I've been seeing more and more stuff about education, alternate education, & unschooling and it's inriguing me. It started with personal questions about the suitability of normal schooling for kids of various ages that I know and know about. But what's catching my eye is that, beyond the growing body of anecdotal and personal discussions here , here , and here, about whether school really works for enough kids, there is a really serious set of academic discussion growing around the fact that children seem to be able to learn how to use modern digital tools without being taught.
Is the need to teach and be taught specific to manual tools and analog information? Do hyperlinked tools that contain their own information break that paradigm?
I'm not a educator, per se. I don't have pedagogical training. But I'm working on a new information-library thesis for a future library conference about irrelevancy (more about that later) and I thought it was unrelated. Now, I'm starting to think all this is related. I know I'm not the only one. Colleagues are also puzzling about this.
Last spring I quoted David Weinberger's : "The property of knowledge as a body of vetted works comes directly from the properties of paper. Traditional knowledge has been an accident of paper." Another way of saying that is that knowledge as we had understood it was a feature of paper-based information. I'm now wondering if this goes further. Is our understanding of how to teach and how to learn a feature of the tools and information sources that powered the industrial age. Does it all change when tools and information are contained within each other, are essentially inseparable, and are part of a huge network of related tools and information?
I'm putting together presentation for the upcoming BC Libraries Conference in a couple months. It's a follow up to "Starting now to Imagine Libraries in 100 years". I have proposed to ask the controversial question: what's our Plan B? What happens if we can't get the licenses and items that will make up our Collection for our communities? Here's the blurb from the Conference Program:
If, in some dystopian future, we no longer have the role of husbanding our community's store of knowledge; if we are no longer the "Bibliotheque" because we don't have the bibliographic material, either print or digital, what do we do? If we faced a future where we can't provide a "License to Read" because we can't get the licenses, and the public commons of information is being enclosed by private interest, what would be our Plan B? Would we fight? Would we band together with like-minded institutions and remake the commons with open access and open source? Would we do something else for our community: turn "learning into action", or somesuch? In this session we will look at possible futures of information and libraries in our communities and at comparable histories of change and dislocation that can relate to information and our communities. Using assumptions and brainstorm results from this presenter's BCLC 2011 session as inspiration, we'll challenge ourselves to tackle these unhappy scenarios and decide what we want to do. There are many threats to the library as we know it and we can meet these threats in many ways. The future is not something to shrink from, but something to meet head-on. Should we be afraid, or should we move forward with our convictions and our community's support.
But now, in addition to fighing back, or building from open sources, or turning to programs and "learning", a fourth possibility is arising in my mind. I'm reading Too Big to Know by David Weinberger. He's taking the rise of digital information to a further conclusion: that the meaning of knowledge is being changed by the net. Here's a perfect quote that encapulates his thesis: "The property of knowledge as a body of vetted works comes directly from the properties of paper. Traditional knowledge has been an accident of paper." (pp. 53-54). Wow! So, what about my Plan B. While we are worrying about how the library will keep track of the information for our communities that can feed their knowledge, Weinberger says knowledge is all different now because of the net. It's not contained in documents; it's not held by experts. Does we have to have a Plan C? Or is this just another way of developing programs and "turning learning into action" ?
For the past eight months I've given the same presentation eight times. It's called "Starting Now to Imagine the Public Library in 100 Years". I started it with the BC Library Conference 2011 and have been invited to present it to library Directors, library managers, Board Trustees, among others. I won't give away the whole thing, yet, because I'm presenting it one more time at the Canadian Library Conference 2012 in Ottawa.
But I can tell you that I lead the participants through a couple of exercises to try and put ourselves in a headspace to imagine the distant future and think about what our libraries would do for our communities then. At almost every one of these presentations someone declares that we will still have books because "people will always want books". Every time the say that I think, "oh dear, I haven't done my job well enough here".
I'm trying to get participants to put themselves in the mindset of the people in their community. In the distant future. It clearly doesn't work on some people. They can't seem to get their heads around it: We like books. Some of our patrons like books now. I just don't think we can count on any more than a tiny specialist minority of our citizens wanting books two generations from now. Why would they? Books exist because they are a convenient method to encapture printed text and two-dimensional still media, no? There's better ways of storing and displaying that stuff now. It's just that those ways aren't evenly distributed (to steal a line from William Gibson). They will be pretty soon. We have to get over our fixation and out of the books-are-our-comfort zone . Really soon.
Okay, that's enough ranting. And next time I give this presentation, I'll try to do better.
Library Day today was supposed to be all about taking a rough draft project proposal I've written and transposing it into a Project Charter for a project to redesign our staff intranet page. That didn't happen. The "Intranet Redesign" was actually supposed to happen last year but that didn't happen either because another large project bumped it into this year. But that's the subject for another post.
Before getting to the Intranet Project Charter this morning I thought I would tackle an email that came on Friday that claimed that our new social catalogue/discovery layer was hard to search and made it hard to find new items and that that was causing the number of holds placed in branches to be drasticallly reduced compared to last year.
But then that social catalogue/discovery layer started to respond intermittently and then not at all so we started troubleshooting on several different computers to try and figure out if the problem was caused at our end or theirs. It seemed to be at their end so I then carefully composed a trouble ticket accompanied by excerpts of page source to show that some of their appservers were returning error messages. Then a systemwide alert banner appeared on the Social Catalogue/Discovery Layer's login pages to say that they were having trouble and to come back later so at least we knew it wasn't our fault.
For some reason, right about then I was reminded that our public wifi service doesn't play nice with Android devices and renders them, essentially, unusable with our wifi. I've recently started using an Android device so this has been on my mind but it turns out that it's been a known problem for a while. So I thought I better start talking to our staff about getting it fixed but then I found that three of the four staff who can solve this problem for us were not here today so tried remember what I needed to remember about the symptoms and saved it for another day.
At about that time, an email arrived from the Social Catalogue/Discovery Layer vendor to say that they had a serious problem with some broken code (not in so many words) and they put the login routines out of commission until they fixed it but now it's all back in order so I tested it myself and asked our computer support to test it and I then forwarded the news to appropriate people.
So, finally I got back to that email about the new Social Catalogue/Discovery Layer causing a drop in holds placed at branches: I spoke to one of support staff who prepares monthly stats reports and briefly conferred with my boss (Manager of Systems) to conclude that new Social Catalogue/Discovery Layer uses different location profiles so it appears that fewer people are placing holds at branches but it now it isn't possible to actually determine this from our monthly Circ stats and furthermore, the overall number of holds placed is 12-16% higher during the past four months than the same months last year. I easily wrote a response about how the stats don't support the conclusion that the Social Catalogue/Discovery Layer is causing reduced number of holds placed at branches but ,unfortunately, I then struggled with carefully wording a response to the rest of that original email about how the Social Catalogue/Discovery Layer is awful and hard to search and not very good. I hadn't finished the careful response to that part of the email when my teenage daughter arrived from her afternoon adventures at her appointed time and we rode our bikes home together. Will finish that email tomorrow morning, and then will get to that Intranet Project Charter, I promise.
At the Berlin Seminar for Cycling for Libraries, I moderated a Barcamp session on Envisioning the Library in 100 years following on the theme of conference sessions I've presented this past spring.
Instead of a presentation from me, a group of seven of us got right to discussing and debating what the topic means to us. Our group included an few academic Librarians , including a medical librarian, a classics librarian, a Science & Technology librarian and a librarian for a Library School. We also had a public library Branch Head and a special librarian from a law-firm library.
Here is a distillation of the discussion, based on my notes. Which are spotty since I was also moderating the session but I think you'll get the idea.
Right away someone thought that 100 years is too far ahead but someone else figured that we need to have something to hang the discussion onto, and 100 years is as good as any.
The classics librarian among us said "there'll always be need for the original, physical is important" but some of us disagreed that the original would be important to more than just a few speialists. The branch head said: "so far digitisation always meant that role of library has diminshed. It would continue that way. Digital is not catalogued, we're dependent on search rules. If we are mostly about the collection, we are in a losing battle and will have a smaller sphere of influence. Kids don't want the smell of a book – in the future we will be providing services, not having a collection."
The Medical Librarian pointed out that, in his library: There's the 20/80 rule – 20% of the collection gets used. 80% almost never gets used but they have to have it, just in case.
It was also pointed out, however, that digitisation can increase access to classic material. At that point, Google books was brought into the discussion and we agreed that it will be interesting to see how google will change over time but this wasn't the "Google" session, that was taking place in a different room.
We went back to envisioning the future. Discussion ensued: Libraries might be more about service. The place will change – the library as a concept, as a state of mind is changing. In Public Libraries in Finland – place has become more important.
The Special Librarian reminded us that the value of being an uncommercialized space is valuable. You don't have to buy something to get there; the Public Library should offer that.
But then we were reminded to be careful: the idea of a place to get wfi will come to an end when free wifi is all over the city. In the next few years that will challenge us to find another way to attract people to our places. .
If we can make sense of the data, offer social programs, offer deeper inquiry, we may be able to continue to attract patrons. Libraries already offer a range of "stuff" – programs to push people to find new interests and ideas and to discover different stuff.
However, the idea of not being able to attract patrons with free wifi was causing us concern and the discussion came back to that. If we lose the “magnets” of books and wifi the question has to be asked: what will be we about. What will attract people to our space: Info gathering, assembly, and production – is that what it's about? Not necessarily, an academic librarian suggested the library should be more integrated into education and research areas.
On the other hand, someone suggested, every library has to define their role: in every community the library has to look at their users and respond to their needs. At the same time, we will want to make sure we are assertive to use our expertise and knowledge to help define community role.
At the end I asked the participants, what is the thing they'll do next week to try to start shaping this future.
The Library-school librarian will rrange a new study place for students in her library
The Medical Librarian will work on being a tour guide to students to lead them through information.
The SciTech Librarian want to get people to go abroad and get new ideas, learn from others.
The Classics Librarian will learn from young customers; what do they want to have?
The Law Librarian will ask colleagues what they want in their new library.
But the last word goes to the public library Branch Head : in the earlier discussion about being assertive to define our roles there had been concern about “losing the profession” if we, for example, become integrated into faculties. The Branch Head warned us, "that's dead wrong. If it's better for the customer, it's good. We should do what customers want. We should be prepared that librarianship will become history and not be afraid."
That's what he said, and with that challenge ringing in our heads, we returned to the Plenary Session and the final discussions of Cycling for Libraries.