It’s not about us

April 7, 2010
We need to get out more.   That is a universally accepted fact in the library world.  My additional point, though, is when we do, we should never talk about libraries.  We shouldn’t talk about how wonderful we are, nor how we are key to the instructional process.   We need to talk about learning, and about students, and about equity, not about libraries.
This train of thought crossed my mind today as my dean sent yet another conference call for papers out to the faculty.   As I read the call,  I realized that yes, I could go to the heartland of Illinois, and I could talk about what I know about making schooling work for all students, and how to use inquiry to educated informed citizens.  I could talk about ways to get and keep students reading, as well as about my current passion for teaching students self-assessment strategies so that they will know how to evaluate information they are receiving. 
I also realized that I can’t go to everything, and I am working on the skill of saying no.  But before I hit DELETE, I thought about how we in libraries will every so often have such perfect aim when it comes to shooting ourselves in the foot.  Sometimes, I hate to say it, school library people act just like sulky teenagers at the dinner table, staying silent and huddled over the food, waiting for someone to notice that they are not engaging in the conversation so that they can complain loudly about being ignored.  Having raised two daughters, I recognize the behavior.    Even with the current conversation about ESEA, we are shouting and demanding that we want to save school libraries.  No, we don’t.   We want to save students.   We want there to be one place in the school where there is a level playing field, and where not affording the latest ipad, ipod, i-whatever doesn’t matter, because resources are abundant and plentiful for all.   It is the only hope some students have. 
One opportunity to make these points are these types of conferences, especially conferences attended by the people we most want to impress, which are those that prepare teachers and principals.  There’s a ton of them.  The American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (  meets every year, as well as scads of other education conferences, attended by higher education types.   Deans and department chairs especially go to AACTE.  If we want a direct line to talk about what pre-service teachers need to know about inquiry and about resources (again, without mentioning the L word), that is where we need to be (if library people are presenting and using library examples,  they will get the message without feeling hit over the head with a big ole power point saying….LIBRARIANS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANYONE ELSE). 
In some ways, that tactic has been very successful at AERA (American Educational Research Association) and the new REISL SIG which is based on school libraries.  In looking ahead to the AERA conference (end of April in Denver), there are REISL juried papers, but there are topics relating to school library research in many other SIGs as well.  Although the SIG must maintain a membership high enough to still be active, we have been able to go mainstream.   When a SIG devoted to issues of poverty in K-12 education has a juried paper relating to equitable access to school libraries, we have scored big.   
 I have a passing interested in school library history, and I was fascinated to learn that even in the early 1900’s, one of the biggest problems of the field was the perception that no one understood our value to the educational process.  So if 100 years of whining hasn’t worked, maybe it’s time to just get over it, and work on the major problems that our students have.  They are being left behind at an alarming rate, and I think our profession has much to offer those interested in making sure that all students learn.  
If you want to see the call that sparked all of this, here it is:  For Call for Proposals and complete information, please visit the conference website at .  

The Heart of Reading

March 7, 2010

A recent thread on the school library association discussion list  in my state caught both my attention and my heart.   The initial question was simple, something about asking about the basis for deciding how many books students in elementary school were allowed to check out.  I waited and waited, reading several posts for both the reasons for limiting checkout, and far too few librarians who defended unlimited checkout.  Finally, I could not resist the urge to post.  My comments are below.

I know that my former students must know how my fingers have been itching to get in on this thread, since I strongly believe in taking off the limits on checkout, for the reasons that many have stated.  Namely, that it creates an administrative burden on the librarian to keep track, do overrides, and ride herd on the numbers.  Second, it contributes to the stereotype of the library job being mainly clerical, after all, why do you need a master’s degree to check books in and out?   And why are we shelving all of these books anyway, instead of encouraging students to browse through these hot reads before they get back on the shelf?

 I know that some are hung up on the whole teaching responsibility thing, but I don’t know that denying access to a print-rich environment for print-starved children is the best way to do that.   I know that we have no way of knowing that the books are being read, but I am positive that the ones remaining on the shelves are certainly not being read.  Sitting in a backpack at least gives the book a chance.   I know that the more books that go out, the number that will not come back will rise, but I suspect that the percentage of books lost in circulation will decrease.  And lost does not mean lost, it means that at least one book is in a home that previously did not have any.

 As a field, we need to be the cheerleaders for reading, and that means taking the risk to place as many books as possible in the hands of children while they still want them.  Far too soon, circulation rates will drop as students turn to other activities.  Let’s drown them with reading as much as possible in order to keep them reading as long as possible.

 I want principals to walk in the door of the library at any time of the day and see it overrun with children checking books out.  I want the stacks to look as if a whirlwind had just blasted through, and I want the return box, carts, desk, and even the librarians chair to be stacked with books awaiting the return procedures.  The best chance of proving that we as a field are essential to learning is to make us essential to reading, and we can’t do that by having “library days”,  only certain tiny segments of the day for checking out books, or counting out only a limited number of reading for each child.   The only things in life that are limited are the ones that are bad for you.  We need to stop treated books as if they were breaded deep-fried Twinkies.   Eat your vegetables!   Read!

I see this discussion as extremely important, especially as I also read the headlines of impending severe budget cuts in the local  area. Can we afford as a field to withhold reading?   Could we not position ourselves as so central to the process of reading that parents would march in the streets to save jobs and increase budget?

I don’t see that limiting access to library materials gets us anywhere, and I know that it doesn’t get children nearly as far as open access will.  My challenge, as an educator of pre-service school librarians, is how to ensure that those entering the field will understand the dispositions of librarianship.  The most important value we hold as a profession is open access to resources and services.


Going Medieval….still

November 9, 2009

I just returned home from another AASL National Conference.  Like those before, it was stimulating, provocative, and it turned my life in several new directions.   That, in reality, was from the people I met in the halls, over drinks, and from those attending my sessions. The conference itself, although at its usual high standards, reflected our profession in theory, but not in practice. 

I am been presenting at conferences for over twenty years now.   In the early days, I made transparencies, and thought myself very futuristic when I could make those transparencies on my printer.   Then I migrated to Power Point.  Although now in disrepute, I like using Power Point to keep presentations on track and on schedule.  I tend to ramble, so I need the next slide to put me back on track.   

My presentations at this conference went well, seemed to be received with a moderate amount of enthusiasm, and were relatively well-attended.   I am bothered, though.   I realized that I am still presenting in the same manner as I did 20-some years before.  As I type this post, I am in my home office, with my usual two computers side-by-side, and a third across the room.  I have Facebook up on one computer and email on the other, because I find that I work better when my mind has an occasional distraction.   With Facebook, I can have interactions in my daily life constantly updating, making me think, and changing my daily plan.

When I present, I am in a closed room with a small group of people while I am sharing the results of my investigations and interactions.  After an hour or so, the door opens and the crowd streams out, and my presentation becomes past tense….i.e…she was good, the presentation was informative.  The presentation becomes dead, gone, over.  In my very last presented session, our panel presented the Learning Standards and supporting documents, Guidelines, Reading initiatives, and the L4L umbrella which supports all of them.  As one by one, the panel explained this guidelines and standards,  several in the audience commented….NOW I finally understand this.   That was wonderful to hear….until one realizes that the understanding is limited to the 20 people or so in the room.

I am wondering now why that has to be.   Why couldn’t my presentation be shared live with any virtual attendee who cared to be there?  Would not the audience benefit from a CoverItLive type of screen challenging, correcting, and commenting as presenters go through their screens.  Why can’t this presentation, once developed, be set free until I decide that it is no longer valid or appropriate.   

So what do I want my next presentation to be?  I want to have comments from the world scrolling before me as I present, so that I can tag onto thoughts that illustrate my presentation.  I want that community to continue discussing after I finish presenting, so that days later I can review and implement suggestions and new  ways of thinking.  I want to do video previews of what I am going to talk about, so that attendees, virtual or not, could have an idea of whether they should go.  I want the program to be interactive and real-time…so that my audience could be multi-tasking into several others at the same time. 

There are those, and I am one, who will always attend conferences in person.  My learning comes from the talks over drinks, and the serendipitous meetings during laptop charging.  I don’t want to change that.  But what I do want is to hold the conference in my hand, even while I am there, scrolling through sessions to tap into and out of learning.   I want to virtually visit the exhibits, so that I can hear the promos and listen to experts explain their resources and services.  I want to instantly send  commercials regarding the vendor products I fall in love with to administrators saying..LOOK AT THIS. 

In other words, I want the conference to reflect what school libraries are and do.  I want the way that we attend and interact to be what our profession says that school libraries look like, sound like, and are like.   Enough of dead presentations.   Let’s allow vendors, presentors, and attendees to come alive in a virtual learning commons.


Virtually whose?

September 30, 2009

I started wondering this week about landline phones.  I don’t know of very many people under the age of 40 who still have them.  I approve of that decision, it’s kind of silly to be juggling numbers and phones when one of them is portable.  The portability intrigues me, especially when thinking about what we are losing when as a society we drop land-line phones.  It’s more than just a landfill covered in old phones.   Landlines give a physical place.  The area code identifies the caller as being from a specific geographic location.   Finding sites such as Anywho or many reverse address lookup sites depend on the phone directories to identify people.  We are going to lose our sense of place, identified by our area codes.

I am old enough to remember  dashing to answer the phone, waiting of course to make sure that it was our ring on the party line.  We then evolved to multiple phones, at least one in every few rooms.  There was a time when a backlash occurred to people using voicemail, when the cocktail party line was a sigh and “i don’t talk to those things”.   We went through an era of cutesy, when families sang the tag line on their answering machines, wrote sappy poems, or other kinds of trivia that now is placed on facebook.   The backlash reversed then, to people who did not use voicemail, so that they were impossible to keep up with.   Now no one really expects to answer a ringing phone.  My children glance to see who is calling, and then make a call back when convenient.  Leaving voicemail is passe’.   The caller ID will identify you as the caller, and you can always txt a message.   Life no longer has to be immediate or unknown.   The suspense of the first “hello” is gone for the most part.  We know who is on the other end of the phone.

Living virtually, in some parts, means being in control.  We control who we friend on facebook,  although we can’t control what they say.  We decide when to answer phones, and know who is calling when we do.  We can decide even what our phone number will be, and can take our North Carolina area code to Florida if we wish.  Long distance is irrelevant. 

Learning is also starting down the same path.  Asynchronous online or videostreamed courses are never inconvenient, since the learner chooses when to log on to class.  One can choose to listen to podcast lectures with a button in one ear while watching reruns of NCIS with the family.   The teacher can no longer use body language or eye contact to check for understanding or make sure that students are paying attention.  It’s a different way of learning, and a different way of teaching.

The place of the library in a virtual learning world has yet to be determined, and time is wasting away.  Virtual high schools are springing up in many states and large school districts.  What we don’t know is how these students will be granted quality information resources for their learning.  Even more important, we don’t know how quality school library services, which is as important as the resources, will be maintained.  We need information and models to learn from.  Otherwise, the school library of the future will go the way of the landline phone, a nostalgic reminder of the way life used to be.


A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far

September 7, 2009

The above line from Adrienne Rich’s poem Integrity has affirmed my actions and life choices for quite a few years now.   I like the concept of patience required in a get-it-now society with the frustrated  impatience needed to break down barriers to get to accomplishments.  Wild patience — that pretty much sums up my daily life.

Wild patience also involves being able to switch hats on a regular basis — professor, mentor, editor, colleague, author — along with other more long-term roles as friend, wife or mother.   Wild patience is a  mantra to move through many roles, running to gain ground when we can, conserving energy for the next rush when we can’t.

I have resisted writing a blog, maybe partly out of a fear of commitment (would it be like a Twitter page that is never updated)  and partly out of a disbelief that anyone would really care what I think about in the shower.   Words in articles are finessed and polished, vetted by others, and read in a different time and context than when written.  Words in a blog are more immediate.  I pause with fingers on the keys to form the next sentence, typing into the small white square the thoughts that I have just formed.  John Dewey, you know, thought that knowledge was never static or fully formed; that the act of knowing changed the knowledge, so that what we thought we knew is now different.  All we can say is that we are about to have known.  Maybe the same is true for blog-truths, that the act of writing changes what I write and what you read.    My thoughts come out of the ends of my fingers tapping on the keys based on the stream of consciousness that right now exists.  You are reading this on the stream of consciousness that is your mind.

We don’t really know what blogs are in a societal context.  We don’t know the degree to which they are read or quoted, whether they are the inspired revelations of the truly exceptional minds that we are privileged to share, or whether they are just random trivia from arrogant pseudo-intellectuals.  Regardless of where in the continuum I fall, here I am, poised at the edge of blogland, foisting my random thoughts on an unsuspecting world. 

I welcome comments, criticisms, suggestions, and advice.   A wild patience truly has taken me this far.   I am curious to learn what you think what has taken you so far.

Gail Dickinson

September 8, 2009