Relax. It’s just a book.

It’s summer, so you know what that means at the public library… a deluge of kids and parents looking for books! It’s great to see so many people who encourage youth to participate in summer reading. But why is finding the “right” book so difficult? While there are a lot of kids who sit in the aisles happily riffling through pages and browsing away, some parents are stressed about the process. We get requests at the reference desk for books specifically for second graders, and some parents struggle to define the sort of reading that they believe their kids should be doing.

Parents worry that their kids want to read books that don’t seem challenging for them, or that there is a problem because all they want to read is the next in a series, or that they reread books over and over again and are not “making progress.” They would like us, the librarians, to fix the perceived problem by recommending books that will alleviate these deficiencies in their kids’ reading habits.

It’s reassuring and unnerving, I know… but there is no right book. Rereading is perfectly fine. Series fiction is fabulous. Nonfiction titles are legitimate reading. What makes the difference is offering kids a wide variety of reading choices and then stepping back to let them actually choose.

If you think about it, there are few choices that kids get to make that are their very own. Let reading be an activity where they are in the drivers’ seat. Help them find a book that has a story that intrigues them, excites them, scares them, or attracts them in some other fundamental way. Let them read widely if that’s what they’re into right now, or help them find that 100th book about the Titanic or Ancient Egypt or whatever topic they are obsessing about at the moment.

Even more than that, you should be checking out books too. Find a magazine that you like, or a novel of your own to check out as well. Everyone in the family needs to read for pleasure if you want young people to see that reading is an activity with value. They will want to do what they see you doing, so engage in reading alongside your children. Research has even shown that the more time you give kids to simply read for pleasure, not towards a goal or for another purpose, the better readers they become.

So really relax this summer. Don’t make reading a chore, and don’t stress out about it. Just make it part of your daily lives, and encourage young people to read something of their own choosing. Let the library be an enjoyable haven for both you and your kids!

Welcome to the 21st century library

I am a survivor of many a teen gaming tournament. I’ve organized and worked at both computer and console gaming events in several libraries, and I can say without a doubt that it’s plain hard work. And it’s worthwhile work – I’m just as likely to ask a reluctant reader what games they like to play in order to help them pick out a book as I am to ask them about their favorite movies and TV shows. If I was totally out of touch with gaming and other activities that teens love, I would not be able to effectively connect young people to all sorts of media – including books.

If librarians look like they’re having fun on the job, it’s because we love what we do, not because we get to sit around playing games all day. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Nebraska, where some are accusing the State Library Commission of being wasteful stewards of taxpayer money by purchasing and learning to use gaming equipment with the intent to train public librarians in their state.

This sort of training is needed – in my current library system, we had to hold trainings and create a usage manual for our gaming kits. Using gaming equipment is not exactly an intuitive process, and we need to be just as prepared for gaming programs as we do for any other programs. If librarians didn’t study up on games before presenting them to the public, it would be like not reading the book before showing up to facilitate a book group. Or not trying out a database before teaching a patron to use it.

Gaming in libraries is important for several reasons. Reluctant users can see that librarians are aware of and appreciate the activities that are important to them. The library can become less intimidating and comfort can be established for young patrons who are underserved or unserved. Gaming also creates community for patrons who are highly social, helping gamers connect with like-minded people. Libraries collect stories of all kinds, and they can be found in books, music, movies, and games!

But it’s not easy to do. There’s a lot of work involved. And while it may look like we’re just playing around, librarians are gaming with a purpose: to help young people through our doors and into the larger collection – for life-long learning and community building. It looks unorthodox, it may be noisy and boisterous, and it challenges long-held stereotypes about libraries and library atmosphere. Welcome to the 21st century library!

For more information about how our library has phased gaming into our regular services, check out my VOYA article: So You Wanna Play Games? A Start-up Guide for Gaming in the Library.

Our Students, Ourselves

Librarians’ hearts were aflutter today as the New York Times reported on school librarians in their Future of Reading column. Motoko Richs’ article “In Web Age, Library Job Gets Update” features a day in the life of Stephanie Rosalia, a librarian at Public School 225 in Brooklyn. The piece marvels at how she does not simply stamp books and shush students, but rather teaches information literacy. It rose quickly to the #1 slot as today’s most emailed NYT article.

My Twitter network was quite active as we traded links to various responses, and, regrettably, the comments on the article itself. Most dismaying was comment #24 from “suenoir,” a reader who identified herself as a school board president from King County, WA and who felt that school libraries & librarians are superfluous in the face of the Internet and public libraries. She commented:

“If teachers used the public libraries, imagine what could be done with the space now occupied by the library. What if it were a music room? An engineering lab? Students have access to a librarian at public libraries, they do not have access to so many other resources.”

This commenter appears to be affiliated with the Highline Public Schools (Susan Goding, board member, used the email suenoir@hotmail.com in her campaign information which is easily available online). Goding’s district indicates that they enroll in excess of 17,000 students, and one of their secondary facilities reports that they see an average of around 100 students a day in their media center for regularly scheduled classes, not including students using the library who are not specifically scheduled for instruction. That’s an awful lot of students to absorb at a local public library branch!

This article served to remind us in the library community that our patrons do not always easily or readily understand the differences in purpose between different library types. They may think of us all as interchangeable widgets, able to help in any library we might find ourselves in. This is not so. I had a great email conversation with Liz Burns and Sophie Brookover of Pop Goes the Library on just this topic:

Sophie: This article made me stand up and cheer, right at the breakfast table (because that’s where I read it, after a friend posted it to my Wall on Facebook). Stephanie Rosalia is a perfect example of what a great, properly trained and enthusiastic school librarian can offer, which a public librarian cannot: just-in-time learning opportunities for students that relates directly to what they are learning in the classroom every day. She is exactly the kind of school librarian I want to be when I grow up.

edh: Yes, we public librarians often have very little contact with teachers at individual schools despite robust outreach efforts. I know some patrons get the mistaken impression that we’re not concerned with student needs.

Liz: Public libraries don’t ignore students; far from it! But a public library’s main mission is not to be geared towards students. It’s a system geared towards the entire public. Yes, that includes the homeless; teens; seniors; young mothers; people using the Internet; and students.

edh: I loved how the article and video demonstrated Ms. Rosalia’s ability to incorporate all sorts of content in her school library. She’s obviously deeply involved in the curriculum and learning process in her school.

Sophie: School librarians remix and mash up content from all sorts of sources — online, print, audio, video, and more — every day, all with a view towards matching the right content with the right kids at the right time. Public librarians do this every day, as well, but to be a great public librarian is to be a fantastic generalist. To be a school librarian is to be what many of us are called these days, a media specialist. As a media specialist, your area of specialization is your school’s curriculum. You are aware of a wide body of resources, but you home in on the materials that meet the specific needs of your students’ assignments.

edh: Absolutely! I am not entirely sure that the school board member who commented on the article understands the distinction between our libraries’ functions.

Liz: Saying “use the public library, there is so much more we can do with school resources and money” is like trying to have one’s cake and eat it, too. Because while sometimes there are actual joint libraries (with appropriate funding and staffing), more often shutting the school library does not result in additional funding being given to the public library. So there is an addition of students needing instruction, books and materials for reports, but no funds to purchase those additional books or to hire the needed staff.

edh: And some public libraries have restrictions on the materials they can buy – collection development policies can prohibit us from purchasing the books and media that would best address student learning.

Liz: And that’s aside from the loss of the librarian as teacher. When will those students be able to go to the local library? Students get transportation to schools; they don’t have the same access to public libraries. Those students with parents who have the transportation and time will benefit from school libraries; those students whose parents don’t have ready access to cars and who work while the library is open, won’t be able to use the public library. I’ve been in libraries where there are a good number of local kids who use the libraries; and just as many kids who don’t, because they don’t live close enough to the library to walk or ride a bike safely. Public libraries may be full of students; but can one imagine that if they are filled WITH school libraries available, how overwhelmed those libraries would be WITHOUT school libraries?

Additionally, public library budgets are being cut. What would your school do when the public library cuts hours, staff, and the materials budget? Open up the school library? By that time you’d have a dearth of materials missing from the years it was closed.

edh: That’s just for materials designed to support academic assignments – imagine all the great fiction titles you would have missed out on in the intervening years. The public library alone is not enough to supply a student with the choices they need to read widely for enjoyment.

Sophie: A good school library should absolutely have high-appeal leisure reading. After all, AASL’s Standards for the 21st Century Learner are fully 25% about the pursuit of personal and aesthetic growth, and with that in mind, I’ve sunk a large proportion of my own school library’s budget into high-quality, high-appeal books for my students to read for fun. I’ve been lucky enough to have the unswerving support of my school’s English Department, many members of which have brought hundreds (yes, hundreds!) of students to my Library Media Center for booktalks and reader’s advisory, all in the service of year-round independent reading assignments. This collaborative effort has been so successful that I plan to continue to develop and promote the LMC’s fiction and nonfiction collections for leisure reading.

There are so many opportunities for school librarians to collaborate with public librarians to provide even better services and collections to our students, but I think it’s very important, as Liz said, for school and public librarians to spend some serious time educating the general public about the different missions of each institution, as well.

edh: Yes, letting people know about what we do in different libraries is imperative. I find myself also recommending special libraries to students who have a very specific or advanced assignment. We’re lucky to have special libraries in the Kansas City area that will lend freely to the public and assist students with individual disciplines. The Midwest Center for Holocaust Education library is great for students looking at Judaism and World War II, and the Linda Hall Library has a special collection just for aspiring teen scientists among their more esoteric materials. Access to only one library is never enough! If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a variety of libraries to educate them into adulthood.

Erin Downey Howerton is the school liaison at the Johnson County (KS) Library, and is a member of YALSA and AASL.

Elizabeth Burns is a Youth Services Librarian for the New Jersey
Library for the Blind & Handicapped. She is active in YALSA and NJLA.

Sophie Brookover is the Library Media Specialist at Eastern Regional
Senior High School in Voorhees, NJ. She is active in YALSA and NJLA.

This was originally posted at the YALSA blog and is also available at www.popgoesthelibrary.com.

The year in ed

I wanted to cap off this year’s blogging with a good activity. So I decided to use Wesley Fryer’s prompt to read the posts nominated for Most Influential of 2008 in the EduBlog Awards.

Chris of BetchaBlog posted on the New Digital Divide. Just more anecdotal proof that the education field is suffering from the same (digital?) malaise as the library field:

I think what often shocks me the most about teachers who don’t take technology very seriously, is just how far behind they really are. They don’t have any idea just how out of touch they are with the kids they teach each day… kids who in most cases are far too polite to say anything about their teachers’ lack of technology understanding. But trust me, they know who you are…

Some of the classic excuses for why some teachers don’t integrate technology might include the following… how many have you heard before?

  • “Im retiring in a couple of years anyway” (yes, but your students are not)
  • “I’m too old to learn this stuff”
  • “I’m too busy, I don’t have the time”
  • “I have too much content to get through” (this one is usually followed by “you just don’t know what it’s like”… ah, yes, I do.)
  • “I don’t really like computers” (you don’t have to like them, you just have to use them)
  • “I just don’t understand technology” (as though they think no one has noticed that yet)

Chris goes on to say he’s most scared about the growing chasm between the “information-wills” and the “information-will-nots.” I hear that! Honestly, this has nothing to do with age – I meet just as many younger folks who use these excuses as older ones.

Reading all the nominated posts was a pleasure – it was great to hear diverse voices in the field from all around the world! The international nature of online education dialogue is really what will help change the nature of “doing school” in the 21st century. It’s not going to be just one school or one state/province/district or even one country – I now truly believe that the education revolution is going to be driven from a global perspective. Is there even any other? Thomas Friedman only said what was obvious: the world is flat, and we affect each other more than ever on a daily basis.

I can only hope that holds true and that this magnificent online educational community will grow, keep learning, and use their voice to speak for true change and authentic learning experiences for students the world over. This movement is more important than ever: if we’re all too busy and cannot make the time to do the important work of our day, what sort of example will we set for youth?

The New Ownership

Today I read two very interesting items:

1) CC Learn reports that

the University of Michigan Library has adopted CC licensing for all of its own content. Any work that is produced by the library itself, and to which the University of Michigan holds the copyrights, will be released under the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial license (CC BY-NC).

2) Scott McLeod is blogging on his attempt to convince ISTE that they should ask their conference presenters to apply a CC license to their presentations for the benefit of the larger K-12 .edu community.

It really seems that a larger awareness of Creative Commons, at least among the .edu technorati, is brewing.  Instead of trying to protect and hide intellectual work behind the total wall of traditional copyright, the new conversation looks like it will revolve around how others should be permitted to use that intellectual work.  

This is a significant shift in the traditional ownership concept.  While U of M is purposefully moving forward in a unified direction with their CC licensing, the other side of the coin is seen in the vigorous discussion among the ISTE folks.  I also believe that this is shedding light on the changing nature of conferences in general.
While meeting in person is incredibly powerful and energizing, technology is making it more and more possible to participate in conferences (while not actually attending).  And the possibility of this is awesome, as it promises to break down distance and other barriers to learning.  However, not all conferences might be as open-minded as ISTE.  You want to get a good return on your investment when putting on a conference, and I can see other organizations afraid to even consider asking presenters to release their intellectual work freely.  To some, this may be seen as devaluing the conference experience and letting people “get all the benefits of attending for free!”  
Dedicated conference-goers know that’s not the case.  Attending in person has a power that few other experiences can match.  However, restricting ideas to small groups of only a few does nothing to encourage the free flow of innovation.  If we really want to effect change within our professions, we have to think about throwing the doors wide open to see what happens.  
…and, for a whole other spin on this same topic, check out Will Richardson’s post on Larry Lessig’s new book, Remix.  

she got her head in the clouds (sharada sharada)


Ok, so the song isn’t about cloud computing – but it’s close 🙂

I’m glad I waited to blog on this, because I bumped into a great new book on this very topic. The Big Switch : Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google by Nicholas Carr is fascinating. Carr interweaves history with present-day computing by describing the first switch (from dynamos to electric utilities) alongside the second switch (from local hard drives to computing power in the cloud). Just as electric utilities proved to transform business and life in general, so will this trend towards large computing clusters accessible via the “cloud.”

For example, check out Amazon S3. This concept promises to unleash computing power to the masses previously only accessible to large corporations. By eliminating investment in hardware and turning storage and processing into a pay-to-play model, anyone with a good idea and a little code can make their digital dreams a reality.

But unlike the electric utility, we are now trading intellectual property. What will Google, or Amazon, or Apple, or MS DO with your data? Will it be protected? Is your data safe? Should a business, for example, risk exposing customer data to the cloud? The ethics of cloud computing are a compelling reason for people to tread this new water carefully. Electricity is value-neutral. Data is not.

So the price may be right, but the true cost of maintaining off-site machinery is (currently) muddled in this electronic age. This may well be the new frontier: web 3.0, where your storage choice can be a game-changer.

NEKLS Tech Day reflections

If a small business owner comes in the door needing resources, web 2.0 tools may very well be the information that makes the difference for them.
(attribution needed; comment if you can remember who said it!)

This was one of the great revelations of NEKLS Tech Day! I feel as though we are all talking about instinctively knowing that these wonderful webby tools and new technological abilities can help our patrons, but in many ways we have to be prepared to draw lines and make connections for them. We need a broad knowledge of different topics, but also of the tools that harness and enhance knowledge for users. Y’know, power to the patron and all 🙂

I don’t believe that we so-called “techie” librarians are really techie in the sense that we have some supernatural knowledge or abilities. I think you can consider yourself techie if you try to keep up with the flow of information evolution, if you try to tread water in this rapidly unfolding world of data storage, retrieval, and creation.

And that was the best part of tech day – getting to commune with other librarians who are trying to do this same thing. Sharon Moreland did a great job making the day possible, as did all the presenters 🙂 Oh, and if you happened to be in my presentation and still want to hear the audio from the videos I’ve linked to them here.

Happy tech, y’all. I hope we can keep up the good work treading water together 🙂

P.S. I nearly forgot! The other awesome topic we covered was cloud computing… it nearly needs a post of its own so I will save that for later this month.

the long hot summer

While Scott McLeod notes that global changes are necessary for our American schools to break out of the old mold, our friends across the pond in England are also considering broad, sweeping edu-reform.

Via Schoolgate from the Times Online comes this report from the IPPR: Thursday’s Child. A quote from the exec summary:


Besides this plan for a more continuous school year, they also indicate an intense discussion of the role socioeconomic disadvantages play in school readiness and motivation – I’d like to read the whole report one day! (It’s behind a pay wall.)

Copyrights (& wrongs)


It’s been a busy two months since my last post… besides ALA and some much-enjoyed vacation time, everything seems to have piled up! Off to the right you will see myself and Cory Doctorow, happy to meet briefly at a Tor event in Anaheim. I told him how rad we all found his new YA novel, Little Brother, and he was glad to hear it.

When I got home, I got my new issue of Knowledge Quest in the mail and read with interest the article called “Copyright and Portfolios” by Rebecca Butler. I found the ethical questions of the subject fascinating. It concerns electronic portfolios of graduating seniors where the students have used copyrighted materials such as music and film clips: fair use or infringement? Butler concurs that yes, it’s fair use as long as the students were using said clips for public school curriculum and used them to “realize their specific learning objectives.” She cites some sources (this was the only online one, sorry) and goes on to say that such “class-generated portfolios” can be used to demonstrate expertise in applications for jobs or higher ed. Butler adds that you should inform students that the portfolios should not be used for profit (“[don’t] sell any of the pieces […] or use them in a paid presentation.”)

I was worried after reading this, because a quick scan of the article seems reassuring… if your students have “added entire popular songs to their projects, as well as large clips from movie CDs, DVDs, and videos” then maybe everything is just a-ok and kosher. It takes a close reading of this brief article and a little deep thought to conclude that A) you might need to do more research into fair use before you let students create portfolios with such egregious “sampling” (the last time I checked using a work in its entirety is not sampling) and B) you’ll need to figure out how to break it to your students that a more-than-passing understanding of copyright may be the most important “technological skill” thy could have in the 21st century.

While I think it’s imperative that students (and citizens) have the right to fair use of copyrighted intellectual work (especially in the cases of criticism and parody), I believe that it may be encouraging intellectual laziness to reach for the latest Coldplay song and pop it in as the musical backdrop to a PowerPoint report. Sure, it’s popular culture; sure, it’s handy; sure, it’s easier in the short run than searching for music where the creators have given explicit permission for its use. I maintain that in the long run, using apparatuses such as Creative Commons can serve to build students’ appreciation and understanding of copyright so that they may gradually build up to the use of commercially copyrighted works with full knowledge of the risks and benefits. By making the due consideration of copyright and fair use integral to the construction of such electronic portfolios, we can equip students with skills that they can put to good use in the workplace and/or academia.

Cited:

Rebecca P. Butler. (2008). Copyright and Portfolios. Knowledge Quest, 36(5), 74.

"It’s the death of education, but the dawn of learning"

From Scott McLeod, via David Warlick:

“They will be doing work that calls on:
artistic abilities
abilities of synthesis
understanding [of] context
working in teams
the ability to be multidisciplinary, multilingual, multicultural…”

“So the coin of the realm is not memorizing the facts that they’re going to need to know for the rest of their lives, the coin of the realm will be:

do you know how to find information?
do you know how to validate it?
do you know how to synthesize it?
do you know how to leverage it
do you know how to communicate it?
do you know how to collaborate with it?
do you know how to problem solve with it?

That’s the new 21st century set of literacies, and it looks a lot different than the model that most of us were raised on.”

And, predictably, I most noted the portion where the woman talks about student-centered learning, and “doing school” moves to the periphery – where school as a place is just one of the many places where students can engage in learning. Libraries and museums were mentioned, as was the community and home (and online!). This notion fundamentally challenges the idea of segregating youth in neatly labeled buildings for 8 hours a day, and creates the opportunity for more authentic learning experiences. “Just-in-time” learning will trump the traditional model of “just-in-case” learning.

My question is: we’ve been talking about this new and necessary way of educational thinking for quite a while now… what needs to be done to make the vision take hold? What could we do in our communities to take charge and create change? If this really is “the dawn of learning,” what we need is a compass that points east and a map that will get us there.

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