Explaining Our Book Orders

               We’re finally starting to get some of our book orders in, and that’s always a happy time in the LMC. I don’t care how great technology gets, you’re never going to convince me that your electronic version of the book “feels” the same as the bound set of pages loaded with static text in my hand. I know the words are what we’re really after; that it’s the ideas that matter. But form also matters in this case. Perhaps I sound a bit defensive; a bit like the scroll makers at the sight of the first books. All I know for sure is that I’ve always carried something to read with me, and I’ve never needed batteries or a plug.

               So, how do we decide what to use our valuable (and shrinking) book funds for*? Many of our book orders are recommendations from teachers and students, along with our own choice titles. We pay close attention to the conversations we hear all around us, so that if there’s an interest in a title or a writer, we make sure they find their way onto our shelves (That explains how Potter, Twilight, Da Vinci Code, and many others arrived). We also recognize where our collection is lacking, and try to improve those weaknesses. Needless to say, this is not an easy or simple task, trying to consider and balance all of the resource needs for a school as large and diverse as Haverhill High School.

               Thrown into the mix, of course, there are my own biases combined with my educational philosophy. There’s no sense in having this much power (to fill the shelves with ideas) and not trying to shape it in some meaningful way. Looking through the book orders, it should be clear that I have an agenda, and here is some of it, along with examples of books I ordered for our collection.


  • Expand notions of “literacy”: I openly admit that I loved reading comic books as a kid. Even now, a good graphic novel or a cartoon in Mad magazine can be just as satisfying as a text only book or a magazine article. Nowadays, many educators are finally beginning to rediscover that there is more than one way to tell a story. We’ve been expanding our graphic novel collection for years now. Among our current collection you’ll find titles such as Maus I & II, Citizen 13660, Yossel, and Persepolis. We’ve also just received graphic novel adaptations of two classics; Fahrenheit 451 and Darwin’s Origin of Species.



  • Promote non-fiction and pro-science reading: I fell in love with reading primarily through fiction but by the time I was in high school, I was reading much more non-fiction. I still love a good novel, but if I can choose a book about the history of pencils or rats or heartburn or the color peach instead, I do. Fortunately, there are many capable and entertaining writers telling all kinds of fascinating stories about the world. Recent arrivals include The Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage, Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin, Language and the Internet by David Crystal and Snake Oil Science by Barker Bausell.


  • Support AP students and courses: One thing that was lacking when I first started working here were study materials for students to check out. Our collection did not have any test prep material for students taking AP courses or preparing for the PSAT, SAT or ACT. With competition for college entrance getting tougher every year, we felt it necessary to develop a collection of these books. We try to order 4 or 5 test review books in the various AP subjects, keep one for the library and pass the rest along to the classroom teachers.


  • Continue sharing TED Talks: This isn’t at all about the book orders, but about great free online videos. I’ve known about this site for at least a couple of years, and I am always amazed that I can still find some new fascinating talk, told in a different way, in under twenty minutes. This time, I found an animated talk titled, “A Darwinian Theory of Beauty”.

That’s all for now. Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you found something interesting.

* There is a formal selection process outlined in the LMC information and policy handbook.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2011. All rights reserved.

Some observations about technology & education

               As the librarian, I get to observe many teachers working with their classes. It is a fantastic perch I get to watch from and I am always trying to “see” what it is that we are doing in school. Here are some of my latest observations, though I am not sure what they mean. (Perhaps you can help me with that part.) 

  • Technology is here to stay and yet, we’re not really sure why we’re using it sometimes. I’ve seen teachers bring their classes down to use the computers, but they are being employed in vastly different ways. Some teachers bring their students to use the internet for research, guiding them with recommended sites, while others allow their students to simply Google anything they want, and/or use wikipedia as a source. Still others only visit to have students type their essays, never using the internet or online databases.
  • It is interesting to watch students working on asynchronous, distributed learning like Virtual High School courses and the NovaNet program. Some packages include video and audio segments to go along with the standard online reading and writing. What is clearly missing is the classroom interaction, the back and forth of discussions and questions. I’m left wondering if this model works for all learners, and if the “assessments” (usually multiple choice questions) really demonstrate learning or simple recall of information.
  • I am amazed by how many students still see the computer as basically a typewriter and/or an entertainment system. When they are not typing a paper, they are trying to access music or games online because, according to them, “I’m finished with all of my work”. Besides the occasional Power Point presentation, I hardly ever see students using computers to actually “compute” anything. That is, I hardly ever see anyone using a spreadsheet to plot information or create graphs. I have never seen students creating a database, learning what fields are or how to run a query. I haven’t witnessed students independently watching educational videos from PBS, Yale Open Access, TED Talks, Khan Academy or any number of valuable information sources available online. Instead, I find them looking at Nike sneakers, cars few will ever be able to afford or the latest video from Nikki Minaj or Lil’ Wayne.
  • Finally, I posted a picture of Steve Jobs, along with a quote attributed to him, on my office window the day after he died. There is no mention of who he was, only the dates 1955 – 2011. Not surprisingly, more than a few students had no idea who he was, even though they carried versions of his ipod in their pockets and had little white ear buds hanging from their collars. One writer I read, mentioned that perhaps Jobs’ greatest contribution to our culture was his ability to make technology fun and beautiful. I leave that for others to decide. 

               There it is. Some observations from where I sit. Like I said, I am not sure what all this means, but I know that I am watching a radical departure from what school was like when I was a student. I love technology, and I am thankful for the incredible power it puts at our fingertips. I’ve learned though, that whenever something is gained, something is inevitably also lost. Many people have started taking sides on what we’re gaining and losing with the advent of always being connected. I recommend for your consideration the following books, which we have in our collection:

  •  Fool’s Gold: why the internet is no substitute for a library by Mark Herring: We just got this title in, but obviously it would strike a chord with me, being a librarian. I’ll give a more informed review when I’m done reading it.
  • The Shallows: what the internet is doing to our brains by Nicholas Carr: I’ve mentioned this book on this blog before, but I think it’s worth repeating. Carr’s thesis is essentially that our brains are “sculpted” by the thinking and learning technologies they encounter. Everything from pictographs, the phonetic alphabet and maps have all informed our minds about the state and shape of the real world around us. Now neuroscience is discovering that our latest and greatest invention, the internet, is changing how we think.
  • The Future of the Internet: and how to stop it by Jonathan Zittrain: Another new arrival to our shelves, I can’t say anything except that it promises to be interesting. According to the blurbs and reviews I’ve read, the author posits that commercial interests have already started taking control of what was once an open, democratic and often, chaotic new form of communication. The real danger for users lies in the ubiquity of the internet and the incredible power it has for gathering information about all of us.

Thank you for stopping by and I hope you found something interesting and useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2011. All rights reserved.

First October Post, 2011

               October is finally here and this Columbus Day Weekend has been fabulous! With October come all the wonderful colors of autumn and, of course, the crisp chill of shortening New England days. I, for one, welcome the cooler air, though I do lament losing the wonderful sunshine to our more typical cloud cover around these parts. That is the thing in life, there always seems to be a trade off.

               There are many celebrations worth noting in October. October 2nd was the birthday of Mohandas Gandhi. International World Teachers’ Day is October 5th. October 9th is Leif Erikson Day and the second Monday is Columbus Day; each claiming European discovery of the Americas. October 12th is a new-found favorite of mine, Freethought Day which marks the end of the Salem Witch Trials. October 16th is World Food Day, sponsored by the United Nations which has its own celebration on October 24th (it was first organized in 1947, in case you forgot). Then, of course there’s All Hallows Eve or Halloween as we know it on the last day of October. Dress up and collect candy, not a bad interpretation of what started out as a pretty scary festival.

               This Columbus Day weekend, I recommend you read one of my favorite essays, Barry Lopez’s “The Rediscovery North America”. It seems to me, to be pertinent to the present state of affairs, considering the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations that have crept up over the past several weeks. How we measure wealth, status, well-being, abundance, and our relationship to the earth itself are all considered by Lopez.

               On a different matter, we’ve started getting some of our orders. Many thanks to The Library Video Company who delivered our order in about a week’s time. Among the twenty six new DVDs we’ve added, a handful of titles that look really interesting to me are:

  • College, Inc.: This hour long program takes a look at the current state of higher education in the United States. Produced in 2010, the program focuses on the for-profit and online sector’s rise and influence.
  • Growing Up Online: Google just turned 13 years old. That means that every freshman we meet thinks it’s always been around. My own eleven year old son has ventured into virtual vistas I’ve never visited (that’s alliteration, folks). Another Frontline program, but I stand by my curiosity.
  • America, The Story of Us: This 3 disc offering from the History Channel will hopefully not include any conspiracy theories or UFOs in the telling of how we came to be who we are. It seems to me that the more we learn about all the people who populated the past, the less certain we sometimes become about who we really are. This is the History Channel’s nine hour attempt to talk about the man in the mirror. (Good luck, ese).
  • Killer at Large: It seems like every year the news gets worse about our weight. Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me” was just the first of many documentaries and reports that have chronicled our nation’s ever growing waistline.
  • Human Footprint: Anyone who has ever been responsible for taking out the garbage or handling the recycling of the house has stopped and wondered, “how much stuff do we throw out in a lifetime?” It’s staggering when you stop to think about how much material goods you need to get by in an average day. This film is from National Geographic and was released in 2008; it also has online resources intended for classroom discussions. 

               I want to thank Ms. Hart and Ms. Donnelly for bringing their freshman classes for the LMC orientations. From their behavior, questions and overall general demeanor, I can tell that we have an excellent group of students for the class of 2015. I expect to hear great things from them in the coming months and years.

 Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you find something useful.

 Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2011. All rights reserved.