This is a summative post speaking mostly about of Lankes’ idea of “Library as Conversation” applies to my school library environment.  It is cross-posted from Hypermarc.

OK, Coles Notes version (translation “executive summary”):

  • Buckland – Paper?  Mindblowing?  Simple but powerful.
  • Casey & Savastinuk – Good start, but shallow.  Nothing new if you’ve been to at least one library conference or read a couple of journals in the last few years.
  • Lankes – I am yet more strongly a devout follower.

“Library as Conversation.” “The conversations are the relationships.” “Your community is your collection.

Coffee shop talk.
Some rights reserved by Neil. Moralee

The first and last quotes are Lankes.  The middle quote was used by a management training coach in a workshop last summer and I’m not sure where it originally came from.  The three quotes seem to resonate together for me.  As someone who is more and more convinced of constructivism as a powerful learning model, library as conversation rings particularly true with me.  There are theories that the Enlightenment was triggered by caffeine.  People went from drinking beer to drinking coffee.  This may be true, but it is interesting to note that coffee was served in coffee houses which became the new social hangout.  I don’t know if it was the folks who’d hung out in the pub across the street who simply moved locations or if the coffee houses brought the scholars out of their ivory towers and into social networks, but the fact is that the quality of the conversation changed and folks dedicated to learning were brought together.  Learning is social and networked.

I love the concept that libraries need to be conversation hubs and recognize that conversations take on a myriad of forms.  I love the ideas of being conversation catalysts and of collecting these conversations to become part of the collection (connects with community as collection.)  But what jumped out even more is the idea that it is the social element of the library that will guarantee that libraries will remain vital centres on our society.  Toward the end of Casey & Savastinuk, I found myself wondering about libraries in relation to the great small book stores, record shops and any other specialty shop that seems to have gone the way of the dodo bird.  The very few that have survived have done so because of the social vitality of the people running them.  We probably all know these little shops with an owner who lives their specialty.  They are walking encyclopedias of their specialty and they love nothing more than to talk about it.  You can find odd collectibles in their stock and you walk out with more than you’d intended to buy, having learned so much from the conversation.  Libraries need to be these same kinds of places.  Libraries as shelves of books are less convenient and harder to operate than the internet.  But Google can’t give you a great conversation as you look for the information you need.  They try, but it can’t give you the same kind of recommendations and challenges to your thinking that the social aspects of the library can.

I also love the idea of user generated content that serves to foster further conversation and builds the collection.  However, I do wonder about privacy implications and the logistics of cataloguing this type of material.  These are not significant barriers to this kind of collection development, simply challenges to be overcome.  I have been successful through our school’s Virtual Learning Commons having students build mini-collections of material for the use of others.  These Knowledge Building Centres currently contain student research on such varied topics as Hamlet and the context of Of Mice and Men to grade 9 level space science and a dictionary of literary genres with recommended reading in each genre.  We even have a French language mock-travel agency with cultural tours “for sale.”  The students are typically proud of their work and will refer to each others work when doing their own assignments. (I wish I could share these with you, but because of privacy issues, our Virtual Learning Commons is housed in a password protected intranet environment.)

Challenges that I see tackling in the immediate future in my environment that come from Lankes are the development of an institutional base of shared teaching resources and the further exploration of exploding my ILS to get more data used in more different ways going in more than one direction.  I had the opportunity to work with a collection of teachers over two years that dealt with the implementation of technology into teaching.  This group was cross campus and included teachers from grades 1-12.  The cross-pollination of teaching ideas was likely far more powerful than anything that I brought to the table as the facilitator.  A digital collection, while not quite as powerful as just getting folks into a room to talk, could be a very cool project to make the teaching throughout our school that much more effective.  Put in a well organized blog platform, discussion could occur around each of the resources.

I’ve been frustrated with our ILS for some time and did a study in LIBR202 comparing the product that I used to others on the market.  As I did not originally purchase the product for our use, I wanted to be sure that it was the best for our purposes.  I don’t think that it is any worse than anything else on the market, but it could be far more open.  Some of the coding courses, particularly the PHP/MySQL course I’m taking now might allow me to get under the hood and draw out information in different ways and allow us to interact with that information differently.  Perhaps we can build a mechanism that allows the conversations to happen.School starts on Tuesday for us.  I think that “Library as Conversation” may very well become the mantra for the year.

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