Thursday, December 15, 2011

Wish List

 3 good books in a row. Does it get any better than that? The Night Circus, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and the Handmaid's Tale. Reading this week by headlamp, without the distraction of Internet and electrical (time-saving) appliances, was delightful and reflective. It gave me time to think about types of fictional writing.  Some works are escapist, allowing a full and complete immersion into another world. A blissful disconnect from reality. By contrast, other works provide such a disparate setting, premise or characters that you can only relate to them through a comparison of your own concept of reality. These works invite a dialog between the text and the reader. To parse out the significance of big philosophical ideas like cruelty, or fidelity.  Or to contemplate the quirks of a character. But whether your taste is for escapism or a contemplative novel, the real deal in fiction....... is the story. This chewy quote from The Night Circus flies straight to the heart of story:

Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There's magic in that. It's in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in somone's soul, becomes their blood and self purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words.

And you? What are you looking forward to reading during the quiet moments of the holiday season? Will it move you to contemplation? Or whisk you away?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The students naturally gravitate to the book on the counter, picking it up and marveling at the recipes (Green with Envy Pesto Pasta, Fightin' Fried Squirrel, Butter Cookies from Peeta's Father). But then their eyes widen as we tell them that the author is sitting at the librarian's desk, that she went to school at Prep and yes, she really did write the book. This week in the library, we've had the pleasure of working with Emily Ansara Baines, a former Flintridge Prep student (class of 2003) and author. We've enjoyed showing off her new book, The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook. And while she was here, she agreed to write a guest blog for the Very Unusual Librarians.

When I embarked upon my middle school Prep education in the fall of 1997, I had two measures for success: having a million friends, and publishing The Great American Novel.  As Prep had less than a million students, and I had yet to learn the difference between effect and affect, these were lofty if not impossible goals.
Still, they were mine, and the publishing goal especially I kept close to the chest, like a warm blanket I could snuggle on those cold Californian nights when I was crying over the chromosome chapter in my AP Bio textbook or the fact that I had not been cast in my dream roll in the all-school musical.  This too will pass, I told myself with each passing year, and one day I will be published.
The creative writing teacher at the time, Mrs. Leidenthal, wisely told me that if my only reason for writing was to be published I’d never become a good writer.  This was sound advice, so of course I ignored it.  Every short story I wrote for every class, I set aside to send off to a literary magazine.  I was so cool I signed my name at the end of each submission with a purple sparkle gel pen.  Of course, if I heard back at all, it was your standard rejection.
College came, and while I never found my college English classes as difficult as, say, Mr. Vaughn's Honors American Literature class, my writing improved with age.  Beloved writer and mentor Aimee Bender (check out her work!) spent many hours helping me improve my craft, and while T.C. Boyle called one story of mine a great disappointment, he praised my second effort. I learned to manage rejection with much more elegance and much less bitterness than I had at Prep.  As I spent hours considering the harsh reality that most of my stories would never see the light of day, I remembered how to enjoy writing for writing's sake.  And then I started to get published.
This is no fairy-tale.  The best things I've ever written have been rejected hundreds of times, while stories I would vomit out in the span of seconds enjoy some moderate success in often unknown online publications.  The story I am still most proud of I wrote in elementary school (it was about seven cats that go shopping).  Taste is fickle.  People, no matter how proficient the prose, will reject you for reasons you  might never understand.  This fact is not just part of being a writer, it's part of life.

Indeed, while I have a cookbook out, and I am beyond thrilled and grateful for such luck, I am still far from my goal of writing and publishing the next Great American novel.  I may attempt to write it, I may become distracted by other projects. Yet, I know Mrs. Leidenthal-- and all the teachers at Flintridge Prep who echoed her message-- were right.  Captivating writing, perhaps even great writing, the writing you read in the books we play watch guard over here at the library, is not accomplished by some child with the singular goal of publication.  It is accomplished when the author has something to say, without regard to whether one person or a million reads their words.  I struggle with this constantly, I think all writers do, but this is the best piece of advice I can offer any and all the writers at Flintridge Prep.  If you sit down and write that essay, that poem, that short story simply because Mr. Bachmann or Mr. Myers requires it, you're not going to write anything worth reading.  But if you write even a paragraph because you have knowledge or an opinion to impart, you're on your way to a good -- if not downright interesting-- piece of prose.

Now if only that helped me on my goal of making a million friends.  Current Facebook Friend Count: 674.

Emily Ansara Baines

Friday, November 18, 2011


Libraries are popping up in the news, but the news may not be good. As libraries come to terms with difficult economic times, those who love libraries are stepping up, being vocal, and becoming advocates.
Library Advocate Steve Lopez directs our attention to the value of libraries. His column in the Los Angeles Times  last week was a pointed defense of the purpose and usefulness of libraries in our communities.

checking out the Mac
 Advocacy is one of the best ways of keeping a library and its message crisp, viable and visible. Library advocates can bring fresh eyes to the scene, capture marketing opportunities and suggest new services and resources.

Some of the LAC members
 Here at Prep, we have a student advocacy group called the Library Advisory Council (LAC). A powerful force, with both vision and follow-through, their suggestions show innovation and creativity. This fall, LAC completed a major goal , introducing two circulating Apple MacBook Pros to the library.  It seems fitting, as Thanksgiving approaches, to mention how thankful I am for their presence at Prep. The group's positive energy brightens our library. More than once I’ve been swept away, along with them, in a current of positive energy. That’s the beauty of advocacy: it pushes forward the essential message. And that helps our library stay crisp, viable and visible.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

By the time you read this, the Chandramohan Library will be live online with a new resource: LibGuides. Designed to be a powerhouse of resources for a specific target audience, LibGuides can point students to the best resources to complete an assignment (see the guide for the Community Impact Project) or introduce a selection of great reading titles.

LibGuides allow us to create a custom, one-stop turbo-charge to help students easily identify resources and practices that will be useful in completing a specific assignment. Students might find a Youtube video on selecting keywords that return ├╝ber results, a section on note taking and avoiding plagiarism or hints for scouring the Internet without getting overwhelmed (or underwhelmed). We can point out helpful databases, books or high authority websites, too.

Look for the LibGuides link on the Prep Website, on the librarian’s page (left navigation sidebar). We’ll be adding new guides throughout the year, and looking to exploit the full potential of LibGuides. Stay tuned…..

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Savoring the Journey

Neil Gaiman's Basement Library. Photo by Kyle Cassidy; courtesy of Shelfari
Surprise! A guest blogger.

This entry is written by Mike Miley, who teaches English (9th and 12th grades) at Flintridge Preparatory School. He is a writer, observer, and passionate participant in the discourse of film criticism, literature and life in general.

I ought to find libraries and bookstores intimidating. After all, I'm entering a place stuffed with books I haven't read, things I don't know. Yet I'm always comforted when I open the doors and see stacks upon stacks of books because those unread tomes represent my future.
I love that there's something I still need to know. It means I have something left to do, something new to discover. I smile with the anticipation that someday soon, I will read these books and my life will be fuller, richer. I hesitate to say my life will be more complete, because I don't ever want this to stop.
Think about it: what if I have yet to read my favorite book of all-time? In fact, I hope I haven't, no matter how awesome INFINITE JEST is.
Some people's dream houses look like mansions. Mine looks a lot like a library.
-Mike Miley

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Cerebral Cortex—The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The cerebral cortex is a wonderful thing.  It’s the gray matter in your brain that is the storage depot for long-term memory.  That it exists is why I still remember The Gettysburg Address and the Preamble to the Constitution that I had to memorize in 5th grade, thousands of song lyrics, the state capitals, and game show trivia from the '60s.  But did you know that if you receive the same correct or incorrect information repeatedly, you’re likely to believe that it’s all true?

Stephen Colbert coined the term ‘wikiality’ to describe this phenomenon--we continue believing misinformation, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, or in the face of common sense because “if enough people believe in a notion, it must be true”. Don't Tell Me Again The Web is full of so-called ‘information’, but much of what we read is not ‘factual’. 
Here’s the point:  it’s imperative for researchers such as yourselves to Google with a critical eye.  Who’s posting this stuff?  What are their credentials?  Are they historians?  Professors at well-known colleges or universities?  Scientists?  Museum curators?  Students?  Shopkeepers?  Or, worse yet, hate groups?  Is it the purpose of the website to sway the readers’ opinion?  What is their bias?  Is the information timely, or is there more recent data that’s better?  Of course, using our online databases is a safe way to know you’re getting accurate, timely information.  We pay fees for these resources each year, so take advantage of them, at school or at home.  Truth: Can You Handle It?
So, discerning readers, be skeptical when you get those emails with dire warnings, photos of people surfing tsunamis, and offers from Nigerian royalty.  Be wary of websites run by questionable characters.  Check out their authenticity on, seek out the truth, and don’t let your pesky cerebral cortex get in the way!
Mrs. Hodge

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Sense of Place

Krone Library, Idyllwild Academy during Summer Program

What defines a sense of place?
     Famous structures can define a sense of place: the Eiffel Tower, the Washington Monument, Disney Concert Hall.
     Emotional connections can create a sense of place. Think of your favorite eatery. It might not be glamorous, but I’ll bet it makes you happy to even think of it.
     Libraries are designed to give a sense of place. And, if they are successful, you feel a sense of belonging when you step inside. Whether your quest is to find an answer to a question, a respite from stress, or to check your email, a library with a sense of place is a beautiful thing.
     I found myself appreciating the Krone Library at the Idyllwild Arts Academy during the Summer Program. Unexpectedly stranded on campus after class, in a mood (much) less than congenial, I entered the library. A two hour wait stretched out before me,and I wasn’t sure the library had anything to offer.
But its calm surrounded me and I noticed:
•it’s quite comfortable stretching out on this blue seating area.
•art books are scattered on a generous pedestal table; ready for browsing.
•a $1 book sale is set up on the study tables (who can resist?)
the windows frame a series of naturescapes, each worthy of a sketch or painting.
•interesting things are happening on campus: concerts, exhibits, artist’s talks, art openings, and the library has flyers, postcards and information about them.
•it’s not so bad in here.
     I left thinking, “what a nice place that library is.” An unexpected lesson for a librarian, but its value has stayed with me. The importance of place. A whole list of attributes merge to create a sense of place; some tangible, some abstract. But when it works, you notice.
     Here at Prep today, in the Chandramohan Library, I overheard a Peer Counselor remark, “this is the library, the rockin-est place on campus.” That reminded me of Krone library, not because it was the rockin-est place (that’s reserved for Prep’s library) but because it had a sense of place. And I think that’s the lesson: the importance of place. When it works, you notice.

-Mrs. Eldridge

A Library, You Say?

Spontaneity in the Reading Room
You hear the word library--what immediately comes to mind?  Books?  Study rooms?  Computers?  Shushing librarians?  Yes, we definitely have all of those, but so much more happens here.  Authors speak, The Flintridge Press editors work on the latest edition, student artists display their work, the Arts Club hosts the annual poetry slam, students sign up for clubs, activities, Senate offices, and checking out laptops, senior leaders tutor, groups make videos for class projects, share iPods, do crossword puzzles and Sudoku, collect items for various charities, like the Cinderella Project...the list goes on and on.  We host somewhat unconventional, and sometimes unintentional events, like spontaneous dancing. 

And clowns.   

The entire cast, in all their glory
Sparknose debuted in the library last weekend, with a troupe of 17 amazingly talented student clowns, led by Ms. Bierman.  It was a creative use of our space, using both floors, the stairwell, the study rooms, and reading room.  Very cool.  And very Prep.

Mrs. Hodge

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Scale of Systems

The scale of systems. It’s a concept that has been dancing around the front of my brain. Cars, desks, chairs….other humans, a few select dogs and cats –these are things that are in my world. And, they’re human-scaled. The human-scale is understandable and comfortable. But lately, I’m experiencing a growing awareness of two other scales: the big vista and the little view. Today: the big vista.

The big vista doesn’t fit in the camera’s viewfinder, it defies the camera lens. It’s vast: too big to absorb without a shift in gaze. It’s complicated: each part is complex. It is alive: it takes huge amounts of energy, brainpower and planning to keep it working.
Last month, a journey across the big vista of Southern California’s water system changed my pattern of processing information. I joined a group of local residents on the “rolling college of knowledge” (a tour bus) as we made a loop around Southern California, touching down at pumping plants, water channels and treatment facilities. There were things that filled my senses – gigantic machines and pristine bodies of water. And things that filled my soul – American Bald Eagles and desert moods. But there were things that I learned that I could not fit into my processing structure: statistics, politics, long-range planning and, of course, scale.
Frustration filled the end of our first day on the tour. Too much information. The big vista of California’s water system was too big, too complicated and too interwoven to comprehend all at once. I struggled to comprehend this new scale of understanding. To survive this influx of information, I began to ask different kinds of questions to build my understanding. And that was thrilling. To construct a mental model that could hold the new bits of information, shifting and redefining them until they became categories, hierarchies and relationships that made sense to me. Now, I could use the new information to ask more questions and build even more relationships.
And then, I had a realization: my struggle with the big vista parallels the research process we ask of our students: choose a big vista – bigger than you can comprehend all at once. More amorphous than a teacher, less contained and organized than a textbook. Absorb everything. Record your thoughts. Ask questions. Look for answers. Then, pull all of that together into a comprehensible whole that answers a question that reflects a deep understanding of the big vista.
While I’m grateful for the opportunity to build a new system of questioning (that now lives in my life-skills  toolbox), I’m reminded of the arduous nature of that process. And, the way it dovetails into a responsibility to respect our students’ learning process. To respect start-up time, margin for error and the journey of self-discovery. As they develop ownership of their own learning process, they are, as one student put it, “liberated.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

I Want/Don't Want a Kindle

I truly believe in change.  I do.  But some of my best childhood memories are found in the pages of a good book…a physical book.  I loved the feel of the well-worn pages, the musty smell of the children’s reading room of the North Hollywood Regional Library, browsing the stacks to find my next read, and talking to Mrs. Gould, my favorite librarian.  Fast forward to the 21st century and The Kindle.  I’m told over and over, “It’s GREAT!  I can load hundreds of titles on it, it weighs next to nothing, and there’s no glare reading outside.”   It does sound great…the promise of taking numerous books with me on vacation without weighing down my luggage, downloading free classics, no pages flapping around me while reading on my patio.  I’m a woman poised between two worlds.  I fear leaving behind libraries as we know them, seeing Vroman’s and other bookstores close, & ultimately losing the physical book altogether.  I appreciate much about library technology…no more real ‘card’ catalogs, the ability to find timely information in a flash, downloading music on iTunes, keeping in touch with my kids & old friends via Facebook .  I know it’s not all bad. 

My Kindle is still in perfect condition

So here it is…”the box”.   This was a Christmas gift from my husband—the very same husband who heard me say, “I know I’ll eventually want a Kindle, but I’m just not ready yet.”  This is as far as I’ve gotten since I tore the colorful wrapping off the package.  It’ll happen.  I’ll open the box…just not today. Meanwhile, you’ll have to excuse me.  My bookshelves beckon.      Mrs. Hodge

Friday, March 11, 2011

What's the worst book you've ever read?
To some, the answer comes quickly. Ask others, and there follows a long, thoughtful pause.

Our Middle School Library Advisors group posed this question to the student body - and the display upstairs in the library holds the answer - a selection of "the worst." The advisors seeded the display with their own worst titles, then opened the question to other students who put books and short reviews into the display case.

How do you define worst?
Is it boring? Offensive? Is the main character someone you just can't relate to? What if the the book makes you angry, or anxious? Sometimes, I get annoyed with the choices that the main character makes. But does that make a book the worst?

The display case is full. Some titles are expected. Some are surprising. Like Twilight. It's not in the case, although more than a few students suggested it. Twilight is a title that is both wildly popular, but also widely disliked. Why isn't it in the case? Because all three of our copies are currently checked out.

I've enjoyed the conversations circling around this display.
No bland discussions here.
Plenty of opinions, passion and diverse viewpoints.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


L.A. Day sign-ups
There are many days when I look up at our counter and feel overwhelmed by everything on it, but before I begin to hyperventilate and have a “fit” I remember that most of it has a good purpose and that it is, in fact, the perfect home for what is there.

I can hardly remember what our counter top looked like with nothing on it!  At first glance it is truly overwhelming. On the one side you have many opportunities to be as busy as you want. Today you can: sign up to volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House, attend a baking seminar, and participate in the Film and Music Festival. If you are a sophomore, you can apply to be a committee head for JPD, a senior boy, Mr. Flintridge Prep, and senior girl, Emcee for Mr. Flintridge Prep!  On the opposite side you will find what you need to do take care of school business: sign out sheet for lap tops, the school newspaper, bulletin announcements, facility requests, activity proposals, community service information, and login information for JSTOR…whewwww!  Not interested in any of these? Just wait a minute and there will be more!  We have just about anything you could ever want!

Mrs. Ursettie

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dewey or don't we? or What ARE those numbers for?

Beautiful centuries-old volumes at Oxford University

I can think of fewer things more dull than waxing poetic about the virtues of the Dewey Decimal System.  However, when a junior approached me and said, “I’ve never understood what these numbers are for”, I realized that he was, in all likelihood, not alone.  So, boys and girls, this will be a brief description to satisfy your need for logic and stability in a turbulent world!

Think of the numbers on the book spine as their address.  It’s where they live on the shelves.  Book nerds memorize them unintentionally:  we know that the Civil War is 973.7 (973 is U.S. History & the .7 indicates the years 1861-1865), British poets are in the 821 section, and cookbooks are in the 641s.  There truly IS logic here:  if you’re looking for Military History, you’ll look in the 355s (300s are Social Sciences/Social History), weapons are found in the 623s (600s are Technology), but the specific history of World War II is in the 940.53 or .54 sections (940s are European History).  Don’t snicker…somebody needs to be the keeper of such information, just as someone needs to know advanced calculus (and that is definitely not me!).

When you’re researching your topic in the library, find books in the library catalog, note their Dewey #, and search the shelves, using the handy little guides on the inside edges of the stacks.  They’re in numerical order, so they’re easy to locate.  If you’re looking for a particular title about Korea, look around in the 951.9 section; there will be several other titles on the same, or closely-related, topic.  This method works for whatever topic you have—look around the same call number to find similar information. 

And there you have it—another tool to craft the quintessential research paper!   So, Dewey?  Sure we do!

Mrs. Hodge

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Technology and expectations

“Papa! No working! No work!” an exasperated Zack exclaims.
His stuffed bear, dizzy from its recent shaking, refuses to produce technology.
Zack has expectations. And they’re based in technology. Deeply seated expectations: movement, light, sound, even voice recognition. He’s come to expect it. And this stuffed piece of quasi realistic bear is falling short of the mark. Patiently, his dad explains, “Zack, it’s a stuffed animal. It doesn’t do anything.” A pause. Then, “Papa – not working!”

What is the value of technology? Can we only assess value when the technology is missing (or not working properly)? I share Zack’s exasperation. There is a bit of Wi-Fi saturation at school, and at home.
Devices that responded as quickly as I could type are now lagging.
It feels like the rapid expansion of technical complexity is folding in on itself – making mischief among the devices.

Complexity is wondrous. It can be as captivating as the patterning of a barrel cactus bloom. With layers of symmetry inviting your speculations about geometry.
And equally challenging.
I know one thing though: I want to go forward.
Like Zack, I have expectations.
-Mrs. Eldridge

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Why blog?

Why blog?  For librarians “of a certain age," blogging isn’t usually the first item on our “to do” list.  Maybe that’s the point…to step outside our comfort zone, to meet students, current and past, in a way that’s familiar to them.  We want to share our varied views of this busy corner of the Prep world.  We’ll talk about events in and around the library, what’s new in the world of books and non-books, amusing interactions with students and teachers, or things only vaguely library-related.  We’ll even throw in some photos!   The library is the figurative and literal center of campus—we think it deserves a blog.  This is where you come in:  we’d like to find a great name for this blog.  If you submit the winning name, you will receive a semi-fabulous prize!  Intrigued?  Then, please shoot us an email with a clever, amusing, eye-catching title.  Fame and fortune could be yours!  Well, maybe that’s a bit overstated, but you get the idea…
-Mrs. Hodge

Monday, February 7, 2011

Heart, Mind and Soul

It's admissions time on campus. I love meeting the kids who come in the library during their interviews; they have such wonder on their faces. I find myself dying to tell them why I believe Prep should be their number one choice, in fact they are standing in the perfect place to prove my point! Our library is a microcosm of the school. A smaller version of the larger story of our Prep community. A school with a heart!
Stay with me. You have the downstairs where kids gather to share ideas, secrets and their newest interests. It’s a place to be encouraged and to encourage friends, an opportunity for deeper teacher-student relationships. Younger kids are tutored by upper classmen. There is tons of laughter, sometimes tears, planning of prom dates, who will run for office, the newest trends. It is a place to show off art work, mini monologues, dance…just about anything is respectfully experienced here. It is where the “warm and fuzzy” happens!

Now take a walk up the staircase, through a foyer, take a deep breath and you will have entered the quiet, intellectual part of the library. Walls are lined with students on computers, deep in research. Packed with extremely focused, high achieving young people, yet you can hear a pin drop. It is the serious side.  It is the introspective place where you can curl up in a cozy chair and get lost in a book or just close your eyes and get rejuvenated.
There is no question, in my mind, that anyone who chooses Prep will receive a stellar education and be totally prepared for college. But, just as important they will be emotionally mature and ready for a new life! The whole person will have been cared for, heart, mind and soul!

-Mrs. Ursettie