"Librarians have always been among the most thoughtful and helpful people. They are teachers without a classroom." -- Willard Scott

“THE MISSION OF LIBRARIANS IS TO IMPROVE SOCIETY THROUGH FACILITATING KNOWLEDGE CREATION IN THEIR COMMUNITIES.” (Lankes, 2011, many pages)

"Me, poor man, my library
Was dukedom large enough." - William Shakespeare, The Tempest

I find it remarkable how comfortable I have become with wrestling with this mantra. Nor did it take long: I just caught myself grinning at marginalia I scribbled as I explored the first few pages of The Atlas of New Librarianship about three weeks ago: “What’s with Knowledge Creation?” (p. 2) “What services should the Library of the Future provide?”(p. 2) “It’s NOT about the services we offer?!?!”(p.22) How far we have all come in just a few days and in the weeks preceding this class.

In fact, it astounds me that we still have a day left in the program--it feels like this experience has had a lasting impact on my perspective and we still have another thirteen or fourteen hours to go. I just finished having a conversation with another student in IST511 and we agreed that going back to our jobs after this session will be like Dorothy returning from Oz and Technicolor(TM) to the dull but comfortable world of black and white and Aunt Em. I guess I will just have to pull out crayons and start adding little touches of color here and there. We also realized that our situation is a textbook (har har) example of perceiving the difference between the predicted future (Black and White and Aunt Em) and an ideal future (Technicolor[TM] and the Lollipop Guild); we also came to the realization that we can therefore plan steps (1....n....profit!) for reifying our ideal future via vision, conversation, and a good dollop of “Hot Sauce” using the framework developed by Professor Lankes on pg. 140 of The Atlas of New Librarianship! (2011) My personal and professional life has been altered for the better since taking this class: I have been given new ideas, a new vision, a cranium full of new information, a new direction, and a strong breeze to fill my spiritual sails. There is a world full of all kinds of people to have conversations with--I, my classmates, my colleagues, and many others have an obligation to listen, converse, and invirtuate wheresoever we can.

OK! I choose to accept Lankes’ Mission! But I’m an Instructional Technologist! Do I have to earn my MSLIS degree before improving society through facilitating knowledge creation in my community? Well, no! I realize that the information created in this week’s incredible class is completely relevant--with a modification here and there!--to what I do as an Instructional Technologist.

But perhaps there is a third solution...

I am determined to cling to the narrative arc I established in my first retrograde post: Instructional Technologists, Librarians, and faculty have coincident missions (and roles as teachers!) so closely related that we make natural partners in almost every aspect of our work. I have defended this position in each reflection and have attempted to demonstrate its validity in conversation with this marvelous tome. For this reflection on the very first thread in The Atlas, I believe I have developed a (slightly) modified mission statement that applies to a school environment and neatly sums up my perspective on the matter:

“THE MISSION OF LIBRARIANS, INSTRUCTIONAL TECHNOLOGISTS, AND PEDAGOGUES IS TO IMPROVE SOCIETY THROUGH FACILITATING KNOWLEDGE CREATION IN THEIR COMMUNITIES”

How can I make this suggestion more palatable to Professor Lankes? Perhaps by disagreeing with him on a seemingly-minor point: “[T]he role of the librarian is as facilitator, and the knowledge created of concern is resident within the learner at the end of the facilitation process. It is also the reason that librarians are not referred to as teachers. Teaching is a profession with its own norms and boundaries, and a teacher is someone who can make learning happen.” (Lankes, 2011, p. 27) But I believe that librarians ARE teachers! As are Instructional Technologists! And, by definition, pedagogues. (By “pedagogues” I mean those whom we have traditionally identified as “teachers,” e.g. Professor Lankes, Ms. Frizzle, etc.) Far from an egotistical statement, I believe I can claim that members of our professions are all teachers because I believe the praxis and philosophy of pedagogy itself is moving to embrace a pure, inclusive instantiation of Constructivism: Collaborative Learning.

As defined in Wikipedia, Collaborative Learning is “a situation in which two or more people learn or attempt to learn something together.” Sounds like a conversation to me! As you may already know, the single-expert status of teachers has been challenged as students become ever more facile with integrating the World Wide Web (purposefully used that archaic phrase!) into their academic efforts. Teachers in this multidirectional, decentralized, asymmetrical learning environment become information shepherds, understanding that “they are only one source among many for a community, and” that they “must be at least aware of the views of many sources on topics.” Does that sound familiar? Turn to page twenty-four of The Atlas of New Librarianship. A quick search for treatments on the subject reveal three initial articles--1, 2, 3--but I will be happy to provide more when it isn’t 1:25am on the day of an important presentation. I’m not qualified to speak to the degree of acceptance of this idea among the academic community but I and my colleagues at Hamilton encourage and actively use this technique (and Informed Learning frameworks, another technique that demands close collaboration with faculty and librarians) in classroom environments.

I am not suggesting that either pedagogical technique ought to or will achieve primacy over any other. Nor do I believe we have created an idyllic collaborative dreamscape at Hamilton. I am only suggesting that pedagogy is evolving into a more inclusive, conversation-driven entity that seems to closely parallel the mission that David Lankes suggests librarians should embrace.

I’m not quite sure what I want to be when I grow up. I love to teach. I love information. I love technology. I love the academy. I love creativity. I love knowledge. I love conversation. I love that little spark that flares in someone’s eyes when their mental horizons broaden and they consider possibilities they haven’t heretofore considered. I want to help people from a position at the confluence of these passions.

Even though uncertainty still pervades, I can confidently state that I am significantly closer to an answer after taking IST 511.

Reference
Lankes, R.D. (2011). The Atlas of New Librarianship. Cambridge, London: The MIT Press.

On Social and Technological Networking

As an amateur linguist, I find L0-level and L1-level language fascinating. The IT department in which I work is redesigning its website and we are particularly vexed by the issue of vocabulary. Here is an illustrative example: We, the experts, understand that our campus email solution is (simply put!) Gmail, a service that is included with the Google Apps for Education package, a cloud-based service. But to successfully facilitate our members’ access to information about the email system, we have to assume that they operate with L0 OR L1 level language or--more often--somewhere in between. For a member, they may want to search with terms like “email,” “webmail,” “Thunderbird (The most popular client used to access email on campus),” or even “Mozilla (Firefox, the most popular browser on campus and most often used to check email in the web interface.)” Thankfully, we have embraced conversation as a solution to this problem: like a reference interview, we had dialogues with our members about the terminology they use in interacting with our system so we can a) build a system that will adapt to and compensate for the L-level of the member in question and b) gain insight into other disconnects in communication between IT and the members we serve. Conversations with conversants can be incredibly illuminating, lengthy, and productive when the agreement you are trying to reach is to synchronize needs, wants, and levels of language as best as possible.

But how can we ensure that the system evolves to match changes in levels of language in the community? We absolutely want the language levels of our members to change--how can we create enough flexibility in the system to evolve as the community does? We pursued the idea of developing a “folksonomy”-like, emergent solution wherein users could tag individual items in the database as they saw fit, creating a system that I thought would reflect and adapt to the community’s level of language. After reading The Atlas, I realize now that tagging the relationships between items is much more interesting and profitable to pursue than tagging the items together. By labeling the relationships between items, we can divine insight into how our members navigate to find answers to their questions. By aggregating the results of many interactions, these interactions can be weighted, which permits us to make community-informed (and this is just one mechanism for having a conversation with our community!) adjustments to how our site functions. Using this approach, we could obtain a clearer picture of how people navigate through our often-esoteric, jargon-laden concepts so we can precisely intervene with training and outreach.

I also love the idea of applying Lankes’ Scapes concept in its entirety on our website. Here is one issue I can see Scapes contributing to solving: we constantly struggle with keeping our documentation up to date and accurate, an increasingly-difficult task in our change-rich reality. Members in our community are as or more passionate and facile with technology as we are. Chances are they can create or assemble documentation as well or better than we can. We could create a Scape-friendly environment wherein these users (and others) can be asked to identify and add content from a variety of sources to a Scape that could eventually, with some manipulation, become a piece of documentation (an “agreement”) that other members could use and update as necessary.  The community would be given an opportunity to create knowledge; experiment with entailment mesh making (which is a REALLY cool approach); be empowered to help themselves and their classmates; and we would have more dynamic, rich documentation. And this is just one of many ways that the IT department could facilitate knowledge creation on campus in a radical, empowering way.

By the way, I highly recommend reading Marianne Aldrich’s (a fellow LIS student) post about Conversation Theory: it’s a difficult act to follow. Perhaps my best contribution to this conversation will simply be to increase the number of links to her blog post.

Service Dogs, Library Farms, and Other Ways(TM) of Changing the World

Greetings from Syracuse! I survived my first day of IST 511! I am more thankful than ever that I chose to write these posts both after I read The Atlas and after I attended a presentation by Meg Backus, a PR Director and Adult Programming administrator at Northern Onondaga Public Library. Here in the concrete world were two examples of an ideal future for Librarians personified. Meg, an alumna of the MSLIS program, has developed and implemented incredibly innovative ideas in her library built on the framework created by Professor Lankes. Did you know it is possible to check out a service dog? A plot of land on the Onondaga Library Farm? Well, it is and it is changing lives. Besides making me want to be a Public Librarian (or at least respect the hell out of them,) Meg and Professor Lankes helped me explore the bridges between abstract and concrete implementations of the concepts in The Atlas and I am more convinced than ever that Librarians and Instructional Technologists can be radically more pervasive in the Hamilton Community. Apropos of farms, we have one at Hamilton that is run by a member of the faculty. We could easily co-teach classes about nutrition, cooking (perhaps even set up portable stoves and cook part of the harvest), and community building through food. Knowledge creation is at the very heart of what we do and we can do so much more than we currently are!

If you have read any of the posts in my blog, you will discover that I have been reflecting on my experience with The Atlas of New Librarianship through the lenses of pedagogy and collaboration. That is, I firmly believe that the already-strong Library/Instructional Technology collaboration could play a significant role in the creation of knowledge on campus--especially via teaching in the classroom and in leading and facilitating sessions on literacies with students without connection to discipline. As a collaboration, we already teach wildly-successful workshops on different literacies and oversee working sessions to create most any type of media. But I wasn’t quite sure how to bridge the gap between our present efforts and an ideal future wherein knowledge is shared and created much more freely by all members of the community than it currently is. After hearing Meg speak and some time considering a post by classmate Katrina Schell about the informal foisons of knowledge among her colleagues, I thought of a solution: Imagine a system in which individual competencies--either formally or informally developed--were formally recognized, evaluated, and advertised to other members of the community. There is a significant amount of expert and amateur knowledge on our campus on everything from presentations to media authoring to web development. It would be incredible if those with skills (e.g. oration, research, media authoring, entrepreneurial skills) could partner and learn from others on campus who possess them and that any member could find an appropriate expert and develop a competency with that skill that could be formally recognized. Librarians could be at the nexus of this type of program--divining the competency a member has, ascertaining their goals, and directing them to appropriate expert external or internal knowledge. It sounds remarkably like a reference interview, but with a bold new purpose that is focused on connecting people in addition to items in our collection. Food for thought.

I also want to touch on issues of environment and motivation at Hamilton. An all-inclusive environment of intellectual and cultural safety is perhaps the primary obstacle to full member participation in the pedagogy-centric, rich media knowledge creation environment that I believe Instructional Technologists and Librarians can create at Hamilton. And the only group of members who balk at participating in the projects we have developed to create that environment are our faculty. Students may not initially understand what is possible in the environment I envision (which has been realized in the past and ever more frequently in recent years!) but quickly appreciate the fruits of predecessors’ efforts and seek to participate as well. Faculty are more tricky. We do enjoy the support of a core group of faculty who are delighted to innovate with Librarians and Instructional Technologists. Others are obstinate Pedagofundamentalists who believe that tried-and-true techniques are equal to or superior to the multidisciplinary, transmedia approach our collaboration experiments with. Quantifiable progress is being made in this regard: other faculty--even tenured--see the results (that you now can see!) and new conversations with newly-motivated faculty members are occurring every day.

I believe we can catalyze that process with a renewed emphasis on contributing to pedagogy, especially with the Experimental Classroom project, and by targeting a specific group of faculty members: the Visiting Assistant Professors. VAPs are a dynamic bunch: they need not worry about tenure review six years hence; they tend to be more young and idealistic; they tend therefore to be open to new ideas; and especially to ideas that may help them get appointed to tenure-track positions. A Teaching and Learning Center (in which the Experimental Classroom exists) staffed with faculty, administrators, and all academic support units working in concert could give VAPs the extrinsic and intrinsic motivation necessary to develop their existing pedagogical theories, experiment with different approaches, be given actionable feedback, and serve as a gateway to further experimentation with transmedia and other knowledge creation processes available through our collaboration once confidence is built, especially if the end result is a portable ePortfolio that they can use when applying for positions elsewhere. It also seems that advocacy for our collaboration will be more effective on members of the faculty if it comes from a peer.