When the primary focus of our school districts became reading and math scores, art and STEM classes were the first to get cut from the daily curriculum. My library saw this as an opportunity to provide supplemental programming to fill this gap. In fall 2016, the Zion-Benton (IL) Library District (ZBLD) opened the Sandbox makerspace for patrons of all ages to create masterpieces, explore new things, and do something amazing. ZBLD is comprised of three communities in the Northeast corner of Illinois. We serve a diverse working-class population. Our mission is simply to broaden horizons and expose patrons to the universe of knowledge and ideas for discovery, enrichment, and lifelong learning.
The Wired Library
Public libraries are approaching the digital divide using different strategies. Aside from providing access to computers and internet, the most common digital divide–bridging mechanism is group classes on technology. The public affirms this focus for libraries: 94 percent of Americans believe public libraries should “offer programs to teach people, including kids and senior citizens, how to use digital tools such as computers, smartphones and apps.”
In the wake of the net neutrality repeal, now more than ever, public libraries need to rise to the challenge of engaging in digital justice work. As librarians, we know that the repeal of net neutrality hurts all of us. However, in a climate of increasing inequality and opportunity gaps, marginalized communities, especially people of color, low-income households, and rural communities, are primed to be most negatively impacted by the FCC’s egregious party-line decision.
Before we get started, I’d like to settle us on some terms. We hear words such as mindfulness, contemplation, contemplative practice, reflection, and space-making floating around the workplace, and for some they mean very specific things. Reflection may be a specified process one goes through to review past actions. Mindfulness may be an Eastern philosophy or simply a way to be especially thoughtful. For this column, I’d like to flatten them all into the following common definition: “awareness of the present moment.” So, for example, “I’m contemplating,” means, “I’m aware of the present moment.” (As opposed to thinking deeply or ruminating about the past or imagining the future.) For me, these words all point to a way of being instead of doing. And I’m especially interested in how librarians can be more, instead of do more.
For the past three years, the Queens (NY) Library has embarked on a project to radically improve the way library customers discover and access digital content and information resources (which from this point will be referred to as “digital information”). Queens Library invests with a variety of providers to license a rich array of digital information for our customers, but like most libraries, has been forced to rely on a complex set of proprietary interfaces to navigate and deliver them. Only the savviest customers are able to keep track of a large number of separate usernames, passwords, and website URLs. Even when this barrier is crossed, accessing this digital information (or even finding out what is available) requires them to follow links out of the library’s system and over to the digital in- formation provider’s system.
I was once giving a presentation on circulating nontraditional items. When one librarian stood up and casually mentioned that her library circulated bicycles, I nearly fell over. Others told me that their libraries circulate cake pans, power tools, musical instruments, paintings, and more. I once heard, and I half hope this is not real and half want to hear the assuredly amazing stories, of a library that was circulating costumes.
Community access and technology training are crucial components of public library services. The American Library Association’s (ALA) 2015 Digital Inclusion Survey found that “those who receive formal digital literacy training were significantly more likely to use the Internet to pursue economic opportunities and cultivate social ties.”1 In this context, at Forest Park (IL) Public Library (FPPL) we decided in 2016 to revamp our programming efforts to serve our suburban population of 15,000. Helping patrons effectively use technology to achieve educational, economic, and social goals became our shiny new objective. We were eager to launch a new lineup of programs. However, beyond the many questions and dilemmas inherent in launching a new initiative, I wondered who in the world would facilitate the workshops?
In August 2015, I invited Evan Silva, fantasy football author/podcaster/expert, to speak to an audience at the Skokie (IL) Public Library (SPL). Silva, though well known in the fantasy football world, had never spoken at a library or similar educational institution and wasn’t sure why I would contact him. To me, the connection was obvious. Librarians help and teach our patrons to find the best information possible in order to make the best decisions possible.
Failure hurts. It really, really hurts. But painful failure can be a great teacher if you have the right mindset and work in an enlightened organization. Your mindset can make the difference between making positive changes and repeating old mistakes.
As learning is the point of libraries, it is time to consider the best ways to serve our communities. That means we need to do more to learn how people learn. There is an incredible amount of well-researched, well-documented learning theories. Two theories that we are currently drawn to are experiential learning and connected learning.
THE WIRED LIBRARY | How to Keep Your Library’s Facebook Page from Getting Hacked: A PLA Podcast Transcript
Editor’s note: Our regular columnist, Dilnavaz Mirza Sharma, will be back in the next issue with a new The Wired Library column. For this issue, we chose to share a partial transcript of a podcast we recorded live at the PLA 2016 conference. Visit http://publiclibrariesonline.org/category/media to listen to this podcast in its entirety. Thank you […]
The Wired Library explores tech topics relevant to public librarians.
Zetta Elliott is working with the Brooklyn Prospect Charter School to produce an anthology of middle-grade student writing. Maybe the anthology will be picked up by a mainstream publisher, maybe it won’t. It doesn’t really matter to Elliott. For her, the solution to the lack of diversity in children’s books is simple: Stop begging at the doors of traditional publishers and publish diverse books yourself. It sounds lofty, but thanks to the explosion of digital publishing tools, it’s now possible for just about anyone to publish a professional-looking book—simply and affordably, online or in print.
Simply put, a Geographic Information System (GIS) is a tool for organizing data so that it can be displayed and analyzed based on its geospatial characteristics. Using GIS allows users to combine multiple data sets in order to suss out connections in the subject matter that might not necessarily have been fully apparent without the added element of geographic references.
The pendulum, it swings. Eight years ago, my charge as a technology librarian was to herd the cats — to introduce new technology and ways of serving the digital patron to an organization that was largely skeptical of change. Cut to now, and I’m … still herding cats. Only, this time, it’s the folks at all levels of the organization who want to incorporate tech into every service they can think of. Sunrise, sunset.
Does that mean we’ve had a complete polar shift in the way technology operates in libraries? Yes, but also no. Maybe we’ll even throw a “maybe” in there for good measure. The pendulum will keep swinging, meaning we’ve got to be ready for shifts in either direction. Sound confusing? Of course it is. There’s a tremendous tension between the wish to provide stability and the urge to forge new ground. In our quest to provide quality service and access to all, it’s no wonder we feel pulled in all directions at once.