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BFTP: Format bigotry

A weekend Blue Skunk "feature" will be a revision of an old post. I'm calling this BFTP: Blast from the Past. Original post February 24, 2009. This post was reincarnated as a column that you can find here.

These kind of questions drive me bonkers:

  • Should we ban games from our library?
  • Should block social networking sites in our building?
  • Should kids be allowed to access to YouTube in our district?

These questions make about as much sense as asking:

  • Should we be ban books from our libraries?
  • Should we allow kids to have pencils and paper in our building?
  • Should kids be allowed to watch DVDs in our district?

Why, when thinking about what we give kids access to, do adults so often start with format as opposed to the content of that format?

The sense of banning a website based on the information's container (game, social networking site, wiki, blog, etc.) is as logical as saying, "Since Penthouse is published in a magazine format, we cannot allow students to bring magazines to school."

For some reason I've been asked a lot lately about gaming in school. I don't know that much about games and haven't been a big computer game player since Loderunner for the Apple IIe. But of course that doesn't mean I don't have an opinion (as with so many topics):

Let’s be clear that there are games and there are games -- just like there are movies and there are movies; there are books and there are books. Games vary widely in type -- from first person shoot em’ ups to skill attainment tutors with complex management programs. Games vary in taste, rating, maturity level, and even factual accuracy.

The question shouldn’t be “Do we permit students to play games?” but “Which games should we allow our students to play?" Game On! October 2007 Tech Proof column on the Education World website

Why are we as adults so willing to ban resources based on their format instead of their content? Quicker, I suppose. Decisive. New formats are always a little suspicious. The inability to distinguish between medium and message?

Forming an opinion of a website based on its format makes about as much sense as forming an opinion about a person based on his ethnicity. We've got to get beyond format bigotry.

Kids have.


From the column...

Format bigotry, of course, extends beyond what is filtered on the Internet. Our adult prejudices against certain formats of entertainment, information and communication take many guises. You may be a format bigot if:

  • You have different rules surrounding the checkout of videos and laptop computers than you do books.
  • You allow voluntary free reading of books, but ban personal audio players with audio books.
  • You believe reading novels is preferable to reading graphic novels.
  • You accept research findings in print but not as a multimedia product.
  • You ask kids to read something else when they’ve read one book multiple times, but you purchase movies just so you can watch them again and again.
  • You require at least one “print’ reference in student research papers, but not at least one audiocast, video or blog reference.
  • You allow, and even encourage kids come to the library to play chess on a chessboard, but not chess on a computer screen.

The chance of anyone who is reading this column is “literate” is pretty high. That is literate in the print sense anyway. Our own education focused on books, writing and oral communication. The chance of today’s educators being “media literate” is much lower. While we understand and respect the vocabulary, syntax and power of the written word, we are far less comfortable creating and learning from video, audio, and visual materials.


My April Educational Leadership column is online

My latest Power Up column Technology and the Illusion of Creativity from the April 2014 issue of Educational Leadership from ASCD is now available online. Enjoy. Links to all my Power Up columns can be found here.

Comments, as always, are welcome.


The place to toot the worth of libraries is NOT in library mags

From the IASL listserv this morning...

Oh boy
As a deputy principal who was a passionate teacher librarian I can safely tell you it is all about the dollar
I could write spooooo many articles about why the school library doesn't feature in curriculum discussions
About why the school doesn't value teacher librarians
About why reading for pleasure is not valued
About why school Principals cannot get the fact that school libraries are so important
It is very depressing
If only I could have the time to write articles for journals other than T L journals
   Independent school journals
   Principal journals
   Middle school journals
   Secondary journals
Folks the place to toot the academic worth of school libraries is NOT in school library journals
Pat Carmichael
Deputy Principal with a mission for school libraries
If only I had another life time
Pat's comments were in response to an announcement that the article Research that Resonates: Influencing Stakeholders by Debra E. Kachel could be found in School Library Monthly.

Pat, I agree. Your observation is one that's been a constant personal irritation over the past 30 years - why do we  librarians just talk to each other and not to others in education?

While I do not do so enough, I've been lucky to get some articles about the impact of libraries and project-based learning in a number of non-library educational publications including Educational Leadership, Kappan, Principal, InterEd, DesignShare, NASSP Bulletin, School Administrator, and others. Maybe one in 10 or one in 20 of my articles are published in journals outside the library or technology field. Not enough for sure.

First, I appreciate anyone who writes for professional publication be that publication library/tech or for general ed or for the general public. It takes time and courage. Thank you. We need to keep each other formed about best practices in our field.

And let's face it - getting published in Kappan or Educational Leadership is a lot more competitive than some of our own journals. But more librarians could publish in general education if they kept these things in mind:
  1. Remember your audience. Why should a principal be interested in libraries anyway. What's in it for the reader? Use non-technical language. Don't impress - inform and convince.
  2. Don't put "library" in the title. Sorry, don't talk about libraries in general. Speak of them in relationship to other programs that may be important: 1:1, literacy, differentiation, 21st century skills, etc.
  3. Have a co-author who is a member of the group for whom you are writing. If you are writing for a professional development publication, get your PD coordinator to co-author. If you are writing for an association publication, get a member of that association to co-author.  
  4. Don't advocate for libraries or librarians. Always, always, always frame your arguments in terms of how libraries benefit students, staff, and your community. Library users.

I'm glad Kachel's article was published in SLM. Smart, proactive librarians will find ways to get it in the hands of their admins and teachers regardless of where it was found. Not only will copies go in principals' (e)mailboxes, but conference time will be scheduled to actually discuss the piece.

But we do need more library professionals writing for educators, parents, and the general public about how library programs can be good for kids. Make your next article one for non-librarians.