Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Big Picture for Archivists, Librarians, Museum People, and Educators

My assistants laughed at me. My colleagues looked perplexed. "How can a librarian / archivist not be 'detail-oriented?'" they asked in response when I admitted my dirty little secret.

"Don't rely on my memory to put the period in the right place for MLA format... Don't take for granted that I will schedule you at the right time for use of the library... I apologize if I can't get the bell schedule straight. I'm trying!"

I am a big picture person.

I let my assistants know that I appreciate them all the more for being detail-oriented so we have some balance in our Information Center.

I have always gravitated toward the big picture. For me, the most difficult part of studying art history in college was not synthesizing the information, it was the memorization of dates and titles and artists. I could look at an image and say, "That represents this style and this style was part of this movement and it reflects this aspect of history and that sheds light on how society grew." I could also easily say, "Oh. And it was done by that guy with the beard who lived at the same time as that woman with the funny hat..." I knew who they were, but the specific details -- the names and exact dates -- were fuzzy without a lot of studying. Today I remember the concepts and not necessarily the details. Isn't that what I really should know?

Cataloging in grad school...and even today? Tedious.

[Secret: I don't always remember the names of characters in a book - even when I'm in the middle of reading that book.]

[Secret: I usually can get a patron a book on the shelf because I remember the color and general location not because I remember the title and call number.]

Libraries, Archives, and museums have a big role to play in
educating our youth, such as these young people participating
in a summer reading event at the Waleigh Memorial Library in
Milford, NH.
[The date is 2005 and I know this because I labeled the photo!]
So when I sat in a meeting for teachers who were mapping out specific lesson plans to teach information skills, I learned quite a bit. I also learned that we are not exactly always on the same page. Is it important for students to put periods in the right place for MLA format? I can see reasons that they need to learn it, but I have an editor who handles that for me when I write something important. It is not my forte...everyone has different skills and different ways of learning and doing. We need teachers to cover different topics, in different ways, for different types of learners. It's why museums design exhibits that include visuals and labels and catalogs and interactives. Everyone can engage differently.

To me, having "information skills" and being educated means:

  1. knowing that information is all around us. 
  2. knowing that you can't believe everything you hear, see, read.     
  3. understanding how to find more information 
  4. understanding different formats for information
  5. understanding how to compare information to seek answers
  6. understanding that you can't just use information that was created by others in any way that you choose
  7. being able to communicate what you know versus what you think in an articulate way that the recipient of the information can understand
  8. appreciating the use of information and being eager to find more information that relates to your interests and life
After my meeting and an AHA! moment at the teachers' meeting, I ran to someone at school whom I consider a mentor. [See my interview with Darla White for Profiles in Archival Careers, Mentoring and Leadership on page 16 in the October 2012 NEA newsletter.] I told her about my big picture tendency and the detail issues I'm coming up against. She returned to me a few days later with a stack of books. Excitedly, I share some wisdom with you from my favorite in the stack called The Big Picture: Education is Everyone's Business by Dennis Littky. I recommend that you read it. Libraries, archives and museums have a big role to play in schools and this little book explains why. It is okay to be a big picture person. 

Whether you fully buy into Littky's teaching ideas or not, there is much that non-educators can use here to support education. (I think that I do buy into this idea, but I need to go back to my mentor to help me fill gaps that I may not yet have been exposed to. I am a new teacher, after all.) The more archivists, librarians and museum people realize that their resources can be used to teach, the better off all of our institutions are. Cultural heritage institutions as a brand should be invested in all age groups and lifelong learners. Working with schools, these institutions can supply resources that make book learning and lectures more hands-on, immediate and real.

Please read the following quotes from The Big Picture and think about the role that cultural institution play in learning and the roles that they CAN play:
  • "...the only really substantial thing education can do is help us to become continuous lifelong learners." p. 3
  • "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." - W.B. Yeats. p. 3
  • "Regardless of who you are, if you can get up and be passionate about something and tell others about what you know, then you are showing that you are educated about that topic." p. 7
  • "They say knowledge is power. We say the use of knowledge is power." p. 8
  • "Learning is personal. It happens one on one, it happens in small groups, it happens alone." p. 8
  • "Learning is about learning how to think." p. 9
  • "...a school culture can thrive and grow on its own stories- stories of what has been and what could be." p. 60
  • "The curriculum has got to include experiences that lift kids' heads way up and take them out of their textbooks, their classrooms, their towns and even their countries..." p.82
  • "Why not take the time to find people in the community who have the same interests as our kids and get the kids working with them?" p.129
  • "Engaging families in education engages each student and activates a built-in support system that works to help both students and teachers do a better job." p. 144

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