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Saturday
Nov122005

The Jane Goodall of the Library

Review of Frances Jacobson Harris’s book I Found It on the Internet: Coming of Age Online. ALA, 2005.

Our professional literature is replete with how-to manuals for teaching with technology and running technology-based libraries. But we still must come to terms with the way kids perceive the world, a result of growing up with digital technology. They experience a ubiquitous connectedness that was impossible to imagine even ten years ago. By listening to teens and learning from their native perspectives, we stand a much better chance of harnessing the power of technology in ways that enhance core library services and systems. - Frances Harris
With the powers of observation of Diane Fossey and jane Goodall’s ability to inspire trust in the observed, Frances Harris describes in compelling detail, the habits, activity and culture of teenagers in their digital environment. Ostensibly written for librarians, the real audience for this book is any adult who works with teens or who makes policies related to their use of technology. It’s one of but a handful of books that will make my “must read” list this year.

Harris uses both numerous research studies and her own personal experience as a high school librarian to examine how and why teens use libraries and how technology is changing information access. A short primer of communication technologies is given with examples of the unique student uses that meet academic, social and developmental needs. (After reading this, I am convinced teens and adults blog pretty much for the same reasons, as much as we old people hate to admit it.) Harris examines the dark side of the force: the misuses, problems, and threats technology use entails. A last short section called “Next Steps,” outlines practical means for creating libraries teens will find relevant.

And it is all written in a personal, readable and often humorous voice. (I brought it on the airplane to help me fall asleep. Didn’t work. Dammit.)

Folks, libraries are the bell-weather of schools. What’s happening in libraries today will happen in your classroom tomorrow. If you want to stay relevant in kids’ lives, not just as a librarian, but as a teachers, parents, and policy makers, find and read I Found It on the Internet. You know who ask if you need help.

Quotable quotes from the book (stuff I wish I had said):
“Libraries become places to look for information other people want you to find, not for information that your yourself find intrinsically compelling or valuable.”

‘We are not facing an either-the-library-or-the-Internet dichotomy, a future in which the choices either belong to the Luddites or the technonerds. The Internet is now in the library and the library is in the Internet.”

‘In the act of contributing their own content, [teen’s] comprehension of the nature of other online content deepens.”

“I tire of two-camp dichotomy – the split between those who condemn ICTs outright and those who regard them as the great modern panacea. Such positions are neither helpful nor illuminating. Technology makes communications and other aspects of modern life different. Yes, some things are better and, yes, some things are worse, but mostly things are different.”

“From the teenage perspective, the Internet is a gateway to independence. From the parental perspective, the Internet is a morass of unknowns over which they have no control.”

“The Internet is a great public square. The values that inspired its creation do not discriminate among belief systems.”

“… it is relatively easy to find information on policies and acceptable use documents, on computer security and effective system administration, on filtering software issues, and on school discipline. My main interest lies in integrating the pedagogical approach, in learning how to give students the tools they need to make more thoughtful choices and to achieve a deeper understanding of the issues. Because teens use ICTs away from school, in unsupervised, unregulated environments, they need to learn to be their own filters, their own barometers of acceptable and intelligent use of the tools.”

“High standards of staff behavior are easy to mandate, but tricky to realize.”

“Today, librarians have the power to make the merger of information and communication technologies work for people in ways that are humane and enriching. Teenagers are our partners in this endeavor. They are the innovators whose imaginations we must value.”

Disclaimers:
  1. Francie is a friend and colleague. But the book is still that good.
  2. My own work is cited. But the book is still that good.
  3. Any errors in the quotes are my typos. They are not in the book.

 

Friday
Nov112005

Leaving on a jet plane

When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable. Clifton Fadiman

My flight to Singapore leaves about noon today. I’m heading to give two short presentations at the National Library Board’s Celebrating Knowledge conference. I’m excited.

I have to admit, that I am not a good airline traveler, despite my NWA Frequent Flyer account saying I’ve accumulated 843,575 miles since my enrollment in 1997. Boys and girls, that is a whole lot of stale peanuts. Of course being 6’ 3” tall getting on the plane and being 5’ 10” when I get off the plane doesn’t help.

Conference participation for me has always been as much or more about my own learning than my teaching others. I can’t remember a single event, whether in the district next door or across the world, in which at least one discussion during a session, in a hallway or at a social event has not informed by professional practice. Bless those souls who are willing to share their ideas and experiences with me. I am slow learner, but I am a learner.

I love foreign travel. For me, it is always first a study in differences that then turns into an appreciation of similarities. Wow, strange clothing, strange plants, strange speech, strange food, strange beliefs. But soon, one quickly realizes that humans all share many common concerns and values. I’ve yet to travel to a place where people do not love their children and place a high value on education. I’ve yet to meet people who are not proud of their culture and accomplishments. Technology is impacting lives though out the world. Governments never seem to be doing as much good as they could do for all their citizens. Nobody likes the current US administration. Everybody thinks his own taxes are too high. You can always find a souvenir shop and an Internet cafe.

I’ll try to relay the good stuff I learn at the conference without boring you with a travelogue.

Gotta go make sure a cat isn’t shut in a closet before I leave the house…

Friday
Nov112005

Are you contributing to the general discussion?

A while back, Will Richardson on Webblogg-ed quoted Alan Levin as saying "So how much commenting are you doing [on others blogs]? If you feel you are not getting enough comments [on your blog], are you giving?"

I'm neither satisfied nor disatisfied with number of comments coming to the Blue Skunk (I enjoy the ones that come in, but don't worry about it when they don't). But I have been thinking about Levin's statement in relationship to a unique characteristic of blogging - that it can be more dialog than sermon.

Lately, I've been trying to hold up my end of the conversation by being more diligent about taking the time to comment and react to the ideas of other bloggers.

Should we all have sort of a mental ledger going with our own blog entries in one column and our external posting in another?