Information Services Today: Global Personal Learning Networks

April 24, 2015

Preparing a personal learning networks (PLNs) webinar and reading Jan Holmquist’s “Global Learning Networks” chapter in Sandra Hirsh’s newly-released anthology Information Services Today: An Introduction makes me realize how wonderfully expansive and rewarding our PLNs have become.

Information_Services_Today--CoverThe idea driving the creation of a personal learning network—the ever-changing informal group of people each of us personally and uniquely defines, forms, and turns to in our lifelong learning endeavors—appears to be timeless; I can’t imagine a period of our recorded or unrecorded history during which people didn’t learn from each other informally, beyond the confines of classrooms or other formal learning spaces. And yet, as Holmquist notes at the beginning of his chapter, changes in the technology we use are expanding the pool of potential PLN members from which we can draw tremendously: “The world keeps getting smaller. Technology has challenged the need for physical presence regarding how, when, and where learning, collaboration, and sharing information takes place” (p. 374).

PLNs, he continues, provide a tremendous set of benefits by offering us connections to colleagues with whom we can “interact and exchange information and resources; share knowledge, experiences, and ideas; and collect and create an informed guide to professional development opportunities and lifelong learning” (p. 377).

We don’t want or need to become too technical or academic in exploring what personal learning networks mean to us to fully appreciate how they operate and what they provide. They are flexible (because we continually modify them to meet our learning needs). They are responsive (because we define them, nurture them, and turn to them in our moments of need, not someone else’s). They can be collaborative (although there are times when we learn from members of our PLNs without directly contacting them, e.g., when we learn by reading a PLN colleague’s writing on a topic we’re exploring or drawing upon a list of resources curated by members of our PLNs). They thrive on our willingness to contribute to them rather than seeing them solely as one-way resources—something where we take but never give. They are as local or as global as we choose to make them, drawing upon colleagues we see face-to-face as well as colleagues with whom we might have only the most cursory of online interactions via social media tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ Communities, Scoop.it, and Storify. And as the name implies, personal learning networks are deeply and inevitably personal (both in the sense of being something that is centered on each of us, individually, and in the sense of being centered on persons)—and they change as our learning changes need, but also have a sense of continuity that reflects the continuities in our own learning interests and endeavors.

xplrpln_logoThere seems to be no definitive answer as to how small or large a PLN should be. The work of British anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggests that there is a point (Dunbar’s number) beyond which members of any social group lose their ability to function effectively in social relationships, and I suspect that an overly large PLN eventually becomes ineffective in that valuable resources become overlooked because they are lost in the PLN crowd. The diversity of members and the variety of interests represented by those members, on the other hand, suggests that a PLN benefits from not being overly small or exclusive. And the resources from which we draw members seems to be limited only by our own imaginations: A cursory glance at my own PLN shows that it includes people with whom I’ve learned in formal academic settings, onsite workshops, and professional associations (e.g., the New Media Consortium, the American Library Association, and the Association for Talent Development); from people I’ve met in tweet chats (e.g., through #lrnchat); and from learning facilitators and learners in connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs)—including one (#xplrpln—”Exploring Personal Learning Networks”) focused on the creation and nurturing of PLNs. My PLN has also grown significantly by adding people whose published work—including work they publish on their blogs—provides learning opportunities for me. I’ve even realized that drawing upon an anthology such as Information Services Today can contribute to the development of a PLN; reading chapters written by and interacting with other contributors to the book has made me consciously include Michael Stephens and Kristin Fontichiaro, along with Jan Holmquist, in my own PLN.

If this inspires you to expand your personal learning network by adding Stephens, Fontichiaro, Holmquist, or other writers, and to expand your own ideas about where you can find additional members to strengthen your own PLN, then you’ve taken another step in recognizing how global and open our personal learning networks have become.

N.B.: This is the fifth in a series of reflections inspired by Information Services Today: An Introduction, which includes Paul’s chapter on “Infinite [Lifelong] Learning.”

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Information Services Today: Hyperlinked Libraries, Makerspaces, & Learning in a Collaborative World

April 17, 2015

Trainer-teacher-learners reading Michael Stephens’ “Hyperlinked Libraries” and Kristin Fontichiaro’s “Creation Culture and Makerspaces” chapters in Sandra Hirsh’s newly-released anthology Information Services Today: An Introduction will find inspiring reminders of how learning organizations are evolving to meet community needs.

Information_Services_Today--CoverIn fact, if we substitute the term “learning organization” for the word “library” in a set of observations Stephens offers at the top of the Hyperlinked Library page on his Tame the Web site, we have another first-rate manifesto for trainer-teacher-learners working within libraries as well as for those working in other settings: “The Library Plays. The Library Learns. The Library Tells Stories. The Library is Transparent. The Library is Participatory. The Library harnesses user-generated content. The Library makes Connections.” Stephens, furthermore, has provided a bridge from hyperlinked libraries to a concept of hyperlinked learning that carries us into themes trainer-teacher-learners are exploring worldwide; it encompasses learning models and tools including massive open online courses (MOOCs), a combination of formal and informal learning, Douglas Thomas and John Seeley Brown’s A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, mobile learning (m-learning), connected learning; reflective learning, production-centered learning, personal learning networks, and flexible learning spaces.

Hyperlinked_Library_SiteHis description of hyperlinked libraries in Information Services Today offers us a straightforward point of departure: “Hyperlinked library services are born from the constant, positive, and purposeful adaptation to change that is based on thoughtful planning and grounded in the mission of libraries. Information professionals embracing the hyperlinked model practice careful trend spotting and apply the tenets of librarianship along with an informed understanding of emerging technologies’ societal and cultural impact. Information professionals communicate with patrons and potential users via open and transparent conversations using a wide variety of technologies across many platforms. The hyperlinked library model flourishes in both physical and virtual spaces by offering collections, activities, trainings, and events that actively transform spectators into participants. In participatory culture, everyone is in the business of advancing knowledge and increasing skill levels. The community is integrated into the structure of change and improvement” (p. 185).

Hyperlinked learning includes elements of much of what colleagues and I explore and document through our participation in the New Media Consortium Horizon Project: how we are incorporating technology into the learning process; how tech tools support and expand the collaborative opportunities we have within learning organizations and the communities they serve; and what we should and can do to keep our skill levels where they need to be to meet the needs of the organizations and learners we serve.

When we turn our attention to makerspaces within the framework of  hyperlinked learning, we easily see how makerspaces fit into our experiential (learn-by-doing) learning landscape and how much less vibrant that landscape would be without the creative, collaborative nature of what those spaces produce. They provide a huge and much-needed leap from lecture-based learning—where success is measured by quizzes and other ineffectual measures of long-term learning—into a world of learning that supports the development of the collaborative and creative skills so many people promote as workplace essentials. They are engaging. Dynamic. And transformational. And they build upon some long-established traditions.

Fontichiaro_Makerspaces“Information organizations have a long tradition of supporting a community’s intellectual and personal interests through rich collections available for checkout and through interactive activities online and in the physical space,” Fontichiaro explains in the conclusion to her makerspace chapter. “By unifying the how collections of the information organization with the let’s-do energy of the community, information organizations can create maker learning communities and opportunities that delight, motivate, and inspire communities” (p. 198).

We don’t need to make this overly complex. It really comes down to some simple concepts:

  • Our approaches to learning and to designing/redesigning the spaces in which we learn, while grounded in well-established patterns and practices, offer intriguing possibilities for dynamic change at least partially made possible by the rapid rate of change in the technology we have.
  • Learning is not something with defined beginning and ending points; when supported effectively, it’s a fascinating, rewarding, meandering, lifelong endeavor comprised of informal as well as formal elements carrying us between a variety of learning organizations including academic institutions, workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs, museums, libraries and other information organizations, conferences, and onsite as well as online communities of learning.
  • We don’t have to subscribe solely to a single element of hyperlinked learning or what learning spaces—including makerspaces—contain. Remaining open to an evolving set of options serves us and our learners well.
  • The tools available to support training-teaching-learning are continuing to evolve in intriguing ways, and we have a responsibility to ourselves and to our learners to explore those tools as time allows so we can most effectively support the varied, lifelong learning needs successful participation in our workplaces and our communities requires.

We have, as so many of us have repeatedly observed, come to expect that learning will occur when and where we need it. Our greatest challenge is to find ways to embrace and meet that need through effective collaborations—without becoming overwhelmed by options.

N.B.: This is the fourth in a series of reflections inspired by Information Services Today: An Introduction, which includes Paul’s chapter on “Infinite [Lifelong] Learning.”


Information Services Today: Mobile and Available at the Moment of Need

April 15, 2015

The topic of embedded librarians receives no more than a few pages of direct attention in Sandra Hirsh’s newly-released anthology Information Services Today: An Introduction, but it’s one that librarians and other trainer-teacher-learners would do well to explore, for it suggests an interesting twist on the concept of mobile learning—one in which the learning facilitator is physically or virtually mobile.

Information_Services_Today--CoverTodd Gilman, in his Information Services Today chapter on “The Learning and Research Institution: Academic Libraries,” suggests that “[e]mbedded librarians seek to reach students where they are rather than wait for students to come to them”—something that I see our best training-teaching-learning colleagues also striving to achieve with learners of all ages. “They might serve as a co-teacher by means of a virtual presence in an online course offered to their institution’s students or to students enrolled in a faculty member’s MOOC (Massive Open Online Course); hold office hours in an academic department, student union, cafeteria, or writing center; or offer brief introductory visits to face-to-face classrooms at the invitation of teaching faculty” (p. 65).

Michelle Holschuh Simmons, in her chapter “Finding Information: Information Intermediation and Reference Services,” carries the theme much further, beginning with a brief summary of how the term developed: “Coined in 2004 by Barbara Dewey, the term ‘embedded librarian’ has come to mean an information professional who is focused ‘on the needs of one or more specific groups, building relationships with these groups, developing a deep understanding of their work, and providing information services that are highly customized and targeted to their greatest needs.’” And this is the point at which any trainer-teacher-learner begins to see parallels between that embedding concept and what we strive to achieve: building relationships with our learners so we can determine, understand, and facilitate the process of meeting their learning needs.

Shumaker--Embedded_Librarian--CoverSimmons leads us to David Shumaker’s book The Embedded Librarian: Innovative Strategies for Taking Knowledge Where It’s Needed as a resource for anyone wanting to see how embedded librarianship works in action, and we can also find Shumaker’s latest embedded-librarian reflections on the blog he started in 2007. Simmons further brings the topic to life by providing examples: an embedded librarian conducting weekly office hours in a campus computer lab, and an embedded librarian who “took his role…to an unprecedented level by participating in the Faculty-in-Residence program and living with students in a residence hall.” She also gives us a glimpse of public-library embedded-librarian practices by quoting from an American Libraries article by Colbe Galston, Elizabeth Kelsen Huber, Katherine Johnson, and Amy Long: “The DCL [Douglas County Libraries] staff are embedded ‘throughout the county in local schools, city councils, metro districts, economic development councils, and even a local women’s crisis center.’”

It’s not at all difficult to make the leap from the embedded-librarian model to a broader embedded-trainer-teacher-learner model. Working with a group of colleagues delivering a series of tech trainings for hospice workers a few years ago, for example, provided me with a wonderful post-classroom/workshop opportunity: we took turns staffing an onsite help desk next to the hospice workers’ offices for up to two weeks per series so those learners could stop by for additional one-on-one support during the final phase of their transition from familiar to unfamiliar technology. I’ve also been involved in online variations on the theme by offering virtual office hours via Facebook and Google Hangouts for learners who otherwise were limited to asynchronous interactions in an online course; an encouraging aspect of those ongoing experiments is how easy it is to travel virtually to the learners’ moments and points of need—and how quickly the learners (particularly in a hangout) come to realize that our expanding set of tech tools go a long way in eradicating the distances and other barriers that previously limited our ability to become embedded in a variety of ways.

Kvenild--Embedded_Librarians--CoverNone of this is big news to the librarians who have been exploring opportunities to become embedded virtually with an eye toward engaging learners and meeting their learning needs. Ann Schroeder, in her “Replacing Face-to-Face Literacy Instruction: Offering the Embedded Librarian Program to All Courses” chapter (pp 63-75) from the anthology Embedded Librarians: Moving Beyond One-Shot Instruction [edited by Cassandra Kvenild and Kaijsa Calkins] provides plenty of documentation for how any trainer-teacher-learner approaches the challenge. Laura Skinner’s “Librarians in Your Midst: The Embedded Librarian Program at PVCC [Piedmont Virginia Community College]” provides a first-rate case study of how to effectively design, promote, and deliver embedded services in online-learning environments.  And Steven Bell’s “Being Present with Learners in the Library” takes us beyond the embedded-learning-facilitator discussion to remind us that our best efforts are grounded in a commitment to “develop a presence that leads to connections and relationships.” With these and many more resources available to us, we’re well on the way to creatively and effectively finding ways to go where our learners most need us.

N.B.: This is the third in a series of reflections inspired by Information Services Today: An Introduction, which includes Paul’s chapter on “Infinite [Lifelong] Learning.”


Information Services Today: The Consistency of Change in Our Information/Learning Landscape

April 10, 2015

Given all we read and hear every day, we could easily (and mistakenly) assume that being overwhelmed by information and a rapid technology-driven rate of change is a new phenomenon—but it’s also relatively easy to discover what a consistently-important challenge the flow of information and the pace of change has been, if we delve into Sandra Hirsh’s newly-released anthology Information Services Today: An Introduction.

Information_Services_Today--CoverWhile the entire book is—among other things—a richly rewarding exploration of the changing nature of librarianship/the work of information professionals, one important moment of change- and information-management revelation comes in Christine Pawley’s contribution (Chapter 2, “Libraries and Information Organizations: Two Centuries of Experience”) as she writes about how “new technologies lead to information overload”: “…William S. Learned noted a ‘phenomenal improvement in speed and accuracy of communication’ and complained that even the trained student finds the time required thoroughly to examine a topic in an unfamiliar field almost prohibitive”—not today, but in 1924 (Information Services Today, pp. 13-14). If we pursue this theme by revisiting Sarah Houghton’s “Being Wired or Being Tired: Ten Ways to Cope With Information Overload” (originally published online July 30, 2008 in Ariadne), we find the reminder that “As far back as the sixteenth century people were complaining about the wide range of information they had to consume in order to contribute to society.”

Flip_Your_Classroom--CoverAny of us involved in training-teaching-learning within libraries and other learning organizations viscerally know and understand the feeling of being overwhelmed by information and change. We recognize that an important component of our learning-facilitation efforts is to help learners come to terms with the changes they face within any learning opportunity. We also are struggling to find words evocative enough to describe what we do so we recognize the ever-expanding breadth and scope of our work and offer terminology that helps others understand how much what we offer has changed. And we do understand that the goal of “keeping up” with educational technology and even with the basics of how to learn in a world where the way we learn is continuing to evolve (e.g., through the flipped classroom model, through massive open online courses—MOOCs—and through innovative blended-learning opportunities) is about as easy to reach as the pot of gold at the base of a rainbow.

At a certain level, it’s somewhat comforting to read those words that Learned wrote in 1924 and that Houghton wrote in 2008: we realize that others have faced and survived the challenges we continue to face. It’s also comforting and inspiring to read those words within the context of Information Services Today’s book-length exploration of our changing learning and information landscape: we see that the nature of library collections is changing—but that has always been true. We see that the nature of libraries is changing—but that, too, has been true for many decades. We see that library users’ expectations are changing—another consistent element within the library and information services world. We see that the tech tools that information professionals use continue to evolve and that the need to continually upgrade our skills is essential—but the best of our current and former colleagues have always recognized that their work required and continues to require a commitment to lifelong learning. And I suspect many of my best training-teaching-learning colleagues in a variety of learning environments would have little argument that continual learning and a responsiveness to change are among the requirements and the pleasures of the work we do.

The theme of change is particularly apparent in Lisa Gregory and Amy Rudersdorf Information Services Today chapter on “Digital Resources.” As they discuss a digital librarian’s roles (cataloger, collector, educator, legal expert, manager, negotiator, researcher, and technologist), we see some terms that would be familiar to most librarians/information professionals as well as to many trainer-teacher-learners, and we see some terms that reflect how quickly our professions are evolving. Nowhere is the need for adaptability among all of us more apparent than in the section about technologists: “The technology skill sets needed by digital librarians are as varied as the technologies that surround us. However, most digital librarians should—at the minimum—have a basic understanding of content management systems, databases, some metadata standards, and web technologies (p. 102)”—advice that can easily guide our training-teaching-learning colleagues to greater opportunities for success.

All of this would seem to be the fodder for nightmares among those who despair of ever keeping up with the flow of information and the rate of change within our lives. But some of what we gain through contemporary learning experiences themselves is an understanding that keeping up has long required an ability to sift through what comes our way. Filtering out what is less important. Applying what we can apply. Relying on our colleagues and other members of our personal learning networks to help us fill the gaps we face. And developing what might be coined as yet another form of literacy: “information-overload literacy”—the skill and the ability to know when it’s time to step away from the flood of information and rapid pace of change long enough to relish what we have absorbed.

N.B.: This is the second in a series of reflections inspired by Information Services Today: An Introduction, which includes Paul’s chapter on “Infinite [Lifelong] Learning.”


Information Services Today: What We Call Ourselves

April 8, 2015

We don’t have to go very far into Sandra Hirsh’s newly-released anthology Information Services Today: An Introduction to reach the first of the challenges many of us face in the contemporary workplace, where job descriptions and workplace responsibilities evolve and increase at a dizzying, overwhelming pace : our language has not been keeping up with the changes taking place within our professions.

Information_Services_Today--CoverIt’s not as if the words “librarian” or “library” are in any danger of disappearing anytime soon; they do, at significant levels, remain evocative, familiar, and comforting even though they inadequately describe the people and the organizations under discussion. On the other hand, we see throughout Information Services Today the use of “information professionals” and “information organizations” (defined at the beginning of the book’s preface as “all places that manage, create, store, or provide information”) as terms more suggestive and reflective of what those organizations and those people who staff them offer to members of the onsite and extensive online communities they serve.

Proposing and supporting changes in our workplace nomenclature is far more than an intellectual exercise; it’s an essential element of the process of acknowledging change by seeking and adopting terminology that reflects what we do and—equally importantly—helps others understand what we offer in our continually-evolving workplaces. It’s the same issue described by Theodore Levitt in his widely-read Harvard Business Review essay about how railroads made a mistake by describing themselves as being in the railroad rather than transportation business. It’s visible in the discussion about using “information professional” and “information organization” as alternatives to “librarians” and “libraries”; it’s visible in the continuing discussion of using “library member” or “library user” in place of “library patron,” which I first documented in an article for Infoblog in 2008; and it’s visible in the field we most commonly refer to as “staff training” but more accurately could be described in numerous other ways, including “learning facilitation.”

signorelli200x300[1]This challenge of deciding what to call ourselves clearly isn’t new for any of us involved in training-teaching-learning—an endeavor that is a core part of what many library staff members/information professionals do every day. Four years ago, Lori Reed and I (in our book Workplace Learning & Leadership) were already documenting some of many terms being applied to those of us involved in training-teaching-learning just in libraries and nonprofit settings: “…director, volunteer services and staff training; training coordinator; training and development manager; training manager; training officer; chief learning officer; learning and development coordinator; staff development and training coordinator; staff development librarian; staff development manager; continuing education coordinator; learning manager; and organizational development manager.” The situation has only become more challenging as our ASTD (American Society for Training & Development) colleagues began the process (in 2014) of changing the organization’s name to ATD (the Association for Talent Development) and replacing “workplace learning and performance” with “talent development” to reflect the idea that “talent development” is the overall, far-more-nuanced description of what our efforts are designed to offer and foster.

NMC Summer Conference - PortlandThe importance of what we are facing and attempting to address became even clearer to me during a dinner conversation with colleagues at the 2014 New Media Consortium Summer Conference (held in Portland, Oregon). My personal moment of revelation struck as I listened to a colleague describing how a “school library” had been replaced by an “innovation center” and how school administrators, teachers, and students were struggling to come to terms with what that change meant in terms of what was available to them within that redesigned and renamed space. As I noted at the time, “the challenges we all face as our learning environments quickly change to reflect the rapid rate of technological change…reflect the rapid rate of technological change that is all around us: we literally don’t have the words to describe what we are doing in a world where our old labels (e.g., teacher, trainer, learning facilitator) are simply not broad and rich enough to capture the nuances of all we are doing. It’s as if we’re facing a vocabulary deficiency…”

As we read through the 39 chapters provided written by a large group of information professionals for inclusion in Information Services Today, we gain an understanding of the magnificent range of services and resources information professionals provide through information organizations. And, in the process of absorbing that content, we gain a better understanding of why it’s worth looking for alternatives to “library,” “librarian,” “library patron,” and “trainer” within the dynamic and enticing worlds we are lucky enough to inhabit, foster, and support.

N.B.: This is the first in a series of reflections inspired by Information Services Today: An Introduction, which includes Paul’s chapter on “Infinite [Lifelong] Learning.”


Libraries, Training, and Continuing Education

March 19, 2012

Those who still equate libraries with nothing more than printed books—and experience tells me there are plenty of training-teaching-learning colleagues who fall into that category—need to step outside their caves and see what is happening within their onsite-online libraries.

Laura Townsend Kane’s Working in the Virtual Stacks: The New Library & Information Science is just the place to start. Written primarily for those considering a career in libraries and those considering a mid-career change, this book by the assistant director for information services at the University of South Carolina’s School of Medicine Library in Columbia, South Carolina features interviews with more than 30 library insiders’ views of where their industry is going, and it should be of interest to a much wider audience. Whether you are among those who are increasingly using library services and are curious how they work, are already a library insider, or are considering a career in libraries, Kane has something for you.

Working in the Virtual Stacks introduces us to librarians as subject specialists; technology gurus and social networkers; teachers and community liaisons; entrepreneurs; and administrators in the five sections of her book. Even better for those of us involved with libraries as well as with training-teaching-learning within and outside of library land, we find numerous examples of library staff members as lifelong learners and facilitators of learning within the communities they serve—a confirmation of the key teaching-training role Lori Reed and I documented for members of library staff in our own book, Library Learning & Leadership.

We can’t go more than a few pages in this insiders’ view without coming across references to library staff members’ dedication to learning —their own as well as that of the library users they serve onsite and online. There are also numerous examples of library staff members promoting the use of online social media tools not only to complete the work they do but also to reach those in need of their services—just as many of us do in workplace learning and performance (staff training) endeavors outside of libraries. We’ll find library staff members using Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype, Twitter, YouTube, and a variety of other tools that have become every bit as important to library services as the books we’ve come to expect from our libraries in the various formats we seek—including eBooks.

There are library colleagues telling us that we “must also keep up with the field of futurism and trend watching,” as Steven J. Bell, associate university librarian for research and instructional services at Temple University does in the final interview in the book. Or reminding us that blogs, wikis, and instant message services all have roles to play in our training-teaching-learning endeavors, as Meredith Farkas, head of instructional services at the Portland State University Library in Oregon, does. Or how important it is to take every tech-based class available and stay active in social networking, as San Rafael Public Library Acting Director Sarah Houghton says. And how “if we become trend-spotters, we have a good chance of creating the ‘next big thing’” (p. 95), as San Jose State University assistant professor Michael Stephens maintains.

Most importantly of all, there is Kane herself confirming that “the days of sitting for hours at the reference desk, waiting for patrons to approach with questions, are long gone….librarians are expected to keep up with changing technologies” (p. 3)—just like the rest of us. And the best of them are there to help us through the transition in which we are still so deeply immersed in our careers as trainer-teacher-learners.


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