Just about two weeks ago, I started my elementary practicum, the final big requirement for my graduate program.  Closing in on my MLS goal of hitting every possible library media center demographic, this site is a small urban public elementary school.  My very esteemed supervisor is absolutely great to work with, and the school is very unique from any experience I’ve had.  So far, this school has introduced me to loads of cool concepts and instructional approaches, and has really inspired my creativity when it comes to ideas for my future library.  And it’s within walking distance, which, to me, makes it the complete package.

Throughout my first week, I was just the slightest bit distracted from my library experience because of the plans I’d made for the weekend.  Plans that were three months in the making.  Plans that became my graduation present to myself.  Plans that took me into uncharted territory in foreign lands.  These plans… they were big.

That weekend, my little sister and I went to Toronto to see the band that got me through my formative years, Our Lady Peace, play my favorite album of theirs in entirety (Spiritual Machines, in case you were wondering), as well as a complete second set of other songs.  I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve seen this band numerous times in the past.  This show, however, might just have been my favorite.

For starters, we had the best possible seats in the joint.  Well worth the astronomical price, my little sister and I spent the second set leaning against the stage.  We were darn close:

In addition to the rock star seats, the tickets also included a meet and greet after the show.  When it was our turn, we talked with the band about breakfast before creating evidence of awesome:

I was also privy to a meet and greet the first time I saw Our Lady Peace live, which was about eight years ago.  All these years later, I still blush when I think about how seventeen-year-old me intensely geeked out when Raine Maida shook my hand.  But this time, I kept my cool, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t creep anyone out.

If you’re into this sort of thing, feel free to peruse more photos from the show at my flickr page.

In case that wasn’t enough excitement for me, my sister called me while I was getting ready for school in the wee hours of Monday morning.  Since I’m her only family in Rochester, I promised her forever ago that, when the time came, I would drop everything I was doing to be by her side when it was time for her to introduce her first child into the world.

I did add the obvious stipulation that this offer did not extend to the date of the Our Lady Peace show.

Luckily, the little guy held off just enough, and he arrived on Monday night.  It was a long, exhausting day, but seeing that tiny dude was something I’ll never forget.

Please don’t tell my sister that I was complaining about being exhausted on the day that she gave birth.  Thanks.

Anyway, here’s the young fellow:

Everyone is really healthy and happy, and this week has been a particularly strong reminder of how seriously rad life is.  It’s hard to believe how far my life has progressed during these two years at the iSchool, but my practicum experience is making me antsy to take the big leap into my own library.  Once that happens, I might be ready to start thinking about babies.  Or rock superstardom.


One of many cool things about my high school practicum was discovering the diversity in opportunities to collaborate.  Rather than working primarily with English and history students, I helped provide information literacy skills to classes in music, biology, and earth science.  I was particularly astonished when one teacher approached me about giving her students a rundown on plagiarism, because this instructor teaches health.

She explained that, no matter how stern she is about it, her students refuse to adequately cite their work.  As I thought about the idea, it made a whole lot of sense: her classes often complete projects that involve a lot of information, such as brochures and short books.  Teaching them how to properly attribute the content they include is imperative, because we know that very little of the information in the product is the intellectual property of the student.  That is, they didn’t come up with any of that material on their own.

So, with the indispensable assistance of my peers and colleagues on Facebook, I created a brief lesson for her two classes, health and parenting.

I call this lesson, “Do I have to cite it?”

Clever, I know.

I started by making approximately thirty index cards with various sources of information:

I handed them out to the students, and asked them to tape the cards to appropriate half of the white board.  One side was labeled yes, while the other was labeled no.

A few of the cards were tricksters, because I wanted to make sure we discussed things that are not okay to use at all (whether you cite or not), but that some students actually do:

Once everyone had hung their cards, we discussed each source.  I asked students if it was properly categorized, then had them justify it.  It was a little shaky at first, but they got the hang of the citation game after a few cards.  I got the repetition in, but tried to make the cards slightly amusing to keep the students interested.  One of the cards read, “that sweet Lady Gaga tune you used to jazz up your PowerPoint slideshow.”

I devised the index cards to reflect plagiarism issues that I wanted to discuss.  As the students justified each source, we talked about common knowledge, public domain, informal communication (conversations, emails, etc.), paraphrasing, self-plagiarism, and much more.

In addition to the activity, I provided students with a handout that they could use for reference.  In case you couldn’t tell, a lot of my aesthetic design juices went into the handout, which hopefully explains the, uh, homeliness of the activity.

If you dig the handout, feel free to check out the plagiarism handout PDF.  If you can’t make color copies, it worked best for me by printing one color copy and photocopying the rest.  It was much easier to read than printing a master in grayscale.

For this lesson, I got most of the information from the Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University.  I was turned on to this resource by the director of the Writing Center at my undergrad, where I was a tutor.  If I may be so bold, this is one of the greatest resources in the entire history of mankind.  It’s loaded with information, including up-to-date guidelines for MLA and APA citation formats… and it’s free.  Thank you, OWL, for being so darn awesome.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
If, for some strange reason, you decide that you like my idea, please take it, use it, modify it, share it, and/or enjoy it.  Feel free to pass the handout along, but, please, keep my attribution on it.  I mean, that thing took me a long time to come up with.  Besides, I’m pretty sure that taking credit for a handout on plagiarism yields twice as much bad karma.

… is a map, of course.

I’ve heard it works better with a treasure map, but turn-by-turn GPS is probably also pretty effective.

Lame jokes aside, my practicum taught me just how true that introductory hook is.  In my last week at the school, our big activity was a library scavenger hunt.  Every seventh- and eighth- grade English class was brought in to complete an activity that would get them in all corners of the library, utilizing our different resources to answer curriculum-related questions.

As we were preparing the activity, my host librarian handed me something that looked a lot like this:

Of course, her map had each shelf labeled with the proper call numbers, but it was still pretty difficult to figure out.  When she saw me turning it upside down (or perhaps right-side up), she admitted that students always struggled with the library map.  She’d had very limited time to create the map, and had never gotten around to refining it.

Opportunities like this are why I love the practicum experience.  We show up with goals, objectives, and some ideas, but we also get to help the librarian complete some long-term projects that he or she just can’t find the time to do.  The library map is a perfect example of this.

As I was creating the new map, I realized what a powerful little piece of paper it can actually be.  My site supervisor worked with me to decide what information to put on it, and it became a rad little guide to helping students better understand the library.

Here’s my updated map:

(click the image for a larger version)

The scavenger hunt was a success, and it gave me some ideas for when I have my own library.  This showed me that having a good map is a great way to help students learn how libraries are organized, and can offer some assistance to students when the librarian isn’t readily available.

It feels as though it’s been nearly forever since my high school practicum ended, and I’ve spent many sleepless nights weighed down by the obligation of posting the work that I did.  Not only will I finally have a solid record of my practicum, but I’ll be able to show some of my wonderful friends how I incorporated their great ideas (and generous help) into the final outcome.

While I’m on the subject, I’d like to thank everyone who responded to Facebook status updates and emails.  You gave me some seriously fantastic input, and you inspired my ideas into what they are.  In short, you’re awesome.

My site supervisor approached me one day and asked me to fill one of the display cases that are in the hall outside the library.  Of course, I jumped at the opportunity.  Then I panicked, because I had no idea what theme to choose.  The librarian spends a whole lot of time teaching and collaborating, so the displays tend to become an afterthought for months at a time.  I needed something that would be interesting, and it had to remain relevant for a while.

That day, one of the middle schoolers approached me about a classmate who was threatening to find her on Facebook.  What ensued was a pretty interesting talk about Internet privacy.  For as well versed as these students are in Web 2.0, I was surprised to hear that most of them had very little knowledge of privacy settings and terms of usage.

And thus, a display was born:

(click the image for a slightly larger version)

In the middle panel, I created a faux version of Facebook’s signature news feed.  The users featured in the display are all teachers at the school.  I created status updates, wall posts, and other Facebook features by polling students.  Asking random groups of students to divulge their teachers’ catch phrases was better than I anticipated, because it generated a lot of curiosity about my project.

Of course, in the midst of my work on the display, Facebook changed its interface.  But I’m not in the least bit miffed by that.  Nope.

Anyway, I rounded out the display with some tips on maintaining a safe online identity.  I also hoped to create a more in-depth handout that students could pick up from the library, but time constraints prohibited me from doing so.

Here’s the information from the right panel of the display:

  • understand privacy settings:
    there are some things that you can’t keep private, and many things that you have to manually restrict from public view. make sure you know who sees what you post online.
  • keep your passwords safe:
    in the wrong hands (like those of an angry friend), access to your social media accounts can provide information that could harm you, or worse yet- embarrass you.
  • don’t reveal personal information:
    your friends already know your address, phone number, school, and workplace, so there’s no reason to post it on your social media profile.
  • think before you post:
    would you want your parents, teachers, or employers to see what you post? could it be hurtful to someone else? remember- once you post something, you can’t take it back (even if you delete it).
  • read the terms of use:
    it sounds lame, but it’s very common for online retailers, social media websites, applications, and online promotions to share your information with other companies (where do you think spam comes from?). understand just who you’re giving your email, home address, or parents’ credit card number to.
  • realize who owns your stuff:
    when you sign up for some social media sites, you grant them ownership of anything you post. do you really want Facebook to have control over all of your pictures?
  • know your friends:
    don’t accept requests from people you have no real-life connection to. you could be giving personal information to a stalker… or a college recruiter.

As I completed the display, it started to feel a little hokey… and coming from me, that’s saying a lot.  However, the students appeared to be responding well.  Those I showed it to even said it was- get this- cool, and I noticed a lot of students stopping to check out the display on their way to class.

Whether or not it had a huge impact on the entire school, it seemed to be an effective way of getting students to start thinking about Internet privacy.  It’s difficult to take the time to teach it thoroughly, and I thought this was a good way to open up some dialogue on such an important issue.

This morning, I encountered an article, Give Me a Reason to go to the Library, that portrayed high school libraries in an unfavorable manner.  The worst part?  The author of that article was a high school senior in Texas at the time.  A couple of years ago, Andrea wrote, “A library is a place where you have to be quiet.  All the time.”  Her high school library experience taught her that, “libraries try to appeal to 17-year-olds with the same old Crucibles and Scarlet Letters they have been trying to shove down our throats for years.”


I hear you, Andrea, I really do.  In one of my experiences in a high school library, I was directing a class of freshman into the library for a lesson that I was executing.  Thinking that I was a substitute teacher, they groaned terrible groans and adamantly expressed their disapproval of forty minutes in the library.

It’s a tough pill to swallow to hear that the profession I respect so much, that which I have decided to devote my career to, is so quickly dismissed by our own patrons.

If I may reiterate: ouch.

But listen up, Andrea, freshmen, and all other non-believers.  The horror and heartbreak that these negative sentiments evoke in librarians like myself are exactly what we need right now.  We hear your cries, understand your concerns, and genuinely care about changing your opinion of us.  We are modern librarians, and there are a whole lot of us.

For example, there’s Brian Hissong, who integrates technology seamlessly into the traditional public library archetype.

And then there’s Luis Soriano, who is not a certified librarian at all, and who is a long way from setting up Dance Dance Revolution gaming events for his patrons.

And I can’t even begin to tell you about my classmates and peers, who have continually astonished me with their boundless creativity and passion for librarianship.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, we got into this field of work because we are genuinely excited to help you.  We want you to come into the library and get what you need, but we want you to have such a fantastic time that you want to keep coming back.  More than providing access to information, we want everyone we meet to get as thrilled about learning as we are.  Yes, we absolutely are geeks about it, and we want you to understand our mission.  We aren’t watchmen of books, or guardians of office supplies; librarians do what we do for you, our patrons.

I was particularly stricken by Andrea’s article because my dream is to create a spectacular and engaging learning environment in a high school or college library.  And, yes, I know that it makes me a nerd (and I don’t care).  So, if we haven’t yet changed your mind about what libraries are becoming, just wait… because we will.

on the road!

Welcome, friends, to the first ever remote edition of karen the librarian!  This event would not have been possible without the pestering support of my cousin, Andy:

The handsome bachelor you see here is part of a good crew of family that lives around Charlotte, North Carolina, that is currently and graciously allowing me to storm their lives and eat delicious local takeout at their dining room tables.  I spent the first half of the week in Raleigh, but now I’m in Fort Mill, South Carolina, visiting my sister.  She lives/works with my cousin Mike and his fabulous wife Liz.  I don’t get to see this gang too much, and it’s been a great cure for my cabin fever to enjoy new scenery, sunny skies, temperatures in the 40s, and a whole team of cool little dudes who don’t recognize this nerdy librarian as their rad cousin.

Since this is my first remote post ever, I feel a little strange uploading PDFs that are the fruit of my high school practicum toils.  Instead, I’ll tell you a little story that made my day:

After my first plane landed in Philadelphia, I wheeled my carry-on suitcase as fast as I could to the gate for my connecting flight, cursing the Nalgene bottle full of tea that I downed on the plane.  As soon as I spotted the magical letter/number combination that would be my gateway to Raleigh, I beelined for the ladies’ room and swung open the door to the first available stall.

Don’t worry- this seems like way too much information for me, too, but it’s kind of important to the story.  I think.  Just give me one more sentence to make my case:

There, sitting on that teeny little purse shelf in the stall, was an iPhone.

My immediate reaction was panic and heartbreak for the poor woman who lost her phone.  If she’s anything like me, the small device is a portal to my calendars, photos, email, and soul… the Ziggy to my Al.  I might be slightly nuts when it comes to my iPhone, but I was determined to find the owner.

Forgetting why I was there in the first place, I left the restroom and dialed the first number in the favorites.  It rang for a while, then someone picked up:

“Hey there, baby,” a deep male voice greeted me.

“Uh… yeah… hi…” I stammered, “I, uh, just found this phone in the ladies’ room at the Philadelphia airport.”

As it turns out, the adoring man at the other end of the proverbial line was the iPhone owner’s husband.  Like me, this woman was in Philadelphia on a connecting flight.  I told him to send me a text message with an address, and I’d drop it in the mail as soon as I could.

The nice gentleman was incredibly appreciative, telling me where the woman was headed, what she looked like, where they lived, and how much they would compensate me for my kindness.

“It’s really no problem, sir,” I said, “I only hope that someone would do the same for me.”

No, I wasn’t trying to sound like a martyr.  It’s just that, by that point… well, I was in a hurry.

Once I finally managed to get the kind man off the phone and resume my own business, I set about trying to find the owner.  I had her name, her description, some determination, and an hour to kill before my flight.

What happened in the next few minutes was pretty cool.  Since I have no shame, I stopped random women who fit the description and asked, “excuse me… are you Caroline?”  This sparked up a whole bunch of pleasant encounters that I would have otherwise missed.  Like Lisa, who gave me a frightened look when I asked her my question du jour.  As it turns out, she has a twin sister named Caroline, who passed away several years ago.  I apologized for the discomfort I undoubtedly caused, but she was very nice about it all.

Regardless of the wonderful people I was talking to, my guerilla detective skills were yielding disappointing results, and I was no closer to finding the Caroline who lost her phone.  So I stopped for a moment, dug deep within, and asked myself the most obvious and important question:

What would a librarian do?

Since I knew where she was flying to, I checked the flight schedule.  Sure enough, her gate was right across from mine, and the plane was slated to leave thirty minutes after my own.  I scanned the crowd for potential Carolines.  Then I saw one who might just fit the description.

Once more, I approached a complete stranger and asked if she was Caroline.  She said yes!  I explained myself, handed over the goods, and successfully reunited Caroline with her iPhone.

It was just about time to board my plane, and I was excited to finally reach my destination.  On top of that, though, I was really pleased to know that I was able to use my limited know-how to help out a stranger.  It was one of the many highlights of my little vacation, and I hope it was worthy for such a momentous occasion as my inaugural remote blog post.

Yes, friends, it’s been almost a week and I’m still riding the coattails of the high-on-life feeling that my secondary practicum gave me.  I could fill the month until my elementary placement with lengthy ruminations and fantastical daydreams that allow me to relive my time there, and I’m simply dragging out the blogging part of it so I don’t have to admit that it’s over.

Or perhaps I’ve occupied my time with packing my life up and returning to the big city for my sister’s baby shower, spending the weekend with family and reuniting with friends.  There’s even a slight possibility that one primary aim of this post is to distract my eyes from the still very full suitcases that adorn every nook and cranny of my apartment.

In any case, this post is, for me, a fond remembrance of the time warp that is my hometown.  I can’t help it: I love old things.  I am fascinated by the relics of how people did things before computers, what jobs people had before everything was outsourced, and how tasks got accomplished before the advent of battery-operated devices.  In my highly romanticized vision of all things old-timey, everything is simple and earnest, with just a hint of whimsy.

In this regard, my hometown is a perfect time warp.  Sure, a lot of things have changed.  The bowling alley is now a Dollar General, and the gas pumps (finally) accept credit cards.  But so many aspects of the homeland are just as they’ve been since long before my time.

For example, there’s my favorite watering hole, where I stop to enjoy a ginger ale and converse with the bartender/owner:

(thanks to mr. yehl and facebook for the photo)

Yep, that picture is from 1926.  And, except for that big sign in the front, everything else about the building is pretty much the same… including some of the wallpaper, to be sure.

Then there’s the drug store.  I walked the three blocks across town to the the local drug store, in search of some index cards for a sweet lesson on plagiarism (more on that in a different entry).  What I found on their shelves indicated a rich history, spanning back before Microsoft Excel and iPods:

I wanted to take a few more snapshots, but the nice woman working was the mother of one of my classmates, and we got caught up in a wonderful conversation.  It was very small-town, old-timey blissful.

Of course, we can’t forget about the school, where I spent most of my days.  Where I could look out the back window and see the very field where my father performed regular feats of athleticism:

(thanks to mr. yehl and facebook for the photo)

My old man is number fifteen, and he looks like he’s about to make a line drive for the photographer.  Does that even make sense?  I don’t watch very much football.

However, I didn’t spend too much time looking out the back window, because I was busy honing my librarian skills… and digging through the back room, which was a treasure trove of artifacts from my youth: carousel slide projectors, overhead projectors, tape decks, and VCRs.

There were obscenely large LaserDisc remote controls:

And a large collection of vinyl, some of which I would admittedly love to have in my collection:

Not to mention the 35mm film strip projector, which I got to clean up and test on the unbelievable occasion of a special request:

It worked!  And it made me very happy, even though the special request was actually for a reel-to-reel (!).

As I was testing this, one of the middle school students poked his head in and asked me if that’s what I did all day.  I looked at him and said, “son, I perform a multitude of tasks for the betterment of your fine library media center.”

He rolled his eyes at me, then squinted at the projector.

“Have you ever even seen one of these?” I asked, recalling the many filmstrip presentations of my youth.

“Not in real life,” he responded.

I tried not to act aghast as I invited him over to check out the machine.  One of the strangest things about working with high schoolers is knowing that these people have never dreamed of owning a Walkman or gotten a paper cut from a using card catalog.  I was talking about this with one of the English teachers, and she mentioned how teaching Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart is becoming more difficult since it has less resonance with students as each year passes.  She pointed out to me that today’s tenth graders have no concept of the ticking of an analog clock, the strongest image in the story.

As I started to shed a tear in bitter sorrow, pining for the glory days of yore, I remembered that I’m way too young to be feeling so old.  So I decided that it’s a good thing for me to be so fascinated by these obsolete items from my past, because I can share that knowledge with the youngsters in the library.   Maybe they can see how simply things used to work and how far we’ve come, and they’ll understand that they can start somewhere simple, too.

Because that kid, who very clearly had no interest in being in the library that day, was intrigued by an outdated projector that none of his teachers had ever used.  Because he actually abandoned his apathy for five minutes as I showed him how it worked.

Because, as he left, he turned back to me and said, “you would be an awesome librarian.”