Friday, December 29, 2006

Scanning the literate lunatic aka genius fringe

Scanning is a common cognitive exercise I focus on as a teacher-librarian, but it's also something I do as a mental magpie, so I was interested to read about scanning in the context of futurist studies.

Yes, I'd read the OCLC's Environmental Scan (re the future of libraries) a few years back, so knew what one generally consisted of, but when I checked out Dr. Wendy Schultz's website (a result of reading her recent delightful offering in the OCLC newsletter re her vision of Library 4.0 as mind gym, idea lab, art salon, and knowledge spa), I was interested to find an essay on the concept of "common, or garden variety, environmental scans", as practiced/professed by futurists like Schultz.

Schultz has her students do what she calls "360 scanning" of anything touching on STEEP (social, technological, economic, ecological, and political) environments. They start by scanning an entire set of (hardcopy) periodicals in a library, no matter what field they are in (e.g., engineers are instructed to not overlook Women's Wear Daily or Art in America), looking for patterns of themes or topics relating to change and new innovations. Then they move onto online resources (and she provides a good list), again, across a wide range of interests.

This type of scanning outside one's forte is exactly what I think all those involved in education should always be doing.

I particularly like her recommendation: "Another strategy is identifying the websites of the literate lunatic fringe -- or genius fringe -- and monitoring their blogs (weblogs)."

Yes, checking out the edge is always interesting. So what websites qualify as the literate genius fringe in the field of teaching and librarianship?? A good basic list of cutting edge mavens in the field of educational technology is on edtechnot. For social software + political philosophy there's Ideant, the blog of Ulises Ali Mejias. In terms of "the book" and adventurous speculations about its future, I love if:book. Of course, for a good collection of geniuses, you can't do better than Edge: The Third Culture.

Must go through my blog list and see who else I would include... Maybe I should make a new category in Bloglines -- "Genius fringe"...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

How can stories can save your life?

In my school library I put different quotes related to reading and books on shelfmarkers, hoping the kids will stop to read and think as they browse. Late Friday afternoon a 5th grade girl caught me as I was rushing from one task to another and said, "Did you make those shelfmarkers?" "Yes," I said and started to move away. "But, what about this one that says 'Stories can save your life'?" she continued, "How can that be true?" I stopped. My brain was really on something else and I searched for the simplest answer. "Well, of course they can. Maybe you read a novel about survival and you learn something that later helps you survive. And think of all the non-fiction books that have important information in them." The look on her face told me she wasn't completely convinced, but I moved on, even though I knew I hadn't handled the moment well at all.

Then today I happened to read Judith Ridge's article in the March 2006 issue of the Horn Book on the books of Boori Monti Pryor, an Aboriginal, and his white partner, Meme McDonald, in which the power of that quote in the context of Aboriginal storytelling was addressed.
It’s a fascinating concept of story — that what is most powerful lies in what cannot be said. The experience made Meme realize that “stories are our lifeblood — they instruct us how to live and how to be and what visions to hold true. They’re fundamental to the happiness of our lives, so they’re very precious. So in that sense, I think if you start to regard stories as an absolute essential of life, rather than a distraction from life, then how you evolve them and in what context, what respect you have for the source of that story, becomes very important whatever culture you come from.”

The point of all of this, of course, is that this new — or, rather, most ancient — way of creating stories isn’t just an issue for Aboriginal people. In fact, it’s not even just about story — it’s about life and culture and creating a society based on principles of respect and collaboration.

As for the quote, "Stories can save your life", one frequently cited source for it is Tim O'Brien's book "The Things They Carried", though of course Sharhazad in "1001 Arabian Nights" is the best example, as Susan Fletcher discusses on her website in connection with her book "Shadow Spinner".

I can't wait to get back to school and find that girl again. I need to talk to her...

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Sontag on paying attention

Wonderful advice from Susan Sontag, speaking to college students a few years ago:

“Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.”

found in a NYTimes article.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Holons, or Organic Education...

Having just read Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" (see previous post), I can't help but think about how the comparison between the industrialized food production cycle and the nature/organic/localized one can be made re education, especially in the US at the moment.

The industrial model pursues efficiency via standardization and (over) simplification, while in natural systems efficiencies flow from complexity and interdependence.

Pollan cited one 'beyond organic' farmer who described how he stacked enterprises, layering diverse and interdependent activities on one piece of land. The farmer called each of his stacked enterprises a "holon", a word (Pollan explains) originating with Arthur Koestler and meaning an entity that is both self-contained and a dependent part of a bigger system.

For example, one holon on his farm is to have cows graze a new pasture every day, with another holon being to have chickens feed in that same field three days later in order to eat the larvae just hatched in the cowpats. The farmer described himself as the orchestra conductor, "making sure everybody's in the right place at the right time".

I'd like to think of the school library as a holon -- just as every primary school classroom and the other specialist lessons are holons -- each self-contained and yet part of an interrelated system, with collaboration and communication between teachers and teacher-librarians necessary to make sure that the flow of intellectual nutrition is gathered at exactly the best moment.

So who's the orchestra conductor? The curriculum coordinator? Better yet, the teacher-librarian...

The Omnivore's Dilemma as Inquiry-Based Learning

"What should we have for dinner?" is the essential question driving Michael Pollan in his latest book, The Ominvore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. His narrative of how he explores that question is an excellent model of inquiry-based learning -- in adults, in the real world, on a topic that definitely addresses the big 'so what?' criterium.

Did you know that food production burns almost 1/5 of the petroleum consumed in the US? Just as much as cars consume... "And how could it come to pass that a fast-food burger produced from corn and fossil actually costs less than a burger produced from grass and sunlight?" By the way, his website provides access to all of his articles over the years, many of which contain ideas pulled together in this book.

I would love to see such a book re-written for upper primary and middle school students (much like Eric Schlosser took his Fast Food Nation and re-wrote it as Chew on This with Charles Wilson -- not to mention the movie just coming out).

Pollan tunes in, finds out, sorts out, goes further, make conclusions, takes action, and then shares and reflects -- in continual loops (to use Kath Murdoch's model of inquiry -- though any one could be used, e.g., the Big6, PLUS, etc.) -- about food chains, a topic included in many curricula.

Having kids see that adults get excited about big questions and pursue them is so important. Unfortunately, I haven't seen all that many primary school teachers who are committed to inquiry projects of their own -- or perhaps I should say I haven't seen many teachers share their outside passions within the school. Perhaps in my new school come August I'll provide display space in the library for teachers to do just that -- share their reading interests and personal ongoing inquiries.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Books and time

A quote on books and reading that I'd never come across before:

To buy books would be a good thing if we also could buy the time to read them. -- Arthur Schopenhauer

But I like the version of it quoted by Gerrie Lim, who credits Warren Zevon with this rephrasing of Schopenhauer:

We love to buy books because we believe we're buying the time to read them.

Which sums up how I felt when my kids were young and time was terribly precious -- I just had to keep buying books....

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

EARCOS, Ross Todd, etc.

My notes from the EARCOS (East Asia Regional Council on Overseas Schools) Teachers' Conference in Manila held two weeks ago are now typed up. Useful as my own memory enhancement technique -- even if no one else ever reads them!

In terms of school librarianship, the time spent with Ross Todd of CISSL was invaluable. He's an iconoclastic pixie in adult form -- terribly knowledgeable and 'naughty' -- effectively campaigning for guided inquiry and evidence-based practice (proving that you're actually adding to the learning process) rather than the drum-beating and public worship of information literacy as the focus of the Information-Learning Specialist (aka the school librarian):

--- Step out of libraryland! -- Step out of information literacy land! -- It's not about finding stuff anymore! -- Get over it! -- That annual library tour and all that Dewey babble are just a waste of time! -- Get off that information literacy pedestal! -- Get over it!


-- What we want is the discovery of knowledge, not the discovery of resources -- knowledge construction, not product construction
-- I see appalling things going on - with little learning as the outcome
-- Guided inquiry is back-door Information Literacy
-- Guided inquiry is a staged process and mediation is where you come in
-- Intervention is about identifying what the kids need and figuring out how to get them to the next stage
-- Kids are being abandoned (usually in the name of 'independent research') at the most critical stage - when they're ready to interrogate all the 'stuff' they've found
-- Knowledge in - or via - conflict is what's really important
-- We need to confront kids with alternative perspectives and conflicting ideas -- and help them grapple with evidence, arguments and judgements
-- It's about getting the kids to develop personal positions
-- Think outside the information literacy box -- Think about what intellectual scaffolds you can provide
-- Don't make information literacy standards or library skills separate from curriculum standards! Information literacy is a secondary, derived standard -- You need to look at the curriculum standards THROUGH the information literacy lens.
-- Documenting your sources (i.e., teaching bibliographic citation skills) is part of the knowledge experience -- it shouldn't be a library lesson!
-- Highlight your rubrics on your school library webpage - not your library rules!
-- Avoid PFS ("petty fine syndrome") and LHC ("loans harrassment complex")!
-- Keep asking yourself: "Did they learn anything?"

But it was Ross's excitement over doing research that made the biggest impression. I started thinking about mini research projects of my own in my new job come August, e.g., establishing baseline surveys of kids' knowledge and levels of multi-literacies in order to track just what added value a teacher librarian can provide (especially as the school doesn't have one at the moment) and the positive difference created by collaboration...

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Manila, here we come

Only a few more days until the EARCOS teachers' conference in Manila. Really looking forward to Ross Todd's one-day pre-conference for teacher/librarians.

On Thursday Beth and I do our workshop on "The Long Tail of Narrative Space and the Information Landscape: its implications for schools and libraries".

Our LibraryTails wiki is where we're pulling it all together. It's also what we'll be delivering to the people attending. There's so much we want to say. Still figuring out the best way to demonstrate it all. Check it out a week from now.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006 sayings

Joshua Schachter, from, gave a talk at a future web apps summit that Simon Willison attended -- and took notes on. They're wonderful snippets of thought relating to, RSS, and tagging (as well as more techie concerns).

Here are the bits that made me either nod my head in approval or mentally tag for more consideration:
When you chose what to build, solve a problem you have yourself so you can be
sure to understand it. Passion counts.

Aggregation is often a focus of attention (latest, most active, etc.)

As the population gets larger, the bias drifts; becomes
less interesting to the original community members. Work out ways to let the
system fragment in to different areas of attention.

Tagging is mostly user interface - a way for people to recall things, what
they were thinking about when they saved it. Fairly useful for recall, OK for
discovery, terrible for distribution (where publishers add as many tags as
possible to get it in lots of boxes).

Automatic tags lose a lot - doesn't help the user really achieve their goals.
That's why the "add to" badges don't let you suggest tags.

Value in Delicious is in the "attention" - auto-tagging detracts from this.

Make users do the minimum amount of work. But make them do something.

You have to speak the user's language. "Bookmarks" are what you call them if
you use Netscape of Firefox - most users these days know the term "favourite"
instead. Half of his population (? users) didn't know what a bookmark was.

And here's a line that made me -- as a librarian -- stop and stare:
"Beware librarians" - some people want to give tags a specific, underlying
meaning. Don't let them.
Come on...

Anyway, his comment re tagging as most useful for recall -- for the person who tagged it -- reminded me of Roger Schank's "Tell Me A Story: Narrative and Intelligence" (1990), a book I keep returning to in thinking about tagging as well as cataloging (yes, the librarian kind).

Here's an excerpt from the foreword by Gary Saul Morson, summarizing Schank's argument:

"What enables ... people to respond intelligently? The answer, for Schank, is that they have previously mulled over their experiences and labeled them in multiple interesting ways. From a sequence of experiences they have constructed a narrative; they have reflected on this narrative and found a number of ways in which it is significant; and in so doing, their memory has attached several labels to the story, which allow them to recall the story when another narrative suggests similar labels. Once the earlier story is recalled, these people can reflect on pertinent comparisons with the current situation. Present wisdom depends on earlier indexing.

In effect, then the real moment of intelligence occurs not (or not only) when one is reminded of the pertinent story, but when the pertinent story was stored in memory. Intelligence occurs earlier. It is closely related to good indexing."

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

You only learn what you need to / want to

"I give them just enough technology to be able to navigate. What they learn because they want to is much more effective than what I can teach."

-- Quote from an article in Edutopia re high school students learning to make films.

In this upcoming workshop Beth and I are doing, that's what we need to do: whet the appetite of the teacher/librarians. We don't have to be the experts -- we just need to tell the story of our own journey, in the hopes that it will make them want to explore the road themselves.

To be travel agents, not travel guides -- as one article on teaching information literacy (which one was that?) put it.
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The business of storytelling

Storytelling is a big story throughout the Internet. It's particularly interesting how business and marketing have taken it on board. See, for instance, this posting excerpt:

"Don't sell me a product, tell me a story!" from The Intuitive Life Business Blog
Marketing through telling stories doesn't stop there, it
infuses all that you do to market yourself and your business.
Consider two of my favorite business authors, Tom Peters and Jim
Collins. One of them is focused on participating in the business of
business, of sharing his evolving story and his view of which
businesses are and aren't successful, while the other is locked away in
his ivory tower, selling products and doing research that he'll share
when his next book is published. Which is which? You tell me: visit Tom Peters' Web site and Jim Collins' Web site for yourself. The difference is glaringly obvious.

Yes, the power of blogs is in the collaborative story.

From another business blog, another posting (Naked Conversations: Story Telling v. Product Selling ) comes this comment about speakers at conferences and how the best ones tell stories:
Malcolm Gladwell was our favorite last year. He was selling his book, but he didn't talk much about his book.
A case of showing what a good storyteller he was, rather than telling people he was. Of course, Gladwell has been a favorite of mine for years -- from the days when he was just in The New Yorker and I would rip his articles out to save.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

My personal attention structures....

Slowly but surely I am creating a constellation of attention structures that allow me to follow the plot on Web 2.0, Library 2.0, School Library 2.0, etc., adding up -- with any luck -- to School Librarian 2.0. The cutting (librarian) edge story on information unfolding in the Attention Economy.

So this is the blog.

Then there's my wiki -- where I store the files I might reference here (like any papers I've written and want to share with people) -- as well as my bibliography of favorite writer/thinkers. I'm using pbwiki for that -- and find it quite easy to use. Can't say I've tried out every feature -- but there's plenty there to try. My wiki is definitely still "under contruction"...

For bookmarking, I have an extension collection going over on

What books have I read lately? Check out my Reader2 (that was "squared") site. I'm trying out another "catalog your own books" program called LibraryThing where I track and tag books that could be used in the PYP programme -- e.g., tags based on the Learner Profile and the PYP Attitudes and Concepts.

I haven't really put up any personal photos yet. Instead Flickr is where I'm storing photographs of primary libraries (ones I've worked at available to the public and ones I've just visited available just to friends). This was done to help a bunch of teachers get ideas of how they might like to modify their primary library.

Gmail is indispensable for the collection of listservs I belong to -- where I tag posts as I read them, accumulating my own annotated database, so to speak.

Bloglines is where my RSS feeds come in to.

Then, last but not least, I still rely on IKeepBookmarks as my "home page" when I fire up Mozilla, displaying my most commonly accessed links -- laid out as main plus subfolders. Of course, the most commonly accessed links are all the other attention structures just listed.

That old question... what to call oneself....

Reading about the "blended librarian" movement (started by Steven Bell and John Shank) makes me wonder whether a blended librarian is just another name for a teacher/librarian -- only at the university level.

Here's their mission statement (it features that teacher/librarian mantra -- collaboration):
The Blended Librarians Online Learning Community is librarians, faculty, instructional designers and technologists, and other academic support personnel working collaboratively to integrate the library into the teaching and learning process. It is designed to encourage and enable academic librarians to evolve into a new role that blends existing library and information skills with those of instructional design and technology. To that end, the Community leverages innovation, collaboration, and communication to bring together its members in a virtual environment for professional development and learning opportunities.

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

The point of college/university is what?

Refreshing report in the Guardian (UK) -- "Another Hard Day in the Library" -- earlier this month from Germaine Greer and other academics about how they really spent their university days and the long-term benefits of NOT forcing students to attend lectures and tutorials (as Oxford is threatening to do via contracts with the students).

I always felt college was mainly four interesting walls within which to grow for four years. Greer says it better:

Kids don't go to university to sit at the feet of their elders and betters; they go to university to meet each other.... Because this is what uni is, the first time young people have their own collective space to organise or disorganise as they please.... Dragooning undergraduates would be to delay their maturation still further, so that they never achieve the autonomy on which our whole political system should be based.

Made me think about the importance of young people having "their own collective space" online to "organise or disorganise as they please" -- and the need for human attention structures. Lanham in his article on general education in the digital age (see yesterday's posting) makes the point that "considered on the largest scale, the undergraduate curriculum is an attention-structure."

Greer also argues that incompetent teachers are often far more valuable than good ones -- because they make you react to their incompetence -- and hence move you further along towards your own competence.
"Surely not!" is a more salutary reaction to a statement from a teacher than "Precisely". As I used to say to my students, "Confusion is the most productive state of mind. Respect your confusions. Don't let me waft them away."

Carol Kuhlthau would surely agree.

Greer also makes a case for lectures being replaced by digital multimedia versions:
In 2006, it would make more sense to issue the lectures on DVD, and spend the hour in the lecture room dealing with student's questions. In my day, students were supposed to be critical listeners.... The very best teacher is the one who really enjoys being made to look a fool by a student.

Lectures are a misshapen survival of medieval pedagogy, which took authority as absolute and understood the teacher's sole duty to be that of expounding it. Lectures have no place in a system based on critical thinking....

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Blogging Characters?

So Dwight, the US equivalent of Gareth on the TV show "The Office", has his own blog, eh? Andy Carvin suggests other TV characters he'd like to see start one.

Made me think about having students set up a blog for a novel's protagonist, with the class taking turns blogging that character's life beyond the pages of the book.

The first book I thought of was "Flat Stanley "-- as there is the long-standing tradition of sending snail mail letters containing him around the world (I know I once hosted him in Ho Chi Minh City) -- and, sure enough, a simple search reveals Stanley is already very much alive online in the blogosphere, e.g., here, and here, and here.

What other characters would be well-suited to start their own blog?

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Future librarians?

The effectiveness of library schools -- what they should and shouldn't be teaching and doing -- has been bandied about in blogs recently, e.g., Technology and Education: Are Library Schools Doing Enough? on Tame the Web blog.

Another blog (I forget which) posted a reference to the article "Crying Wolf: An Examination and Reconsideration of the Perception of Crisis in LIS Education".

Coming up in April in Singapore there's the Asia-Pacific Conference on Library and Information Education and Practice (A-LIEP)-- entitled "Preparing Information Professionals for Leadership in the New Age". I'm particularly looking forward to it because some of my former professors from Charles Sturt University (Australia) will be attending -- and I hope to meet them for the first time. Having done my masters via distance learning (while living in Phuket, Thailand -- never having been to Australia), technology was an integral part of my library science education.

In terms of preparing for the future, one theorist few people in librarianship seem to be paying attention to is Richard Lanham.

Okay, he's not a librarian, but he has a strong vision of the role librarians should be playing in the Attention Economy. Over ten years ago he addressed the ARL (Association of Research Libraries) and outlined "The Economics of Attention", a concept he then turned into an article in 1997 (available on his website), and now a book is due out in May 2006 from the Univ of Chicago Press.
In an information-rich world where human attention is the scarce commodity, the library's business is orchestrating human attention-structures.
He was lamenting the closure of university library schools back in 1997 ( see his essay "A Computer-based Harvard Red Book: General Education in the Digital Age") precisely because he feels librarians are ideally placed to become the architects managing the convergence of content, delivery, and manipulation of information.

I'm hooked on his idea of attention-structures and thinking about how rhetoric plays into the new literacies in the school library.

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