-Post by Justin Hoenke, Tame the Web Contributor
Via the Librarian by Day:
This provides so much food for thought – school librarians please take a look – and really, everyone in LIS – how will can we provide them a world for learning?
Dr Michael Stephens delivered the Dr Laurel Anne Clyde Memorial Keynote Address at the ASLA XXI Biennial Conference, held in Perth, Western Australia, from 29 September to 2 October 2009.
Reprinted with permission from the Australian School Library Association Inc. (ASLA) Access 2010 24(1): 5.
The evolving Web is an open and social place. The Web has changed everything. Its impact on every facet of our lives — home, work and school — would be difficult to measure but the ‘always on, always available’ Internet is certainly a game changer. Can you recall the first time you realised that the Internet would change your job? Your school? Your students?
Dr Laurel Anne Clyde recognised the power and potential for emerging technologies in schools and spent time exploring the implications. As technology evolved, so did her research. Her work examining weblogs was one of the first scholarly endeavours with emerging Web 2.0 tools. Now many of us study and move in a world of hyperconnected spaces: Facebook, WordPress Multi- User Blog communities (WordPress MU), Flickr and any number of socially enabled sites.
What a world Dr. Clyde would see today!
Sadly, this world includes the fact that many libraries are suffering financial setbacks. The recent news that Australian school libraries are in dire need of support all too well illustrates that changes are needed. The press release from the Australian School Library Association (ASLA 2009) detailed the findings of a 2007 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), including:
That means ensuring there are enough qualified teacher librarians as well as maintaining and improving infrastructure. Having a new or refurbished school library is important, but the full potential of these resources cannot be realised without a qualified teacher librarian in place as well.
This fact cannot be ignored. Schools need qualified librarians. And in this Web-enhanced world, the qualifications and skill sets required are many.
Today’s teacher librarian (TL) must master foundational skills built on our core values, understand the importance of a strong and useful collection of materials and resources AND be knowledgeable in the emerging world of online social engagement. Exploring emerging tools and trends should be part of every qualified TL’s duties. Dr Clyde wrote (2004) about the use of blogs in the library setting:
“By not taking advantage of this simple medium (and doing it well), libraries will be the losers.”
This sentiment could easily be expanded to include many new tools and technologies to enhance learning in that ‘always on’ way. The potential for fostering connected learning and inquiry is broad.
As technology continues to evolve so quickly, TLs are faced with many challenges: providing resources, supporting the curriculum and guiding access. What can we do to ensure we are best meeting the needs of our students and their learning in times of change and challenge?
Embrace the 21st century learner
These learners are ‘born with the chip’ and the world they are growing up in is different from that of the previous generation of learners. There has been useful research about the so- called ‘Google Generation’ and it can help us understand how to meet their needs. Recent findings include:
These young people use the social Web. A recent study by the Australian Communications and Media Authority reported that:
children aged eight to 11 years are spending 1.3 hours a day online, while 12- to 17-year-olds average 2.9 hours … among older teenagers that shifted to using social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook (The Age 2009).
These young people write — a lot! Pew Internet & American Life Project found that:
85% of teens aged 12–17 engage at least occasionally in some form of electronic personal communication, which includes text messaging, sending e-mail or instant messages or posting comments on social networking sites (Pew Internet & American Life Project 2008).
These young people learn differently. Pew also noted in an earlier report that young people’s learning is shaped by technology and collaboration. Although this is US data, the connection between technology, collaboration and learning for Australian youth who have access to the tools would surely be similar.
These young people integrate technology into their lives. Mine the report entitled Listening to Student Voices for more about student perception and use of technology and ponder the answer to this question: Are we forcing our students into a decidedly text-based school environment when their world is a hyperlinked, digital space? Key components of the report include:
- Technology is not an extra. • Computers and the Internet are communication tools first.
- Students want challenging, technology-oriented instructional activities.
- Technology has caused students to approach life differently; to adults nothing has changed.
These young people are living in a decidedly different world. University of California, Irvine, researcher Mizuko Ito conducted interviews with 800 youth and young adults and performed 5000 hours of online observations for another ground- breaking study in the US. The America-centric findings are telling and could illuminate Australian viewpoints as well. Findings included:
- New media forms have altered how youth socialise and learn and raise a new set of issues that educators, parents and policymakers should consider.
- To stay relevant in the 21st century, education institutions need to keep pace with the rapid changes introduced by digital media.
- Interest-driven participation can lead to learning opportunities from peers and those who are more experienced.
What emerges from this scan of recent research is a focus on the new digital realities of our learners and the need to help them understand new digital literacies. Don’t be fooled, however; young people demonstrate time and time again that they understand the basics of privacy and sharing in a connected world. Don’t miss interviews with Australian teens in a recent Herald Sun exposé (Herald Sun 2009) for more.
Explore emerging tools
What tools could you use to extend the reach and potential of your library services? The simple power of blogs, the ‘simple medium’ Dr Clyde noted could be used to great effect, has now given way to wikis, Web-based chat, Flickr, Twitter, Skype, virtual worlds and much more. Many of these tools are open source — meaning they’re free to use and enhance. Use a blog to encourage student writing. WordPress MU allows for multiple blogs via one installation, allowing a teacher to create a virtual community for a class where everyone can customise their own blogspace and practise writing and linking. This could be done within a school firewall or outside on the open Web (WordPress MU see http:// wpmu.org/wordpress-as-a-learning- management-system-move-over- blackboard).
Use free applications such as Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net) to record and edit podcasts based on curriculum or students’ creative projects. Students could be ‘roving reporters’, creating news stories about school events, projects and so on.
Grab a digital camera and enable your students to practise their visual skills. Tell a story via images, stored on blogs or sites like Flickr, if available.
Expand this creativity to short video segments produced with any of the various low-cost, hand- held video camcorders available. What could a class do with a Flip Video (http://www.theflip.com/ en-au) to show off their learning and creativity? Book reports? Mini- movies illustrating curriculum?
Utilise Skype to connect your classroom to the world. Find a class nearby or across the country and Skype in for a group-learning module. Connect and let students interact, while blogging the experience. For a real world example of this in action, please see http://learningismessy. com/blog/?p=191
Create a school social network with Ning to promote connected collaboration. This DIY tool does all the dirty work. Visit ASLA Online’s Ning to see the site in action.
These are just a few ideas for bringing technology into the classroom. All of them take the idea of a ‘simple medium’ and expand the tool into digital learning modules. What else would you add?
Celebrate the potential for 21st century learning
Many have said this is the best time to be a librarian. The challenges are there, but so are the means to make change, to make a difference, to make an impact on the lives of our students. Open source options, connected communities of online support that span the globe and shared practice via the Web are all low-cost or no- cost ways to implement some of these changes. Stop for a moment amidst all of your work, take a breath and celebrate how far we’ve come.
And ponder then how we might move forward? What traits are important for these new channels of learning? I would argue that the following characteristics are key to creating an effective 21st century learning experience:
Curiosity: Be curious with your students. Promote curiosity as a means of learning with teachers and administrators.
Exploration: Give students the necessary ideas and the tools to work with, then step back and let them explore. Stand by as a guide as they navigate new waters.
Transparency and openness: Work to build a library within your school that’s open and transparent. Involve everyone in decisions and keep them informed. Start that From the teacher librarian’s desk blog for your students, teachers and parents.
Creativity: Offer as many outlets for student creativity as possible. Provide tools and space and let imaginations soar. Share the results with everyone as well.
Flexibility: Rigid rules and overly structured procedures dampen the creativity and ‘just in time’ nature of our work. Be flexible with students and teachers and encourage the same from them.
Play = learning: Make space and allow time for ‘play’ in your library. It might be interactive gaming on a Wii, an online scavenger hunt centered on science or maths or a problem-solving contest built around information literacy. Launch a 23 things for your teachers and administration as well — then expand to students and parents. Let students help create the modules for their parents!
Continuing the journey
At the ASLA XXI Biennial Conference, I spoke about these topics and interacted for the day with some excited librarians from all over Australia. We sat in the conference centre lobby after my presentations and discussed how to proceed. I was reminded of the slide in my talks of a road disappearing into the horizon. How do we move forward into an unknown future?
Break down barriers: What roadblocks have you encountered? Money? Access? Strict rules about content? Work within your school’s structure to educate teachers and administrators about the value of emerging technologies. Perform a ‘kindness audit’ of your library space to see what your students see. Posted rules made up of ‘No this’ and ‘No that’ are not encouraging to the young learner’s heart.
Develop your own personal learning network (PLN): Find the online spaces — a virtual community for TLs, blog networks, Twitter friends in the profession — and learn from them. Constantly update your PLN with new and opposing voices to encourage your own critical thinking. This will guide your growth as you bring about change.
Use evidence: Use studies noted above, books like Born Digital and supporting materials, blog posts or tweets from your PLN to demonstrate the power and potential of online collaboration. Research concerning Australian youth — including Indigenous youth — would be timely and telling. Seek it out or do some yourself. Report to all of us.
Explore play for yourself: If you haven’t had a chance to participate in a 23 things or Learning 2.0 program, find one online and DIY! Set aside 20–30 minutes of professional development time weekly during the school year or break to be curious about some of the tools you might not have used. Or band together with other TLs in your area, state or nationally to offer a program for everyone.
Be selective: Use what fits best with your library and students. A focus on writing might include student blogging opportunities via a WordPress MU installation onsite. A focus on creativity might include a small, inexpensive video camera and editing software so your students can explore digital storytelling or reporting.
Know it’s okay to fail: One impact of the gaming generation is the mindset that it’s okay to make a mistake, learn from it and go on with new knowledge in a different direction. Talk about these ‘failures’ within your PLN and share what you’ve learned. Others may have insights or may benefit.
Don’t be afraid to change: The way it’s always been done does not have to be the way it will always be done. The biggest change right now is not technology but of mindset. Set an example. ‘Bring it on.’
Be persistent: Keep doing all of the above to hone your craft and add to your storehouse of evidence, facts and proven results. Meet resistance with a kind but firm push the other way. Educate everyone every chance you get: administrators, governing bodies, parents and so on.
The potential is there for a great future for the school library. Recently, I was asked to describe my vision of the role libraries will play for learners. I imagine the school library, public library and academic library forming a connected web of support and service for learners as they grow. Learning will happen everywhere in collaborative spaces and online.
Successes will be shared. Learning from failures will be shared as well. It will truly be a celebration.
Download a PDF of the article here: Michael Stephens pp5-8
The presentation at ASLA this article is based on is here: http://tametheweb.com/2009/10/01/thanks-australian-school-library-association/
Australian School Library Association (ASLA) 2009, http:// www.asla.org.au/advocacy/ mediarelease-May09.htm
Clyde, LA 2004, ‘Weblogs — are you serious?’ The Electronic Library, vol. 22, issue 5, pp. 390–392.
Herald Sun 2009, ‘We’re Gen-Y and we care’, http://www. heraldsun.com.au/opinion/ were-gen-y-and-we-care/story- e6frfhqf-1225778349502
Pew Internet & American Life Project 2008, Writing, Technology and Teens, http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/ PIP_Writing_Repot_FINAL3.pdf
The good folks at Virginia Beach Public Libraries asked me back this year to talk about building community with social tools. This was perfect timing because I had just read Peter Block’s Community: The Structure of Belonging and I’ve been working on an article and interview about/with Seth Godin for Digital Bibliotek magazine. His book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us has figured prominently into my thinking and teaching so far this year.
I always appreciate this type of synchronicity. Jenny Levine introduced me to Peter Block’s book – a fascinating look at transforming communities. Based almost entirely on creating community in physical space, his definition speaks to what I see as an important building block of online community: “Communities are human systems given form by conversations that build relatedness.”
Compare that with Howard Rheingold’s 1993 definition of virtual community: “Social aggregators that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace.”
Many important keywords here: human… conversations… relatedness..relationships…
Godin simply states: “Human beings can’t help it: we need to belong.”
Godin’s Tribes is full of insights and ahas for me – as is the crowd-sourced companion PDF at http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/files/TribesQA2.pdf. Download this one and give it a look after you read Tribes. It offers roadmap style planning points and loads of questions/answers for convening your tribe.
Combine all the above with these points from A List Apart’s post “The Wisdom of Community” that posits the ideas contained in The Wisdom of Crowds are amplified by the social web: “where they can reach their full potential.”
To enable online crowds to be wise, Derek Pozowak notes you need these things:
- Explicit vs. implicit feedback
So, from all of this inspiration and these authors’ brilliant thinking, allow me to submit for your approval:
Ten Ways to Encourage the Tribe*
Connect around a cause, a community or a concept
Create your online group around a current issue, a user population or what libraries have a lot of: ideas. Focus on materials: reading, viewing, discussion. Focus on community: what’s happening around town? Focus on the current climate: what programs, services and revamped services might you offer in light of the economic downturn? How can the library help?
Ravelry is a smoking hot example of a focused community that works. A librarian shared with the group I was with in California last week that her daughter was publishing video via Ravelry of spinning techniques for people all of over the world.
“The focus is to connect teens in the Puget Sound area that care about the same social issues so that they can create positive change in their communities.”
What cause, community or concept do you want to connect?
“Marketing is about engaging with the tribe and delivering products and services with stories that spread.” Godin writes in Tribes.
Can we say enough about the power of stories in libraries? The stories people share about libraries and how they use them – in person and online – are priceless for understanding the role we can play in people’s lives. I’m knocked out by 14 Days to have Your Say as a way to get students involved and talking about library service. Public libraries could do this too – internally, with the community, as a strategic planning step.
Presenting the library’s story is another option. Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Annual Report at http://ourstory.columbuslibrary.org/ is a perfect example of sharing the library’s story in a human, playful way (driven by technology, but it’s not ABOUT the technology).
Transparency leads to trust and buy-in. Secrets, deception, guarded details shared only as “need to know” demands hurts organizations. Give me an honest, open mechanism for sharing information and I’ll listen and react.
Michael Casey and I have been exploring these topics for over two years at Library Journal and I still see other folks like Godin urging business and organizations to embrace the concept. It’s foundational to building a healthy community.
Leverage the Social Tools
Use the tools to extend the library into realms where people are connecting and talking.
Godin notes in Tribes that “Internet companies have taken the original idea behind blogs and amplified it into a set of tools that anyone can use to tighten a tribe.” Facebook, Twitter and others allow interaction and information sharing – with replies built in.
“The biggest shift is going to be that organizations that could never have afforded a national campaign will suddenly have one,” Godin writes in a recent blog post.
Libraries – all shapes, sizes and types – can do this. We can take promotion online – make it viral. Recent online initiatives such as the New Jersey State Library’s campaign to share users’ video stories about the transformational qualities of libraries are ways to create low-cost, human, authentic marketing campaigns.
A perfect first step: set aside one meeting – not six months of meetings (or heaven forbid a year or more) – to craft your library’s social media policy and plan. Use this as a starting point:
The Social Media Do’s Explained 
- Be Polite – Talk the way you would if you were doing a job interview. 
- Be Courteous – Be sure to listen & ask questions. 
- Be Helpful – Offering tips, tricks & how-to’s goes a long way. 
- Be Conversational – Don’t just be a PR twit. Chat as you would with a stranger at a bar. Be funny yet interesting. 
- Be Intelligent – Provide some value. Don’t talk down. Offer insight. 
- Be Non-confrontational – Don’t start a flame war, it can & will come back to haunt you. 
- Be Transparent – Disclose that you work for the company, be honest & truthful. 
Remember the Mission
Have you looked at your library’s mission lately through the lens of social tools and conversational communities online? Checkout Evanston PL’s mission:
The mission of the Evanston Public Library is to promote the development of independent, self-confident, and literate citizens through the provision of open access to cultural, intellectual, and informational resources.
Creating an online community like any of the Ning’s I’ve written about or similar certainly taps into what this sample mission states, just as enhancing the library catalog does.
Redwood City PL’s mission states:
Discovering ideas and sharing within catalogs such as the community-focused SOPAC is a perfect example of fulfilling a mission like this in the 21st Century.
The Little Things count…a lot
Last December when I bought the new Subaru and tweeted about passing on the $250 Subaru charity donation promotion money to the ASPCA yielding a reply from said organization with minutes is a perfect example of a little connection, a little interaction, meaning a lot.
DKPublishing’s gift to me of a tour guide to Vancouver because of my tweet about their books or recent discussions about Oak park Public Library’s collection are further examples of how a tiny little expression of kindness or bit of feedback can go a long way.
What little things can you do with your users online? What little kindness can you extend?
Listen & Talk (like a human)
“Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.”
If you are going to participate in the conversations going on around your library and within your community, do so in a human way – authentic, real, emotional. Every chance I get, I echo the Cluetrain in my talks, saying: “People can smell PR speak a mile away and they do not respond well to it.”
I spoke recently with librarian who discovered unpleasant reviews of his branch on Yelp. He realized the best move he could make would be to respond to the reviews with thanks and insights about the feedback. I like this thinking.
An interesting example comes from the discussion I lead in Phoenix and Virginia Beach about library databases. In this transparent world, what would happen if the library actively put out there what is spent on electronic resources and encouraged the public to weigh in on what’s purchased. Would there be an uproar? User involvement? I think it would be a very open, honest thing to do: “Hey, library patrons, we spent $125,000 of your tax dollars last year on ________. How should we spend it this year?” Has anyone out there done this?
How could you listen and talk with your tribe?
Create a Culture of Caring
Through reading Tribes, the Tribes Q&A and Block’s book, I was struck by the emphasis on making real connections with people via caring and support. This speaks to my personal emphasis on “encouraging the heart” in everything we do. A quote by Darien Library’s Kate Sheehan from Cindi Trainor’s recent TechSource post about Computers in Libraries 2009 sticks in my brain too:
In the time since I’ve been home from CIL, the moment that has bounced around in my head most often was a quote from fellow TechSource blogger Kate Sheehan. During her part of “Innovation, Services and Practices,” she remarked “The chief export of our libraries is kindness.” It seems so obvious, so nostalgic—and distinctly low-tech—for a librarian to announce that we are, above all, kind to our patrons. Yet many people in our service industry, well, aren’t. I once heard a reference librarian refer to her stone-cold demeanor as “business-like.” An otherwise merry librarian, she probably would have been horrified to know that students thought her “mean.” In this age of snark and snipe, anonymous and named, a little kindness goes a long way, and I’m taking this one to heart.
Amen. In our recent Cheers & Jeers column at LJ, Michael and I mentioned this as well:
Cheers to the folks using emerging tools to enhance conferences and learning opportunities, such as Skyping speaker, UStreaming a trends session, or tagging tweets, posts, pictures, and more with a common moniker.
Jeers, however, to some who criticize in the conference back channel. We’ve been disappointed with snarky chatter and lack of respect for speakers and conference attendees at some events.
Constructive feedback and disagreement fostering debate are wonderful things. But mean-spirited criticism does not have a place at conferences or inside your online community.
How can you encourage your tribe’s collective heart today? What little bit of kindness can you extend?
“Faith is critical to all innovation.” Godin notes in Tribes on p. 80.
Faith and trust are building blocks for online social engagement. Until you get past worrying about how you’ll control your tribe and trust them, the results of your online community building might not fare the best. Open comments, ask for feedback, and trust the responses – the genuine ones will rise to the top, good and bad.
Trust your staff to post and interact with the public. And trust the public to do the same. A quick meeting of all of the minds involved will get everyone on the same page – mission, vision, guidelines for participating in the conversation — instead of having a year or two of meetings to hash out how it should all work with social media. See the policy above for inspiration. Hey libraries – post your social media policies so other libraries can adapt and use them.
What can you do right now to trust your community? What changes can you make?
Value EVERY Member
Every member of the tribe you want to create should be valued: for participating, for lurking, for shaking things up, for calming things down and for simply contributing. NO ONE should be denied access if they are a part of the group. This goes for public tribes and for your staff tribe.
Public tribes might include your young adults, your 20-30-somethings, etc. It might also include those folks you haven’t extended any services or outreach to as of yet. It certainly should include the groups you’ve marginalized for whatever reason.
Planning this talk, I checked in with John Blyberg from Darien Library. I’ve long used the “Front Desk” blog example in my talks as an example of involving and engaging all levels of staff. Via the new Darien Library site, all staff who want to can post to the fully-integrated Drupal-driven site, including folks from circulation:
“All staff are encouraged to post, no matter their position,” Blyberg told me. “We don’t moderate—posts just go up, but our User Experience team will work with staff on spelling and layout issues, etc if necessary. We never criticize them on content, because that would discourage them, though we would intervene if something was inappropriate. We have told our staff that their posts should not betray a political bias because the of the library’s non-profit status as well as our desire to be seen as an apolitical community resource. I would say that 90% of our full time staff posts and maybe 50% of our part time staff.”
I urged the good folks at VBPL (and members of the city government who also attended my talks and workshops) to consider Godin’s Tribes carefully and to look for ways to blend his vision with what libraries do. It strikes me that gathering folks around ideas and letting them communicate is very much in line with what our mission should be.
I was glad to finish out the Cheers & Jeers column with this:
Cheers to marketing guru Seth Godin and his book Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us (Portfolio)—a touchstone for us this year. We agree with Godin that the market will reward organizations and individuals who choose to lead while those stuck within archaic rules and outdated practice—or guided by fear—will not flourish.
Which will you be?
* at Your Library
I’m knocked out by this model of service and engagement with young people. My brain is also reeling pondering the implications of Mindkeepers and Mindspotters as library employees – another reason to scan the horizon for trends impacting our profession and changing our jobs. This makes me hope the libraries that have treated their teen users as second class citizens take notice. There is much promise and potential here.
Once it began, everything seemed to be going smoothly. That is, until I saw a security guard shoot a look at a group of loud teens, telling them to keep it down. He then shut the door in their faces as they stood in the doorway trying to get into the event.
The teens were initially shocked and looked to each other for some kind of explanation. Then they burst out laughing at the absurdity of the situation.
There were more than 150 teens attending this YA author visit, buying books, CDs and T-shirts. It was a librarian’s dream: they were connecting with the author, asking questions about his writing, his character development, and ambiguous endings. They were having a blast with their friends, parents, and teachers, and connecting with other teens. But then one staff member spoiled it all.
For those teens, the security guard reaffirmed every negative stereotype of a library. I went home that evening feeling very sad.
It’s been ten years since I became a YA librarian, and here I am still fighting the same fight. When will other library staffers learn to treat teens with respect and understand the purpose behind teen programming?
Even the security guard should be held accountable for his behavior because, after all, he also works with the public—and he’s representing the library. In my opinion, he should get the same training that public library staffers do—and he should be held to the same standard as every library employee.
I agree with Tricia Suellentrop (the teen services librarian for the Johnson County Library in Kansas). The mission, vision and values of libraries should be clearly articulated to all employees of a library – including security guards. I have a number of stories such as this I use in class to illustrate in my classes how important the values of our profession and institutions should be for guiding user interaction, policy and the experience of visiting the library. Remeber these:
She concludes with:
When I think about negative experiences between library staffers and teens, it doesn’t lead me to believe that cutting down teen programming is an answer to the problem. Instead, it makes me want to double or triple my efforts. It makes me want to stick awesome teens, who are using the library in the best ways possible, right in the noses of those cranky and grouchy librarians.
Liz Delzell, Youth Services Assistant, Fox River Grove Memorial Library in Fox River Grove, IL, writes:
I just wanted to share this picture of some of the members of our BRAND NEW teen advisory board. We have a lovely little library serving about 4500 residents in a small northern suburb of Chicago, and while we see lots and lots of kids, adults, and seniors, we don’t seem to draw in area teens. We hope the members of this board will be able to give us some insight into what teens want from us and how we can best deliver that to them. I thought this picture, of our teens looking INTO the library from outside the windows they’d just painted, was kind of poetic.
Also, in an unrelated but funny note, our library often abbreviates the name to FRGML. I’ve also abbreviated the name of the teen advisory board to TAB. The kids have talked about wanting t-shirts that say “FRGMLTABLOL” on the front and “We visit the library… IRL” on the back – which, again, makes me smile just thinking about all the people in the library that will be confused by this teen humor.
Via Janette at CAVAL.