Agents of Change: Paradigm Shift in Progress

"Theme 1: Change" by xcode via Flickr, CC-licensed.

First of all, this blog is not dead. Neglected, yes. Dead, no.

It has been an arduous few months. It is more than accurate to say that for quite a while I have been in survival mode. It is my first year in a new organization, not to mention my first full year spent in a public school in a position of some authority. This was all to be expected and yet I have still been blind sided by the level of difficulty presented by running what is essentially a small room full of books.

New book display, Benton Library.

Beyond this, I would propose that my department is one that is undergoing a greater amount of change that many other departments within our building and district. There is obviously a mission at hand. The goal is to create a library which exemplifies the needs of the 21st century student, including both research and recreational needs. No matter how you slice it – books versus databases, electronic versus print, high-level versus low-level – the advancement toward a new model has not been easy.

What would have been easy is to maintain the status quo. That is, essentially, to prove that the job of school librarian does not require the same extent of rigor and training that we require of our classroom teachers. That possibly, certification and education are not elements required of someone whose job, until now, has largely involved checking in and checking out books.

That is not to say that I don’t take joy in those things. I do, immensely. However, the needs of today’s learners has shifted. The needs of the library and the requirements of the librarian must shift as well. Ultimately, maximizing access to information has to be tantamount. The difficulty lies in comparing a set of cursory non-fiction books for $50-$100 versus a full-featured yet possibly unwieldy database for hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

Realistically, the entire challenge is about making the unseen seen. How do you explain what a database is to someone who has never used one? How do you justify the cost for something you ultimately do not own? How do you provide modes of information access which ultimately require Internet access which is often a luxury in our world?

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This challenge applies not only to students but also to faculty, staff, administrators, parents, the community, etc. It can certainly be tempting to stop fighting for such radical change. Why not just buy books? Why not just man a circulation desk? Why not just fulfill a traditional role? In short, without a library media specialist who is dedicated to such change, I sincerely doubt we would prepare students for the challenges they will face not only in post-secondary education but also the post-secondary world.

How to go about leading and sustaining this change is the the essence of this challenge. In doing some searching, I tracked down a familiar source (this time on Google Books) in Evaluation and Library Decision Making by Peter Hernon and Charles McClure:

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This list defining the difficulty in being the change agent resonated with me:

1. The change agent usually has minimal direct control or authority over external environmental factors.

2. A number of competing views or other individuals attempt to make changes related to that specific concern.

3. Greater quantities of resources are necessary.

These are both abstract and concrete in my situation. A breakdown of each is not necessary, but to keep these three elements in mind has helped me to outline where the most energy should be dedicated in order to continue this paradigm shift. Beyond this Hernon and McClure remind me of this:

“In short, librarians must be able to convince decision makers that a proposed change has merit. The ability to define a specific problem, obtain or collect data related to that problem, analyze the data, and produce results and conclusions based on that data is essential.”

Despite the fact that I would amend “decision makers” to “stakeholders,” this advice rings true almost 20 years after its initial printing. To put it in action, both continuously and consistently, is the solution to making the unseen seen.

Images:

Theme 1: Change” by xcode via Flickr, CC-licensed.

New Books Display” by Benton Library via Flickr, taken by Melissa Corey.

Loldogs @ your Library” by circulating via Flickr, CC-licensed.

Affecting External Change, pg. 230” by Hernon & McClure, via Google Books.

Why I Became a Librarian

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In the flurry of activity that has been the past two weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to play just about every role in the library setting. This was one of the facts that alternately kept me from and drew me back to school librarianship. For the past two years, I’d been gearing up with all of my might to become an academic (read: university) librarian. I’d built a solid resume full of information-searching and technology-creation skills. I’d honed my ability to conduct a reference interview and lead bibliographic instruction. I’d even worked on my personal image by cutting off almost waist-length red hair into a more conservative, stylish bob.

So when I actually started to go through the interview process, I was stopped dead cold by one fact: I had no idea why I really wanted to be in the profession. That’s not to say that I didn’t have valid reasons – I loved finding information, instructing classes, creating websites, playing with Web 2.0 technologies, etc. But then came that oh-so-standard interview question . . . “Why do you want to be a librarian?”

I knew there was something deeper to my draw to this profession, but I found it very difficult to verbalize. I had always wanted to help people. I initially wanted to teach high school social studies but it didn’t work out because of a poor job market. I loved books. I loved technology. I loved information.

And then, the answer finally came to me one night when I was thinking really long and hard about the question after muddling through it during a phone interview with yet another far off university . . .

I loved my mom.

That was it. My mom. She was the reason.

You see, my mother and I have always been close. I couldn’t stand to be away from her and our household in college so I transferred to be closer. Then, just a year after that, my mother’s health started to turn. She simply didn’t feel right. She got weak when we went to the grocery store. She had aches and pains. She had a sudden racing, fluttering heartbeat. Something was wrong.

These initial signs started in fall of 2003. She finally went to see a doctor after she almost fainted in the hallway of the high school at which she taught special education. These spells weren’t easily diagnosed. A general practitioner sent her to see specialists – a cardiologist, a gynecologist, others I really can’t remember now. After stress tests, blood tests, scans, smears, and mammograms, she was finally closer to an answer. A mass. Small. In the left breast. Biopsy. Please come in. Yes, you have cancer. Stage II.

What felt like an eternity to find out came so quickly. We finally had an answer. I was in the surgeon’s office that day. Mom didn’t cry. I didn’t cry. They asked her if they could perform a mastectomy or a lumpectomy. She asked me which one she should choose. I said probably the mastectomy. It was an educated guess.

The next year was life-changing for me. I dropped down from usual overloaded college schedule to only twelve credit hours. I became my mother’s advocate. I went to doctor’s appointments as much as possible. I helped organize her insurance paperwork. But more than anything, I researched.

I discovered PubMed. I researched breast cancer to no end. I studied her chemotherapy drugs. I combed the internet for information about radiation treatments. I realized I was good at finding information when her radiologist asked if I was going to medical school.

Beyond just finding information, I had to learn how to evaluate it and apply it to decision-making. When my mother was initially diagnosed, she had the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial for a drug called Herceptin which blocked abnormal cell growth by binding to the gene which researchers believed was a root cause of breast cancer. There were four groups of patients included in the trial: a group receiving Herceptin and other experimental chemotherapy, a group receiving Herceptin and some of the currently prescribed chemotherapy regimen, a group receiving the full currently prescribed chemotherapy regimen, and a control group.

At that time, Herceptin was experimental. Now it’s been proven to be a very effective breast cancer drug. But for my mother, we chose the safest route: a full regimen of the currently prescribed chemotherapy drugs and radiation treatments.

After approximately a year of treatment, my mother’s cancer was in remission. It has remained in remission to this very day, 5 full years later. I don’t like talking about it much. I am actually a very private and superstitious person. But I feel that sharing this experience which so defined me as a person also defines me as a librarian. I had to find the right information at the right time for the right person. I’ve done the same thing at the reference or circulation desk every single day I’ve been in this profession. And I’d like to think I put as much effort into finding that information for a stranger as I did for my mother.

That’s why I became I librarian. I never gave this specific answer in an interview, but knowing the overarching reason behind my career choice helped me to better define why I wanted to do what I wanted to do. For my mom. And for others. Different but the same.

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Images:

Questions Answered” by Travelin’ Librarian via Flickr, available under a Creative Commons license.

Personal wedding day photo, Linda and Gerald McCush with Melissa Corey, May 23, 2009.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Hello, neglected blog . . .

It’s been a busy few weeks as I’m settling into my new school. I’ve been alternately overwhelmed, excited, and confused. I’m still finding my way as an LMS. Suffice it to say, I would be worried if it weren’t for all the support I’m receiving – I’m looking in your direction, Jennifer Halter!

I haven’t updated this blog as I’ve been working on building an online presence for our library. I vaguely remember describing my ideal school library as being like a coin with two sides – one side physical, one side virtual. I truly believe that libraries must exist in both places to not only reach today’s students and patrons but to also ensure survival in the coming decades.

I started by doing some branding for the library. I came up with no less than 22 variations on a blog header before finally settling on this one:

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We also needed a logo for smaller images, like profile pictures and favicons:

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Once the image work was done, everything else fell into place. I’d created accounts and saved URLs for bentonlibrary and bentonmediacenter on Twitter, Shelfari, Ning, WordPress, etc. Now that the images were ready, content was added and the sites went live.

Here’s a rundown of our online presence. To view all sites, visit our Google Profile at http://www.google.com/profiles/bentonlibrary.

Our online presence is still evolving. We’re discussing having a books blog instead of a blog replicating our Ning content for non-members. We may abandon or change some of these sites. But regardless of our future actions, I believe what we’re doing is not only innovative but entirely necessary to retain student and faculty interest.

Library Word Cloud via Wordle

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I’d created this some time ago on Wordle using this blog’s URL. I don’t have a lot of commentary on it except to say that I really think it sums up a lot of what our library will be about this coming school year. I didn’t weed out any words so I think it’s fitting that a simple word like “however” is featured so prominently in the middle. It’s my hope that the give and take between the library, teachers, and administration will really help to redefine the library and provide more ownership of it to the school community.

Leadership Day 2009: Moving In the Right Direction

My post in response to Scott McLeod’s Leadership Day 2009 initiative is coming late as I spent most of Sunday packing for a move to a new apartment/job/life/etc.

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Regardless, I’m going to keep things short and just answer one question:

Question: What is a technology tool that would be extremely useful for a busy administrator (i.e., one he or she probably isn’t using now)?

Answer: Your friendly, knowledgeable, energetic, and passionate Library Media Specialist

Yes, I know this might not be the appropriate response – a tool would traditionally be construed as a piece of software, a Web 2.0 gadget, etc. However, I definitely see the LMS as a tool that in many cases is being underutilized for a number of reasons:


1. We need a paradigm shift in school librarianship.

This is already occurring on some fronts. We’re seeing more newbies (like myself) enter the profession who know that libraries are about more than what is tangible. We need to take this further and ensure that libraries at all levels and of all types embrace technology as it is emerging. How? I don’t exactly have the answer but I think it can be done through a combination of shifting ideas in professional associations, library science education, and the public’s view of libraries.


2. We need a change in library science education.

Besides earning my degree in library science, I’ll also be completing a degree in educational technology within a year or so (crosses fingers). I entered the ed tech program primarily because I felt something was lacking from my library science education. The focus on theory is a great foundation, but to learn how to create websites, use Web 2.0 technologies, and engage the user, I felt the ed tech program picked up where the library science program left off. Do we need other degree options or a greater emphasis on technology in library science education?

Yes, short and sweet, as promised. There’s much more I could write about the issue, but I truly believe that there is a huge opportunity to tie school librarianship with educational technology that can be created, embraced, and fostered by school administrators. If change can happen on the library level, it can foster and support a new technology environment throughout the school.

So I guess the moving theme is pretty appropriate after all?

Image: “wanna go home . .” by Sir Mervs (Flickr) available under a Creative Commons License.