Libraries, Communities, and Lifelong Learning: Heather Braum’s Ignite Talk at DML 2012

Check out my friend Heather Braum’s inspiring Ignite Talk at DML 2012 !  Be sure to watch the other talks from this year’s conference on Digital Media and Learning’s YouTube channel.

Teacher Reflections on the Value of Pre-Search and Presentation Zen Style for Student Learning

I’m excited to team up again this month with Deborah Frost, one of the most experienced and talented teachers here at Creekview High School.   Deborah’s 9th Honors/Literature Composition students are in the library for the rest of the month as they inquire into a controversial/hot topic of their choice and craft a persuasive research paper on that topic as well as an oral presentation.  Through trial and error over the years, Deborah and I have learned much together as instructional partners as we’ve reflected long and hard about what has worked and what hasn’t in each collaborative project we’ve endeavored to do with her students.

Last year, Deborah was more than willing to implement two new aspects to the research design we were crafting.  As part of my effort to make a more concentrated effort to frontload the initial connecting, wondering, and investigating stages of inquiry, she agreed to let me build in a larger initial chunk of pre-search time with the students to help them:

1.  gain background knowledge about their controversial/hot topic and determine if that was really the topic they wanted to explore or to see if there were other topics of more interest to them

2.  read more intentionally and thoughtfully to help them begin discerning big ideas from facts

3.  to begin building background knowledge to develop research questions and to determine if the articles really spoke to their information seeking needs

The students worked for approximately six weeks as they researched, submitted research questions, and collaboratively composed a persuasive paper in Google Docs.  The other new component of the learning experience was teaching students skills and concepts associated with the “Presentation Zen” style PowerPoints for a class presentation to compose an oral presentation supported by those visuals that helped tell the narrative of the learning and insights.

Because that design was so rich and successful, we are doing it with this year’s freshmen.  We’ve made a few tweaks to the new and improved pre-search graphic organizer (see below).

We’ll also be incorporating some new search skills to the students as well.  The other new component for the project is the use of EasyBib in place of NoodleTools since EasyBib allows us to more easily create citations for our database articles.   We will once again do the Presentation Zen style presentations, and in April, I’ll blog a few new minor but helpful modifications I’ve come up with this past year to help support the learning curve for the skills associated with that endeavor.  Finally, we’re being flexible with the schedule/timeline of learning activities to be responsive to student needs; while we have a working calendar, we’re letting it be fluid so we can be responsive to the students if they more or less time for a specific skill or learning activity, then we can do that without feeling married to “the calendar”.   I’m appreciative that Deborah Frost is willing to experiment and to be improvisational as needed within the larger framework we’ve co-designed for the students.

I invite you to check out our research guide and to take a few minutes to listen to Deborah’s reflections on the value of pre-search and Presentation Zen style for student learning!

Video: The Librarian as a Catalyst and Learning Specialist in K12

English teacher Lisa Kennedy and librarian Buffy Hamilton discuss partnerships for learning between the librarian and classroom teacher; they also share how this partnership between librarian and teacher influences Lisa’s evolution as a teacher and her instructional design and in turn, Buffy’s practice as a librarian.


Harada, V. H., & Zmuda, A. (2008, April). Reframing the library media specialist as a learning specialist. School Library Monthly, 24(8). Retrieved from‌articles/‌Zmuda&Harada2008v24nn8p42.html

Circulating Ideas Interview

I am proud to be the inaugural interview at Circulating Ideas, the librarian interview podcast.  A sincere thank you to my colleague and friend Steve Thomas for inviting me to join him for this podcast!  I hope you enjoy this interview that is just shy of fifty minutes in which we canvas a wide range of topics.  Be sure to follow Steve as well as the Circulating Ideas podcast series on Twitter!

Are Librarians, Not Seth Godin, The Ones Missing the Point on Libraries?

Seth’s Blog: The future of the library via kwout

Twitter is lit up today with divergent responses to Seth Godin’s post, “The Future of the Public Library.”  I think Godin is spot-on with his thoughts and observations, particularly the idea that libraries “…ought to be the local nerve center for information.”  Note he doesn’t see information only in BOOKS, but information in multiple spaces or “containers”, period.  Although he isn’t the first to do it, Godin’s call to reconceptualize libraries and his emphasis on the real meaning of “library” as being embedded in the work librarians do is powerful; Godin’s call disrupts the traditional precept of the library as being book-driven.  I completely agree and if you read my blog regularly, then you know I feel libraries should be idea and learning-driven—that focus and our rethinking what the spaces of library and where librarians can be embedded in our communities is what can make us more central to the communities we serve and increase participation and equitable access to information in many formats by being willing to think outside the traditional “boundaries”.

“The scarce resource is knowledge and insight, not access to data…The next library is a place, still. A place where people come together to do co-working and coordinate and invent projects worth working on together. Aided by a librarian who understands the Mesh, a librarian who can bring domain knowledge and people knowledge and access to information to bear…There are one thousands things that could be done in a place like this, all built around one mission: take the world of data, combine it with the people in this community and create value.  We need librarians more than we ever did. What we don’t need are mere clerks who guard dead paper. Librarians are too important to be a dwindling voice in our culture. For the right librarian, this is the chance of a lifetime.”

More than ever, we need to find ways to invite, not discourage, conversations for learning–not just with people inside the learning communities but from others who can help us continually inform the bigger vision from alternate viewpoints even when it may disrupt you out of your comfort zone.  To me, Godin’s post is not about limiting access to information but about enabling new avenues to information (see his reference to The Mesh) and focusing on creating connections and relationships.  Godin’s call to action aligns with that of Dr. David Lankes in The Atlas of New Librarianship:

“The fundamental shift is from things to human knowledge.  It changes the focus of the work of librarians from artifacts and the products of learning (like books, web pages, and DVDs) to the learning process.  Rather than being concerned with some externalized concept such as information (or, worse, “recorded knowledge”), it (Conversation Theory) places the focus of librarianship squarely on behavior and the effects of services on the individual.  In essence, the value of a book, or librarian for that matter, is evaluated again the need of the library members’ ability to learn (Lankes, p. 23).

I think Godin’s post particularly speaks to me as I definitely see the work I’m doing, more than ever, as embodying the roles of “librarian as producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario” and why I continue to be surprised and quite honestly, a little disappointed, that people are more interested in emailing me about our small Kindle program than the Media 21 learning initiative, which I think is incredibly more meaningful for our students and innovative than the circulation of the Kindle devices.  In many ways, I see myself as more of a teacher now than I did when I taught high school English as I find myself continually exploring emerging and expanding concepts of teaching, learning,and multiple forms of literacy.  While it is in some ways a different experience from being a classroom teacher, I am the most reflective I’ve ever been as a practitioner in my near twenty years in education; hence, I try to heed the wisdom of Anne Ruggles Gere who once said, “I propose that we listen to the signals that come through the walls of our classrooms from the outside”, as I attempt to be open to how people in many kinds of learning spaces, not just K12 education, envision the library.

Original photo by Buffy J. Hamilton

Perhaps I identify with Godin’s points because for the last year or so, I have felt a sense of urgency about how school librarians fit into our learning ecosystems of K12 schools.  While the severity of the draconian treatment of Los Angeles Unified School District school librarians is disturbing, I honestly can’t say it is all that surprising to me given the confidential stories I have heard from colleagues in recent years in which talented, passionate, and transparent school librarians were ousted or marginalized to the point in which they felt they had no choice but to leave.  These kinds of stories shared publicly and privately have pushed my thinking and caused me to question in the last year what exactly it means to be a school librarian and what I will need to be to contribute to my learning community.

Consequently, while our qualitative and quantitative data says our library program is doing a lot of things well, I know we have much room for growth and cannot rest on our laurels if we are to be truly responsive to those we serve and to innovate.  What have I seen myself as “owning” and how do I rethink sharing that expertise so that I can continue to build a greater sense of community and value of my talents and the library as a learning space at Creekview High School?  How do I imbue and infuse a bit of “librarian” into the work and learning processes of our teachers and students to scale out the possibilities for “library” and learning?  As I learned from our initial design process experience at our Reimagine Ed meeting in April 2011, it is not always easy to hear the “sacred cows” of our profession challenged by non-librarians, but rather than being defensive, this experience reminded me of Dr. Bob Fecho’s (one of the wisest teachers I had at the University of Georgia) advice to embrace the cognitive chaos and discomfort.  These kinds of experiences help me reflect and consider how to better distribute the “library” by improving our efforts to foster the participatory climate we’ve tried to establish in our library program over the last five years.

My takeaway from Godin’s post is that we may not all agree on the details, but the value of these kinds of posts is that they can initiate and sustain conversations about how we can better improve the work we do and the roles we play in better helping our communities. If we outright dismiss the opinions of others, particularly those who are not librarians, I think we lose the opportunity to see the bigger picture and possibilities.  Are we as a profession willing to listen to other voices and discourses “outside” of our own circles and respond to their vision of how libraries should function in today’s world?  Are we willing to regularly challenge and interrogate our own beliefs and values?  While it is not always easy to negotiate the tension between differing ideas,  I think listening to multiple viewpoints with a sense of humility creates a necessary kind of cognitive dissonance and friction of ideas needed for us to be organic, thoughtful, critical, and purposeful in our practice and thinking.

I am sure many blog posts will be posted this week (and I’d love to read posts from non-librarians on this Seth Godin piece!), but here are a few to contemplate now: