Hello, Desk Set! I’m used to being behind the scenes for this blog, scurrying around and finding bloggers, but this month I’m going to be in front of the camera, so to speak, as your June guest blogger. My name is Kerry Roeder and, aside from a brief stint as a gymnastics coach for children, I have been working in libraries since I was 16. Having worked in public and academic library settings, I have spent the past 6 years working in NYC independent schools. While I did not set out to become a school librarian, I found myself employed at an amazing K-12 school while I was attending graduate school and it was there that my colleagues introduced me to the world of school librarianship.
I am now fortunate enough to be the librarian at Professional Children’s School, a middle and high school, where I find myself with an exceptionally supportive administration. What I would like to do over the next few weeks during our time together is share about the courses that I teach, which I think are somewhat unique and a lot of fun for me. In fact, two of them are going to be introduced for the first time in the fall.
One of the things that drew me to my current position was that Library Skills and Research Skills were essential parts of the middle school curriculum. Unlike many schools where library classes stop at the end of elementary school (if they’ve had them at all), I have the opportunity to see all my students in the middle school twice a week.
In the 6th grade, we have Library Skills, which is a combination of literature appreciation and beginning research skills. The year begins with the Global Read Aloud project, where we read the same book over a six week period with the 300 other schools, connecting through various forms of technology. We then learn about sources, bibliographies, the catalog, etc. There is also time throughout the year dedicated to digital citizenship curriculum, creating and sharing book talks, and other library related activities.
The 7th and 8th grade classes are scaffolded and tied in directly to their academic coursework, which is both fun and challenging. In addition to the basics (and as much literature as I can squeeze in), I work with the social studies and science teachers as they assign a research paper to students. We spend a quarter going step by step through the research process as each piece is due. Instead of learning outlining, note taking, and thesis statements in isolation, I get to teach it to them as they need it, making it much more beneficial in the long run. As a librarian, it’s really exciting for me to be able to teach these concepts for longer than the one or two days a teacher might choose to bring his class down for library instruction.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing about my new (entirely online!) Research and Information Literacy class for high school and my Art of Reading class for the 6th and 7th grade. For now, I’ll just leave this here…
I hope these last few posts of mine have established two things:
1. I work in a rare book store
2. It’s pretty, pretty cool here
On top of cataloging and handling books, designing sales catalogues and interacting with book enthusiasts, I also have been moonlighting in the Ursus Prints department selling decorative prints and framing works on paper.
Now let me just state for the record that I had no previous experience with framing, other than buying a cheap frame from Michael’s and making it look nice. But now I coordinate the framing of amazing works of art whether it be for private clients or framing pieces for the Rare Book Department to display in-house or at the Antiquarian Book Fairs we’ve been known to frequent.
My latest and greatest framing fete was figuring out how to effectively display (and transport) three life-size anatomical prints for the New York Bookfair in April. Framing something this large and delicate is nerve-wracking… did I mention they were life-size, and by life size I mean approximately 6 feet tall? Seriously, it was a doozie and still gives me a little anxiety, but in the end it all worked out and everyone lived happily ever after.
Just another day in the life of a bookseller!
These eighteenth-century anatomical engravings were based on the celebrated wood écorchés models by Ercole Lelli which are still on display at the medical school of the University of Bologna. Each piece is printed from either four or five joined sheets and then mounted on rice paper. They were printed in Bologna between 1780 – 81 from copper engravings made by Antonio Cattani after Lelli’s models.
Drawn by Ercole Lelli (1702-1766), one of the most famous anatomical preparators and wax modelers of the time, these were printed for the specific use of artists and physicians. Because of the limited supply of cadavers during this period, wax models of human figures were used as a supplement for teaching purposes. For your enjoyment, please find images of these bad boys below:
Hellooooooo Desk Setters! My name is Sarah Simms and I am honored to be your guest blogger for the month of May. A quick introduction to yours truly: I am a trained librarian currently practicing as an antiquarian book seller. When I moved up to NYC for library school, I was very lucky to start an internship at a rare book dealer. Six years later I am now a full-time rare book cataloger and enthusiast.
I am part of a small, dedicated team at Ursus Books which specializes in rare illustrated tomes. This includes travel, natural history, Americana, architecture, Continental books from the 15th – 19th centuries and modern livre d’artistes. It is also one of the few places left in the city that you can actually come in off the street and browse our rare collection – a real, live rare bookstore!
Where the magic happens.
I had grand visions that this job would entail traveling across the world hunting for rare and mysterious books lurking in forgotten trunks, hidden in basements… think Johnny Depp in The Ninth Gate. I’m not even kidding you! I seriously considered stocking my closet full of tweed ensembles in preparation for dark alley meetings with nefarious persons who had a habit of collecting evil books. As you can imagine, there is nothing farther from the truth regarding the antiquarian book trade (although there is a copious amount of tweed).
The reality is actually much more fun and satisfying. The truth is that every single day I get to handle the most unbelievable books – works of art really. Books that I never thought, in my wildest imagination (which from my very embarrassing tell-all above can be pretty wild) I would get to see, let alone have an afternoon collating and cataloging. I thought this post could be dedicated to the primo example of what I’m talking about…
I have had not one, but TWO first edition copies of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili in my hands! For those of you who are not rare book enthusiasts, this is the only illustrated book produced by Aldus Manutius, famed book printer of the fifteenth century. The Hypnerotomachia is, in essence, the journey of Poliphilo through his dreamscape that is saturated in the world of Antiquity and courtly Romance. The woodcuts throughout the text illustrate gardens, graveyards, architecture, temples and theaters. The line cuts meld perfectly with the text and the book is considered a landmark in graphic design and is also the first to use indentation for new paragraphs.
The book is anonymous, but some scholars attribute it to Francesco Colonna based on an acrostic reading of the elaborate chapter initials which in original Italian read POLIAM FRATER FRANCISVS COLVMNA PERAMAVIT (“Friar Francesco Colonna has dearly love Polia”). Other scholars attribute this work to Leon Battista Alberti, Lorenzo de Medici and even another Francesco Colonna who was once a Roman Governor. The artist who designed the woodcuts remains unidentified.
Needless to say this is the definition of a rare book. Incredibly, one of the two that passed through our doors was hand-colored in a seventeenth century hand! Here are some images of each – ENJOY!
Woodcut of festival from colored copy
Woodcut of festival from uncolored copy
Colored double-page spread - notice the indentations!
Double page spread from uncolored copy - the text layout is GORGEOUS!
Like a lot of librarians, I came to librarianship as a second career. Actually, it was more like a first career but umpteenth job-kind-of-thing-I-did-to-make-money. Suddenly, I found myself marketing financial newsletters by day and reading about MODS, MARC, XML and a million other acronyms after library school classes at night. I’d often fall asleep on my couch with a bowl of Cheerios for dinner, too tired to cook. Sometimes in lieu of studying I’d watch reruns of Ally McBeal and wonder, “How did I get here?” Or, “What does this degree really mean to me?”
A few months ago, I was at Housing Works Bookstore for an instance of Ask Roulette, “an unscripted conversation in which participants ask and answer questions of each other in front of a live audience.” I was called up to answer the question from Julieanne Smolinski, “If you were the subject of a Ken Burns documentary, what would the third disc be called and why?” My answer: “Why not to go to grad school… Twice.”
As usual, I was being a bit facetious, but if I were to be critical of my two graduate degrees, I would argue that my first (art history) was plenty intellectually engaging and inspired critical thinking, but was not in any way practical. Hence, the financial newsletter marketing post-degree. My second master’s, an MSLIS, focused on the very real and practical concerns of metadata creation, accessibility, collection development, reference, and instruction. In other words, it felt primarily like a vocational degree. However, I found myself wondering if we were thinking about the subtle ways in which our reference and instruction, our metadata creation, and even our scholarship (often despite our best efforts) help reinforce mainstream narratives, often ignoring counter-narratives. This is an issue that came up for me again, a few years later, when working with the Occupy Wall Street Archives Working Group to archive the digital and physical content produced by activists and occupiers during the Occupy movement. Having to answer activists’ questions about the (assumed) neutrality of archives and archivists, as well as the role of public and private institutions in providing access to archival materials sent me to the writings of critical archivists like Verne Harris, Joan M. Schwartz, and Terry Cook, and excellent publications like Archivaria. In this process, I found myself dredging up some of the critiques I had about my education as a librarian. And so I posed this question to my fellow tumblarians last week:
Archivists like Verne Harris have argued that the field of archival science is haunted by the specter of 19th century Positivism, or the belief that archives and information science represent some ‘truth.’ Similarly, Félix Guattari has argued that the social sciences are plagued by an ‘outmoded ideal of scientificity.’
So, here’s my question: do you feel like concepts like ‘neutrality’ and ‘objectivity’ were dealt with critically in library school? Do you think, in our training, we are taught to think critically about our vocation, about our role in not only recording but also shaping culture?
what learning an mlis is really like (source: http://libraryschoolcrazy.tumblr.com/post/48827636997/what-earning-an-mlis-is-really-like)
The answers — from public librarians, academic librarians, and library students alike — ran the gamut. Some folks felt that these issues were dealt with in their programs. The majority, however, argued that critical pedagogy is woefully absent from most library science programs, that we are taught how to provide access to information to patrons, but not what it means to do so (other than “helping people is what we do, it’s good!”). One commenter noted that critical theory was markedly absent from library science coursework.
My own experience of library school was, of course, mixed. I had some amazing professors who assigned us Guattari and forced us to think critically about the politics of preserving and providing access to information. I also took some courses in which I wanted to throw the text book against the wall on numerous occasions. I often found myself wondering, is this a degree with an identity crisis? Is it vocational or academic? Or both? Can it be both? Obviously there’s plenty of technical stuff to learn in library school: we need to understand how metadata operates, we need to know how to catalog, and so on. Besides, we’re not training to be PhDs in cultural theory. However, in focusing on the nuts and bolts, are we missing the bigger picture? Are we not considering the implications of these very nuts and bolts and the ways in which they are shaped by a particular (Western capitalist) culture? In creating ontologies, for example, are we not thinking about how this actually shapes the way people find things, creating a sense of objective reality? In other words, do we perpetuate a Positivist view of the world that assumes the universe is governed by natural laws, therefore implying an objective reality that is “knowable”?
Of course, if you go searching, the aspiring librarian can relatively easily find forums for discussion about critical pedagogy and alternative access models in the fields of library, information and archival science — in publications, in websites and social forums, in conference presentations, and in the blogosphere. But, does this type of inquiry need to be formalized in our education? Are we doing it wrong by avoiding these more critical, academic questions in favor of practical concerns?
Personally, I would answer “yes.” I came into librarianship because I think access to information is critical, but that we need to be critical of the information provided us. Now, I’m not suggesting we ditch the vocational aspect of the degree. Nor do I think this is the only update to the MLIS that is necessary (marketing ourselves, anyone?). But I do think these issues get at the heart of what we do and, in my experience, we need to be able to think critically about them in order to address questions that inevitably come up in the real world. In library school, I often felt pretty alone in wanting to ask these kinds of questions, wanting a community I eventually had to seek elsewhere. And I’m guessing I’m not the only one. It’s awful lonely in the back of the classroom, can we talk about this?
When I think about big ideas, about the kind of ideas that feel not only important but somehow beautiful just in their existence, I often come back to the ghost of Bas Jan Ader. Ader’s entire oeuvre embodies a kind of searching, a haunting Romantic conceptualism, but it is his final project, “In Search of the Miraculous” that comes to mind in these moments. It was a performance, one that involved an attempt at a single-handed east-west crossing of the Atlantic, and one that ended in disappearance at sea. We go in search of the miraculous and perhaps we don’t come back.
Back in December of 2010, around the time I was doing the post-day-job night shift in library school and became convinced that I was seeing a ghost on the swing sets of McGolrick Park in Greenpoint, I read an article by Robert Darnton, University Librarian and Professor at Harvard, called The Library: Three Jeremiads in the New York Review of Books. I was writing about the impending closure of the Warburg Institute’s library in London for one of my classes and thinking a lot about romantic conceptions of the library-as-place. The Warburg itself seemed haunted by the memory of Aby Warburg, his tragic personal history of repeated institutionalization and his characteristically romantic writings on memory, history and art. In the wake of this controversy around a relatively small special library, academics were publicly lamenting the plight of libraries everywhere, as non-STEM education budgets were being slashed across the country (and the globe). There was almost this sense of the library as a dying breed, libraries (like physical, living bodies) were “becoming extinct.” Of course, this is an old argument and we can follow this fraying thread forward to the ongoing controversy surrounding the New York Public Library’s research materials. But what thrilled me about Darnton’s proposal was that, yes, it was utopian but it wasn’t entirely nostalgic. Darnton was not waxing poetic about dusty tomes and card catalogs, he was proposing a public library enterprise of a Google-ian scale. He argued that we cannot rely on Google to digitize and preserve content free-of-charge to the general public because, as a corporation, Google’s primary responsibility is to its share-holders (and besides there was that whole drama with the Author’s Guild). Instead, he claimed, we needed to create a massive public digital library. And so the Digital Public Library of America, which launches today, was born. At the time I remember thinking that the dream of an online public library seemed: a.) impossible, b.) romantic, and c.) politically radical.
The Digital Public Library of American (DPLA) relies on open access to cultural heritage information — images, text, video, etc. — online. I’ve written elsewhere about the challenges that face open access in fields outside of the hard sciences. These are very real problems, including copyright restrictions on primary source material as well as a very different culture and economic model within academic publishing outside of the sciences. (Most humanities research is self- and not government-funded, which makes the incentive to make things openly accessible much smaller.) To ignore these problems is to simplify the issue but despite these restrictions, I think Gary Hall‘s assertion that open access should be politico-ethical issue for scholars (and librarians!) outside of the sciences is important to take into consideration. I particularly like his description of the state of discourse around media as one that is plagued by a “dialectical ghost.” Hall argues that most scholars on new media and open access tend to fall into two camps: technophiles or technophobes. While we should be cautious of web utopianism, there is no doubt that the internet has changed and continues to change the way we think, interact, live. So, yes, I think it is a politically radical idea to challenge Google’s hegemony on internet searching, on access to cultural information. Yes, I think it is radical to propose large-scale public-funded projects and follow through with them. And, yes, I think it touches upon something missing from a lot of social policy in this country, namely a belief in public education, a belief that everyone has the right to access resources. As the digital divide diminishes, this battle will continue to be fought online.
And yet I realize that both this project and my reading of it are still haunted by some romantic ideals of the Library. I buoy my arguments up with politics and new media discourse, and yet I still imagine a vast space of information, the ghost of Alexandria, perhaps? Darnton even admits to an Enlightenment utopianism in this project, an ideal of a data-driven library of Alexandria, a vast network of hubs that might enlighten us all. Furthermore, in this past year, with the tragic death of Aaron Swartz we have survived the open access movement’s first martyr, at least in the media’s eyes. With suicide, martyrdom, and with martyrdom, mythology. And, so, I find myself back with Bas Jan Ader; with these big ideas that are still never too big to fail, that still perhaps come with a price. And, yet, there’s hope, right? We can hope that the library is not yet a ghost, that the open access movement and projects like the Digital Public Library of America represent some shifting future for the library. Whether it succeeds or not, the idea of the DPLA is both beautiful and important. And that’s a start.
Last week, I found myself in sunny Providence, Rhode Island for the Visual Resources Assocation’s (VRA) annual conference. Keynote speaker, art historian James Elkins (who is, by the way, kind of a babe) gave a talk on the future of visual literacy in the academy. At the beginning of his presentation, he asked the following question:
“Can we teach visual literacy to undergrads in a year?”
This query was in fact the framework for two broader philosophical questions that I think are particularly interesting to pose to librarians, mired as we often are in text-based resources:
“Are we really the most visual culture ever? And, if so, why are we not teaching our students how to read images?” The first is a common (if perhaps ahistorical) question in media studies and visual literacy studies. In asking this, Elkins was drawing upon assumptions made in fields like art history, communications, and visual studies about scopic regimes and visual culture, following the work of Martin Jay, Susan Sontag, and Jean Baudrillard, among others. He went on to address the different languages within visual culture – for example, “medical semiotics” – and the ways in which visual images are read outside of the humanities. (Because, he argues, it is actually outside of the humanities that images are used most widely in teaching and research.)
Elkins’ talk was followed the next day by a discussion of visual literacy in instruction. Nicole Brown, an interdisciplinary librarian at NYU, talked about using digital images in library instruction. She touched on a lot of literature coming out of the field on psychology about “the picture superiority effect,” a phrase I really wish I had coined. Basically, there is an entire body of literature in psychology, media studies, and advertising that argues that images are better memory aids than words. And yet, Visual Resources departments still find themselves cloistered in fields like art history and visual culture. And yet, so few librarians are aware of image copyright issues. And yet, we think so little about how to “read” images (if the textual metaphor is even a fair one) outside of art history.
I started thinking about a conversation that has been coming up a lot for me, recently, about the relationship between media literacy and visual literacy. I started thinking about why I am having so much fun exploring Tumblr and how it relates to my visual bias as a former/amateur art historian. I can get just as much information about feminism, libraries, and art from my Twitter feed, but I tend to log more hours fiddling around on Tumblr (you can find me here!). And I honestly think it’s the pictures, the gifs, the pleasing sensation of scrolling through poetry as well as long- and short-form text alongside lovely comics my friends produce, cabin porn, and Maddie on Things. It feels almost somatic — tactile and visual all at once. Plus, there are thriving artistic, feminist, and even librarian (“tumblarian“) communities on Tumblr. So, librarians, if we’re so active on this medium, are we thinking about visual culture? Are we teaching our patrons about critical thinking and visual literacy? Is our love for infographics and online communities translating into our research and instruction? I think we could learn from topics covered by folks like James Elkins and Tom Mitchell and the emerging field of visual culture. I think we should start thinking about images not just as a stand-in for text, but as a means of communication. I think we should think and talk incessantly about the (slippery) distinction between visual literacy and media literacy.
As all this stuff was rattling around in my brain, I went to a panel discussion on the future of online feminism. I found myself thinking back to a feminist reading group I attend, called the New York Times Feminist Reading Group. During the conversation, which included primarily academics of a generation or two above me, I found myself evangelizing on behalf of online feminism as the space in which a new generation is tackling feminist issues. Again, the question came up: are all these Tumblrers approaching visual culture critically from a feminist standpoint? Is it problematic to follow both Feministing and the Sartorialist; are those of us who do (I follow all kinds of fashion blogs) thinking critically about the relationship between visual culture and the male gaze? How do we handle all this stuff IRL? Can we teach undergrads, youth, patrons of all kinds how to be visually literate? And is social media the place to do it?
A few weeks ago, in the depths of winter, I was on the F train with my friend Ian, a former literary agent who is writing a book on emo-core and who has the best cat in the world, appropriately named Jarvis. We found ourselves lamenting the cocktail-party-banter-turned-Tumblr-tagline issue: what, in fact, do we do? For me, it always seems to fall into some space in between.
When I was a kid, I thought I’d have the kind of career I’d be able to reduce to a handy sound bite to complement my martini-drenched olive that I’d be casually twisting on a swizzle stick. Two graduate degrees later, it has devolved to more of a glazed look as I awkwardly tinkle the ice in my bourbon and pretend that no one asked me a question.
I ended up in library school after working in customer service and magazine publishing post-art history MA. My decision to apply was really a combination of wanting to be like Giles and listening to a friend of a friend talk about how much she loved her work as a children’s librarian during a lively dinner party one late spring evening. Up until that point, I’d never really thought about librarianship, although I’d always loved writing and the idea of books-as-objects.
A few twists and turns of fate later, I now sell software-as-a-service for an educational non-profit. This is, of course, a glib understatement of what I actually do. I work for ARTstor and I talk to academic librarians all day about how they manage multimedia on their campuses. I manage trials of Shared Shelf (a multimedia asset management and cataloging software), I do online trainings, I design webinars, and I process subscriptions, among many other things. At professional conferences, I often find myself inhabiting the strange space between librarian and vendor. I’ve spoken on behalf of ARTstor and also on my own research. And often there are topics that fall somewhere in between.
I started working for ARTstor during my first semester of library school. I love my job (they let me do stuff like this!), I am deeply proud of a lot of the work we do and it’s great to be part of a forward-thinking organization. Furthermore, through the network of librarians I now work with, I got involved with ARLiS NA (I am soon-to-be the coordinator from the Women and Art Special Interest Group). I started writing about the politics of open access in the field of art history for a few professional publications. I got involved with the Occupy Wall Street Archives Working Group and subsequently wrote about our experiences archiving work produced by activists. I started a feminist Tumblr that I somewhat facetiously call “a community built archive of true conversations between women.” In some ways, my work enables me to do other work.
But still the question haunts me: am I a librarian? Is a librarian a profession, a degree, a mindset? I believe passionately in access to education. I care deeply about art education. I have a vague understanding of image metadata and intellectual property issues. But, am I a librarian or simply someone who writes about libraries and archives? Is there necessarily a difference? If I think of librarianship as a means of enabling access to information, is that not something I do, albeit via some alternate avenues? I realize that these are perhaps obvious questions. Nonetheless, they come up again and again for me, at cocktail parties and in moments of both self-assurance and self-doubt. And, I imagine I’m not the only one, in our field and beyond.
In fact, it seems to be a generational condition. As more and more work is relegated to the unpaid and underpaid — internships, unpaid freelance, fellowships, supposedly paid freelance — young folks find ourselves doing so much “work” outside of our day jobs. For example, my friend, Ian, deals with copyright issues by day and writes about music at night and on his lunch breaks. Another friend, Kate, is a social worker/writer-about-love. I know a number of independent curators and freelance designers. I often think that what I do falls somewhere between writing, librarianship, and oversharing on the Internet.
Within the field of librarianship, “thinking outside the box” or shirking traditional models of employment has become somewhat of a buzz topic of late. For example, a coworker and friend (another Ian!), formerly a librarian at the Yale Center for British Art, is on a panel at ARLiS entitled “How Non-Traditional Paths Can Serve Your Career and Society.” I love that his talk is called “Not Not a Librarian.” Other speakers will explore (forced?) interdisciplinarity and careers in publishing. I must admit to being more than a bit skeptical of this topic. It seems a somewhat dubious product of our capitalist age to require a $30k graduate degree to be then told to “think outside the box.” Where did all the traditional library jobs go? Is it problematic that we are sometimes forced into jobs we never thought we’d do, after dropping all that cash? And, honestly, do we really need an MLIS to learn to “think outside the box”? Nonetheless, there are so many of us coming out of library school nowadays that traditional roles are simply not always an option, nor necessarily desirable. And, this latter point is key: I think the future of librarianship perhaps exists in these as-yet-unexplored liminal spaces.
…And yet I often find myself describing my organization as one peopled by “art historians and librarians.” Which, again, begs the question: is librarian an ethos or a job? And while I’ve never been much of a joiner, am I really that reluctant? The more I write, the less I think so.
Murray Fisher, Arne Duncan, Mike Mulgrew & Dennis Walcott aboard Water Taxi
Being the librarian at Harbor School means that I get to wear a lot of hats. This month, as I mentioned before, we hosted the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and then had surprise guest visitor President Bill Clinton at our Annual Benefit! I was the resident (amateur) photographer.
The tour Arne Duncan got was a whirlwind review of all of our Career and Technical (CTE) Programs of Study, so I thought I might invite you, Desk Set readers, along for that tour, to give you a sense of what CTE means at Harbor School, and what it might someday mean for CTE programs across the country. Hands-on, experiential learning that aims to solve real world problems, like pollution of our city’s marine habitat, gets public school students college and career ready. Environmental Stewardship is a big part of our mission.
I’ll give you the Arne Duncan short tour just as he experienced Harbor School for the first time.
Vessel Operations: Students learn to drive boats and work towards a captain’s licence. All Harbor School students finish 10th grade with a Safe Boating License, but students in the Vessel Ops program have the opportunity to get sea time working on our school vessel, the Indy 7, a retired Navy launch, that they say is like “driving a bathtub” in New York Harbor. According to the expert captains, if you can drive Indy, you can drive anything. It is great for increasing boat handling skills. (I occasionally have the opportunity to drive her myself, but often opt to hand over the helm to someone who actually needs the sea time. Looking forward to getting my captain’s license as part of this job!)
Here, students crewed Indy from the South Street Seaport to Pier 101 on Governors Island as Secretary Duncan rode the (much speedier) NY Water Taxi.
Crewing The Indy 7
Once we’d arrived at Pier 101, we got the chance to see the CTE program Marine Biology Research in action. Students in this program of study undertake a 3-year research project (beginning in 10th grade) and work in conjunction with their teacher to both carry out meaningful research related to the marine world and earn college credit, a major boon for our student population. Here students are working on a program testing the efficacy of ECOncrete, which is designed (by one of our research partners) to increase the relief of the underwater ecosystem both in its own geography and in its special makeup, which is designed to build habitat for sea creatures like barnacles, mussels, oysters, etc. As we saw with Hurricane Sandy, the need for underwater infrastructure is more important than ever with increasing frequency of major weather events that jeopardize New York City waterfront cities. The ECOncrete research project is one of these projects.
Dante Explains Billion Oysters NYC to Secretary Duncan
Reintroducing the native oyster population to NY Harbor is one of Harbor School’s main objectives. Our aquaculture class is working to reintroduce New York’s oyster population to New York Harbor – not to eat, but to filter pollution from the brackish waters that surround our urban landscape. As a waterfront city, New York owes its history to the waterways and has much to gain from restoring this keystone species – both as a means of helping with wave cessation by increasing the surface area of the bed of the estuary and (as oysters filter 50 gallons of water a day) by reducing nitrogen, detritus, bacteria, algae and other harmful toxins. Clearly, these oysters are not for consumption! They are providing a much needed public service to the people of New York City, both in the classroom and in the Harbor!
Marquia Demonstrates the Magic of Ocean Engineering
In Ocean Engineering, students learn to build ROVs or Remotely Operated Vehicles that can both help (with underwater cameras) to monitor the oyster reefs we have around the city and help build students’ engineering and programming skills.
Group Shot After an Enthusiastic Safety Demonstration
Scuba students work from PADI Open Water Scuba diving certification towards Advanced Open Water and then to Rescue Diver and Scientific Diver Certifications. When Secretary Duncan came to visit, the students demonstrated a CPR safety drill all students must take in Scuba class.
Last year, I wrote and received the New Yorkers Read grant (thanks, Macy’s!) for a nonfiction collection to augment the paltry $6.25/student budget we receive for library books. The nonfiction collection included about 120 books, including Secrets girls keep : what girls hide (& why) and how to break the stress of silence, Action Philosophers!, How They Croaked, and other high interest titles that get young people interested in reading about real issues and important questions. We also got to pick two books for nonfiction book clubs. Harbor School library received a book club sized collection (10) of Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens and Moby Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them.
New Yorkers Read
The first nonfiction text was Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens. We had a small group (of 2-5 students) come each week off the 7:30 boat (plus one amazing teacher) for a few weeks this fall until Hurricane Sandy closed city schools for a week and displaced our school for an additional week. At any rate, in the third meeting, a freshman student pointed out that students in schools with a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) experience less harassment and hear fewer homophobic remarks. Further students in schools with a GSA are more likely to report harassment than they are in schools without a GSA. There was only one option: start a GSA.
Our Book Club turned into a GSA!
Hence, our Thursday morning nonfiction book club became GSA. Our tiny but dedicated crowd noticed that it is hard to get students up for the 7:30 boat, even if you stop by Dunkin’ Donuts on the way, so we decided to host an after school “film” screening. (Glee – Born this Way – what are you going to do?) A PTA volunteer made the trek over to the school to support us by popping popcorn in the PTA-sized industrial popcorn machine for 24 Harbor community members, half teachers and half students. (Sadly, our second screening got cancelled due to high winds and island evacuation on an early boat. Never have I seen such long faces at an early dismissal.)
The next After School Activity is scheduled for after Spring Break. We are going to watch and discuss choice videos from the “It Gets Better” project. We have purchased Safe Space stickers and we are gearing up to do a training for staff on what it means to create a safe space with the help of online tools from GLSEN and The Center. We meet Thursdays and post signs about our events all over the building. Students drop by (sometimes just for the snacks) but are usually on board by the time they leave. Teachers are involved in a meaningful way, too. I wish there had been a GSA in my high school. But perhaps even more importantly, I wish there had been a GSA at my first teaching job. Hate language hasn’t stopped. Kids still use the word “fag” and “gay” plenty. But there is a much stronger platform for stopping that language, and, generally speaking, students are remorseful (or at least respectful) when they are called out on their choice of words. I’ve worked in public education since 1998 and the times are finally changing.
The gender divide at Harbor School is huge. We have 62% male population. Hence, it happens often enough that there is a single gender group gathered. But it almost never happens for girls. So, for our other nonfiction book club, I abandoned the book I had originally purchased with the Macy’s grant, and started a freshmen girls nonfiction book club with the book Deal With It: A Whole New Approach to your Body, Brain, and Life.
Freshmen Girls Book Club
If you leaf through this book, you might notice that it goes beyond a school book club’s comfort level with regard to sex, but I’d rather they know the book is there (and be able to ask for more resources or other sources of information) than use a dumbed down version of what it means grow up as a girl in this confusing world. They understood completely when I explained that there would be parts I wouldn’t be able to discuss. The freshmen girls asked for Nutella and Strawberries! (A request I can get behind!) So far, our discussions have focussed on relationships, body image, family constellations, and food. It’s a work in progress. They asked for senior advisors in the club, which meets during freshmen lunch on Fridays. Many of our seniors are available at that time since they don’t have CTE classes on Fridays. So, we have a sweet group of freshmen and seniors, talking and listening to one another’s stories and eating Nutella and strawberries.
Lest I start a student group with each new nonfiction book club, the next and final nonfiction book club of the year will target an already existing student group in the school: Harbor Seals or the AP Environmental Science Class for Moby Duck.
Ask Elizabeth : real answers to everything you secretly wanted to ask about love, friends, your body–and life in general
I am Cate Hagarty, Urban Assembly New York Harbor School Librarian and Media Specialist. This week, I am much more Media Specialist than book pusher. Harbor School Librarian might be the best job in NYC. (The commute doesn’t hurt.)
First Day of School Picture
Harbor School, located on Governors Island, is a CTE (Career and Technical Education) School. At the end of 9th grade, students choose between 6 Career and Technical Education Programs of Study: Aquaculture, Marine Biology Research, Marine Systems Technology, Ocean Engineering, Professional Diving, and Vessel Operations.
Today, when I came in, I realized that the aquaculture student who had stopped by yesterday to fill my aquaponics system tank with water had probably left running for the 5:00 ferry. She neglected to finish the job. So, the pump was unplugged and the poor platys, sword tails, and tetras were gasping for oxygen. Hence, my first job of the day was more resuscitation than circulation.
What is the job of a High School Librarian? Books or Tech? Collaboration and Co-planning or Resources Management? Is there enough time in the day to balance all of these? A common conundrum for any high school librarian. Our work should respond to the needs of the community we serve. Therefore, the “Media Specialist” part of my title often takes the front seat.
Last week, we hostedSecretary of Education Arne Duncan, as CTE (Career and Technical Education) Programs – college AND career readiness – are in the spotlight. Library Media Specialist became the resident photographer. Pics on each program coming in the next post.
Just how tech-heavy is a day at Harbor School Library? Today, before 8:15 AM, I prepped a camera for the freshmen field class as they head to DUMBO waterfront (charging batteries, clearing SD drives, etc.), fielded phone calls from two staff members who missed the ferry (as our land line has been out since Hurricane Sandy and there is no “main office” phone number), and sifted through archived photos to create a video slide show of our best moments of 2012-2013 for Thursday night’s Annual Benefit in the Model Room at The New York Yacht Club. (The Yacht Club is a fascinating maritime library itself, full of model yachts, historic charts, nautical architecture and other naval treasures.) Later, students came to the library to tape the audio component of a World History project on World War II. At lunch, a student came by to create the video component of an application to participate in a TED Talk about NYC High School Students. After school, as Yearbook sponsor, I worked with the student yearbook staff to design yearbook pages. (For those of you closer to my age, yearbook is no longer a cut-and-paste endeavor. Jostens has created a user-friendly, more elementary version of InDesign.) Indeed, our books are important, but it is hardly the sole focal point of a school library anymore.
If you want an overview of the school, check out this short YouTube video, which is about 18 months old, but will give you a good idea about what we do (and how easy it is as a librarian to get involved in every possible aspect of the school).
This one is longer, but more in depth. Again, it is outdated, having been produced as we moved to Governors Island 2.5 years ago.