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A Conversation “Casting” Light on a Perception of Librarians

May 5, 2010 1 comment

What do arm casts and librarians have in common? Not much (except maybe an incident involving a bad day and an uncooperative library computer, but that’s another story…). I do know of at least one obscure story that brings the two together. I know because I was personally involved.

One of my tween daughters broke her wrist this past weekend, and now she is sporting one of those colorful casts. Yesterday evening the two of us were in the car on our way to run an errand. I decided I would ask her if I could sign her cast. What follows is our conversation which began with an arm cast and ended up with an insightful perception of librarians.

DAD: Hey, can I sign your cast?

DAUGHTER: Um…OK.

DAD: Can I sign it as “The Librarian Dad”?

DAUGHTER: Uhhh…how about just “The Librarian”?

DAD: That’d be good, too. It’s like Noah Wyle’s character in the “Librarian” movies…[pause]…which is actually what I do anyway when I go to work.”

DAUGHTER: What?

DAD: Yeah, the library is just a front. I actually go into my office every day and disappear through a secret door to go out on adventurous missions all over the world. I can’t really tell you any more than that.

DAUGHTER: [rolls eyes] Well, you go all over the world…but with the internet.

DAD: [Inwardly taken aback and pausing to reflect on the perceptiveness of his daughter’s statement, yet continuing the fantasy conversation] For real. My job is to go out and save the world every day.

DAUGHTER: I know it is, but you do that in the library. You save the world by teaching students how to use information. Then they get smarter and go out and use that in the world.

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I realized then that my eleven-year-old daughter has a fairly keen perception of what I do as a librarian. Oddly enough, I owe that realization to an arm cast. I’m really going to enjoy signing “The Librarian” when I get home from saving the world today.

(By the way, my daughter’s doing fine. The fracture is not too bad, and she’ll have the cast off in time for the summer.)

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Categories: Family, Libraries

Middle School Observations: Part 4

March 6, 2010 1 comment

This is the final in a series of posts about my experiences during an open house event last month. The open house was for incoming 6th graders and their parents at the middle school where my daughters will be attending next year. In the original post, I introduced 3 observations from that event:

1. The open house was engaging.

2. An understanding of information literacy was present.

And finally…

3.  The media specialist (a.k.a. librarian) was golden!

I love the outdoors, and I frequently get “lost” in my surroundings on a trail, in a forest, or on a mountain rock outcrop overlooking a valley. I could say the same thing about libraries. I love them, and I frequently get “lost” in them. I was very impressed with the middle school library. The entire facility is only three years old, so there is still an attractive newness to the place. Aside from that the library is well-equipped with print resources, technology, and inviting user space. But I was most impressed with the library’s keeper–the media specialist. As a librarian myself, it was invigorating to be an observer of the magic of librarianship that she personified. Her enthusiasm for reading and “research” was evident and contagious. She focused her attention squarely on the children (i.e. her future library users). She drew them into the “orientation” of the library (more engagement). She explained how she works not only in the library but goes out into the classrooms each week to work with the students on their turf (the embedded librarian). She was very clear in the fact that, above all, she is there to help.

I hate to admit it, but there are days that I don’t feel like being a librarian or placing my focus on helping others with their information needs. During such times in the future, I hope I can draw on a vivid memory of how a middle school media specialist offered me a motivational speech on librarianship without even realizing it.

As the media specialist was wrapping up her time with our group, she said to the kids–her future library users [paraphrasing here], “I’m looking forward to seeing you on campus next year. If you ever need help with anything–and not just library stuff–come see me.” Later in the evening I overheard a child talking to her parent. I could tell that she was talking about the visit to the library. She said [exact quote], “I liked her. I’ve never heard a librarian offer to help me with things out of the library.

I reflected on that for quite a while.

In that 11-year-old’s mind, that media specialist is golden.

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Middle School Observations: Part 3

March 3, 2010 Comments off

This is my second follow-up to an original post on my family’s middle school open house adventure and what I gleaned from the experience. In my first follow-up post I talked about how the open house was engaging. And now, my second key observation:

An understanding of information literacy was present.

At one point we were learning about the structure and progression of the 6th-grade history curriculum. One of the described research projects specifically involves the use of websites for information gathering. It was during the explanation of this project that one of the history teachers chimed in with a telling statement. She said, “A big part of this project is to instruct and challenge students to evaluate what they are using from the Internet. Where did it come from? Is it the best information to use?” As an educator and a librarian, I can’t tell you how gratifying it was to hear that coming from someone who will be working with my daughters.

I see students struggle with information literacy on a regular basis. Most of those students are tech savvy. They can manipulate technology, multi-task like there is no tomorrow, and surf the web like a professional athlete. But being tech savvy is not the same as being information literate. ACRL’s Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education–borrowing from the Final Report of the ALA Presidential Committee on Information Literacy–defines information literacy as “a set of abilities requiring individuals to ‘recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information’.” Finding information is one thing. Having the ability to decide what is the best information to use and using it effectively are altogether different. The earlier and more often we can instruct our students and our children on how to approach, assess, and assimilate the information that they are surrounded by each day, the better equipped they will be to engage their world.

Kudos to the elementary, middle, and high school teachers and parents (and college faculty) who understand this, are in a position to make a difference, and take on the challenge. Soldier on.

Watch for one final posting which will wrap up this series about my observations from a middle school open house.

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Middle School Observations: Part 2

March 2, 2010 Comments off

Last week I wrote about my middle school open house experience as a parent of two rising sixth graders next year. In that post, I identified three observations from the evening that impressed me. Here I would like to elaborate on the first of those three observations:

middleschoolThe open house was engaging.

If I had to describe the experience with one word, that would be it. This was not your run-of-the-mill “sit down and let me tell you about…” type of event. Yes, there were times of lecture-like conveyance of information, but that was in no way the star of the show. We–as future middle school students and parents–were given an active role in the event. We moved around the building in small groups, visiting targeted areas of the school (classrooms, labs, the library, etc.). We were encouraged to (and did) engage with conversation, hands-on experience, observations, and questions. A couple of the classroom visits were presented as mock class sessions with our children encouraged to participate in an activity (using the smart board, responding to questions). A computer lab visit had our children sitting in front of the computers experimenting with a learning application designed  by and for current students at the school. In the library, we explored the space and handled the collections. It was, well, engaging.

The experience made me think about orientation sessions at my library. It is easy to draw similarities between an open house and an orientation session. They are both designed to introduce something. And there is an understanding that the attendees are unfamiliar with what is being introduced. Like most of today’s college and university libraries, we use orientation sessions to introduce our library to a freshman class made up largely of eighteen-year-old individuals (1) who are in a foreign land in a college library and (2) for whom engagement is now the status quo–in entertainment, in learning, and so on.

I have been on the giving side of orientation/open house events many times over. I must say, it was refreshing and informative to be on the receiving end. That is, I found value in participating in the experience from the viewpoint of an attendee as opposed to a presenter. From where I sat last week, engagement was good. I am convinced that it helped me to retain much more of the experience than I would have by sitting in an auditorium for two hours listening to someone at a lectern clicking through PowerPoint slides.

How much engagement am I incorporating into orientations that I oversee or present? What am I doing to draw new library users into the experience as I seek to introduce them to what our library has to offer? I ask myself these questions, and I see room for improvement.

What about you? Are you involved in orientation/open house presentations? If so, do you provide opportunities for those in attendance to engage with you? I would love to hear the kinds of things that you are doing.

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Middle School Observations

February 25, 2010 Comments off

middleschoolThis past Tuesday evening my wife, twin daughters, and I loaded into the family minivan (ok, so I’m one of those guys) to attend a middle school open house for upcoming 6th graders and their parents. Yes, next year our girls will be entering 6th grade and the middle school experience. [pausing to reflect on that sentence] I was still in denial as we pulled into the parking lot. My denial, however, was quickly overpowered by the reality of it all as we walked through the door and into the building’s central commons area. Once inside we were immediately greeted by a thunderous human corridor of middle school cheerleaders. They were cheering our entrance. How cool is that! Beyond that “hall of school spirit” were the other open house attendees–whom I am sure experienced a similar welcome–waiting for the event to begin. That’s when it hit me, and I gave in to the fact that soon we will not be in Kansas anymore.

The open house was a great experience, and I left with some valuable information and insights. I would like to highlight, however, three things that most prominently stood out for me. So, my top three “take aways” were:

  1. The open house was engaging. — We did more than sit and listen. We participated.
  2. An understanding of information literacy was present. — This is particularly important in today’s digital, information-soaked age.
  3. The media specialist (a.k.a. librarian) was golden! — What can I say? I am a librarian, and I was in my wheelhouse during this part of the evening.

For now I wish to simply introduce these observations. I plan to share further thoughts about them in three subsequent posts because each one deserves its own space. Suffice it to say for now that these middle school observations caused me to draw correlations and reflect on my daily work at a college campus and on my profession as a whole. Watch for more to come.

So to wrap-up the story of our middle school open house experience…

As we climbed back into the minivan and pulled away, the girls were talking a mile a minute, mama was intelligently dissecting the evening’s events, and daddy was repeating over and over in his head, “Sixth grade? Really? When did that happen?” Seriously though, I wasn’t lying when I said it was a great experience. There surely will be challenges ahead, but seeing how the faculty and staff at that middle school were intentionally engaging the children, there is also real promise and the curious excitement of a new adventure. Shoot, they had me ready to sign up for middle school!

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