Conversations about education

This article from today’s NYT is thought-provoking, but I find the commentary a richer food for thought.

The conversation we are really having is about what kind of society we live in, and what we want to do about it. What would it really look like to truly close the “achievement gap”? Are we asking schools to solve all of our socio-economic problems? Is that possible?

— Eli Rector, Palm Desert, CA

I share the sentiments in other comments – esp. the one where these hand-wringing articles about the state of education today are characterized as jeremiads – but I think Eli’s comment is right on the mark. Obviously, when we talk about education we’re not just talking about books and kids and test scores. We’re talking about our shared common experience as citizens, a loaded concept that transcends any dictionary definition of education and enters into sociocultural commentary.

I am not finished reading all (100+!) comments on this article. But I think it will be time well spent to hear some of these voices. Our education, our selves? Absolutely.

Public Library Association conference 2008

I am in the process of transferring all my notes from Word to the blog (adding links, etc.). Some of my favorites:

Programs I spoke at/organized were:

PM session: library catalogs and OPACs

I am “live wiki’ng” the PM session on library catalogs here.

First session of library camp – Marketing, Outreach, Public Relations, & other stuff

First topic – staff buy-in. Faculty at a university assume they know everything about the library and tune library staff out. Would like to see them assign more library use. Public libraries would like teachers to let them know what assignments are in advance so that appropriate materials can be located.

Question – ultimate goal is to reach students, but is not happening through faculty. Would like to do more branding on webpages so that they can become aware of what is available to use at the library. Want to reach more non-users.

Bringing digital natives to the website can be hard but pays off.

JoCo Library site comes up as a favorite – looking at the literary map of KC.

So much content – but not all can be on the front page. How to boil down content and create intuitive paths??!

Instant messaging on a university website – looking at branding of the “ask a librarian” logo

Orientation and other presentations to students – difficult to capture attention of tired frosh.

Talking about using names – make sure that the students’ name and the librarians’ name are used in transactions.

Talking logos- trying to rebrand means rehauling all library materials, library vehicles, getting staff to throw out old forms and bookmarks, powerpoints left over from 1994.

Getting management to make people accountable – write branding into ppls. performance plans. David says “just do it!”

External marketing requires internal marketing – make the plan palatable and important to staff so that the buy-in occurs as part of the process. Convince staff that this is saving them time to provide them with logos, templates, and other tools that will help them do their job better.

Another TED talk and thoughts on cross-pollination for results

Besides education, one of my other favorite subjects is urban design. Strange, I know, for someone who has never lived in a major urban area until now. But in 1997, our university invited Howard Kunstler to talk about new urbanism and I began to recognize and put a name to the malaise that we suffered in our town… the issues that we faced living so far from work and school, the blandness of our neighborhoods, our lack of sidewalks. He got booed, I’m sorry to say, but this member of the audience was riveted.

So why am I talking about urban design on this blog, which mostly focuses on my professional thoughts about education? Well, I think they are all completely interrelated. Let’s cross-pollinate: urban/suburban design, education, and transportation… stay with me, and I’ll take you there.

Our public library is a medium-sized system with 13 (soon to be 14 branches) in far-flung suburbs all over a county that is a member of the metropolitan Kansas City area. We’re talking about our future in a new strategic plan, and the same old same old is coming up: how to market ourselves, how to position our branches for maximum impact, how to drive traffic, and most importantly how to help our patrons get the information they need to improve their quality of life. But we are a non-profit focused on life-long learning, affiliated with county government, and all these things seem to be insurmountable challenges… for example, where do we get the money for well-situated buildings and advertising when we can barely fund the materials collection?

One thing is for certain – we may not choose to (or be able to) support our current way of life for much longer. We see the craving for urban amenities in our suburban area and can’t make them happen because of zoning, a lack of funds, and a fractured ecosystem of separate cities and townships all determined to hold on to what makes them unique (which is not necessarily bad, but presents serious obstacles to cooperative work).

In order to really innovate in ways that make us sustainable in the long term, I envision working outside our boundaries and partnering with a different agency: the county bus system. Our buses have limited routes and almost no bus shelters along routes (riders are instructed to just wait anywhere along the route to be picked up, which is inefficient, dangerous, and causes unnecessary exposure to the elements). People are often very far from these routes, causing bus riders to face potential walks up to a mile or more at both or either end of the ride. It’s just not a really great system as it currently stands. For example, I don’t ride the bus because I would have to walk nearly a mile to my workplace from the point where I would disembark. Showing up to work sweaty in the summer and totally frozen in the winter is highly unappealing.

We should partner with our bus system to accomplish several of these tasks. FIRST: buses should stop at every library in the county – period. We should be bus stops to encourage people to use our resources, visit us regularly, and we can provide an appropriate place for riders to wait in out of the elements.

SECOND: the buses could assist in carrying our courier loads. If we were part of the bus system, we wouldn’t need separate courier vans taking trips only to deliver books… we’d be delivering patrons too! We might also be able to provide materials faster with several courier trips a day instead of only once or twice around the circuit.

THIRD: The best part of the deal might include co-branding of the buses so that the library name and message is tooling all around the county and being seen everywhere.

FOURTH: Our involvement with transportation would provide an important bargaining chip when obtaining land for new and expanded buildings – bus stops need to be front and center on major roads, so we could use that leverage in maintaining our physical presence in the community.

FIFTH: Eventually, we should merge with existing school bus companies to provide expanded routes and additional stops so that a single system could serve multiple groups of people in a more efficient way. It would provide additional flexibility for teachers to take students to use the public library during the school day for more differentiated instruction – we have resources and programs that complement both remedial and advanced learning plans, and could develop more in concert with one another with improved physical access.

We have the opportunity to take concrete steps towards a more cohesive (sub)urban design, and as a library we could help knit things together in a logical way by combining existing systems. This idea still needs refinement, but it’s what came to mind as I was thinking about our library as part of the bigger picture. It’s so easy just to think about what we need and want, but if we can combine our mission with that of other agencies we might be able to create something bigger than ourselves: the first steps towards more unity in our larger community. Maybe these sorts of connections create community 2.0 🙂 Our “systems,” as Jaime Lerner says, should not compete with one another. They should make sense on a human scale to improve our lives, with thoughtful design and an eye on the future.

Long time no blog!

Topics I hope to cover before the end of February:

  • More edublogging resources
  • What we’ve discovered about the XOs
  • Our upcoming Library UnConference
  • A partnership with public television, school districts, and the NEA’s Big Read

So hang tight and steer your feeds this way… it’s a whole new year ahead!

out of the box and into our hearts

The accompanying picture was taken with one of our new XO laptops, an amazing little device that’s really going to change the world. We ordered two in order to experiment with the new technology and see exactly how the mesh network would function. It doesn’t have the range I was looking for (I’m overly optimistic about things like that) but it’s a pretty fully-featured machine that is definitely for kids or those who don’t mind hunting and pecking at a petite keyboard. More to come!

Sherpas Help Teachers

An article from the Christian Science Monitor points out the rewards that teens and teachers in rural Maine get when giving (and getting) tech assistance. I liked the multimedia feature that accompanied the article. But one thing nags at me– they talk about how relieved the teachers are to get tech help and how the students benefit from sharing their knowledge, but I sincerely hope that this program isn’t replacing adequate professional development and training that teachers need to effectively implement technology in the classroom.

When I think back to my high school days in the mid 1990s, the district was bragging about having a computer in every room (for the teacher’s use, of course). But who were the ones actually using it? In many cases, students. There were several teachers who didn’t know how to do something as fundamental as retrieving files… I vividly recall demonstrating how to save a file to one teacher, who was just baffled by the whole process. I guess we were sherpas, too, in our own way. (Ah, the heady days of Windows 95, so radically different from 3.1!)

I guess I hoped that in 10 years, things would have changed fundamentally in the edtech world. Am I being pessimistic? Should I look at these new tech sherpas as an advancement, the next iteration of the teen tech support desk? Or should I be more skeptical of these glossy stories about how “cutting edge” teens seem to perennially be beside us older folks? (and holy cow, am I older folks now?!?)

This time, it’s academic

Wright State University is now providing students with sound-proof spaces for podcasting. This is clearly a trend to watch!

Technically speaking

This week was pretty productive, technically speaking. I did a Cyber 6 Pack workshop with some school library media specialists, and made lots of notes about how I need to adjust the presentation as I forge ahead. But in other news, we discovered that we might have problems giving wireless access to a local school participating in a 1:1 laptop program (Macs!).

Our crack IT teams are exploring the issue and will try to isolate the problem. Even though this school isn’t in our service area, the kids with the laptops use our libraries. I think it’s vital to provide all users with a great experience to the best extent possible, so the outcome of this situation is important to me. Plus, when we have users bringing in their own laptops it greatly eases the demand for our desktops – resulting in more access for all patrons. It’s a win – win.

Another awesome thing I saw this week was a recording studio in a NZ library. I have agreed with colleagues for some time that what we need is a sort of library “gadget lab,” where users can come in and explore new technology and find out what it’s all about. If it doubled as a recording studio for video and audio, all the better! We are doing more and more podcasting and vidcasting so a room like this would help us as well as patrons. It’s called Beatbooth, and lots of users are flocking to its affordable hourly rates and cool library location. You couldn’t wedge a 5 piece band in there, but it’s got a keyboard, mic, and Mac. Awesome 🙂

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