Sunday, September 30, 2012

What is Information? Teaching Information Skills to High School Students

So much to say...only one blog post. For now.

For the past month, I have been settling into a new role as an information specialist at a local high school. It has been a tremendous experience and I want to share as much as I can of it with you while respecting the sanctity of the classroom and student experiences. My goal is to explain how I am approaching certain issues; how archives can fit into the role of a teacher-librarian; why an archivist/librarian can be a good fit for a high school...and other related issues.

On a path to boost student research skills, I have been working with freshmen English teachers and administration to  evaluate the research skills of incoming freshmen. This past week, we had all freshmen classes take an assessment that is considered a standard in this area. (The test shall remain nameless.) Its focus is on particular research skills. It asks questions about things such as Boolean searching, MLA format, etc. etc. I immediately follow the test by teaching a class about information during the second half of the period.

The "No hunting" sign in this photo has perplexed me for a year, but I haven't done any research on it. A student told me that his neighbor, who is in his seventies, said there was no hunting in NH during the 40s. I knew the student was on to something. His information got me excited to find out more and I've called the NH Fish and Game Department to try to get some historical information about hunting in our state.

Mrs. Mannon: "What did you think of that test?"
Students: "It was okay... It was hard... Mmmm, I don't know."
Mrs. Mannon: "Was it boring to you? Because I thought it was very boring and I have a Master's in this subject. It's okay for you to think it was boring."
Students: "Yes! Yes! It was boring!"
Mrs. Mannon: "Ok. Good. Now we're getting somewhere because my job is to show you that this is not a boring topic. Information is fun! The library is all about information and I want you all to feel welcome here and use this as a place to stretch your mind."

I have been amazed at the response. I even have had applause at the end of my classes - seven 45 minute sessions in total this week. 2 or 3 more to come next week.

First, my introduction to information session talks about my diverse background. Where do information professionals work? Students have no idea that librarians work beyond their schools and public libraries. We've talked about librarians and archivists in museums, law firms, science centers, government roles... I have shown pictures of the beautiful spaces I have had the pleasure of working in such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Historical Society in Winchester, Massachusetts,  and Lexington Massachusetts town hall vaults. I aim to get students to think about information beyond the school and to open their eyes to a world of information beyond their own community.

What is information? What is an information resource? How do we learn about it?  "What are you interested in because there is information attached to EVERYTHING?" Here I introduce the idea of primary and secondary sources and unwritten information. We talked about archivists versus librarians. We talked about using experts as a resource and the value of social media to connect with experts. We talked about looking for the source of articles and contacting authors if appropriate to dig deeper. I brought in my box of archives antique shop finds and passed around diaries, photos, ephemera and more. ("This is my favorite part!" and they really seem to wait on the edges of their seats in anticipation.)

We've talked about good information versus bad information. I have shown two short commercials from the current presidential campaign to make the point that quotes out of context tell us nothing. We need to find the source and do a little research to know if we are getting good or bad information.

I've discussed communities and how information is all about communities. What do we have in common? (all members of same school, live in NH, etc.) What is different about us? (different families, different interests, etc.) What information is attached to our communities? How does this information get recorded and passed down so that the next generation can use it to build a better society? How does our information relate to other communities? How do we fit into this world? Again, what are you interested in? "Use this space to learn about it. Use this space to learn how to learn about it. We are even going to start our own school archives to document our own community." (Five students have signed up to do that, so far.)

Then, and only then... (that's cliche, I know, but it's important. Students should get excited about information before discussing Boolean for goodness sakes!) I give the students a tour of the library to talk about the tools we use. We look at the PACs, reference section, circulating books, the circulation desk, our computers with Internet access and proprietary databases. We discuss the Dewey Decimal system (and I may have even let my dislike of it creep in..a little bit. It's okay to want to make things better. No method is perfect. We have the opportunity to better things for our own needs while still understanding the value of the standard way of doing things.) We may discuss Boolean at some point. Not yet.

I'm fired up. The kids seem to be fired up. Information is fun. My theory? Begin with that. The skills will come. The applause confirmed that for me. I think that the students will come back for more and I can't wait to share more.

[In case you are reading this... thanks students for sharing information with me. We have so much to learn from each other and this will be a great school year!]

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Getting One's Feet Wet

Bear with me while I take a short hiatus from this blog to get my feet wet. Becoming a high school librarian is a great experience thus far. The students are hungry for information. The teachers are hungry for resources - both primary and secondary. An archivist / librarian certainly seems to bring a fresh perspective to this environment.

If you are a regular reader, you've probably already noticed that I've missed a few posts over the last couple of weeks. Stay tuned! I have a big reveal for my Maine Diary coming. I also have a few new diaries to share with you, including one with a photo (presumably of the writer). I'll share some of my new high school teacher librarian / information specialist experiences. There's an upcoming post to leadership that that relates to an interview I did for the New England Archivist's newsletter. And there's one on alternate careers for librarians that relates to a panel I'm chairing at the fall New England Archivists conference. (I can't say NEA anymore because that means something different in the education world!)

For now, there are policies to write, books to order, archives to begin, a web site to start up and more. I will see you back here in October. Happy end of summer!

- Melissa