Saturday, May 14, 2011

When the Crazies Come Knocking, Will You Be Ready?

"Interrogation" cc  images from
I first became aware of "The Disgraceful Interrogation of L.A. School Librarians" when Neil Gaiman tweeted the link along with the note "this makes my blood boil."  Within hours, my twitter and facebook feeds were full of responses, one of my favorites having to do with how clearly the crime rate in LA must have dropped to something less than miniscule proportions.  How else can you explain school librarians being interrogated like criminals?  Anyway, soon I was led to this blog post that recounts the experience in LA first hand followed by this letter to the editor in my local paper (from a former principal!) which (although unrelated) basically says fixing my state's fiscal woes is easy because we don't need school librarians (or guidance counselors or nurses!) anyway.

Needless to say, it's been a rough week for educators, and for school librarians in particular.  And lots of (really smart) people have been writing about it to express their outrage and frustration.  Unfortunately, however, while this is an extreme example to be sure, it's only one in a long line of beatings that all educators are currently taking from lawmakers and a populous who want to balance state checkbooks without taking any of the blame for mismanaging the funds.  I hate to say it, but I think this is only the beginning of such "interrogations."  While, hopefully, most of us will not be dragged down into a basement and forced to prove our worth under hot, and really unflattering, florescent lights - rest assured, we WILL be asked to prove our worth.

I guess the question we have to ask ourselves now is: can we?

Now is the time of year when many in libraryland start thinking about end of year reports.  And gosh, there's lots of really cool examples out there that showcase the work that goes on in our libraries.   This year,  however, as I put these numbers together, I will be thinking a lot about how to draw the line between the data I've collected and student learning. This year, whatever form(s) my report takes, its ultimate purpose will be to prove that my work is a) the solution to the problems that keep my principal and superintendent up at night b) directly linked to student achievement and c) an indispensable part of our school culture and mission.  More than ever, I think these reports need to take the extra step of bridging the gap between simply presenting the facts and linking those facts to student achievement.

Along those same lines, if you're anything like me, then this time of year also leads to endless prognostications about how I'll do things "next year."  It's funny, but I can remember, being told my first year teaching "not to worry," that after five years I'd "get my groove" - which in this case meant that after 5 years, I'd have a cadre of resources at my fingertips and I would no longer have to create new things every year.  Unfortunately, if that's the definition of getting one's groove, I've yet to achieve this zen like state.  Rather, I'm the kind of teacher who is constantly reinventing the wheel.  No matter how successful or enjoyable or impactful a program/project/collaboration may be, I seem to always be able to think of ways to make it better.  And this year is no exception.

Even as I start gathering together the fruits of this year's labor, I am overcome with thoughts of how I will collect data next year.  I'll be writing about this in more depth later, but for now I think it's well worth mentioning that if I am lucky enough to still have a job next year, I'll be taking extra care to ensure that I collect data that spotlights the impact of my work.  Not only because it's the right thing to do, but because when my seat in the basement is ready, I want to make sure I'm prepared.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

6 TED Talks all SCHOOL Librarians Should Watch (and Why!)

Recently, Andy Woodworth posted a series of TED Talks that he felt all librarians should read (and why!).  I'd seen a couple of his choices before (like Ken Robinson's incredibly influential talk about how Schools Kill Creativity)  and really enjoyed watching the ones I'd never seen.  In particular, I loved watching William Kamkwamba's 6 minute talk "How I Harnessed the Wind." As Andy points out, the underlying message from this talk is that information access matters - and it does.  It really, really does.  If you've only got time to watch one of Andy's selections, I'd watch that one. (Ok.  You should watch Ken Robinson's too).  (And since you're already there, go ahead and watch the others as well).

I guess it goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that I love TED.  Not only have some of the Talks they've captured influenced thinking around the world, but they've both inspired and justified the ideas that a)  it is really cool to be smart and b) sharing your ideas is essential to the evolution of our species.  No matter what your, profession, I think there's something to be learned from TED.

That said, since Andy's post, I've been thinking about some of the other TED Talks that librarians, specifically school librarians, should watch.  So... I've compiled a list of my own.  And here they are (in no particular order):

Adora Svitak: "What Adults Can Learn From Kids."

"the way progress happens is because new generations and new eras grow and develop and become better than the previous ones. It's the reason we're not in the Dark Ages anymore. No matter your position of place in life, it is imperative to create opportunities for children so that we can grow up to blow you away."
In Creating Minds, Howard Gardner posited that one of the common traits that all geniuses possess is the ability to look at the world in the way a child does.  Specifically, Gardner suggests that somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we lose the ability to ask fantastic, foolish questions - intimating that it is schooling and adult expectations for "grown up" behavior that ultimately kill the very intellectual curiosity that sparks discovery, creativity and invention.  In this talk, Adora Svitak challenges all adults to rethink their of definition of what it means to be "childish" and to allow kids the opportunity to think like, well... kids.  As school librarians we need to ask ourselves if we are cultivating a culture of participatory experiences for our students - experiences that encourage them to learn by asking questions, solving problems and dreaming big. If not, what are we cultivating?

Adam Sadowsky: "Engineering A Viral Music Video"

"So what did we learn from all this?  Life is messy.  It took us 85 takes to get it on film to our satisfaction. Of those 85 takes, only three actually successfully completed their run. We destroyed two pianos and 10 televisions in the process. We went to Home Depot well over a hundred times. And we lost one high-heeled shoe."
The big take away for me, from this Talk, is the idea that success requires planning, patience, tenacity and a willingness to see failure as a necessary part of the process.  Plus, there's an amazing Rube Goldberg machine at the heart of the Talk, which I find to be the perfect metaphor for teaching.  Think about it.  Every lesson is like a Rube Golberg machine - as teachers, we push down the first domino - which, with any luck, sets the bowling ball into action, which knocks over the can of marbles which... well, you get the picture... until somewhere near the end a light bulb comes on - preferably right above a student's head!  But what if it doesn't?  Do we just scrap the idea and head to the vending machine for a Diet Coke?  Do we toss out the first plans and redesign the thing from start to finish?  Or do we cock our heads and try to figure out exactly where the connection isn't being made? As school librarians, what we can take away from this Talk is that learning is messy and we rarely get it right in one take. 

Diana Laufenberg: "How to learn? From mistakes."

"...if we continue to look at education as if it's about coming to school to get the information and not about experiential learning, empowering student voice and embracing failure, we're missing the mark."
I love this talk because it tackles the culture of "one right answer."  In her unique (I'm so excited to be a) teacher voice, Diana Laufenberg recounts her own journey as an educator - celebrating her failures and successes and encouraging all teachers to let go of the notion that there has to be a "right answer" in order for real learning to take place. In the end, I think this short Talk is an important one for school librarians because if we can learn to accept and even embrace our own missteps then surely we can do the same for our students.

 "...your filter bubble is your own personal unique universe of information that you live in online. And what's in your filter bubble depends on who you are, and it depends on what you do. But the thing is that you don't decide what gets in. And more importantly, you don't actually see what gets edited out."
This talk, was put on my radar by Buffy Hamilton, who tweeted and blogged recently about its importance.  Watching it reminded me a little of the InfoWhelm video that explores the amount of information being produced today and the skills needed (by both kids and adults) to interpret and analyze it.   However, what this Talk effectively illustrates is that it's not simply the amount of information that our students have to sift through that makes information literacy important, it's the bias that's being built into the very search engines we use to access it that makes viewing the process with a critical eye absolutely essential.  As Buffy put it on her blog, "merely providing students access to the Internet is not enough."  This is an especially important Talk for school librarians because it illustrates just how essential it is for us, the information experts at our school, to emphasize critical thinking as THE skill when teaching our students to evaluate not just information, but the means by which we access it.
Alisa Miller: "The News About The News"

"Last year, Pew and the Colombia J-School analyzed the 14,000 stories that appeared on Google News' front page. And they, in fact, covered the same 24 news events. Similarly, a study in e-content showed that much of global news from U.S. news creators is recycled stories from the AP wire services and Reuters, and don't put things into a context that people can understand their connection to it. So, if you put it all together, this could help explain why today's college graduates as well as less educated Americans know less about the world than their counterparts did 20 years ago."
This, under 3 minute, TED Talk blew my mind.  If there's one thing the Internet is credited for, it's busting down the walls around information - allowing anyone with a computer and a modem the ability to learn about the world without someone like Ted Koppel acting as the go between. Unfortunately, as Miller points out, while the delivery method may have changed, the same filters continue to limit what and who we learn about.  For school librarians, this provides another great example of why we must teach our students to ask bigger, tougher questions about information than the standard "how do I find _______?"

Gever Tulley:  "Life Lessons Through Tinkering."

"Nothing ever turns out as planned ... ever. And the kids soon learn that all projects go awry --  and become at ease with the idea that every step in a project is a step closer to sweet success, or gleeful calamity."
And finally, I just love this Talk because it's so full of joy.  In his "aww shucks," deeply understated way, Tulley reminds us that a) there is a huge difference between learning a thing and being taught it and b) when teachers provide guidance and encouragement instead of just knowledge AND kids are given the freedom to explore, create and problem solve.... magic happens.  If we let this be (at least one of) our guiding principle(s), our libraries will truly make the shift from that room with all the books to the laboratories of learning that our students need and deserve.


Anyway, as Andy said at the end of the post that inspired this one, there are probably a bajillion other TED Talks out there that could/should inform librarianship.  Given my love for TED, I'd be thrilled to hear about the ones I've missed.


Ok.  This one is just a bonus. 

Erin McKean:  "Redefining The Dictionary."

"Now one of the perks of being a lexicographer -- besides getting to come to TED -- is that you get to say really fun words, like lexicographical. Lexicographical has this great pattern -- it's called a double dactyl. And just by saying double dactyl, I've sent the geek needle all the way into the red."
Though there's a case to be made for this Talk being important to librarianship because it explores the evolution of a beloved, and dare I say, oft romanticized information source, I'm including it simply because it's just so geek-a-licious!  Not only do Erin McKean and I have the same glasses, but she's quirky and snarky and a wonderful example of why geeks rule!  Enjoy! :)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Some Reflections on Sharing

One of the things I love most about our profession is how generous so many people are with their resources, creativity and expertise.  I was a classroom teacher for many years before donning a library hat and even though I loved that part of my career and remember those days with great fondness, I never felt as supported or as much a part of a community as I have since moving to libraryland.  I truly believe that when we share, we all become better and our practice, as a whole, is strengthened.  What's more, it's fantastic to be part of a profession that truly understands and embraces that philosophy. 

Whenever I talk to kids about citing their sources and giving credit where credit is due, I strongly encourage them to, whenever possible, use resources that are licensed under Creative Commons - not because this will keep them out of the hot seat or to prevent the dreaded copyright police from knocking in the night - but rather because it shows them how much better we all become when we share.  My hope is that they'll not only learn about attribution, but that they'll also grow up to become generous contributors to whatever fields they choose to tackle for work or pleasure.  Sometimes I feel like we miss the boat when talking about copyright by focusing more on the law and/or the bad feelings that can result from someone else pilfering your work(s).  Those things are important, of course, but I find I have better results from stressing the positives of sharing your talents and of using the works of others who are willing to do the same.

But, that's a post of a different color.

That being said, it was truly an honor to be a part of the sharing that went on during the TL Virtual Cafe Session on Adding eReaders to your Library Program. Honestly, I am still pinching myself.

And, in the spirit of sharing, here are my slides from the presentation.

Coincidentally, some people were asking about the images used in the session - I'm actually pretty stoked (do people still use that word?) because every last one of those images was my very own!  I tackled a 365 photo project this year that has turned out to be decidedly non-library related (but a great creative outlet!). So... when I learned I'd need to do a Power Point for the TL Cafe session, I decided to break out the camera instead of trolling the internet.  It was great fun and helped me realize that Power Point doesn't have to be a substitute for Ambien.  And, of course, all the photos (that do not contain students) are  licensed under creative commons, so please take, use, alter and share.  What's mine is yours. Similarly, some folks in the room expressed interest in the list of dystopian novels that I mentioned in the session.  Feel free to email me at jennifer[dot]lagarde[at]nhcs[dot]net and I'll share the google doc with you!  Finally, if you weren't able to make it to the session, an archived audio version as well as a text version of the comment thread are housed  here.  

Thanks again to everyone who shared their time, talents and experience with me last night.  It's amazing to be part of a profession that embraces the philosophy of sharing for the benefit of the whole.  I know I'm much better at my job as a result of this generosity.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Rose by Any Other Name

The image above is my response to Joyce Valenza's Action Figure Meme.  It's gone through a lot of changes since I created the first version, as people share more and more school librarian synonyms for me to include. At this rate, I'm going to need a much bigger chalkboard - which got me thinking about all the different monikers we wear. 

As a profession, are school librarians in the midst of an identity crisis? I don't think so.  Rather, I think we're experiencing an expectation crisis.

Since I joined this profession (just under 5 years ago) my title has changed three times.  I began as a school librarian, was switched to a media coordinator and am now a media specialist. Or maybe I'm a school librarian again.  I can't remember.  Oddly enough, my name has changed, but my job really hasn't. 

I've had this conversation with other residents of library land before and I've come to the conclusion that all this name changing has nothing to do with trying to decide who we are, but is rather an attempt to change how others view us or, more specifically, to redefine our role as something more exciting and, let's face it, more valuable than the bespectacled stereotype of librarians past (and unfortunately, in some cases, present). 

One of the most common complaints I hear from other librarians is the oft lamented fact that people (particularly those who control the purse strings) "just don't understand what we do."  Truth be told, there *is* a lot of that going around, but I don't think renaming our profession is the answer.  Think about it.  We could take the list above, add a hundred other ideas, form a focus group, discuss, debate, weep, wail and gnash our teeth until one name emerged victorious and, in the end, it would still be incomplete.  Bottom line: we're never going to find one new word or phrase that perfectly encompasses all that we do. 

So... instead of continually looking for a new name, why not change what people expect from our old one.

Just recently I had the opportunity to introduce some of my colleagues to a long time library friend.  I introduced her in the typical way, I guess, by name and then by saying that she was the school librarian at such and such a school.  Later, she said, "you know, I really have a problem being called a school librarian.  We're just so much more than that."   Although I didn't say it at the time, I disagree with my pal.  In the end, I think the real problem is that people don't expect more from librarians.  

Librarianship is suffering from a case of terminally low expectations.

Sure.  You or I may feel the pressure of some pretty high expectations within our own buildings or districts.  And I've no doubt there are plenty of other individuals out there who work with students/teachers/administrators who have come to expect a lot from them - but to the general public, librarians and superheroes are not synonymous. 

Your principal might expect you to use student data to design library programs that meet targeted instructional goals, but in general, people don't expect librarians to impact student learning.

The teachers you work with might expect you to help them use technology to expand the walls of their classrooms in order to help students become responsible global citizens, but in general, people don't expect librarians to be on the cutting edge of the constantly changing technological landscape.

Your students may expect you to know exactly the right book for them at exactly the right time, but in general, people don't expect librarians to change lives.

And therein lies the quandary.

How do we take the successes that so many of us have built within our schools and districts and expand them to our profession as a whole?  How do we get our teachers and principals to stop seeing us as the exceptions to the rule and to start expecting what we do from all librarians?  How do we parlay individual victories into a global change of expectations?

Although I can't remember the name of the session now, (I'm getting old), I attended a workshop led by Doug Johnson last year in which he said (and I'm paraphrasing here) Twitter and the digital divide aren't going to save libraries.  He's right. 

We need to figure out a way to change what people expect from librarians. 

And then we need to prove them right.


Diving Into Digital Books: TL Virtual Cafe Webinar Coming Up!

I feel so fortunate to have had a number of amazing opportunities to reflect on this year's experiment with eReaders in my library. Perhaps the most exciting is the one that's coming up on Monday when I get to spend an hour or so chatting about the marriage of eReaders and school libraries with my friend and hero Buffy Hamilton.  Seriously, if someone had told me a year ago that I'd be sharing a stage (even a virtual one) with Buffy, I'd never have believed it.  It's truly an honor to be included in this discussion at all, nevermind with the person I constantly try to model. Plus, it's hosted by little miss Daring Librarian herself, Gwyneth Jones.  Mind blowing.

Anyway, I really hope you'll join us!

Image from the UnquietLibrary Flickr Stream

Diving into Digital Books: Adding eReaders to Your School Library

Guests: Buffy J. Hamilton & Jennifer LaGarde
Host: Gwyneth Jones
May 2 - 8pm EST
Learn Central Page
Participant Link
Kindles, Nooks and iPads, Oh My! Implementing eReaders into your library program is about more than just jumping on the latest technological bandwagon or attempting to reinvent your library in order to stay relevant. It’s about good practice. Join Buffy Hamilton and Jennifer LaGarde as they discuss how eReaders have helped them provide students with a) access to the most up to date titles, b) the unique ability to efficiently link works of fiction with nonfiction resources and, c) the opportunity to interact with texts in ways that are simply not possible with traditional, library owned, books – all in an environment that both appeals to and enhances their skills as 21st century learners.

All materials, including my slideshare (which I'm proud to report contains only my own images) will be archived on the wiki once the session is complete.