Oh, the Spaces You'll Go! (apologies to Dr. Seuss!)

My inaugural post!  I suddenly feel as though I have officially entered the 21st century!  I feel very excited to be blogging!

I am currently a high school teacher in a suburb of Chicago.  Much to my dismay, one of the main services that was cut last year in the district that I serve in were library services.  The high school where I teach is down to 1 full time librarian (for 2,800 students!) and the "head" of the library does not have an LIS degree.  We have also converted the library in to a "learning commons" lay out.  Along with the stacks, we have computer labs, mediascape units, LCD projectors, and LOTS of tables and chairs.  This makes me think a lot, and worry a lot, about what the "space" means in the context of a library.

We of course, want students to want to come to the library for more than books, and for a library to be seen more as a resource for every aspect of their learning, not just a place to "goof off."  My worry is, that we have turned our library space in to a "hang out."  One librarian can't possibly make sure every student in the new "learning commons" is on task, being productive, using, and learning about all the resources a library has to offer.  In an attempt to make the space "cool" are we losing the ability to make the library an extension of, and an enhancement to, regular classroom learning?

I have a lot of questions and worries, and I hope that my role as a teacher at the school, a resource teacher in these new "learning commons," and as a soon-to-be library professional I will be able to help shape this in to a bigger, better, more modern LIBRARY.  I want it to be the "cool" place to be because it supports not only student's academic needs, but also serves to make a library a place for fulfilling recreation.

I can't help but think about Dr. Seuss' classic, Oh, The Places You'll Go!  I have always seen that rhyme as a warning, yes new is necessary, but it isn't always better.  Change means keeping the good traditions, and adding in new traditions that serve to improve an already fantastic institution---the idea of a library in every school!


Readicide (a review)

After reading Kelly Gallagher's Readicide,  I have to say that I had a bit of a pain in my neck because I was nodding in agreement so much.  My current "real-life" job is a public school teacher and one thing I can personally attest to in Gallagher's argument is that schools are, quite literally, killing a love of reading.

The constant push for improved scores on standardized tests has made it so that most students believe that reading is merely to prove that they can, and herein lies the problem.  Most people in the United States can read, but do they enjoy it?  Does it make their life better? Does it increase their sense of empathy?  Do they feel a connection to what they read?  Do they understand the world better because of what they read?  In their darkest moments, have they had the experience of a piece of literature helping them to get through that time?  I think that this is what Gallagher is arguing for and I see librarians are the first people that can help "resurrect" reading for pleasure and personal edification.  Through booktalks, programming, and being an approachable, hip, lover of reading, we can lead young people back to a love of the book. 

The larger piece here, is that I see, on a daily basis, that the companies who make the large profits off of standardized tests are killing young people's love of learning on a massive scale.  Librarians need to work with teachers, administrators, school boards and parents to change the tidal wave of numbers that seems to be swallowing their children up and making  their lives less enjoyable.  I want my students to want to learn, and I hope that as a Librarian I will be able to work more earnestly towards such a goal.


Who are the cyberpeople in your neighborhood?

Before I begin this post in earnest, I would like to pre-emptively apologize to the Children's Television Workshop.  I am going to use their classic song "Who are the people in your neighborhood?" and "repurpose" it as I talk about what I think is a great idea for teaching kids about evaluating web sources in the information age.  Here is the librarian version of this wonderful song (can you tell I am a die-hard Sesame Street fan?)

This very catchy song is meant to teach the very young that there are dozens of people in your neighborhood that can meet your information needs.  If you know your question, you should also learn what type of person or institution to go to for the answer or for help.  I would guess that most young people don't randomly ask anyone any question that they have, yet they "ask" google everything, and assume that the first item listed in the search return is right, accurate, reliable, etc...

In an article I read for my class this week, I learned about Stony Brook Universities program that promotes news literacy.  They have come up with the idea of "information neighborhoods" and they use this idea to promote the idea of getting young people to think about context and purpose before using the information they find.  For Stony Brook's entire program, click here.  I couldn't help but think that this is an awesome opportunity for programming and education in the school and public library setting.  You could come up with your own neighborhoods (suggested "neighborhoods" from Stony Brook are news, propaganda, advertising, publicity, entertainment, and raw information.)  You could also do this based on your user's needs.  What about neighborhoods like .org, .edu, .gov, .com?  Or sites for encyclopedic information vs. peer reviewed journals?  You could even have older kids think about all the types of websites they use in a day and they could create their own neighborhoods (homework questions, entertainment, social networking, sports, school activities.) Then, and perhaps most importantly, they need to be encouraged to think about whether or not the information in that "neighborhood" is appropriate to their purpose.

I feel like this is real and useful source analysis rather than the standard worksheets that are often given to help kids "evaluate web sources."  In a way, this covertly teaches them to be data curators, what more could we ask for?  Is the song stuck in our head now?  Sorry!

Articles that inspired this post:
Harris, Frances Jacobson. "Ch. 6: The Deep End: Content." I Found It On the Internet: Coming of Age Online. ALA, 2010. 123-149.

Harris, Frances Jacobson. "Ch. 7: Fishing Poles, Not Fish: Damage Control." I Found It On the Internet: Coming of Age Online. ALA, 2010. 153-177.


Academic Footprint(s)

I am sure that almost everyone out there has heard the story "foot prints."  You know the one, where a man is walking down the beach and he sees that there are 2 sets of footprints in the sand that represent every aspect of his life. However, the man notices that in "bad times," only one set of footprints appear in the sand.  The man yells at God and asks why he abandoned him in his times of need, to which God replies, "it was then that I carried you."  Some people find this story incredibly inspirational, some find it sappy, some may even be offended that I would liken the work of a Youth Services Librarian to that of God...but work with me.

This past weekend I attended the conference of the Illinois School Library Media Association (ISLMA.) I was fortunate to hear the key note address given by Joyce Provenza, who is a guru of all things 21st Century in the school library world AND she is a currently practicing school librarian.  In her presentation she talked about the important role of youth services librarians in helping young people build their "academic footprint" online.  Just as we are encouraged as adult professionals to build our online presence and portfolio, we should also be aiding young people in this endeavor.

She said a way to start is to have students "google" themselves.  What most find is there Facebook page, a few images, and maybe some mention in local newspapers for athletic or academic achievements.  Much of what comes up from social media sites might not be flattering (to say the least! think "partying" photos.)  Young people must first understand that most of what they post on the internet is public information, and that it can be used in things like the college admissions process or by potential employers.  Next, we can empower them, teach them, and help them to make their online presence more reflective of their academic and extracurricular achievements.  The list of possibilities seems to be endless, blogs, wikis, live binders, Twitter feeds (yes, there's more on there than following the next Charlie Sheen tirade) even appropriate YouTube videos (this links to the YouTube Education site)!

I see this as an important and innovative arena for librarians to be the driving force behind. We have to make ourselves relevant, we have to "carry" those kids through the quick sands of life lived online.

(please see my links section for some great ones that will link you to Joyce Provenza's work, her own academic footprint!)


Tough Sell, Big Payoff

I was very intrigued this week by a research study we had to read for class. It is the report of a research study conducted by Denise E. Agosto and Sandra Hughes-Hassell concerning the information seeking behaviors of Urban Teens.  This is an issue near and dear to my heart because I am very interested in serving in an area that serves traditionally underserved groups (do I get a point for using served so many times in a sentence?)

The researchers came to many conclusions based on a qualitative study they did of inner-city teens in Philadelphia. The conclusion that struck me that most was "that services for teens need to support the entire person--the physical, cognitive, affective, and social being--yet many libraries still support primarily homework and pleasure reading needs" (Agosto and Hughes-Hassell 1401.)

This conclusion is more like a call to action.  Libraries need to provide services for teens beyond the realm of school assignments and reader's advisory.  I see so many stories about libraries holding "off-site" programming for adults (everything from reader's advisory at their local Starbucks, to speed dating!) but I rarely, if ever, see such programs for tweens or teens.  Libraries need to bring in people from healthcare organizations to banks with the idea of presenting information to tweens and teens in fun and non-school based platform.  The early and late stages of adolescents are a time when young people want to at least feel like the adults and institutions around them are supportive of the fact that they are doing all they can to learn how to function and have fulfilling lives outside the realm of parents and teachers.  Libraries are in an excellent place, they offer a safe location in which to provide services that tweens and teens not only need, but want.  When they continue to patronize libraries as adults--and support library funding as full-grown taxpayers--we will know that our efforts were worth it!


Programming for Purpose

After our on-campus weekend, I thought a lot about what it means to have a meaningful program at your school or library.  While we need lots of programs that are high interest, timely, and "cool" to draw the young it, I also think we should think about programming that helps develop the idea of civic participation amongst our young users.

The public library in Oak Park, IL has launched a community service program for elementary aged students.  They have partnered with a local aid organization and created events that only take about an hour to complete, the young patrons learn about a community need and do some type of project to help with that need.  Here is a link to read about the program and see a calendar of events:

I believe whole-heartedly that a library is a "public good."  In the age of budget cuts and seemingly endless attacks on "public" institutions, I think that this is an excellent opportunity to show the worth of a public library.  If libraries serve as a center of community services, no one can deny how essential it is to the betterment and survival of a community--not matter how "in need" or "un-needy" that community is.  I don't know if I said that very eloquently, but I hope it makes sense.

Do you have ideas about how to have community service events in conjunction with library programming? I'd love to hear about them!


The Two R's

Reading and wRiting---two-thirds of the "3 R's," which many of us worry are increasingly neglected by teenagers.  However, there are many studies and websites that show both scientifically and anecdotally that this assumption is not true.  I was inspired to do a post on this based on Paulette Rothbauer's writings in Becoming a Reader (chapter 3.)

One way that libraries can increase their relevance to teens is to promote writing clubs.  Many schools have literary magazines that are produced in-house, and the library should be a partner in this endeavor.  Many schools also have "poetry" clubs where students prepare to go to poetry slams and other venues where they can share and perfect their craft.

I think that libraries should sponsor, advertise, and offer online access to as many writing programs as possible.  Since "writing is an extension of reading (Rothbauer) it is only proper that we as youth services librarians support this interes and need through the library.

One such site that I am aware of that does an amazing job of promoting the reading-writing connection is Figment (the newer, way-sleeker version of Inkpop.)  This site has everything from book reviews to fan-fiction to personalized recommendations.  Its visually appealing and easy to use--plus it doesn't attempt to be too "cool" or seem forced, it looks like teens really made it.  I know the director of the Figment project received a huge grant within the past year to continue to improve the site.

Libraries should use these tools to help empower kids to share their experiences and increase their literacy through writing.

Link for Figment: http://figment.com/

"40 of the Best Websites for Young Writers" (fully linked!) http://education-portal.com/articles/40_of_the_Best_Websites_for_Young_Writers.html