Tuesday, June 28, 2011

5 Conversations [About Libraries] I Don't Want To Have Anymore

The other day I ran across this post about educational conversations that have run their course. That is to say, ed-chat (not to be confused with #edchat) topics of discussion that have been discussed to death. We've all heard of educational "sacred cows," well... these are their "dead horse" companions. Naturally, this got me thinking about a similar list of library related conversations that I am tired of having. Don't get me wrong, I've spent plenty of time talking about these things myself and will probably be roped into talking about them again. What's more, I am not at all sitting in judgment of those for whom these issues remain compelling and important. Listen, if you're actively involved in dialogue about libraries, education and how librarians serve the needs of students, to you I tip my hat and say a hearty "bravo!" It's just, I guess I'm ready to see these conversations evolve. For me, at least, it’s time to either move these conversations to the next level, or send them out to pasture. Ok. Here goes:

  1. I don't want to talk about copyright anymore. Rather, I want to talk about creative commons, "thanktribution" and the importance of sharing expertise and resources to make, not only better products, but ultimately a better society too. Without question, it's still important to help kids understand that lots of people make their livings and feed their families from the work they create and, as such, have the right to ask for compensation/attribution. However, I find conversations with kids about the process of creating and choosing to share and/or license their own work to be far more meaningful. Rather than just telling kids it's wrong to steal, I'd like to see this conversation move towards helping students add their own works to the collective while also empowering them to license those works in the most appropriate way.
  2. I don't want to talk about "21st Century Skills" anymore. Seriously. It seems like I can't be involved with any educational conversation these days without being hit with the importance of 21st Century Skills. That's fine, but I'm ready to talk more specifically about what these skills really are. I want to see school librarians initiating and engaged in conversation that both identify specific skill sets and acknowledge that while the information landscape, and indeed the world, has certainly changed since the last century, many of the skills we should feel most compelled to develop in our students, (content curation, global awareness/citizenship, the ethical use/creation of information, etc.), are not exclusive to the 21st century. “21st Century Skills” is a convenient turn of phrase and, at one time, an impactful one. But that time has passed. Let’s move beyond the label and on to identifying, prioritizing and teaching the skills that will best prepare our students for life in this century and beyond. (Yes, they are going to live a very long time).
  3. I don't want to talk about the "digital divide" anymore. Okay, that's not really true. The digital divide is an issue that is important and that needs to remain a part of our collective conversation. HOWEVER, I want this conversation to move beyond issues of simple access. There is no question in my mind that access is important. Having spent much of my career working with students for whom school is the only connected, digital space they inhabit, I understand how access and equity go hand in hand. Still, if there's one thing my time at the reference desk of the public library has taught me, it's that ONLY providing people with access to computers/the internet is not enough. Our efforts to put computers in the homes of families who don't have them, to start "one to one" initiatives at schools with high populations of students with limited/no access beyond the school day, or the ever ambitious (and noble) goal of extending broadband access to areas where there is none, will only be effective if we couple them with instruction. It may seem as though our students are born with digital devices in their hands, but that doesn't mean they know how to use them. I want to see school librarians leading the charge to shape future conversations about the "digital divide" to include an emphasis on both access and education.
  4. I don’t want to talk about eBooks replacing print books anymore. I don’t believe this is going to happen. And it’s not because I’m a romantic who believes nostalgia will win the day. Rather, it’s because I understand that once the dust settles and the “new gadget” effect has worn off, schools will ultimately spend their limited monies on the resources that most impact student learning. To that end, I don’t just want to see school librarians acting as the voice of reason in these conversations, I want to see them emerge as curriculum and technology experts who understand that there’s room on the library shelves, and in student backpacks, for both traditional print and e-ink titles because both options address different instructional goals. In the end, I want to see this conversation become part of a larger, more important, dialogue revolving around how to best meet student needs – and this, my friends, is the conversation we should all be clamoring to be a part of.
  5. I don’t want to talk about protecting students from the evils of social media anymore. If any conversation on this list needs to evolve, it’s this one. Conversations or initiatives that seek to make a student’s digital footprint invisible are outmoded and, frankly, dangerous. Our students live in a digital, connected world. As fast as we think of ways to block social media, they figure out ways to circumvent the filter. This conversation must evolve to the point where our goal is to help students develop a safe and responsible online presence. As school librarians, I want to us to ask more questions like “what happens when a teacher is not there to keep a child from visiting a “bad” site?” Or “what happens when students are asked to submit personal information for an online profile, but they’ve never been taught how?” Or even better, “how can we expect students to make good choices when we’re not there, when they’re given NO choices when we are?” Filters are necessary. But conversations about helping students create a safe online presence, (one that allows them to take advantage of all the GOOD social media has to offer), are important too.
Since starting this post, I've placed and deleted this image multiple times. I keep changing my mind because I’m not sure the connection between this work of art (by graffiti artist Borf) and my thinking is clear. In the end, I worry about the conversations we are having in education. Not because I feel they are the wrong ones to be had or because I’m afraid the wrong people are having them.  In fact, if I'm honest, then in general I'm heartened by the amount of discussion that's being generated by and about educators/education these days.  School librarians have long been part of the quiet and polite crowd in the corner, heads down, doing our work, but not making a big fuss about it, so... believe me when I'm say I'm thrilled to see so many of my tribe kicking up the dust and (dare I say it?) showing off. If anything, I'm just nudging the conversation forward a little, because I, for one, am ready to see certain conversations evolve to a point of greater relevancy - lest they (and we) become obsolete.


  1. Thanks, Jennifer. I think your top five list is just about right.

  2. I'm with you on ebooks. The funny thing is I was okay with talking about them until a recent vacation I took. I visited a bunch of different people and every single one of them asked me my opinion about ebooks - what did I think about them in general, will they replace traditional texts, etc. By the end of the week I felt I should just write up a sort of press release to hand to my friends and family when the question inevitably came up.

  3. Excellent post! I work in a very different type of library, but I learned a lot from this and I love your writing.

  4. Gina from Brisbane - I think with eBooks we are going through a transitional period, a lot of libraries still don't have policies that cover the way they handle eBooks and it's a bit messy and ad hoc. I agree that once the dust settles they will become just another change that has happend to the library landscape, i.e. card cats to electronic etc.

  5. Thanks for extending the conversation! I've linked to you from here:

    Wishing you well,
    Miguel Guhlin
    Around the Corner-MGuhlin.org

  6. I agree with your 5 and M. Guhlin's, and I have decided in my theoretical heart at least, to hang my preacher's hat and just get to it. But, I find myself back at the pulpit on a regular basis. How do you handle a teacher that asks, "How do know the students aren't cheating?" or "Sorry, I'm just not into technology? How do prevent your head from exploding when you try to engage colleagues in a sincere discussion of pedagogy only to realize that their outer limit is the stack of flash cards, the worksheet packet, and the text/work book?

  7. Miguel! Thank YOU for the inspiration, dear. Keep on keeping on, brother. :)

    KJones: I feel your pain, but, the thing we must do - and indeed the only thing we can do - is lead by example and trudge forward despite (or perhaps in spite) of the naysayers. I've been at this for 15 years now, and the key to my survival is knowing when someone is asking the questions you posed legitimately or just complaining/trying to rain on my parade. If it's the former, I'm happy to chat with them, point them towards examples and look for real cracks in the armor that is keeping them from being great. If it's the latter, however, I ignore them. I simply don't have time for it. Mind you, I'm not always successful, but it's my goal.

    Et al: Thank you for giving me things to chew on. I blush when I think of all the smart people I get to learn from/with.


  8. Hi LG,

    Great post. I would disagree with you about the need for conversations regarding e-books. The focus may need to change, but the future of libraries hangs on the role we have in how our schools use e-books. And get used to it, print books, except for vampire stories, are already dead in high schools.


  9. Oh Doug, you got me all wrong. Conversations about eBooks need to continue, I just think they need to move away from "the sky is falling" and towards how do these devices meet student needs. That said, I hope you're wrong when you say that "the future of libraries hangs on the role we have in how our schools use e-books." While I've been an early adopter and have 70+ readers in my school, plus access to eBooks in other forms in my catalog, I've been operating under the assumption that my role within the school was bigger than that. I hope it is, anyway.

  10. This was excellent! And I applaud what I see as the attitude of "how do we move forward and support these changes and innovations in positively shaping our students lives" rather than the "OMG the sky is falling" attitude I hear all too often. Great Post.

  11. Hey Jennifer,
    Enjoyed the post a great deal and found I agreed with you on all points. Conversation should be a vehicle for reflection and meaningful changes - too often with the above issues they seem to be issues that divide people into camps where nothing of substance really occurs. Keep fighting the good fight.

  12. Katy and Emory: You both make me blush. Thank you so much for sharing and learning with me! *mwah!*

  13. Librarygirl,
    Totally agree with you! Move on to the how we do it not the "should do it".

    To Doug0077Maybe in your high school print books are dead; but in mine, my students that really read for pleasure, love the feel of a book in their hand. Plus many rural schools (and their patrons)do not have the funds to have a personal laptop or tablet to read during school hours. Please don't banish all of us with one stroke of the pen if we do not feel eBooks are the right direction for our students at this time.