New Librarianship MOOC: The Importance of Worldview and Mission

July 23, 2013

A consistently appealing aspect of R. David Lankes’s “New Librarianship Master Class”—a massive open online course (MOOC) under the auspices of the University of Syracuse School of Information Studies— and his book The Atlas of New Librarianship is how much further they reach beyond the obvious target audience of librarians.

New_Librarianship_Master_Class_LogoGiven that so many members of library staff are involved in facilitating learning within the onsite and online communities they serve, it’s no surprise that Lankes’s expressed hope “that members and communities beyond libraries find value in the Atlas” (p. 11) does, in fact, match the potential to appeal to many involved in training-teaching-learning regardless of whether our work takes place in public, academic, or special libraries; in (other) academic settings; or in the workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs served by my colleagues in the American Society for Training & Development.

At the heart of this expansive approach within the course and book is worldview, a topic nicely addressed in Lankes’s Week 1 taped lecture “The Importance of Worldview”; a second taped lecture—“The Mission of Librarians”—adds even more context to any discussion we have.

Lankes begins by reminding us that worldview helps shape the very questions we ask (e.g., “What is the future of Libraries?”) and, therefore, shapes the ideas we consider and the actions we take as a result of our explorations. In a particularly fruitful example of how questions and worldview affect the world we help create, he takes us through variations that product distinctly different responses and results:

  • “What is the future of libraries?” becomes
  • “What should be the future of libraries?”—a less deterministic view in that is doesn’t assume there is one already clearly-defined future to consider—then becomes
  • “What should be the future of libraries and librarians?”—which then becomes
  • “What should be the future of libraries and librarians in a democracy?”

And that’s where an astute reader makes the leap that Lankes facilitates without directly adding it to his agenda: applying that style of employing a series of evolving questions to challenge and reshape our worldview can have a positive impact within any profession—particularly the field of teaching-training-learning. This, for me, is another confirmation of my own long-held belief that librarianship is in significant ways part of the larger playing field of training-teaching-learning rather than being a field completely unto itself.

“Worldviews matter,” Lankes says in his lecture. “Worldviews help us shape policy. They really do shape our thinking.”

Furthermore—in defining the mission of librarianship as “to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities”—he tells us in his “Mission” lecture that “Journalists can see themselves with this mission statement. Teachers can see that. Publishers. Authors. Lots of folks can see that mission, so the mission statement is not enough to define librarianship.” But it is enough to remind us that we have colleagues and potential partners across the aisle, and that tremendous collaborations that serve our overlapping communities of interest are possible if we’re willing to step away from our traditional desks and workspaces to engage with those potential collaborators.

Lankes also, in that lecture on mission, explicitly confirms that “in new librarianship, we focus primarily on how people learn….Learning theory becomes a fundamental part of the worldview of librarianship, of new librarianship.”

If we are astute enough to pursue this line of inquiry and action, all of us involved in teaching-training-learning—whether within or outside of libraries—will be closer to playing the transformative role that Lankes documents in his book and course, and that our profession-vocation inspires.

N.B.: This is the second in a series of posts inspired by the New Librarianship MOOC.


The Big Ideas Connecting People, Conferences, and Conversations

January 27, 2013

Developing and acting upon big ideas sometimes requires big leaps, so it’s no surprise to me that the leap from San Francisco to Austin to Seattle over the past several days has left my head spinning.

ALA_Midwinter_2013Three days of participation in the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project summit on “The Future of Education” in Austin, Texas followed by a few days with colleagues attending the American Library Association (ALA) 2013 Midwinter meeting here in Seattle created the sort of Intersection discussed by Frans Johansson in The Medici Effect, a book about “breakthrough insights at the Intersection of ideas, concepts, and cultures.”

That NMC summit fulfilled its implied promise of creating an Intersection:–in this case, a gathering of what NMC Founder/CEO Larry Johnson has called “100 thought leaders” to discuss wicked problems and plans of action to address those challenging problems that require entirely new ways of thinking and that help redefine the way we view our world. We were there to try to make a difference.

nmc.logo.cmykHaving already written about the first and second days of the NMC summit and reflected on subtle and not-so-subtle interweavings of themes between that summit and what I’ve been discussing and experiencing with friends and colleagues at the ALA conference, I continue finding the connections to tremendously strong. It’s as if both conferences have melded into one nearly week-long immersion in a profound, intensely deep well of ideas that challenge us to rethink much of what we take for granted in our work and personal lives.

At the NMC retreat, we were looking for ways to address the challenges of redefining roles and identities for students, faculty members, and administrators; fostering an ecosystem for experiential learning; and defining ethical boundaries and responsibilities in learning, among other things. Here in Seattle, some of us are looking for ways to address the challenges of redefining roles and identities for library staff and library users in a world requiring intensive lifelong learning efforts; fostering an ecosystem for information literacy, digital literacy, and open access to information resources; and defining ethical boundaries and responsibilities in strengthening the communities we serve.
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But it all comes down to people. That’s what was at the heart of the future of education summit and the ALA Midwinter meeting. Sitting with my colleague Buffy Hamiltonthe Unquiet Librarian—at an ALA conference session on “the promise of libraries: transforming communities” this morning, I quickly realized that this was yet another opportunity to engage in metalearning—learning about learning—by observing how all of us in the room were learning from the presentation.

The obvious primary focus was the content of that panel discussion—something so deeply inspiring, challenging, and rewarding that I’m going to return to it in a separate article. Equally important was the way content was being offered, consumed, and disseminated. It wasn’t just about how the presenters engaged us. It was equally about how Buffy and I, along with several other audience members in the room, were recording and commenting on that content via the conference Twitter backchannel—and how that content was reaching and being further disseminated outside the room by others retweeting what we were documenting. There were even times that Buffy and I, even though we were sitting side by side, interacted by retweeting each other’s notes when one of us had missed something that the other had captured.

Because I work with and help others learn to use social media tools in ways that open up opportunities for them by providing access to people and resources that might otherwise not be available to them, I know we still have plenty of people who see Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and many other tools as frivolous distractions. But what continues to become clearer to me day by day is that those tools can equally serve as means to foster the dissemination of information that helps us tackle those wicked problems that are at the heart of so many challenges we might otherwise be inclined to ignore. And whether we use them to augment our daily face-to-face interactions, the Intersection moments that are created at events along the lines of the future of education summit and the ALA Midwinter meeting, or backchannel exchanges, we miss something essential if we don’t acknowledge the seeds we plant each time we gather, talk with, listen to, and build upon the conversations that turn big ideas and dreams into even bigger solutions that sustain healthy communities. It’s learning as a step toward action, and each of us helps build the world of our dreams when we embrace these offerings.


The Fourth Place Revisited: Creating an Instant Onsite-Online Social Learning Center (Part 2 of 2)

September 26, 2012

It’s not often that we have the opportunity to produce learning objects as part of a learning opportunity, but that’s exactly what an engaged group of learners (library directors from the state of Virginia) achieved last week during the final two-hour session of the Library of Virginia’s two-day Directors’ Meeting in Richmond, Virginia that Maurice Coleman and I helped facilitate.

By the end of our time together Friday morning, all of us not only had collaborated to create a blended (onsite-online) social learning center that had onsite participants seamlessly engaged with several online colleagues in discussions about the future of libraries and learning and learners, but we had also used the wisdom of the group to capture and produce a viewable record of the conversations that took place via Twitter by using Storify.

How we achieved those results as a temporary community of learners drawn together and supported by Library of Virginia Continuing Education Consultant Cindy Church and her colleagues provides a wonderful example of social learning at its best and most creative. It also provides a wonderful case study of how any trainer-teacher-learner can promote and nurture what we’ve been calling the new Fourth Place in our world—social learning centers that can exist onsite, online, in onsite-online combinations, and even in unexpected places, 39,000 feet above the surface of the earth, when the conditions for social learning are in place.

The creation of our onsite-online social learning center last Friday was a response to necessity: those library directors clearly needed something far different than what Maurice and I had planned to offer, so the two of us, after our Thursday afternoon sessions with them, completely threw out what we had prepared and, instead, spent Thursday evening contacting colleagues who are active and innovative users of social media tools in libraries and others settings. The results were spectacular, and improv was at the heart of much of what we accomplished.

Our new plan for Friday morning was to take the existing meeting room space in the Library of Virginia there in Richmond and transform it into a setting where social learning could occur. We decided to begin with a Twitter feed (#lvadir12, for Library of Virginia Directors’ Meeting 2012) that would connect onsite participants to Bill Cushard, Buffy Hamilton, David Lee King, and Jill Hurst-Wahl so that our online colleagues, well-versed in social media tools and learning, could explore options with the onsite participants. That Twitter  feed, aggregated via TweetDeck, was projected onto a screen in the front of the room; it was also visible to the many onsite participants who followed and contributed to it via their own mobile devices—a stunning example of how quickly we all are adapting the Bring Your Own Device movement into our workplaces and other venues.

Maurice and I also, on the spur of the moment, decided to take advantage of onsite wireless access to connect onsite participants to our online partners via a Google+ Hangout—a plan that had to be abandoned when the wireless access proved to be inadequate for what we were trying to do. Even that disappointment, however, provided a useful learning experience: it helped everyone to not only see and understand the advantages and challenges of trying to incorporate social media tools into learning, but also to see how easy it is, in the moment, to change course and use what is available to produce effective learning in a social context. As Maurice himself observed, we learn as much from our failures as from our successes.

Anyone reading the Storify transcript—it appears in reverse chronological order, so requires that we go to the final page of the document and work out way back up to the top to follow the flow of the exchanges—quickly obtains a sense of how dynamic this sort of learning can be. While there was an overall structure to the discussion, there was an equal amount of on-the-spot adjusting to themes that turned out to be important to the onsite and online learning partners. All of us were learning from each other—an achievement well-documented in that moment when we tweeted out a request for help in capturing the Twitter feed and immediately received Buffy’s suggestion that Storify would produce what we needed.

There was also a clear focus on being engaged in something more than an ephemeral discussion to be forgotten as soon as it was finished. The final segment of the conversation produced commitments by the library directors themselves as to what they would do to apply lessons learned when they returned to their libraries.

Among the offerings:

  • “We will ask our community how we can help them.”
  • “We will ask people how they want to hear from us.”
  • “We will designate staff time to learning-opportunity development.”

And in a wonderful moment of laying the foundations for the concrete results that the best learning opportunities can produce, one discussion group said “We commit that we will post on our listserv, within six weeks, one thing we have done from this session”—thereby assuring that this particular social learning center will remain in existence for at least six weeks after participants formally left the physical site to return home.

If that sounds like a surefire way to demonstrate how social learning centers can produce tangible, sustainable results, then we all will have benefitted from the creation of this particular example as we look for ways to create and nurture our own. And we’re well prepared to further explore the concept of social learning centers as a new Fourth Place (after the first three places—home, work, and social settings where members of a community informally gather) in libraries or any other setting where learners gather in Intersections to enjoy each other’s company while learning from each other.


The Fourth Place Revisited: When Social Learning Center Learners Take the Lead (Part 1 of 2)

September 26, 2012

You know you’re onto a major learning success when your learners seamlessly and playfully take the lead—which is exactly what happened late last week, halfway through the Library of Virginia’s two-day Directors’ Meeting in Richmond, Virginia.

Cindy Church, continuing education consultant for the Library, had brought Maurice Coleman and me in to facilitate a few sessions on the future of libraries and learning. Maurice engagingly initiated our portion of the program with “A Blind Leap of Faith: Keeping Your Library Thriving in the 21st Century.” His presentation Thursday afternoon provoked plenty of positive conversation onsite; it also, in the spirit of what we were doing, reached beyond the walls of the auditorium to be viewed by more than 800 people online after SlideShare’s managers highlighted his PowerPoint slide deck on their home page.

Maurice and I picked up where his initial session ended that afternoon by moving into a presentation/facilitated discussion, “Learning to Meet the Future: Libraries Developing Communities,” that was designed to introduce the library directors to the idea that libraries are serving as a new Fourth Place in our world—social learning centers. A major learning point was to be the idea that libraries often fill this need, but don’t call much attention to it, so are missing a chance to more effectively be at the center of the social learning process that effectively reaches and serves significant numbers of people in life-changing ways within their communities.

But a funny thing happened on the way to our denouement Thursday afternoon. It became clear to Maurice and to me, during our end-of-the-day wrap-up with the directors, that even if they hadn’t been familiar with the jargon of social learning and social learning centers, they were already engaged in using libraries as centers of formal and informal learning. And as if to prove how quickly they were assimilating the idea that learning is social, continual, and playful, one of them incorporated the term they had just picked up to tweet out a reminder about a gathering that was about to take place over drinks in a local hotel bar: “Social learning environment at Hilton Garden Inn 5:30.”

Since social learning often benefits tremendously from flexibility and in-the-moment course adjustments, Maurice and I were delighted to see that some of the formal discussions carried over to that social learning environment at the Hilton Garden Inn. And we were also extremely curious about two elements of what we were seeing: what connected those library directors so effectively to learning, and what we could do, overnight, to abandon what we had originally planned for the Friday session so we could more effectively meet those learners where they were and support them even more in their own work.

It didn’t take long to find the answer to the first question: directors with whom we spoke mentioned that Cindy and her colleagues in the state library (the Library of Virginia) had done quite a bit to foster a culture of learning throughout libraries statewide—again proving that if we have the right person or people in key positions, magic occurs. It’s not that we haven’t seen other colleagues in libraries express a commitment to learning—it is certainly visible here California through efforts supported by our state library, and the American Library Association’s current strategic plan goes a long way in fostering a mission statement that includes a commitment to “promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.” What does not yet appear to be so common is the explicit commitment to social learning expressed and demonstrated so overtly by those Virginia library directors last week.

As for the answer to our second question—how to quickly produce an appropriate learning opportunity the following morning since what we had planned was clearly not going to be sufficient to meet this group’s needs—it came later that evening. Focusing on the idea that the library directors would benefit from hands-on experience in shaping and using a social learning center, we tossed out our original workshop plan and decided to turn the Friday morning session into an exercise of creating an impromptu blended (onsite-online) learning center that facilitated a conversation about what the directors could do upon returning home to their own libraries. All we had to do was find some online participants on the spur of the moment.

Next: Redesigning an Entire Social Learning Opportunity Overnight


Training By Stepping Into the Intersection (1st of 4)

June 1, 2009

I am at the Intersection, and I want to take you with me.

The Intersection, Frans Johansson writes in The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, & Cultures, is that wonderful place where people from different fields of study or walks of life meet, share ideas, and walk away with far more than they could ever create alone. It’s where a Swedish chef who was born in Ethiopia combines ingredients in ways none have ever done before and puts a New York restaurant (Aquavit)—and himself—on the map. It’s where a young Ph.D math student creates a revolutionary card game (Magic), which earns $40 million for the company which buys and produces it.

“When you step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures, you can combine existing concepts into a large number of extraordinary ideas,” Johansson writes (The Medici Effect, p. 2). “The name I have given the phenomenon, the Medici Effect, comes from a remarkable burst of creativity in fifteenth-century Italy.”

And for those of us who work in the field of staff training, it is where we learn just as much from students as we can offer them, with the result that all of us are teacher-trainers as well as student-learners and what we find is spread to others we will soon encounter.

There is really nothing new in the concept of drawing from a place we can’t clearly define. Carl Jung calls it the collective unconscious and suggests that when we properly prepare ourselves, we can draw from incredible reservoirs of useful archetypes. Others refer to the sense that they benefit from the experiences of past lives. (I’ve always loved the words a friend once blurted out: “I don’t really believe in past lives—except for the brief glimpses I’ve had of my own!”)

So where does this take us in our role as trainers and educators?

Johansson might suggest that we are constantly dancing at the edge of the Intersection if not completely immersed in it. Many of us travel and, therefore, are constantly exposed to a wide range of stimulating settings, challenges, and people. Our students—even if they are all from a particular field such as libraries—themselves interact routinely with people from incredibly diverse backgrounds and with tremendously varied interests. We are, more and more, expanding our definition of community through the contacts we make with the resources available to us in a Web 2.0 world. And some of us plant and nurture seeds through what we teach and learn in every session which we lead, thereby adding to what grows within Johansson’s Intersection.

We are also constantly exposed to seemingly disparate elements—Skype, reference services, and those who use library services without actually entering a brick and mortar library, for example. This leads to the sort of connection which produced a panel discussion during the Library Staff Development Committee of the Greater Bay Area’s “Future of Libraries, Part III: Embracing the Invisible Customer” conference at the San Francisco Public Library September 26, 2007 and featured a reference librarian from Ohio University Libraries explaining Skype as a reference tool—via a live Skype connection into the auditorium.

The beauty of the Intersection is that it really does not require very much effort—just a commitment to remain inquisitive. We need to be able to question what we learn and know and teach. Break down the barriers. And be open to a constant stimulating change of our perspective. Most of all, we need to listen: to ourselves, to those around us, and to those we meet in books and magazines, online, in classrooms, and even in our dreams

The rest falls into place.

Next: Training, the Intersection, and Perspective

This item was originally posted on October 11, 2007 on Infoblog at http://infoblog.infopeople.org.

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