Friday, December 5, 2008

SF's Mayor Visits the Redwood Library

On Monday evening, December 1, Mayor Gavin Newsom, an alum of Redwood, visited the campus to hold a town hall meeting and (possibly) test the waters for a run for the governorship. Mayor Newson has visited Redwood before, his most recent stint as the graduation speaker last June.

The town hall meeting was held in the Bessie Chin Library and over one hundred invited guests and others heard Mayor Newson talk about what he has accomplished in San Francisco and then pose questions to the mayor about what was on their minds.

An article in the Marin Independent-Journal reports on the meeting in more detail.

I was able to take some pictures of the mayor which showed more of the library than the IJ picture did. After all I wanted to document this as a library event!

I used to live in the City but moved out just before Mayor Newsom took office. I was impressed with his list of accomplishments and would like to see what he would be able to do on a larger political stage. He's probably most (in)famous for his stand on the same-sex marriage issue but there's a lot more he's concerned with and his pragmatic approach makes him attractive to more than his obvious constituencies.

It's always neat to host various visitors to Redwood and we are fortunate to have an attractive space like the Library to do it in.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Celebrating Native American heritage

Throughout the school year the Library celebrates various ethnic and other groups which make up the rich fabric of the United States. Starting in September with Hispanic American Heritage Month and ending in May with Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the Library staff creates wonderful displays of books and other artifacts that demonstrate the diversity of our country and state.

November is Native American Heritage Month and Redwood’s library has a direct connection to one of the United States’ most important Native Americans.

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia website, Sequoyah was a Cherokee Indian who “invented a system of eighty-four to eighty-six characters that represented syllables in spoken Cherokee (hence it is a syllabary, not an alphabet)”which allowed the Cherokee language to be written for the first time. Sequoyah’s system was derided by assimilationist Cherokees as being impractical and an example of witchcraft. It took him at least 12 years but once he was able to teach his daughter to read and write using the system he had devised, others quickly saw the benefit of having a written language and the syllabary was put to use teaching the language in schools.

“The syllabary was rapidly adopted by a large number of Cherokees, making Sequoyah the only member of an illiterate group in human history to have single-handedly devised a successful system of writing.”The syllabary is still used, in modified form, to this day to write the Cherokee language.

Many libraries have given their online catalogs (OPAC) a catchy title which plays on their school name and library themes. For example, the catalog for the UC System is Melvyl, named for Melvyl Dewey, the famous librarian who devised the Dewey Decimal System of classification. SF State’s catalog is called InvestiGator (the school’s teams are the Gators), Sonoma State’s is Snoopy (named for the Peanuts character because of the connection with Charles Schulz).

When we got our web-based online catalog several years ago I was trying to come up with a title which would reflect all the various ways Redwood High School uses variations on the theme of the redwood tree, e.g. The Log (yearbook), The Bark (school newspaper), The Twig (daily bulletin), The Post (parent newsletter), and so forth. The library’s newsletter, and subsequently its blog, are called Library Leaves,which continues the tradition of a connection with the growing, living redwood tree. I pretty quickly realized that a great way to refer to the OPAC would be by naming it for this legendary person who had been honored in the scientific name of the redwood tree. (According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the Sequoia tree(coast redwood) was named in honor of Sequoyah in 1847.) His connection to written text and language was another compelling
reason to name the catalog for him.

I encourage all of you to use, and encourage your children to use, the online catalog.You can access the catalog at The catalog provides access to more than the physical items in the library. Recently,we uploaded thousands of records of periodicals from a couple of our online databases,which can now be accessed directly through links in the catalog. Try looking for the journal, Chinese Studies in History, for example. Click on the link which states “Available on EBSCOhost,” and then enter the user ID: redwoodhs and password: giants when asked. This is the kind of journal our students preparing for university, taking AP classes, and hopefully in the future, studying for the IB Diploma,will
depend on to succeed in their studies.

For more information on Sequoyah here are some recommendations from the New Georgia Encyclopedia site.
Traveller Bird. Tell Them They Lie: The Sequoyah Myth (Los Angeles:Westernlore, 1971).
Grant Forman. Sequoyah (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1938).
Stan Hoig. Sequoyah: The Cherokee Genius (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1995).
Henry Thompson Malone. Cherokees of the Old South (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1956).
Kim Schlich and Victor Schlich. "Talking Leaves." American History. December 1995, 38-40.

Come by the Library any time to see what groups and themes we are currently celebrating.

Illustration credit: McKenney, Thomas and James Hall. History of the Indian Tribes of North America: with biographical sketches and anecdotes of the principal chiefs. Philadelphia: E.C. Biddle, 1836-1844. Penn Library Exhibitions. Web. 13 Oct. 2008.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Banned Books Week

We've put up displays of banned and challenged books in the Library along with documents and quotes about censorship and the First Amendment.

Our library clerk, Cythea, with an eye for the dramatic and beautiful was a great help in designing the displays.

As soon as I can I'll have some pictures to share. The picture shown is from an exhibit about the artistic response to literary censorship currently being held in Oakland. See the reference below.
"The work of Liz Hager confronts when people tried to ban Harry Potter at the African American Museum on Tuesday, September 16, 2008, in Oakland, Calif. The exhibit has original artwork on the impact of banning books. (Gregory Urquiaga photo)"

The theme of Banned Books Week this year is "Closing Books Shut Out Ideas."

The official ALA web page for BBW is here. The includes press releases, lists of the most challenged books, and other materials about the topic.

The Banned Books Week site, which is more general in scope, states:
"Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the National Association of College Stores. Banned Books Week is also endorsed by the Center for the Book of the Library of Congress."

A couple folks have questioned whether we should "celebrate" BBW but my attitude is that we are really celebrating a very important part of the First Amendment with this week.

Almost every week a message comes across the school librarians' LM_NET listserv about a challenge to some book or film. Intellectual freedom is what we are celebrating and which we must continue to protect in libraries and bookstores across the country.

According the the Banned Books Week website the following local event is underway:

San Francisco Center for the Book | 300 De Haro Street | San Francisco, CA 94131

August 15-November 26, 2008 | 415-565-0545

Banned & Recovered: Artists Respond to Censorship More than 60 artists interpret banned or challenged books in their chosen medium in response to the suppression of literary art. Curator Hanna Regev has assembled more than 60 artists, each interpreting a banned book of their choice. “Collectively," says Regev, "the work initiates an important undertaking—the recovery of fragments of our censored history. We felt that the pairing of visual and graphic artists with these banned and threatened books was a natural one. After all, what better group to interpret suppressed works than visual artists who are already so attuned to the threat of censorship. The show is a powerful reminder of the fragility of our freedoms, many of which are being chipped away by the PATRIOT Act. It is a powerful testament to the irrepressible creative spirit.” A sister exhibition is being held in Oakland at the African American Museum and Library, 659 14th St. An Oakland Tribune article discusses the exhibition.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hispanic Heritage Month

Throughout the year the Library celebrates several groups with displays of posters and books. From Spetember 15 through October 15 we celebrate Hispanic Heritiage Month. Unlike the other month-long celebrations Hispanic Heritage starts in the middle of one month and ends in the middle of the next. This is because Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua achieved independence on September 15th. Mexico achieved independence on September 16th and Chile on September 18th. Hispanic Heritage Month has been celebrated in the United States since 1974, when President Gerald Ford issued a Presidential Proclamation extending Hispanic Heritage Week into a month-long observation.

Some titles in the Bessie Chin Library to consider reading during Hispanic Heritage Month are:

Books by Gary Soto including: California Childhood: Recollections and Stories of the Golden State; Living Up the Street: Narrative Recollections; A Summer Life; Who Will Know Us: New Poems
Books by Julia Alvarez including: How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents; In the Time of the Butterflies; Saving the World; Something to Declare
Books by Nicholasa Mohr including: El Bronx Remembered; Going Home; In Nueva Yorka
Books by Rudolfo Anaya including: Bless Me. Ultima; Benedicime, Ultima; Aztlan: Essays on the Chicano Homeland; My Land Sings: Stories from the Rio Grande
A book by Esmeralda Santiago: When I was Puerto Rican
Books by Isabel Allende including: Daughter of Fortune; House of the Spirits; Cuentos de Eva Luna; Zorro: A Novel
Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young and Latino in the United States and Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Latino in the United States edited by Lori Marie Carlson
A book by Carlos Ruiz Zafón: The Shadow of the Wind: A Novel
Books by Gabriel García Márquez including: One Hundred Years of Solitude; The Autumn of the Patriarch; The General in His Labyrinth
Here Is My Kingdom: Hispanic-American Literature and Art for Young People by Charles Sullivan
Books by Judith Ortiz Cofer including: Latin Deli: Prose and Poems
Books by Jimmy Santiago Baca including: Black Mesa Poems; Immigrants in Our Own Land & Selected Early Poems; A Place to Stand: The Making of a Poet
A book by David Rice: Crazy Loco: Stories
Books by Richard Rodriguez including: Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez; Brown: The Last Discovery of America; Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father
Books by Oscar Hijuelos including: Mr. Ives' Christmas; The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love
Books by Piri Thomas including: Down These Mean Streets; Savior, Savior, Hold My Hand
Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan Gonzalez
Latinos: A Biography of the People by Earl Shorris
Books by Jorge Luis Borges including: The Book of Imaginary Beings; The Book of Sand

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Welcome to Our New Afternoon Library Specialist

Because Karen Barrett, our long-time full-time Library Specialist has taken the position of Athletic Director we have hired a new part-time person to fill her position in the afternoon.

We'd like to welcome Hans Doto to the Bessie Chin Library and the Redwood community.

Most recently Hans has been working in food service at Drake High School in the district. He also runs a martial arts school in San Rafael in the evening.

At his interview Hans said he was looking forward to learning how a library is run and learning some new skills in an area he doesn't have too much experience in. Hans definitely seems eager to learn and judging by his first day on the job gets along well with students and staff. We all look forward to working with Hans this year.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

9th Grade Library Orientation

Library orientations started this week with a presentation to a special ed class. Four students got an "up close and personal" introduction to the library. Three where freshmen and one had transferred from Drake (another school in the district) and hadn't taken World Cultures & Geography yet which is a graduation requirement.
The students were attentive and I think they were able to absorb most of the rules and expectations of the Library as well as an introduction to the many library resources.

Today the first of 12 regular WC&G classes came to the Library. Mr. McDaniel has three classes and I will be talking to two more tomorrow. As usual SpongeBob is a hit with the kids and, also as usual, at least one remembered that SB's pet snail, Gary, has the dream of being a librarian (See the "Sleepytime" episode). I was able to sign the class up to do the TRAILS-9 information literacy assessment and they will log in and complete the assessment over the next few days. I am asking all the 9th-graders to do the assessment as a pre-test of information literacy skills and I will share the results with all 9th-grade teachers once the results are in.

Yesterday we found out that a district employee who has been working in food service at Drake accepted the position as afternoon Library Specialist. Hans Doto will be working in the Library this year while Karen Barrett serves as Redwood's Athletic Director in the afternoon. Mr. Doto is a martial arts instructor among other things and I expect he won't have much trouble keeping order in the Library during lunch. (Just kidding!) I'll try to get a picture of Mr. Doto on the website as soon as possible. He's scheduled to begin working here next Tuesday.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Welcome Back!

As the new school year starts I've got a lot of catching up to do.

The summer was eventful for the Library, especially August 2 when we had over 50 international visitors who were in town for the annual conference of the International Association of School Librarianship (IASL). The visitors were impressed by the welcoming nature of the Library. They also commented on the size of the space and the number of books in our collections. Refreshments, wonderful cookies and mini fruit tarts from Rulli's, were also enjoyed by all.

Two of the visitors presented gifts from their own countries. Rashmi Kumbar brought six books from India which we will add to the collection. They are classic Hindu texts which are part of the TUHSD English Department reading lists but which we didn't have in the Library.

Another visitor, Mieko Nagakura, a retired professor of library science from Japan, brought a beautiful silk scarf with a design from the Hiroshige, the famous 19th century Japanese print maker.

Look for pictures in an upcoming posting.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Catching Up as Summer Begins

I've been off work since last Friday but visited the library twice this week for some final tasks.

Yesterday I found out from my principal that we may have a new part-time library specialist working in the library. It's complicated and since nothing is final (or even announced) I can't go into detail at this time. Suffice it to say that change may be coming to the BCL.

It's been very hot this week so I'm blogging downstairs in my bedroom at home this evening because it's cooler here than up in my office.

In an earlier post I mentioned that I was working on a new course (tentatively called Advanced Library Research). I know it's not a very sexy title but it is a work in progress. I got the approval of our Instructional Council to continue developing the course so I'm forging ahead.

I met early this week with Joan Risch at the College of Marin because I had been told by one of our graduates that she was teaching a course at COM on information literacy. It was a fruitful meeting and she gave me some interesting websites to look at especially the OASIS research tutorial produced by the librarians at SF State. She has her student complete specific parts of the tutorial before she quizzes them or provides her own assignments to them.

I think I have found a primary text for the class along with several supporting texts for reference. The primary text is the 3rd edition of Research Strategies: Finding Your Way through the Information Fog by William Badke. I was able to get a copy of the 2nd edition from UC Berkeley and was very impressed by the style and tone of the book--it's practical, down-to-earth, and covers almost all the topics I want to cover in the course. When I discovered the 3rd edition had just been published I overnighted it from Amazon and it arrived today. It's a manageable 212 pages and only costs $18.95. The author is a librarian at Trinity Western University, Langley, BC.

Other texts I've reviewed and will certainly be consulting and directing my students to are:
Basic Library Skills (5th ed.) by Carolyn Wolf; The College Student's Research Companion (5th ed.) Arlene Rodda Quaratiello; and The Facts on File Guide to Research by Jeff Lenburg.

The Badke book is quite up-to-date--it mentions the Amazon Kindle--and has an accompanying website which will help keep the book current. I was just checking the site this evening and found out about Readius, a new e-book reader.

In case you haven't heard about Readius, which is only available in Europe currently, here's a YouTube video about this neat new hybrid--when's it coming here!?

I'd love to hear from others who have developed or are thinking of developing an advanced research course at the high school level.

Another, concurrent project I'm working on is a wiki for the International Baccalaureate Extended Essay. Next week I will be in Montezuma, New Mexico on the campus of the United World College for a week-long workshop about the IB program and the librarian's role in the program. I hope to post a few messages from New Mexico while I'm there. I'm hoping the new research course will blend nicely into the extended essay program of IB. I know that in many schools the librarian is the extended essay coordinator and I think that makes a lot of sense.

Any Extended Essay folks out there in library-land?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

San Jose State Intern Working at BCL

I've been away from the blog for a couple weeks. Part of that was the Spring Break vacation.
I had a great time down in Puerto Vallarta enjoying the sea and sun. The photo to the right shows the church and plaza in the center of PV on a recent beautiful spring morning.

While in Mexico this time I got to fly to a small town back in the Sierra Madre which used to be a sliver-mining center. It just got a paved road a couple years ago and so is less isolated than it used to be but it's still a 2-1/2-hour drive from PV. Flying there takes 15 minutes. While there we visited an old hacienda which was once a silver mine, a coffee plantation (come by the library to sample some the local coffee), and, after a wonderful lunch in local "comida," we went into the center of town where there's beautiful old plaza and a 19th-century church.

So I'm back and for two weeks I've had a very nice student from the San Jose State library program interning at Redwood. Her name is Kathy Teree and she used to teach fifth grade at the Ross School. Some of our kids have recognized her from their days in grade school. She also interned at Mt. Tam School in Mill Valley and Bel Air School in Tiburon. Fortunately, the librarian at the Mt. Tam School is retiring and Kathy will be the new librarian there starting in the fall.

While at Redwood she has been helping me develop a course, which I've dreamed of for a number of years, that is designed to help kids get a leg up on doing a well as possible in their first year in college.

I'm tentatively calling the course Information and Communications Technology. The purpose of the project-based course will be to ensure that students are comfortable with basic college-level research skills and are also familiar with the types and organization of information resources available at the colleges they will be attending.

Keep an eye on this space for more information as the course progresses through the proposal and then the description phases.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

National Library Week 2008

I thought this short video "Go Fish," was a fun one to celebrate the week with. Even though we've got lots of resources in the Bessie Chin Library, the public library has even more.

Make sure you get (and keep) your public library card.

| MARINet | Marin County Free Library | Larkspur Public Library | Belvedere-Tiburon Library |
.:| Celebrating National Library Week, April 13-19, 2008 |:.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

When I Have the Time

When I have the time I'd like to make some videos like this one which show how to use various library resources. This one comes from the Cornell University Libraries and is part of their series of 90-second videos called "Research Minutes."
The topic of this video is finding substantive news articles, certainly a topic which Redwood students need to know.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Open House

Last night's Open House went well in the Library. We had advertised our display of student art work (ongoing) and the orientation presentation we give to 9th grade students at the beginning of the year. Many more families are able to visit the Library during Open House than at Back-to-School Night because they are not restricted by a schedule.
I always enjoy seeing parents from past years and graduates coming back with their kids to see how things have changed over the years. One father mentioned that he had been here when Bessie Chin was the librarian and how much he appreciated all she did for the kids.
One thing which I've been trying to get over the years is a performing group to present something in the Library during Open House. Last night we were fortunate enough to have the Choral Club, a small group of students into singing together, perform a couple songs in the Library. They did a great job and I'll certainly be looking into having more such performances in the future.
All in all, it was a very productive and proud night for the Library and its programs!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Website of the Month (

April is pretty well known as National Poetry Month.

There a many poetry sites on the Internet but one I particularly like is, the website of the Academy of American Poets. From this site you can subscribe to a poem of the day throughout the month of April. Try it, it's kind of fun to receive a poem each day to remind you about the power and beauty of the English language.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

80 Online Resources for Book Lovers

Take a look at this massive list of links for readers. The author is David Bondelli, who says he re-posted it from an earlier blog which he's no longer maintaining.

Included are classics I'm already familiar with such as the social networking sites, LibraryThing and GoodReads; e-book sites, like WikiBooks, the Poetry Archive, Project Gutenberg, Google Book Search, Bartleby, and the UVa Electronic Text Center; booksellers like, Alibris, Abe Books and Book Sense; audiobook collections like LibriVox; library resources like WorldCat; citation and research sites like BibMe and Zotero; book exchange sites like BookCrossing; and what-to-read sites like

I'll certainly be exploring those I'm not familiar with over the next few weeks to see whether any of them are useful or not.

Periodical Records Added to Catalog

Yesterday, while the Mock Senate was taking place in the Library's Main Room, I decided to upload some of the MARC cataloging records for magazines and journals from EBSCOhost to our library catalog (home access/school access). It's turned out to be a more exhilarating and complicated process than I had anticipated.

I had already uploaded the records from Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center (a Gale product which we've had for a number of years). There weren't very many of them since I had only downloaded those for periodicals with full text. I was able to quickly check the records to make sure they were compatible with ones already in the catalog.

I had downloaded the records from the Advanced Placement Source database the previous week and they were just waiting on my desktop to be uploaded to the catalog. I knew there were thousands of them because I had looked at the lists which EBSCO makes available from its website. I was concerned that they not overwhelm the approximately 35,000 records in my catalog. About 30,000 of those records are for books, the rest are for audiovisual items, websites, other electronic resources, print periodicals, pamphlet files, maps, etc.

Anyway I decided to take the plunge and went through the fairly simple process of importing the records into the catalog. In the end I believe just over 2,000 record were added to the catalog through this process. In the long run I think this is a great addition to the catalog because each record has a link which lead directly to the particular periodical in the Advanced Placement Source database. In other words, if I want to see Atlantic Monthly, I just click on the link which says "Available on EBSCOhost" and I'm instantly taken to a list of all the issues available (back to 1985).

Now, of course, most of the periodicals imported into the catalog are a good deal more esoteric than Atlantic Monthly. How about the IBM journal of research and development? Or The International journal of African historical studies or APMIS acta pathologica, microbiologica et immunologica Scandinavica?

My next task is to go in a clean up the records, many of which come with multilingual subject headings and other anomalous fields. I started editing an alphabetical list and was able to get through the As, the Bs and most of the Cs, by end of today. In the long run I think this will really enhance the usefulness of the OPAC by giving access to such resources as seventeen law reviews, scores of scientific and medical research journals, dozens of literary journals, and many other periodicals published all across the world. This access should enhance our application for the International Baccalaureate program and help our Advanced Placement and other students find good, reliable, accessible sources of information for all the creative research projects their teachers challenge them with every day.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A Question from a Colleague--And an Answer

On LM_NET, the school library listserv, one of the members, a distinguished author in the school library field, recently asked the following:

"Now that we have our new AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner, when I am writing, I'm not simply using the outdated term "information literacy skills." The first time I mention the five literacies, I say "digital, visual, textual, technological, and information literacy." Thereafter, I use the term "multiple literacies" as the Standards document itself does. My editor has asked me to think of a synonym for "multiple literacies." I'm stumped. Any ideas?"

I gave the following as a response:
I see digital, visual and textual literacies as "media" literacies. That is, they are about how we access and use different media. Of course, digital is also visual and textual! (What about audio?)
Technology literacy is a misnomer since the use of technology doesn't necessarily involve literacy (i.e., interpreting through letters/language) and technology is a huge area that covers practically anything people do.
Information literacy is a different baby all together. It involves using all the above "literacies" to access, evaluate and use information in creative and useful ways.
That's why it's hard to clump them all together with one term. Frankly, I still think information literacy is what we, as professionals, are primarily responsible for. The media we use to access and use information are just part of the big picture of info lit.

I think this little exchange is a parable about how we complicate issues at our peril. We try and anticipate any and all possibilities (we even claim these are 21st century literacies, even though we update or change our standards on average about every 10 years or so--what are we going to call our next set of standards? Standards for the Second Tenth of the 21st Century?).

My point is that what we call literacies really aren't. They are skills and knowledge of a certain kind and we will have to keep up with and even try to anticipate what new skills will be required by our students and colleagues in the (not-too-distant) future. But to claim these other literacies are equal our now "outdated" information seeking and use skills, called in shorthand "information literacy" is to make a grave mistake.

One of the beliefs which preface our new standards is: "The definition of information literacy has become more complex as resources and technologies have changed." Actually if we look at the definition of information literacy from the Information Power standards (1998) we read: The student who is information literate accesses information efficiently and effectively, evaluates information critically and competently, and uses information accurately and creatively. The standards go on say that the student should be able to use information independently and in a socially responsible way. None of this language refers to specific media with good reason. There is no reason that these standards can't work with any kind of media or technology. It's not the definition of information literacy which has become more complicated it's merely the tools which have become more complex. Whether using today's cutting-edge technologies like the ReadWrite Web or older technologies like the printed book, students still need to learn how to access, evaluate and use information independently and responsibly. This is the heart of information literacy and it will not change with changing technologies or changing modes of access or retrieval.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Common Sense Media Video Teaches Media Literacy

I recently viewed a new video from Common Sense Media. Common Sense Media is "a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization, [which] provide[s] trustworthy information and tools, as well as an independent forum, so that families can have a choice and a voice about the media they consume." Based in San Francisco, their website provides comprehensive information and reviews of all types of media including video games, Internet sites, movies, and even books.

They have teamed with Google to create this 7-minute video to remind parents about Internet safety and media literacy. It's a short but comprehensive overview of what kids need to know about Internet safety and using and creating content online.

Definitely worth a look.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Horizon Project 2008

This posting is an experiment using the send to button on my iGoogle toolbar. Nonetheless it is an important project which I wanted to remind myself (and my readers!?) about.
What is the Horizon Project?
During this project, the Horizon 2008 Report will have its trends "student sourced" as students from around the world analyze, compile information, and share their predications based on the report in a "Wikinomics"-style mass collaboration. This project is in the second year with the first project, winning multiple awards and recognition.
horizonproject2008 » home

Saturday, March 22, 2008

When Wikipedia Won't Cut It (Part 1)

Recently on the Library blog, the authors published an entry about research resources which go beyond Wikipedia's "incomplete citations, biased views, and inaccuracies," and direct the user to alternatives which deliver "high quality accuracy."
Most of these are definitely worth taking a look at and keeping an eye on as they grow and change but not all are really very useful.

The first site they recommend is Citizendium, the Citizen's Compendium, an encyclopedia-like site which relies upon ordinary users to write and "experts" to edit its articles. The idea of Citizendium is to go beyond Wikipedia's free-for-all approach to developing an encyclopedic database and enlist folks who are certified to know about what they are writing about.
To join Citizendium the user is required to be vetted at a website called BeenVerified, which helps substantiate you are who you say you are. The site asked various questions about where the prospective member lived and jobs they've had (with information culled from the Web) to substantiate my identity. Of course, this doesn't verify one's expertise. When setting up an account you are asked to check areas of expertise and Citizendium "constables" check up before they are allowed to contribute on their own. Membership seems to be aimed at the academic community and it does seem that Citizendium is trying to make their online encyclopedia a more reliable source of information than Wikipedia currently is.
While it may be true that Citizendium articles are more authoritative, it certainly can't compete with Wikipedia for breadth of coverage. Currently there are some 5,700 articles in Citizendium as compared to 9,000,000 in Wikipedia.
Definitely a site worth knowing about and using.

American FactFinder

This is the English language portal to information from the U.S. Census Bureau. The permutations and combinations of information at the Census Bureau are almost endless and since they are based on data collected by various census polls they can be considered to be as accurate as those compiling the data.
Wikipedia has an external link to this site on its United States Census page but does not have an article specifically on this subject.
For lots of reasons, not the least of which is that this is the online version of the Statistical Abstract of the United States, this is an invaluable site for all students and staff.


This somewhat specialized site which includes an index of academic papers, dissertations, books, etc., on linguistic topics would certainly be fruitful as a resource for linguists and those interested in language in general. The interface is quite playful, one might say almost juvenile, for an academic website. According to its Wikipedia article, the site has been in existence since 1991 and is partially funded by grants from the National Science Foundation.
For the general user this site is too specialized to be added to list of general portals on the Web.


This is web portal to Web resources which "[s]ubject specialists select and evaluate ... and write high quality descriptions of...." The usefulness of this site is as a reviewer of resources on the Web rather than a compendium of information in general.
It is definitely a site which every student at Redwood should know about and use regularly.

Classic Encyclopedia

The fifth of these resources is an online encyclopedia based on the 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. While that edition is considered the classic edition, it's probably not too wise to rely upon it for much modern information. It's an interesting historical artifact and some very well-known authors contributed to it but one needs to be very careful in using it as the definitive source of information.
Probably not very useful for high school students except as a curiosity.

More to follow....

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Questia Goes Over Big

This morning I had two great sessions with the combined U.S. History/American Literature classes of Mr. Brown and Mr. Winkler.

The students have begun their U.S. history research papers on a topic of their choosing . Topics can be chosen from American history events which occurred from 1870 to 1990.

Students earlier had been introduced to print library resources and Issues and the Controversies in American History database and had begun to develop topics and thesis statements.

Today we had their second "resource workshop" in which they were introduced to Google Book Search and Google Scholar, as well as two library subscription databases, Questia and CQ Researcher Archive.

The students were shown the basics of the specialized Google search products and how to go beyond them using the "Find in a Library" feature. The limitations of both search engines were pointed out--mainly the issue of access to full text--but the usefulness for research was also explained.

We next showed how CQ Researcher could be used for historical research using its "Issue Tracker" feature which shows documents/articles going back to 1923.

Finally I showed the students a video demo of Questia, a database which we have had for a couple years but which we upgraded our subscription to this year so each student could have an individual account. QuestiaSchool is a database of full-text books and journal, newspaper, and magazine articles. The video showed how to set up a "Project" and then search for and annotate, highlight, bookmark and cite articles and books from the database. Using Questia is like having a library on your laptop and unlike Google's Scholar and Book Search, you are always assured of having access to the texts you finding.

The students were impressed by the power of all of these tools but I'm sure we are going to see the increased use of Questia over the next few weeks.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Teaching Lab

Last week there was a lively discussion on a school library listserv I belong to about the usefulness of computer labs in libraries as opposed to having computers arranged in a less concentrated way. My response was to describe our set up and how I prefer it to the computer lab approach.

When I first came to Redwood there really wasn't a space to teach information literacy lessons. The Reference Room was broken up into a couple sections each with it's own tables and chairs but with no focal point. and the Main Room didn't really have a space large enough for a class to gather in because book shelves extended throughout the room. Even when we had the occasional staff meeting teachers were sitting between book shelves.

After a few months I began to really see how this wasn't going to work when I had a class in and needed to demonstrate something online to them, not to speak of library orientation sessions and other kinds of presentations.

My first priority was to have a suitable teaching space. By rearranging some of the furniture and moving the librarian's desk out of the center of the room, hanging a screen and figuring out a fairly efficient way to hook up an old LCD projector I was able to turn the Reference Room into a makeshift teaching space which could hold a class of 30+ students. One of the major drawbacks to this setup was that the room is long and narrow (it was the whole library in the early days of the school) and I felt I was not able to hold the attention of kids in the back of the room. My dream at that time was to move the screen to the long side of the room and have a teaching station with a computer and ceiling-mounted projector.

When plans were being made to pass a construction bond I made sure that the teacher station idea had a priority in the modernization project. By moving computers to tables around the periphery of the room (with data- and power-cables coming via ceiling conduits) we made the configuration which we currently have. I also made sure that there was a teaching station (a recycled piece of the old circulation desk) with a hard-wired laptop which could easily be connected to a ceiling-mounted projector. I've been very pleased with the way that the project turned out and can very quickly be online and projecting just what I want the students to see and do.

There are sixteen desktop computers in the room on 48"-wide tables. I specifically chose the wider tables because I don't like to look of computers with no workspace and the wider tables allow students to work side-by-side when necessary. In the middle of the room are four large (8'x4') tables each with at least six chairs. That means that the room can seat 40 in some comfort. The wall shelves still hold the reference collection of around 6,000 titles which didn't have to be sacrificed and which grows each year along with prudent weeding.

The other secret to making the room a success as a teaching space is our 28 laptops which are able to access the wireless network and can be used anywhere in the library. Usually when multiple classes are using the library, we've got some kids on the desktops, some on laptops, and some using the print collection. I really like the combination of all these ways to access information because it forces me and the students to explore all the resources the library has to offer. I like teaching in the Reference Room because I can easily walk to the shelves to show kids where books and other items are located and if I forget something, I'm not running to another location to get it, it's all right there.

My desk is also on the floor of the Reference Room which puts me in the thick of the action all day long.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Skepticism, An Essential Information Literacy Attitude

In a recent column Time magazine's Michael Kinsley discusses his concern over two memoirs which were admitted by their authors to have been faked. One, written by a white woman, was about growing up as a half-Native American gang member in South Central (Los Angeles). The other was the story of a woman who claimed to have been a Holocaust survivor as a child, which features an episode of her having been protected by a pack of wolves for a time. Kinsley refers to these fake memoirs as "autophoniographies."

After the infamous episode a couple years ago in which James Frey's memoir turned out have been padded with tales which were exaggerated or non-existent, I moved his book from the biography section of the library to the fiction section. His wasn't the first and certainly won't be the last of such books.

Kinsley's response to the publication of these books was interesting and has implications for information professionals and those we teach: "[B]ook publishers--unlike newspaper and magazine publishers--do virtually nothing to check or warrant the accuracy of what they print." (I have a feeling Time will be getting a few letters over that comment).

I think we sometimes mislead our students when we imply in any way that they can be secure in using books (print or digital), online subscription databases, or any other source of information without scrutinizing each source with a skeptical eye.

I continually remind my students to "check every source." No source of information is perfect and all have to be taken with some skepticism. As a matter of fact, the entire process of research should be based on a kind of skeptical mindset.

And this doesn't just apply to bogus memoirs. Another recent incident in the news revealed that a study which most likely played some part in the author's winning the 2004 Nobel Prize for Medicine had to be retracted because the author couldn't later verify the results.

The bottom line is not that we throw up our hands and quit looking for information, stop creating knowledge, cease producing results--but that all of us model how to be careful in assessing and evaluating information no matter what the source.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Web Site of the Month (Women's History)

March is Women's History Month and I was alerted to a great website about women's history through a librarian's listserv I subscribe to. It got me thinking that I could do a post each month about a website having to do with some topic being celebrated that month. Coming up we will be celebrating Earth Day in April and Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May.

This month, though, we celebrate the contributions of women in history. Of course, one might ask--why celebrate the larger half of the human race? Basically it's because women's role in history has been traditionally neglected as women were systematically excluded from roles in positions of power through the ages.

So here are this month's sites of the month.

-- American Women's History: A Research Guide
-- American Women Through Time

Both of these sites are maintained by Ken Middleton, a reference librarian at Middle Tennessee State University Library. According to his website, he has a second master's degree, with an emphasis in American women's history, from the same university. American Women's History: A Research Guide was named one of the Best Free Reference Web Sites in 2004 by the Machine-Assisted Reference Section (MARS) of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) of the American Library Association. American Women's History provides citations to print and Internet reference sources, as well as to selected large primary source collections. The guide also provides information about the tools researchers can use to find additional books, articles, dissertations, and primary sources.

The image comes from the American Memory Project at the Library of Congress, "Votes for Women" Suffrage Pictures, 1850-1920.

Friday, February 22, 2008

iPods Beyond the Music

A recent entry on the Online Education Database site entitled "100 Ways to Use Your iPod" says: "If you think that iPods are used just for listening to music, you obviously haven't been keeping up with the latest technology. The Apple-developed music player now features all kinds of accessories to help you study better, and now other companies are in a rush to get their designs in sync with the iPod. Pre-teens, college kids and even adults are taking advantage of the educational benefits an iPod affords them. From downloadable podcasts to just-for-iPod study guides and applications, learning on the go has never been easier. To find out about the many different ways you can transform your iPod into a learning device, check out our list below."

I'm not sure why the author skipped from pre-teens to college students but obviously, high school students and their teachers should be aware of how MP3 files can be useful to them as well.

The list mentioned includes sites like Raybook! which "combines texts, images, audio and video into a single package you can use on your iPod," iPREPpress, SparkNotes and SparkCharts, and NotePods.

It also gives lists of educational podcast sites, tutorials, iPod applications, and iTunes U (universities such as Stanford, UC, and MIT, which offer downloadable lectures)

In the Bessie Chin Library catalog we have begun to catalog websites which provide podcasts. Just search for the subject "podscasts" to see what we've got so far.

A great portal to all things iPod and educational, this page is well worth taking a look at.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Diversity Week in the library

This week was an interesting one. The library hosted two Diversity Week speakers on Monday and Tuesday and we had a full house for both presenters.

On Monday a group from the teen homeless advocacy organization, Ambassadors of Hope, talked about the problems homeless teens and young adults have in Marin County. The speakers someone who was homeless herself as a teen and determined to do something about it to help others. A young man who had recently been homeless also told of his experiences on the street. They showed a movie narrated by Peter Coyote, a county resident, about the particular problems homeless teens face here. Once they turn eighteen young people can no longer be part of the foster care system and with little or no support many become homeless.

Tuesday's speaker from Seeds of Learning explained the issue of fair trade to students who attended her presentations. She had worked in Central America with coffee growers who tend to be exploited under free trade agreements. The picture at the top of this post is from their website.

Both sets of speakers spoke to all seven periods of classes and as many as two-hundred students heard them each period--so they reached a lot of kids.
From the students comments, questions and answers I could tell there was a wide range of beliefs and responses to both speakers.

At Redwood we are fortunate that the Leadership class and it's teachers are not afraid to delve into controversial issues and consider that diversity refers to more than just ethnic or racial diversity. In Marin it's sometimes easy to forget that there's a great, wide world out there with issues and problems that we can make a difference about.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day Greetings

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

For several years the library has provided candy on Halloween and Valentine's Day as a little treat for our patrons, students and staff alike. I find unwrapped, single-bite candy like candy corn or, for Valentine's, the little message hearts. I don't offer wrapped candy because of the trash it produces. Kids really enjoy it, of course.

This year I couldn't find the tiny candy hearts so I only got the larger ones. I guess I was just looking in the wrong place. The only little hearts I saw were in tiny bags inside a larger bag. Talk about a waste. I guess there's some concern about safety!? I also provided new (to me) white, pink and red, candy corn. Candy corn isn't just for Halloween any more. And finally I found heart-shaped Wonka Everlasting Gobstopper Heart Breakers (what a mouthful).

Kids (both girls and boys) were running around with flowers and other tokens of affection. But they really like the candy!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Support the Bessie Chin Library

Although the Tam District is quite generous when it comes to providing support for district library programs, parents from time to time ask how they help the library as individuals. Of course, donations of used books and videos are certainly encouraged. When we receive donated books or other materials we make a decision about whether or not to add them to the collections based on condition and age, curricular connections, and usefulness for recreational reading. Books we cannot use we take to the Marin County Free Library bookstore in Novato where they help support MCFL programs.

The Bessie Chin Library also has three easy ways you can help provide funds for library and school materials.

• We have a close relationship with our wonderful neighbors at Book Passage in Corte Madera ( When a customer mentions Redwood as they are buying books a certain percentage of the sale (up to 5%) is rebated to Redwood in the form of a gift certificate. In the most recent quarter the library received a certificate for more than $125.00 which means supporters bought over $2500.00 worth of books and mentioned Redwood High School.
• A new initiative we discovered recently is called GiftLit. Their website ( provides a way to give the gift of books on a regular basis and have the school get 15% of whatever the gift costs. Their brochure explains: “our board of literary experts group their favorite books into unique collections delivered in 3, 6, or 12-month gifts.” Collections include: New Baby, Favorites for Boys Age 8-10, Favorites for Girls Age 10-12’ Teen Fiction for Girls, Teen Fiction for Boys, Favorites for Women, Nonfiction for Men, Food & Wine, Read Aloud, and Family Activities. Once you’ve ordered one of the subscriptions you will be prompted to enter the school code (for Redwood it’s RHS82302) and the school gets credit for that sale.
• There is a special search box on the library’s home page ( and when you order something from Amazon using this box we get a certain percentage of the sale. There is currently no way of ordering via the regular website for Amazon. Any proceeds from these sales come to us as a rebate on our regular library account with Amazon. You can also order books through LibraryThing and Redwood will get the Amazon rebate.

There are links to all of three of these services on the library website (Click on Support the Library). Take a look and make a choice. All of these are great ways to keep up with your reading (or in the case of Amazon, just about anything!) and support the Redwood library program at the same time.

Thanks for all you do for Redwood as volunteers and in so many other ways. It’s all for one cause—your kids and our community.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Teaching Students about Subscription Databases

I had a great experience yesterday involving one of our best teachers.

Bob Winkler teaches English at Redwood and has brought his students to the library many times over the years. Though Bob has a reputation as being cautious in relying too much on technology for teaching and learning, he has really started to see how our subscription databases can help in his classes.

Bob has three 10th grade English classes (not honors) who are reading Macbeth and he wanted them to find a "real" piece of literary criticism about the play to use as they were reading and develop a deeper understanding of the play from what another author had to say about it. There are about 80 students in the three classes.

Previously they had read Oedipus Rex and he had given them pre-selected critical essays from Twentieth Century Interpretations of Oedipus Rex and another book of essays about Sophocles in general which the library had in its collections. This was to introduce them to the type of work they would later be finding on their own. Many of the students were able to use ideas they had gleaned from the essays in a Socratic discussion they had following the reading of the play.

Bob saw the next step as having students find and use critical essays on their own.
He developed an assignment that gave me the chance to show students how to search three of the library subscription databases: EBSCO's AP Source, ProQuest Learning: Literature, and Questia. Each of these requires slightly different approaches and gives quite different results.

Over about forty minutes the students and I we were able to explore in pretty great depth some search strategies, ways of saving information, setting up individual accounts, and so forth.

Following my presentation, Bob immediately took each class to an open computer lab and had them start setting up their accounts and searching on their own. From the on-going feedback I've gotten from him and some his students, they have been very successful in finding the kind of material he wants them to use. He's going to send me a list of the essays they have used and we will follow this assignment up with an intensive on the proper citing of sources.

Among many things I admire about Bob is his attitude toward collaboration. We both retain a certain humility about what we do and can provide to students. He is the expert on using the texts to help students better understand what they are reading, I am able to help them find the texts they need to accomplish that task.

And to top it off he sent me a thank-you note! I want to thank Bob publicly for making my job rewarding and giving his students a great classroom experience which they really do appreciate.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Being Away Too Long

It's been a while since I've added a post. It's not that I haven't been busy--maybe too busy--but really I need to motivate myself to add to the blog on a more regular basis.

Report to the Board of Trustees
So--the three librarians in the Tam District are going to do a report to the local Board of Trustees this evening. Until last year we had turned in our regular annual report to the Supt. for Curriculum and Instruction and she/he had presented it to the Board for their approval which had been required by state law to receive state funding. When the funding dried up, the requirement to officially approve the plan(s) was not seen as a necessity but the Board did like to see the reports and plans regularly. Last year our new supt. decided that it would be good if the librarians made a personal appearance so that's what we did. Even though only two of us could be there, the presentation went very well. The Board was engaged, asked good questions, and challenged us to keep up the good work we were doing.

Tonight all three of us will be there. We don't really have a presentation. We will point out some specifics of each of our reports and answer Board members' questions.

Since we're already halfway through the year it always seems a bit odd to be making "plans" for the current year but I guess no time is ideal. Planning seems to be on-going and never-ending which is OK.

I promise to report back soon on what happened at the Board meeting.