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Taking the long view …

Yesterday I went with my family to visit Mount Vernon. My uncle was visiting from California and, since they live near the estate, my parents wanted to take him there.  They invited me to go along knowing my odd fascination with all-things-George-Washington.  It was a beautiful day to walk the grounds and tour the mansion while imagining what life was like back in the late 1700’s.  (See it for yourself @ https://vimeo.com/68644199.) Later that evening, at a bar in old town Alexandria, we got to talking about things that have had the greatest impacts on human society since GW’s day: such as television and the internet.  As I think it over, I am stirred by a number of new thoughts.  I am thinking more about how the long view informs my attitude towards modern life (and technology). I’m sharing my musings with you, because lately I’ve fallen in love with Google software: Google Docs in particular, which is a bit frightening to me. Is it good to put all your eggs in a Google basket?

1932 Histomap of Human Civilization:

The Entire History of the World—Really, All of It—Distilled Into a Single Gorgeous Chart.

(Click to enlarge, then use <Ctrl> and <+> or<-> to zoom in or out.)

The pace of change is so sped up today, it is hard to recognize how recent and dramatic these changes are. Since George Washington’s time, we’ve undergone the industrial revolution (think steam engines), the machine age (bringing electricity, automobiles, and radio), the atomic age (adding space exploration, photography, and television), the information age (using computers everywhere), and now the big data age (where Google owns the world!).

My concern is that we humans cannot yet see what will be the impact of these rapid changes.  My uncle is one of the first generations to have grown up with a television in his home and, before we can even learn what television means to human evolution, we have nanotechnologies and biotechnologies, and petabytes, exabytes, and zettabytes of data impacting the world today.  Each of these innovations are revolutionary in their own way. Who knows what is in store for us tomorrow?

The news is abuzz with people imagining drones coming to drop packages from Amazon on specially designed helipads hanging off their apartment windows.  I wonder what’s to stop a network of super small drones from conducting surveillance operations on great swaths of humanity for governmental and/or commercial agencies?  We’ve recently learned that the government has, for all intents and purposes, burrowed a virtual wormhole into the data collected by commercial software companies so they can suck up all the information they want–just in case they might need it later.  The services I get from Google and Amazon are fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but when I say the software is free, I am failing to see the real price I am paying: I’m actually paying in privacy and freedom dollars.

As a teacher librarian, I need to educate students about the long-term implications of socializing and doing their work on the internet.  I also need to show them that the learning products users are creating online, such as class assigned PowerPoints published to the web, are freely available to others, while much of the most reliable information on a subject is locked behind a pay wall.  It is my job, as a media specialist, to help them decide what kind of future they want: perhaps greater open access to all information AND greater control over personal data — or are those things mutually exclusive?

If both television and computers can come into being in the space of my uncle’s lifetime, what might come into being in my grandchildren’s lifetimes?  We are only eight generations past George Washington.  If you measure time in lifetimes instead of 25-year generations, it only takes three and a half to get back to 1776!  In an amazing article that discusses this further, Kevin Kelly states:

“…we can imagine only 13 lives (and perhaps fewer if longevity increases), linking us and the year 3000 AD. Between you and the year 3000 AD stand only 13 lifetimes. In terms of lifetimes — which are steadily increasing due to medical progress — 10 centuries is just next door.

But in technological change terms, 10 centuries is a distant as another galaxy. Consider all the revolutions that have happened in the last century: automobile, the pill, digital communications, jets. Now times it by 10 or 100 more. Landing in the next millennial will be like landing on an alien planet.”  The Technium: 13 Generations

When we say we are equipping students to function in a 21st century world, do we have confidence we are imagining that future clearly?  My take-away from these musings is that teachers need to keep refreshing their technology skills and one of the best ways to do that is let students teach us about the latest software applications and to work together to see how to employ them effectively in the service of education.

I am lucky to have young adult children who keep me informed.  Last year my daughter encouraged me to start using Google Docs (http://docs.google.com/).  She explained that it backed up her work constantly without her having to remember to save and that it made her work more portable with its availability from any device with internet access.  She didn’t tell me how useful it and Google Presentation were going to be in my grad school coursework as I teamed up with two or three classmates at a time to plan, compose, and present formal papers and slide shows.  I think Microsoft and Apple have missed the boat in this area.  Google has given the world a tool–for free(?!)–that does much of what Microsoft and Apple charge lots of money to do and it enables me to collaborate and work anywhere, without requiring any hardware hurdles to be surmounted except one: access to the internet.

Sample of collaborative editing using Google Docs.
Sample of collaborative editing using Google Docs.

Just today, my husband had the day off and wanted to take a laptop with him while he ran errands so he could use Word to create an outline for a training manual he is writing for the hospital where he works.  Our daughter had hidden the laptop power cord somewhere so he had to take my iPad.  I showed him how to create a Google Doc that he could work on while waiting at Mr. Tire.  I assured him he could download the document to MS Word format when he got back to his own computer at home or at work.  It occurs to me now, that he ought to invite his collaborators to edit the document in Google Docs before he downloads it to MS Word for final revisions.  I predict he and his colleagues will be using this software regularly in the near future.

Another exciting feature I am only beginning to learn about is Google hangout.  This morning, I saw an eye-opening example of how it can be used in school in an archived recording of an actual hangout conducted by the awesome Joyce Valenza and attended by many other well-known librarians.  Give it a gander: 

This video got me excited to imagine how I might use it at school, and I particularly like the idea of using it as a television broadcasting program.  It was instructive hearing some details on how students didn’t have to have an account to access the broadcast, but could still interact via other means, such as Twitter.  One could conduct a class and record it, then post it online for absent students or for viewing as a refresher.  One educator is using it to conduct club meetings online at a time that works better for the members and doesn’t require transportation (unless the student doesn’t have internet access).  I do worry, though, that this type of tool further blurs the separation between work and home life.

I read somewhere that our recent change to a sedentary lifestyle is out of step with human evolution.  Our bodies can’t evolve fast enough to adapt to the loss of regular daily stresses to our muscular-skeletal structures, which are so necessary for good health. [This article addresses the increased likelihood of osteoporosis as a result: http://therunningprimate.blogspot.com/p/modern-skeletal-gracility-in.html]. This is just one more example of the unforseen consequences of rapid changes in technology.  Consider the raging debates over the merits of the Common Core Standards, PARCC tests, and teacher evaluations.  On the one hand, much of what I’ve learned about the Common Core seems educationally sound and is, frankly, quite exciting. On the other hand, for the same reasons I hesitate to use Google for everything (not wanting them to have a monopoly, for one), I hesitate to blindly embrace all the changes to education coming down the pike.  Do your own investigations to see what I mean.  Here are two places to start: first a video created by the Pearson Foundation in favor of educational reform

and second, a website making a case for mistrusting the Pearson Foundation as one in which conflicts of interest and possible corruption charges could be made:  Boycott Pearson Now | United Opt Out National: the movement to end corporate education reform

When we educators talk about preparing our students for the 21st century, one thing we must do is try to stay updated on the latest technological advances that will make students more valuable in the workplace. 21st century learners also need to embrace the rapid pace of change and learn to adapt and retool more and more frequently.  However, as critical thinkers, students also need to examine the choices they make today for their possible impacts on the future, for themselves and the grandchildren they will have someday.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_time_periods for an article on historical eras.

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What’s in a Name?

By Leslie Everitt

Navigation Central, Pilot House, Collaboration Hub? Do any of those sound like names for a library? How about Idea Store?

Thoughts–stirred up by a chain of libraries and adult learning centers called “Idea Stores” in the East End of London–have been haunting me all month. Appropriate imagery for October: the ghost of libraries future keeping me up at night.

When I heard the name “Idea Store” and saw some of the very modern buildings housing them, I was inspired to imagine a high school library with an exciting new name and a beautiful interior design to help the school community to view it in a new light. And no, “Media Center” is not the kind of name that will do the job. But what name would? And what do the names “library” or “media center” lack, exactly, that leaves me feeling so discontented?

When I think of a library, I think of the library of my youth: an organized storehouse of books, a model which is not sufficient to encompass all the roles of a modern library. But when I hear the words “media center,” they bring to my mind the image of technological equipment–computers and projectors mainly–made accessible in a central location. Media also means the medium of the message, but the strongest connotation of that word for me is a concrete one: disks, films, books, tapes, etc. At least the term “library” hearkens back to the concept of a librarian–a service provider and resource in human form, which “media center” does not.

The moniker “Idea Store” is an improvement due to its focus on what libraries and media centers can give us: ideas. Its other strength is it begs to be compared to a store in the mall with all the entertainment, excitement, and socializing that might imply, to go along with the fun of browsing for something new to take home. However, the word “store” still feels a bit archaic when one considers what the libraries of the future must and will become.

From my studies in the iSchool at UMD, it is becoming apparent to me that school libraries need to become collaboration laboratories (there’s an idea for a name), where patrons don’t passively take in ideas, but, working with others, they actually help construct and organize ideas, whether in real time and real space, or virtually and asynchronously, or some other combination. The Idea Store is a perfect name for the facilities in London in their dual roles as public library and, perhaps more importantly, community center. However, school and academic libraries are, first and foremost, about scholarship, hence the need for learning to construct knowledge.

The American Association of School Librarians puts it this way: “Learning is enhanced by opportunities to share and learn with others. Students need to develop skills in sharing knowledge and learning with others, both in face-to-face situations and through technology.” School libraries need to prepare the citizens of the country to develop “crucial skills” in multiple literacies, including “digital, visual, textual, and technological” literacy. It is the job of academic libraries to adhere to AASL standards such as teaching students how to apply “critical- thinking skills (analysis, synthesis, evaluation, organization) to information and knowledge in order to construct new understandings, draw conclusions, and create new knowledge” (AASL, 2007). Without those skills, students won’t be able to pilot themselves through an ever more complex sea of information without getting lost, wandering aimlessly, or drowning.

As a grad school student, I have experienced this first hand. My classmates and I used various technologies to co-create a presentation for class. We each researched the internet for software applications to help with teaching writing, dividing the topic and collaborating to combine our findings in a Google Docs document and slideshow. It was fun and encouraging to build the documents with simultaneous editing. I was typing in my section of the document while watching my partners words appear magically on the screen in their sections. I was able to use instant chat to make plans to meet or to ask my partner for clarity on the assignment. We were able to post comments on each other’s sections with suggestions for edits. We could also revise each other’s work, if desired.

I am learning these skills in grad school. Public school students (as early as Pre-K) are learning them in all their classes, but especially in library class or projects co-taught by librarians and classroom teachers.

Navigation Central, Pilot House, Collaboration Hub … how about Knowledge Building Center? What words can offer the literal or metaphorical captioning for a place that delivers services, objects, equipment, education, connectivity, space, community, entertainment, and so much more? I like the word “hub,” for its ability to conjure images of a place where connections are made. For that matter, I like the word “connections,” since so much of library services are connecting people with resources. Oooh, how about “Resource Hub”? “Connection Center”? “Idea Hub”?

I don’t have the perfect name yet, but I know that when I get my first school library job, I will campaign heavily to update and improve the library’s image. Why? Not because I don’t love libraries; I do. My earliest memories of the school library are of awe and delight from when I was finally deemed old enough (in third grade) to choose books for myself. I know: third grade! That’s crazy, right? I doubt libraries in the U.S. have age restrictions today, but the point is, my earliest memories of libraries are all good. Back then, I felt an almost physical sense of blossoming due to having so much choice and the freedom to indulge my interests, whatever I might discover them to be. (Maybe a good library name is “Freedom Center”?) But today, libraries are doing a job that is also being done by tons of telecommunication devices: giving people access to stories, images, and information. Libraries have competition.


The public needs to be taught the value of libraries in the face of this competition. As vast as is the store of resources on the internet or cable TV, there are a lot more resources still blocked by a payment wall. And even the very vastness of our information society is now becoming a problem for seekers of knowledge. According to the AASL,

“The continuing expansion of information demands that all individuals acquire the thinking skills that will enable them to learn on their own.
The amount of information available to our learners necessitates that each individual acquire the skills to select, evaluate, and use information appropriately and effectively” (2007).

But do information seekers even know they need help? Research has shown that researchers often overestimate their abilities to locate reliable resources. Out of necessity—due to lack of time, or underestimating the time needed, people are satisfied by the first hits they get when using search engines. This is called, in information science parlance, “satisficing.” Satisficing is

“… an information competency whereby individuals assess how much information is good enough to satisfy their information need. Scholars from different fields have drawn on the satisficing concept to reflect on the ‘contrast between choosing what is satisfactory and choosing what is best.'” (Byron, 2004, as cited in Prabha, Connaway, Olszewski, and Jenkins, 2007, p. 2)

Libraries should be the one place people can rely on for help locating reliable information or at least learn of alternatives to satisficing.

Search engine providers are fast becoming not only the arbiters of knowledge, but the gatekeepers as well. How many people still don’t have access to the internet? How many people know how Google (or any other browser) have written their algorithms to rank the sites that will rise to the top of the results page? Who died and made Google king? Oh yeah, I forgot. Libraries died.

Of course, I exaggerate. Libraries aren’t dead … yet. Libraries are more necessary than ever to provide equal access to digital assets, to pay for content that one person could not afford on her own, and to employ librarians to teach users how to find information that is buried online, and to help users judge whether that information is reliable.

That’s why I like a library name with something having the sense of providing guidance, like “navigation” or “piloting.” A library is a place where a professional helps the patron navigate the information highway, helps them ask the right questions, teaches them how to “steer” themselves, and “launches” them on the path to independence.

Exploratorium? Infolab? What is the name that would communicate to potential patrons that the library is the place to begin to master the modern universe? Aaah, I know: Superhero Hub. And wouldn’t you know it? There is such a concept:


http://www.cengagesites.com/CL/1193/librarian-superheroes/superheroes/

If you have the perfect name for the library of tomorrow, please share it in a comment below.

References

American Association of School Librarians (2007). “AASL Learning Standards.” American Library Association. Retrieved Oct. 24, 2013, from http://www.ala.org/aasl/standards.

Cengage. “Librarian superheroes.” [Cartoon image]. Retrieved October 23, 2013 from http://www.cengagesites.com/CL/1193/librarian-superheroes/superheroes/.

Confessions of a design geek (2011, July 24). “out and about :: london’s libraries.” [Photograph of an Idea Store]. Retrieved October 21, 2013, from http://confessionsofadesigngeek.com/category/out-and-about/. Read more about Idea Stores at http://www.ideastore.co.uk/en/home

Google.com. [Image on Website]. Retrieved Oct. 27, 2013, from https://www.google.com/

Prabha, C., Connaway, L. S., Olszewski, L., and Jenkins, L. R. 2007. “What is enough? Satisficing information needs.” Journal of Documentation, 63(1), 74-89. Pre-print retrieved October 27, 2013, from http://www.oclc.org/research/publications/ archive/2007/prabha-satisficing.pdf.

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