April 14-20, 2013 is National Library Week during which the American Library Association and libraries across the nation will celebrate the love of books and knowledge. Consequently, the author has dedicated this edition of “Renaissance Man – Open Access and Social Justice Advocacy Blog™” to National Library Week.
Last year at this time the author headed to
In today’s discussion, we will explore the concept of the library as the pillar of civilization and community; the relevance of libraries and librarians to our modern culture and society and how we can use teachable moments to engage today’s youth in the love of reading and knowledge and more importantly, the formation a social consciousness and engagement of the citizen in society.
In a recent blog article published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, How do we want students to feel about the library?, Brian Matthews, Associate Dean for Learning and Outreach at Virginia Tech, looks to the corporate world of marketing for inspiration on how to effectively reach out to college and university students in promoting their academic library resources. “Consumer magnets like Target, Amazon, Panera’s and others know how to make their customers come back for more”, Matthews stated in his observations of the arrival of their newborn child.
In talking about student’s first experiences with academic Libraries, Matthews acknowledged,
“My mission right now is to transform our library into a preferred destination for academic work. A place that students feel enables or empowers them to succeed better than other locations on campus.”
However, maintaining that traditionally respected ideal of the ‘library as authority’ and as the ‘keepers of knowledge’ has posed a tremendous challenge in an increasingly wired world and indeed has proven to be a detriment to the profession. Matthews goes on to explain that we need to help students to form good habits at the prime time, when they first arrive at the University, not as an afterthought, but even before they arrive on campus. Matthews insisted with passion,
“Let’s link the library to feelings of accomplishment rather than to collections. Let’s play the empathetic card, rather than the info lit one. Let’s build upon mystery and serendipity to counter intimidation and anxiety. Let’s employ engagement practices rather than a purely task-oriented appeal.”
So we are left with the uncomfortable question, as Matthews puts it - “How does the library become a positive habit? A positive idea?” Lord knows librarians have tried in vain to compete with Wikipedia. Matthews recommends “The relationship [with students] has to begin months before they move in.”
More to the point, Matthews asks the profession, “The question isn’t what do we want them to know about the library, but rather, how do we want them to feel about the library?”
Clip from Tom Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation."
View the entire documentary on Hulu
Model programs and best practices have proven to make an impact. The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) and other key stakeholders recently completed a major study of doctoral students at 29
and Canadian universities, which reported that only 57 percent of PhD
candidates complete their programs within a decade. The study focused on
producing data on attrition from doctoral study and completion of PhD programs
and identifying promising practices.
Recommendations included revamping the program environment with informal
social activities, interdisciplinary interactions (academic and social) and
establishing networks of support and outreach.
Additionally curricular processes were identified as key to success such
as writing assistance programs, dissertation retreat/boot camps and
collaborative doctoral student writing rooms. CGS has recently published the 4th
in a series of monographs
outlining Policies and Practices to Promote Student Success. U.S.
There are also many promising practices focused on the engagement of undergraduate (and graduate) students as well as providing interaction with the larger off-campus community. Some examples within this author’s region (West Virginia University) include programs and events such as the Center for Civic Engagement – for student volunteer involvement in the region; Festival of Ideas – bringing nationally renowned inspirational and provocative speakers to campus; the West Virginia Uncovered digital journalism project to preserve history and bring reporting engagement resources to the Appalachian frontier; the Science and Technology in Society Symposium engaging citizens’ interest in scientific inquiry; the Peace Corps international master’s program – providing ecological management expertise worldwide; Extended Learning – covering the gamut of educational needs throughout the life spans, the Center for Democracy and Citizenship Education – revitalizing the historic American Civic Education through research and outreach as in Project Citizen; and the National Youth Sports Program – offering physical developmental educational opportunities in a summer camp setting to disadvantaged youth. There are a myriad of other volunteer and community-oriented activities providing excellent engagement and leadership opportunities for today’s youth.
Library Director at The University of Pittsburgh, Rush Miller, recently discussed the future of libraries, books and reading in his Association of Research Libraries paper, The End of Reading (as We knew it) OR The Devil Danced for Days and Days and Days. In his presentation, Miller told the audience “what it is” – the current state of the library world, in very straightforward terms…
“Too many librarians today are focused on a defense of the print book as a format for knowledge, fearful that as these books go, so go libraries”…
…”I have been preaching for some time that libraries are NOT about books, but about people and connections”…
… “[The reality is that] publishers can no longer afford to publish only in print.”
(under the University Library System) has already embraced this market shift by investing in electronic publishing, which is becoming a model for future trends. They have developed a robust institutional repository on the Eprints platform. They produce over 20 electronic faculty-produced peer-reviewed publications under their scholar publishing division. They have a required submission policy for electronic theses and dissertations and repository portals and virtual communities to embrace faculty publication submission and scholarly communications networking. Most recently they have invested in rapid print-on-demand “Espresso Book Machine” and services to easily provide print copies at low cost from a selection of over one million titles in the digital collections. They have benefited by making a much larger volume of titles available to a greater number of the academic community in both electronic and print format but without the huge overhead and wasteful investment in the acquisition of physical media. Pitt also promotes the notion of “library as community” by regularly hosting lectures, exhibitions and cultural functions in the library facilities; for example, their popular weekly “Emerging Legends” music concert series – free and open to the public. Such forward-looking models have proven the most successful in validating the library experience for their academic patrons as well as effectively reaching out to the wider community. University of Pittsburgh Press
In a recent corporate civic engagement campaign, Starbucks launched its “Community Service” program to engage their customer base to create change in our communities and around the world, with a goal of reaching over one million service hours by 2015. To date over 100,000 service hours have been logged around the world. If marketing social consciousness is profitable to corporations, then we all benefit for the sake of humanity. Perhaps if libraries and librarians could embrace and harness this same level of effective outreach instead of clinging to their old ways - continuing to dust off the old books on the shelves, the world might be a far better place and the mere existence and purpose of libraries would not be under fire.
|ALA Read poster featuring|
"The Hunger Games"
|Former 1st Lady and librarian Laura Bush reads "Duck for President"|
to Children at a White House event to promote reading.
But the real questions we should ask are - How many libraries still offer children’s programs with Story Hours or other community programs? How many people participate in these programs? How many public libraries even remain today after budget cuts and mismanaged priorities on education? How many libraries engage their audiences in the latest social media and digital communication experiences? From Kindergarten through higher education and beyond, Libraries must make every effort possible to help guide students back to reality, to explore the depths of knowledge, to learn to become critical thinkers and to pave the way for a more informed and progressive future. Modern democracies depend on unfettered access to information to create informed citizens who will further reinforce the values of an enlightened society.
|Encyclopaedia Brittanica - Note the|
bowed shelf due to the sheer
weight of the volumes.
However, today with the advances and advantages of networked technology, the very tools and resources to which our children have grown attached, we can again utilize these and other tools to engage youth to become involved, to see their importance and relevance in the world, and to return our civilization from the approaching brink of disaster and extinction. Even this author finds himself incentivized by charms of technology into reading a greater volume of works on a wider variety of topics - all instantaneously and randomly available via online electronic mobile devices than ever would have been possible in the print era.
Libraries provide a sense of community by offering a window to the world of ideas. We need to engage not only our youth, but also adults and families by providing community and family events featuring story telling, book signings, poetry, music concerts, art exhibitions as well as classes offering skill-building opportunities in areas such as computer and information literacy, civic engagement and social justice issues.
The Flint Public Library in
birthplace), offers a comprehensive array of inclusive model-programs covering
the life spans. In collaboration with the CS Mott
Foundation, the Flint Institute of Arts, the Sloane Museum of Science and the
University of Michigan–Flint, the Public Library participates with the
community in providing excellent and enriching cultural activities to engage
every segment of society. Michigan
The Flint Public Library in
|"Iron Man" - Marvel Comics superhero|
Tony Stark flies through the library
A recent Pew Center Internet and American Life study revealed that overall, 75% of American youth text daily, with 77% of teens owning cell phones, sending a median of 60 text messages sent per day. Further, the study reports,
“63% of all teens say they exchange text messages every day with people in their lives. This far surpasses the frequency with which they pick other forms of daily communication, including phone calling by cell phone (39% do that with others every day), face-to-face socializing outside of school (35%), social network site messaging (29%), instant messaging (22%), talking on landlines (19%) and emailing (6%).”
Only 39% said they call those who are important to them every day. Landlines are considered for people born in the 20th Century (i.e. birth year 19xx). Only 35% reported seeing their friends face-to-face daily. Only 6% used email daily.
The ‘generation text’ is immersed in a world of media content created in their own image, with the natural flow and spontaneity of a conversation, rich with its own language of acronyms, abbreviations, pictograms and emoticons adopted from the previous net-savvy generations to express their own cultural identity and sense of belonging through the use of their own unique slang.
In order to get into the heads of ‘generation text’, we need to understand the context of where today’s youth is coming from. Summed up in a related Philadelphia Inquirer news story,
“For teens and their families all across the social spectrum, says Lenhart, the mobile phone "allows you to remain in robust, constant contact with the people you care about." And one in four teens now texts assiduously on the smartphone: "It's mine, it's me, I can take it with me all the time, and I don't have to share it with family." The teen life in only a few words.”
What this means for the working library professionals of today is that we were born in a year starting with “19” – part of Generation X, which already sets us at a disadvantage in effectively reaching out to ‘Generation Text’. We need to keep up with latest trends and learn technologies to avoid obsolescence. Libraries are no longer places where books are stored but have evolved into extensions of social spaces embracing the heart of academia.
Next we’ll explore an interesting and useful application in the area of educational pedagogy developed to interact with ‘generation text’ students. One example utilizes technology through an oral stories approach to engage students with ‘Voki’, digitally enabled avatars which interact in a human-like ways with the end-user. In Nielsen and Webb’s book Teaching Generation Text, they explain,
We can also utilize technologies such as Voki to our advantage to interact with our ‘generation text’ and other constituencies and draw them into the library domain in interesting, relevant and engaging ways. Embracing new technologies and understanding cultural trends will be a key strategy in efficiently and effectively delivering our message. We must strive above all to avoid repeating the same mistakes of Gen-X by imposing our world view on an audience who finds us increasingly passé, irrelevant and antiquated. Now go forth and become champions for open access to information and knowledge. Engage your “customers” to get them involved for the sake of the future of humanity!
For further reading on this topic, Matthews recommends the book, The Power of Habit. See also Adam Dachis’ blog article “If You Want Good Feedback, Don’t Ask Anyone To Think.” Additionally, for more extensive reading on the engagement process, visit this author’s latest blog article The Unexamined Life is not worth Living – which has particular relevance to why our world is rapidly spinning out of control and where we go from here.