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EdTech Update





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.


The Paranoid Presenter

Heading off this afternoon to give a keynote and a couple sessions at the Maryland Educational Media Organization (the other MEMO) tomorrow in Baltimore. I’m looking forward to seeing my friend Jay Bansbach and other fine Marylanders.

Even though I’ve done presentations for about 150 associations, school districts and other organizations over the past few years, I still get anxious. Have I prepared well enough? Did we choose the right talks for this audience? Did I bring enough clean underwear and socks? Details, details.

Anyone who uses technology as a part of his presentation also worries – will the technology work? And the more one works with technology, the more concern one has and the more heartfelt the prayers become. Computers not only sense fear, but nervousness as well. Trust me on this - the time a computer takes to reboot lengthens in direct proportion to the number of people waiting for it to reboot.

I always wonder when the “technology expert” speaking can’t actually get the technology to work. It's like going to a doctor who is overweight and smokes. Is there a credibility problem here? Duh.

So here is my paranoid presenters checklist I go through before I hit the road. If you find yourself going someplace to give a talk using PowerPoint or something like it, perhaps the suggestions might be useful.

1. Is my computer actually in the bag?
2. Are the right power cord, video dongle, and remote control in the bag?
3. Are the PowerPoint slides backed up to a flash drive? (In case the computer breaks or goes missing.)
4. Are the slides on an ftp site I can access? (In case the flash drive breaks or goes missing.)
5. Are the slides printed out? (In case the technology gods abandon you completely.)
6. Did I wear shoes that will allow me to run as fast as possible if all else goes wrong? (In case you can't find your printouts.)

As you can tell, when it comes to tech, I am a belt and suspenders sort of guy.

I have had to cancel one talk. Just one. At conference in Missouri the after lunch general session was being held in a banquet hall that I believe was a converted parking garage – low ceilings, lots of pillars, and no windows. The electricity went out. Blackness ensued. Glow sticks were passed around. My talk could neither be seen nor heard, let alone supplemented with the projector. Session cancelled by the sponsors. Act of God.

But most things are to a large degree under one's control. Here are some must-do’s for the traveling speaker.

1. Have backup plans (see above).
2. Use generic fonts in your slides in case you must use another computer.
3. Always get to the room at least a half hour early to check out the equipment.
4. Know your own equipment. (How do you turn video mirroring off and on? Use the remote?)
5. Never, never, never depend on the Internet. Have cached pages or screen shots just in case.
6. Don’t take the last flight out.

Oh, and pack an extra pair of socks and undies. You just never know.

Do have some tips about minimizing the likelihood of technology snafus?