Knowledgeable to Knowledge-ABLE

I finally had a chance to watch Michael Wesch’s new TEDxKC talk (October, 2010).

When I went to find the code for the video, I came across this article he wrote on the same subject here in the Academic Commons.

This new media environment can be enormously disruptive to our current teaching methods and philosophies. As we increasingly move toward an environment of instant and infinite information, it becomes less important for students to know, memorize, or recall information, and more important for them to be able to find, sort, analyze, share, discuss, critique, and create information. They need to move from being simply knowledgeable to being knowledge-able.

His argument that we need to be able to find, sort, analyze and even create new information in a new media landscape is perfectly in line with the principles of Transliteracy, but the section I was most struck by was around 6:30 when he talks about students seeking meaning in their lives. Near the end he states, “meaning is not just something you find, but ultimately something you create.” As someone also working with young people, I know he’s absolutely right and I find myself thinking more about context.

Knowledge Ability changes over time, based on the communication environment they are in.

Media are not just tools, they mediate relationships and allow us to connect with each other. When media change, our relationships change. Does that sound familiar to anyone who read Transliteracy: Crossing Divides?

The literacies (digital, numerate, oral) may be different, but the transliteracies (social, economic, political) often transect them in similar ways, depending on cultural context.

Wesch says learning is not a one-way conversation anymore – I say neither is librarianship! The old model with youth was “sit-down, be quiet and take in what I tell/give you.” We need to find ways to transform the one-way into two-way conversations.

But here is my great challenge as a children’s librarian in a public library. How do I help teach this in my informal learning environment? How can I help students learn outside the classroom? Wesch’s quote from Neil Postman, “You will do nothing” is not an option for public librarians!

So, what AM I doing? I’m going to do a quick self-audit of Wesch’s criteria to make young people knowledge-able:

  • Connect – We bring together students from across the district with shared interests through our programs and with their friends in the physical space. We’re working toward making our website/catalog (SOPAC) to become a social space where members can connect with each other through the site.
  • Organize – I don’t think I’m doing much of anything to help them organize.
  • Share – Our kids and teens have a voice. They can write comments on the website, write reviews in the catalog and I work hard to hire staff that listens and encourages the kids to share their stories and ideas.
  • Collect – I guess we help kids collect their research, but most often kids come in when they’ve finished their web research and the teacher is making them use a book. The nature of our work as Librarians allows us ample opportunity to collect resources and make them available, but I don’t see us having much of a role in our patrons experience of collecting anything.
  • Collaborate – Staff collaborates all the time using tools like google docs (I have introduced staff in other departments to these tools too) to plan summer reading programs, big events or preparing resource lists. Our Teen and  Kids Advisory Boards collaborate to plan events and collaborate with staff, and sometimes they may work together on a game or craft, but nothing I can identify as an organized effort in our department.
  • Publish – We are experimenting with an elementary school class to digitally publish their personal narratives and make them available on the library’s website. Close, but an unfinished project. Some of us try to “publish” content the kids and teens make in programs, but there isn’t much more I see us doing to publish kids’ creations at the moment. I see lots of potential in this area for public librarians.

Sadly, this makes me realize I am doing a better job of providing this structure for my staff than I am for my patrons. The places I see this type of work happening in a public library are through programming and through our Reference/Reader’s Adivsory with the public. I guess I need to think about those services with an eye toward this concept.

I will take his statement to heart and continue to keep this in my mind:

Knowledge-ability is a practice

I shall practice making more opportunities for my patrons that’s for sure!

7 Responses to “Knowledgeable to Knowledge-ABLE”

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  3. seanfish Says:

    Hi Gretchen,

    A great pity. It really does seem that providing professionals with wider contexts from which to view their practice is the key here.

    You talk about providing structure for staff rather than patrons; it seems to me if you get them thinking as activist professionals (as helped by that wider view) they’ll start proposing and developing initiatives to deliver to the customers, which at the end of the day is their role.

    It does take time and commitment, but in New Zealand we really are reaping the benefits of a number of regional and national collaborations.

    Should you find a way to do this, one of the traps we’ve just ‘sprung’ has been around accountability – previously we had a fracture between the national (which I would of course see as statewide in a US context – we’re only little!) and local strategies, in that operators were evaluated by us for varying levels of effectiveness, but their organisations would tend to require participation via job description, but not include expectations around performance in performance review cycles.

    We’re seeking buy-in over the next month for an expectation that operators will assess a desired performance goal – whether it is to maintain or improve their current standard – with the ultimate goal to progress towards our top grade, “Highly Effective”.

    I worry that for the most part schools are the same everywhere – for example while our Ministry of Education describes reading as having a variety of functions including leisure and information based, and my practice tells me boys sometimes prefer nonfiction, classroom teachers in the primary (read: elementary-middle school) sector seem to exclusively prioritise fiction reading.

    My strategy around that issue is one child and family at a time – I try to engage parents in conversations so as to provide them with an informed approach to some of the more interesting statements their teachers make.

    I have also recently written a column for our national professional journal about the lack of male children’s librarians, which is even more critical than that of male teachers.

    • Gretchen Caserotti Says:

      I agree Sean and have been thinking that maybe focusing on staff is the way to go!

      You’ve given me something to think about with the term “accountability” that I will chew on over here.

      And yes, we need more male children’s librarians! 🙂

  4. seanfish Says:

    Hi, fellow children’s librarian here – well this week. I’m about to transition from children’s to digital outreach.

    Wesch’s video blew me away, and has offered me paths through a vast number of questions I’ve been asking myself for my new role, as well as informing practices in my former one.

    I’ve been involved at operator and strategic level in a digital literacy project in my country for the last few years. While success hasn’t been consistent, I think some inroads to a collaborative approach have been developed for myself and other operators I work with.

    Is there a similar programme existing in your area? In a recent discussion with lead operators in my organisation we each agreed that one of the fundamental impacts on us as professionals was the way this programme lifted our game, and gave us routes to think about students digital needs from a student perspective.

    • Gretchen Caserotti Says:

      Hi Sean, I wish there were identifiable programs where I am at that I could point you to. At the moment, I am reaching out to the schools and giving presentations to the parent associations and faculty about rethinking reading (which is within our mission at the public library). While I hope they are talking and thinking about education and learning, I am not privy to those discussions. From my outside perspective, I still see a rather traditional approach to learning in our public schools – lots of testing, lots of memorizing, large classes. I’d love to hear what you play with and especially where you find success!

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