Learners have come a long way with tech developments

For the past decade, Infopeople has offered a course for all library types and staff classifications on Weeding for Your Library’s Health. More accurately, we’ve offered an ever evolving course addressing this topic and, for me as its decade-long instructor, the evolution is apparent in the participants as well as the format and coverage.

Weeding in libraries calls up all manner of political and emotional red flags, as Boston Public Library most recently demonstrates in national news. Second guessing Any Library’s weeding makes Monday (or Tuesday) morning quarterbacking look useful. Instead of going into all that, what I want to do is share  what the decade shows in terms of Infopeople learner participation.

The first dozen iterations of this workshop were day-long on-ground offerings. Workshop attendees did represent a variety of library types (including private as well as public, school, and academic) and each group shared a general geographic location–which is to say that the collective wisdom in the room tended to be, well, local. And since these were on-ground workshops in which we were all together for one day only and parked in a meeting room, the “hands on” exercises necessarily involved whatever I had toted into that room, or the host library had on offer from recently already-weeded stores. (TSA used to leave very interesting notes in my weeding workshop luggage). Then, at the end of the day, everyone went home, and the next day went back to his or her library and either weeded…or didn’t.

The course moved online even before Infopeople online course moved to Moodle. Online courses were a new experience for lots of library staff. They struggled with posting assignments on top of struggling with weeding. But it was immediately apparent that an online course, unfolding over weeks, was a lot more effective in terms of learning and doing weeding! Participants were in their own locations. The assignments had them working with their own weeding issues on location.

As the years passed, the location diversity among online course participants ramped way up. Now a course complement included diverse library types, diverse classifications, and geographic diversity. Participants began to find support and weeding allies a thousand miles away, while still being able to practice what they were learning right where they needed it to be happening–in their home libraries.

And participants have become increasingly comfortable with online learning, a capacity development which makes everyone’s course experience richer. Forum posts are increasingly substantive, a higher and higher percentage of those who register are active on a frequent basis throughout the course, and questions and suggestions fly between 50+ points of contact instead of within a table group of two or three.

Weeding is never going to be the library world’s favorite task. But every time I spend a month with a new group of participants willing to learn more about weeding well, I come away impressed by how far online learning capacity grows among library staff, well, everywhere.

Public libraries, the Affordable Care Act, and news in 2014

With the initial healthcare insurance enrollment period, and the attendant media running up to and during those months, just fading in memory, it’s already time to use what we learned and improve on the remarkably smooth Covered California/California public library interfaces we began to build a year ago. WebJunction has been pursuing the study and documentation of public library processes and lessons in various states. Reading their report on the California experience offers insights on what worked here and why.

The second open health insurance enrollment period is scheduled to begin November 15. The Affordable Care Act includes many directives besides this particular and complex one. Now is a good time to review the various aspects beyond insurance coverage that might be affecting your community and be prime to target by library staff as local information development needs.

This year at CLA, a program featuring Covered California, the community aware staff at Alameda County Library who gave a star performance connecting community to Affordable Care access and information the first year out, and Infopeople, which continues to update and provide free access to the independent online series Affordable Care Act @ Your California Public Library, is slated for Sunday afternoon.

Do you have programming experiences around Affordable Care you’d like to share? As WebJunction notes in its report, our collaborative capacity is a California library strength.

Fact checking checkup

Ferreting out fact from rumor, uninformed opinion, and outright falsehood underpins the work of all types of libraries. As we continue to work in an information ecosystem undergoing explosive growth and publishing access by authorities of every degree of sophistication, taking time for regular fact checking awareness improves our capacity to distinguish what is from what might be. 

Among the most compelling information literacy exercises of which I’m aware was developed more than a decade ago by the school library media teacher (degreed!) in a small and relatively isolated K-5 school. Each year there, each grade level received information learning scaffolded developmentally and occurring through the full term. For the kindergarteners, the teaching was presented by every adult on campus, whenever he or she was audience to any kindergartener’s declaration of any information: the prescriptive adult response, “How do you know that?” provided the pause we all need to reflect on whether a declaration is supportable by fact.

Of course, when it comes to a five-year-old, a typical response might be that she saw it happen or that her older sister told her so. Additional questions might be placed, depending on the matter at hand, to uncover the accuracy of her witnessing position or her sister’s motivation. Across time, the student could begin to notice she couldn’t really claim to have seen an event that had occured while she was in another room, or that her sister had a penchant for pulling her leg about school-related matters but not family ones. 

What we can take away from this simple exercise, regardless of our age, is the benefit of taking a moment to reflect on whether what we are repeating is worthy of that repetition. If we din’t take that moment, how do we recognize when a visit to Snopes.com might be better than forwarding the “news” we’ve just received?

With increasing access to both big data and resources of open government data, our tools for fact checking also gain power and reach. Along with the utility of tools to ferret out the facts, we also need to notice when we are missing facts, or operating with assumptions. That’s when a fact checking check up can uncover a need to boost our assumption immunity.

The regime for fact checking health isn’t new-fangled at all. We can start with that same question posed to the kindergarteners–along with the other four every journalist in training learns:

  • How do I know that?
  • Who said it?
  • Why was it said?
  • When was that?
  • Where was it occurring?

Such fact checking breaks can position how we move forward, and whether we can.

Teaching privacy?

With the word “privacy” appearing in both online and offline discussions of how we live in 2014, how do we make time to analyze and consider, and then put into use, the very best practices we can in libraryland? Here are a few signposts from recent weeks that limn the current thinking:

Back in May, Barbara Fister wrote a “Peer to Peer” opinion piece at Library Journal taking up that issue; to date, the online piece has received a total of four comments, including one from Ms. Fister acknowledging the points made to her original post and summing up for the next question. 

At the OCLC Symposium held at ALA’s Annual Conference, in June, several audience members pushed back against Daniel Obodovski’s suggestions that data collected as libraries do business might prove useful to harvest to support the expansion of knowledge afforded by the Internet of Things. Expanding local library awareness of user needs, wants, and satisfaction levels, done anonymously, was agreeable; suggesting that libraries become purveyors of data collected from our communities drew a resoundingly negative reaction.

The day before Independence Day, Cory Doctorow published a summary of findings that indicate NSA surveillance seems to be keyed to those online who actively seek privacy information there. That would suggest that as librarians, with a duty to explore as well as maintain privacy standards, we stand to put ourselves in the path of having ours exploited.

So, how do we approach a topic that is getting hotter in the public mind even while we become increasingly aware of how slippery the “it” of privacy is? In essence, how do we teach good online privacy hygiene without introducing the kind of damage hand washing efficacy has suffered with the overuse of antibacterial scrubs for frequent use? 

How are you broaching privacy with your staff? With kids in your community? With adults seeking technical assistance? What tools might be useful for digging our way to daylight? Let us all hear!