Two weeks ago I blogged on how we transform our facility. Last week I discussed the first impression people get when they enter our facility and meet us. Then they get to discover what we do, and in the process we transform learning and our school community.
We make connections. We connect people to ideas, ideas to ideas, and we connect people to people. You may not have focused on this core behavior, but it’s there in every librarian.
People to ideas – This form of connection is obvious. Our patrons come to the library, physically or virtually, and are connected to the information they seek. When we are doing our job well, they find more than facts. It’s usable information.
I had the opportunity to have a very long discussion with several bright high school students the other day. We weren’t in a library, but as a librarian, no matter my location I am still functioning as one. The first thing I did was challenge them to begin thinking by asking their views on Apple defying a warrant and refusing to create a program to get past the encryption on iPhones in order for the government to access information on the cell phone of one of the accused terrorists in the San Bernardino massacre.
As I expected, among the five there were instantaneous opinions, with the students taking different sides. I didn’t support either side but pointed out this was an emotional response either to their feelings about dealing with terrorists or how strongly they felt about their right to privacy. The common element was their emotion. While this was a natural response and would always be present, once they recognized its existence, they needed to move on to finding evidence to either refute or support their gut reaction. This would not eliminate their emotions but would allow them to see, that just as with websites and other information sources, bias is almost always present. It’s not wrong. It’s just there and needs to be recognized in order for it to be factored into decision making. This is teaching critical thinking on a visceral level.
Ideas to ideas – One of the best parts of our job is helping students make the leap from an initial idea to another, making a new connection. The original idea is a single piece of information. Seeing how another idea is related and may further illuminate the first is how new understandings and knowledge are created. For me, making those connections are the “highs” one experiences in research.
It helps if teachers are open to allowing students to take those side trips off an assigned research project into an area of personal interest, sparked by making an idea-to-idea connection. The project takes on deeper meaning. It becomes something that lasts long after the assignment is completed. This is when Enduring Understandings are made and students get the purpose of learning.
Librarians know that research is a messy process. Students and far too many teachers think of it as a linear progression. This is far from the truth, but often it’s the way research projects are done. Even the best students grab for an argument, line up the sources they will use, determine an outline to present their information, check that they have completed all the steps, and heave a sigh of relief. But when you can lead them to the connection that excites their mind, the back-tracking and shifts of directions make sense as they seek to put together something they can proudly share with others. Something that matters to them –personally.
People to people – Making these connections is not as widely recognized an aspect of what we do, but it’s becoming an increasingly important part of our job. In creating digital citizens, a number of librarians are connecting students beyond the walls of the library. I know one librarian who worked with a science teacher and had students discovering how to deal with epidemics and pandemics (and why they show up regularly in the headlines). In creating the best way to alert a population and cope with the crisis, students worked with scientists at the CDC.
On a very different level, we use our extensive networks to bring people together who otherwise might never know each other. Through my daughter, I learned her childhood friend is living in an inner city and knits and donates numerous scarfs to the homeless by “scarf bombing” different areas and facilities in the city. A librarian friend of mine works in a school in that city. She was fascinated by the project and thought it was one many of her students would want to do. The connection was made and her students are eagerly involved in a community service project.
Don’t overlook the people-to-people connection you need to have with other librarians. It’s one my grad students are discovering. Librarians are inclined to think of themselves as being isolated in their building. Some are the only librarian in their district. Who can answer their questions? Where can they go for help? The answer is other librarians. I have blogged about PLNs and you need to be continually expanding yours. Belonging to your state library association (and hopefully participating) and joining and being a part of AASL and/or other national library associations connects you to a wealth of knowledge with a few strokes on your keyboard or a text on your phone. LM_NET is a long-standing resource many use. The School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook group is another one that’s growing.
Are you making these connections for your students and teachers? Are you making connections for yourself? Welcome to the connected 21st century –and we are the expert connectors.