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"Drawbot Action" by Pete Prodoehl via Flickr

Good things happen when you get a bunch of sharp librarians-to-be together in a tiny conference room to hash out emerging trends in the profession.

Above all, I loved the variety and creativity of this week’s one-shot workshops, a collection of team-led 20-minute discussions on topics ranging from the Patriot Act’s implications for libraries, to the ethics of makerspaces, to libraries as third spaces.

Even better, I learned something.
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"Bent" by Dirk Dallas via Flickr

After facilitating a book club discussion this week, I was thinking about how much of my experience being a group leader in a classroom setting has been shaped by my few semesters of teaching experience.

I’ve written a bit before about my time as a teaching assistant for college writing & rhetoric. I realize looking back on it, that my style of discussion facilitation came about in part because I needed to offer what one of my teaching mentors refers to as a “field of words” — a running narration by the teacher to provide context, point out intriguing passages in a text, ask questions, play devil’s advocate, etc., in order to lay the groundwork for a student to feel comfortable enough to jump into the conversation.
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Origami dinosaur

"Triceratops" by EmreAyar via Flickr

And now for something completely different: the book.

I laughed to myself this week when brainstorming this post, realizing that it felt different to be talking about a technology so intimately associated with librarians to the point of stereotype. I suppose it says something about modern iSchools that we are usually arguing over proprietary file formats and digital scholarly publishing models rather than arguing about, you know, reading. It feels refreshing to be back in familiar territory, though, and with a new perspective on The Book, that monolithic concept and cultural institution.

I’m reminded, too, of my work in a preservation class this term, where we practice “media archaeology” — examining the larger historical, cultural, and technological contexts for legacy or defunct media forms, in order to better understand them. It’s great fun to look at player pianos and phantasmagoria and stereopticons, but one of my favorite discussions so far has been the one in which we attempted to see the book “from a distance,” to de-familiarize it and see it anew.

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"Green/Blue" by Alexander Steinhof via Flickr

As I read this week about the importance of successful transfer of learning to new realms, I thought about how much of the technology we interact with each day can feel transparent to use but opaque to any deeper understanding.

It’s a paradox, isn’t it? I can search the Internet without understanding the mechanism behind the engine — unless, that is, a server goes down and I get some cryptic error message from the site I’d like to visit.

Environmentalist and writer John Michael Greer has a great passage on transparent technologies, describing how one could look at a slide rule and figure out how it worked and even make new slide rules. The mechanism is clear and replicable. But a calculator — that’s a little machine composed of batteries and solar panels. You can’t look inside a calculator and figure out how it works if you have no idea what a calculator is.

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Image via Edushop

“Teachers’ conceptions of quality are typically held, largely in unarticulated form, inside their heads as tacit knowledge” (p. 126).

This quote from Sadler’s article “Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems” (1989) helped give words to feelings about many of my experiences as both a teacher and a student of writing.

Before coming to the University of Michigan, I studied in a creative writing graduate program. My classmates — all fellow writers who bravely put up their work for peer critique each week in our workshops — and I came to joke about what we called the “more cowbell problem.”

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Above is a snapshot of my Storify story about Quasi-Con 2012.

You can read the whole thing here.

I first learned about Storify last year while working for a news website, and I’ve watched it take off since then, with many major news organizations posting regularly — it’s a great way to follow the web chatter on elections, protests, and other swift-moving news events. While Storify is primarily used by journalists and news bloggers, I think it’s got a lot of potential to curate social media conversations happening around other community institutions like libraries.

Meanwhile, I also made my first screencast last week! The topic, natch, is about using Storify for library outreach. You can watch my screencast in the little VodPod widget in the left menu bar on this page. Or click here to watch it full-screen on

"Good Morning!" by Frank Wuestefeld via Flickr

“If the library were reimagined as a socially constructed artifact of our culture, it could become a laboratory for learning the ways in which we engage in knowledge construction, instead of being seen as a peculiarly organized storehouse of ready-made and infinitely reusable knowledge” (Fister, qtd. in Birmingham et al., p. 19).

We’ve talked already this semester about the shifts taking place in librarianship, especially the rise of librarian-as-educator, librarian as a partner in the creation of knowledge.

Isn’t this what we’re really talking about when we debate library spaces? We want to balance digital media labs and makerspaces that actively advertise the library as a hub of knowledge creation — and we don’t want to lose the contemplative spaces where ideas coalesce in quiet.

The readings I chose for this week on information literacy tease out the nuances in the theme of librarian-as-educator, and provide an exciting challenge for librarians and their faculty or instructor counterparts.

I would point out, though, that the quote I presented at the start of this post — which certainly feels like a modern vision for libraries to me — was written in 1995. This concept of libraries seems to float on the edges, though it is not new. I think we are moving forward, though. It is perhaps no coincidence that “Library Lab” may be the new name of an ALA-Boing Boing collaboration currently under way (exciting!).

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"Back in Time" by JD Hancock via Flickr

Forgive me, I think I have a bit of an information hangover after yesterday’s fabulous quasi-con. While my mind buzzes about libraries-as-space and libraries in space and “sexy technology” and all the other goodness from the con, I’ll try to get up to speed on my thoughts for this week’s readings.

In fact, after a day of predicting and prognosticating at our “Future of Libraries”-themed event, the Johnston article in particular felt a little retro in its rhetorical stance toward information literacy as “one component of a set of generic skills that students need to acquire throughout their degree” (p. 2).

I may be missing a nuance here, but I disagree that information literacy can be removed from disciplinary and situational contexts. While we could list the “generic” skills associated with information literacy — that ever-niggling phrase “use information” in the ACRL standards comes to mind — the larger challenge facing learners is developing the metacognitive skills and the habits to know when and how to employ them, and when and how to move past stumbling blocks when they (inevitably) emerge in real-world contexts.

When I review the quantitative and qualitative methods employed in the Johnston study, I’m struck by the thorough effort to capture students’ needs and attitudes. Their methods reflect the cyclical process as codified in the ADDIE model discussed in Veldoff, though I would be keen on seeing how they would plan to revise their module based on the received feedback.

At the same time, I find student responses like the following evocative of larger questions:

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"Lamellae" by Furryscaly via Flickr.

On cyborgs

In class this week, I had a chance to revisit one of my favorite metaphors for librarianship: the cyborg.

I owe a great debt to cognitive philosopher Andy Clark, whose book “Natural-Born Cyborgs” (2003) is one I continually return to, even when I disagree with some of its arguments. (You can read the eBook version via MLibrary here.)

He writes:

“For we shall be cyborgs not in the merely superficial sense of combining flesh and wires but in the more profound sense of being human-technology symbionts: thinking and reasoning systems whose minds and selves are spread across biological brain and nonbiological circuitry. This book is the story of that transition and of its roots in some of the most basic and characteristic facts about human nature: For human beings, I want to convince you, are natural-born cyborgs.” (p. 3).

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The Mona Lisa. The Louvre. Paris. 2007. Photo by me.

Looking at/looking through: The Mona Lisa — that’s her in the back.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to see. Maybe because I re-read John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing,” one of the handful of books that transformed my undergraduate experience way back in the early ’00s, over the holidays. Going back to graduate school after a five-year career in journalism revealed to me just how much my mental models and learning processes had been shaped by that particular discipline. I had to challenge how I was used to organizing information, how I was used to reading and writing, and that sort of challenge always feels to me a bit like an identity crisis. (Now that I’m back in graduate school for a second time, at least I know what to expect!)

Indeed, I think it can be easy to forget just how much our world view is shaped by our chosen discipline and professional identity. For students just entering academia and struggling to find where they fit in, to make sense of their existing experience and what they’re confronted with for the first time in the classroom, this transition must be doubly challenging. I think we would do well to remember that discomfort.

So I was especially struck by the passage in this week’s readings from “How People Learn” on page 36: “One dimension of acquiring greater competence appears to be the increased ability to segment the perceptual field (learning how to see).”

Learning how to see. What a simple turn of phrase for something so complex and seemingly mysterious.

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