Friday, January 25, 2008

Assessment may be the direction in L2

As an educator, I have always known that you in order to know if what you are teaching is working, you have to assess. At the end of the day, it is basically a matter of proving that you do what you say you do. There is another L2 meme/storm out in the librarian blogs, but I think out of the various responses, that Meredith Farkas may be on to something when she suggests that the "Essence of Library 2.o" has to do with assessment. Go over and read her stuff. She says it a heck of a lot better than I ever could, but she basically must have been reading my mind at one point. The point for me is the idea about our need to know what are the needs of our local users. Sure, there are those big libraries out there doing wonderful things, but more often than not, for a number of reasons, those things don't necessarily apply to our local situations. This is basically common sense. For me, it was something I learned first in Houston, and that I am now considering here in Tyler. Now, what we need is formal assessment to provide evidence. If you ask me about my patrons, I can pretty much tell you what they use and won't use. I know this through a blend of observation, intuition, and instinct. Not exactly very scientific, but it works. The next logical step would be to assess more formally. Anything from a well constructed survey to focus groups to interviews with selected individuals.

To me, a lot of L2 is like high level philosophy. You expose yourself to it a bit, but you then return to the real world. It may be because my interests lie in the more practical. What can I do in my library with the resources I have to meet the needs of the patrons that we serve? That's my guiding question. If I can use an answer to solve a problem, provide better service, or simply enhance the library's presence and role on campus, I am pretty much set. It may not be glamorous, but again, it works. Just a thought.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Some additional notes on the Michigan U. Web Survey.

Here is the brief post that leads to this. The survey is here.

These are mostly some notes of things that caught my eye or just made me think a bit:

  • The survey authors do point out that the survey is not representative of the UM Library's base. This is due to the fact the survey was not evenly promoted across all of their library websites (5). What this tells me is that we are looking at a limited sample. I mean, it will be a limited sample anyways, but this was limited by what did get promoted.
  • "The top activities as ranked by average response (in descending order): email, social networking, IM, reading/using wikis, reading blogs. The bottom five as ranked by average response: create podcasts, write book reviews, edit wiki, write own blog, and social bookmarking" (7). The authors label the first five activities as "web 1.0" tools. I am not quite clear on the label, but they say that the more the activity is 2.0, the less the respondents did it (7). I thought something like social networking (if it is meant as using something like MySpace) was a 2.0 activity. The authors at this point suggest asking about web enabled mobile devices and use of applications like Google Docs. The basis for this is that if they are more used, the library could then move on in that direction, doing things like offering a calendar for events that one could subscribe to. Actually, that sounds like an intriguing idea.
  • On purpose to use the library, "using the Internet had the most 'daily' [used] answers. . . " (9). This is not terribly surprising in my estimation. We pretty much see this in our library on a daily basis. It's using the Internet, and often for non-academic things like checking the MySpace. Now before anyone jumps, I will say that I don't particularly care what the students do online; it's their tuition, so they get to use it as they wish as long as it's not for anything illegal. However, the observation is that a good amount of time is devoted to the social tools like MySpace rather than research or other academic endeavor. Take it with a grain of salt.
  • Question 10 made me pause a bit. They found that "respondents are overwhelmingly self-taught. . ." (12). As much faith as I have in people being able to learn, it did make me pause for a moment. The authors also argue that BI should not be relied on to get people to use the web tools the library offers. I am not ready to scrap BI. I am hoping the authors meant more like BI should not be the only method, to which I would agree. We should be using any means at our disposal to educate our users. I would work on promoting BI more and look at building a broader context for information literacy beyond just basic one-shots. We also need to do more advertising of services we offer. You can have the most user-friendly research portal in the world. It does no good if no one uses it or knows about it. Build the tool and promote it.
  • I found interesting that the authors were careful to make a distinction in questions between asking what users thought the library had and what they have actually used. Vocabulary is always a challenge.
  • I just found this analysis item interesting: "The library website is perceived as being slightly more trustworthy, accurate, reliable, and helpful than web search engines but is not considered as easy to use or as convenient. Difficulty using library resources is a constant theme in the free-text responses at the end of the survey. Also, people feel more strongly about search engines being easy to use and convenient as compared to their strength in feeling of the other four attributes" (16). We are here in the process of redesigning our website. We have conducted two focus groups, and we are in the middle of redesign. This looks like something to keep in mind as we make progress in trying to make the new site user-friendly.
  • "Patrons are more willing to read online than expected but definitely prefer to print electronic journal articles" (17). Actually, that would describe me. I find a lot of articles via online tools, but I do print them out to read them.
  • "Only three respondents selected the option 'Download to a mobile device to read.' We hypothesize that our patrons have yet to embrace this technology and/or that content providers do not make mobile reading easy enough" (17). This tells me that not everyone has a mobile device capable of downloading or displaying that content. The reason this caught my eye is because this is contrary to what many dwellers of Mount Ubertech would have us believe that there is some massive demand for us to provide stuff on mobile devices. That may be the case some day down the road, but it is not today or the day after. Right now, it's pretty much the geeks and early adopters who have those devices. The mainstream is not there yet, which means ROI on this is pretty low, if we are again thinking in business model terms.
  • "Although there is great interest in 'Library 2.0' technologies among librarians, the concepts are still not widely understood by survey respondents--at least, not when librarians use our own terminology to describe them" (19). This also caught my eye. One thing: at times I think librarians are way more enthusiastic about the whole L2 thing than the users actually are. Maybe a finding like this might temper some overzealousness (wishful thinking on my part). But note the statement goes on to say that the lack of understanding can come from our own terms. Something we then need to work on. Then again, just because they know what some 2.0 tech is, it does not follow automatically that they want to use it, or that they want libraries to offer it or have a presence there. Just a thought. In my case, just because I am somewhat aware of 2.0 techs (I would not call myself an expert by any stretch of imagination on any 2.0 thing), it does not mean I go and embrace every thing out there.
  • I liked this idea from one of the verbatim responses at the end of the survey. I think it may be something we could try here in time: "Maybe 'what's new at the library' sessions, for use expert users who maybe aren't up to speed with the niftiest and newest search tools, or a web page showcasing new features and databases" (26).
Anyhow, just this humble librarian's two cents.

Friday, January 18, 2008

So, social networking and libraries may not be such a big deal

If I was posting this over at the unruly cousin's place, who has tags set up (something I need to get around doing here), I would probably label it under "Department of the Obvious." However, since this is not just snark, here goes. To be honest, it is the sort of thing I usually let the Mount Ubertech dwellers deal with, but what the hell. I was not planning on living forever anyways.

The finding from the University of Michigan survey that a majority of students would not respond to a library presence in a social network should not come as a surprise. This is not a new finding; it simply validates what a few brave librarians who don't go "ga ga" over every 2.0 shiny gadget already knew. Heck, I already knew it. Just in case I did not know it from common sense, my own experience in Facebook (see a sample here) would have confirmed it for me.

The people who won't give up will say that there is still about a fourth of users who would respond. Actually, it is 17% that would not respond, and 6% said maybe. That is not quite a fourth. And "maybe" can boil down to a 50-50 chance they may or not respond, which is not exactly a ringing endorsement. The point is that 17% is not exactly great return on the investment (or ROI for those who like to use business jargon). I am not saying we neglect the 17%, but the evidence shows this is not a groundswelling wave of users needing or demanding our presence in places like Facebook. It is not popular to say something like that. The dwellers of Mount Ubertech would be very displeased, and I am sure one or two are already making excuses or saying something along the lines of "just because the number is low. . . ."

However, I am willing to step back a bit. This is only one survey. There are anecdotal accounts in the library sector of the blogosphere claiming some degree of success. Some of those places should conduct surveys of their own and get some actual evidence. Would that new evidence replicate the Michigan finding? I would like to know, but I'll say that, at the moment, the evidence is telling us that social networking is not the hot frontier for libraries it has been made out to be. It's nice, but it's not such a big deal.

By the way, I actually went ahead and read the whole Michigan report, all 33 pages of it. Hey, it actually has a lot of charts, so it can be read quickly. I made some notes for me, which I will post next time as there are other things of interest in the survey. Hey, the thing about social networks is the 20th question on the survey. There are other things worth looking at. I will look at them next time I post.

A hat tip to the Librarian in Black. Some of the comments on her blog are worth a look too.

Article Note: On Undergraduate Perception and Selection of Information Sources

Citation for the article:

Kim, Kyung-Sun and Sei-Ching Joanna Sin. "Perception and Selection of Information Sources by Undergraduate Students: Effects of Avoidant Style, Confidence, and Personal Control in Problem-Solving." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 33.6 (December 2007): 655-665.

Read it via EBSCO's E-journal service.

This article, in brief, did not tell me anything that I did not know already. Even though the authors provide a good number of tables and charts to go along with their survey results, in the end, much of the advice they offer for instruction librarians are things that are known in the literature and in the field. The authors were investigating how undergraduates make decisions about selecting information sources; they did so by considering the impact that an avoidant style, confidence levels, and personal control in problem-solving have in the decision process. The authors take the time to define these concepts and to lay out their methodology, but in the end, the findings are not terribly new. If nothing else, their findings confirm previous studies, some of which the authors include in their literature review.

A couple of examples of the findings:

  • "A particularly noteworthy finding was that Web search engines and Web sites were rated highly in most dimensions except 'accuracy,' 'objectivity' and level of 'organization.' Participants tended to perceive that resources available on the Web were highly accessible and easy to use" (659). This is not ground-breaking. Any IL librarian in an academic setting pretty much knows students see the Web as convenient, accessible, and easy to use.
  • "If information cannot be retrieved 'successfully' in their initial attempts, individuals with low self-efficacy might experience more uncertainty and stress than those with high self-efficacy. This might, in turn, contribute to less efficient searches and also low level of satisfaction with the search process as suggested in previous studies" (662). This gives some idea of how the students view themselves: how confident are they in their skills? Here I think there is something missing from this study, and that is the notion of competency. Melissa Gross's article, which I noted here, discusses this idea of how accurate is the feeling of being competent. In other words, if you are not competent, but you feel that you are, how would you know? Low-skilled individuals, if they have some confidence, often tend to overestimate their actual skill. I right away recalled that article when I was reading this one. By the way, the Gross piece is not cited in this article, which I would have expected. I would guess Gross's work was not readily available when this study was being done (I am giving them the benefit of the doubt).
There are a couple of pieces of advice for instructors, which serve more as reminders:

  • I do this pretty much on a regular basis for instruction sessions, especially if dealing with low-skilled or at-risk students: "Especially for those with little confidence, instructors should underscore that confusions and anxieties are commonly experienced during the research process, and that having difficulties in searching is not necessarily an indication of failure. User training can also support such users by helping them develop and practice effective strategies for query formulation and reformulation (such as the use of synonyms, thesaurus of index terms), and for finding and using alternative sources" (662-663).
  • "To encourage use of high quality sources, especially among the users with a high avoidant style, IL education could help users become aware of the availability and accessibility of high quality sources. For example, IL programs can highlight the fact that some resources that are not physically available could be delivered fairly quickly through document delivery services; and that librarians are easily accessible through a variety of channels (e.g., phone, e-mail, live chat, instant messaging, and in person)" (663). Ok, the first part of this statement I found a little condescending. To help them become aware of the high quality sources? That is a basic part of our jobs. Do we really need to be told that? As for the part about librarians, I will grant we can still work on advertising the various ways in which we are accessible. However, this is something that is pretty much all over the library sector of the blogosphere.
Overall, while this study confirms previous works and a lot of the conventional wisdom, it does not reveal anything new. While the authors claim this is one of the few studies that looks at undergraduates in terms of their perceptions and propensities, the findings seem to repeat knowledge that most experienced librarians already have. At least to me, after reading all about their method and how the study was made, the article fell short.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Article Note: On surveys of faculty attitudes to collaboration

Citation for the article:

Hrycaj, Paul and Michael Russo. "Reflections on Surveys of Faculty Attitudes Toward Collaboration with Librarians." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 33.6 (December 2007): 692-696.

Read via EBSCO's E-journal service.

This short article questions what seems to be the conventional wisdom when it comes to collaboration between librarians and faculty. That wisdom, based on surveys, conveys that many faculty see the collaboration with librarians as desirable or as a good thing. The authors of this article review previous survey studies to find that is not always the case. What the authors found, in essence, is that professors don't always put their money where their mouths are. In other words, they are willing to give lip service to how good the idea of collaborating with librarians to teach information literacy is. However, all that is fine as long as the librarians do it in someone else's classroom (or not at all).

The authors of this article conducted their own survey. They noticed while looking at the results that there was a gap between methods to teach library research used by faculty and what faculty said they would support (692). This led the authors to raise additional questions.

First, the authors dispel the common excuse faculty use that they did not use library instruction because they were not aware library instruction was available. The authors write:

"This explanation, predicated on library ignorance, seems implausible. For instance, Leckie and Fullerton note that efforts were made to inform faculty at the two universities participating in their survey about library instruction services. They say that Table 7 of their study 'demonstrates that a high proportion of faculty never made use of library instructional services, despite the fact that both library systems make efforts to publicize these services'" (693).

I'll go ahead and say it. Very often the faculty do have the information available; they are just choosing to ignore it. And if a campus as a whole pays little attention to the need to promote and teach information literacy as part of the curriculum, the faculty can go on ignoring the library.

Ignoring the issue is certainly safer than simply admitting a lack of interest or an outright opposition to information literacy. It would take an extremely recalcitrant faculty member to actually say he/she opposes information literacy. Given that even accreditation bodies are at least mentioning IL, most faculty will at least be polite enough to feign interest. They can take a passive resistance route of saying they would be interested in information literacy. The authors consider this:

"If respondents to the survey had a negative attitude about collaborating with librarians on instruction but wished to avoid expressing this attitude, while still answering the survey questions truthfully, then exploiting the vagueness of 'interested' would be a good way to do so" (694).

In other words, very often someone saying that they are "interested" is the polite way to ignore you without showing a negative attitude.

The author conclude that the overall optimism of previous surveys is not justified. However, given the pedagogical benefits, they do believe that collaborations should still be pursued. I have to agree, even as I have faced moments when saying that "some faculty need to be educated" is seeing as stirring the hornets (heaven forbid one has something to offer to them was the attitude). It may take IL implementation at the curriculum level (or a major push to avoid accreditation failure) to get better collaboration. In the end, the authors acknowledge that other options are important as well:

"Based on the above considerations, however, the authors also conclude that the efforts of library instruction programs should not be expended solely on faculty/librarian collaboration. Instruction approaches that involve little-to-no-faculty involvement (for example, standalone library instruction credit courses, one-shot library orientation classes, online tutorials, teaching at the reference desk) must still be pursued" (695).

I am a believer in collaboration when possible. Students gain benefit when faculty and librarians, who share a common goal of student success, come together. However, teaching information literacy skills that will enable students to be lifelong learners is too important. If it means then we need to use other methods, then I say let's do it by any means necessary.

Monday, January 14, 2008

As if I did not get enough spam from Facebook

Previously, I wrote about how I was not too convinced with Facebook "Pages." Well, the annoyance is the spam from their many applications, or rather the banal applications that Facebook has let in when they opened their API to any wahoo who can make a zombie application. Fred Stutzman last week posted a post, "Social Network Clutter," that summarizes a lot of what I have been thinking about lately. He is an expert, so he says it a lot better than I do and explains it well also. He is writing about the Newsfeed feature on Facebook. That is when you log in to your account, you get a little news feed telling you what your friends are up to. That sounds nice, except it has become pretty much a spam feed. For one, every time one of your friends adds one of those application toys, it goes on your feed. By the way, you also get e-mails from Facebook when someone does something with an application to get you to log in. These e-mails in essence boil down to spam in your inbox. The e-mail part you have to log-in to Facebook and actually find the place to turn the e-mails off, which I did after some digging. When it comes to opting out, Facebook does not make things easy.

Second, Facebook has started putting ads of their own to the feed as well, which are mixed in with the rest of the feed, making it difficult to read the feed and find anything you might actually be interested in. Not to mention, like for Stutzman, the ads are often irrelevant and out of context. I can understand some advertising. They have to make a living somehow. I can understand that. But when the ads become excessively intrusive and are not even relevant, they become a nuisance. And a nuisance is something you avoid or eliminate.

These days I don't log in to Facebook a whole lot, if at all. When I do, I take a cursory look, and then leave. It's starting to become mostly a spam box, and I can do without that. Personally, I have found that I can reach some people better through my blogging. I am not expecting a large readership by any stretch of the imagination, but I like the idea that the few people who make their way here come with some interest, that the conversations and any relationships that may form will have more meaning than just "my vampire bit you, go bite someone else" or "go to dental school. Find out how." That's on the personal side.

On the professional side, I wanted to believe in using Facebook when a good number of librarians took the plunge and started experimenting with it for outreach. However, at this point, I am thinking the return on investment is very minimal. Sure, a lot of the students are there, but for one, they are not looking for us there anyways. Who is to say that the library may not be a form of spam nuisance to them? Let's just say I have some serious questions which may or not be the ones that certain enthusiastic people want to hear. If it works for some people, more power to them. I am just saying it is not working for me, and I know I am not the only one. In the end, I think Stutzman puts it well, "If Facebook really is in it for the long haul, the Newsfeed should be a space I enjoy, not one I wince at and try to avoid."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Getting the news online

Michael Stephens recently published an "Open Letter to The South Bend Tribune," which is a response to the letter that newspaper sent him when he canceled his print subscription. He provides the paper with some very constructive suggestions. While I am nowhere near as 2.0 or connected as Professor Stephens is, some of the reasons why he canceled are reasons why I don't subscribe to a print newspaper. In my case, I get most of my news online. I supplement by watching a local broadcast in the morning (the fishing report on Friday mornings is a hoot) before I go to work during the week, and then I watch some CNN and MSNBC (Olbermann's Countdown), that is about it. Even when I do watch the news on cable, I often only "half watch" them, since I often have the computer on where I am reading feeds while listening to the news in the background. In many cases, I have found that by the time CNN covers something on TV, I already saw it online someplace (and that someplace is often not You can't compete with the Internet when it comes to getting the most current stuff. Seeing CNN's "Internet Reporter" (or whatever they call it) usually is amusing, since by the time the young lady points out to something, I already pretty much saw it and moved on.

I have experimented here and there with getting the online news. I have a Bloglines account, mostly for blogs. I still use the MyYahoo! portal I've had for a while, and that is where I read the newspapers I do read. These are selection of Texas papers, including the Tyler Morning Telegraph, and national and international ones. My wife likes to read it in print, kind of a ritual thing, but I am gradually converting her to reading it online. In our case, it is not just that the online version is free (well, not really free since we do have to pay for the Internet access to the ISP pirates), but because the delivery of the local paper was dismal. She may be patient, but when you miss morning delivery days on a row, you won't feel very forgiving. This is especially applicable if you work a night shift most of the week, which she does, Sunday is the day you sleep in a bit, and your newspaper is not there. Even I ran for cover when she realized her paper was not there yet again, and she made her way to the phone to give them a piece of her mind. She is not a big internet user, mostly due to time, but I think she is warming up to the looking at the paper online idea.

By the way, the online papers I read I often do base it on whether they make me register or not. There are a few more I would not mind adding, but I am not about to register, and I am not trolling over to BugMeNot everytime I need a password. Hey, get a clue newspapers. Registration is pretty much a nuisance. Get rid of it. In the meantime, I will be happy to read my news elsewhere.

Your adding blogs and rss is great. Definitely keep that up. In some cases, you may want to be a bit more selective in who you add to your blogs. I think this is more applicable to local papers which may have a lower pool of local talent to choose from. Just because they can type does not follow they can write a good blog. Overall, it is clear that print is pretty much headed into the history bin when it comes to newspapers. In my case, I will add that poor service will mean the print will die faster. However, newspapers online can be excellent. I think in local cases, a good blend of reporters and local bloggers can get good local coverage, which is what a local paper should be doing anyways. The national stuff I can get from CNN, or heck, I can even add feeds from Reuters and AP if I want. I don't need the Tyler paper to tell me about the presidential primaries. I need it to tell me what is going on in the town (I am a local librarian; I need to know that stuff). So I expect to get that from my local paper. You get the idea. Anyways, my two cents.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Further reading notes on Kozol's Letters to a young teacher

To see where this started, please see the previous booknote.

When I read books like this, I find myself noting pages or passages that made me nod or stop and think a moment. So, let me make a few reading notes. The first is just something that made me think, and it did remind me of a couple of recalcitrant kids I had back in my time.

  • "None of us should make the error of assuming that a child who is hostile to us at the start, or who retreats into a sullenness and silence or sarcastic disregard for everything that's going on around him in the room does not have the will to learn, and plenty of interesting stuff to teach us too, if we are willing to invest the time and inventiveness to penetrate his seemingly implacable belief that grown-ups do not mean him well and that, if he trusts you, we will probably betray or disappoint him" (67).
Like me, Kozol has no patience for jargon and the self-important consultants and educrats that spout it. The problem with this, unfortunately, is that teachers often have to embrace this pseudolanguage if they want the higher-ups to even listen. Kozol writes:

  • "This kind of jargon, which relies upon the pumping up of any simple notion by tacking on a fancy-sounding prefix or a needless extra syllable, infests the dialogue of public education nowadays like a strange syntactic illness that induces many educators to believe they have to imitate this language if they want to have a place in the discussion" (89).
By the way, that male bovine excrement infestation is very alive in higher education as well. You see various examples of it during accreditation time. Overall, educators learn two languages: "conference" talk or "expert" talk, and normal English (97). Basically, we become fluent as needed. I would speculate that this is a form of code-switching. By the way, a lot of librarianship also suffers from this.

Kozol argues that all teachers should express themselves as witnesses:

  • "So I come back again and again to the need for teachers to speak out as witnesses to what they see each day before their eyes, whether they do this only in the most restrained and quiet ways at schoolwide gatherings or meetings in the districts where they work or in bolder voices at the larger education conferences and in the education journals and the mainstream media. 'Witnessing' is a familiar term among the clergy of progressive and compassionate denominators. As I've said to you before, I think it ought to be the privilege, and obligation, of our teachers" (193-194).
I will add that we librarians ought to be witnessing as well. There are one or two librarian bloggers who fit the bill, but they are few and far between. This is a significant lack in the librarian blogosphere, but I digress. Let me get back to the book.

Kozol also reminds us that education is political. As much as I despise politics, I know that I need to be able to navigate them when the need arises. Kozol writes on this:

  • "There are those in Washington and elsewhere who believe that teachers are already 'too political.' I could not more deeply disagree. I think the problem is exactly the reverse. Teachers, in their large numbers, aren't nearly political enough. (I am also not speaking about teacher unions, which are, and ought to be, political, but about the teacher in and of herself, or himself, as an individual)" (206).
I think the above is very applicable to librarians as well. Sure, the big national professional organization for libraries is very political (and we can look over the good and the very bad some other time). But librarians, as individuals, for the most part, are not political enough. Part of it may be the nature of the profession, but I am digressing again.

Finally, Kozol answers when Francesca asks how does one go on in the face of adversity and an opposition determined to eradicate public education along with any idea of a common good. He writes:

  • "Whenever I tell myself that it just seems too hard or hopeless to continue trying to keep up the battle to defend the values you and I hold dear and to go out in public, when I have to, and debate those very agile and sometimes sadistically effective people from the right-wing think tanks, which is no fun at all, I think of the indomitable courage of so many older women like Bernice, who face not merely trivial and one-time injuries or disappointments or political reversals, but extremes of physical discomfort from untreated illnesses as well as psychological ordeals that most of us can only empathetically imagine" (224).
Talk about putting things in perspective. And this is not always easy. Any good teacher can probably relate to this. Kozol reminds us that we can never give up:

  • "This, Francesca, is the ultimate answer to the question that you posed. I don't believe that any of us has the right to pull back from the battlefield because we are feeling 'weary'"(225).
I think that keeps me going as well when I feel weary. I draw strength from the small victories. And thus we can maintain hope.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Booknote: Jonathan Kozol's Letters to a young teacher

Title: Letters to a Young Teacher.
Author: Jonathan Kozol.
ISBN: 978-0-307-39371-5
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Education

As it happens when I read one of Kozol's books, I had my angry moments. At any rate, I ended up writing a pretty long draft. So, I will post part of it now, and some specific reading notes next time. So, on to the post.

This books should be issued to every student teacher. Veteran teachers may want to read it as well to remind themselves of why they follow their calling. Teaching, especially young children, is certainly a calling. You won't get rich doing it, a lot of people will not recognize you for it (but they will bitch and moan if they see you do anything wrong, even if they themselves have no idea how to do what you do), but if you are good at it, you'll touch many lives in a positive way. So give this book to every new teacher so they never forget the significance of their work. Give this book to every new teacher so they know that they are not alone.

I have been a fan of Kozol's writing for many years now. It is strong and passionate writing that stirs emotions. I know that when I read one of his books I will probably get angry. Sure enough, this book made me angry sometimes. I get angry because I can't understand how politicians and educrats so easily segregate and disregard a large segment of our child population (actually, I think I have a pretty good idea of how they do it, which makes me hate them even more for their lack of ethics, humanity, and compassion). People who claim that you can't fix public schools with money but send their own children to high priced private schools are hypocrites. It's those people that make me angry as an educator. No, I don't care if they send their kids to a private school. It's just their hypocrisy when it comes to other people's children. And I am sure Mr. Kozol has his angry moments as well. That he manages to maintain hope is amazing to me.

When compared to his other works, this book has more of a gentle tone. The book contains letters he is writing to Francesca, a young first year teacher. Kozol offers guidance and advice, but he also looks at the state of education in the nation. He includes stories and anecdotes from his experiences, taking his correspondence with Francesca as an opportunity to reflect on himself as an educator too. I found myself at times thinking about my experience as a teacher, first in public school then in college. This is another reason why the book would be a good gift for new teachers. It will invite reflection.

So, do I recommend it? You bet I do.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

My Reading List for 2007

Well, we are starting a New Year, and it is a good time to look back as we move on to the new year. I did the reading list post last year, so I figured I would follow up again this year. Here is the reading list for 2006. 2007 for me was a year with a lot of upheaval, and as I look at this list, at times I am amazed I got any reading done. I have discovered some new things to read, which is always good. The reading slowed down a bit at the end of 2007 as I caught a pesky cold that persisted into the new year; it dimmed my mood for reading, which means the two books I am currently reading are not done yet. Oh well, they will be the first two entries for 2008 come December. Getting graphic novels may be a bit of a challenge now given bookstore selections in Tyler are fairly limited, and the local public library's selection is simply dismal; a lot of the graphic novels I read I borrowed from Harris County Public, which while not great itself in selection, they certainly made a good effort to have graphic novels. So, I will likely purchase a few more, and see what I can get on Interlibrary Loan.

For me, if it is something I feel I will reread, is one of my favorites (for instance, Alan Moore's graphic novels), or that I can get cheap (usually second hand), I buy it; I rarely buy anything brand new when it comes to books; I don't have the urgency to read bestsellers. It's like video games: why pay $50 now (or about $30 for a hardback) when you can pay $20 or so (or $7 when it comes out in paperback) in a few months?. Stuff to be read once I usually borrow. That space at home is at a premium means I have more of an incentive to be selective on what books I do buy. In fact, we did a major weeding before we moved. I learned there was a lot I could do without, which has shown me I can use my local library more (or rather Interlibrary Loan at work). And that's the short digression.

So, here's to a New Year in Reading.

The 2007 list:

  • Michael Reaves and Steve Perry. Star Wars: Medstar I: Battle Surgeons.
  • Michael Reaves and Steve Perry. Star Wars: Medstar II: Jedi Healer.
  • Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. Catwoman: When in Rome.
  • Geoff Johns. Teen Titans: Beast Boys and Girls.
  • Geoff Johns and James Robinson. Hawkman: Endless Flight.
  • Warren Davis Graham, Jr. Black Belt Librarians: Every Librarian's Real World Guide to a Safer Workplace.
  • Susan E. Cleyle and Louise M. McGillis. Last One Out Turn Off the Lights: Is This the Future of American and Canadian Libraries?
  • Mike Winegardner, The Godfather Returns.


  • Sacha Zimmerman, For America.
  • Damon Linker, The Theocons.
  • Wendy Northcutt, The Darwin Awards 4.


  • Kohta Hirano, Hellsing, Vol. 2.
  • Kohta Hirano, Hellsing, Vol. 3.
  • Various authors, Universal Calvacade of Horror.
  • John Ney Rieber and Chuck Austen, Captain America, Vol. 2: The Extremists. (Marvel Knights)
  • John Scalzi, The Ghost Brigades.
  • Dave Gibbons, Captain America, Vol. 4: Cap Lives. (Marvel Knights)
  • Various authors, Captain America: To Serve and Protect.

April: (this was a really bad month in terms of reading books. It was busy at work; I went to TLA. A bit overwhelming).

  • Dilevko, Juris and Lisa Gottlieb. Reading and the Reference Librarian: The Importance to Library Service of Staff Reading Habits.
  • Ogle, Maureen. Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer.
  • Rooney, Andy. Out of my mind.


  • Elmborg, James K. and Sheril Hook eds. Centers for Learning: Writing Centers and Libraries in Collaboration.
  • Quino. 10 Años con Mafalda.
  • Jeph Loeb, et. al. Superman: Our Worlds at War, Book One.
  • Jeph Loeb, Superman: Our Worlds at War, Book Two.
  • Morrison, Grant. New X-Men, Vol. 2: Imperial.
  • Various authors. The Best of Wolverine, Vol.1.
  • Morales, Robert et. al. Captain America Vol. 5: Homeland.
  • Gostick, Adrian and Chester Elton. The Carrot Principle: How the Best Managers Use Recognition to Engage Their People, Retain Talent, and Accelerate Performance.
  • Taylor, William C. and Polly LaBarre. Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win.
  • Schwartz, Barry. The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less.
  • Ettlinger, Steve. Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes. Mined), and Manipulated into What America Eats.
  • Axelrod, Alan. Patton on Leadership: Strategic Lessons for Corporate Warfare.


  • Busiek, Kurt and Stuart Immonen. Superman: Secret Identity.
  • Morrison, Grant. New X-Men, vol. 6: Planet X.
  • Claremont, Chris and Jim Lee. X-Men Legends Vol. 1: Mutant Genesis.
  • Rucka, Greg. Wonder Woman: Eyes of the Gorgon.
  • Grassian, Esther S. and Joan R. Kaplowitz. Learning to Lead and Manage Information Literacy Instruction.
  • Nelson, Sara. So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading.
  • Rucka, Greg. Wonder Woman: Land of the Dead.
  • Frampton, Otis. Oddly Normal, Volume 1.
  • Hing, Lee Chung and Hui King Sum. Resident Evil Code: Veronica, #1.
  • Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese.
  • Dick, Philip K., A Scanner Darkly (graphic novel adaptation).
  • Resnick, Mike and Martin H. Greenberg, eds. Sherlock Holmes in Orbit.
  • Mitchell, Stacy. Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-retailers and the Fight for America's Independent Business.
  • Craughwell, Thomas J. Saints Behaving Badly: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil Worshippers who Became Saints.
  • Sutton, Robert I. The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't.
  • Williams, Stephen P. How to Be President: What to Do and Where to Go Once You are in Office.


  • Arvind Sharma, A Guide to Hindu Spirituality.
  • Tom Shachtman, Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish.
  • Neal Boortz, Somebody's Gotta Say It.
  • Michael Jan Friedman, The Federation Travel Guide (Star Trek).
  • Mark Winegardner, The Godfather's Revenge.
  • Thomas Harris, Hannibal Rising.


  • Steve Englehart, Captain America and the Falcon: Secret Empire.
  • Richard A. Knaak, Night of Blood (The Minotaur Wars, Book 1).
  • Michael Reaves, Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter (Star Wars).
  • The Dalai Lama, The Wisdom of Forgiveness.
  • Jeph Loeb, Superman/Batman: Absolute Power.
  • Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation.
  • David Kidder, The Intellectual Devotional.
  • James Sturm, The Golem's Mighty Swing.
  • Ed Brubaker, Captain America, Vol. 1: The Winter Soldier.

September: (This was the month I was moving to my new job at UT Tyler. Since it is a state job, as was my job in Houston, I had to do some logistical magic so some of the benefits would transfer. It was a very fast paced transition, so reading fell by the side for a while).

  • Richard A. Knaak, Tides of Blood (The Minotaur Wars, Book 2).


  • Charles M. Schulz, The Complete Peanuts, 1955-1956.
  • Charles M. Schulz, The Complete Peanuts, 1957-1958.
  • Kohta Hirano, Hellsing, Vol. 4
  • P.J. O'Rourke, On The Wealth of Nations.
  • Michael P. Sauers, Blogging and RSS: A Librarian's Guide.
  • Richard A. Knaak, Empire of Blood (The Minotaur Wars, Book 3).
  • Joann Sfar, Vampire Loves.


  • Charles R. Anderson, Reference Librarianship: Notes from the Trenches.
  • Kerry Max Cook, Chasing Justice.
  • Kinky Friedman, Texas Hold 'Em.
  • Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama.
  • Steve Jarding and Dave Saunders, Foxes in the Henhouse.


  • Lou Dobbs, War on the Middle Class.
  • Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis.
  • Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis 2.
  • Kinky Friedman, You Can Lead a Politician to Water, But You Can't Make Him Think.
  • Drew Karpyshyn, Darth Bane: Path of Destruction: A Novel of the Old Republic (Star Wars).
  • Nancy Pearl, More Book Lust.
  • Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed.
  • Stephen Colbert, I Am America (And So Can You).
Some of the stats (for those who may care about that):

  • Number of books read in 2007: 85
  • New books read in 2007: All (I may have reread bits and pieces, but for books, pretty much all new. It was all new last year too).
  • Number of books read in 2006: 106
  • Number of books read in 2005: 73

  • Number read in the worst month of 2007: 1 (September. Considering all the commotion and hectic pace, it's a miracle I read anything).
  • Number read in the best month of 2007: 16 (June. I was surprised by this considering much of the summer was hectic as well).
  • Fiction: 46.
    • I found myself reading a bit more fiction this year. Graphic novels were still a big part of my reading. This is clearly one of my favorite forms of reading, so I will likely continue reading more next year. I am trying out new manga titles as well. For graphic novels, as last year, I noticed some were fiction, and others were memoirs, which I would put in as nonfiction. I also found myself in more of a mood to read fantasy, particularly light/series fantasy. Reading The Minotaur Wars trilogy has gotten me interested in reading more in that genre. I think in part because this type of fiction is light and quick in reading pace. I am still reading scifi, but I am being a bit more selective with it.
  • Nonfiction: 39.
    • This was a bit of everything, as it usually is when it comes to my nonfiction reading. A bit more on politics and current affairs it seems, not sure why other than I was in the mood for it at the time. I did manage to read a few items that were class assignments for some of the classes I offered bibliographic instruction for, and this was an achievement for me. I also found myself reading some books on leadership; it seems I may be developing an interest on the topic. I still managed to read a few books on LIS, though I was not as thrilled with the selections this time around. Part of it is that some of the topics those books covered were old news to me by the time I got to the book (i.e. I often had read and covered the topic via online reading and blogs).
My favorites for this year:

  • Jeph Loeb's graphic novels (this was also a favorite last year. At this point, I will read just about anything this guy writes.).
  • Kohta Hirano's Hellsing series.
  • Alan Axelrod, Patton on Leadership.
  • Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen, Superman: Secret Identity.
  • Robert I. Sutton, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't.
  • Richard Knaak's Minotaur Wars trilogy. (This series just sucked me in. It was a bit like reading about political intrigues, coups, and fantasy all in one. I want to read more of his stuff, but a bit worried it may not be as good since series fiction, be it DragonLance or Star Wars, can be hit or miss.).
  • Drew Karpyshyn, Darth Bane: Path of Destruction: A Novel of the Old Republic (Star Wars) (This is a book where you just have to root for the bad guy.).