Chapter 16: Gaming on the Spectrum (Part 1)

Our final project in 511 (Introduction to Library and Information Profession) was a poster session two weeks ago. Each team presented their project to professors from the iSchool, fellow students, SU librarians, and local librarians- we had quite the crowd! It was my first poster session and I had so much fun, both presenting my team’s ideas and seeing all the other teams’ creative and fascinating presentations.

Initially, we were given a very broad topic: “games in libraries.” 10 or 15 years ago, this was new, innovative, even provocative stuff but now, the idea of libraries lending out video games, hosting game nights etc. seems rather commonplace (to me at least- maybe this is still controversial in pockets here and there). A lot of great work has been done on the benefits of libraries embracing games and play, as a learning tool, as a form of outreach, and as a fundamental concept. In fact, one of Syracuse University’s professors, Scott Nicholson, is one of the leading scholars in this area.

We wanted to go beyond a superficial “Games are good!” and so we started looking into using games in specific settings or for specific populations. We came across a lot of fascinating research and practice but I’m truly proud of where we ended up. Fair warning: I have a fire in my bones about this topic so don’t be surprised if I get a little carried away.

 

If the title of this post made you think of autism, good. It was supposed to.

1 in 88 children are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

That’s up from 1 in 150 children less than 15 years ago (source).

I cite these sobering statistics not to incite a debate over the causes of this increase but to impress upon you that there are kids (and adults) with autism in every single community. Every one. That’s to say nothing of the larger special needs community (1 in 6 American children have some form of developmental disability).

Families with a special needs child or children face high medical costs, intensive (and expensive) therapy, increased stress levels, high odds of divorce, and all too often, profound social isolation.

A few years ago, I was a nanny for a family whose oldest daughter, E, had special needs. It was an immense privilege to get to know and care for E and the experience of meeting her and the families of her classmates, opened my eyes to the unique struggles faced by special needs families.

Too many unkind looks. Too much casual cruelty or neglect. Too little compassion or understanding.

To say that special needs families aren’t often welcomed in many places – restaurants, stores, churches – is an understatement.

I never want that to be said of the library. Everyone is welcome at the library.

Games are an incredibly powerful way for libraries to reach out to families with special needs children.

More on that to come in my next post.

Lost in the Woods? A Grimm Pathfinder

I created this pathfinder for IST 605, my Reference and Information Literacy course. Pathfinders, alternatively called subject guides or library guides, are a curated collection of resources on a particular topic or subject area.

I’m still tweaking here and there but I couldn’t wait to share – I’m really pleased with how it turned out. I had so much fun working on this project.

Here it is: http://grimmpathfinder605.tumblr.com/

Let me know what you think!

P.S. The tumblr theme I used does not work well with mobile devices – for best results, view in an Internet browser.

Chapter 15: From Dewey to Metis

Yesterday, I read a fantastic post on School Library Journal. If you’re a fellow MLIS student, especially if you’re interested in school libraries, I recommend you check out the entire post- it’s well worth the read. 

It was rather extensive, but here is my brief summary: Librarians at the Ethical Cultural Fieldston School (a private K-5 school) have created a new classification scheme for their library, which they’ve creatively christened “Metis,” after the mother of the Greek goddess Athena (how awesome is that name?!). They made this transition after a long period of frustration with the good old Dewey Decimal System, a frustration borne of a wide variety of reasons. For example, Dewey splits up books that naturally “go together” (trains and other transportation machines- one in the 380s, the other in the 620s), confusing the students and discouraging intuitive browsing. More importantly, the librarians felt that they were spending all their time/energy on teaching kids how to find materials, rather than how to use them. So they set out to devise a new system for their 20,000 volume library, with 3 core principles. The new system had to be 1. child-centered 2. browsable and 3. flexible. The books are now organized into 26 Categories including: Facts/Concepts, Making Stuff, USA (Then and Now), Humor, Mystery, Scary, Memoir, and Beginning Fiction (a full list can be see at this link). Within these categories, there are additional subcategories when appropriate and the materials are arranged in alphabetical order. They also commissioned a graphic designer to create new spine labels for each of the major categories, which the younger children love. 

Though they’re still working out some kinks here and there, the librarians report that the response from students, teachers and parents has been wildly enthusiastic. Since making the switch away from Dewey, they’ve seen huge increases in their circulation stats and the children feel more confident navigating the library. 

As I read, I was increasingly intrigued and excited by this particular library’s boldness, their solid classification methodology, and their fantastic results. And then I scrolled down to the comments. 

Oh the comment section. Where hope goes to die.

A library comes up with a creative and effective solution to a very real problem so of course, this was the reaction. 

“I worry about your students when they go off to college and can’t figure out the Library of Congress system”

“You’re contributing to the dumbing down of our youth!”

Sigh.

To the first, I respond by noting that I didn’t know the LC system until I went off to college – I figured it out. Plus, I’m of the school that thinks that learning one system prepares you to learn another (like how learning MLA in high school prepared me to learn Chicago and then APA later). As for the second…

Maybe I’m young and brash and stupid, but you only get to be new to a profession once right?

Librarians: What is the purpose of a classification system? Being able to find what you need. If our patrons can’t do that, it’s time to rethink that system. Dewey is not the Holy Grail of Librarianship! This is a stupid hill to die on.

I would so much rather see my patrons using the materials they came for, rather than wasting time looking for them. Rather than alienating them with an arcane and confusing system, I would so much rather develop a organizational system that empowers them, that makes them confident and excited about using the library. 

What these librarians did is cause for celebration and inspiration, not mourning. 

 

A Variety of Updates

  • Remember when I mentioned something about not going into the school media program, oh about two months ago? About that…guess who’s in the school media program? I made the official switch about two weeks ago and I’m thrilled with the decision. I’m still graduating with my MS of Library and Information Science, still on-track to graduate in May 2015 – I’m just also getting a NY teaching certificate, which allows me to work as a school librarian. My program requirements have shifted – now I have a practicum rather than an internship (2 actually!), no more electives, fieldwork to complete etc. Honestly, I’m still not sure I want to work as a school librarian (though our guest speaker in 511 last week, a middle school librarian, gave me a lot to think about). I’m still more interested in public library positions but this concentration will give me very specialized training in library services for children and more options for jobs. Plus, that extra certification will likely make me a stronger candidate. So stay tuned on this…
  • I have two weeks of classes left (plus a week off in between for Thanksgiving) – what?!
  • I hope to blog more evenly about my classes next semester (and blog more regularly in general). 605, my reference class, has largely been a survey of specialized reference tools – fascinating, helpful, not very conducive to blog posts. 664, my natural language processing class, has been, well, not quite what I expected. I’ve learned a lot (especially after the first few weeks of panic inducing classes passed). First and foremost lesson? Data science is not for me. Thank goodness I have my linguistic training – otherwise I would have been lost in this class. But really, I’ve learned a great deal – basic corpus analysis, developing context-free grammars, how to write regular expressions. Mind you, I’m not sure how I’ll use these skills…
  • With the end of the semester right around the corner, I’m quite busy with final projects – I’ll share them here soon. I’m really proud of how both are shaping up.

Okay – off to tackle more work!

 

Chapter 14: Importance of Framing

I vividly remember the day my linguistics professor first lectured on George Lakoff and his theory of framing, part of his seminal work on metaphors. I was literally on the edge of my seat, thinking “THIS. This makes so much sense!”

To this day, I can rattle off the four principles of framing without missing a beat: every word evokes a frame, elements defined within the frame evokes the frame, to evoke a frame is to reinforce the frame, and the negation of a frame still reinforces a frame. Whew. =) Think of it this way: I say the word “elephant,” you think of what you know about elephants – big creatures with a trunk etc. If I say, “peanuts,” “mouse” and “gray” – you’re likely to also think of elephant because you associate those words with the frame of “elephant.” Every time I say elephant, you think of this mental framework – and you do so even if I say “do NOT think of an elephant!” So basically, we define words and phrases according to their relationships with other things and those associations get stronger with repetition (neurons that fire together, wire together and all that). Even when we say don’t think about something, we still think of it. Have you ever noticed why politicians avoid saying their opponents name? This is why. They don’t want to strengthen your mind’s associations with the other politician.

That was a long way of saying that I have a deep respect for the power of framing. How we choose to present our ideas, our arguments, our hopes, or our aspirations has a profound impact on how others receive those messages and thus, the likelihood of success for those ideas, arguments, hopes and so on (it’s not for nothing that politicians rely on the work of linguists). So one of our lectures for 511 this last week made perfect sense to me.

In it, Prof. L talks about the danger of librarianship being a service profession – it can quickly turn into a patronizing profession. Librarians have a strong desire to help our communities – we want to see them flourish and reach their fullest potential. In many respects, this is a noble goal. However, if we only look at our communities – if we frame our communities – only in terms of their deficits, we will alienate the very people we seek to serve.

We must be careful in our expectations, in how we market our programs and services, and above all, how we frame our motivations and goals for the work we do. Librarians must critically and continually examine the unintended consequences of our words, making sure that we do not create a divide between the library and its patrons. The community of a library is not an unequal partner in the quest for community improvement, and we librarians are certainly not the ones with all the solutions. Yes, our communities have significant problems – even the wealthiest communities do. Librarians should be honest and brave enough to confront these challenges and seek to overcome them – but we must balance our focus on fixes by fostering a spirit of hope. As Prof L says, what spurs a community to action is their aspirations, not constant reminders of failures.

We have to believe in the power of our communities.

And our words should too.

Current Reading Frenzy

I’ve read 4 books since Saturday afternoon and it’s taking a Herculean effort on my part to stop and do my school work (grad school? What’s grad school?).

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I checked out mostly YA books of the last 7-8 years that I haven’t read (and some might skew a little younger).

So far I’ve read:

The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart*
Suspenseful, puzzling and intriguing. Really enjoyed this one.
The City of Ember, Jeanne DuPrau
Fantastic concept, engaging characters, but I found myself wishing it was all a little more fleshed out. Felt rather truncated.
Leviathan, Scott Westerfeld
Action-packed alternative history of WWI. One of the most creative books I’ve ever read- the rich details that distinguish this world from ours and the amazing steam-punk illustrations really make the book. Ended on a dramatic note- can’t wait to read the next in the series.
The Penderwicks, Jeanne Birdsall
Charming, happy read of four sisters and their summer vacation. Clearly an homage to Little Women, it felt a bit too derivative at times. Still, you’ll find yourself cheering for the girls and their exploits.

Up Next:

The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan
Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell
Wildwood, Colin Melot*

And finally, a quote via Things Library School Didn’t Teach Me

Adult librarians are like lazy bakers: their patrons want a jelly doughnut, so they give them a jelly doughnut. Children’s librarians are ambitious bakers: ‘You like the jelly doughnut? I’ll get you a jelly doughnut. But you should try my cruller, too. My cruller is gonna blow your mind, kid.

John Green

Proper post soon!

*Thanks Theo!