Keeping Our Focus on People, Relationships, and Hearts in the Library

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While I’ve talked extensively last year about relationships and humans being the cornerstone of libraries through the lens of libraries as site of participatory culture, I just had two moments here in the library that were  poignant reminders of how important those values may be in the life of a library patron.

A mother came by just a few minutes ago to tell me how much she appreciated my letting her daughter, whom I remembered fondly, eat her lunch in the library every day a few years ago.   Like many students who are “regulars” in here and prefer to work in here while eating their lunch for the entire lunch period, she came in and enjoyed the library space in her quiet and gracious way.  Unless students volunteer to tell me why they might prefer to be in here regularly, I try to not intrude on their privacy and just try to take their requests at face value.

What I didn’t know until today was that the student, who outwardly seemed to be a happy and successful young lady, was being subjected to merciless bullying by her classmates.  She eventually transferred away, and I’m happy to report that she has been able to move on with her life in a positive way as she now prepares to head off to college.   To have a mother tell you through tears that your simple act of kindness saved her daughter’s life is probably about the most humbling thing you can ever experience.    I’m not ashamed to tell you that I shed a few tears of my own when the mother said, “We would not have our daughter if it were not for what you did, and I thank you.”

The second moment that took place was one of my students, who is in the creative writing club I sponsor and who refers to me as the “Red Tape Conquistadora”, coming up to the circulation desk and asking me point-blank, “Are you retiring or running away from here anytime soon?”   Given the difficult challenges of this past year and the cuts that lie ahead, I’d be lying if I didn’t say the thought of going elsewhere hadn’t been on my radar, but in light of the support I’m receiving from my new principal who is coming in for the 2012-2013 year, I am returning and am hopeful I can continue doing meaningful work with the students and teachers.  Once I had a moment to recover from the surprise that overtook me,  I responded, “No, I’m not going anywhere.”  He breathed a huge sigh of relief and expressed concern that the sense of community he had built within the club sponsored by me and the library would be gone if I left; this community is important to him because he has a sister coming here in the fall, and he wanted assurance that there would be continuity of this community for her.

I share these moments with you all to remind you how fragile and complicated the lives of those we serve can be and that in the midst of the stress and challenges we all face, we must never lose sight of keeping a nurturing, welcoming, and caring climate in our libraries even as others may marginalize the value of librarians and the role of the library in your community.    Never take for granted how something so simple and easy to do–showing compassion–may have more impact on someone than any library services or resources you have to offer. Thank you to these three people—the mother, her daughter, and the young male student—for  reminding me that nice DOES matter and that elevating the library as a place of participation and shared ownership has value that cannot be quantified with any kind of reading level, test score, or mathematical data.  Let us all continually strive to approach what we do with humility, integrity, empathy, courage, wisdom, and grace.

Monday Morning Gut Check for Librarians

Photo by Buffy Hamilton

I’ll be blogging more about The Atlas of New Librarianship, a landmark book,  later in the week, but if you have felt discouraged as of late about the state of librarianship in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, whatever your library enviornment may be, then this post is for you as well as for me. Sometimes I become so frustrated, so angered, so saddened by events and circumstances that defy logic and feel out of my control that I can’t help but cry and vent before dusting myself off and getting back on my feet again to try and take on these challenges more thoughtfully and intelligently.  While I do not know what lies ahead, I do know these words reflect my mission and my focus to keep pushing what my best can be as long as I am a librarian because I know what we do matters—we make a difference to someone, one person at a time.

Why You Cannot Give Up

“This atlas is written for you. It seeks to bolster the defiant who stand bravely before the crushing weight of the status quo and seeks to give hope to those silenced by the chorus of the medicore and resistant to change...It is not about cataloging, or books, or building, or committees–it is about learning, knowledge, and social action...We must be brave and and stand up to the inertia of colleagues unwilling to change and an antiquated stereotype of librarians within our communities” (Lankes, p. 1).

Keep Your Eyes Focused On The Mission of Improving Society Through Faciliating Knowledge Creation in Your Community

“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 don’t know about you, but I’m feeling decidedly defiant today.  Keep your focus on how you are enabling, igniting, inviting, and sustaining conversations for learning with the members of your learning community, not things.  Courage and onward, friends.

Digital Portfolios, Multigenre Elements, and More: Media 21 / Learning 21 Students Reflect On Participatory Learning, Fall 2010

For the last two weeks or so, we have been pulling together all the threads of our extended unit of inquiry into Issues in Africa. We are using Wikispaces to host student digital portfolios (see requirements below):

Students not only explored alternate genres and mediums for sharing key learnings from their research using multigenre elements (see options below), but they also learned how to embed RSS feeds and HTML code, how to publish their Evernote notebooks, and how to upload other kinds of content, such as PowerPoint and Publisher files; students also linked to published work created in Google Docs.  Our helpful handouts to scaffold these skills include:

If you are interested in knowing more about multigenre elements resources, you can check out my multigenre research project resource page as well as the latest menu (which Susan and I will update in February 2011) of options (students were also welcome to submit alternate genres):

You can see all digital portfolios by clicking here and see where we are on our learning continuum;  here you will see student multigenre elements, presentation slidedecks, RSS feeds or links to their learning blogs, collaborative research papers created in Google Docs, a link to their Evernote notebook, and the discussion area we used during our peer review.

We also took a day of class to engage in peer review of the learning portfolios.  My co-teacher Susan Lester and I created this document to give students a springboard for constructive feedback; they also used this form to provide feedback on the “discussion” tab of a fellow student’s page.  We took the class rolls, cut the names into strips, and had students draw a name from their own class period pool (we teach sections–4th and 7th periods) as well as one name from the other class.  See the peer review form below:

I’d like to thank Ben M., Casey, Ben. F, and Bryce for taking a few minutes to share their thoughts on their learning experiences of the last few weeks, the digital portfolios, and the multigenre elements.  You can see their portfolios at:

I will be spotlighting more portfolios in the next few days, particularly those with interesting and creative multigenre elements.  I hope you enjoy browsing our students’ work and hearing some of their reflections on their participatory learning experiences this past semester in 10th World Literature/Composition.

Because They Learn by Example: Why Librarians Can’t Give Up, #2

Today marked the return of life with my Media 21 students as we began the next “unofficial” phase of our work together.  I have created a new class Google Site for our spring project, and one of the first housekeeping tasks we needed to tackle this afternoon was adding the RSS for our class agenda to our iGoogle pages.   I wanted to review with the students how to manually add a RSS feed to an iGoogle page, but when the students clicked on “add”, nearly every student was unable to get the “add” to actually work for unknown reasons.    In my head, a few choice thoughts ran through my mind, but outwardly, I was very calm as I said, “Hang on for just about 90 seconds everyone while I add some code for an “add to Google” button.”

The students watched as I grabbed our Google Site class agenda RSS feed and created the “add to Google” button code for the agenda page and then embedded that code.   We then used the button to add the feed to our iGoogle pages and moved on to building our new learning portfolio Google Sites for this semester.  It was not until after class that Susan Lester, my co-teacher, came over and shared what one of the students said to her while I was adding the code on the fly.   While I was hastily adding the code and semi-talking the kids through what I was doing, Brooke leaned over and said to Susan:

You know what I really like about Ms. Hamilton?  She never lets anything stop her!

My initial reaction was laughter and the thought, “That is so cute!”  Within just a few seconds, though, I was nearly moved to tears as the enormity of what this student had said sunk in.  I realized how much of an impression my persistence and patience in using technology with the students had made on some of these young impressionable minds.  More than ever, I feel a tremendous responsibility to model the very behaviors and attitudes I want to engender in our students.

Although we sometimes feel teens may not really be listening to what we say, they most definitely are paying attention to our actions and what we do.  If my modeling of problem-solving skills and perseverance on a regular basis leaves any kind of lasting positive impression on the students with whom I work, then I  feel I will have accomplished something meaningful.

I also wonder if there is a lesson to be learned for us as librarians in our efforts to stop the financial bleeding and decimation of our profession—will the decision makers and legislators be moved more by our words or by evidence of our actions?   How can we better convey the “actions” of what we do short of having them come shadow us for a week or so?

More questions than answers exist right now, I think, about the challenges our profession faces, but these words from Brooke have strengthened my resolve to keep fighting for school libraries and highly qualified librarians for every school and every student.  Her words have also reinforced my faith in the efforts I am making with my library program and the Media 21 project—the work we do in our libraries and with our students is ultimately the front line of what we are fighting to Our students are looking to us and counting on our leadership in our schools.   Although our fates may be hanging in the balance, let us model tenacity, fearlessness, and a bold risk-taking for our students so that they may come to see learning is ultimately a process and not just an outcome.