Tuesday, May 31, 2011

In sunny LA, librarians are not "teachers." How grandiose.

Whilst relaxing over the Memorial Day weekend, I saw this article come through the blogosphere: "L.A. School District Tells Librarians: You're Not Teachers." Available at http://n.pr/m1UW7A
After seeing that, I was no longer relaxed. Thank goodness for BBQ and beer and mosquitoes to get me back in the mood of the weekend. But I digress.
Om nom nom on my arm.
Hoo boy, this librarian/media-specialist-as-superfluous-employee trend had better stop before it begins or else the US may end up trending toward this. As usual, all librarians need to step up the marketing and explain or demonstrate to their colleagues and employers why they are indeed teachers. A lot of times what we teach is off the standardized curricular map. There is probably not a single one of us librarian/public servants that wouldn't consider ourselves teachers, be it of reading, critical thinking, resume writing, navigating the Internet, navigating to the bathroom, job searching, information finding, emailing, current events, blogging, source evaluation, spelling, culture, history, research strategies, web design, oral and written communication, globalization, computer software, healthcare, taxes, self-reflection, community involvement and civic organizations, "Netiquette," customs, English and other languages, stewardship, plagiarism, creativity, and trust.
That last sentence: It was long. And I could've gone on. But I think the point was mildly made that librarians do teach--maybe just not to the tests and curricular standards.
As we move forward in our futurist planning, we need to consider:
  • How does one define what it means to be a teacher--not just in theory but in the eyes of school districts, administrators, job descriptions, parents, community members, ????
  • How do the skills and information librarians teach line up with state and national learning standards?
  • Do librarians need to overtly "teach to the test"--that glorious trend in education right now--so that their educational contributions may be measured?
  • Or is this a better model to consider? http://ntrls.org/downloads/EDCFeb2011.pdf
What do you, the reader, think about this? When did librarian and teacher become two disconnected entities in the eyes of some? Were they ever considered synonymous terms by those outside the field of librarianship? Why or why not? In your opinion, are librarians teachers?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Serving the whole

Forward-thinking library folks like us have proposed plenty of new directions and new services for libraries. One of the most profound barriers to such change is the fact that, right now, most of our traditional services appear to be as essential as ever. We still need to provide books and movies and computers because plenty of our users do not have the disposable income to purchase those on their own. However the profound need on one end of the economic spectrum is blinding us to the other end, where we are increasingly optional and approaching irrelevance. We're approaching an age in which, for those who have spending money, anything they could possibly want to do through a library could be done more easily elsewhere: getting (e)books, getting movies, getting online, getting answers. We’ve been fortunate so far that public libraries enjoy a platonic/nostalgic reputation as a civic asset, and are defended even by community members who rarely think to actually use the library themselves. This will not last forever.

With finite budgets and staff time, new services mean taking away from old ones. Thus the profound need for basic library services from a portion of the community is often invoked as an argument against novelty. This is noble, but risky in the long term. If bridging the technology gap is the cornerstone of our services, what service do we provide to the rest of the community? Public libraries exist to serve the public, and that means everybody.

I work for a very urban branch of an urban public library system, and I love what I do. I love knowing that I am truly helping the people I serve. But that cannot be our raison d'être. Otherwise we eventually become an information food shelf: a noble place, but not one that serves the whole community. Basic library services each first arose because they were relevant to the majority. Our services have to keep growing with our communities, even when entrenching with traditional services seems so justifiable.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Godin's take on the future of libraries

We Futurists have spent a little time this week discussing Seth Godin's recent blog post on the future of public libraries as well as some blog posts that were written in response. Much of the research we've done regarding how libraries will look in 2025 (and are already starting to look) are definitely in line with Godin's thinking. He places an emphasis on techno/information savvy librarians who look beyond traditional in-house resources and encourage a space for public use and creative thinking. Even the education I received emphasized the "Information" piece of the Master's of Library and Information Science. We were told that if you applied for library school solely because you love books (though many of us love books dearly), you're going to be disappointed. Navigating data and resources and educating users how to navigate for themselves is part of a reference librarian's workflow. If they're not interested in being educated, we still get them what they ask for, hopefully without giving them the stinkeye if they prefer to get a resource on their e-reader rather than a book.

As much as I found Godin's post reflective of what many futurist-types hope libraries will look like, it's obvious that the business sphere is where he is most comfortable. He wants libraries to be cutting edge, always evolving to meet the newest needs, and tech heavy-- like many great and trending businesses are. But library structures are very regimented. Depending on the chain of command, resources, and budget many libraries can't just turn into a a smooth-running idea center overnight. If the library were run like many businesses, I think half of the librarians and support staff would be fired because their positions don't fit into this model. And that's not what we want. How do we grapple with the idea of making a library like a successful business when libraries aren't rooted in the business world?

I would also like to point out, when I talk about running a library like a business, I'm not suggesting we charge for materials or require users to jump through hoops to use them. I'm not suggesting outsourcing purchasing power of books or slashing the hours of full-time employees. But I am talking about providing users with what they want when they want it (not what I think they want or what they should want). I'm also talking about changing services to meet their needs, even if that means changing these services every 3-5 years.

When reading these two posts back-to-back, it gives us Futurists a lot to think about...so share your thoughts!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

In 20 years, what will computers look like?

There's an interesting infographic on the Mashable blog today showing what computers may look like in 20+ years. It's looking pretty bleak for computers, or at least what we know of computers today.

Here's a link to the Mashable post so you can check it out yourself.

What I find fascinating is the idea of biological computing. What has long been a science fiction staple, the idea that computing will work with our DNA, seems like it may be coming true. I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea, but according to the infographic scientists already have the basic building blocks of DNA computers.

I struggle with not knowing what technology will look like in the future when I think about where libraries will go with it. I love the idea of kiosks in libraries and throughout towns where people will hook up whatever object they have to download library resources, but is that only 5 years off and not 15?

Where is computing going? What are your thoughts?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

What about the archives in 2025?

With all our discussion of the future of libraries, sometimes we forget to discuss the future of archives. Libraries and archives have gone hand in hand for centuries, and libraries serve as an access point to archival materials. Forward-thinking libraries and archives are working diligently to digitize their content in order to allow patrons 24/7 access, and the ability to view materials without setting foot into the library. We tend to think of these materials as old: handwritten letters, black and white photographs, meeting minutes typed on a type-writer. But what about materials that are born-digital? Particularly items that, though digital, are still old. Floppy disc, anyone?

The following article, “Digital Legacy: Respecting the digital dead,” examines how libraries and archives are acquiring floppy discs, hard drives, and other forms of digital technology that have evolved rapidly and/or died out within the last 10-20 years. Without touching the original files, digital forensics are employed to replicate the data and make it useable by researchers. This particular article describes how a researcher uses a special computer in the library to navigate the desktop of an evolutionary biologist.

This current system has its flaws-- the computer programs have no way of identifying what is sensitive and what is not, potentially requiring close curation; it also appears that the materials, though digital, can only be viewed on site. The article points to technologies in the future that will address these issues. Who knows, in 2025 maybe we’ll be able to view these and other digital files with relative ease? Looking forward to it!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Textbooks at the state level

Free College Textbooks for Ohio Students!
A new joint pilot program between the University System of Ohio and Flat World Knowledge, the largest publisher of free and open college textbooks for students worldwide, will allow 1,000 Ohio students to receive digital textbooks for FREE.

The Ohio Digital Bookshelf Project is a pilot project of Ohio Textbook HQ that aims to provide quality textbook options for faculty and better learning outcomes, while also saving students money.