Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Is Your Library User-Focused, or Library Focused? (Part I)

I'm back!  I had visiting friends right after school let out, so I've been simultaneously acting as tour guide and fellow-tourist as I showed them around Beijing and then we visited other parts of China (Pingyao and Xi'An).  You can see my photos on Flickr if you're interested.  I try to keep only my good captures online, so don't worry you'll have to scroll through interminable photos of me standing in front of monuments in that "I need to prove I was here!" kind of shot.  It may be of interest that 1/3 of the photos I took with the iPhone, and all of them were edited on the iPad.  Mobile photo editing is my hot new thing, and I'm actually putting together a workshop on iPhoneography.  But I digress.

I have a couple large posts pending: action research, annual reports and Makerspaces.  This past year was one of those banner, "OMG, I can't believe what I learned" years that transforms your entire way of thinking about everything you do.  We get those far too infrequently--or maybe not, because it's going to entail a LOT of work next year.  It's also entirely possible we get those kinds of years only when we need them.

Needless to say,  I've been doing a lot of thinking about modern libraries and best practice (of course, though here's the English teacher in me asking "If it's needless to say, why did you say it?").

In my eagerness to provide students and teachers with a forward-thinking, 21st Century library,  we've spent a lot of time and money technology. We're a 1:1 laptop school, but I still have 3 iMacs for student use; we circulate 3 iPads that are strictly for the library, as well as 35 others on carts.  We have 20  digital cameras of various sorts, 3 document cameras, 15 snowball mics.  We subscribe, just in the HS, to fifteen different databases.  We have a blog. We have two wikis. We have untold accounts with various Web 2.0 tools.  Moreover, I hound our teachers to bring me into their classrooms more. "Use the library!" I implore.  "We can collaborate!"

Have you noticed, though,  how many times those sentences above start with "We" or "I"?  A lot of the above is about what I think a good library should be, and don't get me wrong. We do a lot of good things.  But it occurred to me this year how much I try to lock things down to the library and making use of me, bodily, in the flesh, mostly to prove the library's importance to the ongoing life of the school.

Let me back up a bit.  I'm also the schools' extended essay coordinator (the EE is a 4,000 word academic research paper 95% or our grade 11's have to write over the course of a year). As part of that this year, I insisted on teaching a series of workshops for the 90+ students, taking them through various aspects of the research process.  The heaviest attendance over the course of the 8 workshops (offered at various times to accommodate student schedules) was around 50%, but it petered off pretty drastically by the end of the year.

In addition,  as part of the science curriculum, grades 9/10 do a number of research projects.  While I finally got the teachers excited about pathfinders, they only brought me in to talk to the students a couple times, giving me 15-20 minutes max (and pretty grudgingly at that).  And if they were reluctant to bring me in to discuss information literacy, they SURE weren't going give up class time to have me talk to the kids about good presentation design!

Nor has this been a problem only at my current school.  I don't know if it's me or the nature of scientists or what, but  while the history department is always totally on board with anything I want to do, the science department is always a hard sell.

I can be a bit dense, but I finally realized, I was asking students and faculty to meet my needs and design, when what I really need to do is meet theirs.  I mean, I've always known that, and I thought that's what I was doing ("But they NEED these lessons on information literacy").  It finally occurred to me that, while they need the information, they don't really need to deliver it.  At least not in person.

I needed to flip the library.

Our Learning Support team (which includes me) met with the Science HOD at the end of May.  He's a good guy, and realizes we needed a better way of doing things. Here's the plan:

Instead of lengthy sessions, we're going to  plan a series of 10 minute participatory lessons.  I'll create a tutorials for students to complete on their own time, then our lessons will be guided practice on their own research.

I don't just want a series of videos, though.  I think the flipped classroom movement has been WAY too video heavy, and Khan Academy has come under some justified criticism for that.   Students need to be more involved/engaged.  Since we're a 1:1 MacBook school, and all students have Keynote, I'll create a series of interactive tutorials. Video will no doubt be part of that, but it won't be the sole component.  Here's a sample tutorial on slide design.  It loses the interactive bit on Slideshare, but if you email, I'll be happy to send the .key file.

The hope, of course, is that students can access this information 24/7.  So whether they come to my extended essay workshops or not, they still have the information if they need it.  Whether they'll actually use it or not is another issue.

On a related note, as part of our more user-focused approach, I want to create supply bins for the students to take back to their desks.  Right now, we offer staplers, etc., but they're actually TIED to the circ desk!  Mostly because we lose a lot of staplers.  I think if we create supply bins--stapler, scissors, glue sticks, markers, etc. and the students have to take the WHOLE kit, they can work at their desk, instead of standing around, AND it will be much more likely for things to come back.  Well see.


  1. Hi Jeri, I visited your library last year when WAB hosted Learning 2.012, and I remember you talking about using iBooks author with students - I was envious of the Mac school setup just for that:)
    I would be interested in seeing your Slideshare at least of your new participatory approach - can you direct me to a link? I really like the "take it to the user" approach, and would like to see what you envisaged.
    Kate (was in HK, now back in Aus)

  2. HI Kate--Sure! My gmail is on the bottom there, just send me your email address. The Keynote deck is just a tutorial I put together about good slide design, but it's an example of what I'm talking about, because it self-plays, once you start it, and then there's an "exercise" at the end. I've been really slow about getting this going, since I've been focusing on the Makerspace so far.