So, what can we do?

In the last few days I’ve been following the simmering discussions that spun off of work by Joyce Valenza and Doug Johnson, eminent librarians and leaders in our field, about the issue of 21st century librarians and what responsibility we all have to embrace new technologies.

It’s been fascinating reading the excellent blog discussions that have ensued, and reading subsequent blog posts by Joyce, Buffy Hamilton and Doug Johnson, among others.

But still what resonates most with me is Doug Johnson’s question–“How can we give a voice to those who choose not to network?”   (I would perhaps take issue with the word “choose” because I do think it’s possible for someone to be somewhat unaware of all these online networks of librarians–remember that in our profession we encompass a variety of librarians–from those in tiny rural schools to those not certified and struggling to run a library program, etc.)

It’s not that I disagree that as librarians we need to be leaders, innovators, and models for our teachers–I believe we do.  Buffy makes an excellent case for that in her incredibly articulate blog post.    But like Beth, whose comment to Doug’s post led to some of this lively discussion, I wonder what we are doing to mentor other librarians, and like Beth, I worry that we are driving people out of the conversation–it is very easy to become insular, self-referential, and overly steeped in 2.0 language to the exclusion of those we would like to join us in conversation.

If you look at surveys of  internet use by Pew Internet and American Life Project and other work on internet use, early adopters total only 5-10% of the population.  Given this, clearly not all of us can be early adopters although we can be leaders.

So my question, following up on Doug’s and Beth’s is this:  What can each of us do individually to bring more librarians into these conversations who might not be there currently?

I would posit that we need to watch our language–in our enthusiasm, we can overwhelm others with all the bells and whistles and options.  And I question if that is not counterproductive to our aim.   Yes it is amazing to show what is possible, but if we don’t also show a step-by-step roadmap for getting there, then it is just so much ‘pie in the sky.’

I think a sign of leadership is also being able to break down the details in a way that they are accessible.  I liked Joyce’s attempt to do this in her article, How to Retool Yourself, (though I found a little too many options there for a beginner, to be honest)–but I really and truly applaud her leadership as always in realizing that this sort of specific post is what is needed.

I know we all do  things everyday to help our colleagues along and many of us have done that for a long time. But I think it’s important to renew our efforts to reach out to those who are interested but don’t know where to start, or who haven’t even broached the idea because they are too overwhelmed, or are not currently we think the conversations are happening.  But then again, maybe we aren’t where their conversations are happening either.

Rather than debate whether or not people “should” be somewhere, let’s help them get there by our individual and joint efforts.  That may mean we have to get out of our own sandboxes once in awhile but I think our profession will be all the better for it–we all have something to learn and we all have something to teach.   I thank Beth for her courage in raising these challenging issues.

So, my question is, what can we do?  How can we connect with humility, open arms, and understanding with our colleagues at all levels of  technology adoption?

7 thoughts on “So, what can we do?

  1. Carolyn, many of us are already doing what you advocate—mentoring those who are just making their entry into the use of modern tools or who may need ideas for how to cope with the challenges they face.

    I personally answer every email and Twitter request I get from people who connect with me through those means and take time out of my very busy schedule to help in any way I can. You could ask any of these individuals if I did so with “open arms” and “humility”, and I believe each one would say “yes.” I can think of many who, in spite of many obstacles, have chosen to take the help I have offered and taken off like a rocket with their own work.

    I help teach classes to fellow librarians for my school district; I help present mini-lessons at our library media district meetings. I blog for my state library association and present at various conferences. I write articles for my profession’s journals and magazines. I gladly welcome veteran and fledgling librarians who want to come shadow me for a day or more into my library. Any of these individuals would tell you I have been generous in my offers of help.

    I am often asked to speak to school library media students by professors about what I’m doing and the journey of how I’ve gotten there; I spend hours creating resource pages for these visits with links and examples to inspire these students. I have given much time and energy to these requests in an effort to try and help others.

    Whether or not these individuals choose to act upon the resources, instruction, and time I have given them is entirely up to them. Does everyone take up this help? No, but that is something I cannot control.

    Up until this point, I have freely donated my time, energy, and what little knowledge I have out of a desire to share what I know and to help others. There are plenty of other of our colleagues who do just this on a regular basis.

    However, it is really disheartening to see that there is a perception that help or not enough of it is not being offered to those who are struggling. As many have pointed out, help is readily available in many, many formats, shapes, and sizes. When I look at what all I have done to give back to my profession and colleagues, I truly don’t know what else can be expected.

    If you have concrete suggestions for anything else you think I should be doing in addition to all the strategies I have listed here, then please feel free to share because I am truly puzzled as to what other mentoring activities I could do that I haven’t already been doing for the last two years.

    Buffy Hamilton

  2. Buffy,

    Of course when I wrote this I should have thought of my audience and that most who might read my blog are probably already doing so much to share.

    I really was just putting a general challenge out there for all of us to think of creative ways we can reach those who are “not” online or “not” in the conversations.

    This post partly came out of my empathy for teachers and colleagues, who I see wanting to try things, but not knowing where to begin. All I know is we need to help them get there, because it is important to our students. And it is important to our profession.

    But I just want us all to remember that although we have colleagues that are “turning away” from these opportunities, we also have colleagues who aren’t turning away, but just who have no clue of how to get from A to Z. And maybe they don’t have the “early adopter” mindset, or are reluctant to tiptoe in, or unknowledgeable about how to do so, or aren’t in a situation where they find themselves very “connected” for whatever reason.

    And I think perhaps Beth articulated this concern much better than I did, or can.

    So, in an attempt to make this more concrete–
    I first I want to acknowledge that I am speaking in general, and of course some of us are already working in many forums to share and teach and spending incredible amounts of time sharing.

    You do an incredible job of sharing your knowledge and giving back in so many ways–and set a great example of leadership, as do so many others who were contributing to this conversation.

    But second, I am hoping to use this forum to brainstorm a few ways I think we could help.

    1. Look in online places we might have left long ago, and see what is going on there–for example,
    listservs. I’ve recently revisited an old listserv for Texas librarians that I thought perhaps was defunct in this web 2.0 environment. But lo and behold it was teeming with librarians, sharing, and asking questions–many of them were beginning librarians struggling through. I realized this is a place to be contributing and sharing, as well as other places that I share.

    2. Pairing ourselves up with an individual librarian, and sharing one tool at a time, much as we might with a teacher in our own school who is new, and working with them throughout the year. Or doing something like Will Richardson and Sheryl Beach-Nussbaum’ PLP where they are partnering with school districts/schools over a whole year.

    3. SLJ–I think professional journals are a great place for this discussion as well, because many librarians do read print even if they aren’t using online sources quite as much. And I think many of our professional journals do an incredible job of recognizing that and attracting a wide variety of readers.

    4. The 13 things tutorial that Joyce mentioned is a great type of tool to turn librarians onto, as is her Teacher-Librarian Ning(if it isn’t blocked!)

    5. Use models like “Made to Stick” or the “Art of Woo” to help us find more ways for our ideas to resonate and ‘stick’.

    6. And as Beth suggested–we can talk to librarians who aren’t networked and just hear their stories. Use our own curiosity to help better understand the “yeah, buts” and what those “yeah, buts” really mean, so that we can address how to approach them. Maybe some in our profession aren’t going to adapt, but I believe a vast majority of them are–it’s just a matter of time and a matter of understanding and inclination.

    I find a lot of truth in what Beth writes on Blue Skunk Blog:

    “In the end, we need to know what is going on with everyone. What barriers do they face as information professionals: material, professional or otherwise? Many librarians are not given autonomy. We operate within a system that has many many problems that affect our practice. I think if we created opportunities for librarians to share these stories we might better understand why they do what they do. I think we still have to listen to the “yeah, buts” – but that can’t be the end of the conversation. We can’t dismiss them, but instead open a dialogue and try to strategize through it with everyone’s input. Then the transformation of the profession continues with more buy in than we have now, we hope.

    Our brand really can’t be social media. It can’t be databases. It can’t be 2.0. Not only will these things fade away, they exclude large parts of our profession from participation. I’d rather adopt our brand as “cultivating curiosity.” That will stand the test of time. And it’s something we can all gather around the table and talk about pushing toward.”

    As we do listen, what are other ideas for reaching out? I am truly curious to hear your creative ideas.

    And one more note–thanks to all of you who provide leadership, participate in these discussions, provoke thought, and work every day to share.

  3. The problem I find is many are not open to hear. I was at a session with David Warlick and he was talking about PLNs. He mentioned several options. The woman next to me went on about how stupid Twitter is, how she just doesn’t have time to mess with it. I tried to explain it’s all in who you follow, but she already had her opinion and wasn’t open to hear anything else. That is where I get frustrated. Not that she has to use Twitter as her tool of choice, but that she wasn’t even open to see it is a viable choice for some.

  4. Patty,

    I do agree that attitude makes a difference, and certainly there are plenty of those who don’t have a positive attitude. But I also think there are plenty out there who are isolated in some way, or willing but not confident about trying new tools, etc.

    So I hear your frustration because of course it helps if people are open-minded, but I think we have to be careful about lumping everyone together either!

  5. Carolyn, I appreciate your thoughful responses to this conversation over the SLJ article. As someone who was in library school pre-computer days, I know that the clarion call for technology and Web 2.0 resources can be daunting and overwhelming. As a library teacher who works in an urban school with many students who are not close to reading at grade level, I know that the demands for basic instruction, with limited resources, are great. However, I know, as well, that the onus is on all of us school librarians to make sure that all of our students find a place in the 21st century classroom. Above all, those students we teach whose backgrounds are limited and impoverished especially need to be able to use those tools that will help them over the digital divide. My heart may not beat in twitter time, but I need to learn to wrap the information in the student-centered wrapping paper. What we need to tell our colleagues is that taking small steps is okay, for, certainly, once you start down the Web 2.0 road, you will never go back!
    Currie Renwick

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