Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Michael Stephens Visit

Dominican University instructor and library technology guru Michael Stephens of Tame the Web (http://tametheweb.com) met with some St. Kate's LIS students for a talk about technology in libraries and professional blogging on May 18. After four days of whirl-wind touring of greater Minnesota presenting on Library 2.0, Stephens rallied for an engaging late evening conversation over tea and coffee in Eden Prairie.

The topic for the evening was how technology is changing library service through breaking down space, time, and policy barriers. New librarian jobs that require tech skills such as blogging, podcasting, and wiki experience are certainly on the minds of library students such as those who gathered for the talk. How to hone these skills when formal training in our programs is sometimes lacking is an ongoing concern. However, it's likely that librarians entering the field will not only determine the extent to which their libraries are able to employ these powerful communication tools, they will also likely need to train their peers and hopefully their patrons. These efforts can meet resistance though, stemming from fear of change, the generation gap version of the digital divide, or even from a desire to provide good service through other means. Examples of the "No Cell Phone" signs often found in libraries were another topic of discussion. Providing library services to the tech savvy generation of teens who will be funding our libraries someday in the not-too-distant future may be one of the biggest challenges facing us as budding librarians. This is also, of course, a tremendous opportunity to link more patrons to more information. People in the field now, such as Stephens have been blazing. And, thankfully, will now be helping a new generation of librarians continue on the path.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Digital Isolation

Recently it has come to my attention that not everyone shares my enthusiasm for technology. It's understandable. While a certain degree of technological know-how is inarguably beneficial, anyone who knows an overweight anti-social video game addict of a child knows that computers, too, should be used in moderation. Or worse - anyone who has heard stories of teens victimized in chat rooms can see how predators can and do employ technology. Of course there are children who shun the outdoors and peer relationships in favor of reading print materials and teens who learn to make bombs from books, but in these cases it seems easier to separate the behavior from the tool somehow.

A Minneapolis teacher who I respect professionally recently confessed to me that the only computer application he uses is e-mail. I was incredulous - doesn't he think the immigrant children he teaches need computer skills to compete with peers who already have the advantage of being native English speakers? Doesn't he appreciate the great technology resources out there to help with language acquisition? What about the potential for communicating across distance, thus staying connected to home? He cited the usual concerns - all that isn't on-line that gets missed by children (and adults) that are "too connected."

Steve Cisler's article "At the Edge of the Net" (American Libraries, November, 2005) is an interesting study of the unconnected. He travels to the border region (the same as in my previous post "On the Other Side of the Digital Divide") and finds problems with infrastructure that prevent high-speed access. Another group he finds unconnected are snowbirds, the seniors who migrate to the Southwest for the winter. He also finds those who reject technology for reasons similar to those of my teacher friend. Interestingly, the tech savvy author went off-line himself to conduct his research and since returning home has chosen to keep his connectivity limited.

I still believe in the power of technology. It opens tremendous possibilities for young people to produce and consume information. It helps teachers find better materials to teach, package it with more appeal, and save a lot of time in the process. I am starting to see the glimmers, though, of when enough is enough somewhere on a distant horizon, far from my present limited skill level. For now, I am content with the occasional weekend away from my e-mail and cell phone. Usually, I bring my laptop "just in case" I need to do some writing.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Resource Center for the Americas

A variation on the traditional theme: I am a teacher by day/librarian by night - one night a week - at the Resource Center of the America's Penny Lernoux Memorial Library. It is a small bilingual collection (10,000 or so volumes in one big room) focused on Latin America and Latino issues. All countries in Latin America are covered to some extent, and there are topical collections on liberation theology, the global economy, and human rights. There's also a kids collection, lots of curriculum resources, fiction, an extensive collection of videos, language resources, lots of little pearls of wisdom in the vertical files, and probably quite a bit I'm forgetting. The website (http://www.americas.org/item_17424) gives a good overview, and also links to lots of web resources in English and Spanish, as well as community organizing resources. Volunteering there, I get to wear a lot of hats - reference, cataloger, tour guide, general circulation. It's great and they're always hiring volunteers. If you're interested, browse the website and contact Mary Turk. Even if you don't need a volunteer librarian gig, you should visit. You can get bilingual books for kids you like a lot, specialized materials for your research, and tons of materials to help your teaching, or just a great read to help boost your Spanish or English.

The library is also embedded within a massively cool parent organization, the Resource Center of the Americas (http://www.americas.org/). They are an activist organization doing education, social justice work, and community organizing locally, nationally, and globally. By providing classes in Spanish and ESL, community events like films, lectures, and musical performances, and partnering with other community organizations, they help to welcome new Minnesotans to the community and give long-term Minnesotans opportunities to build cross-cultural understanding and communication. The educate about current events in Latin America and offer opportunities for political action. And I may have forgotten to mention the cafe that has some excellent tamales de y pollo y de queso. And the bookstore with fair trade coffee, gift items, and books, books, books, books.