Creativity and Courage (things said at CMK): a reflection (pt. 2)

I mistakenly left my iPod in Virginia, so I was tethered to my MacBook and old school notebooks during the few scheduled sessions, impromptu conversations, and #cmk13afterhours.

outdated technologies

I’m also very embarrassed by my old school phone

I’m sure people looked at me the way I look at folks who write checks in the line at Target or use AOL or Hotmail.  Next time I’ll remember not to judge check writers or AOL users.  We all have reasons for doing what we do, I guess…  Maybe.

I’m looking back through my notes as some of the things that were said over the week.  I want to think them through here.  Feel free to support or challenge the thinking or continue as your were out there in the Internet.

Creativity and Courage

Manchester, NH is only an hour away from Boston, so a trip to MIT’s Media Lab was on Tuesday night’s agenda.  The introvert in me considered skipping out, but it’s MIT’s Media Lab.  That’s argument enough for getting over any social anxiety.

Upon entering the Media Lab, we encountered a few exhibits representing the cutting-edge work taking place at MIT.  Wheels + Legs and the Silk Pavilion are two exhibits currently on display.

part of the Wheels + Legs description

part of the Wheels + Legs description

part of the Silk Pavilion description

part of the Silk Pavilion description

 

I was especially intrigued by some of the cardboard prototyping done for the Wheels + Legs exhibit.

Prototyping from the Wheels + Legs exhibit at MIT's Media Lab

Prototyping from the Wheels + Legs exhibit at MIT’s Media Lab

We slowly made our way to the 6th floor where we were to listen to Tod Machover.  He talked about “Death and the Powers,” an opera commissioned by the Association Futurum of Monaco.  He talked about “A Toronto Symphony: Concerto for Composer and City,” a bold collaborative endeavor with the people of Toronto.  A similar collaborative undertaking is in the works for the 2013 Edinburgh Festival.

Someone asked, “Why don’t you do any work in the United States?”

Machover essentially said that American symphonies were, for the most part, conservative and hesitant to experiment for fear they’ll lose subscribers.

I wish I could remember Machover’s response word-for-word.  Basically he implored us to be creative and courageous whether we’re teachers, administrators, or on a symphony’s Board of Directors.

The advice resonated with me, because I buy-in 100% to the idea that the library should have a makerspace and digital media labs like YouMedia.  I believe that the library was a coworking space before coworking was cool.  I believe the library–a common space, a shared space–is ideal for workshops, forums, roundtable discussions.  The library is an ideal place for creation, not just consumption.  Despite the trendiness and the cliche of that previous statement, I believe it.

Sometimes it’s tempting to back away from these beliefs when we still exist in a culture where people perceive libraries to be about books and quiet and librarians to be about the Dewey Decimal system and teaching citation styles.  It’s not that these things don’t belong here, it’s just that there’s so much more to the work than that.  I can help a student think about a research paper and show her/him how to properly cite a source.  It’s equally exciting (ok, more exciting) to help a student make a movie or watch a student play around with a Raspberry Pi that she/he got from the library.

Raspberry Pi

cc licensed Flickr photo by qgil

There was a lot of talk at CMK about creating democratic cultures in school and the erosion of democracy through the defunding of public education.   I was surprised that this conversation popped up in several different venues over the week: once in a late night lobby talk and then again in some of the few scheduled sessions.

I’m thinking about libraries and how they support democracy through the provision of tools and shared space and the programming of thought-provoking workshops.  The library is a democratic space, because students (or community members) have access to books, articles, 3D printers, cameras, green screens, etc, which gives them the freedom to defend ideas and possibly create physical manifestations of those ideas.

I feel lucky to work in a pretty progressive school.  There’s a lot of tradition here both in culture and academics, but I think minds are open to change and new ideas.  As we move into a new space in August, I’m interested in seeing how new ideas take root, what butts up against tradition, and what is born from courage and creativity.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking about making

Thinking about making

By Melanie on | Edit

I got to talking with my colleague about makerspaces today.  Plans for the new middle school library include space for a makerspace… That’s an awkward sentence…  The current plans have the makerspace behind a door in a room of its own.  That’s not sitting well with some folks involved in the planning process (understandably so).  Carolyn and I talked about what a makerspace should look like, and when it comes down to it, we really have no idea.  I like to think that with the right guides, passion, and curiosity making will happen regardless of the square footage and available storage.  There’s truth to that, I know.  But if one has the opportunity to plan out a makerspace, one should dream big.

Personally I’m of the opinion that an entire library should function as a makerspace.  Sure, there’s a designated area for the bigger equipment and either stationary or mobile storage, but I think it’s in the spirit of the maker movement to be able to use, interact with, and manipulate one’s environment kind of like what was done with the stairs at Cal Poly.

(thank you DS106)

Make ALL the library a makerspace!

Ok.  Maybe this philosophy is mildly impractical.

If ALL the library can’t be one giant makerspace, what’s essential for the designated square footage?  Passion.  Mentors from multiple disciplines.  Tools for getting the jobs done.  Plenty of storage.  Lots of workspace.  Comfortable areas for talking/working out problems.  Places to scribble ideas.  What else?