Keeping up with the Joneses

“Today’s library is a learning place, not a warehouse space. And it must be a fluid environment, one that continually reinvents itself to remain relevant, that adapts to new knowledge of learning and new pedagogy.” — Rolf Erickson, 2011

We, the hAPPY librarians, have become increasingly interested and compelled by the big tent notion of librarianship (Woodworth, 2010) and view our collaborative blog on emerging technologies within three library domains: educational (academic and school) and public, as a modest contribution– an additional pole to keep the tent upright. Not content to construct yet another dialogic silo, our next step, post-quarter, is to produce a collaboratively curated web resource that provides access to the latest resources related to emerging technologies and librarianship. We think of emerging technologies in subsets: 1) communication/collaboration; 2) production and design; 3) virtual modeling; 4) file-sharing; and 5) social networking.

As preparation for the production of the web resource and a poster related to the current issues related to emerging technologies and librarianship, I conducted a preliminary literature review. I focused on the academic conversation related to emerging technologies, teacher librarians and training needs. As more and more individuals with master’s in educational technology fill librarian positions, it is clear that teacher librarians must continuously re-think their approach to technologies within the school environment and that taking a leadership role in thinking about and deploying information technologies has become a fundamental piece of twenty-first century praxis (Snyder & Miller, 2009). There is an unrelenting need to stay on the *bleeding edge* of technological innovation, to keep one’s professional offerings and librarianship relevant.  However, it remains important to be mindful of the limits of new media and to see the librarians’ role as an information steward, one that facilitates students’ use in ways that allow for a deeper engagement with subject matter and the development of higher order skills rather than facilitating use of *cool* apps for their own sake (Rushkoff, 2011).

As a participant in a recent study on school librarians and emerging technology explains, “technology is a moving target…[it is crucial to] model forward thinking and lifelong learning,” (Balauf_2009). Modeling this type of reflective and expansive engagement with information technologies benefits both the librarian and the school s/he is working within. It is impossible to know about every new application and every new tool, but it is possible to create flexible guidelines for use.

Selected Citations

Dr. Ann Carlson Weeks. (2012). Teacher Librarian, 39(3), 54.

Hanson-Baldauf, D., & Hassell, S. H. (January 01, 2009). The information and communication technology competencies of students enrolled in school library media certification programs. Library and Information Science Research, 31, 1, 3-11.

Perez, L. (2010). The Role of School Librarians in Promoting the Use of Educational Technologies. Teacher Librarian, 38(1), 72.

The Role of School Librarians in Promoting the Use of Educational Technologies. (2011). Library Media Connection,29(5), 19.

Rushkoff, D. (2011). We Interrupt This Program. School Library Journal, 57(2), 30.

Snyder, D. L., & Miller, A. L. (2009). School Library Media Specialists Inform Technology Preparation of Library Science Students: An Evidence-Based Discussion. Library Media Connection, 27(6), 22-25.

Space and the Elementary School Library

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“The question is whether the library is capable of transforming itself from the industrial society’s book-library to meet the demands of the knowledge society.” – Hellen Niegaard, 2011

Context

I am particularly interested in how school libraries, elementary, middle and high school levels, are responding to twenty-first century challenges and beginning to reconstruct and reimagine space along with information systems and services. I chose to look at Olympic View Elementary in NE Seattle because it is my child’s school and I am invested in its ability to respond to the question: “What’s the point of the library when we have Google?” (Niegaard, 2011).

The Olympic View Elementary School is located in the Maple Leaf neighborhood, north of the University district. The first civic institution, the Maple Leaf Post Office opened in 1889 when the neighborhood was a subdivision of Green Lake Circle. The neighborhood boundaries remain the same: NE 85th and 105th and 5th Avenue NE and 25th Avenue NE.

The Maple Leaf School District was organized in 1907. Initially it was made up of dirt roads and a collection of orchards and residential houses.  As of 2007, the demographics of the 400+ students are 14% Asian, 63% Caucasian, 9% Hispanic, 10% African-American and 3% American Indian. It has a teacher ratio of 20:1. The latest building erected in the late 1980s includes: a day care center, staff parking and an expanded bus and passenger loading zone. One of the school’s architectural landmarks is its sundial built in 1998 and draws visitors from outside Seattle.

Layout

The school’s library is on the second floor next to the arts studio both of which, due to budget cuts, classrooms visit once a week. The library has a traditional information and reference desk close to the front door–positioned so that the librarian can scan the entire space, approximately 700 square feet quickly.  The rest of the library is divided into four sections; a section of computer terminals (30); a section of shelves (the outer perimeter of the room and four rows) organized by Dewey Decimal Classification scheme along with two supply rooms.  One supply room contains a small meeting table (for up to six people) for private teacher conversations. The other supply room contains instruments related to book repair and books that have been weeded. In the main space, there are two six-foot tables with chairs and three cushioned benches that can be moved or removed depending on need (the annual book fair and other special events). Mostly teaching staff uses the computers and generally off-limits to students when not used for specific assignments or tests.

New Technology

The library has an online presence and a public website with access, both in and outside of the school building, to online resources through a student/parent login. The online resources, that are created at the district level, include eBooks (i.e. Tumblebooks); encyclopedias; health and literary databases; magazines and newspapers; bibliographic guides; and subject-specific sites. There are two computers that can be used by students, with guidance from teachers, parents and/or the librarian. These computers are on a table next to the information desk, away from the computer lab and are used for ad hoc searching for materials. The computers are heavily filtered and only library-specific sites can be accessed.

In 2010, the librarian created a Facebook account but as of mid-2012 it only has an audience of six otherwise known as “fans” and the library specific content the librarian creates: book reviews; lib guides; event notifications; photos have moved to a password-protected PTA website via Ning. The school library’s digital identity is faint at best.  Due to current age limitations on access and use of Web 2.0 tools in the public domain, it is understandable that an elementary school library would be hesitant to jump onto the open web.

The Future

Fred Schlipf (2011) suggests that libraries need to be “well-lighted, comfortable, safe, secure, flexible in use, expandable, and with low occupancy costs [and] attractive.” The Olympic View Elementary School Library is most of these things. However, its transition from book-library to knowledge-library is incomplete. In order to become a space for twenty-first century knowledge acquisition, the library must create additional opportunities, through its space, for the development of a true “expermentarium” (Niegaard, 2011). To stay relevant, the school library must be a space of creativity and reflection, of making and thinking.  This means buying interactive whiteboards, laptops, flat screens and other videoconferencing tools. It also means embedding and extending the library outside its designated space, bringing programs, tools and new experiences into indoor and outdoor subject classrooms, for example, the learning gardens of PS 19 in Queens, New York. Libraries must embed themselves into the school’s culture fully.

The joys of books will remain, however, the facilitation of book acquisition, as the library’s primary goal will most likely fade away.  Instead of mourning its loss, librarians must see the possibilities in this change. The designers of the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden Visitors Center (Weiss/Manfredi) have started to re-imagine public school libraries in New York City, funded in part by the Robin Hood Foundation. With its movable furniture and technology infused open-spaces their libraries create opportunities of quiet reflection and dynamic project-based team interaction, which this is the school library’s future.

Buffy Hamilton – School Librarian Extraordinaire

Inspired by Buffy Hamilton’s call for librarians to rethink and reimagine their role and their practice within academic environments, in order to remain relevant, here is her response to a series of recent interview questions.

“What do teacher librarians do?”

As a school librarian I have multiple roles: program administrator, leader, instructional partner, and information specialist. All of these roles blend as they inform and shape my work as a teacher. I’m not merely providing instructional support, but instead, sharing with my teaching partners, decision-making processes and responsibilities; this teamwork is reflected in our classes as students consult both of us for assistance for content and process. We are co-teachers.

“What is your vision for the library? For librarians?”

My vision for librarianship is a distributed ownership of the library and make it a shared environment for both students and learners. The library is a learning center focused on scaffolding students’ abilities to read, write, and create content through social interaction in physical and virtual learning spaces as well as multiple forms of media. The librarian is no longer the central expert, but instead, becomes a true partner for students and teachers.

“What is your process for developing a participatory information literacy course?”

I begin by having conversations with subject specialists and we map out the selection, use and evaluation sources in multiple formats, creating research pathfinders or subject guides. I create these research guides—a collection of information sources to help students begin their research—with LibGuides, but any web-authoring tool can be used to create a research pathfinder. By incorporating traditional forms of authoritative information in multiple formats (databases and periodical articles, online periodicals, podcasts, videos, websites, interviews with experts, e-books and print books) as well as emerging forms of scholarly information (blogs, Twitter streams, photos) we scaffold students’ ability to demonstrate confidence and self-direction by making independent choices in the selection of resources and information (AASL) they are using for research. As students explore the range of information sources, we engage in conversations about search strategies for each kind of information source and how to use the tools that are available in the information sources to adjust their searches if students don’t at first discover the information they are seeking. The research guides serve as models for the students building their own individualized research guides they create on a topic using Netvibes, a free cloud-computing tool for building information dashboards.

“What are relatively new skills students should have in their teacher librarian toolkit and why?”

It’s difficult to predict the future of libraries or technology’s role in that future, but I see technology as tool and medium for amplifying the core work that we do in terms of providing access and services to our learning communities.   I think if we keep our mission and vision of our library programs first and then ask the questions, “How can technology support that mission/vision?” and “How can technology be a catalyst or provide support conversations for learning?” then we are more likely to do a better job of harnessing the potential of technology in meaningful ways rather than utilizing just for the sake of doing something “new” that may not necessarily be better.  The application of technology to meet a need of the library community and the possibilities technology can present are the interesting aspects of technology integration for me.

 “What are some of the most exciting software applications right now?

Glogster, Xtranormal, VoiceThread, Masher, Netvibes, Google Docs, Google Forms, MyFakeWall, SlideShare, Animoto. Flickr, Evernote, Diigo, and YouTube.

“What is your teaching philosophy?”

As I think about my role as teacher and contemplate learning theories and strategies, I discover continuously through the nodes in my personal learning network that the framework of participatory librarianship is a lens that keeps me centered on how every aspect comes back to Dr. R. David Lankes’s mantra: It’s all about learning…there isn’t a part of the library that isn’t about learning. Learning is a collaborative conversation.” He wrote this in the Atlas of New Librarianship in 2010.

“How did you come to school librarianship?”

I have nineteen years of experience as a teacher. I started out as a high school English teacher and have become a technology integration specialist and librarian. Around 2000, I realized that being a librarian would be the perfect marriage of my love of books, reading and technology. I love being a classroom teacher but as a librarian I feel like I can be more of a change agent. My interests include social media, participatory learning and culture, ethnographic studies, digital composition, personal learning environments, critical pedagogy and social scholarship. I was a 2011 Library Journal Mover and Shaker. I earned my M.Ed. in English Education in 2003 at the University of Georgia; in 2005, I completed my Ed.S. at UGA in Instructional Technology and School Library Media.  I have been recognized as the 2011 winner of the Salem Press Blog Award in the “School Library” division, Salem Press Blog Award,  School Library Blog Winner 2011 as well as the 2010-11 GLMA/GAIT Georgia Library Media Association/Georgia Association for Instructional Technology School Library Media Specialist of the Year.  My Media 21 program was a winner of the American Library Association (ALA) Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) Cutting Edge Library Service Award.  In addition, I was honored as one of the National School Boards Association Technology Leadership Network “20 to Watch” 2010, Tech and Learning’s 100@30: Future Leader;  her library program was also honored as the 2010 Georgia Exemplary High School Media Program.

“How do you stay current re: educational technologies?”

I read MacArthur’s Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.

“How do you stay inspired?”

I talk with my colleagues: Ernie Cox, Kristin Fontichiaro,  Heather Braum, Jennifer LaGarde, Susan Grigsby, Beth Friese, Linda Martin, Peter Bromberg, Melissa Johnston, Diane Cordell, and Sara Kelley-Mudie.

Third Wave Librarianship and the Contestation from Within

True to the Second Wave, Dee Garrison, in her 1973, Tender Technicians: The Feminization of Librarianship, 1876-1905, emphasizes the feminization of the children’s department of the American public library and the ways in which this department, above all others, stood to represent the values of Victorian womanhood, a warm, gentle space in which young patrons were guided and nurtured without being provoked.

As constraining as the stereotypical librarian as kindly nursemaid might be, I am interested in the ways in which past and present librarians and their practices actually contest this stereotype from within (Radford, 2003). For example, when the *unquiet librarian* Buffy Hamilton sees the library as a space for both engagement and enchantment, the children’s library department is transformed, it remains a warm, nurturing environment while also revealing opportunities for the acquiring of new knowledge. For many children, the process of knowledge acquisition is frightening, frustrating and an opportunity for failure. When it becomes an exciting personal and passionate enterprise which the librarian helps to actualize as an active steward, librarianship becomes completely radical.

Great Expectations: An assessment of current requirements re: school librarianship

Of all the domains, librarianship within K-12 environments and what is demanded appears to be, depending on your perspective, evolving or in crisis. Perhaps it is a little bit of both. Almost all the position requirements include a fluency in information technologies and the ability to take on a leadership role in developing the presence of new media within both the library itself as well as working with the content specialists (subject educators) to embed learning technologies within the classroom environment (blogs, wikis, screen and podcasts). Some of the positions include traditional librarianship responsibilities: collection development; reader’s advisory; reader’s advocacy programming and information literacy training. Other positions focus primarily on the technological skill set: system administration; it help desk services; and technology training (software and hardware). All of the positions I reviewed required a fluency in information technologies, it was simply a matter of emphasis. To give you a sense of the range of expectation and focus, here are the position titles from the job descriptions, alphabetized by title:

Director of Innovative Teaching and Learning, Corte Madera, California
Electronic Technology Coordinator, Palantine, Illinois
Head Librarian/Media Specialist, Hot Springs, Arkansas
Library Media Specialist, Medina, Washington
Middle School Librarian, El Cerrito, California
Primary School Teacher-Librarian, Washington, DC

The degree requirements are wide-ranging as well, in some cases a school media library certification, other times it is master’s in library science or a master’s in educational technology. Depending on private or public context, a state teaching certification is required as well. In one instance having a secondary graduate degree in a humanistic, social scientific or naturalistic science was desired. Most expected individuals to have 3-5 years of teaching experience and a teaching portfolio with a teaching philosophy and a set of teaching-specific recommendations. “The ideal candidate should have an understanding of the Library of Congress system, a working knowledge of online research, and Web 2.0 tools, and an enthusiasm for young adult literature” (Arkansas School of Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts). The Washington International School seeks, “candidates that have a genuine passion for digital tools and concepts including iApple and iWork suites, a demonstrable dedication to the research process, knowledge of current children’s literature and an interest in curriculum development.”

It is clear that in educational environments, a librarian must function fully in three roles: teacher, librarian and technologist. It also emphasizes the reality of the push-pull that I experienced in my directed fieldwork over last quarter: what is the role of the school librarian, is it organize, develop and disseminate the print and electronic collection? Is it to train students and teachers on the effective use of information communication technologies and keep the community on the technological bleeding-edge? Perhaps it is to conceptualize, seek funding and then manage a highly-sophisticated maker lab? Or is it to integrate library resources into the classroom, via technology and face-to-face modes, as a teacher, first and foremost?

In almost cases, leadership was referenced most often in relationship to the introduction and integration of information technology and twenty-first century tools. It is clear that most schools, especially private ones with more resources and fewer regulatory structures, are re-imagining the role of the librarian, one that includes a significant presence as technological steward and it is important to that this *new* leadership role is one that most schools are just starting to think about seriously.

The primary value at work in all of these positions is that of educator. Regardless of instructional focus or role in the context of the collection, both the explicit and implicit values is in the ability to function fully pedagogically and to impart knowledge actively and successfully.

I think that position of school librarian is critical, however, I think it is essential that the job of school librarians is three times as difficult as it once was. School librarian extraordinaire, Buffy Hamilton writes in a April 2, 2012 blog post: “[the] current model of school librarianship that is physically limiting in the sense that one person, two at best in most places, is expected to excel in multiple roles for student populations that might vary from 850 to 2500 students and up to 100+ faculty in a building…being asked to be a teacher, program administrator, information specialist, leader and instructional partner with no planning period and no clerical assistance” (theunquietlibrarian.wordpress.com). This reality is both daunting and exciting. Librarians are being asked to re-imagine school librarianship in service of their educational communities and to do it with agility and flair. It is no longer possible to simply sit thoughtfully at the reference desk and discuss a student’s research project on the aquatic life off the coast of Madagascar. Nor is acceptable to spend all one’s time trouble-shooting network issues or diligently developing library guides for the AP History program with a sophisticated knowledge of historical methodologies and theoretical approaches. What is actually required at this point in the American history of librarianship is to do all three tasks simultaneously and to appear as cutting edge in terms of one’s knowledge of technology as possible. I am heartened to see that some K-12 schools, like the Bush School in central Seattle, have a robust library staff, including two full time librarians, an information technology instructor and two computer network specialists. This team represents the reality of what many schools expects one person in one library role to encompass and in many instances, almost impossible to actualize. In situations where one person must take on all these roles, the expectations are great.

So What Does an MLIS Get You?

At this point, I am clear about one thing and it is important. An MLIS degree allows you to enter into a professional community as an official and honored member. Regardless of your specialization or predilections, despite your interest in social media or rare books, the degree, creates a space at the table of librarianship. And because, librarians love swag, you will be able to purchase a range of items to accessorize this formal identity: tote bags, bookmarks, coffee mugs, USB drives, bumper stickers and screen-savers. Space at the table is no small thing. Many terminal graduate degrees, including doctorates in the humanities and some social sciences, and I speak from personal experience, do not provide the same sense of community and shared professional future. A shared future is everything. It gives you room to breath, to experiment, to talk about dreams and to think big. You may disagree about what skills a twenty-first century librarian should have or whether or not s/he should be actually be called an information professional but all people with an MLIS degree agree on the core tenant of a profession that is more than a hundred years old: that providing efficient and equitable access to well-organized and credible knowledge resources is critical. In this increasingly fragmented world, sharing a professional raison d’etre is gold.

Libraries, Librarianship, Librarians and the Future

There is a lot of talk about information these days. How to get, keep, organize, and limit it. But I’m drawing a line in the sand, what I am interested in working with is knowledge NOT information. When asked for definitions, of libraries, librarianship and librarians– I’m keeping it old school…somewhat. For me, a library has been and continues to be any space dedicated to the consumption and production of knowledge. Yes, information is part of the mix but a library is a place in which information is created into something else: knowledge. One goes to a library because it is where society’s knowledge is organized, stored, accessed, and used for purposes of pleasure, profession, random edification and whimsy. American librarianship was born out of a modernist desire to “provide good books” to the most amount of people with the least effort and to cultivate docile citizens but in the twenty-first century it has evolved into a democratizing profession predicated on supporting people, regardless of circumstance, context or predilection, in their pursuit of new knowledge in a range of forms. Librarians remain the stewards of knowledge. As our lives become increasingly digital and information overflows, guidance re: the use of knowledge will become that much more critical. To paraphrase Neil Gaiman, Google can find you 100,000 answers, a librarian can find you the right one. Information doesn’t set you free, knowledge does.