Libraries = hope

(1000 words)

Building a library is fundamentally a hopeful endeavour. This hope is not based on a collection of books that are themselves hopeful. Hope is embedded deep in a collection that represents diverse perspectives and a breadth of human creativity. In bringing a collection together that gives voice to an array of ideas, beliefs and values, the fires of public discourse are fanned into life. Librarians will not enjoy, agree with or even like many of the titles hosted in the library but this is how it should be. The library does not represent the perspective of one person or institution but represents a diverse range of ideas that can be studied, examined, debated, disliked or loved. The library is a community space where the light of public scrutiny and discourse can wrestle with challenging concepts.

These ideas can often be found online in various forms however there is a profound significance in the analogue experience of picking up a physical book (notwithstanding the reality that there are a vast number of books that are not available online or if they are, they are hidden behind a paywall). These books represent a unique voice. Holding that physical book is like holding an idea in our hands – turning it over in our hands like we turn an idea over in our minds. We can collect an armful of books, sort them, organise them and study them in the same way that we organise our thoughts to come to conclusions and pose new questions. The library then, is a  physical representation of thought and a provocation for growth.

From around the world the library brings together inspiration, passion, story, make-believe, imagination and controversy. From people – authors, illustrators, publishers, artists – who are passionate about their craft and deeply invested in delivering a unique experience for their readers. In this convergence that is the library, these creative acts are celebrated, debated, despised, loved, challenged and responded to, leading inevitably to learning and a broadening of perspectives. The library is creating space for discovery and growth. This is the hope of the library. Through the convergence of human expression, the library enables open access to a wider audience with the fundamental hope that learning and growth will be an inevitable consequence.

In the school setting and in stark contrast is the world of corporately manufactured readers, “education” apps and “personalised” online contrivances. Levelled readers have no place in this hopeful space because they are not written with creative passion or free expression in mind. As such, they do not inspire readers to read. They do not challenge perspectives. They do not pose theories that challenge the status quo. This would damage sales and limit distribution. Levelled readers are written based on calculations of word length, sentence length, and phonetic patterns – more like a colourful algorithm than a book. It is extremely unlikely that a levelled reader will present text that challenges the boundaries of genre, or pose an imagined dystopian world caused by dysfunctional governance, or challenge our concepts of gender, or reveal new understandings about sexuality, or simply to create an experience that lifts a reader into a new dimension of imagination and inspiration. In contrast, the librarian searches the world for the most compelling creations the world has to offer – and there is so much to draw on that the problem is not so much finding it, but not being able to get everything on offer. With such a wealth of human expression on offer and the means enabled through technology and global connections to bring these books into the library, there is no reason to even contemplate factory produced texts.

In leaving levelled readers behind, we may feel like we lose the ability to find the text that is just the right reading level for an emerging reader but this is no loss at all. Quite the opposite in fact. What is forgotten in levelling texts and the incorrectly named “personalised learning” packages is that reading is not just about decoding text. Even levelling authentic texts (books by real authors and illustrators) is an attempt to solve a problem that does not exist (please read S.  Krashen for more on this, 2001). Reading is so much more than just “accuracy, understanding, and fluency” as described by Fountas, Irene, and Gay Su Pinnell. Reading is the context, the memories, the emotions, the personal connections, the imagined worlds, the struggles – that is, reading is the human experience. It is this very human experience that is the reason the library represents hope. Hope for the marginalised, hope for the minority, hope for the unheard voices, hope for human creativity, hope for inspiration to solve the biggest challenges of our time, hope to find joy, hope to find new interests, hope to provoke deep reflection, and the hope for learning, growth and the continued development of our local and global societies.

In the context of a school, the significance of the library is amplified. In the present, the hope is that students find solace, growth and quality of life in what they encounter in the library. Beyond the present the ripple effect carries these hopeful outcomes into the future. This is the hope of the library.


Further reading

President Barack Obama “… I’ve learned from novels. It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that. And the notion that it’s possible to connect with some[one] else even though they’re very different from you.”

“Reading literary fiction improves empathy. The types of books we read may affect how we relate to others.”Scientific American, 2013

“Overall there is a relatively strong and growing range of research findings which show how and why reading for pleasure can bring a range of benefits to individuals and society.”The Reading Agency, 2015 (well worth a read).

Agent-based modelling of the school library

(1956 words)

Each student represents a vast complex system and each student operates in the context of many different complex systems (or complex adaptive social systems). These systems include (but are not limited to) the classroom, the library, the playground, their sports teams, their families, their local social networks and within broad global networks. They are adaptive because these systems are in a constant state of change based on the interactions between each agent (student or adult) and choices they make. The broad categories of each social context – such as the family, the classroom and the school – remain recognisable however the interactions within and between each of these contexts ensures that no day in the classroom or library is ever quite the same. This is one of the reasons why education is such an interesting, challenging and rewarding field to work in. Continue reading Agent-based modelling of the school library

The age of discovery: the embodied mind, complex systems and the school library

Two recently published books bring together some important insights with significant implications for education and the school library.

Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance , by Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna, published by Bloomsbury/St Martin’s Press. The Guardian, Society Opinion.

Intelligence in the Flesh: Why Your Mind Needs Your Body Much More than It ThinksBy Guy Claxton Yale University Press. The Times Higher Education review.

Continue reading The age of discovery: the embodied mind, complex systems and the school library

The embodied library : learning to read

(1800 words)

Everything the school library does is in the service of student learning. Learning is change. For the most part, we are not consciously aware of all the changes that occur in our brain and body when we are learning. We can often describe observable aspects of learning such as an improvements in our accuracy in kicking a ball through the goal posts, the ability to solve a challenging math problem, a new way to fold the worlds best ever paper plane, or a new historical insight but the neurological and physiological changes in our bodies are hidden. These new skills or new knowledge may indicate that learning has occurred however they are far from providing a complete understanding of the change that has taken place. This is where understanding the embodied mind can lead us to a more holistic view of learning. Learning that we can directly observe, test or that we are conscious of is only the very tip of the iceberg. Learning is a process that involves the entire body in a complex system of interdependent subsystems. The brain is a dominant arbiter in the learning process however the brain only functions within the context of the body – as Guy Claxton explains, the “brain and the body function as a single unit” (Claxton, 2015 p 89). Continue reading The embodied library : learning to read

Rebranding libraries 2 : in with new, in with the old.

Social media and new digital channels ensure that our connected world is always evolving. Branding in the commercial environment is no longer about projecting a message to an audience, it is about connections between people. This is where the traditionally commercial role of branding and the role of libraries converge. Libraries are still about books, knowledge and ideas but both the format, the medium and the modes libraries work across have expanded exponentially. imageEmbedded in this expansion are the ways in which the library connects with people and more importantly, the ways the library connects people-to-people, ideas-to-ideas, needs-to-needs. Advertising agencies are no longer isolated in silos working to a brief provided by a company CEO, they are getting into the shoes of a company and into the shoes of the customers, connecting networking, working across platforms, focusing their message, and co-creating with their clients.
This is where libraries have always been and where they are ideally placed to meet the needs of patrons in a connected world. For libraries, branding is an important piece to this puzzle and is an often neglected one. Branding a library is not about projecting a new modern face and it is not about sending the right message. The message is what libraries do. In this context, branding is about making connections between what people do and what libraries do. imageLibraries do things in society that no other organisation or system does. Libraries offer an experience, a collaborative space, an inspiration, and a story that no other physical or virtual space offers. Leveraging branding and marketing strategies offers useful insights into how libraries can make more authentic and meaningful connections within the community.


Some lessons from the world of marketing

1. Research

Continue reading Rebranding libraries 2 : in with new, in with the old.

Student Agency : revisiting “Choice Words” by Peter Johnston

Building a sense of learner agency in the library begins now.

(1700 words)

Whenever I consider the concept of student agency I am always drawn back to Choice words : how our language affects children’s learning” by Peter H. Johnston, 2004. In particular, chapter 4 “Agency and becoming strategic”, in a very concise & practical way clarifies what student agency is, what it looks like and how we can have a powerful impact on learning.

“Children should leave school with a sense that if they act, and act strategically, they can accomplish their goals. I call this feeling a sense of agency.”

“The spark of agency is simply the perception that the environment is responsive to our actions, and many researchers argue that agency is a fundamental human desire.”

Choice Words : How our language affects children's learning
“Choice Words : How our language affects children’s learning” by Peter Johnston

“This desire for agency persists throughout life and is so powerful, that when people feel there is no relationship between what they do and what happens, they become depressed and helpless.”

“Teachers’ conversations with children help the children build the bridges between action and consequence that develop their sense of agency. They show children how, by acting strategically, they accomplish things, and at the same time, that they are the kind of person who accomplishes things.”

Continue reading Student Agency : revisiting “Choice Words” by Peter Johnston