Libraries in the Internet Age

Thank you Common Craft for creating a video about the roles of libraries and librarians in the Internet age.

This video licensed with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).

My Mission as an Educator

This school year, we are implementing Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits as part of a school-wide Community of Kindness initiative. Our younger students will be creating classroom mission statements and our older students will be writing personal mission statements. As an exercise, all faculty were asked to write their professional mission statements. Here is mine:

My Mission as an Educator

My core mission is to provide a nurturing, safe, and stimulating environment for exploration of the information universe. I strive to instill in my students habits of lifelong reading, thinking, and learning, while developing ambition, curiosity and personal excellence. I aim to assist teachers and students in developing the competencies necessary for accessing and evaluating information from diverse sources.  Above all, I seek to empower all learners to the best of my ability.

Inspired By Seth Godin

Seth Godin just published his 5000th post (!). This is obviously an incredible accomplishment, but what caught my attention was a link to another post nominated by one of his friends as outstanding amidst Godin’s many publications. It was published in 2004 and is short, so I am quoting it in full:

Five years from now…

Assume that:

Hard drive space is free

Wifi like connections are everywhere

Connections speeds are 10 to 100 times faster

Everyone has a digital camera

Everyone carries a device that is sort of like a laptop, but cheap and tiny

The number of new products introduced every day is five times greater than now

Wal-Mart’s sales are three times as big

Any manufactured product that’s more than five years old in design sells at commodity pricing

The retirement age will be five years higher than it is now

Your current profession will either be gone or totally different

What then?

IceHand_Ornamental_Divider_Englische_Linie

Isn’t that amazing?! Literally everything Godin predicted is trending in the direction he pointed out in 2004!  But Godin’s last point, “Your current profession will either be gone or totally different,” prompted me to reflect about my own professional life. I’ve been a librarian for 16 years now, academic for the most part, but for the last 1 ½ years in a K-8 school. And I’ve grown in each role.

The field of education has been greatly impacted by the digital revolution. Recognizing this shifted paradigm, teachers and librarians have been at the forefront of using the new tools to advance their professions and student learning. While the digital revolution has always had its pessimists who predicted a future without books and libraries, the role of librarianship has certainly evolved. New products and new practices constantly influence and change the nature of our work–almost always improving it.  In 2004, when Godin posted the above, I was employed at a community college. At the time, the college administrators and their hired architects designed a new “Information Commons” (aka library space) with only very little real estate for book shelving. Why? Well, because books would soon gain antiquity status. As my much wiser students would say, “Never!”

To rephrase Seth Godin’s closing question: What if I had not embraced change? My profession would not have been gone, but I would no longer be a participant. I would have become extinct, irrelevant. But I would also have missed a lot. Professionally, my job continues to change and I’ve learned to embrace this. Is there anxiety and trepidation at times? For sure! But our brains are not wired to be dormant. I watch our students who are not afraid to try new things, who are curious and creative and willing to try. As a good friend of mine has said many times over: Learning is messy! But it can be so rewarding and fun.

Participatory Culture

Recently, while surfing the Web, I came across a great TED talk on participatory culture by Henry Jenkins. In less than 20 minutes, Jenkins provides an excellent overview of the history of participatory culture and a convincing argument why it is here to stay and the need to prepare our students accordingly. I highly recommend listening/watching.

We talk a lot about collaboration and the value of being globally connected–for ourselves and our students. Collaboration and connectedness are expressed by active participation in social networks/communities rather than passive consumption of information. According to Jenkins, a participatory culture is one:

  1. With relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement

  2. With strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others

  3. With some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices

  4. Where members believe that their contributions matter

  5. Where members feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care what other people think about what they have created).

The historical perspective Jenkins provides was the most interesting to me. He traces participatory communities back as far as the mid-1800s, when young people formed amateur press associations and used printing presses to engage in discussion forums. They were “social networks that existed around print.” In the 1920s, schools, boy scout groups, religious institutions, and others had amateur radio operators for communication purposes. In the 1960s, the underground press became the key voice of the counterculture. And in the 1990s it was the Super 8 camcorder activists who “build social networks to make a difference in the world.”

I’ve never really thought about the fact that once the technology was in place, it served to create various social networks throughout history. Obviously, information and communication technology provides a whole new scope to social networking. I do wonder if our students realize that they can be active participants on a global scale? If they understand the power provided to them?

Collaboration and networking is nothing new, but we now have the means to extend our reach further than ever before. In another venue, Jenkins states that

Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement. The new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking. These skills build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom.

Preparing our students properly for this new version of participatory culture, leaves us teachers with an incredibly urgent task.