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Thursday
May212009

Guest post by Gary Hartzell

I left my hotel room in Bangkok exactly 24 hours ago and am now happily sitting in the Minneapolis airport waiting for my shuttle back to Mankato. Although thanks to Tylenol PM I slept about 20 of the past 24 hours, I am feeling fuzzy-headed. So I was delighted to get Gary Hartzell's permission to elevate his comments to The Essential Question to a "guest post."

Gary is a good friend and author of a book every librarian must read - Building Influence for the School Librarian. As a former school principal, Gary brings a much needed objective view to our work, value and strategies for advocacy. (He is also a great speaker and workshop presenter, despite being a fellow old white guy.)

Anyway, here is Gary's message:

In today’s electronic environment and damaged economy, the value of libraries per se is going to be questioned right along with questions about whether you can defend continuing to spend money on print as opposed to electronic resources. While the questions are valid, it too often seems that the one asking already has an answer – and the questions really are little more than disguised assaults on you and your program:

If that is, indeed, the case, then it seems to me that librarians need to respond vigorously, even aggressively. It’s not enough to say, “Well, you’re wrong” – or even to say “Well, you’re wrong and here’s why.” A passive response feeds into their stereotypical images of libraries and librarians. Display your expertise - politely and respectfully, but also relentlessly and mercilessly. Remember what Shakespeare had Richard III say about himself: “I can smile – and I can murder while I smile.” Bombard your adversaries with fact and demand that they respond with the same.

Never accept opinion without evidence, especially if you are challenged in public. Make your statement and then close with a question back to them. Don’t defend your library; make them defend the Internet. Put your antagonists on the defensive and make them think twice about ever attacking you again, especially in any kind of public forum.

You already know the standard and valid arguments regarding library value (if you need more or a refresher, I’m sure the ALA, the AASL, and the IASL will be happy to offer them to you), so there is no need to recite those here – especially the arguments regarding the untrustworthiness of so many Internet “sources”. Instead, let me add two other ideas that may be helpful. One has to do with the nature of copyright and the other with the nature of electronic materials.

First, copyright. A common line of attack is to characterize print materials as a thing of the past. Challenge this immediately. Ask what evidence they have that print is in decline -- then turn on them when they can’t produce it. Tell them that print isn’t dead, dying, or even ill. Even with the economic down turn, book sales in the United States stood at $24.3 in 2008. British publishers reported that 236.9 million books were sold last year in the UK at a total value of £1.773 billion. You can argue the new Kindle as a variation on print delivery, bringing books in a more convenient and portable form perhaps, but still bringing books. And that brings us to the copyright argument for libraries.

Ask library critics and Internet advocates outright what they know about copyright. It’s not likely to be much. Their ignorance is one of the main forces undercutting their Internet supremacy theory. Hitting at this is a useful approach in validating library value. You can use some of the fascinating arguments advanced by Thomas Mann at the Library of Congress to build a thought provoking case (“The Importance of Books, Free Access, and Libraries as Places and the Dangerous Inadequacy of the of the Information Science Paradigm,” Journal of Academic Librarianship, vol. 27, no. 4, July 2001, pp. 268-281). It is naïve, he says, to think that intellectual property laws are going to disappear or that human nature will outgrow the profit motive in the next century. If a profit is to be derived from copyrighted materials on the Internet, providers must limit who has access. Copyright restrictions mean that free access to everything produced probably will never come to the Internet. Libraries, on the other hand, freely make copyrighted material available in their print resources and can make copyrighted electronic materials available through their digital collections and database subscriptions.

Second, the nature of electronic resources even when they are trustworthy. Mann makes a powerful point that speaks to our educational goals. Exclusive use of electronic sources, he says, actually may undercut students’ ability to understand lengthy works. “Doing keyword searches … for particular passages is simply not the same as the much more important work of actually reading and absorbing their intellectual content as connected wholes.” Today’s students, you can argue as he does, certainly are comfortable with computers, but that’s not the same as saying that they’re comfortable reading and absorbing long works on a screen. The majority of the time, Mann argues, youngsters interact with screen displays that don’t require long attention spans and require less rather than more verbal interpretative skills. Because we want students to move from simple information access skills to knowledge development and application to understanding to wisdom, technology that fosters short attention spans is both dangerous and counterproductive. “Here is the important point,” Mann contends, “and there is no getting around it: If the higher levels of knowledge and understanding are going to be grasped, they require greater attention spans than do the lower levels of data and information.”

This tends toward a conclusion that libraries are vital to both education and the national intellectual life. Again, there isn’t room here to list the research studies that demonstrate the value of a balanced collection, and particularly the value of print materials – but you can easily find them through your own or a nearby university library’s subscription databases, and in back issues of publications like Library Media Connection, School Library Journal, Teacher-Librarian, and Emergency Librarian.

Be careful, though. These publications carry articles that are mixes of opinion and experience description, along with some articles that are research-based. While these are valuable for practice, they’re considerably less valuable for argumentation. It’s important that you separate research from opinion. You want to challenge your critics with factual evidence, not with another librarian’s opinion.

The research-based articles in these publications will have bibliographies that will lead you back to the original research reports. Track down those reports and use them in crafting your arguments. Of course, you’ll need to find more and different, but these bibliographies provide a running start. Once you’re familiar with the kinds of research journals that carry articles on topics likely to become contentious in your school or district, you can launch your search directly into those print and on-line publications.

Do your homework in advance. Put a list of supportive research article citations in your pocket calendar, PDA, Blackberry, or other device so they’re always handy. But also memorize at least a half-dozen so you can speak without hesitation. When you’re done, turn and ask your critics to cite specific evidence of electronic superiority, especially Internet superiority, in fostering student achievement. They won’t be able to do it.

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Reader Comments (9)

I posted the following response to my blog and thought I'd share:

First of all, I agree wholeheartedly that books should never be replaced by pure internet reading. I do take some issue with the following, however: Because we want students to move from simple information access skills to knowledge development and application to understanding to wisdom, technology that fosters short attention spans is both dangerous and counterproductive. “Here is the important point,” Mann contends, “and there is no getting around it: If the higher levels of knowledge and understanding are going to be grasped, they require greater attention spans than do the lower levels of data and information.”

Surfing the web for info does not represent digital literacy. It is just the START of the new digital literacy. The new digital literacy builds depth through communication, collaboration, and interaction. I refute the notion that the higher levels of knowledge and understanding are apparently only available to us in books and research papers. That is an outdated notion. In the 21st century, those higher levels of knowledge and understanding are more often going to come from shared input from collaborators across the globe. Ideas will be proposed, commented on, refined, and built up by groups of people working together towards a common understanding. This won't be happening at book clubs or libraries. It's going to be happening online. You might need a long attention span if you are sitting alone reading text, but that's not what is going to be happening with the next generation- they're going to be reading as a community, offering each other insight along the way.

My inclination is that this will allow an even greater amount of shared understanding and knowledge building. Short attention spans are not necessarily a bad thing- they can also be a sign of a brain that quickly grasps information. Don Tapscott has written that this generation of students are much better at processing this type of information than any previous generation. Instead of a short attention span, you are actually seeing an incredibly fast, advanced form of delineating what information is needed and what is not- what is a good source of information and what is not. This is a VERY good skill to have in the 21st century, with the glut of information that is available.

The last lines of Mr. Hartzell's post also stuck out in my head:

When you’re done, turn and ask your critics to cite specific evidence of electronic superiority, especially Internet superiority, in fostering student achievement. They won’t be able to do it.

This is absolutely true. But let's delve deeper into why this is true. Educators have literally been teaching with printed materials and oral language for thousands of years. The internet as we know it now has been around for 15. The real reason we don't have studies to show the effectiveness of using the internet with students is because we're all still figuring out how to do it! It's not the Internet's fault and it doesn't show a single thing about it's potential for student achievement- what it shows is that educators have still not figured out on a wide scale how to use it effectively to TEACH.

I'm reading Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat (finally) and just happened on this section this morning:"When computers were first introduced into offices, everyone expected a big boost in productivity. But that did not happen right away, and it sparked both disappointment and a little confusion. The noted economist Robert Solow quipped that computers are everywhere- except 'in the productivity statistics.'" (p. 206)

Friedman goes on to tell the same story with electricity- how it was expected to change everything overnight but couldn't because entire institutions, factories, management styles, workers, had to redesign themselves and their mindsets in order for the full impact to be felt. It is the same with the internet and technology in schools- and could be even more pronounced. In short, the reason we don't have statistics to support using the Internet and technology in schools is because it has only been around for 15 years and school systems/educators have still not redesigned themselves on a wide scale to make it WORK for students. Basically- the vast majority of schools are still doing it all wrong.

But just wait- schools are starting to change. Glacially, sure, but they're changing. Once the world of education at large has figured out how to use technology as a transformative learning tool, you'll have your statistics. I can't wait. :)

May 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Johnson

Great post! It inspires me to do some professional research. I especially love the suggestions for helping stereotypically timid librarians go on the offense!

May 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLibby

Hi Steve,

Thanks for sharing the post. (You should leave your blog address too!)

Your observation about increased productivity not being readily seen in business use of computers is a good one. I had read that too. I think we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg of how tech will change and (I hope) improve education. Data-mining, improved communications, gaming, online classes and support - the list is long.

All the best,

Doug

Hi Libby,

Gary tells it like it is and always give very sound, if sometimes uncomfortable, advice.

Doug

May 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Thanks for the suggestion, Doug. Here is the link to my blog (I'm just recently getting into it!):

Edtechsteve.blogspot.com

May 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Johnson

Steve Johnson finishes both his comment here and his blog post at http://edtechsteve.blogspot.com/ with the following;

"But just wait- schools are starting to change. Glacially, sure, but they're changing. Once the world of education at large has figured out how to use technology as a transformative learning tool, you'll have your statistics. I can't wait. :)"

This is, for me, the essence of the conundrum facing us in education today. The world is changing at light-speed, while schools are changing at a glacial pace - as they have since the dawn of formal education.

It seems to me that one of two things is inevitable here. Either;

- schools (and by association, school libraries, where I live) will continue to change at a pace the mastodons can manage, but become completely irrelevant to the "real" world our kids inhabit - and the world they will create, or
- schools will need to make a quantum-leap to a new teaching/learning reality where digital literacy is the only reality and traditional (read print-oriented) literacy really does virtually disappear.

Is there a third possibility? One where differentiation and the catering to multiple intelligences and individualized learning styles will guide us? Where we will high-grade the best of both worlds to offer students a learning environment rich in the best of what both have to offer? Or are we each so invested in one or the other of the "competing" paradigms that we will continue along the "either-or" path we seem to be on?

May 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRob Rubis

Rob-

Are you reading my notes or something? =) I am actually smack dab in the middle of writing my first book for Maupin House on this very topic- how can we better customize learning to target a generation of students that yearns for customization in the classroom? It's going to include over 40 ideas/activites that target the 8 multiple intelligences and utilize modern technology tools. My rough draft is due Sept. 1st and I'm busy putting it together as we speak. So interesting that you mention this... Because I obviously feel that you're 100% right.

Now, as to why schools change so slowly in regards to technology- I think there are two main reasons:

1- The leadership hierarchy is still old-school. From professors to superintendents to principals to the teachers with the most seniority in the school systems, they simply have trouble relating to this rapid pace of change. There are wonderful, progressive outliers to this but those are unfortunately few and far between.

2- Teacher prep programs in colleges are deeply flawed in regards to teaching teachers how to integrate technology. I'd REALLY like to drum up support to lead a research project into this topic once my book is published. I have an inkling that there are some really interesting skeletons to reveal. I know my school (as much as I love Penn State) did little in this area. I did a short study on this during my masters and found that hardly any schools offer any kind of class for upcoming teachers about how to integrate technology- and if they did, the syllabus indicated that it was introductory at best and completely irrelevant at worst (how to write html....how to put together a ppt....).

So those are my current thoughts. School systems are such a hard nut to crack, but if we could focus on those two areas for improvement I think the process would be accelerated greatly. I plan on making it my life's work! =)

May 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Johnson

HI Rob and Steve,

I would add a 3rd reason why schools are slow to change - that society expects schools to uphold and preserve current social structures and conventions. Among the most change resistant stakeholders in schools are parents and community members who wish to maintain a school system that they feel served them well. See:

http://doug-johnson.squarespace.com/blue-skunk-blog/2007/3/14/the-illusion-of-change.html
http://doug-johnson.squarespace.com/blue-skunk-blog/2008/5/30/the-impetus-for-educational-change.html

And perhaps for school libraries, a little application of the brakes to the great change engine might give them some time to re-envision their roles in a tech-driven world.

Great dialog, gentlement.

Thanks,

Doug

May 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Just as true in 2015! Especially confirming is the reminder that, "Copyright restrictions mean that free access to everything produced probably will never come to the Internet. Libraries, on the other hand, freely make copyrighted material available in their print resources and can make copyrighted electronic materials available through their digital collections and database subscriptions." They also provide free access to librarians.

This post draws my thoughts to a book I recently savored, THE SHALLOWS: What the internet is doing to our brains by Nicholas Carr. I would like to recommend it to anyone who enjoyed this article.

April 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBeverly McBrayer

Hi Beverly,

Thanks for the response. How did you find this post after 10 years!

My sense is that pretty much everything will eventually wind up online - especially those things for which a price can be charged for access (think full text magazine databases). Or there will be some other form of profit sharing from IP such as that describe by Lawrence Lessing in Free Culture.

I also enjoyed The Shallows. I find myself reading more and more "snippets"!

Thanks again,

Doug​

April 18, 2015 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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