Sunday, April 15, 2018

The 21st Century Role of the High School Librarian

“What is information?” I asked the class.
“Data,” responded one tenth grader.
“Mmmm…yes, data is one TYPE of information,” I replied.
“That is a source for information…is there another word that includes all types and forms of information?”
And so we go around the room, until one student yells out “KNOWLEDGE!”

As an information professional (librarian, library media specialist -- whatever you want to call me) my patrons seem to find it mind-blowing when I define my role as handling and organizing all knowledge. They begin to wonder what exactly does my librarian do?

I tell my students that if they leave our high school aware that information is around them at all times, I have done part of my job. I tell them that I’d like them to they leave us fully aware of their opportunity to absorb information around them. (Pay attention to the world beyond your phone!) My job is complete if they have the ability to sort information, to use it to make informed decisions, and distinguish “good” information from “bad.” I am successful if they are critical thinkers.

How can I help them on this path? I tell them...

·      Come to me if you are overwhelmed with the information around you
·      Come to me if you can’t find enough information.
·      Come to me if you are having difficulty recognizing the authority of the information you found
·      Come to me if you need to find an expert
·      Come to me if you need a better understanding of how the knowledge you have ties into a wider world of knowledge
·      Come to me if you don’t understand where answers to your questions can be found
·      Come to me if you don’t even know what questions to ask to gain deeper knowledge

High school librarians are vital team members in our schools. We connect both students and faculty to sources and ideas that support subject area learning. We define links between content and create an overarching umbrella for the knowledge that constantly flows throughout the school. Building ties between knowledge and knowledge holders, within and beyond the school, is our greatest skill.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Information Literacy in the 21st Century

Information literacy is a critical component of life in the 21st century. Overloaded with information, it is difficult to distinguish facts from opinion from blatant lies. The primary sources, upon which I built a career, are often forgotten. Citizens turn to social media, often seeking like-minded people to inform them. Or, we look for people with whom we generally disagree to make sure we are in the right camp, believing the opposite of our perceived foes. Today, more than ever, librarians and archivists need to use their skills for outreach. We have an important job that involves helping our patrons understand qualities of information and where to find sources.

For the past six years, in addition to part-time archives consulting, I have worked as a full-time high school Library Media Specialist . In this position, I have learned much about what people believe and how they use information. During this time, I have also earned a post-grad degree in Education. Thus, it is time to restart the ArchivesInfo blog through a new lens.

  • What responsibilities do archivists and librarians have to the public?
  • How can our skills help mold the 21st century for the better?
  • What is information literacy?
  • How can, and why should, schools make information literacy a primary component of teaching?
  • How can/should education change in the United States to ensure students can evaluate information and think critically for themselves?
  • How can educators collaborate with professionals outside of schools to improve school outcomes?
Studying to make education and awareness of information stronger
I will share with you some of my half-decade's worth of writing and publications in this area. I will also share my experiences teaching information literacy and collaborating with professionals in my community. Finally, I hope we can use this space to brainstorm ideas to make our skills as information professionals, educators, and cultural heritage experts stronger.

It's nice to be blogging again...

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Library Design Tips - SLJ

Space planning is an important component of running a successful institution


School Library Journal - Library Design Tips

Sunday, January 31, 2016

When History and Science Meet

This past week, I attended an event at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center here in New Hampshire that marked the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger disaster . On January 28th, 1986, the space shuttle exploded just 73 seconds into its mission. Concord, New Hampshire resident Christa McAuliffe was chosen for this mission to be the first teacher in space, but was killed during the tragedy.

McAuliffe inspired us all with a spirit of adventure, discovery and purpose."I touch the future, I teach" has become a mantra to all those who follow in her footsteps as educators. To me. the memory of McAuliffe, a social studies teacher, emphasizes the importance of tying our past to our future. Today, grounded in history and inspired by ideas related to STEM and new 21st century Science standards, we may support our children by guiding them to ignite their passions, satisfy their curiosities about from where they come, and use new tools for the betterment of their world. In fact, when we look at our stars, we should realize that science and history are very closely related, indeed.

 Challenger victims remembers at McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center. NECN.
Challenger victims remembers at McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center. NECN.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

School Library and Museum Collaboration

Museums and schools should be natural partners. So, when I began working at a high school library three-and-a-half years ago, one of the first things I did was seek out an institution willing to try something a little different. My goals were mainly twofold:
  • Promote hands-on learning and STEAM / Makerspace education in my town, while showing students the value of collaboration 
  • Promote museum educational programs and outreach
Students check out the 3D printer that will
be used to build drone parts. It was acquired thanks
to a museum education grant that included our school.
I was willing to work with any type of museum, with the hope that this project will expand and perhaps involve multiple museums in the future. In July 2014, I met with a like-minded science museum director in my area to discuss ideas about a potential collaboration. This winter, our partnership and year-and-a-half of planning is resulting in a project launch with my high school teens. I have described our project on Donor's Choose as follows:

Our first collaborative project is to design and build a drone. The project will help students gather and evaluate information. It will support innovation, creativity and critical thinking. With the help of the librarian, administration, teachers, and museum staff, it will allow students to become comfortable with collaboration and communicating with experts. Students will work within a budget, create an engineering project plan, build a drone kit and modify the drone with CAD and a 3D printer, create a documentary about the experience, design a web site, write articles for the school paper and other media outlets outside of our walls and deliver presentations about our work.
This project is open to all students and will cater to varied interests and abilities.

Students will engage in authentic learning, picking up skills that will serve them in a 21st century world. Furthermore, the project will boost our sense of community due to its large-scale collaborative nature. We hope that this will serve as a model for other non-formal learning opportunities. [Donor's Choose, 2016]
In my original planning document I state the following: 
Students are invited to learn in an environment that distinguishes itself from the traditional classroom experience - to explore, to be creative and to discover new ways of thinking. We aim to make our school a model for community learning that brings informational and cultural tools from around the world into our educational space.

We see collaboration as an important part of our learning experience. Collaboration gives us more ways to access information. It enables us to rely on group diversity to accomplish tasks. It gives us multiple perspectives for more efficiently solving problems. Collaboration can help us grow ideas, stretch our minds, and garner new tools for information seeking behaviors.

  • We aim to make learning fun and to connect it to the real world.
  • We aim to help students adapt to different ways of communication, exploration, inquiry, and evaluation of information using diverse low and high tech tools.
  • We aim to help students understand that you learn for a lifetime.
  • We aim to show students that success relates to caring about something, getting involved, and following through with an idea from inception to completion. [GHS/McAuliffe Shepard Partnership, 2015]
 ...In fact, these points are what libraries are all about in the 21st century:

We most effectively reach our audience to convey these concepts and provide these opportunities through collaboration. I believe that such school and museum partnerships should be the model for the 21st century to the benefit of both institutions.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Compassion Economy

The New Year is always a good time for reflection on yourself and the world around you. I have been thinking a lot over the past few years about my work, its meaning to me, to those around me, and to the world. Today I address the role of, and try to assign new meaning to, being a librarian, archivist, or museum professional in 2016.

Information and cultural heritage professionals have been grappling for about a decade now over what it means to be part of the following:
  • the knowledge economy
  • the information economy
  • the creative economy (See bottom of page for definitions of each)
I propose that there is another economic role for professionals in our line of work. We are part of the "compassion economy." My idea of this economy is one in which we aim to help others with the effect of helping ourselves. (I was struck by a recent TED radio hour talk that dovetails nicely with this idea.)

As a fourth year teacher-librarian in a public high school, who is also working to attain a post-grad degree in education, I have recently learned a lot about the process of learning. There are few jobs that I know of that require the kind of compassion that one must muster to be surrounded by 1200 teenage students day in and out. We deal with hormones, insecurities, family problems, socio-economic issues, and feelings of confinement with a burgeoning desire for adult freedom. ("I can do whatever I want! I'm 18 now you know!!) As a librarian, I do not usually assign grades. I (mostly) do not have a set curriculum to teach. My job centers around compassion and I would like to suggest that if you are a librarian of any sort, an archivist, or if you work in a museum, your job centers around this too.

Not the school where I teach, but a nice one nonetheless
We live in a time when information is exploding. As information professionals, we help others gather the data they need in this information economy. We have knowledge about how to get more knowledge, and we have collections at our disposal to help us impart that knowledge to others. These same collections help young entrepreneurs change our world in creative ways, taking old ideas and giving them new life. Furthermore, our newly developed understanding of the need to supply makerspaces for patrons and museum-goers, and our resolve to design exhibits and programs that encourage questioning, relate to the role we play in the creative economy. Whereas in the past we cared for collections, steered users to catalogs, and left them taking away what they would, today we encourage discussion right in our institutions. We look for feedback on social media. We want our patrons to be part of our institutional family and not merely visitors to our professional worlds.

Despite all this, I have begun thinking that we librarians, archivists, and curators can see ourselves as a hub for compassion above and beyond all else.
  • We give people the learning tools that they need to make the world a better place (economically and socially) - the knowledge and know-how.
  • We can also give people the emotional tools they need to make the world a better place - the can-do attitude and sense of place and belonging necessary for personal and professional betterment.
  • We are part of an individual's support team, helping them grow, assisting them in numerous ways to help them reach their full potential.
Students work in our library Makerspace
But we do this job not for  purely altruistic reasons as the moniker "compassion economy" might suggest. Our work is also self-seeking. Museums, libraries, and archives make this world a better place because of our collections, know-how, and ability to reflect the success and failures of our past. Society needs to have access to these things so that humanity may pick itself up by its boot straps, as it were, and propel itself to greater things. We understand that the intellectually designed artifacts created by human beings are improved from diversity and our sensitivity to it. Understanding of individual achievement leads members of civilization to build on the work of others. As professionals, by supporting creation and by showing "compassion" for all people who have potential to build upon old ideas, librarians, archivists, and museum professionals are helping to build the future.


For the knowledge economy See:  (
For the information economy see (
For the creative economy see the always very interesting Richard Florida

See also:

Debjani Kanjilal, Azam M. Bejou & David Bejou. (2012). “Compassion: The Missing Link in Economics and Management.” Journal of Relationship Marketing.

TED Radio Hour.  Just a Little Nicer. NPR.  (podcast) December 4, 2015.
Wuthnow, Robert. (1991) Acts of Compassion: Caring for Others and Helping Ourselves. NJ: Princeton University Press.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Who We Are in a Digital World

I am growing as a teacher and presenter, relying on my personal stories to deliver messages of history, heritage, hope, compassion, unity, and community.  There is no better way to connect with other human beings than to share stories. We build relationships this way. We build bridges of understanding by demonstrating common themes. I have learned that my stories impact the adults to whom I have always directed information about caring for archives, but similar stories make the same impact on children. How do we get students interested in a subject? Tell them stories about it. More than that, show them that you respect their own stories that they have already identified as important to their lives.
The Bow, NH Rotarians donated a
book to their local elementary school
to honor my visit.
This week, I had the pleasure of addressing Rotarians. A colleague asked me to deliver a short presentation about family history. She told me that her Rotary group has responded favorably to her own stories about her own family history. I decided to tie together some stories of my own for them.

My grandparents
My daughter's pancakes and mom's pizza
My students and encouraging thinking about the future 

In the classroom this week, I spoke about a totally different (but strangely related) subject. I was teaching about being an effective information consumer and distributor.  We discussed branding and the stories that companies are crafting about themselves to sculpt their reputations. I then asked students to turn inward and to examine what kind of personal brand they are creating online.

Like many of us, students are creating an online presence without thought to the digital trail they are leaving and the personal characterization they are sculpting for themselves. Today, our information often is saved before we even have a chance to consider its initial purpose, organization and long-term value.

Digital Life 101 asks young adults to consider their digital lives, the stories they are telling, and the information they are spreading. After viewing the short movie in the classroom, I split students into groups to discuss what they put online and what audiences they are reaching. Do they want all of the stories they share to reach all of these audiences? What personal brand are they projecting? How can they more carefully craft their personal story by using restraint and through the careful management of their social media and other online interactions?

It took me 20 years to craft my stories for diverse audiences. I had time. Our teens might not. By having them identify what is important to them now and by helping them focus in on personal branding, my purpose is twofold:
  • I hope to help young people gain a greater awareness of how their life fits in with their larger communities, to feel part of something bigger than themselves, and to gain an appreciation for their place in history.
  • But, I also hope to help them realize that the "stories" they tell now, those little bits of information they leave all over the Internet, are precious, potentially dangerous, and open to larger audiences they may not have considered. They may not be talking to Rotarians yet, but their words have potential and can make an impact on our culture.
Stories are powerful. If we don't craft them for ourselves, others will tell the story of who we are. Thoughtfully and deliberately consider your role in this world and the remnants you leave behind. Help the teens in your life do the same.