Monday, June 18, 2018

The Biggest Challenge

One strong librarian skill is sorting information. I constantly and automatically sort things in my head.

New plant for my garden: What other pinks do I already have? What other plants do I have in this family? What garden in my yard will this best fit because of the plants' size, habits, etc.?
New cleaning supplies for the house: Do I already have this kind of brush or that chemical? Will I store this one in the upstairs closet or downstairs? Will the tall bottle fit in that space? Do I need another storage space?
News story on the radio: How does this relate to what I already know? Is this similar to another story I've heard? Does it run counter to it? What other subjects does this relate to?

If you are in a business that requires you to sort information, such as genealogy, I'm sure you sort in your head too. When I was a young adult, it was surprising to me that not everyone sorted this way. I've spent my adult life trying to pick apart this skill to teach others and I think this is the biggest challenge of librarians. How do we get others to think about information as something that needs categorization? How do we show that this benefits our understanding of the world and keep us from being overwhelmed by information?

I don't know where I picked up this skill of categorizing everything. I'm not sure if it was learned or ingrained. When I was young, I spent many Sundays in my room turning on Channel 5 (in New York) on my small black and white television. I played the afternoon movie in the background and sorted things. I dusted and moved around collections of plastic horses on my shelves, I shuffled through baseball cards. I arranged my underwear by day of the week. I knew that this was not my siblings' idea of a relaxing afternoon, but I didn't give our different interests much thought at that point.

One day, when I was a young mother, I watched my daughter take her crayons and line them up by color on the step leading from one room in our house to another. My mom and I began calling the skill that my daughter and I both had "the librarian gene." Some Professional organizers seem to believe that this skill is fully learned. After watching my daughter, I tend to think it is at least in part innate. From wherever the talent comes, it is related to sensemaking and is critical to understanding the information around us.

Making sense of the world around us involves analyzing our organization of information that is new to us

I just finished grading my final research papers for the year. Those students who did best on them were the ones who best organized their information right from the start. They made headers for sections as they took notes; they kept track of sources; they looked for keywords that better allowed them to make connections between information; they asked questions about what they read and sought answers; they reflected on their own thinking. These students have an awareness that I had difficulty helping many others reach. Though there are many successes I can cite this past year in teaching information organizational skills to my students, I am greedy. I want to crack the shell of confusion that prevents many students from understanding.

The school librarian's biggest challenge? How can the teaching of organizational skills be applied to the often overwhelming world of information? I look to all of my organization colleagues for answers.

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