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What Can I Help You Create?

Create Poster

Original image from tinkerbells on Flickr

The reason I became a librarian is not because I love books, but because I love learning. I’m a curious individual, and I want to inspire that same curiosity in other people. I could do that any number of ways, but I believe that libraries can be really effective in inspiring curiosity and sparking people’s imaginations. So books and information are OK, but they’re a means to an end. What I am really interested in is the learning, imagination, creativity, and curiosity piece.

That is why I am excited about the trend in libraries to empower their users in non-traditional ways. Traditionally libraries have provided resources for consumption: books, articles, multimedia. Increasingly though, libraries are creating partnerships and offering resources that allow users to not only consume, but to create.

One example of this is the Library as Incubator Project from a group of entrepreneurial students from the SLIS program at UW-Madison (go Badgers!). The project focuses on how libraries can partner with poets, writers, visual artists and other creators in mutually beneficial way. The folks who started this project are re-imagining the library as “a gallery, a performance space, even a studio.” Libraries can be a place to create art and connect artists with the community.

Another trend is the rise makerspaces, hackerspaces, and fab-labs as parts of libraries. These are places for the do it yourself crowd where they have things like computer driven saws, lathes, 3D printers, and electronics benches. These spaces use a very community oriented model with things like shared projects and peer-to-peer learning. These spaces are a global phenomenon, but libraries are beginning to partner and tap into their creative potential.

There are other simpler examples too. There are libraries that lend guitars and offer lessons. My public library in Burlington lends gardening tools like rakes and hoes. Our members are not just reading; they’re painting, growing gardens, writing songs, ginning up prototypes, editing videos, or performing poetry.

Looking at our members not just as passive information consumers but as active creators is a paradigm shift that needs to be happening in more libraries. Instead of READ posters I want to see ALA also putting out CREATE posters who feature artists, musicians, or YouTube stars. Instead of librarians saying “can I help you find something?” I’d also like to hear “what can I help you create?”

For more reading on this check out David Lee King’s post about Content Creation, Media Labs, and Hackerspaces and Mick Jacobsen’s post at Tame the Web, Is a digital media lab right for you?

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Bridging the Gaps – Library Journal/Temple U. Symposium

covered bridge

Image CC on Flickr by Gregg Obst

Next month Library Journal and Temple University are going to be hosting an event called The Future of the Academic Library Symposium: Bridging the Gaps, and I am a panelist during one of the morning sessions. This is the second year that LJ has held this symposium and it seems like a great event. Not only are there a lot of great folks on the panels who I really respect and love hearing speak (like Erin DorneyAmanda Etches-JohnsonJenica RogersAaron Schmidt, and Courtney Young), but it’s also FREE. If you are in and around the Northeast area you should definitely try to make it. Did I mention it’s FREE?

As for the segment that I am in, it is focused on people and is about strengthening the culture in the library. Here’s the brief description:

“Why can’t my colleagues tolerate change?” Don’t these new librarians realize how we do things here?” “How come the deadwood always rejects my great ideas?” “Technology? That’s the new librarian’s job.” Our academic libraries can become fraught with misunderstanding and stereotypes about our colleagues, and when the gaps grow wide they lead to organizational dysfunction. To build better libraries we must confront these gaps. Doing so requires that we engage in authentic conversation focused on creating a better understanding of each other. Once we learn to appreciate our differences, and how our organizations thrive from the mix of skills we bring to it, we an begin to bridge the culture gap.

I am really excited about my co-panelists and the topic that we’re discussing. This summer I volunteered to participate in a 25 hour intensive program about intercultural understanding at Champlain College. We had amazing discussions, watched videos, read articles, debated one another, and gave presentations. Ultimately I think many of us came to a better understanding of our own lenses through which we see the world as well as the lenses of others. After the experience I feel a lot more empowered to have conversations about different cultures and how we can go about bridging the gaps.

I’m looking forward to 11/11/11 in Philadelphia. Hopefully I see you there!

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Outsourcing Our Memories To Google

image from Ars Electronica on Flickr

A study was recently published in Science Magazine called Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips. It concluded that because of the ever present access to information via the web people are remembering less. The Ars Technica summary says “experiments suggest that people expect computerized information to be continuously available, and actually remember less when they know they’ll have access to it later. We also seem to remember where we can find information instead of the information itself.”

I have heard students say things like “I don’t have to know that, Google knows it for me.” It seems that we are increasingly outsourcing parts of memory to Google and the web. This is definitely a shift in how our minds work and how we think about information. What then, are the implications for information literacy and how we talk about accessing and recalling information?

For one thing our thinking about information is becoming increasingly meta. Instead of remembering actual information we remember where it was located. We no longer need to know as many facts since connectivity is seemingly ubiquitous now and we can access collective knowledge via the web with devices that are in our pocket. We now just remember bits and pieces of an article that we read, but we can remember who tweeted it or which email account it was sent to, and then access it again when we need it.

Is depending on the web for our memories a bad thing then? People have made arguments in the past against technologies ruining our memories. In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates depicts the new technology of writing as a device that will ruin the memories of it’s users:

“ this discovery of yours [writing] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”

It seems that this did not happen, in fact writing was a great technology for spreading ideas across time and great distances. But what are some of the possible implications of outsourcing our memories to the web, and how can we talk with students about them?