Letter to the School Board of Strasburg (CO) High School

Two of John Green’s books, Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns, are being challenged at a high school in Colorado. They are two of the nineteen books (see list below) proposed for the elective course in young adult literature. Parents are petitioning the school board to change the book list. John Green is asking for letters in support of the teacher, who is standing by her curriculum. Here’s my letter:

To the School Board of Strasburg (CO) High School,

I am writing in support of the books in the new YA literature course, and in support of their authors, the teachers and librarians who wish to teach them, and the students who want to read them.

Parents have a right to decide what their own children read, watch, and listen to, but they do not have a right to dictate what other parents’ children read, watch, and listen to. Parents who object to the content of the books included on the YA course syllabus may choose not to allow their students to participate in the course, but they ought not be able to dictate to other parents, students, and teachers.

An earlier letter/petition to this Board asked, “How can students develop into strong and productive citizens when their minds are fed with that which is criminal and vile, crass and crude?” I would respectfully disagree with this characterization of the books included in this course. (I have read thirteen of the nineteen books on the list, including the two by John Green.) I would also argue that this question does a disservice to teens, as does the statement that “Teens have very impressionable minds.” Children and teens are able to tell right from wrong in life and in literature, and literature is one of the safest places to explore the gray area between the two. In her book Reading Magic, Australian author Mem Fox wrote, “The whole point of books is to allow us to experience troubled realities that are different from our own, to feel the appropriate emotions, to empathize, to make judgments, and to have our interest held. If we sanitize everything children read, how much more shocking and confusing will the real world be when they finally have to face it?”

Presumably, these same teens who may be denied access to and, crucially, guided discussion about, these YA novels are learning about “criminal and vile, crass and crude” events in their history classes. They have grown up with graphic images not just in music videos and magazines but on the nightly news. They are aware of the real horrors in the real world. Please don’t underestimate their ability to process literature – especially literature in which the characters are dealing with very real situations.

Fiction has a proven link with empathy*; if you truly want your students to develop into compassionate individuals with good judgment and strong character, you should be encouraging them to read and discuss the novels on this list, and many more besides.

Sincerely,

Jenny Arch
Librarian
Hampshire College, 2003-2007
Columbia Publishing Course, 2007
Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science, 2010-2012

*See “The Neuroscience of Your Brain on Fiction” by Annie Murphy Paul for The New York Times, March 17, 2012

Young Adult Fiction Elective Course (grades 10-12) Book List:

  1. Feed by M.T. Anderson
  2. Thinner Than Thou by Kit Reed
  3. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
  4. Uglies by Scott Westerfield
  5. Taken by Erin Bowman
  6. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon
  7. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  8. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  9. Will Grayson, will grayson by John Green and David Levithan
  10. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
  11. 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
  12. Paper Towns by John Green
  13. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
  14. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
  15. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  16. Looking for Alaska by John Green
  17. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  18. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
  19. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

The Pleasure of Picture Books (and Reading Magic by Mem Fox)

readingmagicI’ve been on a picture book kick recently, starting with the indescribably adorable Oliver and His Alligator by Paul Schmid, which I read about in a review from Kirkus. The children’s librarians at my library were happy to provide me with more contemporary picture books, and then I started revisiting old favorites.

Along the way, I read Australian author Mem Fox’s book Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Children Will Change Their Lives Forever. As a librarian, and as someone whose parents read her stories every night, I’m already sold on the reading-to-kids idea, but Fox emphasizes how important it truly is.

Among all the anecdotes and tips for reading aloud, I came across this quote on page 142, which struck me as perfect for Banned Books week. But Banned Books Week is in September, and I didn’t want to wait to share:

“The whole point of books is to allow us to experience troubled realities that are different from our own, to feel the appropriate emotions, to empathize, to make judgments, and to have our interest held. If we sanitize everything children read, how much more shocking and confusing will the real world be when they finally have to face it?”

Books are a safe place to encounter new ideas and situations, and think (or talk) through them. Experiencing something vicariously or hypothetically is often safer than having that experience oneself. Though “difficult topics” may be uncomfortable for some, books are an excellent “vehicle for true learning and understanding.” (For more on this topic, see “Censorship and Invisibility,” one of my Banned Book Week blog posts from last fall.)

Picture books naturally lend themselves to discussion. For those of us who tend to focus on the text, they are also a good reminder that reading an image requires another type of literacy. In a good picture book, the text and the image complement each other; the pictures aren’t just a representation of the text, they can contain more information – and often jokes. It’s worth taking a bit of extra time to look at the pictures on each page closely, not just because they are colorful or cute, but because there is more going on. (Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann is an excellent example of this.)

oliveralligatorcoverHere are a few of my favorite picture books, old and new. I keep a current list, tagged “children’s” in LibraryThing.

Sometimes I Forget You’re A Robot by Sam Brown, 2013

Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner, 2013

Oliver and His Alligator by Paul Schmid (also, A Pet for Petunia), 2011, 2013

A Kiss Like This by Mary Murphy, 2012

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (also, This Is Not My Hat), 2011, 2012

13 Words by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Maira Kalman, 2010

Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett, 2007

Martha Speaks by Susan Meddaugh, 1992

Julius, the Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes, 1990

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz, 1972

Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion, illustrations by Margaret Bloy Graham (also, Harry by the Sea and No Roses for Harry), 1956-1965

What are your favorite picture books from childhood? When was the last time you read a picture book, quietly to yourself or out loud?

Yearly wrap-up, 2013 edition

In the spirit of those sites that do a weekly wrap-up (like Dooce’s “Stuff I found while looking around” and The Bloggess’ “Sh*t I did when I wasn’t here”), here are a few odds and ends I found while going through my work e-mail inbox and my drafts folder.

How to Search: “How to Use Google Search More Effectively” is a fantastic infographic that will teach you at least one new trick, if not several. It was developed for college students, but most of the content applies to everyday Google-users. Google has its own Tips & Tricks section as well, which is probably updated to reflect changes and new features.

How to Take Care of Your Books: “Dos and Don’ts for Taking Care of Your Personal Books at Home” is a great article by Shelly Smith, the New York Public Library’s Head of Conservation Treatment. Smith recommends shelving your books upright, keeping them out of direct sunlight and extreme temperatures, and dusting. (Sigh. Yes, dusting.)

The ARPANET Dialogues: “In the period between 1975 and 1979, the Agency convened a rare series of conversations between an eccentric cast of characters representing a wide range of perspectives within the contemporary social, political and cultural milieu. The ARPANET Dialogues is a serial document which archives these conversations.” The “eccentric cast of characters” includes Ronald Reagan, Edward Said, Jane Fonda, Jim Henson, Ayn Rand, and Yoko Ono, among others. A gem of Internet history.

All About ARCs: Some librarians over at Stacked developed a survey about how librarians, bloggers, teachers, and booksellers use Advance Reader Copies (ARCs). There were 474 responses to the survey, and the authors summarized and analyzed the results beautifully. I read a lot of ARCs, both in print and through NetGalley or Edelweiss, and I was surprised to learn the extent of the changes between the ARC stage and the finished book; I had assumed changes were copy-level ones, not substantial content-level ones, but sometimes they are. (I also miss the dedication and acknowledgements.)

E-books vs. Print books: There were, at a conservative estimate, approximately a zillion articles and blog posts this year about e-books, but I especially liked this one from The Guardian, “Why ebooks are a different genre from print.” Stuart Kelly wrote, “There are two aspects to the ebook that seem to me profoundly to alter the relationship between the reader and the text. With the book, the reader’s relationship to the text is private, and the book is continuous over space, time and reader. Neither of these propositions is necessarily the case with the ebook.” He continued, “The printed book…is astonishingly stable over time, place and reader….The book, seen this way, is a radically egalitarian proposition compared to the ebook. The book treats every reader the same way.”

On (used) bookselling: This has been languishing in my drafts folder for nearly two years now. A somewhat tongue-in-cheek but not overly snarky list, “25 Things I Learned From Opening a Bookstore” includes such amusing lessons as “If someone comes in and asks for a recommendation and you ask for the name of a book that they liked and they can’t think of one, the person is not really a reader.  Recommend Nicholas Sparks.” Good for librarians as well as booksellers (though I’d hesitate to recommend Sparks).

The-Library-Book-154x250_largeOn Libraries: Along the same lines, I really enjoyed Lucy Mangan’s essay “The Rules” in The Library Book. Mangan’s “rules” are those she would enforce in her own personal library, and they include: (2) Silence is to be maintained at all times. For younger patrons, “silence” is an ancient tradition, dating from pre-digital times. It means “the absence of sound.” Sound includes talking. (3) I will provide tea and coffee at cost price, the descriptive terms for which will be limited to “black,” “white,” “no/one/two/three sugars” and “cup.” Anyone who asks for a latte, cappuccino or anything herbal anything will be taken outside and killed. Silently.

On Weeding: It’s a truth often unacknowledged that libraries possessed of many books must be in want of space to put them – or must decide to get rid of some. Julie Goldberg wrote an excellent essay on this topic, “I Can’t Believe You’re Throwing Out Books!” I also wrote a piece for the local paper, in which I explain the “culling” of our collection (not my choice of headline).

“What We Talk About When We Talk About Public Libraries”: In an essay for In the Library with the Lead Pipe, Australian Hugh Rundle wrote about the lack of incentives for public librarians to do research to test whether public libraries are achieving their desired outcomes.

Public Journalism, Private Platforms: Dan Gillmor questions how much journalists know about security, and how much control they have over their content once it’s published online. (Article by Caroline O’Donovan at Nieman Journalism Lab)

NELLS resources

st-exuperyOn the first day of NELLS, each participant and mentor received a binder full of resources, including a “selected list of readings on leadership” compiled by Maureen Sullivan, which I have reproduced below (she said it was okay to share):

Bennis, Warren et al. Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor

Bennis, Warren and Joan Goldsmith. Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader

Berger, Jennifer Garvey. Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World

Bridges, William. Managing Transitions.

Cohen, Allan and David Bradford. Influence without Authority.

Farrell, Robert and Kenneth Schlesinger. Managing in the Middle (an ALA Guide for the Busy Librarian)

Fisher, Roger and Daniel Shapiro. Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate

Heifetz, Ronald et al., The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World

Kinlaw, Dennis. Coaching for Commitment. Jossey-Bass, 1999.

Kouzes, James M. and Barry Z. Posner. A Leader’s Legacy and The Truth About Leadership

McKee, Annie et al. Becoming a Resonant Leader

Patterson, Kerry et al. Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations

Sinek, Simon. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

Stueart, Robert D. and Maureen Sullivan. Developing Library Leaders.

rollingridge_mazeOf course, many other books and articles were mentioned by Maureen and others during the week. I have listed as many of those as I could find here, but if other NELLS folks want to add more in the comments, that would be great. Links for books go to the Minuteman or OCLC catalog, links for articles go to various websites.

Alexie, Sherman. “Superman and Me.” The Story and Its Writer: an Introduction to Short Fiction.

Amabile, Teresa. Growing Up Creative: Nurturing a Lifetime of Creativity

Boyatzis, Richard. The Competent Manager: a Model for Effective Performance

Brazelton, T. Berry. Touchpoints Birth to Three: Your Child’s Emotional and Behavioral Development  (mentioned in the context of managing emotions)

Conger, Jay. “The Necessary Art of Persuasion.” Harvard Business Review, May 1998. (Article preview is available, the rest of the article is behind the HBR paywall.)

Conner, Daryl. Managing at the Speed of Change: How Resilient Managers Succeed and Prosper Where Others Fail

De Rosa, Cathy, et al. From Awareness to Funding: A Study of Library Support in America. OCLC, 2008. (Web | PDF)

Drucker, Peter. “Managing Oneself.” Harvard Business Review, January 2005. (Article preview.)

Gabarro, John and Kotter, John. “Managing Your Boss.” Harvard Business Review, January 2005. (Article preview.)

Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink: the Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Goleman, Daniel. “Leadership That Gets Results.” Harvard Business Review, March 2000. (Article preview.)

Gross, Valerie. Transforming Our Image, Building Our Brand: the Education Advantage

Hallowell, Edward. CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap: Strategies for Handling Your Fast-Paced Life and The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness: Five Steps to Help Kids Create and Sustain Lifelong Joy and Connect

Harwood, Richard. The Work of Hope: How Individuals & Organizations Can Authentically Do Good (free ebook from link)

Heath, Chip. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

Heifetz, Ronald et al. “Leadership in a (Permanent) Crisis.” Harvard Business Review, July 2009. (Article preview.)

Hesselbein, Frances, et al. The Organization of the Future

Kegan, Robert. The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development (he has written other books as well, including Change Leadership: a Practical Guide to Transforming Our Schools, but I think The Evolving Self was the one Maureen mentioned)

Kotter, John. “Accelerate!” Harvard Business Review, November 2012. (Article preview.)

Kretzmann, Jody and Rans, Susan. The Engaged Library: Chicago Stories of Community Building. Urban Libraries Council, December 2005. (PDF)

Lankes, R. David. Expect More: Demanding Better Libraries for Today’s Complex World

MacKinnon, Rebecca. Consent of the Networked: the World-Wide Struggle for Internet Freedom

Margolis, Michael. Believe Me. GetStoried.com

Maurer, Rick. Beyond the Wall of Resistance: Unconventional Strategies that Build Support for Change

Moore, Mary. The Successful Library Trustee Handbook. ALA, 2005.

Neiburger, Eli. Libraries Are Screwed. September 2010. (YouTube video, approx. 20 min. altogether, part 1 | part 2)

Nelson, Sandra. The New Planning For Results: a streamlined approachALA, 2001.

O’Toole, James, and Bennis, Warren. “A Culture of Candor.” Harvard Business Review, June 2009. (Article preview.)

Updated to add: Perlinska, Agnieska and Chapados, Chip. The Conversation: Simple Truths to Make Life Work

Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Scholtes, Peter. The Leader’s Handbook: Making Things Happen, Getting Things Done

Shewhart, Walter A. “Plan Do Check Act (PDCA).” (Wikipedia article)

Quinn, Robert. Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within

Underhill, Paco. Why We Buy: the Science of Shopping

Von Oech, Roger. A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative

Library Learning Goes Online

I wrote recently about MOOCs and online learning, so naturally I was interested in the new AL Live webcast, Library Learning Goes Online, and it did not disappoint. The moderator was Sarah Steiner, the Social Work and Virtual Services Librarian at Georgia State University Library, and the speakers were John Shank, Instructional Design Librarian and Associate Director of the Center for Learning and Teaching at Penn State University, and Lauren Pressley, Director for Learning & Outreach at Virginia Tech University Libraries.

Similarities and differences between online and face-to-face (F2F) teaching and learning

Online and F2F are “more similar than different,” said Pressley. In both cases, instructors must establish learning objectives and identify learning outcomes. There are more variables online than F2F, and more design options; Shank warned of “options overload,” noting that this may be more of a challenge for public libraries because they tend to have fewer resources and less expertise in this area. Pressley said that the “intentional stance” required for instructional design of online courses “bleeds over into F2F,” and Shank agreed that “technology starts a discussion.”

Costs and benefits of teaching and learning online

“Communication is on a different scale,” said Shank, meaning the instructor has more  reach, but can lose the intimacy from the F2F environment, as well as other forms of interaction, such as nonverbal communication. Pressley agreed, “Whatever you gain from the online environment, you lose something else.” Being online can provide a sense of isolation or connection; more people may be connected, but the connection is shallower.

Shank also noted that the time investment necessary in order to get deep meaningful engagement is a challenge. Pressley reminded instructors and students alike that “it is a real class! Block out time to do work, interactions, and planning.” She also added another benefit of online learning, which is that it can be a great option for distance learning, and for solving space issues (not enough classrooms, or not enough space in classrooms).

Mere convenience aside, there are real advantages to online learning. Shank observed that the online environment can draw out people who wouldn’t speak up in class, and it serves different styles of learners, especially those who prefer to have time to reflect before responding.

Time investment

Inarguably, there is an additional time investment required for teaching an online class: Pressley listed content creation, upfront prep time, and consideration of instructional design principles. Content can be reused in future classes, but communication is time intensive. Shank noted that transparency increases because students can tell exactly how responsive the instructor is. Likewise, depending on the tools being used, the instructor can see the exact degree of each student’s participation.

Student engagement with the material

Here too, there are similarities between online and F2F instruction. Pressley advised, “Present content in an interesting and useful way; let students interact with you and each other; tie the material to real-world need.” Shank added, “Increase conversations and dialogues” with tools such as chat, realtime polls, and built-in activities. Steiner added that students can be engaged with each other as well as the instructor.

Assessment and active learning

Pressley identified three categories of assessment: course evaluation, ongoing, qualitative assessment during the learning process (formative), and learning outcomes (summative). In her classes, she gets feedback “on the fly” using Google surveys or SurveyMonkey, scavenger hunts, and other methods; strategies will be different depending on whether the course is credit-based or a “one shot” class or workshop.

Shank suggested building feedback into any activity, online or F2F. He also does a learning analysis, examining how much students access course content and how that relates to performance. If students are disengaged and not doing well, he shows them a graph of time spent on class work vs. grade in course (“There is always a statistically significant correlation”).  He strips personal data out, of course, but the exercise also has the effect of showing students that instructors can track their engagement and performance.

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)

Shank identified the “big three” MOOC providers at the moment: Coursera, Udacity, and edX. MOOCs, he said, are “not new technology, but the timing wasn’t right till now.” Given the limited access to and high cost of higher education, MOOCs seem like a perfect solution in terms of the access and cost. Shank predicts, “[MOOCs] are going to evolve, not go away,” and that the interactivity element of them may increase.

Pressley took a MOOC herself, and said that she interacted with the content and her classmates, but not professor. “It’s a pretty good deal, for free,” she said, but asked, “When you pay for higher ed, what are you paying for?” Pressley said that there are things that instructors in higher ed can learn from the MOOC model, but that MOOCs would not replace higher ed institutions entirely; their impact on higher ed is “not the end of days.”

Shank agreed that MOOCs are “part of the landscape.” Technology, he said, has had its impact on other industries such as music and finance; now it is having an impact on education. He asked, “How can we use this platform to show people what we do as librarians?” Parents and incoming students are a prime audience for academic librarians. Shank stated, “Librarians are more important than ever because we live in the information age.” He also mentioned that public libraries could serve as meetup points for students taking MOOCs, so that they can meet in person as well as online, creating a hybrid/blended learning experience.

Troubleshooting new technology

Shank said, “Test it before you do it! Be prepared.” Pressley advised, “Get there early – give yourself a cushion.” When you have a large audience, she said, “Choose less experimental technology,” go for something more simple and reliable,  and have a backup way of communicating the information. Experiment with newer, more complex, or less reliable technology in small groups. Steiner suggested having a backup person available, as well as backup technology, as least while setting up.

Best practices for teaching online

Shank reminded instructors that “learners have little experience, it’s new technology.” There is a learning curve, and patience is required on both sides. Assessment is also crucial; Pressley said, “Ask strategy questions, not skill questions: ‘What was your approach to finding…’ [rather than] ‘What did you use?’” Technology, Shank said, “Gives us more ways to assess, understand, and communicate.” Analytics about students’ work habits and behavior can be useful to instructors.

Changes in the near future

“Consumers are becoming producers,” said Shank, giving the example of citizen journalists. Open educational resources are also growing, as is content curation. Pressley mentioned the competency-based educational movement, as well as personal learning networks, rich informal learning spaces, and MOOCs. Shank spoke about learner analytics, “bits and bytes instead of people with souls.”

Overall, this was an excellent presentation and I’m glad I watched it. Some of the material was familiar from the User Instruction class I took in grad school, and from my own experiences with online learning in that class and others; some of the content was familiar from reading recent articles on the topics of MOOCs and higher education. However, this presentation provides the unique perspective of librarians positioned within higher ed, which makes it especially worthwhile. Click to watch (opens in a new window):

ALLive

 

MOOCs and online learning

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are gaining popularity, prompting much discussion among those involved in higher education. Some champion the spread of knowledge through technology, while others call MOOCs the death knell of higher education as we know it, and still others point out that the MOOC experience cannot replace the traditional college experience. There are now a number of companies and institutions that offer a platform for MOOCs: there’s Coursera, edX (founded by MIT and Harvard), Udemy, Stanford Engineering Everywhere (SEE), and many others.

The Boston Globe recently profiled Lexington “writer and entrepreneur” Jonathan Haber, who has set himself the goal of earning “a one-year MOOC BA,” taking a range of classes on a variety of platforms in 2013 – certainly an interesting way of achieving firsthand knowledge on the issue. I can’t speak (or write) with such first-hand authority, having never taken a MOOC myself, but I did take some online and “blended” classes (some in-person meetings, some online lectures and discussions) in grad school, so I will write a little bit about that.

Technical difficultiesTeachers face a learning curve when moving from a classroom environment to an online environment. On one hand, there is new software to learn, which can create glitches for even the savviest professor. Course management software is idiosyncratic, and teachers may need to become familiar with other software programs (like Camtasia for recording lectures) in addition to course management software like Blackboard or Moodle.

On the other hand, techniques that work in the classroom don’t always transfer well to an online environment, and it can be trial-and-error to discover what types of assignments work well online. The first semester or two can be rough as professors troubleshoot new tools and figure out what works and what doesn’t; students can help by recognizing the learning curve teachers face (many put in extraordinary amounts of extra time), and by doing their best to stay with the course schedule, even if there aren’t physical meetings to attend.

Synchronous or asynchronous? Online courses may be synchronous – everyone “present” at the same time – or asynchronous, where the professor posts a lecture and the students can watch it whenever is convenient (usually within a specified time frame). Asynchronous courses give students flexibility and control over not just where they learn (at home instead of in a classroom, for example), but when (so night owls and early birds are both happy).

Communication: If the students don’t see the professor on a regular basis in the classroom, they must have some way to communicate. Professors should establish communication guidelines/ground rules at the outset of the class, letting students know when they will be available and how they can be reached. I have taken classes with professors who would respond to an e-mail in minutes; professors who were on Skype and Gchat and Twitter; professors who held traditional office hours and could be reached by phone.

Communication is of paramount importance for several reasons: there may be a technological glitch that the teacher is unaware of (inaudible audio file, broken link); students might need clarification on assignment instructions; students will want feedback on their work. Ideally, there will be at least two channels of communication – and professors should remember that not every student is on facebook or wants to communicate that way.

Discussion boards: Online discussion boards are now part of many traditional classes as well as online ones. As a student, I came to appreciate discussion boards for a few reasons. The act of writing is more considered than the act of speaking; writing responses to prompts reinforced my own learning and increased my grasp of the material. Reading others’ comments was valuable as well, because written comments were more thoughtful and clear than spoken ones – people weren’t just saying the first thing that came to mind, as they do in a classroom. The interaction between students on the discussion board was impressive as well: people responded to each other’s posts and sometimes cited outside sources, providing links to extra materials. In a “blended” class, discussions carried over from the online forum into the classroom.

Swash_ornament_zeimusu

In many ways, my experience with online learning is vastly different from that of students who take MOOCs. I was in classes with 20-30 other students, and we received as much feedback on our work as we would have in a traditional classroom setting. But there are similarities too: as with most education, the student is at least partially accountable for his or her own learning, and to a great degree you get out of it what you put into it. If you do the reading, attend (or listen to) the lectures, and participate in discussions (in person or online), you’ll learn. Good teachers will find ways to adapt what works in the classroom to what works online. The success of MOOCs so far (and of TED talks) prove that there is an untapped desire to learn in many people, and that’s something to celebrate and encourage.

Edited to add: A.J. Jacobs, who I can’t help but think of as a stuntman of the author world (experimenting with certain ways of life and then writing about them, e.g. The Year of Living Biblically), has written a piece for the Times opinion pages called “Two Cheers for Web U!” Despite the enthusiastic title, he points out a few drawbacks to MOOCs, and predicts that, while they offer benefits to some, they won’t ever replace brick-and-mortar colleges. -4/21/13

Handmade journal

Over a year after attending a bookmaking workshop, I finally finished making a journal.

journal

I had to cut and fold the pages to size (this was the most time-consuming part), and sew them together with a chain-stitch. The board covers I bought pre-cut, and covered them with blue paper. I didn’t have a board spine, so I used a piece of cardstock between the covers and the pages.

journal-open

Voila! I haven’t begun using it yet, but I’m nearly done with my current journal, so I will soon.

 

 

Librarian by Name

This past summer, Amy Frazier wrote a post on the Hack Library School blog called “Librarian by Name, Geek by Nature.” The post itself deals with the idea of what is taught/learned in Library and Information Science (LIS) programs (a.k.a. library school), and what isn’t. Her article focused on what isn’t taught – what we don’t learn, and what we wish we did.

I rarely read the comments on any blog post or article, but the comments on this one are well worth reading; it’s a real conversation. People weigh in about the importance (or not) of coding skills and other IT skills; other “wishlist” items include more courses on project management, teaching, and customer service.

The desire to learn, not just in school but throughout life, is somewhat characteristic of librarians. One theme that is repeated throughout the comments is that library students and librarians would like to learn more technical skills and coding languages, but the course offerings in most programs are insufficient.

Like many of the participants in the discussion, I went to Simmons, where the only required technology course was Technology for Information Professionals. I lucked out (i.e., fought my way in) and took this class with Michael Leach, who gave us both a conceptual background and some hard skills. Linda Braun’s Web Development and Information Architecture course, though, was the one that made me excited about technology and coding and gave me confidence in the skills I had learned in her class, and in my ability to learn more.

However, I spend a lot of time with software developers – full-time coders  - and the odd technology librarian, and my knowledge of HTML/CSS/PHP pales to nothing next to theirs. (They write in a variety of languages including PHP, JavaScript, C++, Python, Ruby on Rails, and others.) As Andromeda Yelton wrote, “We can always find people who make us feel inadequate as coders. Sometimes it’s genuinely because they’ve forgotten more code than we’re ever likely to know, but most of the time? They know things we don’t because code is big. No one knows all of it.”

Not every librarian needs to be a coding expert, but if the discussion over on Hack Library School is any indication, most want to learn more – or at least have enough of an understanding to communicate with those who do it full-time. At the very least, librarians should be a few steps ahead of patrons in terms of tech-savviness.

 

Treasure Hunt

Professor Greg Downey at the University of Wisconsin-Madison created an amazing assignment for his digital native students: find information that’s not online. And where did most of them turn for help? Libraries!

In the User Instruction course I took last fall, we spent a lot of time discussing “one-shot” instruction: those 45-minute or hour-long sessions an instruction librarian might get with a freshman class to teach them everything they need to know about the library (hint: impossible. Remember, some people get Master’s degrees for this). Usually, librarians concentrate on the online catalog and one or two major databases, and that’s all they have time for.

Downey, however, clearly recognizes the importance of research, online and off, as well as all that libraries have to offer, in terms of physical materials as well as online databases and additional software and technology. This assignment reflects that recognition and respect for libraries and research; it’s also a great reminder that not everything is available on the Internet.

I’ve heard that “librarians like to seek; everyone else likes to find.” Finding is certainly satisfying, but it seems like Downey’s students got into the seeking aspect as well, and that’s what good research is about. Great assignment!

Research and Publication

Two recent pieces in the New York Times – an article and an op-ed – address the issue of the publication of scientific research, and access to that research. The op-ed, “Research Bought, Then Paid For” by Michael Eisen, the founder of the non-profit, open-access Public Library of Science (PLoS), argues that research that was funded or subsidized by taxpayers ought to be available to those taxpayers free of charge. In a nutshell, “if taxpayers paid for it, they own it.” Eisen encourages scientists to publish their work in open-access journals instead of journals like Science, Nature, and Cell, which charge steep subscription fees – often to the same universities whose researchers submitted the papers and provided peer-review services for free.

The January 16 article “Cracking Open the Scientific Process” explains the issue in a slightly more balanced way (and reveals that some open-access journals, PLoS included, charge authors publication fees to authors). However, though of course the issue is more complicated than it appears at first glance, Eisen has a point about the principle of the thing: publicly funded research should be available to the public. Additionally, as the Jan. 16 article illustrates, many sites allow and encourage collaboration and networking, enhancing the scientific community and helping solve research questions more quickly.

I am reminded of the TED Talk on Open-source cancer research, wherein researcher Jay Bradner published and shared research instead of patenting it – the opposite, he pointed out, of what a pharmaceutical company would do – based on the principles of open-source and crowdsourcing.

A January 20 article in The Atlantic (“Locked in the Ivory Tower: Why JSTOR imprisons academic research”) also addresses the issue of the “broken economics of academic publishing.” The author summarizes, “Step back and think about this picture. Universities that created this academic content for free must pay to read it. Step back even further. The public – which has indirectly funded this research with federal and state taxes that support our higher education system – has virtually no access to this material, since neighborhood libraries cannot afford to pay those subscription costs.” She suggests circumventing the publishers, eliminating the print journal, and putting the content online.

Whether or not that’s the solution that enough people, organizations, and institutions eventually coalesce around, it’s clear that something must be done about the current state of academic research and publication – and it will probably happen sooner rather than later.

Edited to add (2/4/12): Some researchers, inspired by open-access champion Peter Suber and British mathematician and Fields medalist Tim Gowers, are boycotting the journal publisher Elsevier.