The SWOT analysis, SSR and an Asperger’s challenge

A month ago I shuddered when we were assigned the academic portfolio tasks. I thought, Me? Do a SWOT analysis? You’ve got to be kidding.  Two days ago I handed the completed SWOT over to the school, just for their info. Oh my word! *sighs*  It might not sound like a big thing to anyone out there, who may read this, but it was for me.  A personal achievement; proof of academic growth and professional confidence.  Woohoo! I feel good.  Now on to the ‘strategic planning for the way ahead’.  Okay.  Gulp. I can do this!

Not to say that all that is in the SWOT will make for happy reading…but that’s ok with me, because truth be told, the media centre of this particular school is stuck in the 60s!  While I spent the morning there, I had an opportunity to watch yet another (extremely) painful lesson of ‘silent reading’ for 30 minutes.  I place this in inverted commas because those Year 7s did NOT read! They stared blankly into space, laid on their arms, with some staring at the same page for the full lesson.  {You see, hidden in the stacks, it’s easy for me to observe these goings-on.} The teacher duly proceeded to mark classwork, and only when he heard a whisper did he seem to surface, separated one boy from the group and resumed his marking. The boy fumingly brooded for the rest of the lesson!  I had to wonder what was going on in this boy’s mind. For him it was a dreary 30 minutes – punishment, boring and useless. This was a missed opportunity to bring enthusiasm and discovery into a very dull mind.

I was just reading an article by Siah and Kwok (2010:168) on SSR (sustained silent reading) and discovered that it was a programme proposed and implemented in the 60s and 70s. Well, in my opinion, THAT IS WHERE IT BELONGS!  But then, some say there are those who appreciate and benefit from it. Really?! Maybe those from privileged or professional families, where parents are academically minded; or where parents are readers, engaged with their children – reading WITH them, reading TO them.  Perhaps my loathing of SSR is because I’ve only had opportunity to witness it here, in a non-reading culture. It does not work here. 

What’s that I hear? Teacher’s tired?  Oh, right, the last day of the week is a challenge? It’s a lesson ‘off’ for the teacher!  A chance to catch up on marking perhaps? A chance to gossip with the librarian?  Or rather, a chance to show how well you can punish, or embarrass, the individual who hates reading. 

Talking of hating reading…a statistic I saw last week, claimed that 1 in 50 children are being diagnosed with Autism/Asperger’s Disorder (no, it’s NOT a disease). Do teachers know the symptoms?  Would they know when they are confronted with a child with Asperger’s?  I think not.  Mainstream teachers are not supposed to encounter special needs. Yet they are! In increasing numbers!  With that rate of diagnosis, they’re in almost every other class, and counting those who are undiagnosed, you can bet your bottom dollar – they’re in every class today!  And, dear librarians, they’re in your library every day. And for the most part, they hate reading.

What qualifies me to talk so knowingly about Autism/Asperger’s?  Well, you see, our son was diagnosed only 18 months ago, at the age of 28!  All his life he was different. Normal, yet different!  He was odd. On another planet. (Aren’t we all, say the wise-cracks.) All his life he battled at school.  Hated reading, hated speaking.  Played differently, couldn’t cope with theory. Quietly observed life go on around him, with a question mark all over his face, wanting to be out, flying on his bike… Whenever we followed advice to take him for a diagnosis, there was none.  He’ll come by, they said.  He’s a late developer, they countered.  It’s neurological…speech dyslexia! Abused! said one. Naughty! said another. And finally, at the age of 18, an esteemed educational psychologist in Johannesburg told us, in front of our son, that he would not be worth anything! “Useless. Put him back in school so he can learn something!” said the man.  You see, I had refused to give up on my son, years back, and we had taken up home schooling.  (The method we followed worked very well with him, and he finished Year 12.  But that’s another story, for another day.)  This ‘professional’ only saw the word “home schooled” and was blinded by bias against it. He did not look deeper, to see the person he was testing.  He did not look into my son’s soul.  (Incidentally, my daughter was also home schooled throughout high school, and today she is a qualified primary school teacher.  A very successful one!)

Home-schooling days 2004

Home-schooling days 2004

Back to Asperger’s.  You see, no two people with autism are alike.  And with Asperger’s, some on the higher end of the spectrum are diagnosed only into their twenties, because they have learned to mask and hide the disorder, by means of coping mechanisms.  Suddenly, when they are supposed to be able to do certain things, take part in certain activities, arrange their business, hold a relationship, hold down a job – life suddenly becomes unstuck, and they cannot cope.  This is what happened to my son.  Once he lost his job, it all became clear in the year thereafter.  Asperger’s was confirmed.  If only we had known. If only specialists/teachers/doctors in South Africa during the 80s and 90s had been able to diagnose this.  But they couldn’t, didn’t.  My challenge to you, whoever you may be, is to inform yourself on Asperger’s.  Know what it is.  Sooner or later, you will encounter it.  Could be you’re already dealing with someone who has this disorder, and you don’t know why he/she is so damn frustrating.

Because we didn’t know, we sent him on to college, expected him to do what he could to build a career.  When he failed at one thing, he tried another.  After years of heartache, expenses, struggles and pain, he finally attained a Commercial Photographer’s Certificate!  His talent blossomed. Today he is a wonderful landscape photographer, brilliant at post production, without a job and an income, but attempting to build a Freelancing business. Gus 2012 
Certainly not useless! (Asperger’s people usually have a higher than average IQ.)  After 8 years of trying to ‘make it out there’, he has moved back in with us as he can’t live alone.  However, he is a person in his own right, living life to the fullest that he possibly can.  Not disabled, differently abled!

Moral of this rather lengthy post … look into a student’s eyes and see who is there.  Find what triggers his/her excitement and develop it. Connect. Information is for everyone…not only for the cooperative, obedient, few. Oh, and avoid SSR!


Aspienaut – Wired Differently.

Siah, P & Kwok, W. 2010. The value of reading and the effectiveness of sustained silent reading. The Clearing House 83:168–174.


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What makes amazing?

This week’s post…? Suffice to say that I cannot stop thinking about that Portfolio waiting to be put together, but what’s good is, it’s becoming a little less daunting!
I have this desire to see the school’s library transformed, become amazing – because of what the SWOT report will deliver, because of what my research (gulp) will prove…or because of recommendations made. Ultimately, because of this passion inside me, of knowing that libraries are meant for so much more – uplifting and serving the community in more ways than we can imagine!
Fittingly, I noticed a tweet this morning, where someone had posted a Vimeo presentation by R D Lankes on “The Bad, The Good, and The Great.” (Given, no less, from the chemo therapy room! Talk about amazing!) Viewing the presentation by this remarkable mind, I’m going “Yes, yes, yes!” I hear him say that libraries are of the community…it’s all about community! Community building.

I’m really hoping I can translate this into the school situation, so that I make sense. That’s my mission over the next few months, aside from tackling cataloging, classification, subject organisation, “user” (the term Lankes hates so much!) services, and the political economy of Information (ugh!).
I’m eating, breathing, sleeping, dreaming library services and librarianship right now; loaded with info, yet trying to find the words…

There’s a community right here, worse off for not having access to amazing! 10,000 books in a school library, don’t make amazing. It’s what 1 valid, relevant, item, 1 community contact, 1 link, 1 article can do for 1 person’s need – that makes ‘amazing’! 1 person becomes 2, and 2 become 20, and so on. And soon the community is amazing, because 1 library served, truly served, 1 person.

Lankes says: “Great libraries build communities”.
Dare I say a great library builds an amazing community?

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The shrieking shrew and other issues – a rant!

I’m burning with passion to write this post.  I visited the secondary school library yesterday, mainly to interview the librarian, or Learning Resource Centre Manager, which is the title that has been invested upon her. I came away alternately saddened, angry, and frustrated, that an opportunity to have a fully operational library has gone so horribly wrong.

Firstly, the school has no staff room.  In the ‘old days’ as they were referred to, staff met for a quick before-school meet in the library.  Now they meet for 15 mins on the first day of the week, in the hall.  A mid-week 15 min meet-up for primary and secondary teachers in their respective groups happens as well, but otherwise very little chance for teachers to make longer contact.   This to me seems like a group of teachers not fully connected, and not least with the library facility, since there is no encouragement at all to pop in and see what is on offer.  In fact, the senior management of the school declined to answer any questions I had regarding the library as they felt “unequipped to answer”, not knowing what happens in the library.  I could cry!

To add to this, the school operates outdated library management software, and only for the librarian!  No-one has had training on it, no-one is prepared to pay for training on it, which I believe, is hugely expensive and via Skype.  The only person that has access to the catalogue therefore, is the librarian, because the technology capacity of the school (in one of the richest countries in the world), is so dodgy, that it takes a full 5 mins just to open a WORD document!

The librarian is frustrated, having never been given a proper job description, neither recognised as librarian nor teacher.  No-one in management seems particularly interested in her job, nor her library.  She has a host of responsibilities, with only a few of them pertaining to managing the library.  She is doing spine labelling by hand! Typing little pieces of paper, cutting them out into squares, and attaching them with scotch tape. One of her tasks is to provide tea/coffee to surrounding class teachers, because with no staff room, and nowhere to gather, if you’re located next to the library why not pop in there for a chat and coffee?, even if there is another lesson going on!

Talking about lessons in the library…why, oh why, take a bunch of Year 7 boys into a library, shout like a shrew for them to “get a library book to read – quickly, and sit down.” They then proceed to have 40 WASTED mins pretending to read from a book, grabbed from anywhere on the shelves, in which they have zero or very little interest; they are sniggering, whispering, fidgeting, doodling, staring blankly – everything except READING!!! And when the period is over the shrieking shrew tells them to “put the books back where you found them!”.  Well, besides the fact that they don’t have a cooking clue where they took the book from, they also just want to get out of there as fast as possible and into the next class/break time.  The books land up anywhere – anatomy with fiction, insects with volcanoes, and fiction scattered anywhere in-between.

During this supposedly silent reading, the teacher shows no interest in what the students are reading, and proceeds to gossip with the librarian, enjoying a freshly-made cup of coffee!  I want to froth at the mouth when she shouts out “SHHHHHHH! [wholly unacceptable in this multi-cultural society] A library is supposed to be a quiet place!”

Well, OK, relatively quiet, I’ll concede, but not in the way she defines it! Those kids will never willingly set foot in a library, guaranteed!  And when they get to college, their remote memories of secondary school’s ‘forced’ reading will come flooding back and they will sidestep the flippin’ library and resort to Google! No wonder Google is doing so well… we the librarians, teachers, parents, educators, professionals, have failed to make the library a ‘want-to-go-to’ place, especially in a school.

The budget is supposedly sufficient – for what?  There is no mention-worthy technology present.  Twelve computers that are dreadfully slow, a scanner linked to one computer, and one printer that works.  No e-resources subscribed to (not even Encyclopaedia Britannica), no electronic catalogue, few current print resources, dodgy furniture, no mention of the library on the school’s website….I could rant on and on!

So, I have to do the SWOT analysis.  Yes, it’s easy to identify problems, potential, threats, (few strengths at this moment in time) – but inside I’m so sad.  Sad that yet another year will go by and those learners will have no support, no idea of how to approach a library for learning, no clue how to find resources, no clue how to make full use of information and teachers that are forcing their multi-cultural class to pick up a book and READ! I cannot see that strategy work….you have to make them WANT to read.

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Batho Pele (Sotho, for ‘people first’)

Batho Pele was a South African government initiative, started in 1997, to transform public services. It would seem it was to transform them from adeptness to corruption, waste and inefficiency.
However, that is not why I’m stressing the term today…it’s because it fits as a label (mentioned in my Study Guide for AIS3703, by Dr JA Fourie) for my personal image of a professional librarian. Truly someone who is there for the people, regardless of race, culture or social standing!
So why this elitism that exists in the profession? Why do you even find the term ‘celebrity librarian’? I may well understand, one day.
But for now, reading about the attributes of professional service, it’s heartwarming to see that I’ve at least got the foundation rightly formed – a desire for true altruistic service orientation! Yes, expert knowledge, strong ethics, accountability to the community, knowledge of their needs and interests, professional autonomy – all important in the right measure – but all worthless without a heart for selfless service. People first! Batho pele!

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Positive encounters

The friendly librarian welcomed contact again, and off I went to pay her a visit to explain what the practical portfolio involves and how it may impact her library, should she give me the go ahead to use her library as focus. I wanted her to think about it for a couple of days, but straight away she was excited!
“Come,” says she, ” we’ll pop in on Bob and I’ll introduce you to him”.
” Who’s Bob?”
“Ah, he’s head of Secondary”, she replies.
It was cold outside, kids just arriving for school, busy atmosphere all round. We step into a smaller building – main reception and offices. We are shown into an office. He is really friendly, listens to my hurried responses to his questions, politely offers support from academic-minded staff members if I need it, and then asks me to send him my CV so they know who’s on campus. “Right,” says I, “as soon as I’ve emailed the Principal. Would you like me to cc you?”.
“Oh, sure,” he goes, “please do.”

We walk out and she says, “Now for Bob.”
Shocked, I ask, “But who was that?”
“Oh, that was the Principal, Jack.”

My head spun! I wanted to run back and apologise! Didn’t I hear his name? Didn’t I see a sign? Oh, Sandra, you are dumb! I just asked the man if I could cc him, for crying out ‘loud!

“Don’t worry,” says the librarian, “he’ll just think you were referring to the head of secondary! It is the secondary library after all, that you’ll be dealing with.” Phew! Ok, but that did not make me feel good as we stepped into Bob’s office…and now came an intro…”Bob, this is Sandy”. LOL. I’m convinced there had been no introduction to the Principal!

All in all, everyone was welcoming and positively looking forward to seeing the results of my Practical Portfolio research project! Everyone except moi!


The next post is a pic I took on the day.

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Take the bull by the horns…

…is what I always tell my offspring. Now it’s time to tell myself! Oooh boy, just got instructions for the practical portfolio research task for final year. I feel like I need to analyse, research and revamp an entire library single-handedly. Where does one begin? Ah, yes…take the bull, etc etc.
*runs to computer to email a possible contact for use of her school library as subject*
Email sent, will she respond or did I burn that bridge?

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Blogging not my forte

Everyone blogs! If you’re a librarian, you blog! Well, I’m a different librarian, or at least student-librarian. (Ah, yes…I discovered a little late in life that I had missed my vocation).

Anyway,  I just can’t seem to latch on to this blogging thing. I do keep a journal…couldn’t go without it. But using language in an entertaining manner for the public to read is not one of my talents. I was brought up half Afrikaans/half English, and this did not help my vocabulary and grammar. (Talking about being a different kind of librarian…do all librarians love cats? It seems that way! I don’t like cats. Yes, you read right…I DON’T LIKE CATS! Feels good to say it too. But then, there are those two that belong to my daughter and son-in-law, that have kind of crept into my heart!)

With 7/30 modules left to complete a Bachelor’s degree in Info Science, 2014 is going to be a slog; I’m doing Distance Learning through the University of South Africa. I should complete this in Dec 2014. Roll on 2015, when I can get out there in the ‘real’ library world, hopefully equipped to make a difference somewhere.  As an expat in Doha, Qatar, I have my eye on the VERY handsome, modern Qatar National Library. Aah, as they say, dreams are good friends!

This year the course focus is on subject organization, cataloging, classification, user needs, political economy of information and more. Also a practical portfolio to do.  I love cataloging…sounds crazy, but someone has to love it, right?! However, this course is designed to make you a ‘jack of all trades’.  We’ll see where my strength lies when I get out there. By nature, I love to help, to serve, and make things easier for others.  So maybe it will be reader guidance.

For now, though, bring on 2014!  Dying to get this year behind me.   I hope to keep a record of my experiences in this final year.  Cataloguing, here we go again!


Tools of the trade

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