question mark

"Caslon metal type question mark" by Leo Reynolds via Flickr

I’m much better at asking questions than answering them. Guess it’s no surprise I worked as a journalist for years.

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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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"Play" by VinothChandar via Flickr.

We had a sharp and thoughtful conversation this week in class about games and gameification — a word my spellchecker still doesn’t recognize, so that must mean it’s trendy — as the two relate to motivation and transfer in school settings.

I’ll attempt to sketch my gameification soapbox quickly:

• “Games” is not a monolithic category — chess is not World of Warcraft is not Tetris, so let’s be precise when we discuss what games “are” or mean for learners.

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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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Seattle Public Library by OzinOh via Flickr

OK, dumb question:

What does learning look like in the library?

I’m sitting in the Undergraduate Library as I write this, trying to gain a new perspective on a familiar place and feeling very much like Margaret Mead — if Margaret Mead were a librarian with a laptop.

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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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"Jell-O molds aplenty" by flyheatherfly via Flickr

Anytime I think I’ve gotten closer to defining “information literacy,” I realize how slippery this concept is. It feels a bit like sparring with a bowl of Jell-O.

Now there’s a metaphor for you. I almost said “Jell-O wrestling,” but I caught myself.

Inspired by the recent chatter among my colleagues taking a user experience research methods class this term, let’s play “personas and scenarios” for information literacy.

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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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Whiteboard notes on networks

"Groups and Networks" by Stephen Downes via Flickr

I’ve got lots of asterisks in my notes from this week’s class on expert and novice learners, and the potential (and pitfalls) of online learning tools and techniques. Asterisk = Blog about this later!

Some of the larger themes from this week’s class relate to big questions like values and skills: What are our professional and institutional values? How do those values inform our work as educators and community members?

I’ll do a fly-by of some ideas that got me thinking:

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