I am Morgan Freeman (or librarians can get you things)

Last summer I did the “One Archetype, 5 Movies, 5 Seconds” DS106 assignment (with some liberties… my video lasts 18 seconds).

The more I think about it, the more I should’ve added this clip from Shawshank Redemption.

Maybe it’s brain damage from the 18 months of sleep deprivation I suffered because my son was a poor sleeper for… well… 18 months.  Maybe it’s a result of parenting a full-speed-ahead three-year-old boy.  Maybe I’m just small-minded.  Whatever the case may be, that scene from Shawshank Redemption runs through my head pretty often while I do my work.

I’m a librarian (in case you’re new here).  More specifically, I’m a librarian in an independent school.  I find that on a daily basis I experience some kind of work-related existential crisis.

Sometimes the existential crisis is triggered by a conversation that goes something like this:

Student: “I have to write my Honors English paper.  I have two paragraphs written.  I don’t know what I’m going to write for my third paragraph.  I need another source.”

Me:  “When is your paper due?”

Student:  “Today.”

Me:  “Yikes.  What are your sources?”

Student:  “The book and some education web site.”

Me:  [thinking to myself, ‘WTF?’] “Have you looked at any of the subscription databases?”

Student:  “Like JSTOR?  No.”

Picard face palm

Picard face palm

My frustration doesn’t lie with this student who has waited until the last minute to write this paper (turns out that it was the rough draft that was due today).  My frustration lies in the existence of the research paper.  In this case it seems so….  pointless.  The student isn’t invested in the topic.  The student knows how to game the research paper assignment.  An article from The Huffington Post is accepted as a legitimate source.  Why go through the hassle of searching a subscription database when you can just throw a couple of words in a Google search and come up with 1000-word McArticle?

I don’t know how I feel about it.  One one hand, using HuffPo or The Guardian probably best represents how the average person satiates his/her curiosity in something they’re only mildly interested in once he/she leaves school.  Maybe it’s authentic–representative of how we operate when we’re not being graded.

On the other hand, I’m appalled.

I think my main source of friction lies in the traditional research paper.  It seems so meaningless.  I say this as someone who liked writing research papers in both high school and college.  Admittedly all of my selected topics were pedestrian: “The Role of Women in ____” or “How the City is Portrayed in ____.”

My god I could crank those papers out.

It wasn’t the exploration of the literature that I loved.  It was the hunt for information.  Following the breadcrumbs.

I guess that’s why I do what I do now.

If I can’t find, the article “Prevention of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury in Athletes: a Review” in the school’s subscription databases, where can I get it?  How kind is the open web for a request like that?*

Being a librarian is a lot like being a private investigator.  Or it’s like being “Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding” from The Shawshank Redemption.

We’ve been known to locate things from time to time.  And I’m not just talking about books or academic articles.  Librarians are the mother effing Power of Pull.  Here’s a broad assumption: if a person decides to go to library school, odds are that person had trouble committing to just one subject area.

OK.  The point….  I think….

Librarians are about matchmaking.

Flickr photo by Brandon Christopher Warren (cc license)

Flickr photo by Brandon Christopher Warren (cc license)

Librarians are about putting the person with the right piece of information–the right thing–at just the right time.  Sometimes that information/thing is a book.  Sometimes it’s an article.  Sometimes it’s just showing a student with a little bit of downtime how the Makerbot or a Makey Makey works and watching them play for a little bit.

It’s always about inspiration.  Or at least it should be.  There is nothing more uninspired than a student jumping through hoops to complete the tired, meaningless research paper.  I think it’s time to offer more options.

I’m having a hard time making a point.

Here’s what I’m trying to say:

While I believe in the traditional roles of the librarian–embedding information literacy and information seeking within the curriculum (just to name a few)–I think students are better served when teachers and librarians collaborate to tap into the resources that engage the student.

As Erin White so eloquently tweets, the librarian is uniquely positioned to match people with information, technology, and other people.  The librarian can bridge disciplines.

If a student is writing about science in Cat’s Cradle, maybe it would be more interesting to let that student contact local scientists and technologists and find out their opinions on science for science’s sake or science with purpose and then compile those interviews into an edited documentary or audio essay.

At the end of the day, this is what I want for the students I work with and my son who will one day be going to school somewhere: (1) an environment that encourages the exploration of passions/rabbit holes/questions (2) an environment that allows for choice (3) an environment that provides time, a place for solitude, and a place for collaboration (4) an environment that that understands and values the significance of stocked knowledge, information flows, and networks and one’s ability to navigate and pull from those very different pools at just the right time.

 

*Turns out, not very.  Though I did eventually find the article.  Because I am awesome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Focus diminishes serendipity”

I watched Joi Ito’s Keynote address to the OER meeting a few days ago

I made many notes on things that resonated with me.  One thing Ito said that I found especially profound was, “focus diminishes serendipity.”  I’m partial to this philosophy, because I feel like I can now justify the fact that I’m easily distracted with “Well, if the director of the MIT Media Lab lacks focus then it’s just fine for me to investigate this new shiny thing over here.”

An acquaintance of mine once described herself as “mildly interested” in just about everything.  That’s very much my problem.  I think there are common threads in being mildly interested in everything, the philosophy behind the power of pull, and the nature of librarianship.  I’m going to think more on that though.

I’d like to say that my distractability just keeps the doors open for the adjacent possible.  I think that’s partly the case.  But on the other hand, being easily distracted makes it very hard to get things accomplished or dive deep into something.  I’ve had an Arduino kit on my desk for about 6 months now.  Have I opened the box?  Nope.

Maybe the difference between being the director of the MIT Media Lab and me is that Ito doesn’t have to actually do a project.  He really just needs to put the right people together.  Connect the right resources for the person or people with the questions.

Or maybe he doesn’t have a three-year-old who happens to be more fun and cooler than Arduino.

I like to imagine what I could get done with three of four (or more) hours of silence and solitude.  I’m pretty sure that the stillness would lend itself to some unprecedented concentration and productivity on my part.

Maybe.