they?

We have these Dorothy Allison books (2 novels and the short story collection) in the Paideia Library.

The morning after Dorothy Allison's visit to Paideia, an 11th grader, slightly out of breath, came into the library before school to check out Bastard Out of Carolina.  "Are they all gone?  Is there a copy left?" she asked.   She'd spent 3 hours listening to Allison the day before -- in her lit class where the author spoke just to her class, then in the high school assembly, and then in the junior/senior gathering with the author after the all-school event.  The student was blown away.  Me too.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Be A Thanksgiving Road Scholar!

Interesting fun fact from Ingram Library Services, our book vendor -- since September 2006, we've gone through the full range of barcode numbers 85001-87000.  Meaning I've bought a full 2000 books in the past 9 years, and that's not counting books purchased elsewhere, or donated, or any of the DVDS, audiobooks or audio courses added to the collection.  Wow!

Another fun fact --- AAA Travel forecasts that 42 million Americans will make a road trip of 50 miles or more over the Thanksgiving holiday period.  Will you be among them?  Even if your trip is 100% rural interstate, you've got a minimum of 45 minutes there and 45 minutes back, a full hour and a half in the car.  The likelihood is that you'll be travelling many hours more than that.

Audiobooks are awesome, but 90 minutes isn't very many chapters.  Imagine, though, taking a college-level course, 30 minutes at a time, and all of a sudden, your journey to Grandma's nets you three 30-minute college lectures.   In our case, 3 hours up and 3 hours back is nearly half a semester of really quality learning.

The Paideia JH/HS Library has a fantastic collection of Great Courses from the Teaching Company.  Some are in DVD video format (not so good for drive-time learning) but the majority are audio lectures on CD, ready to copy to your iPad or phone.  Imagine listening to an entire college-level course on The Science of Mindfulness or Writing Creative Nonfiction with no time diverted from your other activities!

Below is a sample of the audio lectures available -- for the entire collection go to The Great Courses Reading List on the Library catalog site.  Links go to the course descriptions in the Paideia Library catalog.

Understanding Japan: A Cultural History,  with Mark J. Ravina
(Emory; father & step-father of 3 Paideia alumni)

Influence: Mastering Life's' Most Powerful Skill, with Kenneth G Brown (University of Iowa)

The Barbarian Empires of the Steppes, with Kenneth W. Harl (Tulane)

Great American Music: Broadway Musicals, with Bill Messennger (Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins)

The Science of Mindfulness: A Research-Based Path to Well-Being, with Ronald D. Siegel (Harvard Med School)

Espionage and Covert Operations: A Global History with Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius (UT-Knoxville)
(captive in the car while her senior brother listened, a 10th grader was inspired by this course to write her history paper on Civil War Spies last year)

Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer's Craft, with Brooks Landon (University of Iowa)

The Art of Storytelling: From Parents to Professionals, with Hanna B. Harvey (East Tennesse State University)

A Day's Read, with a team of professors from Perdue, Brown and Monterey Peninsula)
   (discussion of short works by the world's greatest writers, from the Jataka to Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel memoir Persepolis)

with Amy-Jill Levine (Vanderbilt)  

What are you going to learn over Thanksgiving break?

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Eda's Premium Hard Candies, aka "Yumbos"
Mention Yumbos to any of the countless students who learned their way through Paideia's elementary school, and eyes light up.   Many years ago, legendary 4th/5th grade teacher Peter Richards discovered "Eda's Sugarfree Candies" at the DeKalb Farmer's Market. He and other teachers gave out the candies, renamed "Yumbos" (a much more exciting name for 10-year-olds) as treats for exemplary work.

Peter being Peter (for one of his class' annually assigned projects, each student had to research the history of a company of choice), he naturally needed to know more about this mysterious "Eda" and her candies.   An article he researched and wrote, "Yumbos: History of a Confectionary Reward," appeared in the May 2014 issue of the Paideia Newsletter.

A former 4th grader, with Yumbo and book.
Just recently Peter, who retired in 2014, sent a gigantic bag of Yumbos, along with Eda Lehman's autobiography.  Since Peter's last students are now working their way through junior high and high school, I announced "Yumbos in the Library!" at Monday Morning Meeting this week.   The book, Eda's Story: A Memoir  and a bowl of Yumbos are out on the circulation desk.  High school students all week have asked about them, browsed the book (some quite thoroughly -- it's pretty short), and enjoyed a Yumbo or two.  Some students reminisce about their favorite color, while some students are newly introduced to the treat.  

Click the page image to download Peter's article as it appeared in the newsletter.

There's an interesting coda to the story -- while I was doing some quick research to see if Eda Lehman is still living (and discovered that she celebrated a birthday last February), I found that Eda's youngest sister Ruth, long believed killed in the Holocaust, may have survived and possibly immigrated to America. It doesn't seem that the family ever made contact with her, but you can read about that chapter of the Konigstein family's story here.

You just never know what's going to happen when you open a giant bag of sugarfree candies.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The "Big Kids" Library Has A Brand New Look!

The "Old Elementary Library," which
never officially got another name,
is now the Learning Specialists' space.
When I was a kid, I used to make scale drawings of my bedroom and all the furniture, then cut out and move the furniture pieces to see how things would fit before actually rearranging my room. And I never wanted to be anything like an architect or interior designer!

Last spring, we did something like that in planning a new library space, and back in June, we saw the end of the Paideia Junior High and High School Library as we've known it for the past 20 years.  Over the summer, this entire wing of the high school building was gutted, reconfigured, rearranged and revived, and I think it works really well.

My desk has never been so clean!
The planning process with architect Miriam Dolson began back during the winter.  She met several times with me, Brett Hardin and Laura Hardy to learn about what happens in the library, what's working & not working, how it's used by students and teachers, what could happen if the space were different.  She came up with some ideas, and we talked about them.  Most impressive was that Miriam came to school and just sat in the library for half a day. Observing the ebb and flow of students during study hall, class periods and breaks, she realized that some of her ideas just didn't work in this real-life situation.  In this renovation, Function was the driver of Form, and that's pretty darn cool.

These old collections of biographical
articles and primary document excerpts
are fine, but never used. They'd make a
great "book art" Christmas tree.
Since January I had been weeding the book collection, knowing that there would be much less shelf space in the new space.  Boxes and boxes of books were removed from the collection, many of them "perfectly good books," but not likely to be checked out again (or ever) by our student population - they went on to hopeful other lives with other readers.  Some of them were just embarrassing to find out we still had -- the ones on the "drug crisis" published in 1984, the one on the "new" ex-Soviet states published in 1990.  People -- no matter how good their physical condition, there are some books that just have to leave this world -- if the information contained is inaccurate or out-of-date, they've got no purpose for continuing to exist.  White paper recycling was invented for this purpose! 

In order to prepare for the demolition and construction, we closed the library for the last week of school, something we've never done before, which compacted summer checkouts to a 2-week period instead of three.  Then the last 4 days of school were frantic tidying, de-cluttering and boxing up of the circulation desk, my office, and the library workroom.  As anyone who's move house remembers, this is a fantastic time (even for genetically-programmed packrats) to get rid of lots and lots of random stuff.  The ancient vinyl record collection went to an IT guy from Emory who had just gotten a turntable and was really excited to introduce his kids to Western classical music in analog sound.  The Dictionary of Slang went to a skeptically thrilled Clark Cloyd for his classroom collection.  An old overhead projector went to the science department for robotics parts.  The World Book encyclopedia went to the elementary school. And so forth.

The office and circulation desk, all boxed up.
What was left went into boxes.

Getting ready for storage.
Goodbye to the old entry.
The zen of tidiness!

Never fear!  The school hired Professionals to box and move the books.  (Whew!!)

The movers came in the day after school finished to tag and box the books shelf by shelf, then take apart and move all the furniture and put every little thing into storage for the summer. Then the demolition began.

That little room in the back right is my new office!

All gone, even the carpet.  You can even see all the new electrical outlets along the east wall.

While the library was an empty shell inside, this was going on out in the world.  Yippee for summer reading!!

A junior high student engrossed in March: Book 2,
the graphic novel autobiography by John Lewis. Books 1 & 2
were the junior high's "all read" assignment for the summer.

I wasn't willing to put money on whether all the construction would be done by the start of school (oh, me of little faith!), but just in time for the faculty retreat & planning week, the carpet was in and the shelving was reassembled and placed according to the new plan.  And then ... I walked in and said "oh, no!"   And Miriam walked in 30 minutes later and said "oh, no."  You know how sometimes you move into a new place and realize that where you told the movers to put the sofa and the lamps and the TV cabinet just doesn't work in real life??   We fixed it, and said "yeah, ok."  And the books came in, and my boxes came in, and then the students came in!

The library is as packed as ever, before school, during break and at lunch.

The doors were removed from the old entryway, and a new wall and doors built.
Now the elevator and the classroom open into this vestibule, not the library.

Remember how the elementary library entrance was diagonal across the corner? 
The same trim was moved to the new door into the Library Meeting Room. 
The Paideia-in-Print and display shelves on the wall are where the office window used to be.
That's Morgan Potts, new Learning Specialist, in front of the door to their space.

The view from the Learning Specialists' door.

New (exceedingly sturdy) armchairs, and additional armless seats too!

The study carrels are now all lined up along the wall with the new outlets.

New library floor plan. Can you still remember how it used to be?

I'm still adjusting and tweaking details, things that nobody would think or notice until actually working in the space, but as I was quoted saying in a recent Forum article on the renovations: "I like them, I think it was well thought out, and I really appreciate being a part of the planning."  Nuff said.

So do like these folks say --  come on in, and Check It Out!!!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Author Becky Albertalli at Paideia Next Week

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda  is a wonderful YA coming-of-age debut novel by Atlanta author Becky Albertalli.  The first word that comes to mind as a description is "solid." Sure, on the face of it "solid" is not a particularly exciting adjective, but it's so right for this great book.  There's nothing fluffy, nothing weak, nothing unnecessary in the writing or plot. The characters are appealing and well-drawn, the crises so realistically believable, and the ending is satisfying. 

In a nutshell, Simon Spier is a funny, well-adjusted 16-year-old high school student somewhere on the northern side of Atlanta.  He has a core of close friends, does well in school, and knows he likes guys but isn't in torment about it.  In fact, Simon is thrilled that he's started to exchange friendly, flirty emails with another guy at school -- but he doesn't know "Blue's" identity, and Blue doesn't know his.  Then oops -- Simon forgets to close out his email on a library computer. The class clown/jerk Martin takes a peek, uses the secret to blackmail Simon into setting him up with best friend Abby (from Peachtree City),  and the plots starts rolling.

If you're a fan of Will Grayson, Will Grayson, or Glee, or Eleanor and Park, or anything by David Levithan, you will love Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.  I guarantee you will leave the book feeling like you've had a good meal -- lots of colors on the plate, a variety of flavors and nutrients,  not too heavy, not too sweet, but nourished, satisfied, and feeling like you've done a very good thing for yourself.  Enjoy!