"Huge Discussion" Triage

Through my Google Reader, there is a “huge discussion” among school librarians that has been brought to my attention. (Starts here, goes here and here, and onwards to here, and a nice summary of it all here). In talking with Buffy (The Unquiet Librarian) about it, I am now going to probably stick my nose into a debate I probably shouldn't get involved in. However, I hope this offers the participants an objective third party assessment of the discussion.

I think the one thing that both sides of the argument should do is concede to two specific certain points.

First, there are school librarians who will (for whatever reason) not incorporate technology into their instruction and library environment. Their passion for books and their profession is not without merit, but it is not valid rationale in the current school library setting. It does not behoove the present educational parameters of teachers nor prepare students for their academic research future. They do their more technological colleagues no service by continuing to carry their educational Luddite ways. These librarians should take it upon themselves to find other library employment or be gently bumped from the field.

I’m sure some people will read this point as harsh and, well, it is. I’m sorry, but the people who hold this concept of school librarianship are in the wrong library field. School librarians have instructional access to students in their academic formative years, a crucial time in this information technology age, and it cannot (and should not) be wasted. It is not the unusual request of any parent that their child receive an education that prepares them for the world, including web tools and computer based research techniques. Today, such knowledge is a life skill of modern civilization.

(For those still not convinced, let me ask this same issue another way: exactly how out of date would you like the treatments and techniques of your personal health care professionals to be at any given point in time? I’m going to guess they don’t all have to be cutting edge, but there is an expectation that they at least stay current.)

Second, there are school librarians who are ready and willing to learn but have not been able. Despite the vast amount of contact points (e.g. training, online, social sites, list servs, etc.), they have not been able to connect to the resources. Call it bad luck, bad karma, bad timing, missed chances, no opportunity to take advantage, lack of funding, lack of support; it just has not happened for these individuals. There might be some incredulity to such an assertion, but there must be a willingness to accept that these individuals have been lagging behind through no fault of their own. (From Blue Skunk Blog, I know there are people who are just trying to maintain order, nevermind teaching anything. My heart goes out to them and suggest they take a page from Joe Clark.)  In order to reach these librarians, it will involve a continuously widening publicity net and the unconditioned acceptance of these 'lost sheep' librarians. Bring them in, get them going with toolkits and how-to guides, and guide them through to the 2.0 promised land.

Now that we've eliminated the top and bottom groups in this conversation, the real debate for the center begins. This middle group of librarians, in various states of acceptance of training, technology, and implementation, are truly the ones at stake in this discussion. These are the librarians where the majority effort needs to be placed; and they also raise the most important questions in the discussion. Such as:

  • What will it take to get these middle people on board?
  • What will it take to get those board to be able to train, use, and instruct 2.0?
  • Do they have the support (“the buy-in”) from administration and faculty to make it work?
  • How can I encourage them to go the next step and use [insert whatever 2.0 thing]?
  • Is there an acceptable level of 2.0 use? (In other words, what’s a reasonable amount of web tools and resources that a school librarian should be offering to students.)
  • What is a fair amount of time for school librarians to catch up? (You can’t do this forever. There has to be a cutoff point.

(This last portion of questioning is more artfully covered by Carolyn Foote’s post, but I have the sinister ‘dooms day’ question at the end.)



This is a great, insightful post. I am a school librarian, and I strive to keep ahead of the tech curve.

Content doesn't matter. Content changes.

Format doesn't matter. Formats evolve.

Information skills and strategies (both intellectual and technological) are my focus.

I connect any technology I can get my hands on and connect it with authentic real world problems. Sometimes the technology is a book; sometimes it's a web cam.

I look at it this way. The jobs that my kids are going to have in ten years haven't even been invented yet. I'm not teaching them to memorize facts; I'm teaching them to synthesize and innovate.

How do you help the befuddled librarians? Send them to a conference. Or bring the experts to them. Let them step into and tour an exemplary twenty first century school library. Advocate adequate staffing to support time for professional growth. Hold the old guard accountable for failing to get with the program.

Again, thanks for the post.


I am a current Library Student at a large University and I am doing a research paper on new technology changing the faces of libraries.

In one of my courses we talked about "core values" that libraries stand for. One of them is about access, which in today's terms is a big topic. "Access for ALL"

I think librarians need to step back sometimes and think why am I here? Most want to help people gain knowledge in some way shape or form.

"Shape and form" are the important words, information is a vast term.

Just look it up on Websters Dictionary (online) and it states the following.

1 : the communication or reception of knowledge or intelligence
2 a (1) : knowledge obtained from investigation, study, or instruction (2) : intelligence, news (3) : facts, data b : the attribute inherent in and communicated by one of two or more alternative sequences or arrangements of something (as nucleotides in DNA or binary digits in a computer program) that produce specific effects c (1) : a signal or character (as in a communication system or computer) representing data (2) : something (as a message, experimental data, or a picture) which justifies change in a construct (as a plan or theory) that represents physical or mental experience or another construct d : a quantitative measure of the content of information; specifically : a numerical quantity that measures the uncertainty in the outcome of an experiment to be performed.

Communication and instruction, as librarians is this not important? Do we not all feel compelled to share information, new ideas, or the latest news? That new book that has just been processed, that hot new title, nice new crisp pages, or a classic you felt was reinvented. Do you not feel that need to use every way imaginable to share it?

There were also suggested terms on Websters: information retrieval, information superhighway, information science and information technology. Those terms have a theme; the world is always changing, should we stand still?

YES I know I am a student and may have that "newbie" outlook. But I think that maybe it has just been a while since some have remembered what made them want to work in a library.

information. (2009). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.
Retrieved October 27, 2009, from

* What will it take to get these middle people on board?

Middle people in what way? Tech evolves. It requires a lot of skill and effort just to keep up. My motto while working in any field is "My job is to make your job easier." Nowhere is that more pressing then in my current field. Librarians and educators should be forming networks and doing outreach in order to teach one another and the librarians job in a school on the academic side is to - as far as I've seen - keep current and let other people stay current within their time-pressed lives. The problem I'm finding is that a lot of tech teachers/librarians have assumptions about where their students and colleagues are and the patron base things it can get by with Google. Nevermind the fact that I, as a trained librarian, (I have an MLS and I'm currently working on a Education degree/teaching certification to expand my job prospects.) can do in 15 minutes while multi-tasking is what another teaching student did in two hours with focus. Honestly? We should be selling efficiency a lot better then we are.

* What will it take to get those board to be able to train, use, and instruct 2.0?

Some people it's just not going to happen. Other people? The students in my tech class the other night had a lesson on Delicious bookmarks. Most could not see the point of using them as a teaching tool and the Professor was...well, kind of crap at explaining it. I ran after my questioning classmate, explained the difference between the method he was using and delicious and informed him of a few tricks the program could do, and how compatible it was with other software. Again, I could make this guy's life a lot easier through this program, but if it seems irrelevant, the most net-savvy of us might just walk on by.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have my techno-stress professor in another class who is more of a verbal/ligustic teacher and all the computer stuff occasionally trips her up. It's not that she's a bad teacher - in fact, she's really damn good - it's just that tech is not a natural part of her toolbox. That's where a librarian can step in and just set the goodies up for the beleagured teacher. Web 2.0 is supposed to be getting more user-friendly, after all.

* Do they have the support (“the buy-in”) from administration and faculty to make it work?

If the admin is willing to listen. About a quarter I've encountered see the library as a vestigial organ. Thankfully, the state governor doesn't see things that way, but I'll admit, one of my "secret" missions in my cohort is to let my classmates know what a librarian can do for them. The more allies you have, the more the admin tend to pay attention.

* How can I encourage them to go the next step and use [insert whatever 2.0 thing]?

Go play with it yourself. Tell them if it's useful and what its useful for. Ther are formal evaluation forms for this, but most teachers are just as happy to get an e-mail from someone they know. 9Call it :The Principle of Least Effort." This time though, it works for you!) I'm a loudmouth and in this business it might finally be an asset.

* Is there an acceptable level of 2.0 use? (In other words, what’s a reasonable amount of web tools and resources that a school librarian should be offering to students.)

Like anything else in the school: Find out what the kids are doing/interested in; find out what the district or college's internet policy is; balance the two out with your honed professional judgment; teach; be prepared to back up your choices - just like you would with the Greek Myths in the 300's.

* What is a fair amount of time for school librarians to catch up? (You can’t do this forever. There has to be a cutoff point.

Other teachers have professional development time. We should too. Summer is a good time to play with the internet in the privacy of your own home. Networking with other librarians and tech professional can probably cut down on unproductive time and help you focus your ongoing development. There are forums like this one all over the web, not to mention tech newsletters, RSS feeds and other tools. I make it a habit just to play in Google every month or so just to see what toys they are developing.

If the librarian won't do that...Well, that's unprofessional.

Hope it helps,