Friday, 20 August 2010

Gaming is the new reading!

Image by Robin Hutton

I really like the research conducted by The Reading Agency about gaming and its relationship to literacy. Although the report is looking at engaging adults with low literacy in reading for pleasure the concept could easily transfer to support gaming within the educational context. This is timely and important and has forced me to think about whether this is a service I should be offering in a school library.

The round table discussion on the report is below:

America seems to be ahead of the UK in research about gaming in libraries. Nicholson found that most US public libraries support gaming, but his definition of gaming was inclusive of old and new technology, from scrabble to console games. The primary reason given for supplying games was to provide entertainment for users and as a promotional activity it was seen to increase the profile and widen the use of the library.

Information is being gathered by Sarah McNichol on the state of gaming and UK libraries. In order for school libraries to embrace this we need sound evidence of the way gaming contributes to literacy. Not being a game player I find it hard to judge how much reading goes on within games. What I do know is that it is reading volume which contributes to good vocabularies and general knowledge and cognitive skills. Anything which helps to create avid readers is good for the development of literacy and a wide range of cognitive skills. Anything which widens the perception of what reading is and contributes to enjoyable reading experiences has got to be good.

Take a look at Inanimate Alice described as a new media fiction.

An example of a less high tech reading game from The Library of Congress is The Exquisite Corpse Adventure. The history behind this is explained here:

Looks like an interesting resource, with audio, which could be used in many ways.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Book review - Reference and Information Services in the 21st Century

Reference and Information Services in the 21st Century: An Introduction by Kay Ann Cassell and Uma Hiremath 2nd edition published by Facet Publishing, London, 2009.

In 2005 research by Bradford, Costello and Lenholt showed that print sources are used by librarians less than 10% of the time for answering users enquiries. Despite this finding it feels as though this book concentrates primarily on print resources with online as an addition. Having said that the book is a very thorough review of reference and information work in public libraries, albeit from an American point of view.

The layout is easy to follow with sections on resources for answering different types of questions. The sections are as follows:

Bibliographic resources for questions about books, magazines and newspapers
Encyclopedias for anything and everything
Ready reference for supplying quick facts
Dictionaries for queries about words
Databases and Indexes
Health, Law and Business resources
Geographical resources
Biographical resources
Government data and statistics

Each chapter has a convenient list of the top ten resources in the area. Sadly for school librarians many of the resources quoted are too expensive but the recommended free web sites are very useful. The chapter on Web 2.0 is a concise introduction to many of the newer technologies and cites collaboration or cooperative content creation, social networking, customization and seamlessness as defining features. The short chapter on the future of information services contained a useful model of nine different types of Reference Service ranging from the traditional desk, a roving service, a virtual service, outreach or at the most extreme no reference desk at all.

The authors give a pertinent list 11 key competencies of the 21st century librarian as follows:

Ability to provide information using Reference 2.0 technologies
Knowledge of how to select electronic resources
Online searching expertise
Desire to share knowledge through teaching
Reader's advisory skills
Knowledge of how to develop an effective web presence
Appreciation of importance of marketing
Familiarity with research on assessment and evaluation
Interpersonal skills
Ability to adapt to change
Enthusiasm for continued professional learning

I feel that my Library and Information Studies Post Graduate Diploma gave me a really good grounding in evaluation of resources and searching techniques. I feel that it was less comprehensive in equipping me with competency in conducting reference interviews and lacking in teaching about teaching. I also felt less than confident after qualifying about the depth of my knowledge of resources in different subject areas.

Reading this book at a time when I was updating sixth form induction information helped me to identify and promote some possible alternatives to Wikipedia that I wasn't aware of before. But as I tried out each one in turn I was struck by how the alternatives, despite having more scholarly and authoritative provenence, were not as easy, satisfying or pleasant to use as Wikipedia. The school where I work has banned the use of Wikipedia but like the ubiquitous supermarket most of us use it because it is a fast one stop shop, extremely good at supplying what we need.

This book certainly is a good introduction but at over 400 pages it is not a quick read. I got the most out of this book when I revisited it on several occasions and took the time to investigate the online resources further. Even the parts that I felt I had a good grasp of caused me to reflect on my current practice and how this fitted into the bigger picture of user needs and service efficiency. I would certainly recommend it to any librarian undertaking chartership.

Bradford, J.T., Costello, B. and Lenholt, R. 2005. "Reference Services in the Digital Age: An Analysis of Sources Used to Answer Reference Questions". Journal of Academic Librarianship 31 (3), 263-272.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Have you heard of Howard Rheingold?

I'm just planning some information for the sixth form induction for September, trying to highlight the importance of the library to them now that they are supposed to be independent learners reading widely and motivated to research beyond set texts. etc.etc. I know that I have to work harder to keep sixth formers using the library to really support their studies.

This year, for the first time, I'm going to conduct individual sessions with students starting in the sixth form as a tailored introduction to library services. Difficult to know where to pitch this as I expect levels of familiarity with libraries and information literacy skills will vary widely. This was the reasoning behind the personalised interview format. With a dedicated time slot I should be able to get to know the student and point them in the direction of a few tailored resources. I'll report back on how successful this was later!

So trawling the web to find ways to speak to them about what they need to know I found this video of Howard Rheingold from the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) 2010 Conference called Crap Detection 101: Educator Call to Action.

I hadn't heard of him before. He talks about the critical consumption of information, how we can teach this to students and is involved with a developing wiki for teaching critical thinking and internet literacies. A really important point that stood out for me from his talk was the importance of having Personal Learning Networks whether online or otherwise, personal networks where we learn from other informed people about the things that interest us. (OK so another reason why I really should be using Twitter!)

Looked like there were several other good presentations from ISTE 2010 including Google: 25 Things You Didn't Know It Could Do by Howie DiBlasi.

Also useful Critical Thinking in the Classroom e-book from Microsoft and visual literacy teaching tips by Jamie McKenzie

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Visiting London Libraries

Image of Thomas Carlyle, the inspiration for the founding of The London Library, by steeljam

This week I've visited two very different libraries.

First off was The Law Society Library in Chancery Lane serving solicitors in England and Wales. This was my first visit to a law library, although there had been a well stocked Law Reading Room when I worked at Sidney Sussex College Library in Cambridge. The Law Society Library is a reference library which opened in 1832, with some 45,000 volumes, in a Grade II listed building. Their enquiry service is geared towards speed and efficiency with highly qualified and experienced law librarians.

The Library Online resource is run in partnership with LexisNexis and includes access to a Queries and Enquiries Database with over 4000 past questions answered by the library. This digital service, requiring a large amount of staff time, was seen as a crucial and constantly developing part of the library and a service which made the library relevant to solicitors regardless of geographical location. There was, however, a strong feeling that printed material was certainly still alive and kicking within the field of law. The reasons for this seemed to stem from the secure sense of ownership and preservation of their book holdings in contrast to their digital formats. It could well be that the switch from print to digital is taking slightly longer in this sector due to the demographics and search preferences of practising solicitors. The library had considered becoming a lending library but this had been rejected because of the cost involved (obviously as a reference library only one copy of each book is needed.) We were also told about the in-house classification system and the reasoning behind this, including the rejection of the Moys classification system.

The visit was very useful in terms of networking with librarians from the Cataloguing and Indexing group and for giving me an insight into the work of a law librarian.

Second visit of the week was to the independent London Library, St James's Square, Piccadilly. Watch the video below to see why I and many other people are in love with this library!

The London Library from Jeremy Riggall on Vimeo.

Feeling much more at home in a humanities based library we were told the delightful history of the institution, including the story of the charismatic Librarian Charles Theodore Hayberg Wright, whose influence is still felt in the library today. I was greatly impressed by the knowledgeable staff we met and took away a real sense of a traditional library (with a collection now exceeding one million books, as no books were ever thrown away) which was forward looking and successful in fundraising and planning for the future. The library had embraced the need for promotion and acknowledged that there was more they could do, for example publicizing the wealth of collections in over 50 languages.

At £395 for membership per year the library is not an option open to all, but as a charity they are keen to allow access to as wide a range of members as possible and there were various concessionary rates available. Any other school librarians reading this might like to read why Patrick Ness uses the library. This was a wonderful opportunity, organised by the Career Development Group, to soak up the increasingly rare experience of being surrounded by history and literary riches.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Reading Skills Fall for Second Year in a Row

Image by Karenwithak

This was the headline from The London Evening Standard on the 3rd August 2010. To put this into context this referred to the results from The Department for Education Sats reading tests for 11 year olds. Figures from the last three years for Level 4 attainment (the standard expected for this age) show that in 2008 87% of pupils reached the expected level, compared to 86% in 2009 and 84% this year.

The Standard article attributed this decline to doubts over the effectiveness of using the "back-to-basics" phonics method of teaching children to read. The Government, it seems, has no qualms about phonics as an effective method. They foreground teaching, with no reference to school libraries or the importance of instilling a love of reading. I can hear Michael Rosen, a long time advocate for whole books and not reducing reading to literacy, shouting "I told you so."

What should we be doing, as school librarians, to respond to this?

Thursday, 29 July 2010

What’s in a name?

Image by Jo Peattie

Looking at job vacancies in the education sector it seems that a rough generalisation can be made about nomenclature as follows:

Schools tend to favour library

Sixth form colleges and further education favour Learning Resources Centre

Universities favour Library and Information Services, with the occasional Information Commons.

I have also seen Learning Information Centre (LIC) at a Community College and Library and Learning Spaces, where different zones cater for silent study, group study and phone use.

I am wondering why, as knowledge migrated from print to digital, the word/image of library no longer appeared fit for purpose? I guess many feel that library equates too strongly to books and as such appears outdated and not reflective of the current service provision. The word library does after all come from the Latin liber, meaning the thin rind between the solid wood and the bark of certain trees which was used for writing on, before the invention of paper. But why did the word library fail to evolve?

Susan Beatty and Peggy White in the Journal of eLiteracy (Vol 2, 2005) believe that Information Commons offer innovative space and services to facilitate student learning and by doing so can show an increased relevance to organisational goals.

If one was cynical this could suggest a need to rebrand, market and justify expenditure on the part of the organisation. The need to be inclusive and student centred is imperative and it is certainly easier to rename in a way that appeals to today’s students than try to battle with negative user perceptions. Sheffield University describes its Information Commons with the tag line “more than a library, more than a study space, more than an IT centre.” This succinctly explains the function to include books and space and computers.

Perhaps I am one of the lucky ones because I have such wonderful memories of using a library as a child and adolescent, both public and school libraries. I’m wondering if calling it something other than library is an attempt to combat “library anxiety,” the phenomenon studied by Mellon in 1986, which found that many students believed that other students were more competent at using the library and so suffered from feelings of inferiority.

Whatever the reasoning, and terminology always has meaning behind it, the important thing is that supporting students remains at the heart of good responsive educational libraries.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Sentenced to read : literature versus prison

Image by elycefeliz

For me the belief that technology should be fully integrated into education is not at odds with my belief in the power of books and stories. Having said this I continually feel under pressure to argue the case for the medium of the dead tree so I was delighted to find this article in The Guardian about the transformative power of literature and reading groups .

Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) is an American programme which began in Massachusetts in 1991 advocating reading groups as an alternative to custodial sentences. Based on the Socratic dictum that the unexamined life is not worth living the programme has shown considerably decreased recidivism rates from 45% to less than 20%.

Findings from the programme on how literature transforms people:
  • By allowing people to investigate and explore aspects of themselves
  • By encouraging the listening to and appreciation of other perspectives
  • By increasing the individual's ability to communicate ideas and feelings
  • By facilitating dialogue where all contributions are equally valid
  • By the realisation that situations and feelings that are being experienced have been encountered by others
"I believe that stories can save us from the chaos of our lives, perhaps from
death itself. When we experience the unfolding of a good story, we experience
the unfolding of our own selves. We journey through language and discover our identity reflected there as if in a mirror. I am convinced that through these discussions we have all learned to carry stories and characters around with
us as we create that mythic place that brings us together. We have learned
in the process that our lives are stories that we can create and shape. "
Robert P Waxler

Powerful stuff that could be transferred to schools. We need to collect evidence about how engaging with carefully selected texts through reading groups can help children experiencing problems.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The Wow Factor - Architects see Libraries as Cultural Hubs

Photo showing new build possibilities by advertisingelyse

Whilst planning a visit to the Royal Academy of Arts' 2010 Summer exhibition I stumbled across one of their podcasts by the architect Morten Schmidt about what modern libraries mean to him. Having worked on several new build library projects with the Danish firm Schmidt, Hammer, Lassen he really seems to have a clear vision of libraries promoting learning and knowledge. This is really positive and positions libraries firmly in their local communities. He talks about libraries as places to be inspired and surprised - something that library lovers have known all along! Also about the transition from collection to connection, a change that must be combined with the core values of democracy, comtemplation and free access to knowledge.

This video shows the inspirational new library designed for the University of Aberdeen.

The event was one of three on the theme of library architecture, at the Royal Academy, the other two being:

Designing the Inner World: Amsterdam Public Library (see more wonderful photos) and Public Library Enric Miralles, Spain.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Acts of reading

Image from Penningtron on Flickr

After reading the chapter "Reading in a Digital Age" by Anouk Lang from this book I've been thinking about reading groups and book talk in the online context. At the school where I work I've taken part in many face-to-face book groups from Year 7s to sixth formers but have not tried anything online yet. There were interesting points made about the need to carefully structure the discussion about a book so that the solitary activity of posting comments on an online discussion board became an interactive process allowing for discussion, arguement and dialogue. So, whilst there might be considerable benefits to an online learning medium for those less confident at speaking in a group, there is still a central need for a facilitator to mediate the learning process required to make appropriate and collaborative book talk.

It seems to me that if the internet is indeed rewiring our brains, and making slow reading more difficult for us, then perhaps mediated online book discussions could go some way to redressing the balance and making the internet a place where we can also go to ponder and consider an idea for long enough to actually understand better and comprehend more deeply.

First post

Prompted by the University of Cambridge Libraries "23 Things" (not that I work at the University any longer, but I have been keeping an eye on what they've been doing) I've set up this blog as a motivational tool. I'm aiming to submit my chartership application to CILIP by the end of 2010 and this should be a useful way of keeping track of Professional Develolpment activities and all things educational.