This is a cross-post from the Association of Independent School (AISL): Independent Ideas Blog.
Sadly, I seem to have reached an age where the pop-culture references of my youth are clearly becoming anachronisms, but way back in the 1970s I used to catch the bus home after school with a house key on a chain that I wore around my neck–GASP! Yes, people, I was a latchkey child!!!
If every parent from the 1970s who sent children home to empty homes after school got arrested for child abandonment, there would have been very few folk in my neighborhood that would not have been incarcerated. One of the wonderful (in my humble opinion, at least) experiences that being a semi-feral child in the 70s provided was that after finishing my homework, I could watch reruns of the Brady Bunch everyday from 3:30-4:00 before going out to run around the neighborhood in my bare feet (I had to go home when the street lights turned on. It was a FLAWLESS system!). In my upper elementary years, I saw every episode of the Brady Bunch so many times that within 45 seconds of the start of the show, I knew which episode I was going to watch.
One of the seemingly dire social issues raised in episodes of the Brady Bunch was that of the pain and struggle experienced by the long-suffering middle daughter–Jan Brady! Poor Jan could neither compete with the cuteness that was baby-sister Cindy, nor could she compete with the incredibly competent and popular awesomeness embodied by her older sister Marcia—Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!!! (The really good part of the video starts at 1:16 or so!)
Aside: Marcia, FYI, Jan is pretty much sick and tired of living in your shadow! #ImJustSaying
Anyway, that is my incredibly overwrought opening to my post on middle school library services for this month. I have a new job! It is a wonderful job, but I went from being a librarian at an exclusively 7th-9th campus to being a librarian at a PK-12th campus. Am I still a middle division librarian? Without a doubt, yes! The change, however, has made me acutely aware of how the information needs of middle schoolers are different than then needs of elementary schoolers and high schoolers. Now that I no longer can build and run programming and library services designed for a 3-year age range, I’ve become acutely aware of just how much middle schoolers are not just miniature high school people and how important it is for them to have services designed with their middle school needs in mind.
The scope of everything is just too much to talk about here, so let’s just take a look at database searching as an illustrative sampling of needs. We are a 1:1 iPad site and our students have access to a mind-boggling array of database content at great pricing made possible by the Hawaii Library Consortium. We have access to an amazing number of databases via EBSCOHost, but as a librarian, how am I supposed to help the 12-year old searching for information on turtles find the challenging (for a 12-year old) yet age-appropriate article, “Guarding the Nest,” on sea turtle conservation from Atlanta Magazine, but without leaving her overwhelmed by, “Microbial Isolations from Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) and East Pacific Green (Chelonia mydas agassizii) Sea Turtle Nests in Pacific Costa Rica, and Testing of Cloacal Fluid Antimicrobial Properties” in the academic journal, Chelonian Conservation & Biology?
Targeting print collections and sorting content and making decisions about age-appropriateness of print material can be get very sticky, no doubt, but I found the process of setting up a “middle school user” profile on EBSCO to be a far more challenging task than I had ever imagined it would be when I started the process. Basically, I ran test searches, looked at results, and made some best-guesses about appropriateness of EACH DATABASE. AAAUUUGGGGHHH!!! Believe me, there were points where I thought I was going to poke my eyeballs out with dull #2 pencils.
In the end, our “middle school user” profile on EBSCO is not perfect. It is not. For me, though, perfection is the enemy of really good. In my personal perfect world, I would tweak my EBSCO middle school user profile for the next 5-years and then retire without any middle schooler ever using it to do any searching. In that model, my profile could be perfect. I don’t know about you, but that’s not the real-world librarian I have been hired (and which I aspire) to be. We’re going to roll out our (hopefully really, really good, but) imperfect search profile and have our middle school kids start searching. We’ll see what happens and we’ll change what doesn’t work.
We concurrently developed a “high school user” EBSCO profile that attempts to address the needs of our high school students who range from English Language Learners (ELL) to AP and IB Certificate students.
And we did our Facts On File, GALE, ABC-CLIO, Salem, Britannica, World Book, and ProQuest databases, too!
We’re pretty well down the road of targeting our database content to Jan (middle) and Marcia (high), but that means we’re going to need to start thinking about services for Cindy (elementary). Development of our elementary library services portal is coming next.
The elementary portal looks like it’ll be as easy-peasy as taking a 3-hour boat tour! I have, in fact, booked a 3-hour tour on a cute little boat called the S.S. Minnow …