Infomancyn.1.The field of magic related to the conjuring of information from the chaos of the universe. 2.The collection of terms, queries, and actions related to the retrieval of information from arcane sources.
Meet the Infomancer
I am Christopher Harris, leader of a School Library System in New York. From a background in elementary teaching and instructional technology, I am now a librarian working as a school administrator to support and extend the powerful work of school libraries. As an ALA Emerging Leader and LJ Mover&Shaker I have continued to push for changes and improvements for our profession. These are my personal rambling thoughts from a different perspective on libraries, and do not reflect any position of my place of employment. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The traditional written essay accompanying an application for prospective teachers and teacher-librarians is not enough. The ability for a future educator to write a coherent essay must be one of our most base expectations. What we need applicants to prove is that they can produce in other media as well.
Applications to library and education programs should require podcast or video segments. But Chris, what if our prospective students don’t know how to podcast or produce videos? Well, if you expect to turn those potential students into teachers within a few short years, hadn’t they better be coming in to the program with some ability to already teach themselves?
If you want to provide support, give them a sample podcast and video that provides meta-instruction on how to create media in those formats.
“Hello, prospective student. This podcast will teach you how to create a podcast. I am recording this using . As you will notice, I used the editing capabilities of the software to remove any pauses or stutters in my recording. Please make sure that your submitted podcast meets the same professional level…”
If we want education and school librarianship to move forward, then it is time to set new expectations for base performance.
The Dewey Decimal Classification System (DDC) is broken. I am not going to entertain any sort of conversation on this point, it is just a fact you need to accept. Accept it, and move on. One of the incontrovertible facts that clearly demonstrate the brokenness of DDC is that we have to teach DDC, and that is the focus here.
Consider for a moment a brief exchange from Apple’s recent iPhone OS4 briefing:
“Q: How do you close applications when multitasking?
A: (Scott Forstall) You don’t have to. The user just uses things and doesn’t ever have to worry about it.
A: (Steve Jobs) It’s like we said on the iPad, if you see a stylus, they blew it. In multitasking, if you see a task manager… they blew it. Users shouldn’t ever have to think about it.” [Engadget]
If we have to teach our library classification system to a student, we blew it. If our users have to think about it, we blew it. If we have to spend weeks teaching students how to use DDC we certainly blew it. DDC does not, in any way, prepare students for success in college or in a career. As such, it is something that we cannot teach any longer. Let me repeat that. We cannot – indeed must not – waste our time teaching anything that cannot be shown to have a direct impact on the preparation of students for success in college and careers.
So when (not if, when) we get rid of DDC, we are going to need a new system. So what should it look like? The basis of the new system I would suggest needs to be the basic concept of “Don’t make me think!” When I walk into a school library, especially an elementary school library where the DDC is especially developmentally inappropriate, I should immediately and instinctively understand how and why books are classified. When I want to find a book about animals, why aren’t they all located together? Under the new system, they will be.
Why not have the types of animals in alphabetical order so I can find the cat books after the bird books and before the dog books. Countries? Put them in alphabetical order also. History? Timeline order would be much more sensible here. Now I am not a classifier, so obviously I am breaking all kinds of rules and mucking things up, but I strongly believe that these ideas are solid.
Instead of a 200 year old system that doesn’t make sense, we need a new system that just works. Steve Jobs, love him or hate him, makes things that work. You don’t have to learn how to use an iPad, children just pick it up and start using it because it is an almost instinctual interface. They have hidden the things that you shouldn’t have to think about and removed the minutia that require instruction. Libraries must do the same. We must make our collections accessible, with a user experience that just works. And to do that, we must rid ourselves of the Dewey Decimal System.
Anyone who has travelled by air recently should be quite familiar with the concept of security theater; the complex set of TSA rituals designed to make us feel more safe (or at least to make the TSA feel like they are making us feel safe) while not actually addressing any of the real safety issues. Is your library guilty of this as well? How many of the library policies and procedures that we adopt are created for the actual advancement of our mission, and how many exist simply as policy theater?
The biggest problem with security theater is that often the most basic safety measures that are most susceptible to theatrics. When it is something that has always been done, the safety measure takes on a higher power. Indeed, the measure itself becomes the authority in a recursive, self-supporting loop of justification that is almost impossible to break. Consider that signs on the back of most hotel room doors advising that, for your safety, you should always use the chain lock (or bar lock). Why? Because the chain lock makes you safe. But does it?
This video, linked in a BoingBoing post, got me thinking again about how many policies in libraries are built on the same recursive logic that make locks secure because locks are secure (even if some basic searches for lockpicking will quickly erase that notion). Our policies are established on the basis of their being policy, not on the basis that they are the correct actions for us to take in carrying out our mission. Why can second graders only check out two books? Because that is how many books a second grader is allowed to check out.
Reviewing some of the library policies that pop up from a search is a bit scary. Most of the check out limits are based on a student’s grade level with no opportunity for students to earn trust and increase their check out limit (except through time served). “Because kindergartners are just learning how to take care of books and how to become responsible library users, they may check out one book at a time” states one page. Strip away the recursive self-supporting nature of this statement, and questions start to emerge. If kindergartners are being taught to be responsible library users, then why wouldn’t we provide a scaffold to support their development by providing increasing opportunities for successful borrowing of multiple items at a time? Can a kindergartner somehow show they are a responsible library user with a history of successfully checking out multiple books from the public library? No, policy theater dictates that they can check out one book until they move up to first grade. Then they will be allowed two items.
Even worse are policies that limit not only the number of materials that can be checked out, but also the type of materials and the use of the materials.
“The number of books each student may check out depends on the grade. Students in Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade may check out one book a week. If they return the book sooner, then they may check out another. In Kindergarten and 1st grade, the books will remain in the classroom until the students form the habit of returning them to the library each week. After the winter holidays, small ones may take their book home for the week…Students in 4th and 5th grade may check out 2 books a week…In order to be fair, the student may check out only one book at a time from a series or on a given topic.”
Yes, that is rhetorical. I’m not naive, I have heard many of the reasons why libraries have these policies. My point is that any excuse that doesn’t start with “to meet student needs” and end with “bringing about increased student achievement” is self-serving and needs to be removed from a list of possible reasons. I know that we are over-worked and under-staffed. I know that books get lost and damaged. I also know that library positions are being cut at a rather startling rate. If I walked in to your library to try and decide if that was a place that could be cut, would I see barriers or would I see a passionate focus on improving students?
Library policies quoted without attribution to avoid casting negativity on a particular library; my concern is with the policies, not the programs or the librarians. Mean-spirited people who want to figure out where they came from can probably do so, but I won’t be part of it.
In response to some questions about details, Follett doesn’t specifically state that their new Cognite software is designed to replace a librarian, but using my library kung fu I read between the lines.
Check out http://www.follettsoftware.com/cognite/what.cfm – that is the page with the graphic I referenced. Notice how teachers, students and parents are arrayed across the top arc with library resources underneath them. In the middle, where one might expect to find a librarian, one instead finds Cognite. Not Cognite being used by a librarian, not library resources being selected and maintained by a librarian, not materials use being explained by a librarian on Cognite….just Cognite.
Then consider some of the copy (the marketing text): “Cognite leverages your district’s investments in Destiny Library Manager, Destiny Quest®, WebPath Express™, and Standards by expanding their reach to home and classroom use.” Really? Cognite doesn’t leverage your district’s investment in a certified school librarian?
Or another statement: “Cognite puts your district’s digital resources at everyone’s fingertips, and enables teacher collaboration, giving them an easy way to exchange ideas and educational materials.” The software may facilitate teacher collaboration, but where is the school librarian with whom the teacher is supposed to be collaborating? Even though Cognite marketing is being directed towards administrators, Follett could still have included the school librarian as a critical element for the successful implementation of their software. As it stands, it feels more like they threw us under the bus in the hopes of securing more sales.
Finally, I turn not to what IS there, but rather what is NOT on the site. As a Google ninja, I know that I can do a site specific search. http://www.google.com/search?q=site:follettsoftware.com/cognite+librarian asks Google to search just the Follett Software site for Cognite for the term “librarian.” No matches. Well…okay. Maybe Follett Software hasn’t changed over in response to AASL’s adoption of the term school librarian instead of school library media specialist.
So let’s do another search: http://www.google.com/search?q=site:follettsoftware.com/cognite+media+specialist – 1 match found (click omitted to see it is the same page). One single use of “media specialist” and that is in the drop down list where you select your job title to get more information. Follett is willing to sell Cognite to media specialists, but fails to talk about how we are an integral part of the implementation, training, and use of this information seeking tool.