Social Media in a Small Town

As I was thinking about the rising popularity of social networks, the analogy of a small town came to mind. Facebook could be compared to the local pub, where friends meet to share jokes, small talk- or even grumble about personal problems. Twitter, then, might be more like the local library, because one can follow others on narrower topics and trends. The Internet, as a whole, has been compared to a library. Without a catalog system (Dewey Decimal System), however, it is often a huge chaotic mess!

“The Internet may be the world’s greatest library, but let’s face it – all the books are scattered on the floor.” ~D.C. Denison, Boston Globe

User-generated content has changed the way we communicate. Of course, the basic underlying needs to share our lives with each other remains. Obviously, spending too much time at the local pub (fb) can lead to trouble. Expanding our horizons beyond those who share our ideas (twitter) is important, too.

The randomness of social networks intrigues me. The more friends and followers one has, the more time must be spent to keep up or the more likely it becomes to miss something. So, posts become trivial. You might argue- yes but what’s wrong with trivial? Must everything be meaningful or educational? As a librarian, I have always believed that there are too many great books out there to waste time on the trivial, formulaic ones. I used to compare those to fast-food versus nutritious home-cooking (or maybe fine-dining, at times). But, I must admit there is truth to old proverb “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Back to the comparison of Twitter to a library…
Growing up, a brick and mortar library was a highly respected place. A place one could revere with confidence for the authority of man’s highest achievements and traditions. The truths inside the library building were fixed, not fluid and ever-changing. Perhaps that confidence in a fixed grand hall filled with shelves was just an illusion. Nothing in life is ever really permanently fixed. We are all ever-changing, just as the formats of our words– both trivial and significant.

User-generated Content

I can remember when the television news was not a talk show, but a non-biased presentation of high quality journalism. Sources were checked and double-checked before broadcast. There’s been a shift. Today…the viewers must check and double-check the sources for themselves. We flip from one news source to another to verify a story. Viewers and readers are required to evaluate all information sources. Today…the general populace is asked to text answers to news questions and video shots from viewers are encouraged.

Today…anyone can be a journalist with a blog. Your twelve year old neighbor can put his videos on Youtube (and they may actually be good).

I think I have stated it before, but it bears repeating: The hierarchy of information has toppled. I suppose there are advantages as well as disadvantages. An example is “The People’s Digital Archive Project.” We all benefit from learning in collaboration. We live in an exciting age of innovation. But, unfortunately we now have to evaluate resources by the thousands. Another disadvantage is the loss of a shared news story. Everyone in my generation trusted and loved Walter Cronkite. We all watched the same tv shows and the same news stories. Of course, I find it ironic that I am writing about this shift from high-quality authority of information to user-generated content on a blog!

Today…I sometimes feel like the only thing we share is constant change or a random encounter.

Twirling Through Tech Tools

Back to school we go! I prepared a presentation for colleagues called “Twirling Through Tech Tools” that starts at The idea is to share numerous new tools (actually there’s an onslaught of them facing us daily) with a reminder that purpose should trump form. Dozens of online applications help us with presentations, media mashups, pictures, graphics, music, and social networking. As educators, there is no way we can utilize all of them. But through collaboration, we can find the best online tools to use for specific purposes.
The presentation will specifically share these (as examples):

Things are not the way they are suppose to be

My district library coordinator sent me a list (once again) of new technology tools, asking if I had tried them.  I will be presenting another staff development session on integrating tech tools into the library for back-to-school next fall.  Here’s the recent list:

When I replied to my boss that I had tried most of them, giving suggestions of other sites, I thought about how often teachers and librarians complain to me that they can’t keep up with changing technology!  I hear things like “we don’t have enough time” and my all time favorite “things are not the way they are suppose to be.”

My profession of librarianship is not the only field where “things are not the way they are suppose to be.”  Whether you work as an educator, nurse, politician, business owner, or practically any job I could name, there are those who complain.  I mean those who ALWAYS complain.  The world is not the way it’s suppose to be and maybe it never was.  When you stop to think about it…we are all going to die at some point.  So we plan our lives and live our days, knowing that is the end result.  How’s that for things the way things are suppose to be?  The old-timers used to remind us to “put on a happy face.” 

How does this relate to my list of new tech tools?  Well, I don’t think I need 14 nings, 3 facebook accounts, 12 online writing tools, 8 photo editors, 7 websites to update, 9 avatars, 5 virtual worlds, 26 presentation tools, 24 usernames to remember and so on.  Everyday, it seems, several new tech tools come my way.  I could look at it in dread, in fear, or simply gripe that things are not the way they should be!  But they are the way they are. 

So, my plan is to write a snappy song called Things are Not the Way they are Suppose to Be. I may ask my daughter to accompany me on the ukelele.  I’ll upload it to one of many social media sharing sites.  Maybe the chorus will end with

Things are not the way they are suppose to be

and that’s just fine with me.


As a school librarian, I have often considered the best way to teach learners how to research for themselves in a “real world” context.  Often, students are assigned topics to research that are not personally meaningful.  Information literacy skills (back in “the day”) meant learning to use a card catalog, an index, or an encylcopedia.  The skills were first taught and practiced, so the students could use them someday when ready to look for information.  Currently, students are taught how to evaluate websites and how to access online databases.

Having spent two years researching virtual worlds, it now occurs to me that an individual in a virtual world is learning “in the moment” rather than in theory only.  In a virtual world, the individual is situated with other learners discovering and sharing the same inquiries.  As a librarian, this is revolutionary.  Imagine two library patrons actually entering a print encyclopedia to discuss their findings synchronously.  Images, text, and multi-media are commonplace information resources at the beginning of this new decade.   Studies are just beginning to provide evidence of the role virtual worlds play in information literacy and education.

During my exploration of rapidly changing technology in relation to literacy, I stumbled upon a new word- a word that implies more than media literacy or digital literacy.  Transliteracy includes all forms of information delivery, across all platforms.

A Library is a Growing Organism

My favorite one of Ranganthan’s Five Laws of Library Science is “the library is a growing organism.”  Circulation of books and materials is similar to the human circulation system.  Another metaphor for the “growing organism” might be a garden, with the librarian tending to healthy plants by weeding and planting (acquisition of new materials).  Books that are unused or unread have no place in a healthy library.  Lev Vygotsky, in Thought and Word, discussed the idea of thought being “alive.”  He stated that a “a word devoid of thought is a dead thing.”  In other words, when a book is opened and read it comes to life.

If we apply the law of the library as a growing organism to the Internet, what metaphors might come to mind?  The resources on the Internet are almost impossible to monitor for maintaining the health of the organism.  Instead of a lovely garden, is this organism more like a growing monster?  Working as a school librarian, I enjoyed my role as “gardener” tending the library.  In the future, will the role of the librarian be more like a knight battling a dragon or perhaps a captain navigating through storms and giant waves to bring passengers to small islands of relevant  high-quality information?  Or, will there be so few passengers onboard who care about the quality and authority of information, librarians will be isolated on those small islands of academia or in the hushed halls of museums?  I do hope they have a garden there.

The Sea of Information (or The Flood)

When my daughter was studying the impact of the Internet on society, her college professor compared today’s world with the dark ages.  He spoke of life before the printing press, when people had no access to information and were “in the dark.”  Today we have access to way too much information, in fact we are drowning in it.  Struggling with this overload of information (covered in water) is similar to being “in the dark.”  I did not invent this concept.  I didn’t even hear the professor’s discussion.  When I googled the idea, I found an interesting article by Lawrence Murray.

One might find this idea alarming.  Certainly this world has always been full of alarming ideas.  Instead of crying out in fear, or wallowing in the negativity of what this world is coming to, I suggest focusing on what we can do to make the best of it now.  By surrounding ourselves with positive people and thinking about helping educate the next generation, we join in a fight that has gone on for centuries.  People have always worried about the youngsters.  Instead of griping about the rising water, let’s work harder to make them lifeboats.

The balance of personal / professional

Blogs are like personal diaries where each unique voice is important.  Blogs are also a new collaborative resource which can help us in professional growth.  I have had this nagging feeling of misunderstanding about whether the purpose of a blog should be personal or professional- I mean it almost seems like they are opposites.  I have always been fascinated by opposites (I could blog for hours on that topic and seriously need to tag that word) (OK-done!  Here’s my opposites blog!).  Social networking, digital media and blogs have changed what I like to call “the hierarchy of information.”  IMHO, the balance of personal and professional writing is no longer clear.  This would make a great dissertation topic!  decisions, decisions…