The State of America’s Libraries 2014: Libraries, Social Networking, and Learning

April 16, 2014

“‘Social’ has come to mean more than sending a tweet or posting to Facebook,” trainer-teacher-learners and others perusing the 2014 edition of the American Library Association (ALA) State of America’s Libraries are reminded near the end of the “Social Networking” section.

State_of_Americas_Libraries_2014It’s an idea we understand viscerally when we serve ourselves and others by actively engaging in virtual office hours via Facebook or Google+ Hangouts; learning from and serving as active members of online communities of learning via live, facilitated tweetchats like #lrnchat or extended asynchronous explorations along the lines of the New Media Consortium’s recent Wiki-Thon; or creating content while using social media tools that make connectivist MOOCs (massive open online courses) like #etmooc (the Educational Technology & Media MOOC) or #xplrpln (the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC) sustainable communities learning.

This is a huge leap from social-media-as-bulletin-board-for-ephemera to social-media-as-workplace-tool, and it’s one that more and more colleagues and their learners are embracing. While we still have plenty of learners who need help in making the transition from seeing the use of online social networking tools as irrelevant to their workplace and personal activities to integrating those tools into their various activities, we increasingly are seeing beginners quickly make the leap from skepticism to creative endeavors including the use of Twitter as a way of conducting virtual new-staff orientations, as school librarian Betty Turpin is doing with a group of library school students who will be completing a project at the International School of Stuttgart next month.

The writers of the State of America’s Libraries 2014 offer us a helpful view of social networking within the library context: “‘The social librarian is enmeshed in the fabric of the Internet of Things as curator, educator, filter, and beacon,’ says a post on Stephen’s Lighthouse. ‘In this complex, dynamic, and demanding environment, librarians are extending themselves and empowering library users’”—just as their colleagues working in other training-teaching-learning environments are doing.

Graphic from "Social Networking" section of the report

Graphic from “Social Networking” section of the report

They then lead us through a series of examples demonstrating how libraries are using social networking to foster innovations in social networking. There is the Pinal County (Arizona) Library District “compilation of articles and links on how libraries are using Facebook, Twitter, and blogs as tools to reach out to users”—a set of resources curated on a Pinterest board. There’s the LibraryScienceList rankings of the “100 Most Social Media Friendly College and University Libraries for 2013”; even the most cursory skim of the rankings reveals creative use of social media tools in many settings, including the University of California San Francisco Library, where efforts extend to connecting leaners to sessions on building online courses with Moodle 2, becoming a better presenter, and learning about digital video editing.

And at the end of the section, we come to an extension of the “Libraries and Community Engagement” theme explored elsewhere in the report: a mention of how academic libraries are using social media to foster community-building—which, for me, is one of the most natural, brilliant, yet frequently-overlooked use of social media tools available to library staff members and others engaged in training-teaching-learning.

I continually find myself returning to the experiences I’ve had in the development of sustainable online communities of learning through MOOCs and groups including #lrnchat, and feel that there is still plenty that many of us involved in libraries could be doing to better serve and engage members of our onsite and online communities. I see what colleagues in the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and, to a lesser extent, the American Library Association do to extend the learning that occurs in conferences, and remain a strong advocate of doing all we can to promote the blending of onsite and online communities in every way possible when it makes sense to do so. The confirmation that “public libraries’ use of social media is up sharply, especially among large libraries” is, therefore, encouraging news—and a reminder that we’re moving in the right direction to serve our blended 21st-century onsite-online constituency.

N.B.: Reflections on the Academic Libraries and Ebooks and Copyright Issues sections of the report have been posted by Jill Hurst-Wahl, director of the library and information science and LIS with school media specialization programs at Syracuse University, on her Digitization 101 blog.


The State of America’s Libraries 2014: Libraries, Community Engagement, and Learning

April 15, 2014

Having been tremendously inspired by interactions with librarians who are community leaders in Northeast Kansas, closer to home (in Mendocino County) and elsewhere over the past few months, I’m not at all surprised to see that the 2014 edition of the American Library Association (ALA) State of America’s Libraries has a wonderful new section: “Libraries and Community Engagement.”

State_of_Americas_Libraries_2014“America’s libraries continue to transform themselves, keeping pace with the changing economic, social, and technological aspects of American society,” those contributing to the report write at the beginning of the community engagement section. “Libraries’ deepening engagement with their communities takes many forms, from technology to education to social services, and serves many segments of the population.”

It’s not at all difficult to find plenty of documentation of the positive transformations underway in libraries and the communities in which they are increasingly integral collaborators in exploring and addressing a variety of educational and other needs: libraries as learning/social learning centers; libraries as advocates of literacy at a time when concepts of literacy themselves are evolving to reflect our needs; libraries as places where technology is explored; libraries as catalysts for change; and libraries as places where something as simple as a book discussion group can serve as a forum about community challenges.

What is at the heart of the community engagement section of the ALA report, however, are the stories.

We read about the Chattanooga Public Library’s efforts to provide “3D printers, laser cutters, sewing machines, and spaces for conducting business meetings…all things that an individual might find too expensive.” We learn about libraries across the country engaging children, through collaborations with the organization Family Place Libraries™, at critically important moments in children’s earliest educational endeavors. We see my local library system and former employer—the San Francisco Public Library—receive well-deserved kudos for its “pioneering outreach program to homeless users…staffed by a  full-time psychiatric social worker” and including “the services of five peer counselors, all of whom were once homeless themselves”—an effort increasingly emulated elsewhere. And we learn about libraries offering musical instruments and even plots of land for checkout in addition to examples we find elsewhere with just a small bit of effort: tool libraries, seed libraries, and much more.

For those of us who have eagerly followed and supported ALA’s “Promise of Libraries Transforming Communities” initiative—fostered by former ALA President Maureen Sullivan and many others—and the ever-evolving ALA Libraries Transforming Communities website with its numerous useful resources, the ALA report is an update, a confirmation, and a source of encouragement.

It also is a strong reminder that we all have roles to play in strengthening collaborations between libraries and other key members of our communities—and that includes calling our non-library colleagues’ attention to reports like the State of America’s Libraries report and encouraging them to see how the content can expand and enrich their own community collaborations.

nmc.logo.cmykMy most progressive and far-reaching colleagues in workplace learning and performance in libraries, the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), and the New Media Consortium recognize that we need to look beyond our usual training-teaching-learning environments to see ourselves in the larger context of all learning organizations—including museums and other arts organizations—that play overlapping roles in the average lifelong learner’s experiences. Media Specialist/School Librarian Buffy Hamilton, for example, consistently takes her learners on virtual trips far beyond the physical libraries she has served. ASTD CEO Tony Bingham consistently dazzles and inspires us with visionary training-teaching-learning presentations at the annual ASTD Chapter Leaders Conference and elsewhere. New Media Consortium Chief Executive Officer Larry Johnson consistently encourages staff and colleagues to take the large-picture view of how various learning organizations adapt new technology and address trends and challenges in learning worldwide.

ALonline346[1]When we bring all of this back to the content of the ALA report and read about what libraries and library staff members do to support and promote learning within their communities, we realize that those of us involved in adult learning need to see what tomorrow’s adults are doing as today’s children and teens. When we see what today’s community college, technical school, and university learners are doing, we need to be preparing to provide learning landscapes that help meet the needs they will continue to have in the years and decades we will have them in our workplaces.

And most importantly, we need to recognize that taking the time in our own workplaces—during our workdays—to read, ponder, react to, discuss, and implement what we encounter in well-written and thoughtfully produced report along the lines of The State of American’s Libraries 2014 is not a luxury. It’s an essential part of our own lifelong learning endeavors that make us contributors and partners in the development and maintenance of our own onsite and online communities.

Next: Libraries and Social Networking; reflections on the Academic Libraries and Ebooks and Copyright Issues sections of the report have been posted by Jill Hurst-Wahl, director of the library and information science and LIS with school media specialization programs at Syracuse University, on her Digitization 101 blog.


ALA Midwinter 2014: Prelude (Dream Baby Dream)

January 23, 2014

With the release of Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes album earlier this month, many of us are hearing his version of “Dream Baby Dream” (originally recorded and released by Suicide in 1980) for the first time, and hearing how he transformed that simple song is as intriguing as comparing the Holly Cole trio’s version of “Tennessee Waltz” to the original Cowboy Copas version (1948) or comparing Neil Young’s version of “Four Strong Winds” to Ian Tyson’s original.    

ALA_Midwinter_2014--LogoThere are at least two lessons here for all the trainer-teacher-learners arriving in Philadelphia for the American Library Association (ALA) 2014 Midwinter meeting from Friday, January 24 – Tuesday, January 28: like well-composed songs, the work we do can be approached in myriad ways, and like the advice in that song on High Hopes suggests, we need to dream—and dream big.

Dreaming (and then acting upon those dreams) is, of course, at the heart of any conference of the caliber of the ALA Midwinter Meeting. This, unlike its larger, more presentation-oriented counterpart held each summer by ALA, is where Association staff and members gather to do the actual business of ALA within the context of the numerous division, round table, and other committee meetings that draw participants from across the country together for several few days, and I couldn’t be happier than to be among them.

This, for me, is a chance to participate (as a volunteer serving on the ALA Publishing Committee) in that committee’s work through a daylong planning and review session; we will, among other things, be dreaming and acting upon ideas to assure that ALA publications continue meeting Association members’ needs. I also hope to catch up with colleagues in the ALA Learning Round Table, where volunteers dream about and actively promote continuing education and staff development among their colleagues in libraries across the United States. With any luck, I’ll also be able to attend at least part of the American Libraries Advisory Committee meeting so I can learn more about what colleagues have been doing to make American Libraries online and in print a dynamic source of information and a means for promoting discussions and actions on issues affecting those fabulous learning organizations that we serve on a daily basis.

Each of those groups is composed of ALA staff along with ALA members who are interested enough in Association business to travel, at their own expense, to help shape and further the business of an organization they/we support through our collaborative efforts. And the fact that these business/committee meetings draw us together each January is just the beginning: the formally scheduled meetings are just part of the learning opportunities we create for each other. Some of us arrive early so we can attend informal dinners to keep each other up to date on the trends and challenges we are seeing in the industry we serve. At least a couple of us will be serving as guest bloggers on the American Libraries blog. Some of us fill otherwise unscheduled time by attending panel discussions on topics including tech developments in libraries, digital learning initiatives, how massive open online courses (MOOCs) might benefit libraries and library users, and how partnerships and collaborations benefit libraries and members of the communities they serve. And some of us look forward to those unplanned encounters that bring us together with some of the best, most dynamic colleagues we have so we can exchange ideas; become inspired, once again, by what those colleagues are accomplishing; and return home to even more effectively tackle the challenges we willingly face. Because we care. And because we dream, baby, dream.


ALA Annual Conference 2013: Backchannels Revisited

July 3, 2013

Attending conferences like the 2013 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference (held over the past several days here in Chicago) always provides a reminder, both positive and negative, of how far we have come in coping with life in an onsite-online world—and how far we still have to go in effectively using social media tools.

ALA_2013_Chicago_Logo_FINAL_CLR_0 (1)The opportunity to see and learn from colleagues is clearly a huge attraction for many of us; doing business (on the committees on which we serve, with the vendors upon whom we rely, and, for those of us working as consultants, with current and prospective clients) as well as having those spur-of-the-moment unplanned conversations that invariably happen even when there are more than 25,000 people onsite are absolutely inspirational. And combining our onsite presence with online activity through the Twitter backchannel, Facebook postings, and other online activities via laptops and mobile devices means that we have hundreds of onsite-online colleagues helping us find meetings, learning opportunities, after-hours gatherings, and other shared conference experiences we might otherwise have missed.

There is even an attempt to actively include those who are unable to physically attend the conference: the usual #ALALeftBehind hashtag not only kept us in contact with those who were interested but unable to attend—it often offered tongue-in-cheek opportunities to participate through virtual #alaleftbehind conference ribbons and even a very clever opportunity to be virtually photographed with a popular conference attendee.

As has been the case with other conferences I’ve attended, the ALA 2013 Annual Conference began with a bit of confusion about how best to reach colleagues arriving in Chicago. During the days leading up to the conference, many of us had inaccurately assumed that the official conference hashtag was #ala13—the conference URL started with “ala13”; there were numerous references online to that hashtag; it was the shortest possible combination many of us could imagine as a way of keeping up with each other (and when you only have 140 characters to convey a message, every typed character has to count); and the Twitter feed for #ala13 was very active. It wasn’t until many of us were onsite, however, that colleagues were nice enough to post tweets calling our attention to the official hashtag (#ala2013, with its extra two characters). The result, throughout the conference, was that any of us hoping to reach the largest possible number of colleagues ended up using both hashtags in our posts—a situation similar to what often happens with colleagues in the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) who face the #astd13/#astd2013 challenge when attending and/or following conference exchanges via Twitter.

ALA_2013--Top_TweetsThere were many times when both feeds were moving so quickly that it was impossible to either follow them in the moment or to follow them later by skimming earlier posts, for taking the time to try to review tweets invariably meant falling behind in the ever-developing stream of comments. American Libraries Senior Editor Beverly Goldberg (@americanlibraries) offered a playfully subjective bit of assistance by compiling lists of Top 10/Top 20 tweets while the conference was fully underway on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.  Reviewing her picks gives a wonderful overview of content—everything ranging from snippets from notable presentations to comments about the length of the lines at the onsite Starbucks outlets.

Bev, much to my surprise, included one of my paraphrases of a keynote speaker’s comment in her Friday list, then nailed me the following day in a very funny way by rerunning the same tweet on the next list and noting that I had suggested that standards must have been lowered if my tweets were making any sort of Top 10 list. (That’s OK, Bev, I know where you tweet!)

What doesn’t show up in those Top 10 lists is the reminder that some of our colleagues apparently need reminders that what happens in Twitter doesn’t necessarily stay in Twitter. There were the usual snarky comments from those who felt they needed to play den mother to the rest of us through cajoling notes about not wearing conference badges while walking city streets (I can’t imagine anyone reading one of those comments and thinking, “Oh, yes, that’s very helpful; thank you for making me a more responsible representative of my profession.”); standing to the right side of escalators so others could race up the left-hand side (why bother? the lines were going to be long at Starbucks no matter what time you arrived); and even writing critical comments to presenters while those presenters were in the middle of their presentations and clearly not paying any attention to the backchannel. All that those tweeters accomplished was to make the rest of us a little hesitant to have anything to do with them since those notes, at very least, indicated a level of incivility that present and future employers can’t help but notice.

There are certainly thousands of attendees who had great conference experiences without ever stepping into the Twittersphere and interacting at that level; there are also many of us who found our overall experience enhanced by combining our onsite and online presences. And now, as I’ve written after intensively engaging in other conferences, it’s nearly time to think about engaging in a digital media fast to decompress from several days of nonstop connectivity. But not quite yet: there are a still a few more tweets to read and a few more articles to complete.


“American Libraries”: Media, Technology, and Community in an Onsite-Online World

July 18, 2012

Those who are wondering what has happened to our media clearly aren’t paying attention to what our colleagues at American Libraries have been producing. While some of our brightest thinkers, including Clay Shirky, are discussing the loss of traditional media and wondering what the future holds for those of us who love our newspapers and other publications, American Libraries continues, with little fanfare outside its own industry, to provide a 21st-century “publication” that seamlessly blends print and online offerings, content that serves its readers well, and information that appeals not only to its primary audience of American Library Association members but also to anyone interested in or touched by what libraries offer—which pretty much covers almost all of us these days in one way or another. And the funding model is straightforward and apparently sustainable: a combination of dues paid by American Library Association (ALA) members and revenues from advertising in the print and online versions.

The publication’s latest digital supplement, Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2011-2012, overtly focuses on how technology in libraries serves members communities throughout the United States. As the main title implies, however, it serves an equally valuable purpose: providing an example of how the interweaving of libraries and communities produces a tremendously positive impact on our quality of life even in the most challenging of times.

Just looking at the format of this publication goes a long way in knocking down some disturbing misconceptions about libraries, reading, and access to the first-rate information that makes a difference in our lives: we’re looking at a thoughtful, well-researched, and finely edited document that can be read online regardless of where we are (in front of a laptop or on the run with mobile device in hand, if we have access to the right tech tools) as well as in print if we are inclined to take the time required to produce a paper copy. It is well organized, with a standard table of contents that also works well in some online environments by jumping us to specific content at the click of a mouse or the touch of a finger on a mobile device’s screen.(We’re not yet perfect, mind you; the links didn’t work on my Android tablet, and the text was more than a little challenging on a 7” screen.)

When we dive into the content—which, ultimately, is what we’re seeking, regardless of format—we find some encouraging news within this thoughtful report: “Libraries continue to transform lives by providing critical services and innovative solutions to technology access, in spite of years’ worth of consecutive and cumulative budget cuts,” we read at the beginning of the supplement’s executive summary. “More Americans are turning to their libraries for access to essential technology services not found elsewhere in the community, including free computer and Internet access, technology training, and assistance with job-seeking and e-government services.”

It’s easy to be quickly buried under statistics and generalizations, so the writers and editors in the publication consistently return us to the “so what?’ at the heart of any exploration of what libraries produce in collaboration with community partners/members: skill-building workshops and courses that lead to employment and financial literacy in an era where to be financially illiterate is to be locked out of life-sustaining opportunities. Equally importantly, members of library staff are at the forefront of promoting and providing digital literacy—another life-changing survival skill that continues to elude many in search of work, health information, and many other essential resources that would otherwise be beyond their reach as they attempt to sift through the overwhelming amount of information that threatens to drown them rather than lift them closer to their goals.

It’s a far from perfect world that we find within Libraries Connect Communities and its special sections focusing on libraries and library users in Georgia and Idaho; members of rural communities served by libraries—representing approximately half of the libraries’ audiences across the country—see that their libraries “can neither provide adequate volume of technology training…nor keep pace with new technologies.”

Yet the role libraries play is consistently apparent: “Increasingly, communities across the U.S. depend on public libraries for a ‘triple play’ of resources; 1) facilities and physical access to technology infrastructure; 2) a wealth of electronic content; and 3) information professionals trained to help people find and use the information most relevant to their needs.”

And those of us connected to libraries and involved in training-teaching-learning depend on first-rate publications like American Libraries to help us remain in touch with the needs of those we serve. See how our information sources are continuing to evolve to reflect changing world in which we live and work and play. And find new ways to incorporate innovative responses to the challenges we face so we, too, can contribute to the vitality of our local and extended communities in an onsite-online world.


Creativity, Innovation, and Evolution in Publications

July 8, 2010

I’m not among those who feels compelled to worry about the future of magazines and newspapers. The way we share information in print and online is evolving so quickly that discussions of the future can’t possibly keep up with the reality of current innovations.

Attending the semi-annual meeting of the American Libraries magazine Advisory Committee while I was in Washington, D.C. for the 2010 American Library Association (ALA) Conference last week helped bring a lot of the picture into focus for me. Editor and Publisher Leonard Kniffel and his colleagues provided an intriguing summary of what they’ve been sharing with the magazine’s readers over the past year: a print publication which has been seamlessly interwoven with an online presence including featured videos, a photo gallery, and archives of the print editions and digital supplements; a readership that is responding well to a variety of information resources including the print and online versions of American Libraries; a weekly online publication—American Libraries (AL) Direct—which provides dozens of summaries and links to articles of interest to the more than 60,000 members of the American Library Association; an editor’s blog that is an integral part of the mix; and a growing appreciation for print articles which tackle larger themes rather than focusing on the sort of breaking news items which are more effectively disseminated via the online resources.

The result is a family—in the best sense of the word—of offerings that serve as a focal point for Association members and others interested in the state of libraries. It’s an early 21st-century version of the old local newspaper as center of a community, but serving a much larger and geography dispersed population than small-town papers ever imagined reaching.

I think Kniffel and his colleagues are doing a great job of drawing from the publication’s best traditions while taking advantage of opportunities offered by online resources. Articles which begin online can find their way—in revised versions—onto the pages of the print publication which, in turn, is posted online to reach an even larger audience than would have been possible a few years ago. Thematic publications, in the form of magazine-length digital supplements, give readers even more opportunities to explore issues of interest to them. And the creative use of eye-catching and easy-to-read design makes the offerings visually as well as intellectually appealing—an aspect of publication that is all too often ignored in a world where thoughts and imagery are extremely ephemeral.

While members of the American Libraries Advisory Committee spent little time during their meeting discussing articles and presentations on the state of magazines and publishing, their conversations implicitly acknowledged many of the innovations receiving attention in a variety of venues. The 2009 TED talk about a Polish newspaper designer’s innovative efforts to make each issue of his publication an event for readers is not far from what American Libraries accomplishes through its digital supplements and its annual print edition dedicated to innovations and achievements in library architecture. James Fallow’s article in the June 2010 issue of The Atlantic magazine“How to Save the News”—about how Google is supporting the evolution of newspapers is consistent with the moves American Libraries has already made to be present where readers are congregating rather than bemoaning the loss of print-publication readers to online sources. And Clay Shirky’s thoughtful presentation and discussion on “Internet Issues Facing Newspapers” explores new models for publications which American Libraries appears to be embracing.

Because our newspapers and magazines have—far longer than any of us have been alive—served as centers of the communities they serve, we have a vested interest in being sure that they continue to meet our needs and that we continue to support them through our patronage. It’s clear to me that their evolving onsite-online formats connected to print counterparts are continuing to reflect, support, nourish, and even help create new communities of interest, and those who are mourning their loss are simply not paying attention to the underlying health that print and online entities like American Libraries are displaying as they continue to evolve to meet their readers’ needs.


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