Libraries in a Post-Truth World

On Thursday, January 26, I attended a one-day conference hosted by Phillips Academy in Andover called “Libraries in a Post-Truth World.” There was some helpful pre-conference reading about fake news and hoaxes, information overload, and media literacy:

Why America is Self-Segregating” and “Did Media Literacy Backfire?” by danah boyd, January 9 & 10, 2017

Many Americans Believe Fake News Is Sowing Confusion,” Pew Research Center, December 15, 2016

The Real History of Fake News,” Columbia Journalism Review, December 15, 2016

At Sea in a Deluge of Data,” Alison J. Head and John Wihbey, The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 7, 2014

Mike Barker, Director of Academy Research and Library Services at Phillips Academy, introduced the morning’s panelists:

John Palfrey, Head of School, Phillips Academy, and author
Mary Robb, Teacher, Media Literacy and Democracy, Andover High School
Adam Schrader, Former Facebook editor and news fact checker
Damaso Reyes, Program Coordinator, The News Literacy Project
Melissa Zimdars, PhD, Assistant Professor of Communication at Merrimack College
Catherine Tousignant, English Instructor, Phillips Academy
Alison Head, PhD, Project Information Literacy
John Wihbey, Assistant Professor of Journalism and New Media at Northeastern University
Claire Wardle, First Draft News
Ben Sobel, Fellow, Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University

The panelists were all informed and articulate, experts in their fields; they could have spoken for much longer, but we used the rest of the day for two presentation sessions (Damaso Reyes on The News Literacy Project and Checkology, Alison J. Head on Project Information Literacy), identifying areas of focus for the afternoon discussion, reforming into discussion topic groups, and reporting our results to the other participants.

“Librarians are good at ferreting out what exists and good at making partnerships. Librarians are in the right position to make an impact.” -Alison Head

I attended Damaso Reyes’ presentation on Checkology (“how to know what to believe”), a news literacy program designed for 6th-12th grade students. Reyes showed us videos created for the program (Peter Sagal was in one!) and guided us briefly through the four modules: (1) Filtering news and information; (2) exercising civic freedoms; (3) navigating today’s information landscape; and (4) how to know what to believe. Some key takeaways:

  • “Information literacy is not what it should be in our society, and that’s a threat to our democracy.”
  • When reading/listening to/watching news, ask: What is the primary purpose of this information? (To inform, to entertain, to convince, to provoke, etc.)
  • Consider the role of algorithms and personalization. The information you’re getting is filtered – think about how and why.
  • Trying to teach students to be skeptical, not cynical.
  • Critical thinking & skepticism is an important skill, and should not be outsourced to technology even if it could be (e.g. plugins). “We shouldn’t depend too much on technology to save us.”
  • What you share online has your credibility attached to it.
  • We are all susceptible to confirmation bias.
  • Society stops functioning if we can’t agree on some things (i.e. facts). A fact is something we can all agree on but it is also something we can independently verify.

After the presentation, we talked in small groups to come up with discussion topics for the afternoon. Two of the Phillips Academy librarians sorted our ideas into loose categories:

Partnerships & Collaboration with Faculty
Partnerships & Collaboration with Community
Professional Development
Fact, Truth, & Trust (I was in this group)
Access to Information
Lesson Plans
Teaching Approach
“Other”

I will be writing another blog post (or two) soon about the morning panel and the afternoon discussion. In the meantime, I’d like to share a handout I made for my library to accompany our display on media literacy. Here is the PDF of the tri-fold pamphlet: updated 2/16/17, 3/1/2017 – I have made a new version without the Robbins Library logo, with a Creative Commons license. Please feel free to use and share: 2017-01-fakenewsbrochure-update-2017-03

Designing Interactive Library Spaces and Collections

During the month of March, I took an online workshop called “Designing Interactive Library Spaces and Collections” through the Simmons School of Library and Information Science Continuing Education (SLIS CE) program. The brief course description was:

“Modern library practices and strategies are driving many libraries to rethink and redesign their spaces and their collections. This workshop will focus on how to design and deliver spaces and collections which facilitate and grow user interaction and engagement.”

I was torn between this one and “Graphic Design for Librarians,” but ultimately chose this one in case the other was too basic. (Did anyone take that one, or have any tips or great resources along those lines? Please share in the comments!)

The course requirements included some reading, posting to the discussion board each week, responding to other participants’ posts, and completing a final assignment. In the past, I’ve found that online discussion boards really enhanced a class experience, whether the class was blended or entirely online; in this case, however, only about four of us posted, and by chance our libraries were all different: academic, school, special, and public. Of course, some ideas work just as well in any of these settings, but with such specific cases, there were fewer transferable ideas than I had hoped. I was also disappointed that the workshop instructor did not participate or offer feedback.

She did, however, pull together some interesting reading (and video) and an overwhelming number of food-for-thought questions; the discussion board prompts (below) are only the tip of the iceberg. As usual with online learning, you get out of it what you put into it; anyone who answered every prompt and question would have produced a pretty thorough long-range plan for their library, at least in terms of designing the space and collection to promote interaction.

The first week’s discussion board, Designing for Engagement, asked participants:

Please discuss your current approach to user engagement. Include:

  • An overview of your current user engagement strategy and model, as well as your library’s definition of successful user engagement
  • The strengths and weaknesses of your spaces and physical layout
  • Your vision and goals for the future

The second week’s discussion board, Designing for Participation and Discovery, asked:

Discuss how you develop valuable and compelling opportunities for participation and discovery at your library:

  • What is the desired participatory experience?
  • What are your goals? What do you promote?
  • How would you like people to create, share, connect, etc. around your content?
  • Do you trust your users?
  • Are you comfortable with messy?

The third week’s discussion board, Evolving Services and Interactive Collections, asked:

Consider and discuss your collections and services:

  • Do your collections offer any avenues for fluid experimentation, open exploration, or immediate feedback on new ideas?
  • Do you offer people tools and supports to pursue their interests and passions? Could you expand your offerings?
  • Are you more engaging or more transactional?
  • What are your short and longer term goals for your collections?

Finally, the course project:

Develop a strategy to increase user engagement, participation, or discovery within/with your library. Focus on any aspect of your collections, services, partnerships, programming, and/or spaces at your library or institution which you wish to adapt. This can be a simple, or more complex, strategy according to your needs and time available. Establish a timeline and a schedule for implementation, and determine and state specific and measurable objectives. What are you focusing on? User engagement, participation, discovery? Who are you trying to reach? What outcomes are you trying to achieve? What actions will you be taking?

The “strategy” I developed for this assignment was simple: I would like to install a Welcome Board that all visitors to the library see upon entering the building. We have just one main entrance/exit, so the Welcome Board would be visible to all foot traffic, no matter the visitor’s ultimate destination within the library. The Welcome Board would (a) communicate a welcoming message (ideally in concert with an overhaul of library signage), and (b) promote events and programs happening in the library that day (as well as upcoming programs that week, space permitting). [Note: I’m borrowing this idea from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, PA.]

Most events and programs at our library take place in one of two rooms: one is up on the fourth floor, and the other is on the basement level, accessible by elevator or by walking through the Children’s Department. Thus, it’s likely that most library visitors may be entirely unaware of what’s happening at the library, even as it’s happening! Of course, there are many other ways to learn about library events – flyers, our e-newsletter, the website calendar – but a Welcome Board is a simple, high-visibility way to promote things that are already happening at the library. Even if visitors don’t have time to attend or aren’t interested in that day’s offerings, the Welcome Board sends the message that the library is more than just a place to get books and movies – it’s a place where things happen and people come together.

An easel whiteboard with CLP events written on it in different colors

Like this! “Today @ the library…”

As for a timeline, this one should be easy to implement. We already have the information about library events on the calendar and the monthly press release, so it’s just a matter of presentation. The fancy, high-tech option would be a screen, either freestanding or wall-mounted, but the simpler, less expensive, and more personal option would be a whiteboard or a chalkboard (again, freestanding, wall-mounted, or easel-style). We could get two, so Tuesday’s events could be prepared on Monday without taking the board down early Monday night or requiring any staff to come in early Tuesday morning. And we could even do a program on chalkboard art and lettering, for staff and patrons alike.

What do you say, boss?

What are your favorite interactive/engaging elements you’ve seen at a library? Please share!

 

Learning from novels

Here, now, in the future – ever since 2010 it has seemed like the future – we are flooded with information, bombarded with it. It used to be that a significant part of a librarian’s job was finding information; now, much of it is sifting the good from the bad, the reliable from the slanted, biased, agenda-powered, and outright made-up.

The Internet, unlike books, does not come with a neat copyright page; it can be difficult to tell when something was written, let alone who by, and what that person’s affiliations and qualifications are. Much “information” is actually opinion – and then there is advertising or “sponsored posts,” and it’s enough to start calling the Information Age the Misinformation Age instead (sounds Orwellian, doesn’t it?).

This is just to say – and you can keep your plums, William Carlos Williams – that where you get your information is of crucial importance, and that it can be very hard to remember. Was it an article from The New Yorker or The Atlantic? Was it on Slate, Salon, or – please no – Buzzfeed?

Or was it, perhaps, from a novel? Over a lifetime of reading, I’ve acquired many facts from fiction. Ask me to cite my sources, and I’m as likely to mention a Dick Francis mystery novel or a Cory Doctorow YA novel as I am to mention long-form journalism from a reputable source.

Cover image of Life After LifeAbout two years ago, as I was immersed in Kate Atkinson’s mind-bendingly good Life After Life, I came across this sentence:

“[Her knowledge] was random yet far-ranging, the sign that one has acquired one’s learning from novels, rather than an education.”

I recognized the sentiment immediately. Fortunately, I’ve acquired my learning from novels in addition to a formal education, but I find that more often than not, it’s the facts from novels that stick in my mind, and I can more easily recall a specific novel than a particular article. (Another quote, from Jenny Offill’s marvelous Dept. of Speculation: “These bits of poetry that stick to her like burrs.”) Then, of course, there’s always the Internet to fact-check the fiction.

What facts have you learned from fiction?

 

 

The Importance of School Libraries and School Librarians

Did your elementary, middle, and high school have a library? I attended four different schools in two states between kindergarten and twelfth grade, and each of the four had a library; each of the libraries had a librarian and books. (I wish I didn’t have to spell that out, but bear with me.) Innocently, I took the presence of these libraries for granted, and assumed all schools had them, but this is not the case. Just as “extras” like music and art programs have been cut in public schools, so have libraries.

I read two articles last month (via the essential Library Link of the Day) about school systems that lack libraries and/or librarians and/or an adequate number of books that students are able to check out. The first article, “Unequal Shelves in D.C. School Libraries Benefit Wealthier Students” (Washington Post, March 9, 2015), says that despite literacy being a high priority, the District dedicates no annual funding for school library collections. Later, the article links to a report that conclusively shows the positive impact school libraries have on students’ literacy: “A school library media program that provides up-to-date, accurate, and attractive resources, managed by a certified school library media specialist who collaborates with teachers to augment and enhance classroom instruction, results in increased test scores, particularly in reading….The most important elements of school library media programs have been the quality of staffing and the quality of collections.”

Many Pennsylvania schools are without libraries and/or librarians as well, according to the article “School Cuts Have Decimated Librarians” (Philly.com, February 2, 2015), and in that state too, there is unequal access. University teacher and researcher Debra Kachel said, “The wealthy schools have great programs, librarians teaching kids, coaching them, developing a habit of reading with those kids. Librarians are teaching critical thinking skills, how to search the Internet, how to be safe on the Internet. If you invest in a school librarian, you invest in improving student learning.” Yet many other schools don’t have librarians and lack access to library resources, despite the fact that studies have shown that students who have access to a school library and librarian – “particularly students who live in poverty and students of color” – achieve more. Despite the evidence of their value, a school librarian commented, “Somehow, we struggle to get recognized as relevant to schools.”

This is one of those bang-your-head-against-a-wall* situations, where all the research points to one clear course of action, but rather than take that course of action, unproven alternatives are substituted instead. In this case, decision-makers will point to budget issues, but that seems short-sighted to me. You want to raise reading scores, literacy rates, and maybe even a generation of people who love reading? Fund libraries and librarians in schools.

*”If you really want to get to know someone, don’t see what they like, rather find out what really pisses them off.”

For more information, here are a few resources:

Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?

finnishlessonsI first heard about Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? by Pasi Sahlberg from the review “Schools We Can Envy” by Diane Ravitch in the New York Review of Books (3/8/12), but I didn’t pick it until December 2014. Reading Finnish Lessons was an enlightening experience, and a frustrating one. Enlightening, because Sahlberg shows how Finland developed a shared philosophy, set a goal, and achieved that goal by using evidence-based research; frustrating because the U.S. and many other countries are taking an opposite approach, despite evidence that this approach – competition between schools instead of cooperation, an increase in standardized testing – has been shown not to work.

Underpinning Finland’s steady educational improvement since the 1970s is a set of shared philosophies:

  • All pupils can learn if they are given proper opportunities and support.
  • Understanding of and learning through human diversity is an important educational goal.
  • Schools should function as small-scale democracies.
  • The role of public education must to be educate critical and independent-thinking citizens.

The basis of Finland’s education policy is that instruction is the key element that makes a difference in what students learn in school – not standards, assessment, or alternative instructional programs. To that end, teacher education was overhauled, so that now all teachers in Finland have master’s degrees, and all principals are or have been teachers. Teachers are trusted in society, and have autonomy within their classrooms. This approach has been successful; Sahlberg writes, “What PISA surveys, in general, have revealed is that education policies that are based on the idea of equal educational opportunities and that have brought teachers to the core of educational change have positively impacted the quality of learning outcomes.”

The Finns value equity in education, “a principle that aims at guaranteeing high quality education for all in different places and circumstances.” In practice, this means that Finnish students, no matter where in the country they live, receive an equally high level of instruction and support. And within schools, “ability grouping” (also called tracking or streaming) was stopped in 1985. Instead, teachers pay attention to students who have special educational needs; Sahlberg writes, “The basic idea is that with early recognition of learning difficulties and social and behavioral problems, appropriate professional support can be provided to individuals as early as possible.” So many students receive help at one point or another during their time in school that special education is not stigmatized the way it sometimes is in the U.S.  And, as in medicine, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

As I was writing this post, the Library Link of the Day featured the Washington Post article “Requiring kindergarteners to read – as Common Core does – may harm some” by Valerie Strauss (1/13/15). Strauss quotes from the report “Reading in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose” by Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin, and Joan Wolfsheimer Almon: “Many children are not developmentally ready to read in kindergarten. In addition, the pressure of implementing the standards leads many kindergarten teachers to resort to inappropriate didactic methods combined with frequent testing. Teacher-led instruction in kindergartens has almost entirely replaced the active, play-based, experiential learning that we know children need from decades of research in cognitive and developmental psychology and neuroscience” (emphasis mine). Why on earth are we developing new standards in the U.S. that aren’t research-based? Why are we, in fact, doing the opposite of what the research indicates we should do? Incidentally, in Finland, school doesn’t start till age 7 – but of course, there are free, high-quality preschools that most children attend before then. (Universal preschool, let alone daycare, being another thing we don’t have here.)

It’s true that Finland is a very different country from the U.S.: it has a smaller, more homogenous population, a better social safety net for its citizens (only 4% of children in Finland live below the poverty line, compared to 20% in the U.S.). Sahlberg addresses those differences in his book, but it doesn’t change the main message, which he states in the introduction: “There is another way to improve education systems. This includes improving the teaching force, limiting student testing to a necessary minimum, placing responsibility and trust before accountability, and handing over school- and district-level leadership to education professionals.” In this country, we’re moving in the exact opposite direction, in spite of the fact that these strategies – teaching a prescribed curriculum, increasing standardized testing, relying on tests to measure accountability – haven’t worked in the past.

Thinking back to my own education, I know Sahlberg is right when he says “instruction is the key element.” What I remember best are my teachers: their enthusiasm, creativity, and dedication. The projects they came up with, the inventive paper topics they assigned, all of the resources they included beyond textbooks: novels and paintings and primary source documents. I remember their handwritten feedback on papers and tests, and the learning that occurred because of those comments. When you take a standardized test, no one goes over it with you afterward; you don’t know what you got right or where you made a mistake, so you can’t learn from it, you can only be anxious, or forget the experience. Students must be able to learn from their mistakes and failures; if failure only brings punishment instead of a learning opportunity, the fear of failure will become so great that students will stop trying anything creative or challenging, and their learning will become a smaller, more circumscribed thing. Are those the kind of citizens we want to produce? I don’t think so. I hope not.

Introduction to Cyber Security

FutureLearnThis fall, I enrolled in, and completed, my first first MOOC (massive open online course), Introduction to Cyber Security at the Open University (UK) through their FutureLearn program. I found out about the course almost simultaneously through Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing and the Radical Reference listserv (thanks, Kevin).

Screen shot from course "trailer," featuring Cory Doctorow

Screen shot from course “trailer,” featuring Cory Doctorow

The free eight-week course started on October 15 and ended on December 5. Each week started with a short video, featuring course guide Cory Doctorow, and the rest of the week’s course materials included short articles and videos. Transcripts of the videos were made available, and other materials were available to download in PDF. Each step of each week included a discussion area, but only some of the steps included specific prompts or assignments to research and comment; facilitators from OU moderated the discussions and occasionally answered questions. Each week ended with a quiz; students had three tries to get each answer, earning successively fewer points for each try.

Week 1: [Security] Threat Landscape: Learn basic techniques for protecting your computers and your online information.
Week 2: Authentication and passwords
Week 3: Malware basics
Week 4: Networking and Communications: How does the Internet work?
Week 5: Cryptography basics
Week 6: Network security and firewalls
Week 7: “When your defenses fail”: What to do when things go wrong
Week 8: Managing and analyzing security risks

The FutureLearn website was incredibly easy to use, with a clean and intuitive design, and each week of the course was broken down into little bite-size chunks so it was easy to do a little bit at a time, or plow through a whole week in one or two sessions. I tended to do most of the work on Thursdays and Fridays, so there were plenty of comments in the discussions by the time I got there.

Anyone can still take the course, so I won’t go too in-depth here, but the following are some tips, facts, and resources I found valuable or noteworthy during the course:

  • Identify your information assets: these include school, work, and personal documents; photos; social media account information and content; e-mail; and more, basically anything you store locally on your computer or in the cloud. What is the value (high/medium/low) of this information to you? What are the relevant threats?
  • Passwords are how we identify ourselves (authentication). Passwords should be memorable, long, and unique (don’t use the same password for different sites or accounts). Password managers such as LastPass or KeyPass can help, but that is placing a lot of trust in them. Password managers should: require a password, lock up if inactive, be encrypted, and use 2-factor authentication.
  • Use 2-factor authentication whenever it is available.
  • 85% of all e-mail sent in 2011 was spam.
  • Anti-virus software uses two techniques: signatures (distinctive patterns of data) and heuristics (rules based on previous knowledge about known viruses).
  • The Sophos “Threatsaurus” provides an “A-Z of computer and data security threats” in plain English.
  • The Internet is “a network of networks.” Protocols (e.g. TCP/IP) are conventions for communication between computers. All computers understand the same protocols, even in different networks.
  • Wireless networks are exposed to risks to Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability (CIA); thus, encryption is necessary. The best option currently is Wireless Protected Access (WPA2).
  • The Domain Name Server (DNS) translates URLs to IP addresses.
  • Any data that can be represented in binary format can be encrypted by a computer.
  • Symmetric encryption: 2 copies of 1 shared key. But how to transmit the shared key safely? Asymmetric encryption (a.k.a. public key cryptography) uses two keys and the Diffie-Hellman key exchange. (The video to explain this was very helpful.)
  • Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) is a collection of crypto techniques. In the course, we sent and received encrypted e-mail with Mailvelope.
  • Transport Layer Security (TLS) has replaced Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) as the standard crypto protocol to provide communication security over the Internet.
  • Firewalls block dangerous information/communications from spreading across networks. A personal firewall protects the computer it’s installed on.
  • Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) allow a secure connection across an untrusted network. VPNs use hashes, digital signatures, and message authentication codes (MACs).
  • Data loss is often due to “insider attacks”; these make up 36-37% of information security breaches.
  • Data is the representation of information (meaning).
  • The eight principles of the Data Protection Act (UK). Much of the information about legislation in Week 7 was specific to the UK, including the Computer Misuse Act (1990), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), and the Fraud Act (2006).
  • File permissions may be set to write (allows editing), read (allows copying), and execute (run program).
  • Use a likelihood-impact matrix to analyze risk: protect high-impact, high-likelihood data like e-mail, passwords, and online banking data.

Now that I’ve gained an increased awareness of cyber security, what’s changed? Partly due to this course and partly thanks to earlier articles, conference sessions, and workshops, here are the tools I use now:

See also this excellent list of privacy tools from the Watertown Free Library. Privacy/security is one of those topics you can’t just learn about once and be done; it’s a constant effort to keep up. But as more and more of our data becomes electronic, it’s essential that we keep tabs on threats and do our best to protect our online privacy.

NELA 2014: Peter H. Reynolds

thedotPicture book author and Massachusetts local Peter H. Reynolds spoke at the New England Roundtable of Teen and Children’s Librarians (NERTCL) luncheon on Monday at 12:30. He gave a very engaging presentation, including slides and video, and he did an original drawing that was raffled off at the end of his talk (see easel in photo below).

Though I love picture books, I hadn’t encountered The Dot before – or Ish or The North Star – but now I’m a fan. Reynolds’ books are colorful, and they celebrate art and creativity in a way that doesn’t bang the reader over the head with a moral.

He’s also very quotable:

  • “Art is one of the last playgrounds we have left.”
  • “Story is one of the most powerful technologies we have.”
  • “Creativity needs funding.” Tell your policymakers! Turn STEM into STEAM*, and remember that creativity isn’t confined to art class – it should be encouraged in other subjects too.
  • “Vision: to be able to see something before it exists.”
  • Ask kids: “Who are you?” and “Who do you want to be?” Remember those are two different questions. Tell them, “You are not the test score. You are not the data.”

*Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics

peterhreynolds

Peter H. Reynolds at the NERTCL luncheon at NELA, Boxborough, MA, October 20, 2014.