School Librarians Are Heroes

Since October, I have been working with a group of school librarians from the Rochester, NY area. I created and taught a Five Weeks type course for them called Library 2.0 Leadership Institute. The idea was the brainchild of Chris Harris who is, in my opinion, doing more for school libraries right now then anyone else. He designed a collaborative catalog and web page system for schools in his area, from scratch, with a team of two. The program is called Fish4Info and I think it looks fabulous, but that review is for another time.

This experience has led me to realize that, of all the librarians in the United States, school librarians get the shortest, saddest, under-appreciated end of the stick. They have more hurdles to overcome than any of us. No one has room to complain compared to them.

The thing that shocked me the most was their lack of access to technology. These wonderful people we were expecting to teach our children about information can not even access the information themselves. The system is broken almost beyond repair.

I am not talking about individual website blocking, which is bad, but platform blocking as well. Google Docs. Pbwiki. Any wiki for that matter. Blogger. WordPress. What are these districts afraid of? Collaboration? Scary! People talking and such!

I asked some of the participants in the institute what the process was for getting a website unblocked. Most of them are from smaller districts and their answers varied, but more than a few of them had an answer that floored me. They have to send a formal request for each site they want unblocked to the Superintendent of their district. You did not read that wrong. The Superintendent of the entire district has to approve the unblocking of each individual website that a librarian, not a student, wants to look at and use. This would be the equivalent of me submitting a written request to the President of my University for permission to look at Wikipedia.

After a few choice words, I asked them how this made them feel. They said like “children.” These districts have no respect for their librarians and teachers as smart individuals teaching the future of our country. They might as well require that they ask to go to the bathroom. Do these districts think that this treatment will empower and instill trust with their staff? I wonder how many of the people making decisions about what is a “safe” website even know what half of the websites are that they are blocking. The most common reason for blocking a website, according to the librarians, was because it might contain porn. Porn. What a lame excuse to block Google Docs. It does not even make sense.

At the end of the 6 week program, each librarian was to come up with a proposal to use one of the 2.0 tools at their school. For many of them, their decision was based not on what would work best for their students or teachers, but what was not blocked by their filtering system. That is no way to make technology decisions. It is irresponsible on the part of the administrators to force their teachers and librarians into this position and only encourages bad or no technology use in our schools. This situation benefits no one, except perhaps companies selling filtering software.

On the bright side, they came up with some really great and unique ideas despite their limitations. The projects ranged from class projects to useful information for teachers. Even though some of them had ridiculous odds stacked against them for learning, they persevered. I think that any school librarian that perseveres and continues to search for new technology avenues for their students and teachers despite idiotic PTBs and rules is a hero.

It was fun to be a part of another project where people are in charge of their own learning. It is amazing the extra lengths that are taken when people are empowered by the process instead of hindered by it.

Chris hopes to replicate the institute and have the librarians who have already completed it be the mentors and teachers. Hopefully, with some lessons learned and some great new leaders, this program will be something that will help many more librarians in the Rochester area.

–Jane, is proud of the librarians in the program

School Libraries Doing Cool Web 2.0 Stuff

I am working on a big project for some school librarians. It is a learning program, like Five Weeks, that will go through a set of Web 2.0 tools and concepts. I want to, as much as possible, use school library examples in the program. I have a few, but I would love some more.

If you know of a school library doing some fun, useful, or different things with Web/Library 2.0, please leave a comment.

One of the reasons I am so excited about this program, more on the program later, is that I think school librarians often get left out of the technology loop. Many of the reasons for this have nothing to do with the librarian and everything to do with the type of environment in which they operate. We ask that these wonderful people teach our students about good information literacy in an environment in which most of the information a student would normally have access to (in the real world) is blocked and filtered. How can our students make good choices when they are given nothing from which to choose between?

It makes information literacy a whole different concept in this kind of environment.

So, please, if you have some good examples, share them with us so we can celebrate school librarians swimming against the stream.

–Jane, thinking about information literacy in the real world v. the reality of our schools and public libraries (with filters)

It’s Friday World

As Meredith said, yesterday’s post was a downer in a lot of ways, but I still love what I do. I just had to commit those feelings to “paper” and get them off my brain. I feel better and I hope you all do as well.

A couple people have asked, “How did y’all decide what do use and do during Five Weeks?” As usual, Meredith has beat us to the punch and written a fabulous post. She is way more organized then the rest of us! Those of you that have been asking about the nuts and bolts, go read the post. If Meredith left anything out, just ask us. We are happy to share. Seriously, I wonder if she ever sleeps.

Meredith calls me her “wing-man” and ours is a duo I love being a part of. I think we make a great team. She keeps me on track and I keep her from worrying about things to death. Well sorta. ;) If you want to see this dynamic duo in action, we will be doing a Five Weeks pony show at CIL. There will be real ponies!

Working with the other organizers was fun. I physically work with Karen so that was nothing new, but getting to know Dorthea, Amanda, and Ellyssa was a joy.

Today, I am going to work on the TLA preconference I am teaching called Library Instruction 2.0: Free Online Tools for Teaching With Technology. Somehow, I have to figure out a way to keep 100+ librarians engaged from 9-4 with limited internet and no computers. *sigh*

–Jane, maybe wearing costumes would help

My Reflections on Five Weeks and Librarianship

Meredith wrote a long post yesterday about her feelings regarding Five Weeks and I thought it was time I posted mine as well. Her description of how this came about is honest and her comments are all things I can say “exactly” to. It was a success because our participants felt like they learned and had a good time. That means all was well in my mind. Not perfect. There were glitches, but we dealt with them and moved on. It was great and I can not imagine building it with anyone else.

This particular post has been long in the making.

If you have been reading my blog for awhile, you read this post I wrote a little under a year ago about some thoughts I had while in ALA 2.0 Bootcamp. What started out as a good experience soured quickly and we were indeed told that it could not be done better. That is a challenge I am loathe to back down from, especially when I had started the conversation for the purpose of making things better. The challenge from Kathleen was reason one why we “sat down,” over IM, and hatched a plan. She was the impetus and for that, I am grateful to her.

Reason two involved the library profession more personally, for me. (Please brace yourself for broad generalizations.) We pay too much for things that do not work. We refuse to change, grow, and learn. We fail to see the future even when it is no longer nipping at our heels, but crushing us under its weight. These attitudes make me tired and I have only been struggling in this profession for less then 3 years. No wonder I know so many older librarians who have become malcontents. (and plenty who are not, they are what keep me smiling)

I helped build the dream that became Five Weeks because I believe that we, librarians of the world, hold the capacity to learn, change, and adapt. I believe that there are enough of us that dream big and then do, but I think we are too few. Too far apart.

It was inspiring to watch the participants learn new things and build amazing ideas and plans of their own, but it also broke my heart to hear about all the roadblocks they each face. I moderated two groups and we spent time every week in each group going over ways to deal with reluctant staff, stubborn administrations, and refusals to adapt. It was especially disheartening to hear over and over again stories of supportive management that nevertheless refused to change because of one or two vocal staff. To hear them voice the concerns that plague my own life made me want to weep for our profession. Weep for the ability of other people’s stubbornness and a culture of indecision to steal the fire that is in so many of us. Weep for all of us who struggle uphill to make things better, but mostly weep for those who hold our profession back.

I hope that all the participants bring their wonderful ideas back to their libraries and meet with resounding success. I hope this everyday for them. They worked so hard and are so full of excitement about what they could be doing for their communities.

I did not intend for this post to be so gloomy, but my feelings about Five Weeks ranged from elation and hope to despair and I think this post was reflective of that. My largest hope is that others will build their own Five Weeks projects. As Meredith stated in her post, an online learning project can be about anything. My desire is that libraries and organizations, even ALA, will see the value on building these kinds of learning portals and offering them for free. Free. of. Charge. For. Everyone.

There are some libraries doing absolutely awesome things, sometimes with little resources and a small staff. We all know who they are. These are the places that give me hope, restore my smile on days when I want to rend my clothes and pull my hair. We are watching you, oh beacons, and we hope that more people notice too.

I still love my profession, but like any love relationship, some days, I do not like you very much. Recently, I have felt all I want to give you is tough love. From the heart, but very tough.

–Jane, power to the people

An Ode to Friday

Friday, how I love thee. I am at home and looking out into a day so clear and blue it sears my eyes to look upon it. The temperature is a lovely 68 degrees.

My Five Weeks groups are keeping me on my toes. Our conversations covered everything this week from why superheroes should not wear capes to Microsoft Vista. We talked about wikis too. Many of them found wikis to be very useful, especially when pondering the creation of subject guides. This project never ceases to amaze me.

I think that people do not give themselves enough credit when discussing technology. Most of us are very smart and can learn things easily with time and practice. It is the time that is hard to find.

I am off this weekend to Dallas, home of my graduate school career and one of my best friends, who is turning thirty. There should be some great pictures and some unrepeatable stories. Have a great weekend.
–Jane, there always is

A Little Laugh

Something funny to make up for the previous post which may have caused your brain to smash itself against the walls of your office – a YouTube Star Wars video. It does contain language, but it has been beeped out.

I have two groups that I am moderating in Five Weeks. They are both eager and have a lot of ideas. During our weekly chats, it is nice to see them answering each other’s questions, brainstorming ideas, and supporting each other in their struggles to get traction in their workplaces for social software. Sometimes, I feel like I hardly have to do any moderating at all, except of course when we get off on topics like the Wonder Twins, Captain Planet, and silly YouTube videos. It is all part of the learning process.

–Jane, “What the hell is the aluminum falcon?”

Now Showing

Five Weeks to a Social Library officially kicks off today. This project started less then a year ago, over email, between friends. I am very lucky to have people like Meredith in my life. People who are not afraid to think big and then pursue it until completion.

I want people outside of the course to know when it is over that it can be done. Online training can be something that we all have access to, regardless of travel and continuing education funds.

Week One covers blogs and there should be some interesting posts flying around after the participants look at the content for the week. Stay tuned.

–Jane, everyone’s learning something new