More about learning and libraries

Yesterday, I posted about the libraries role in regards to giving people space, equipment and motivation in order to get the most out of MOOCs. Today I’m going to talk about why that is so very important.

In yesterday’s ReadWrite article on “10 Technology Skills That Will No Longer Help You Get A Job“, Brian Hall lists 10 dying technologies that are perhaps not what young folks want to study these days. At the end of the article, however, he mentions that one skill that is always necessary is the ability to learn. My coworker, Heather Braum, has on her email signature line the quote:

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those cannot read and
write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” ~Alvin Toffler, *Rethinking
the Future*

The point being that no matter what we learn today, the chances are that in this fast paced technological era in which we live, tomorrow we will likely have to learn another skillset in order to be able to feed ourselves. Nobody can afford to go to college that often, quite frankly, so I’m going to suggest that the idea I posed yesterday – about libraries supporting local MOOC groups – may be more important than ever in the future. Sure – there are commercial training outfits, but they can be very, very pricey (though not as pricey as college, says the woman whose child is about to graduate from high school in a couple of weeks) and will cut out the very people libraries are there for – the folks who can’t afford high training class fees.

So, the role of libraries as educators (most especially as free educators) in society is vitally important today, but will become even more important tomorrow and beyond. What are you doing in your library to encourage life-long and self-motivated learners? What are you doing to encourage those who might not be quite as motivated?

Libraries and Education (yes, I’m going to use the word MOOC – a lot)

Sorry for those folks who feel they’ve heard *way* too much about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) lately… While reading “Why online education is mostly a fantasy” at Pandodaily today, I was struck by his comparison of libraries to MOOCs. Libraries have offered free education and learning to anybody who asks for years and, as the author of the piece points out, there are few self-made entrepreneurs who learned everything they needed to know to start their business in the library. For the same reasons (mainly motivation), the author believes that MOOCs will be similarly unsuccessful in providing free education to the masses.

What if, however, libraries used the advantage of local spaces and face-to-face meeting possibilities along with the advantages of MOOCs to create study groups. Anyone with an interest in a particular class can sign up and the local students could use a library meeting room, library computers and each other. With equipment, space and motivation to continue provided by fellow students, combining MOOCs with Libraries seems to me to be a pretty sweet combination. Librarians can get people in the doors by offering space and, maybe, refreshments (though not near the computers, maybe?) and patrons can sign up to take classes and form study groups while educating themselves – something libraries should always be prepared to support!

Is this already being done? I think the possibilities are endless – especially for a library that knows its patrons and can connect circ stats to what patrons might be willing to learn about.  The author of the article ends with:

most people [will] continue to require structure and a supportive learning environment in the modern age of online education

Why can’t libraries be the institutions that step up and make that supportive learning environment happen?

Digital Literacy – What Responsibility Do Libraries Have?

Over at the GovLoop site today, there is a post from Dave Briggs on the need for digital literacy in the general population today. He mentions that Howard Rheingold in his book Net Smart outlines five key skills needed for digital success:

  • Attention
  • Crap detection
  • Participation
  • Collaboration
  • Network smarts

I can see libraries at the forefront of teaching/assisting with at least 3 of these and a case could be made for library involvement with all 5. The three that I see as fundamental to library involvement at the middle ones – Crap Detection, Participation and Collaboration.

Crap Detection is just the ability to evaluate information – libraries and librarians have been teaching that for years, long before the Internet came along. We can (and most have) easily update our information literacy and evaluation lessons for academic librarians and the way we help patrons with understanding what information is valuable in public libraries.

Participation is alive and well in libraries today – the rising numbers of Maker Spaces like Johnson County’s Maker Space in Overland Park, Kansas and YouMedia in Chicago, IL. Providing our patrons with the tools needed to participate in the increasingly digital culture by making green screens, recording equipment, printing hardware and more available to patrons who want to create content and participate in the conversations happening online is something we should all be doing – in whatever form our community needs. Not every community needs a full recording studio – but offering something that patrons can use to communicate and participate in the digital culture is becoming increasingly important.

Collaboration is another skill that libraries have always pushed but one that is even more important these days. From collaborating on school projects to creating a community-written novel (see Topeka’s very cool Community Novel project), libraries can be the hub for collaborative projects large and small. Using the same technology provided for participating in the digital conversation, libraries can let folks connect over great distances via Skype or Google Hangout video conferences and give them the hardware and – most importantly – the bandwidth needed to make regular connections to far-flung collaborators.

While Network Smarts can be taught through computer classes and reference interviews throughout the library and helping folks focus their attention on what is important can be considered another library-taught skill, the three skills in the middle were tailor-made for library instruction and assistance!

Google Keep?

I’m a fan of Evernote, have been for a very long time. I’ve gotten into the habit of checking Evernote whenever someone asks me a question – chances are the answer is in there in notes I’ve taken, IFTTT recipes I’ve created to dump random info into Evernote or in something I’ve clipped from a web page. Now, Google has come out with Keep, which seems to be aimed squarely at Evernote. I’m torn. On the one hand, I have 3 “links” on my desktop to my Google Drive, Dropbox and SkyDrive folders – all of which hold various parts of my document-centric life. I don’t need that kind of fragmentation in my note-centric life, too. On the other hand, I really like Google’s services and tend to use them pretty heavily. Adding Keep to the mix may make life easier. It may also make life a bit more precarious, though, too – see the recent loss of Google Reader.

Maybe the answer is to use them all and figure out a method (work notes go here, personal notes go there or notes for training go here, notes for tech work go there, etc.) and be willing to move notes around as services come (and go). Maybe the answer is to take a page from my new System Administrator, Ryan Sipes, and use something that I can control like OwnCloud (what we are using at NEKLS these days to serve as our new File Server interface).

Whatever I decide, it’s a pretty good problem to have, really. Having too much choice is better than not enough!!

Cory Doctorow Came To Lawrence

Before the talkTonight, I went to the campus of KU and saw the one and only Cory Doctorow speak. This is the first time I’ve actually attended a speaking engagement of his, despite the fact that we both were at the Texas Library Association meeting a few years ago. I was busy with my speaking engagement, though, kicking off the inaugural hands-on computer lab sessions for TxLA that year and didn’t make it to his session(s) at all. This made me excessively glad to be able to go see him tonight!

He spoke on the issues of general purpose computers (PCs) and the fact that some – if not many – are now shipping as broken devices, already infected with the spyware and root kits necessary to make them less than fully functional computers (think anything that you can “jailbreak” or any console gaming device or any “internet appliance” that is locked down in any way). He talked about how DRM and other software locking schemes have weakened our ability to use computers and made them *less* secure. He gave a really, really excellent description of the SOPA law that nearly passed a couple of years ago – stating that the law itself would have worked. We know that because it does work – in Iran as well as China.

He spoke eloquently about the need to know what is going on in our computers and the need to be able to stop programs that work against our best interests. He talked about the fact that if the hearing aid – a general purpose computer stuck in a tiny device that will be implanted within his body – that he will undoubtedly need as he grows older isn’t open and accessible, anybody could do anything; keep him from hearing anything; make him hear things that aren’t there and more. Having open access to our computing platforms is the only sure way to knowing what is on our computers – something that will become ever more important as we have tiny computers implanted in us and as we get into large computers (airplanes, self-driving cars, etc) that ferry us around at great speeds.

Book Signing!

He made an impassioned plea to use the Ubuntu Linux Operating System – he pointed out that it is (finally) both beautiful and easy to use and is fully and completely open. He advocated Android phone OS’s and just generally being aware of what we are using in our computing lives. He also talked about how mean nerds are to their grandparents – grandmothers in particular, I think, and told the story of his grandmother who had no interest in computers, until Cory’s child was born (in England) and his grandmother (in Canada) decided she wanted to see her more often than once a year, so she got on Skype. It wasn’t that she couldn’t before – she just had no real reason to do so. The same can be said for the use of Linux-based operating systems – we can all use them and use them fairly easily; we just need a reason to do so.

Cory’s talk tonight gave many excellent reasons to do so! I’m very glad I went – it was a great reminder that we are at the beginning of the battle for control over our computers and that we need to work on making sure we retain control (see Lawrence Lessig’s RootStrikers – instead of dealing with copyright laws, Lawrence decided to strike at the root of the legal problem – the fact that corporations pay for so many election campaigns and laws are written to benefit those corps so that they will continue to contribute to re-election campaigns, ad nauseum. Fix election contribution issues, fix the root of the issue).

 

 

Libraries and Open Source

In an article about how the use of Inkscape can possibly reduce the number of incarcerated people by Phil Shapiro, there is the following paragraph:

There are many excellent free software programs for audio and musical creativity. You see, to reach a more inclusive society, we need to be using and teaching a lot more free software programs. These programs can spur a culture of creativity, design, and invention that can bring about an economic rebound. You know that $17 trillion debt we’re facing? Greater creativity—widespread creativity and invention—is our best hope of reducing that debt.

He talks about how the use of the free and Open Source product Inkscape in classes can help give people who can’t afford the latest and greatest graphics software a way to create and produce that is not text based. Many people have much to contribute, but they aren’t wired to do well in a heavily text-based system. Allowing some students the freedom to create a story or essay in images (using Open Source products that they can then use on their own for no cost at home or at their local public library) would be one way to help students succeed in school. Success in school tends to depress the amount of illegal activities one does, so the basic premise is that using Open Source graphics software like Inkscape to allow students who are not textual learners to learn along with those who are more comfortable writing long essays.

All that being said, this is an excellent argument for libraries to put Open Source software – not just Inkscape, but GIMP and Open Office and any others that patrons might need to learn to use in order to make use of a hand-me-down computer that has nothing going for it but the ability to run light-weight programs like the ones listed above. If we are going to take on, as part of our mission, the teaching of technology, we need to do it in a way that is as accessible to those without resources to get the latest and greatest as it is for those who have those resources.

Libraries as Entreprenurial Spaces

Libraries meanwhile may be associated today with an outmoded product in paper books. But they also happen to have just about everything a 21st century innovator could need: Internet access, work space, reference materials, professional guidance.”

via The Atlantic Cities

Co-working spaces, mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph I quoted above, are places for freelance or telecommuting workers to gather and make use of shared Internet access, printers and printing supplies and other people upon which they can bounce their ideas, just like in a regular office. Libraries have all those things – plus direct access to both print and online resources (databases, etc.) and people who are professionally trained to find things for other people. For those who are just starting out and don’t have the resources for high-speed Internet or even a printer, using the library as an office could be enough to push them into profitability (and if they are profitable, they pay taxes, which go back to the library and allow someone else to use those resources until they become profitable, ad infinitum). Of course, libraries have to balance the needs of small businesses and just-starting-out entrepreneurs with the general public and their needs and come up with limits to their levels of service. Will circ staff become secretaries for the up-and-coming entrepreneurs using the space? Will the reference staff limit the amount of time they can spend on business research? What kinds of office supplies will libraries stock and how much will they charge? Will there be limits for the amount of time a particular person can spend at the library, working? If content creation station(s) are put into place at your library, will you have to police their use so that a couple of individuals don’t monopolize them? Will you enter into a partnership with a commercial printer or printers or will you be in competition with them?

Considering all the angles can be difficult, but being open to the possibilities of welcoming struggling start-ups and brand new entrepreneurs into your library so that they can build a business can be a great service you can provide to your community. It can open up possibilities for community partnerships (how much would the Chamber be willing to provide to help businesses via your library?) and can help funnel money into local print shops, supply shops and other local businesses – all of which pay the taxes that support your library. Finally, how will this “service” be marketed? Will you need to compete with established co-working spaces? Can you support a rush of individuals using your library as a workplace? If you build it, will they come?

Notes from an eGathering (Rich Harwood) and a realGathering (Daniel Pink)

Yesterday, I participated in Lyrasis’ yearly meeting via webinar – what they branded as an eGathering – along with a few other NEKLS staff and librarians. The main part of the eGathering that I wanted to see was Rich Harwood’s talk about the Work of Hope. He talked about how to get community involvement in organizations  – not just libraries, either – he’s seen some excellent progress on community involvement with public broadcasting, too – and how to stay “relevant” to your community today and into the future. Basically, he asked librarians to pay more attention to:

  • Basics – igniting a greater sense of compassion for our communities
  • Openness – more humility in the ways we engage with each other
  • Common Good
  • Small Local Actions

The one central task for the entire country consisted of restoring our belief that we could come together to get things done and make a difference. We need to be more concerned about action than just doing activities without regard to how they actually change our culture and our communities. More concerned with progress as opposed to just the process of doing *something*.

He gave 4 steps to strengthen community and enhance relevance for all libraries, too:

  • Talk to people, in their language, about their aspirations. What do they want, not what you want to do.
  • Focus on changing the conditions of the community – the underlying culture
  • Help people to engender the belief that together, we can get things done
  • Pay more attention to the narratives in our communities – not just stories, but narratives (he gave the example of a narrative of a community being that teens are troublemakers and up to no good – that narrative needs to be changed!)

Rich provided listeners (and any other librarians interested in the ideas)  Conversation Materials for Libraries. That will get you started on the idea of community conversations that change the narratives in your community.

All that is well and good – and there were a lot of great ideas in the presentation – but what struck me was the similarity and overlap of Rich’s ideas to the ideas in the Daniel Pink book “To Sell Is Human” that was the topic of my book club meeting the night before. A group of Kansan library-related women (we had a librarian who works for a vendor, a librarian who does freelance training, a librarian who directs a library, a librarian who works on a web team for a local library system and a librarian who works for the regional library system here in NE Kansas – and me) read and discussed the book. First off – my impressions of the book were varied. I think the ideas were sound and many of them practical. I think some of the exercises were interesting and the stuff he talked about doing in order to perfect your “pitch” were very interesting. Others were a little on the cheesy side, but there were a lot of exercises to choose from, so that’s ok. The book is about moving people to do what you need them to do, but without resorting to “salesman” tactics. In libraries, we frequently want to move people to do things – everything from reading a book we are enthused about to writing a check to support the library and its programs.

We also want to move the community to support their library – and this is where Daniel’s and Rich’s ideas intersected for me. They both talked about doing more listening and less talking and more understanding and less imposing. Daniel’s ideas on questions and asking “good” questions really seemed to be echoed in Rich’s talk about listening to the community and understanding what they want, not what we want to give them. The webinar coming so soon on the heels of the book discussion was a revelation for me – the ideas are still swirling around in my head! I feel much better equipped to go out to the libraries in my system and talk about how to meet the needs of their communities than I did before – so the koolaid has been drunk and we’ll see what the results will be!!

How time flies and Project Management Skills

Those two things *are* actually related – keeping track of schedules while managing a project is pretty important. While I have managed to keep track of my schedule in planning the project of my upcoming Project Management class, I have still been surprised by the passage of time. The class starts tomorrow!! I’m finalizing content uploads and getting ready to start interacting with folks in the class. It’s not too late to sign up, though, if you want to brush up on one of the Top 7 Most In Demand Tech Skills of 2013 with me in a low-pressure and supportive environment!

Time will also fly by between now and my next real-world workshop – to be held in Maryland – on the use of the Getting Things Done time management theory in libraries on the 19th of February. I’m putting the finishing touches on that workshop too. Fortunately, nothing big (like, say, my 40th birthday on Feb 3rd or an upgrade of the ILS that I help to manage and 40+ libraries rely on that is happening the weekend of the 9th and 10th) will be happening soon… ;) Also, I can’t  forget that I’m writing a book on Evaluating Cloud Services for Libraries that will be due to my publisher in April. Between all of those activities – the class, the birthday party at my best friend’s house, the upgrade weekend, the book and the workshop, February will be an interesting month. It’s a good thing it’s so short!!

Journaling

journal

Photo Credit: Tom Swift

Do you journal? I’ve been trying a few different ways to get my thoughts on paper daily and it seems like nothing sticks for more than a couple of weeks – at the outside. The closest I’ve come to consistently entering my daily activities in a single place is the “to-done” lists that I keep in Evernote. I started doing them every weekday to help me put together a document for MFPOW (My Former Place Of Work) detailing my job responsibilities for when I left. I still do it, though not on a daily basis any more, for really busy days just so I can keep my work straight in my head. It consists of taking the daily note that I have set up through IFTTT that shows up in my Evernote Inbox around sunrise each morning and contains the day’s weather forecast and adding everything I’ve done to that note. Under the forecast, I enter “To-Done:” and then start listing stuff. Every question I’ve answered, every edit I’ve made, every meeting I’ve attended – it all gets entered. This is the closest I’ve come to real, actual journaling – and it is entirely mechanical – what I’ve done, not how I’ve felt about it or what I plan to do or anything like that.

It’s getting to the point that I’m considering trying actual paper and pen (though that never works because keeping track of pens is not my strong suit – I spend more time looking for one than I do writing…). Using my iPad as a journaling tool fizzled out pretty quickly as has every other “real” journaling effort I’ve made. Maybe the tactile pleasures of a Moleskine notebook could help me keep up a regular diary or journal? I’ve been trying to spend some time in meditation each day – maybe I could incorporate the two (though I skipped the meditation today, so that might not be all that helpful).

If you journal, how did you start the habit? What helps you keep it? I’m going to give it another try, so any advice from successful journalers is welcome!