Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Now that the semester is coming to a close I'll just do a bit of free writing about how I see the librarian's role in the tech revolution.  Let's see where this goes.

What will become of our career as librarians as tech advances and our responsibilities shift.  I spend hours a day working on a computer.  I am updating patron info, producing and posting podcasts, writing blogs, finding digital materials for teachers and students, guiding students through the process of researching online, putting purchase orders together, et cetera.  Research, a central use of a school library is becoming more and more about online research.  The online materials are updated regularly and easily searchable.  The physical library feels at times a bit outdated--limited in both scope and relevance.  Online feels occasionally too large and occasionally unprofessional if you don't know what you are doing?  Is this the future of my career?  To help people understand how to wade through the crowded waters of online research?  Teaching students how to go beyond the first page of results from a Google search?  To constantly slash through the garbage to collect relevant info for all units in a curriculum?  Am I a curator of information, or am I a guide?  Am I both?

Even the fiction section is in danger.  With libraries like the one at the private school in Massachusetts who eliminated all books in favor of Kindles everything could change.  I know that school had a special arrangement with Amazon, and I myself have thought about contacting Amazon about how such a program would work.  However, I also found myself afraid of the can of worm that might open up.  What happens to the library when the books are gone?  The school in Massachusetts has purchased a coffee bar and new computers for a lab.  Ok, so now it is a hang-out space and computer lab.  What happens as access to information becomes even more ubiquitous and even more portable?  What happens when you no longer need a dedicated physical space for machines to access information?  What happens when a library no longer needs a physical space?  Is there still a library?  Is there still a need for a librarian, or will we simply be information specialists solving problems remotely?  This may seem far off, but I think it is closer than we all think.

The only kind of library I see surviving for some time more are libraries for children.  They need the physicalness of a book.  No device out right now can replicate the color and feel and durability of a real childrens book.  And as of right now, the younger students I see still react more positively to doing research and learning from a real book.  They seem to remember the information more as I think it seems more tangible and real when learned from a book.  However, in time these things could change too.

It is an exciting time to be a librarian.  I wonder how this will all play out over my career.

At times I am reminded of my grandfather who went to a trade school to learn how to repair radios.  The radios back then were using tubes and had very complicated designs.   Shortly after he finished school, transistors became the norm and radios and other electronics became cheaper, more durable and easier to repair.  He had a long career as a butcher at a deli.

Barriers and Reasons to Just Go for It

I wrote this bit after reading Chapter 4 in Supporting New Models of Teaching and Learning Through Technology by Johnston and Cooley:

Below are some of the barriers I come across regularly when trying to use technology in school:

1. Budget (It costs money)
2. training teachers (This also costs money)
3. Reluctant teachers (The why change what I am doing if it works argument)
4. Effectiveness (Ongoing arguments over the effectiveness of technology in the classroom)
5. Fear (The kids these days will only know how to type in IM lingo) also (the internet is a dangerous place)
6. Luddites (Some people will just always see tech as inferior to standard methods.  These people also see the internet as almost entirely unreliable)

Can you think of more?  How do these problems manifest themselves in your school?

Concerning reason number 4 from above:  I think that the Johnston/Cooley text is still relevant even though it is a bit dated in ways.  In fact, it feels as though it is just turning the corner of getting a bit too old.  This chapter dealt with whether or not there is real evidence concerning whether or not integrating technology increases student learning.  This is still an idea which has been thrown around, but the argument itself is becoming irrelevant as integrating technology becomes less about how it can help learning and more about integrating tech for the sake of keeping students up to date with how to use technology.  (Wow, that is one poorly worded and structured sentence.  Let's see if I can break that down.)  It's no longer entirely about how integrating tech can increase test scores or student learning in some measurable way.  Now, tech has reached a point where it would be almost criminal not to teach it to our students because it is how they are alredy interacting, and it is the way that the whole world is adapting.  It's important to integrate technology or else we may not be preparing our students for the real world. 

So, my personal opinion?  Go for it.  It's a time of experimentation and excitement, and I hope that all teachers will take the time to teach themselves so that they may better reach their students and prepare them for the world.  There is no longer an excuse.  Jump on board the tech wave or get left behind along with your students.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Taking it to the Masses

So, you hear an awful lot about folksonomy and how it could be revolutionary.  But what does this mean?  Well, folksonomy is the act of the general public tagging items with keywords.  It is in a sense a form of cataloging done by the average person.  Tags can be anything.  People can tag items with useful words, or not-so-useful words.  For example, a person may tag Slaughter-house five with "aliens" or "human zoo" which are two fairly useful keywords because these words could apply to other texts as well.  However, it might also be tagged with "so it goes" which is a phrase unique to this text.  People also use tags on blog sites to keep track of ideas presented by bloggers.  Occasionally tags are used even for humorous effect.  An article written today about the new Boeing 787 plane having its first flight was tagged with "aboutdamntime" because the flight had been delayed many times.  Now, this tag is most likely not very useful, but it adds humor.  Sometimes tagging is about the interaction between the patrons and the data.  Folksonomy is social, and creates a stronger connection between the public and a database or catalog/OPAC.  One could even subscribe to a tag.  Say you are a big fan of alien literature.  You could subscribe to an RSS of all books that are tagged with "alien" or "flying saucer" and each time something is tagged with those words you are automatically informed about it through your RSS reader. 

Are libraries really using Folksonomy?  Well, there is a product called Library Thing for Libraries which offers this ability along with a connection to many thousands of book reviews from real patron for almost any library.  Simply add this service to your already existing OPAC and you have social tagging as well as access to all of those reviews (Your own patrons can add reviews as well and people in other libraries using the service will see their review).  This is a really cool service, but there is a problem with my library adapting this technology.

I just can't do it.  I want to.  I just can't.  The problem is with our OPAC.  I, along with many schools use Follett's Destiny.  This allows for a really streamlined experience with ordering books, processing, and our catalog.  We order mostly from Follett, so our records are automatically updated so there is less work on our part.  Also, the software is maintained and updated regularly by the Follett company.  It's really nice software, except that it is a very closed platform.  What is a closed platform?  It means that the databse and software is not set up to allow third party additions to the OPAC.  There are big movements in libraries using open-source OPAC software so that anybody can develop add-ons and whatnot for the OPAC, but that generally means having some very tech savvy librarians employed that can maintain an OPAC on their own.  Since Destiny is a closed platform I am unable to add all of these new cool programs being developed. 

At times I wonder if the convenience offered by Follett is worth the inability to make any changes to the OPAC.  If I want a new feature in the OPAC I write the company and just hope beyond hope that they take my suggestions seriously.  Right now I am trying to convince them to add browser recognition to the OPAC site and a mobile version, so that if someonbe visits our site from an iPhone, iPod touch, or other smart phone that they will be able to see a specially formatted site made for those smaller screens.  Until I start a new library from scratch, I guess I will be sticking with Follet and just keeping my fingers crossed.


Monday, December 14, 2009

bringing it all together

A lot of educators are trying to create an online presence, but it can seem overwhelming.  How many started and then abandoned blogs are there in the world?  How many forgotten Twitter accounts?  It's outrageously difficult to stay on top of all of the various ways one can interact with their students and school community.

As a librarian I feel it is my duty to stay connected with the school community.  The library is a hub of information, and I should do my best to make this hub as accessible as possible.  However, I do not want to constantly update a bajillion things. 

Currently, I am working on a:

1. blog
2. Youtube channel
3. Podcast
4. Library site
5. Twitter account

Now, this may seem overwhelming.  That's because it kind of is.  However, there are ways to turn these different services into a single online ecosystem where each service feeds off of the others--in a good way. 

I'll start with Twitter.  I never directly update my Twitter feed.  It is simply a way to announce updates to any of the other services.  I simply add rss feeds to the twitter account, and each time something gets updated, a tweet gets sent out. 

Next there is the blog.  The blog is a place where I make announcements and maybe post about books and other fun ideas for the students.  Not only does it automatically tweet each time it is updated, but I embedded my blog into the library page so that a full-text rss feed is displayed.  It actually looks like a normal blog, and not an RSS widget. 

Finally, I have my youtube channel, which is really quite magical.  each time I post a new video it is automatically added as a video file to my podcast as well.  On top of that, and RSS feed with the video embedded is connected to my blog, so that each time I post a video on youtube, it shows up on youtube, my podcast, and my blog.  On top of that it is tweeted so that people following me are alerted to the newest activity. 

With this setup, all I ever update is my Youtube channel and my blog.  Everything is connected, so that my patrons can follow what is happening at the library in whatever way they find most enjoyable. 

The goal of a blog

This blog, which was initially started to complete a requirement for a previous class, forgotten, and then reborn for another class has me thinking about what blogs are for, and how they can be used in a class.  You see, there is a word requirement for the entries in the blog aspect of this class.  It is not huge mind you, but I think it detracts from the blogginess of the blog.  A blog is for ideas and thoughts whether they are big or small.  Having a word count has actually stopped me or made me hesitate to post a blog entry on an idea I have.  I think to myself "why write something if it will not count?  Can I fluff up my idea into something longer?"

The problem with these thoughts is thus:  The value of a blog entry should not be measured by the length or even possibly depth of an entry.  What makes a compelling entry (and having a compelling blog is the goal because blogs are all about audience) is something that engages the reader.  Sometimes a simple question is enough to create a conversation in your comments section.  Sometimes a post briefly sharing a recent discovery is enough to make a reader think and check back later.  So a person should never hesitate as to whether or not they should post something if they think it is of value.  And if one were to bloat an entry to meet a word count they might run the risk of turning an engaging idea or question into something boring and unnecessarily long.  Brevity is the friend of both the blogger and the blog reader. 

Maybe there is an answer to how to work with blog requirements in classes.  I'm sure there are some people who are better at periodic longer entries, and I am sure there are some people who would do better with posting more frequently but with shorter entries.  I have new ideas that I like to run by my colleagues every day.  They may not be huge topics, but some people would find them interesting.  Maybe a class could have two models of a blog.  Maybe the requirement has multiple choices.  Maybe you must post ten 500 word entries OR post at least every other day with at least a paragraph in each entry (You don't want tweets).  How does this sound?