I am Morgan Freeman (or librarians can get you things)

Last summer I did the “One Archetype, 5 Movies, 5 Seconds” DS106 assignment (with some liberties… my video lasts 18 seconds).

The more I think about it, the more I should’ve added this clip from Shawshank Redemption.

Maybe it’s brain damage from the 18 months of sleep deprivation I suffered because my son was a poor sleeper for… well… 18 months.  Maybe it’s a result of parenting a full-speed-ahead three-year-old boy.  Maybe I’m just small-minded.  Whatever the case may be, that scene from Shawshank Redemption runs through my head pretty often while I do my work.

I’m a librarian (in case you’re new here).  More specifically, I’m a librarian in an independent school.  I find that on a daily basis I experience some kind of work-related existential crisis.

Sometimes the existential crisis is triggered by a conversation that goes something like this:

Student: “I have to write my Honors English paper.  I have two paragraphs written.  I don’t know what I’m going to write for my third paragraph.  I need another source.”

Me:  “When is your paper due?”

Student:  “Today.”

Me:  “Yikes.  What are your sources?”

Student:  “The book and some education web site.”

Me:  [thinking to myself, ‘WTF?’] “Have you looked at any of the subscription databases?”

Student:  “Like JSTOR?  No.”

Picard face palm
Picard face palm

My frustration doesn’t lie with this student who has waited until the last minute to write this paper (turns out that it was the rough draft that was due today).  My frustration lies in the existence of the research paper.  In this case it seems so….  pointless.  The student isn’t invested in the topic.  The student knows how to game the research paper assignment.  An article from The Huffington Post is accepted as a legitimate source.  Why go through the hassle of searching a subscription database when you can just throw a couple of words in a Google search and come up with 1000-word McArticle?

I don’t know how I feel about it.  One one hand, using HuffPo or The Guardian probably best represents how the average person satiates his/her curiosity in something they’re only mildly interested in once he/she leaves school.  Maybe it’s authentic–representative of how we operate when we’re not being graded.

On the other hand, I’m appalled.

I think my main source of friction lies in the traditional research paper.  It seems so meaningless.  I say this as someone who liked writing research papers in both high school and college.  Admittedly all of my selected topics were pedestrian: “The Role of Women in ____” or “How the City is Portrayed in ____.”

My god I could crank those papers out.

It wasn’t the exploration of the literature that I loved.  It was the hunt for information.  Following the breadcrumbs.

I guess that’s why I do what I do now.

If I can’t find, the article “Prevention of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury in Athletes: a Review” in the school’s subscription databases, where can I get it?  How kind is the open web for a request like that?*

Being a librarian is a lot like being a private investigator.  Or it’s like being “Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding” from The Shawshank Redemption.

We’ve been known to locate things from time to time.  And I’m not just talking about books or academic articles.  Librarians are the mother effing Power of Pull.  Here’s a broad assumption: if a person decides to go to library school, odds are that person had trouble committing to just one subject area.

OK.  The point….  I think….

Librarians are about matchmaking.

Flickr photo by Brandon Christopher Warren (cc license)
Flickr photo by Brandon Christopher Warren (cc license)

Librarians are about putting the person with the right piece of information–the right thing–at just the right time.  Sometimes that information/thing is a book.  Sometimes it’s an article.  Sometimes it’s just showing a student with a little bit of downtime how the Makerbot or a Makey Makey works and watching them play for a little bit.

It’s always about inspiration.  Or at least it should be.  There is nothing more uninspired than a student jumping through hoops to complete the tired, meaningless research paper.  I think it’s time to offer more options.

I’m having a hard time making a point.

Here’s what I’m trying to say:

While I believe in the traditional roles of the librarian–embedding information literacy and information seeking within the curriculum (just to name a few)–I think students are better served when teachers and librarians collaborate to tap into the resources that engage the student.

As Erin White so eloquently tweets, the librarian is uniquely positioned to match people with information, technology, and other people.  The librarian can bridge disciplines.

If a student is writing about science in Cat’s Cradle, maybe it would be more interesting to let that student contact local scientists and technologists and find out their opinions on science for science’s sake or science with purpose and then compile those interviews into an edited documentary or audio essay.

At the end of the day, this is what I want for the students I work with and my son who will one day be going to school somewhere: (1) an environment that encourages the exploration of passions/rabbit holes/questions (2) an environment that allows for choice (3) an environment that provides time, a place for solitude, and a place for collaboration (4) an environment that that understands and values the significance of stocked knowledge, information flows, and networks and one’s ability to navigate and pull from those very different pools at just the right time.


*Turns out, not very.  Though I did eventually find the article.  Because I am awesome.


The library is dead! Long live the library!

We closed the library.  Not just for winter break, but for the rest of the school year.  When it reopens, it will house a pretty awesome library program for middle school students, staff, and faculty.  The upper school community will return to school in August with a brand new academic commons.  This building will be the home to academic services, international & economic education, counseling, student activities, communications, an archives, a design lab/makerspace, a cafe, and the library.

The bones of the commons

The bones of the commons

The past couple of weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind.  Cliche, I know, but true.  We  packed while students continued to study, work, and hang out.  Though they knew we were moving out, I don’t think the students really realized what was happening until boxes piled up around them.

I heard a lot of, “This is our last week in the library.”  And “Wow!  This is really happening.”  And, “This is sad.”  I also heard (because I was asked directly by a student), “Can we write on the walls?”

What what?!

My response, “Well, probably the sheetrocked walls, because those are coming down in the renovation.  But, that’s really a question for Ms. Chamberlain [the head librarian].”  

I was confident that the answer to the question would be “No!”

The answer was yes.  And boy oh boy did the inmates run and asylum for a good hour.

kids write on the walls before the library closes.

kids write on the walls before the library closes.

And it was really kind of amazing.

more wall writing

more wall writing

I was definitely outside of my comfort zone for a while, but I love this tribute to the library–this piece of art the kids created.

It’s a fitting tribute.  It’s chaotic.  It’s a jumbled ball of thoughts and feelings from ‘tweens and teens.  These walls belong to these kids.  The library belongs to the kids.  It has since the day I arrived 7 years ago.

The library has been a hangout space, a meeting space, a study space, a club space, a research space, a reading space, a concert space, a makerspace, a makeout space (so awkward to encounter that), a place kids come to be seen, a place kids come to talk.  This kind of space is not what comes to mind when your average Joe/Jane thinks of a library.

Sometimes that’s a point of contention, but tell me what you do when the kids have no where to go?  How can one expect a teenager to be in academic mode twelve or thirteen or fourteen hours a day with no break?  I want quiet to think and work sometimes, but I also want time and a place to tinker and play and talk and work with others.

The movers from American Interfile had us moved in a little over two days.

The makerspace is packed and ready to go

The makerspace is packed and ready to go

more stuff to move out

more stuff to move out

close to empty

close to empty

We librarians now dwell in two (rather comfortable) trailers for the rest of the school year.  We may get some visitors, but those trailers sure are removed from the rest of campus, and students have been tempted with the promise of a heated, tented area on the side of the cafeteria.  Though I won’t miss picking up trash and abandoned laptops, I will miss the (awful) Friday morning Third Eye Blind sing-a-longs.  I will miss eavesdropping on conversations of kids so comfortable that they forget they’re in the library.

There’s lots to be done though.  Lots of planning for the opening of the commons.  My section of senior seminar on the DIY/Maker movement starts January 8th.  I have this feeling that the next year will be the most challenging year I’ve had in a long time.  I’m going to do my best to document and reflect on it here.

Thinking about making

I got to talking with my colleague about makerspaces today.  Plans for the new middle school library include space for a makerspace… That’s an awkward sentence…  The current plans have the makerspace behind a door in a room of its own.  That’s not sitting well with some folks involved in the planning process (understandably so).  Carolyn and I talked about what a makerspace should look like, and when it comes down to it, we really have no idea.  I like to think that with the right guides, passion, and curiosity making will happen regardless of the square footage and available storage.  There’s truth to that, I know.  But if one has the opportunity to plan out a makerspace, one should dream big.

Personally I’m of the opinion that an entire library should function as a makerspace.  Sure, there’s a designated area for the bigger equipment and either stationary or mobile storage, but I think it’s in the spirit of the maker movement to be able to use, interact with, and manipulate one’s environment kind of like what was done with the stairs at Cal Poly.

(thank you DS106)

Make ALL the library a makerspace!

Ok.  Maybe this philosophy is mildly impractical.

If ALL the library can’t be one giant makerspace, what’s essential for the designated square footage?  Passion.  Mentors from multiple disciplines.  Tools for getting the jobs done.  Plenty of storage.  Lots of workspace.  Comfortable areas for talking/working out problems.  Places to scribble ideas.  What else?