Katharine St. Laurent Library Media Specialist

Welcome to my professional portfolio!

I am a graduate of Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies and a certified New York State School Library Media Specialist! I am so thrilled to be entering the profession at this time – librarians are needed more than ever to ensure that students leave school as savvy users of information. Browse the site to learn about my philosophy of librarianship and view samples of my work.

I am a reflective practitioner, so my blog is available here to share all the ups and downs of the process of self-evaluation and personal growth. Check back frequently to read about my most recent work!

Be sure to comment, e-mail or tweet at me; I love to chat about this field!

Endings

I always have crazy conflicting feelings when things end.  And usually they are the opposite of what they “should” be.

I am usually not sad about leaving a situation, even a good one.  Change invigorates me, and I enjoy the feeling of transition and fresh starts.

What does make me sad is the realization of all the plans that will never be completed.  I am wrapping up my time at the elementary school and in the office, and I am having to make choices about what I can and cannot accomplish before I leave for the last time.

The past few weeks have shown just how much work had to be done in my library, and honestly the experience has made me feel better about what I accomplished over the past two years.  I walked into a bad situation, with a mountain of work to overcome.  I’m handing the library over to someone new, and at least the mountain is gone.  

Wrapping this up will be healthy for me.  I am moving on to a much more positive place.  I will be in a high school, in a supportive district, with a fantastic and innovative library department.  There will be possibilities.

Summer will be challenging, but hopefully fun and positive.  I am getting ready to get married, packing up to move back to my hometown, teaching lots of PD courses, training for two triathlons and preparing for my new job.  I am ready to refresh my brain, leave behind the struggles of the past two years, and get excited about teaching again.  

I’ve been going through my lesson notes from the past year.  Basically I want to get an idea of how we arrived where we are now, and what the kids most need before the end of the year.  What I’m finding is that we’ve covered a lot of ground – more than I would have thought considering that the third and fourth graders have been on the same projects for what feels like forever.

What is lacking, though, is organization.  Fourth grade has jumped around as a result of the little prompts I’ve gotten from classroom teachers about where they needed support, kindergarten and first grade look similar but even more erratic due to their units being shorter.  The thing is, I believe that if was able to establish more collaborations, the scope and sequence might look even more disordered.  So maybe the fact that they do now is a sign of progress, not of failure.  I can imagine getting to a point where enough collaborative projects were established that those could be the cornerstone of a yearly schedule, and the other days could be filled in with supporting activities that make sense in the overall sequence of the year.  But I imagine that being much further down the line.  As it is, anything I would like to do with the kids has to remain flexible so I can jump at anything a teacher requests help with.

I’m buckling down and working with kindergarten on the computers.  Behavior has been a real roadblock this year – we’re at the end of the school year and they still seem to have little sense of raising hands or taking turns, so it’s been difficult to give clear instructions for the laptops.  Imagine sixteen kids all yelling their questions over you, even though what you are trying to say would answer those questions!  The teachers have indicated that the kids still need a published piece of writing by the end of the year, which is a perfect opportunity as we are covering the concepts of “creating” something in a program, saving a document and retrieving it from a network drive (while reinforcing the basics, like which button is left click, what a cursor is and where it needs to be, and remembering the difference between backspace and enter).  I think we will get through a lot more if we’re working on a classroom project, and some teachers have even offered to stay in the library with their classes.

First grade finished their Mo Willems author studies, but they did such a good job on their Elephant and Piggie plays that I want to record them.  So I’ve been taking a few groups each day and having them perform on camera.  Although it cuts into my planning time to an almost disastrous degree, it’s probably the best thing I’ve done since starting this job.  Getting the kids in small groups for just ten minutes is prompting all kinds of great stuff!  One group realized that their play was too complicated and streamlined it, even as we recorded several takes.  Other groups ad libbed sound effects, and others worked on reading with expression.  Overall that has just been a really rewarding extra project.

With the end of the year nearing, I’m increasingly hearing adults in the building who are amazed that the library is still loaning books.  Apparently this is a shift from the past, when the library was closed for checkouts in early May so that inventory could be finished.  We go until June 26!  I have no intention of cutting off checkouts until at least the second week of June.  Inventory is important (and perhaps more so in my library which is in desperate need of weeding and organizing) but I have first graders just discovering chapter books, and second graders who used to argue with me about taking a book at all who have fallen in love with The Secrets of Droon.  They come in every day for a new book because they’re reading so fast.  When they finished that series, I gave them A Series of Unfortunate Events, which they are reading just as fast.  I need to find another readalike – I’m scared to not keep up with them!

I would love to get back to daily blogging.  I had to let that project slide for the time being.  As valuable as it is, there are other, more immediate and pressing things to get through.  School alone would be enough!  But on top of that, Matt and I are working through wedding planning, job changes, a thesis that requires proofreading, triathlon training and some physical issues (hopefully just allergies).  So blog posts will happen as they come to mind and need to be recorded.  Six weeks left of school – six weeks to wrap up and put a positive spin on the year!

Time Management

A few weeks ago I attended a seminar on time management and juggling multiple priorities.  I haven’t fully processed everything I came away with, in part because the biggest thing I got from it was a bibliography of potentially helpful books.  I’m working through those on audio.

I have two big thoughts at this point.  The first is something I’m trying based on the book The Now Habit, which was recommended by another participant at the seminar.  The author recommends monitoring your self-talk and making small changes to how you frame your tasks.  Instead of thinking or saying “I have to do” something, say “I want to” or “I choose to”.  It switches your mindset from victim to boss.  I’m trying it out today and honestly it’s pretty amazing.

Another takeaway from the seminar itself was that people lose tremendous amounts of time looking for information.  The speaker recommended memorization as a time saving technique – which in some ways is great advice.  But as a librarian I wanted to point out that we’ve reached a point where the body of human knowledge is so great that it’s impractical and impossible for a single person to try to learn it all.  You have to develop your memory, as well as your information access skills.  I suspect that the most effective people have great memories, great organizational systems for storing information outside their brains (think Evernote) and they know when to farm out their information-seeking (ie ask an expert).  And I feel like librarians could take up the role of organizational coach – we can help organize the information that needs to be accessed, we can help people master tools to make their personal information accessible, and we can be on hand to do the hunting that will always need to be done.  

I definitely laughed when the presenter discussed how much time is lost hunting for information – for most of the business types in the room, her point was completely valid.  It’s just that doing that hunting is so much a part of my job and my identity.  

One last thought, completely unrelated.  If the time stamp on this post displays correctly, you’ll notice that I’m posting in the middle of the workday.  I finally decided to be selfish and use some of my comp time to take a day off.  The house is getting cleaned and I’m hanging out with the pets.  It feels great.

Day 13

Whoops – missed a week!

Not a whole lot has happened worth reporting, just an average week.  I started the last kindergarten class on the computers and I’m very glad that I waited with them – I don’t believe they were mature enough when the other classes started.  They did very well in their first hands on week.  I worked through some kinks with the third grade booktalk lesson, which required them to download a file into their network drives.  While that’s not a library skill, precisely, it is an important concept, so we spent a couple of weeks talking about what network drives are and how to make sure you’re saving into them.

First graders are about to start performing their Elephant and Piggie stories – I’m hoping to have some great videos to share from that!  Second graders completed an assessment of the unit they’ve been doing for months…and bombed it.  Just absolutely awful.  I’ve reviewed with two classes so far, and one of them really just didn’t seem to retain anything we’ve learned.  The other class, although they did poorly on the assessment, seemed to understand the concepts just fine.  There’s a big difference in behavior between the two classes, so I suspect the first class was impacted both by being unfamiliar with the format of the assessment and also by the fact that they really didn’t pay attention during the lessons.

I’m attending a seminar on Tuesday, hoping to have lots of brilliant information to share!

Day 12 – Trust

I recently had my first experience with Zappos.  I’ve heard plenty about how great their customer service is, but always found their prices to be too high for my taste (my taste is generally based around clearance sales).

But when I started looking for wedding shoes, I knew there was a good chance that I would need to try several pairs with my dress then return some.  I went with Zappos because of their free shipping and free returns.

My transaction did not go smoothly – the original package went missing for several days, and Zappos was sold out of one of the items.  When the package did turn up, it was rather confusing to determine which items needed to go back in what packaging.  But throughout each step of the process, Zappos was accommodating, friendly and generous.  They handled submitting the claim to UPS, they upgraded my account type for future purchases, issued me an instant refund in anticipation of me shipping the extra items back and even gave me a $25 credit on the account.  None of that was truly necessary – the representatives that I dealt with via live chat were wonderful and would have gotten me through the exchange/returns process just fine.

Wrapping up that transaction, I realized what was different from almost every other retail interaction – there was no fear.  I’ve been ripped off so many times in so many different ways that when I need anything from a company, whether it’s honoring an advertised price, accepting a coupon, or handling a return, I go into it defensive.  I often feel powerless to get what I need from a service provider. 

This dynamic is something I’ve observed in the libraries I’ve worked in.  At Fayetteville, our policies were entirely structured around making patrons feel welcomed, valued and cared for.  We had procedures to ensure that overdue or lost items were dealt with in a way that was non-accusatory.  We did shelf checks while people waited to make them feel more certain that we truly did not have the item, and anything that was still uncertain was referred to our Director of Patron Services.  She was a highly trusted person in our community, and patrons understood that she was going to be fair to them.  In contrast, at other libraries I’ve been in there haven’t been such policies in place.  Mistakes would get made, and patrons would be told that items were missing or overdue when things were on the shelf.  It wasn’t often, but it was often enough that people knew it was possible, and the inability to compromise on fines lead to numerous conflicts.  People came to expect being given a hard time, so they came in with their defenses already engaged.

Starting at Fayetteville, I noticed a tangible difference in tension.  Whereas in the past I would cringe to tell people that they had fines because I knew there would be an argument, at Fayetteville people generally said “OK” and paid them.  That sense of trust was echoed back to me tonight as I wrapped up my transactions with Zappos.  Being valued and cared for by an organization is a rare and significant feeling, one which adds a new level of value to a service.

I fear that I have not always been able to make my students feel 100% cared for.  Things do get forgotten, items do get lost, and I don’t have enough control over the facility to guarantee that an item is not somewhere in the library.  Today I had a student sobbing in the shelves because I couldn’t find the book he wanted and he wouldn’t accept anything else.  I want to be able to guarantee students that I will take the time to get them what they need, that I will never accuse them of something they didn’t do, that I will trust them and that they can trust me.  To some extent working on my procedures could help.  Maybe creating something like a research request form would take the pressure off of me to remember what students want, and put it on them to document what they want from me.  

A dimension of this problem does come from them though.  As an example, I have a student who simply does not follow library procedures, then seems hurt when I won’t bend the rules for her.  She lost a book, and has been given instructions about how to deal with it, but she doesn’t follow through.  She refuses to wait in line during book checkout so that I can help her in turn, then gets upset because she doesn’t get a turn.  So I hate that she feels slighted by me, but is it my responsibility to cater to her?  I don’t think I would be doing her a service by giving up on trying to get her to follow basic procedures.  It’s something to ponder.  Maybe by looking at her and a few other tough cases I can think of things I can do to remind students of their jobs, so that I can do better at holding up my end and keeping their trust.

 

Day 11

I’ve skipped a few days in this 30 day blogging experiment, but overall I’m pleased with how it’s going.  Even a little more consistency has been beneficial.  Trying to keep it up!

After the horror show of last week, these past three days have been a relief.  The kids seem to have resigned themselves to being back in school.  I had my second observation this morning, so in anticipation of that I spent some more time cleaning the library.  As I noted last week, even small changes in my space seem to have a positive effect on my mood.  I made a point of pulling all of my class files off the shelf and putting them in order by when I see them.  This didn’t technically accomplish anything, but it’s already saved me stress because I can see everything I need for the week in one place.

I may be a bit unusual, as a librarian who struggles with organization.  In some ways I’m ridiculously organized, to the point of obsession.  I maintain a detailed to-do list about six weeks in advance, in addition to my main calendar.  My filing system is very specific, and I keep everything.  But my day to day physical space is always a challenge.  I set goals each day for cleaning or organizing, but I’m thinking that what I really need to do is aim to develop that skill overall.  It’s certainly a broader weakness than I can address just by trying harder.

Today (or yesterday, by this point in the evening) is Ash Wednesday.  I am not Catholic, and I am not involved in an organized religious practice, but I admire the Lenten tradition.  It’s easy to fall into a pattern of wanting everything to be perfect and of wanting to have it all.  Accepting your lot as sufficient by choosing to forego something makes you value what you already have.  I would like to put an emphasis on giving up whining.  It sounds silly, but particularly through this blog I’ve recognized that it’s something I indulge in too often, without reason.  Yes, there are things I wish were different, but my life is great and I should be focusing on what I can do to be better and rise up to the challenges I have.