Monday, March 30, 2015

Open Letter to the U.S. House of Representatives in Support of IMLS

I am outraged by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan's proposal to eliminate IMLS and I urge you to stand against it. As our nation's strongest funder for museum and library initiatives, IMLS has an important role to play in supporting our nation's freedom, innovation, and success.

Libraries work to digitize our nation's resources through programs such as the DPLA that are providing a bridge to the future by upgrading information to new formats.  They support 21st century invention and learning through new makerspaces and by helping to facilitate the exchange of ideas. Libraries support the freedom of information for all, which is vital to any democracy. They support strong communities and help our children's understanding of good digital citizenship. They provide a safe and supportive place for those less fortunate, and help them better their futures with access to technology and informational materials they cannot afford. Libraries serve as a neutral gathering space for diverse ideas, providing forums that support critical thinking and expression for all regardless of background or personal belief.

As the librarian at Goffstown High School in New Hampshire, I see the results of what good community libraries do every day. I work with my colleagues at the Goffstown Public Library to positively impact the lives of our teens. We collaborate to run programs that bring mentors in to support our children's dreams. We work together to bring in materials to ignite passion in innovation, developing makerspaces with high-tech equipment for our students to use for experimentation and learning; materials they could not afford on their own. We support informational and cultural literacy through our collections and services.

Our profession cannot effectively accomplish all we do without IMLS support. According to the Industrialist Andrew Carnegie, the builder of many of our nation’s libraries, “A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.” Libraries have supported our communities since founding father Ben Franklin established our country’s first library in Philadelphia. Please help ensure that American libraries may continue to boost their communities and support the American citizens within them.

Melissa Mannon

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Libraries, Innovation, and Our 21st Century Role

Many years ago, I began serving as a judge at the New Hampshire State competition for the Young Inventors Program. It is a wonderful program that encourages inventiveness in young people in grades K-8. It is a perfect place for a curious librarian/archivist to spend some time.

Designed for the classroom and aimed at encouraging K-8 students to "think outside of the box," the Young Inventors Program is structured and developed to encourage all students to participate, including those who may not "fit the mold" for traditional sciences.

Finding a new calling: encouraging inventiveness

This year, I decided to sponsor an award. A Library and Information Services award seemed like a much needed focus area for encouraging invention.

  • First, as libraries across the country build and promote Makerspaces, and with a major project to retrofit my own library for such a space, I want young inventors to dream of going to the library to build,
  • Second, as a school librarian, I am also immersed in ideas for STEM initiatives. How can the library be part of the backbone for moving science, technology, engineering and math forward in our schools and across the country? I have been working hard with the science and math teachers at my school to make our library a center to support their needs. All libraries need to jump into the STEM discussions.
  • Furthermore, last summer, I was deemed an honorary science and math person by my colleagues at AP Academy. Teachers at this Advanced Placement camp were playing a game of Trivial Pursuit. Those in the Sciences were on one team and those in the Liberal Arts were on the other. I asked where I should go, "Well, as the librarian in the room, you are the one person who could legitimately play on either side!" - We need to cultivate that attitude in our profession. Librarians need to step into a room and say, "Yes, I am a science person too. I support the readers and writers, but I also support and understand the inventors." 
Putting aside the fact that I have come to realize that I would have made a good botanist, (I spend much of my free time in the garden when there is not snow on the ground and there is that obvious classification thing...) in my childhood, I was never on a path for science. My sister was on that path. She became a doctor. She spent her time catching butterflies, while I spent my time writing and drawing. This idea that I am a science-minded person too is new to me (despite my masters degree in library SCIENCE.) What if someone encouraged me to go out and draw the things I saw in nature or to write about the insects in the garden? I was a very good biology student and an excellent math student, but I never put two and two together. Don't get me wrong, I love my job, but there was another path to take that never crossed my mind. For someone who prides herself on taking the road less traveled most of the time, it is significant to realize that I missed this path entirely....Almost. I want to prevent other kids like my young self from missing the path too.

The Value of Libraries for Inventors

Here I am in my 40s, sitting in the audience at the Young Inventors conference waiting for my turn to present. The young inventors in the audience were told this about my award: "The ArchivesInfo Library and Information Services Award recognizes an invention that can support the day-to-day work of libraries." But, as I anticipated, they didn't realize the full impact of what this means, nor did their parents. They were not just creating an invention to support literacy. They were creating something to support themselves. Why libraries at an invention conference? What do libraries have to do with invention? I had a whole speech ready to go about how libraries have always provided books, but they are so much more. Yada, yada, yada...

For judging, students were invited to tag their projects so that specialty judges like myself would be sure to come view what they've created. Since this the first year this award was offered, I saw just three inventions that students said they designed specifically for libraries. Two of my library specific inventors designed bookmarks. They were nice but they did not scream library for the 21st century to me. Wandering among rooms, I stopped at the invention of Caitlin Connelly, a 4th grader from Sanbornton Central School. Caitlin's "Double Desk" was not designed specifically for library use. She dreamed of it for a classroom setting, but her incorporation of a white board and a tablet, which could be locked into the desk and released with a code so students could take it home with teacher (or librarian) permission, was perfect. I pictured a long desk in my library's own newly minted makerspace built on Caitlin's model. "I need this," I thought.  

The audience at the NH State Young Inventors Program
There were many specialty awards being given out. The award ceremeny went on for 45 minutes until I heard my name to give out my award. "I can't make these poor people sit here and listen to my speech about how great libraries are. They are tired. I am tired. They won't listen. They don't care. They just want to hear if their kids got award. How does this effect THEM?" So, I shuffled my papers and thought about the inventor who gave out an award and his story about inventing since he was very young. And, I thought about little Caitlin Connelly. I walked across the stage to give Caitlin a $75 gift certificate to Makershed and said something like this:

"I will make this short. This award goes to the invention that best helps libraries.  Libraries are hubs of innovation that supply space and materials for you to learn and to create. We want to create better spaces for you." I went on to explain how the invention that I picked would be perfect in my own school's makerspace; that Caitlin's table was perfect for helping people to be creative and inventive. I said that I hoped Caitlin would let me use her idea so that my students could have a great space for making their own discoveries.

Planting a seed

If anyone in the audience was not a library goer, they were probably now considering, "I can go to the library and find things like Caitlin's table to help me with my inventions?" Libraries are for the scientists too?


As librarians struggling within our own walls, within our own budgets, we often have difficulty looking out. As we move forward and re-mold and re-define our roles in contemporary society, we need to be better promoters of our own worth. We need to be on the cutting edge and to toot our own horns. Often. My role at the Invention Convention is one example of how to get on board with what our patrons need today and how I was able to advertise that message. 

How are you advertising the message that libraries are for everyone? How are you changing with the times? How are you planting the message in the minds of your community? Right now, think of three things that you can do to change the conversation about your role in the community so that it fits a new audience.


Thank you Academy of Applied Science. I had a great time and am honored to be part of your team.


I want to add that this week past, for the second year in a row, the House Budget Committee has proposed cutting all funding to IMLS. It is very important for librarians to speak up now; to show off our value and tie our images to the future and not the past. Write your Congressman today!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Age of Contested Knowledge

This week, I had the pleasure of listening to presentations from two local academic librarians. The librarians were visiting my high school to teach our seniors about college level research. They explored databases and discussed peer reviewed research with the students. They explained why "Google it" is not an acceptable academic search strategy. The information that the librarians provided was not unique, but it is something that students do not easily accept. Why? "Google it" seems easy. "Google it" helps us re-confirm what we already believe. "Google it" shows us what information is most readily available, not necessarily what is correct. Also this week, I listened to an National Public Radio podcast entitled "Why We Doubt Scientific Findings." A phrase stood out for me -- "the age of contested knowledge" -- and tied directly to what I see happening in the classroom. With a nod to Diane Rehm, this post discusses and questions the role of librarians and archivists in this new information age.

Rehm's program discussed how the world of information has changed. How people get their information has changed. There has been a disintegration of the old "gatekeepers" of knowledge. In my opinion, as librarians we have a responsibility to spread our own knowledge of information. People once saw libraries as the way to enter the gates and access information. Today information is at everyone's fingertips and most do not recognize the true value of a librarian's training.  "Gatekeeper" is too restrictive a word for what we do now. We need to re-brand ourselves as information "guides.

Information in Today's World

Rehm's program included science reporters and scientists discussing the way people gather and process scientific studies. The beginning of the show was most interesting to me from a professional standpoint, as it discussed general practices of information gathering:  The following parts of the discussion stood out to me:

  • Information that we accept today often reflects our world view. "[People] often find exactly what they already believe." 
  • People have a daily confrontation of their belief system with/against science. Science (information) was once much less readily available
  • There is a norm of false balance. Some things are presented as two sided, when they aren't controversies at all. 
  • Information is evolving. People sometimes point to new understandings to show why all information can't be trusted, rather than exploring how the new information evolved.
  • A lot more risk analysis is demanded of us than in the past.
The Role of the Librarian

The information puzzle
People have many more outlets to get information. Do they know what the "good" sources are and why they are good? How can we better explain this? This is one reason why good school libraries and librarians are so important. We need to help our young people understand sources so that when they are adults, they can better navigate channels of information. A knee-jerk reaction to information that seems to challenge our world view should be replaced with a healthy skepticism and thoughtful evaluation of sources. Information is a giant puzzle whose pieces sometimes fit neatly together. Other times, there are gaps between pieces as we wait for bridges in knowledge to connect diverse ideas that are all grounded in truth.

As information evolves, people need to learn to step into the conversation. The college librarians talked about becoming part of the conversation; the need to gain a basic understanding of the subject and its issues before jumping in and making conclusions. It is up to individuals to educate ourselves on the basics of issues. How can librarians help with this? I'm thinking of displays in my school library that introduce a topic with which students may be unfamiliar. Additionally, maybe archivists can more prominently display and explain original sources from which secondary arguments are based. Can all of us work to make sure that when people "google it" primary sources float to the top? Can we even develop partnerships with companies such as Google to make this happen? My students are amazed when I show them Their eyes seem to say, "Wow! Google even distinguishes between different types of information sources. Maybe Ms. Mannon isn't lying to me after all!" How can we make the separation between information channels more visible and understandable?

On Rehm's program, journalists discussed how responsible professionals can help people see caveats in studies. How is the latest study different from the last one? How have things changed? Librarians can help people be part of that conversation. What tools can we create to help people see the changes? "Most people don't keep delving [to gain a greater understanding of an issue.] They will take the headline...they will take the first paragraph..." How can we help them delve?

Finally, "a lot more risk analysis is demanded of us." Despite this, from my experience as a librarian, I see that we are less likely to analyze information. Everyday, we need to ask if the information that is handed to us is good information.  It is harder and harder for us to evaluate knowledge due to the abundance of information. One of the main reasons that I decided to accept a job as a high school librarian was what I was seeing happening with information and its effects on people. He who yells the loudest should not be believed simply because he is yelling. How can librarians better help people evaluate information? How can we help them believe that they even want to be better evaluators?