Saturday, January 16, 2010

Very thin link between Eli and SLW

This past week I was introduced to a variety of information about libraries, librarians, and the realities of both in light of Web 2.0. I am not a librarian but what I read created an instant connection (in my mind at least) to the premise for the new film The Book of Eli. If you are familiar with the film...don't run away! Give me a chance to explain. If you aren't familiar with the Book of Eli film, take a quick look at the trailer below:

Short Explanation:

People in the know are noticing a huge shift in the educational landscape generated by the read/write web. They sense that this shift is "laying waste" to how education was done and is generating a new way (world) of researching, learning...interacting with knowledge. Librarians are a group of heroes that are charged with proactively responding to this shift, protecting the key elements from the old world, and developing new skills to aid the students/staff of the present and future.

Slightly Longer (but less dramatic) Explanation:

The Threat: Obsolescence and Ineffectiveness (not nuclear in any shape or form)

"While the influences of Web 2.0 may vary in regions around the world, there can be little doubt that the challenges raised by new technologies must be addressed by the entire school library community.
Without facing the new realities of how people use information and communication or digital learning technologies, we risk a real danger of becoming isolated as print-only learning environments. We need to draw on our traditional leadership in building collaborative teaching and learning activities in order to engage students in new learning environments which harness their innate interests in new technologies and connect their in-school and out-of-school literacy practices."(SLW 2008)

What should libraries do to become relevant in the digital age?
They can't survive as community-funded repositories for books that individuals don't want to own (or for reference books we can't afford to own.) More librarians are telling me (unhappily) that the number one thing they deliver to their patrons is free DVD rentals. That's not a long-term strategy, nor is it particularly an uplifting use of our tax dollars.(Seth Godin)

Listening to podcasts and reading blogs/manifestos gave me the impression that librarians are excited about their profession but the source of their excitement is also generating fear or concern:

It is the best time in history to be a librarian. We have rich opportunities to teach and guide in new information and communication landscapes...perhaps our biggest nightmare is the lack of urgency in our profession. Educational change, technological change, and funding reductions are pressing in on all sides. (Joyce Valenza)

Librarians are signaling that change is happening and they are taking on Denzel's role. They are braving the new world, with new skills, and with new passion.

What needs to be protected or what is truly at risk....libraries? librarians? or something else? I would argue that, unlike the movie, physical objects aren't the focus in this discussion. True, powerful, and meaningful research + critical thinking skills are being lost and librarians are trying to respond to this educational extinction crisis (okay...a little drama left).

The Response (no kung fu required)

Joyce Valenza initiated a wiki (click here) on the topic of librarians. This wiki hit home that the most effective response to the above threat is human....not technological. Two statements from this wiki emphasized to me that a philosophical shift...a fundamental change in the discourse held by all educators (librarians, teachers, administrators, ministers, parents etc.) is the key:

The library is not just a place to get stuff, it is a place to make and share stuff...Know your physical space is about books and way more than books. Your space is a libratory.

Imagine how different the movie trailer above included Denzel and about 100 000 partners who all shared the same level of capability, vision, and focus. That probably wouldn't make a good movie but that is what is needed in education. Joyce's manifesto is a useless document if only one person in each district fits that description. If a school division became permeated with leaders who believed schools are physical places where youth explored creation in all its forms....imagine the implications and the possibilities:

1) Libarians would no longer have to ask how "to begin to make the school library program indispensable to the success of every learner at [their] school?" (thanks Cyn). They would have a whole community reflecting alongside them.

2)Libarians would no longer have to ask how to "involve other teachers, administrators, parents, and students as stakeholders in defining library program goals that support school goals" (thanks Cynthia). The whole school would be founded on this premise of involvement.

3) Staffing models and hiring practices would be altered to make sure a strong core of specialists are hired, supported, and utilized in staff professional development. These specialists would likely be creative in nature and highly skilled at navigating the technological and informational universes (sounds like a librarian to me....thanks Dawn).

4) People like Joyce Valenza would no longer have to push librarians and other educators to stay current with their skills. The general culture and the individuals within that culture would demand this as stagnant individuals/practices would contravene the core value of creativity. (Click here to read more about Joyce's charge)

In closing, I want to emphasize that fundamental skills in our students are what is at risk. My discussions with colleagues this week kept coming back to this perception. We perceive a difficult road ahead as we try to impart effective research and thinking skills on the next generation. Our experiences and research supports the fact that the presence of technology alone does not guarantee that youth will gain these complex skills (Todd, 2008).

Simply put...Denzel in the movie "The Book of Eli" could probably save the future without the physical book, but the book couldn't save the future without Denzel. Our students will succeed even if libraries as we know them cease to exist but their future is bleak without specialists like librarians.

Nonhyperlinked resources:

Todd, R. (2008). Youth and their virtual networked words: Research findings and implications for school libraries (14),2. School Libraries Worldwide, 19-34.