Pedagogy, School Libraries, Techno Geekiness


(aka, “what I’m trying to get my head around right now”)

Wow. Just… wow.

Joan Frye Williams is one of the most inspirational speakers I’ve heard in a long time. Why? Because she was practical. She started out by stating that not all of us can do/be Library 2.0, that not all of the SL2.0 “cool tools” will work in every environment. However, she did give us some thoughts to help us revision what we do, within whatever limitations we have. As she so bluntly put it, “we’re always painting utopian pictures of 2.0 ideas… I’m going to focus on reality”.

So, what’s reality? Reality is context. What context do you see yourself in? What context do your students see you in?

Innovation is no longer starting at the top, it’s “trickle up”; with this comes many ways to “get it right”. That’s right, folks: there are multiple choices, we’re not a monoculture.

Then she told us the questions that students will ask when they think about the library. We need to think about them as we rethink our service to our community.

Question One: Is this my kind of place?

Often, the answer is based on past experience, on public perceptions. We need to address this. But how?

  • Trumpet our “green” practices. Students today are eco-conscious – they know that not all technologies are computer technologies. Tell them about the recycled paper in the copier… trumpet your energy saving techniques. Let them know that this is something you care about, too.
  • Make sure you’re well-equiped with both staff and wireless. Remember, to them, information = technology.
  • Williams encouraged us to “practice, dude!”. There are no digital natives, no digital immigrants. When you whine about not knowing/understanding/getting something, you’re losing ground with students: you ain’t got no street cred, no reliability. “We are in a culture of mastery: and we need to acknowledge that it’s difficult to be a novice again and again and again and again…
  • Can I try new things? Is the library simply a book place, or do we offer book arts? multi-media (both doing and watching)? new technologies? In other words, is the library an idea factory? Students want to get, apply and learn in one place (NB: teachers don’t think of us as a container, so we have to change that)
  • What does it look like? We’re talking furnishing here. Is it comfortable? Well-lit? Is there space for lounging and space for collaboration?
  • Does it emphasize the pleasure of learning? Start thinking in their terms – don’t use words like “Bibliographies” and “Pathfinders”, try “Easter Eggs” and “Cheat Codes”. Remember: you are the level keeper in SchoolQuest.

Question Two: Will I succeed?

  • They want an experience that does not require an assist; we need to create an environment that allows them to succeed on their own.
  • Let them fail on their own terms. Become a candy store of ideas and data, and let them in to play and learn.
  • Create simplified wayfinding tools: reduce initial choice and clutter, give situational directions, use natural language (what does “bound periodicals” mean to them?!), prepackage tips/shortcuts/FAQ (and call them that!)
  • Remember, our sense of “enoughness” is different from theirs. While we may want them to have every possible resource, they may not feel that same need.
  • Reduce the number of directional questions (“can I help you?” “have you tried this resource?”) and let them figure out what they want/need with the tools we provide – they’ll come to us when they need our help. Act as a service “bookend”: get them started, then circle back later.
  • Merchandize the collection. The best part of the book is not the spine.
  • Consider creating “information neighborhoods
  • Best sign at a reference desk: “Homework Insurance”

Question Three: Does this intergrate with the rest of my online life?

  • We need to deeply engage/mesh with the rest of the electronic world. Libraries are part of an open information system: information is no longer scarce, it is ubiquitous.
  • There is nothing that we do that search engines can’t do better (OCLC survey) so… we need to become the activity, not the container. “Put the hay out where the goats are.”
  • Talk about “Extreme Googling”, or create a library toolbar
  • Does your library have a wikipedia entry? a Flikr account? What about podcasting booktalks or poetry slams?
  • Students have “continuous partial attention”, so find ways to engage at least part of their brain – don’t worry about all of it.

Question Four: Am I allowed to participate?

Students want to FUSE (Find, Use, Share and Expand – a great way to teach the research process!). How do we allow them to do this?

  • Find recommender systems like Movielens. Users trust personal recommendations.
  • Mash-ups need to be shared.
  • What can we do easily? Allow students to review; ask them to help create folksonomies; get input from student discussion groups.

The big takeaway: Think like a student: look for new ways to add value

2 thoughts on “YMMV”

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