Thursday, December 22, 2011

Grand Unification Theory of Librarianship...It's the Reading and Thinking!

With time off to think, its only natural that I turn my attention to reading, reflecting and writing. When I left for the Winter break, I had in mind to learn more about some of the latest trends in librarianship, particularly the notions of Enchantment, Transliteracy and Information Literacy.  Specifically, my first goal was to read the E-book, School Libraries: What's Now, What's Next, What's Yet to Come,  put together by Kristin Fontichiaro and Buffy Hamilton, two of the great stars of the School Library world. I was honored to be one of the contributors to this project.  Of course, just as soon as I finished reading that one, Kristin Fontichiaro goes and releases another E-book by her graduate students called Information Literacy in the Wild. Reading that book is another goal for the remainder of this break.

What have I gained from this reading? In terms of content knowledge I now have a firmer grip on the distinctions between Transliteracy and Information literacy. More importantly, I learned about some more amazing colleagues from all over the World that I now follow on Twitter. Finding kindred spirits and role models is what keeps me going in this business, and that alone made the reading worth while.

However, reading through this book in one sitting, its easy to feel overwhelmed with all the talk of new professional standards, roles for librarians, goals for library facilities, as well as deeper concepts that require understanding before applying them to practice. For me, the big takeaways are not anything new, but reaffirmations of the core of my philosophy of librarianship, which can be summed up in two words; Reading and Thinking. Yes, it really is that simple, but its complicated.

Taking just the concept of Transliteracy, which describes a state where an individual is competent at various literacies that enable not just the acquisition of knowledge from reading, but the ability to process information  from all forms of media and participate in the global conversations via the same types of media. Obviously, a very complex and high level outcomes are necessary to produce transliterate students, and it is overwhelming to think about the prospect of all of the individual teaching objectives and lessons that would be necessary. However, when one thinks about it, the underlying skills are really the same as reading.

Expert readers are really capable of being transliterate, assuming they learn various skills such as social media, video production and various other computer applications. None of these latter skills are difficult compared to becoming an expert reader.  An expert reader has more than a strong vocabulary, but a habit of continually asking key questions while reading and highly honed skills of efficiently assimilating the most vital information and perspectives from text. It's practically impossible to become an expert reader without simultaneously becoming an expressive and competent writer and a learner that is at least somewhat comfortable in an ambiguous and complicated world of abstraction. Strong readers don't just passively absorb ideas, but they respond.

So, to make a long-story short, we as librarians should pay attention and teach skills related to transliteracy whenever we have the opportunity. However, out core mission of just plain old literacy is still number one. Kids that regularly read through books of hundreds of pages are prepared to be transliterate, while those that can't or don't read regularly will never be transliterate.  Having a quality mix of books in print and E-book form is more important than ever, and the battle for student minds will be won by librarians that are transliterate themselves, who can connect with students and lead them towards the world of text and abstraction. This leads me to the last point, which is about thinking, specifically the types of thinking that don't happen with a book in hand.

If libraries are to be relevant in the age of the e-book, we have to serve a purpose that is beyond promoting reading.  Librarians need to lead young people towards a life of the mind.  For me, this means games. I allow and encourage video games and I make sure to praise and reward students that go beyond the level of just playing games. Video games can be a gateway to knowledge acquired through books or avenues for learning skills related to transliteracy.

Even more so, I am a big proponent of off-line games such as Chess and Bridge that promote problem solving, critical thinking and social skills on a very high level. These games figure into my library program. I recognize that not all librarians are inclined to start chess clubs and bridge clubs, but I think these two games have proven track records at boosting student skills and self-esteem.  I encourage individual librarians to identify and promote all activities that lead to these outcomes.  If librarians are creative, they will be sure to inspire creativity in others. Just as if we model transliteracy in our practice, we're likely to inspire it in others.

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