By Elizabeth Wroten
On 13, Dec 2012 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
The high school students of the school where I worked recently decried the Internet filtering policies, claiming they are censorship. I’m glad they are not ignorant of the issue, but the article made some pretty frivolous points. Disclosure: the tech department of the school consists of one person who is also my husband. Read the article here. Below is my response to them.
Dear Students of the Sacramento Country Day School High School,
I know you don’t know me much beyond being the quiet girl in the library or Tom’s wife, but I want you to know I am someone who thinks a lot about censorship. I’m a librarian.
Admittedly that sounds trite, but it isn’t. In fact librarians are often the only ones who stick up for those being denied access and for those being censored. Our professional organization, the American Library Association, has an entire division devoted to dealing with censorship. They often face down committees, administrators, patrons, parents, and even their peers. It’s not fun; it’s not glamorous; we don’t win adoration or fans, but it needs to be done.
I applaud you for being concerned enough to confront the filtering problem. The best thing you can do to fight censorship is to stay informed and keep others informed in turn. I personally believe that filtering the Internet on campus is not ideal. However, as someone adamantly against all forms of censorship, I take issue with your argument.
The sites you are really upset about, especially those mentioned in your article, are filtered for the simple fact that they don’t currently support the mission of the school. You don’t have access to Facebook on school computers for the same reason you can’t watch TV during class- it’s distracting and detracts from the educational atmosphere. The sites are not blocked because Tom or Mr. Repsher or Mr. Wells or anyone else on campus find them personally offensive or morally reprehensible.
Being enraged that you have to wait to go home to log onto Facebook to post the latest gossip or read the SparkNote about The Scarlett Letter in an attempt to fool Dr. Bell into believing you did last night’s homework, does not make the internet filtering censorship. School owned machines and school operated networks may be filtered, but you have other avenues for accessing the content.
Most of you have smart phones, which I am sure you have used to access Facebook and YouTube while on campus. I watched you do it while sitting at my desk in the library. Most of you have Internet access at home which you also use to access filtered content after school hours. I have seen your comments through our mutual friends on Facebook. You all have access to the public library.
But, the most important and easiest access you have is through Tom. If you have a legitimate reason for needing a site to be unblocked, permanently or temporarily, you can request that the block be removed. He is very open to discussion and reasonable requests. I know because I went to him with requests to unblock various sites while working in the library.
I believe the best solution is for you to open a respectful and honest discussion with the administration in which you make a case for taking down the filter. Demonstrating that you can responsibly use these sites will also help- that means no more sneaking Facebook during class time or watching cat videos when you should be watching math lectures. Also, splashing black bars across the school paper and baiting the administration with sensitive terms like censorship only makes them defensive and reactionary. This needs to be a dialog not a power struggle.
I highly suggest looking into how China restricts and monitors its Internet. Or how the Arab regimes and dictatorships shut down access to the Internet in an effort to contain the Arab Spring. Or Iran’s fraught relationship with social and print media. Or how libraries sometimes choose not to purchase controversial and sensitive materials for fear of conflict. Censorship affects everyone no matter how far from or close to home it is. You, the next generation, need to ensure equitable and open access for everyone. Basing your argument for a freer Internet experience on campus in the culture of fighting censorship will only make your point stronger.
You are all extremely bright and capable students. I hope you will continue to stay engaged with and vigilant for censorship in all its forms.
“We change people through conversation, not censorship.” Jay-Z
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 12, Dec 2012 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
QR codes have been around for awhile now and I am here to ask that they please, please just go away. I know they seem like they have such potential. Brick and mortar stores use them. Libraries love them. Even magazine ads print them. But really, they’re just a nuisance.
What initially rankled me about them was the UX process. I have to get out my iPhone. Unlock it. Find the screen where my QR code reader app is. Launch the app. And then, and only then, can I scan the thing. Seriously, five steps to be taken? And all to take me to some advertisement?
Beyond that, advertisers (and others who employ them) seem to misunderstand what they are. They are barcodes with an embedded URL that will take you to a website or webpage. So the QR code Whole Foods put out on its sandwich board on Saturday morning took me to a special, early bird deal. The QR code on the strawberry container I bought took me to the company’s website. Great. I hate ads, but I knew that was probably what I was getting myself into. But what about those people and companies that put a QR code on their website? Just think about that for a moment. Why didn’t you put a link? I am not going to get out my phone and go through all that rigamarole to be taken to a website. On my phone. While sitting at my computer. This is an extreme example, but start looking around at QR codes and how and where they are used. You will find lots of weird little placements and uses.
As ridiculous as those things are, I think the final nail in the QR code coffin is that I never see anyone scan them. Never. Have you? Most of our friends don’t even know what they are and we hang out with a mostly tech savvy crowd. My husband and I are the only two people I know who have actually scanned a QR code. And I certainly don’t know anyone who has a QR code reader installed on their phone. In fact, those two examples I gave above are the only two QR codes I ever scanned, after which I deleted the app. That was over three years ago.
This is the point where the librarians reading this throw their hands up and say, but I do totally awesome scavenger hunts with them! I’m sure you do, but consider this. I think QR codes are emblematic of what libraries do wrong with technology. We’re so excited to use technology and so ready to find a place for it that we will adopt gimmicky technology without thinking about the applicability and practicality of the technology. (I think this stems in part from our desire to predict “the next big thing”, see my post here about that.) If we want to appeal to our customers and show them “the way” with technology, the application of if needs to be organic. It needs to be seamlessly integrated. It helps if it looks slick, too. Technology use that is forced just won’t catch on. No matter how excited we get about it. How long do you spend explaining what a QR code is and how to scan it before your patron (frequently a bored kid) can get on with that totally awesome scavenger hunt?
I’m not trying to be overly critical, at least not of libraries. I know there are people out there that use technology beautifully and show their patrons how to as well. I read their blogs. I do! I think our work in preaching the gospel of technology is very valuable and worthwhile. I just would like to see us employing technology that is useful and that people truly connect with, find useful, and find themselves wondering how they lived without it. And when they don’t, as with QR codes, move on.
-Update 12/18: Gizmodo agrees, QR codes suck.-
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 30, Nov 2012 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
The topic of branding has been something I’ve heard a lot about over the last couple years as my husband is very interested in marketing. He’s a huge proponent of branding a business, a lengthy and involved process. I’ve caught some of his enthusiasm and certainly see the benefits of developing a personal brand. Needless to say when an article from American Libraries on personal branding for librarians showed up on Twitter, I clicked over and read it.
Unfortunately, I felt the article was too harsh on branding and how it can best be employed by librarians. I don’t want to convince anyone that branding is something they must do, but I like branding and I see its applicability in looking for a new job and in demonstrating your value as a professional. I even believe that most people engage in some branding on a regular basis without even knowing it.
Part of branding is definitely maintaining an image. It’s foolish to think you have control over everything out there about you, online and off, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work on ensuring that the majority of available information about you is accurate and positive. By keeping track of what is out there, you’ll have some idea what a potential employer (or your current one) is seeing and we all know they will Google you. I think a lot of people already think twice about what they put online and there are options for essentially search engine optimizing yourself. But I would imagine that most people don’t need to do this. People are beginning to self reflect before they self reveal and that, right there, is part of branding.
I have yet to meet someone who isn’t completely self absorbed that likes to talk about how wonderful they are. But when you go out for a interview or even ask for more funding or support from your administration, you have to talk about how wonderful you are. Usually you can couch it in terms of how wonderful the programs or ideas you’ve had are, but even then most people I know (myself included) feel like a total narcissist afterward. And yet, your ideas and and your accomplishments are one of the best parts of your personal brand. Not only do they show off your abilities and talents they also herald what you are capable of in the future. It’s okay to be humble, but librarians do a lot of great things for their institutions, for their students, for their patrons, for their fellow librarians, and for themselves. Why not spend some time thinking about how great you are and find creative and positive ways to share that with people? The better we are at this as professionals, the easier it will be for us to demonstrate our relevancy and value to administrators and to the community.
I think the ultimate goal of personal branding is to make some one come across as polished, poised, focused, and thoughtful and also to encourage reflection on what you are looking for professionally. I did agree with the American Libraries article that personal branding needs to be authentic. Call a spade a spade. Being inauthentic is lying. Misrepresenting yourself is terrible for a brand, personal or otherwise. Your personal brand must be you and spending time developing it is only going to help you understand what you are looking for either in a job or from your job. It might even help you land a job. That would certainly be a perk.
Personal branding is difficult and must be done right to be effective. It’s also not for everyone. I was glad to hear that librarians are starting to pay attention to this trend, but I disagree with the conclusion that personal branding is half hucksterism. If done correctly and for the right reasons, it isn’t. It’s half crucial life skills and half self understanding.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 29, Nov 2012 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
Just about a month ago Pew Research came out with a report on teens and research. The long and the short of it, in their words, is that:
“…the internet has opened up a vast world of information for today’s students, yet students’ digital literacy skills have yet to catch up…”
Obviously this has a lot of implications for libraries, but it got me thinking about embedded librarianship again. This may be an old term for integrating library skills, time, instruction, and assistance into an existing department or program, but I think it still is an important idea. An idea that needs to be embraced by more libraries and schools.
The Pew Research study revealed that teachers believe students have better and more access to information, but are not necessarily better at navigating the information or finding credible information. The study then found that,
“47% of these teachers strongly agree and another 44% somewhat believe that courses and content focusing on digital literacy should be incorporated into every school’s curriculum.”
I found this to be a little worrisome. Maybe it’s just me, but less than half of those teachers really want to see these skills taught to their students? Yes, if you add in the other 44% the vast majority kind of want them taught. But, really? Only “somewhat”? I think the desire should be a lot stronger. And if it was, I think libraries and librarians would have a powerful ally in convincing the administration that its necessary to offer these skills.
And that’s where embedded librarianship comes into play. Teachers, at least the ones I have worked with, are loathe to give up their precious classroom time. And for good reason: time is finite and the amount of material they need to get through is vast. Students, at least the ones I have worked with, hate lessons that don’t feel relevant to what they are learning. And for good reason: they want to get away with doing as little work as possible and they don’t want to waste precious time on stuff they don’t think they need to know. If you embed these library skills lessons into the classroom and into what the teachers are already teaching, though, its a win-win-win. Teachers don’t lose any of their classroom time and still get through the material they need to. Students don’t end up with extra work and can immediately see the applicability of the skills they are learning (at least you hope they do!). Librarians get to teach the digital literacy they are so passionate about and they demonstrate their relevancy to students and teachers alike.
I don’t really think that any of what the Pew study said was news to librarians, but I think the more the message is spread the easier it will be for librarians to demonstrate a need for our profession.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 21, Nov 2012 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
It always irks me when someone in customer service cops the it’s-not-my-job attitude. I am a big believer in doing what is necessary to get things done or go the extra mile, even if it means taking on a task that isn’t technically my job. Rewriting the MLA citation handouts as an interactive pdf when all they really needed were a couple typos fixed? Sure! After all, it made the information much easier for the kids to understand and access and that’s what a library is all about.
I am also a big believer in great customer service in libraries. I know many people in Library Land don’t like to call it that, but librarianship is, in a lot of ways, a customer service profession. No I don’t help people find a dressing room, but I do help them find a book on the shelf or information online.
That being said, is there a time when it’s okay for us to let loose a little and actually take the it’s-not-my-job stance? Obviously, yes. We can’t do everything. But I think the answer is more subtle than that and it came to my attention the other day while watching the first AL Live video (which was very interesting, by the way).
Maybe it’s just me and the blogs and tweets I read, but I feel like librarians have become hyper focused on technology in an attempt to distance themselves a bit from the books-only image many people have. More specifically, I see a lot of predicting of technology trends. I understand and agree that libraries are becoming more tech oriented and I love technology. I’m even married to the technology director from the school I worked for. Sometimes it feels like I live and breath technology.
My aha! moment during AL Live was that I can say, “It’s not my job” to predicting where technology is going. It is my job to follow and use technology and decide what will work for my library and my program. I suppose that’s what most librarians do, but I still feel like there is a pressure to find new apps, find new gadgets, find new social media and it makes me feel very focused in one area. Libraries are not all about new technology just like they are not all about books. In my limited library experience I’ve seen this pressure backfire with the use of a bunch of web apps that petered out or that didn’t actually appeal to the patrons. The new major technologies adopted were found by some one whose job it truly was to follow the technology industry.
The ideal place for libraries to be is not as early adopters. If the popularity of a technology follows a bell curve we need to be on the leading edge just as it’s really beginning to gain momentum. By that point it should be becoming ubiquitous and it’s usefulness to the library should be obvious as well. We won’t look like we’re behind the times. We can help introduce people to it and help them see it’s value. In letting go of predicting The Next Big Thing we can redistribute our attention into all our ventures and areas of expertise.
I’m not suggesting libraries should hop on every band wagon and try every new technology fad. I’m not suggesting we need to ignore technology. I’m not even suggesting this is how every library and librarian is feeling and operating. I’m just suggesting we (I) can let go a little and occasionally let it be some one else’s job to find The Next Big Thing.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 20, Nov 2012 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
I just want to say that I am fed up with eBooks. I am sick of people asking me if I think they mean the death of libraries. I am sick of people asking I if think they mean the death of print books. I am sick of hearing about the publishers of eBooks and the fights libraries are having with them. I am sick of reading about the future of eBooks. I am sick of reading about DRM on eBooks. I am sick of eBooks.
I just want, for a little while, to curl up with one of those eBooks and read one. No strings attached. No cacophony of negativity. No guilty thoughts about the soullessness of them. No possibility of switching over to play angry birds for “just a minute”.
Okay, I like eBooks. There is a lot of stuff that I prefer not to have taking up precious real estate on my bookshelves. They can be a bit cheaper for the consumer (library purchasing issues aside for the moment, please!). I can skip packing a suitcase full of books to take on vacation. I can easily read in bed or while nursing my daughter, or while out and about (my Nook books are on my iPhone too!). They aren’t perfect and I still like my physical non fiction and children’s books, but I like eBooks.
I guess my angst over eBooks comes from the overload on discussion of them. I have this haunting feeling that we’re about to become hyper focused on eBooks (see my post of hyper focus on technology in general here). I think we need to give them a bit more time. Yes, we need to take action. Yes, book publishers are being jerks. Yes, libraries are about books. But they are not all about books.
So for an hour I want to let everything about eBooks drop away while I sit and enjoy one.