James Larue, director of the Douglas County Libraries in Castle Rock, Colorado, offers a most reasoned and intelligent response to a patron’s call to censor a children’s book called “Uncle Bobby’s Wedding:”
Ultimately, [labeling a book for "parental guidance"] make up a governmental determination of the moral value of the story. It seems to me…that that kind of decision is up to the parents, not the library. Because here’s the truth of the matter: not every parent has the same value system.
You feel that a book about gay marriage is inappropriate for young children. But another book in our collection, “Daddy’s Roommate,” was requested by a mother whose husband left her, and their young son, for another man. She was looking for a way to begin talking about this with son. Another book, “Alfie’s Home,” was purchased at the request of another mother looking for a way to talk about the suspected homosexuality of her young son from a Christian perspective. There are gay parents in Douglas County, right now, who also pay taxes, and also look for materials to support their views. We don’t have very many books on this topic, but we do have a handful.
In short, most of the books we have are designed not to interfere with parents’ notions of how to raise their children, but to support them. But not every parent is looking for the same thing.
Library collections don’t imply endorsement; they imply access to the many different ideas of our culture, which is precisely our purpose in public life.
“Professor X” of the Atlantic Monthly goes there.
America, ever-idealistic, seems wary of the vocational-education track. We are not comfortable limiting anyone’s options. Telling someone that college is not for him seems harsh and classist and British, as though we were sentencing him to a life in the coal mines. I sympathize with this stance; I subscribe to the American ideal. Unfortunately, it is with me and my red pen that that ideal crashes and burns.
For I, who teach these low-level, must-pass, no-multiple-choice-test classes, am the one who ultimately delivers the news to those unfit for college: that they lack the most-basic skills and have no sense of the volume of work required; that they are in some cases barely literate; that they are so bereft of schemata, so dispossessed of contexts in which to place newly acquired knowledge, that every bit of information simply raises more questions. They are not ready for high school, some of them, much less for college.
My mom doesn’t like libraries. When I was a kid, she said their books were dirty. It was kind of titillating, imagining shelf after shelf of salacious material, but what she really meant was that the books were physically filthy. “Don’t put that near your face,” she’d say, smacking a battered Nancy Drew out of my hand, “You don’t know where it’s been!” (While it didn’t seem likely that “The Mystery at Lilac Inn” had last been checked out by a leper who had used the corners to scratch his open sores, mom wasn’t taking any chances.)
Twenty years later I am a librarian, and because she is a loving and supportive mom, she has unbent a little toward libraries. Therefore, I was surprised when the old animosity flared up. “Why don’t the librarians just go get me the book I want?” she asked, “Why do they try to teach me how to do it every time? It’s so complicated!” Having answered this question before in the classroom, I knew that any answer would have to make sense within the parameters of what she already knew, so I likened the library to the grocery store. You can’t walk into the grocery store and just hand someone your list. The grocer organizes items so that they are easily accessible, but then it’s up to the shoppers to find what they want. (It seemed counterproductive to mention that some libraries have closed stacks.)
Mom grudgingly accepted librarian-as-grocer, but I suddenly understood her frustration, and the frustration of patrons like her, more clearly than I ever had before. Americans worship technology. Even if they don’t know exactly how it’s done, our patrons know that ebooks, music, photos, and video are all available at the touch of a button. My mother just figured out how to work her DVD player, yet she knows with absolute certainty that the answers to all her questions are easily available online. (All she has to do is ask me to go find them.)
Thus, to the tech-savvy patron, it seems suspiciously labor-intensive to come into an information literacy session and spend half the time learning to decipher the circa-1897 Library of Congress classification system. The undergrad who uses del.icio.us to organize her collection of laughing baby clips might well ask why we still use such a complicated system. The librarian tries to explain that it allows us to make large amounts of information accessible by grouping like subjects. However, this argument sounds more and more ridiculous to patrons who regularly use Google to search even greater quantities of information, with the added bonus that they don’t have to remember the decimal system to access it.
There must be a better way, but to quote Twain, my gift in the way of invention is not a rich endowment. I will never invent a better system than LC, but is there a better way to teach patrons how to use it? Think about it. I’ll be over here disinfecting the books.
“I think a pillow should be the symbol of peace, not the dove. The pillow has more feathers than the dove, and it doesn’t have that dangerous beak.”
“Whenever someone asks me to define love, I usually think for a minute, then I spin around and pin the guy’s arm behind his back. NOW who’s asking the questions?”
“If you think a weakness can be turned into a strength, I hate to tell you this, but that’s another weakness.”
“If you ever fall off the Sears Tower, just go real limp, because maybe you’ll look like a dummy and people will try to catch you because, hey, free dummy.”
“It’s interesting to think that my ancestors used to live in the trees, like apes, until finally they got the nerve to head out onto the plains, where some were probably hit by cars.”
“I think somebody should come up with a way to breed a very large shrimp. That way, you could ride him, then after you camped at night, you could eat him. How about it, science?”
“I hope they never find out that lightning has a lot of vitamins in it, because do you hide from it or not?”
Have you seen this great series of how-to videos on YouTube? Topics covered by the In Plain English series include RSS feeds, social bookmarking, Twitter, wikis, blogs, online photo sharing and, um, zombies. If you’ve ever felt adrift in the sea of Web 2.0 applications, I recommend this fun, irreverent, and addicting series.
I’m in a two-part interactive session called From Learning Objectives to Multi-Media Tutorials: the building blocks of tutorial creation. In the first part, we did a “needs assessment” in which we expressed the purpose of the video as a response to a need in a specific group.
Here is my need: Reference room users need to observe proper library behavior.
We also did an audience analysis in which we defined the audience more narrowly.
My audience: All library users; students, faculty, staff, and the public. (I’m apparently bad at audience analysis.)
Finally, we spelled out our objectives, i.e. what the audience is to be able to do, know, or believe in a measurable way.
My objective: After viewing this video, users will know that the reference room computers are reserved for patrons doing research.
I call my script “Reference Room Enforcer.” I figure I’d need 2, maybe 3 million dollars and the participation of Steven Spielberg:
A student enters the reference room and sits down at a computer. She sits down next to a friend. They greet each other.
STUDENT #1: I have so much to do! I have a test in anatomy, my history presentation is next week, and I have to do research for my communications class.
STUDENT #2: What are you doing now?
STUDENT #1: Playing Virtual Twister on Facebook.
She begins typing: www.facebook.com
Somewhere in the reference stacks, we see a LIBRARIAN. He is shelving a book, but he looks up sharply as the student goes to Facebook.
LIBRARIAN: (contemptuously) Facebook!
To heroic music and comic book-style interlude, the librarian dashes to the student. It seems like he is about to smite her, but when he arrives in dramatic fashion, he is actually very polite:
LIBRARIAN: Excuse me. The reference room computers are reserved for patrons doing research. If you want to use Facebook, you can use the 4th floor student computer center. All you need is your YSU student ID with your library barcode.
He holds up ID with barcode.
STUDENT: Where do I get a barcode?
LIBRARIAN: If you present your student ID to the staff at the circulation desk, they’ll issue you a barcode. The barcode remains active as long as you’re a student.
STUDENT: Thanks! That’s good to know. I’ll go upstairs and check Facebook later. What I really need is research for my communications class project.
LIBRARIAN: That’s great. Do you need any help?
STUDENT: Actually, yes. I’ve heard about the Ebsco databases, but how do I use them?
LIBRARIAN: For many topics in communication, I would use the database Communications and Mass Media Complete. Here, I’ll show you!
I was going to do blog posts for each of the sessions, but some have been richer than others and frankly there’s not been a lot of time between sessions to blog, so I’ll concentrate on the one that really inspired me.
The first session was Research 2.0: Research blogs as windows of opportunity. Presenters Olivia Reinauer (librarian) and Terry Dolson (faculty) of the University of Richmond discussed their collaboration on a class research blog. This was a great session; it gave me a lot of ideas for new projects and it made me wonder how this technology could help work already in progress, such as Alyssa’s collaboration with Dr. Smith.
Each student in the writing course set up his or her own blog using iblog. Using RSS feeds, each student and the two instructors could see everyone’s blog updates. Throughout the class, the students would use the blog to talk about their perceptions, problems, and experiences, as well as comment on other people’s blogs.
What the instructors found was that students had many misconceptions about the research process. For example, students perceive research as solitary, i.e. unless it’s a “group project”, collaboration is cheating! Students perceive Google Scholar as completely comprehensive–they used JSTOR and ERIC because those come up frequently on GS. They didn’t understand that when the articles came up full-text, that was because their library paid for access.
I was not familiar with the name, but the presenters mentioned Carol Kuhlthau, who has apparently done extensive research on the information search process, which can be adapted to the process of blogging. One of the things the presenters mentioned was how often students described the research process in emotional terms: uncertainty, despair, hope, elation, frustration.
The presenters were effusive about the benefits of research blogging:
– Blogs provided “zones of intervention” which allowed them to recognize “research walls” and help the students overcome those obstacles in real-time.
– The blog allowed instructors to give advice and encouragement in real-time.
– Blogging helps students confront fear of technology.
– Blogging allows instructors to reach each student individually at their skill level.
When working with a faculty member, remind them that the students will need prompts and encouragement to get started. Terry learned to require a certain number of posts early on so students become accustomed to the technology and see the value of comments from other students, librarian, and instructor.
It is a major time commitment. Reading and responding to blogs takes time and the more feedback you give, the more you get. However, RSS feeds make it much easier to keep up, and unlike face to face instruction, it is something you can do at the reference desk and at home. It probably wouldn’t work with more than one class per semester.
This is a really intriguing idea, and with some fine-tuning, I’d love to try it with one of my contacts in the English department. I think this is a good example of the “different pedagogies” Paul was talking about.