What changes we face

How are libraries changing?  Well, since my library is in boxes, it’s a question I think about a lot.

Today a teacher across the street emailed me (and then Skyped) a reference question, which I knew was in a book that we had packed.  So, like an intrepid journalist, I followed up online, checked many of our databases, used Google, tried different search terms, still to no avail.

Next I thought to dig deeper into the web, and check major statistical sites that I knew of, like University of Michigan’s, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Statistical Abstracts, but still no dice.

I recalled that the New York Times now has free archives, back to the 1800’s, that are keyword searchable, so tried there, and found some inkling of what I was looking for.  (That would depend on if the teacher wanted students to gather the information themselves, or just wanted a chart which showed it already collected.)

After an hour of searching, I reaffirmed that the book source I knew was probably one of the best for finding the information.   But it was in a box.

All of which is a good demonstration that not everything is online still, and sometimes we need the BEST tool, not just any tool. (And that tasks we assign students that we think should be easy are sometimes very challenging!)

And then I thought of my Twitter network, which contains many librarians.   I sent out the book title, and within a minute found a librarian(thanks Jill!) who had access to the book and was able to look up the question for me, and got some great recommendations from others as well(thanks techchicks!)

So even though I didn’t have the book in hand, or hardly any books for that matter, I still have library services because I have a network.  

Doug Johnson wrote recently about the decline of print encyclopedias, and wondered if students have the same fondness for World Book online that he did poring over the pages of a set at his home as a child.  I doubt that they do.   And while I believe that online resources are incredible tools, it is simply that we need to use the “best” tool–whether it’s a book, a network, or a database–and part of being information literate is knowing what the best tool might be, and where to try next if that tool doesn’t work(or is in the physically limiting state of being in a box!)

Our profession has long revolved around knowing how to find things as much as “safeguarding” the things.    And networking is just another powerful tool–in fact one of the most powerful since we can collectively work on solving a problem together.

Libraries are an important mix of all of the new technologies and the traditional, and we have to be willing to maximize the use of that mix to serve our customers.   And we have to, both teachers and librarians, work to help students maximize that mix. 

If students rely on just one type of tool or one skill, (which sometimes they tend to do), they won’t have the confidence of knowing they CAN find what they need.   We need to encourage them and scaffold them in using the full range of information tools out there–from the innovative and cutting edge to the traditional and tried. 

We all have to “roll with” the changes in our current information environment, but being informed searchers is an increasingly important part of that, that I fear gets neglected too often.

4 thoughts on “What changes we face

  1. Carolyn, this is a great example of finding a way. Modeling this is so important. Each time we get a question from a student, colleague, administrator or even a parent we need to model the use of all the tools at our disposal to find the information. I’m not saying use each one here, but the most effective tool(s) required to find the most relevant info. Your example is a good one for explaining the power of connected/networked learning. It’s funny that lately some of folks around me have asked me to “tap” my network. I, of course, do so, but also mention that they can should build one as well.

  2. Yep this year it is time to order a newer set of encyclopedias, but I have been unable to make myself do it. I could spend that money elesewhere, and i have not seen a single student use one this year I also rely on networks to answer questions, and that is the beauty of having a network. It’s nice to see the network used for student gains.

  3. I had a old (mid-seventies) set of children’s encyclopedias that were mine as a child and somehow managed to not get thrown out before I had children. My nine year old read through the set mostly on his own a couple of years ago and loved them. Now his five year old brother often wants my wife or I to read him a couple of articles before bed.

    Due to the age of the books, I do have to occasionally clear a few things up for my kids like while a rain forest might have been considered a source of wood for building houses like it mentions in the encyclopedia, clear-cutting them is not considered a good thing anymore. 🙂 However, having those old, shelf-space-eating, physical books around seems a good thing.

    Both of my children use a computer at home, and I’m not against technology (you can check my blog and I’m personally mostly paperless by caring around a Tablet PC), but I don’t think much of that non-fiction reading would have happened for my children at this age if the books weren’t physically sitting on a (low) shelf for browsing.

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