Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update





Dusty Museum Displays No More - Alas

The LWW and I spent quite a bit of time getting a little culture and history this weekend while in the Baltimore/DC area. Places visited included

OK, I know I am getting old and cranky, but sometimes I yearn for the good old days when museums were simply rooms full of dust-covered display cases crammed with interesting stuff and illegible notecards propped near each mouldering object.  Today's museum "enhances" the education experience through a barrage of multi-media. Nothing wrong with multi-media per se, but if I watched every damned video snippet or listened to every audio explanation, I do believe I'd still be on the 3rd floor of the NMAI, having only started on the 4th floor working my way down.

The museum experience has been definitely impacted by the information explosion. I found myself reeling.

When I get the chance, I try to use guides (either print or audio) when I visit a museum. On our "great nudes of Europe" trip to London, Amsterdam, Paris and Madrid a few years ago, my son Brady and I used Rick Steves' useful book Mona Winks: Self-Guided Tours of Europe's Top Museums when visiting the Tate, Prado, Louvre, Rijksmuseum, etc. It was wonderful - short, meaninful explanation of the top 10-20 museum "highlights" and clear maps on how exactly to get them. (Take a left at the Venus de Milo and go straight past the Mona Lisa...) We could hit two museums in a day and feel we got our money worth. I'm not really a total barbarian, it's just that about 3 hours standing on marble floors, even in good shoes, is all I can take.

One sign of hope for cultural overload is that a college professor and his students are creating "alternative" visitors guides to art museums that can be downloaded to MP3 players  through a project called Art Mobs. Right now the group is working on a guide for the MOMA in NYC. I hope they expand their efforts to other very large collections of stuff - including the Smithsonian museums. And hopefully they'll take the Rick Steves' approach - ferret out the best 10% of collections for those of use who can't stand to stand or have a limited time to spend gazing in awe.

Say, wouldn't  that make a great project for students who might provide a guide to one's county museum?

Back in the trenches after a month of what seems like constant travel. Educational blogging to follow. 



The World Continues to Flatten

Damn, it’s tough to be so prescient sometimes. Especially when it makes one feel like a Cassandra, predicting gloom and doom. And it’s even worse to have one’s predictions seem to come about when encountering something quite wonderful.

In the the Letter from the Flat World Library Corporation (October 7), I suggested online 24/7 library reference service would be a part of a total “outsourced” library solution to schools.

Guess what? Maryland’s AskUsNow is already offering this service to its state’s students. It looks like a fantastic project and great resource for students and I applaud Marylanders for it’s conception and execution.

I just hope that the Maryland librarians who provide this service aren’t outsourced!

Oh, others have asked where the ideas for the Letter from the Flat World Library Corporation came from. Here are a few of the gathering clouds:

  • All the stuff in Thomas Friedman’s book, of course.
  • Businesses and law firms outsourcing their library services to places like the James J Hill Reference Library.
  • Vendors creating large content packages, all electronic, tied directly to state standards.
  • Schools going “textbook free” in conjunction with laptop projects.
Again, we as a profession need to be prepared when the real letter lands on the sup’s desk. How does one justify one’s existence in a flat world? We’d better be putting our heads together on this one.



Qualities to Look for in a New Librarian

As I quietly shuffle toward geezerdom, I find that many people mistakenly correlate age with wisdom. Especially library school students who are asked to “interview an expert” and contact me. Thankfully I don’t learn the grade they get on these assignments.

Anyway, one such student contacted me this week and asked a question that was intriguing: What do you look for (skills, experience, etc.) in the people you recommend for hiring?

I do help hire media specialists and it is about the most nerve-wracking thing I do. Given tenure laws, when you hire somebody in the public schools, you’d better figure your relationship with this person has a better chance of being a very long one that of most marriages.

Our district’s hired about a dozen new library media specialists over the past 15 years and all have been happy choices, thank goodness. This is what I look for, in this order:

1. Great people skills. My librarians need to be people who are approachable, great communicators, and exude personal warmth. If these qualities aren’t there, it’s a no go. We’ve passed over a lot of people who look very, very good on paper, but come across as controlling or cold in interviews. People I wouldn’t want to work with.

2. Self-starting. I look for people who have initiated and carried out projects beyond the classroom. It doesn’t have to be school related, but if a person can’t describe a cool project of which s/he is proud, s/he won’t get my vote. The other part of this is passion – the person has to have a passion for something! Books, computers, whatever, but h/she’d have to convey an excitement about some aspect of the open position. I always say the secret to being a successful supervisor is to hire people who don’t need to be supervised.

3. Successful teaching experience. These candidates have “cred” with teachers and empathy for teachers. I don’t really care if a person can catalog a book, but if s/he can’t teach a child or teacher, I don’t need’m in my libraries.

4. Willingness to learn. One doesn’t have to be the computer guru or even have a library degree (but one will need to get one quickly) to get hired by our district. What a person does need is to demonstrate s/he is willing to learn and keep learning. I always ask, “What is the last thing you learned and how did you learn it?” If people struggle for an answer, I keep looking for some one who can.

5. Record of past successes. Don’t just tell me you’ve been a librarian or teacher, but you better be able to describe a lot of cool things you did in that position. (Have a portfolio with lots of pictures of you working with Happy, Productive Library-Using Kids.) I am looking for OUTSTANDING people, not just competent ones.

How’s that? I can teach people all the technical/library skills they need to know, but I can’t teach them how to be great people. And I like great people – they make ME look good :-)

What do you look for in a new librarian when you serve on the hiring committee?

PS. The technology worked just fine at this morning’s MEMO keynote. Thanks for asking.