Library Info-Tech: A Joyous Union (Winter 2013)

By Laura Bishop, High School Librarian at Léman Manhattan Preparatory (New York NY)

(or Why You Want to Be a Part of Your Tech Department)

Note from YALS: The winter 2013 issue of YALS focuses on technology and teens. Read this article to learn about more ways that libraries are integrating technology in programs and services for adolescents.

Being a librarian in a new school offers numerous challenges. It also presents opportunities. One opportunity arose for me last year with the creation of vertical departments that bring together our lower (pre-K-4)and upper schools (5-12).  There were numerous reasons for this: cohesion between divisions, creating departmental direction and goals, curriculum mapping for grades K through 12 and more continuity in curriculum.  Naturally, the librarians were slightly apprehensive. We were concerned that our role as information specialists and purveyors of literature would be subsumed by technology initiatives We thought that we would be “swallowed up”.

Compounding this fear is the current trend of technologizing school libraries to the point that school librarians are being tossed out with the books in favor of iPads and “Technologists,” “Technology Coaches,” or “Technology Teachers.” Whatever the title, it seemed to us that administrators, more and more, fail to understand that the work we do as librarians is actually more vital than ever as our society moves forward.  Also, what would being part of a blended department mean for the work we do teaching research skills and fostering literature appreciation? Would it mean we would spend less time involved with these important projects and tasks and be expected to solely teach tech skills out of the context of information gathering and knowledge building?

Our first task: finding a name for our department. As it happened, this was no easy task: we wanted a label that described the various components of our department. It was an interesting conversation where we learned s lot about each other or, more accurately, the tech coaches certainly learned a lot about what we librarians do and how it dovetails with their work as tech teachers. We librarians wanted our department’s name to reflect both the literary and research sides of our work. We eventually settled on Library InfoTech-I quite like it.

I like to say that our departments were “married” last year. Recently, when a teacher at another private school asked how this union was going, I joked that we were still in the “honeymoon phase”.  Joking aside, I do not think this is merely a phase: my technology colleagues are, in short, absolutely wonderful to work with. It could be that this is simply the dynamic of our personalities or it could be that through creating something together, we all feel a kinship and shared investment in what we develop for future generations of students. It could also be a result of our many vertical team meetings where we adopted a shared set of standards and openly shared our individual priorities and visions for ideal student services; while developing departmental goals and objectives. We built a strong sense of solidarity.

It saddens me when I hear stories of librarians in other schools who either do not work well or at all with their school’s technology department or tech teachers. I cannot think of anyone more valuable to my mission and responsibilities as a school librarian. Aside from the tech support when the inevitable glitches or tech hiccups that arise, they are incredibly valuable resources and curriculum allies.

I am fairly tech savvy, but I do sometimes experience tech challenges–sometimes quite steep ones–when learning new tech applications. Most programs or apps are simply not intuitive for me, but I am persistent and so, eventually, I work it out. Here’s where my tech team comes in handy. Since I have the sort of relationship where I can brainstorm ideas for projects I have with them, I obtain their advice and assistance with what they feel are the optimal technological vehicles for the end product — it may appear to me that one method of information delivery is suitable, but they may suggest another method that is more appropriate to the task at hand. Depending on the students’ needs and the scope of the project, tech staff may or may not be right alongside me in the classroom co-teaching or providing on site coaching to students engaged with a new application.

Tech staff ideas and feedback have helped me to initiate a number of class projects with technology products that include:  online PSA’s, book trailers, QR codes to publicize class activities, snazzier Summer Reading Lists, Animoto and Prezi presentations, a digital citizenship unit for the entire middle school and the creation of screencast “how-to’s” for our web-based library portal.

My departmental affiliation also means that potential teacher collaborations are not lost-on numerous occasions this year, teachers have approached the tech coaches for assistance with what were actually information retrieval projects. Thanks to our excellent communication and rapport, the tech coaches come to me right away to discuss how best to meet both teacher and student needs. I don’t see this as a lack of outreach and advocacy on my part! I teach regular classes and collaborate regularly with many teachers. I do see it as the result of confusion about what constitutes technology skills versus information literacy skills and a perceived pressure to incorporate technology into lessons without being taught what that could and should actually look like.

All of the close work and collaboration is now culminating in a “Learning Commons” proposal I recently drafted and submitted to our administration  because I am interested in the library as a “gateway to learning” (<”>Eric Lease Morgan, 2009,) placing myself squarely at the epicenter of technological resources and creation at my school. The proposal calls for a number of modifications and additions to our library space–many of them technology related–and I could not have done this without the creative conversations with the technology members of our department. Because of our department’s structure, everyone on the team knows enough about the work I do and is attuned to the gray areas and blurring boundaries that can divide our roles. The tech staff standing beside me as our school interprets 21st Century Learning adds credibility to my place within the evolving landscape.

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