Why digital is definitely not superior

So recently on the school librarian forum SLN there was a thread about digital collections, moving away from print content, thinking spaces!?! (yes don’t get me started!) etc etc and someone made a comment along the lines that digital content is superior to print content in every measurable.
Well this is certainly a big statement to make and one that immediately annoyed me somewhat. 
Firstly, my main annoyance was around the fact that a comment like this goes full against what a library actually is and what it is for. Any library and librarian worth their salt knows that a library should contain in it a mixture of everything that meets the differing needs of its users. Not everyone wants to access things in the same way and we need to be understanding and responsive of/to this. By having just one point of access to information or reading we go against the whole ethos of a library and we do those we are supposed to be providing a service to a great disservice.
If someone chooses to create their library in this way then they are doing so not with their customers at the forefront of their mind but instead with a reasoning only to satisfy and promote their own misguided (for that is what it really is) viewpoint.
Digital content isn’t something that everyone wants to use in the first place to get their content. It’s the same reason why people are realising the whole thing wrong with learning styles is that we don’t just learn via one way. If we take a VAK test and it tells us we prefer to do (kinesthetic) to learn it doesn’t mean that that is all we should then engage with, it means that sometimes doing helps us to learn better. But by taking away the other options to learn we actually disable the ability to learn not improve it. This is the same with only having very limited and narrow collections in our libraries.

Secondly I have a really issue with everyone believing that we live in a world where digital content is so easy to come by. Yes a large percentage of the population has access to some sort of device but in our schools this may equate to access that is shared amongst 3,4,5 family members at any one time. It doesn’t matter what research you might do in your school to determine the type of access students have as you can’t know that the 80% that tell you have access to a device are a. telling the truth, b. understanding that you mean access at any time and c. know what you mean at all! Even if they do get all this and do have access it certainly doesn’t then mean that this is how they want/need to access information.

Digital print, the Internet and the Google generation has now been around long enough for some serious research to go into how we access information in print and digital format and this brings me onto to my third reason as to why I was upset by the initial comment made about the superiority of digital content. As time goes on there are more schools of thinking around the detrimental effect that digital information seeking has on the human brain and in particular on memory. This particular piece of research http://academicearth.org/electives/internet-changing-your-brain/ is not only extremely interesting but also very worrying. 
From all the research I have undertaken myself on the reading brain this makes perfect sense and there is tons more of it out there underlying how digital print is actually having, when it comes to information, an extremely detrimental effect and impact on student learning.

So this piece of research is concerned with Google in particular but it also highlights how our belief that digital print is somehow better is misguided in the least. We’ve all been there when we’ve got so fed up of reading a piece of information on the screen for the umpteenth time that we just decide to print it instead as we know we’ll be able to take it in, digest it better. What research is telling us is that when we read digitally our minds are only taking all the information into our short term memory but are not firing those neurons to link this to the ‘velcro’ of our long term memory. We are just seeing this information on the surface and that is it. We all know that for learning to actually take place we need this link to our long term memory yet as our brains are changing to our over exposure to digital print this isn’t happening we aren’t taking it in the same way and learning it we are simply ‘knowing it’ and only for a short period of time.
It’s actually something librarians should be very worried about. Especially those in schools who base a lot of their texts as e-resources. The place that heralds itself as furthering student learning could in fact be the place that is doing more harm. 
As the people that are supposedly trying to help young people understand, access and learn from information those that rely heavily on digital resources, especially in favour of hard copy resources are fundamentally not only going against the very fabric of library ethos but could potentially be doing more harm than good.

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The murder of knowledge and the importance of school libraries

Knowledge, over the years, seemed to have lost its original meaning or has at least been lost in translation, especially since the dawning of the internet and the world wide web. Although in the 12 century one of the earliest meanings was to do with sexual intercourse the more familiar explanation given is that of  facts, information and skills acquired through education. That, for me, has to be the main point. ‘Gained through education.’ The implication is that one cannot just be granted knowledge but that there must be a certain amount of work and graft in a formalised setting. It is this that seems to have be lost since the invention of the internet.

Knowledge is now touted as the thing that is easily and readily accessible at the end of one’s fingertips and via a whole host of devices such as phones, tablets and computers. Knowledge is there for the taking. However we must not get confused with the differences between the idea of knowledge and with information. Information comes at us from all sorts of places and the internet is just one of those. There are endless reams of information that enter our lives on daily, hourly basis but this does not result in knowledge.

Information exists in abundance but knowledge is the ability to synthesise, understand and use that knowledge in a useful way. Knowledge is the higher order outcome that exists when we take information and are able to synthesise, understand and use it in a useful, successful way. It is the learned process of taking information and becoming it’s master, using it to your own ends and needs. Knowledge requires you do something with the information and not just take it in via osmosis. The belief that we can become more knowledgeable due to the ease of access of information is an interesting one and certainly not wrong. What is wrong though is the belief that this information can be directly turned into knowledge without a process occurring to assimilate this information into knowledge. This assimilation is the key and the area that worries me most about information in schools.

The kinds of information that schools are looking for is specific. In the bigger picture of information what schools require is just a drop in the ocean and this is the problem. If there is so much information and a student just requires a miniscule amount of that information how are they able to reach it succinctly and successful? The answer is of course with the aid of a guide and filter. Someone who is able to arm the student with the relevant skills to enable them but also someone to help filter out a lot of information that just isn’t needed. Then there needs to be a curriculum and level of teaching in the school where this information, once accessed, can be turned into knowledge where the user is ‘taught’ the understanding. Realistically what we are describing here is a library. A library where the librarian is one of curriculum leader; guiding the school and learning to make this outcome possible and where they are filtering the glut of information into manageable, usable and relevant information that can be transformed into knowledge. Importantly it also requires a library where there is a range of ways to access to information outside of digitally and if that is books then even better.

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The over reliance upon the internet is only perpetuating and further blurring the difference between information and knowledge. Having spoken to a number of highly qualified and leading curriculum experts there is very little of the curriculum that requires the internet. What the internet provides education and the curriculum is the enhancement factor. Collaboration is key for teachers, to share best practice and to access resources to enhance the learning in the classroom through technologies. However there is very little, to nothing in the curriculum that requires the internet. It may make finding information quicker and easier (though without the relevant skills I would argue against this) but you can still do this without the internet. Ultimately the curriculum is by no means dependent on the internet and neither is learning. So why do schools and educators believe it to be so?

It is because we have become conditioned to believe that the answer to everything is on the internet; that because the internet contains lots of information we are able to readily use it to find out whatever we need. But having and finding the information is very different from knowing and understanding it.

If we think back to our original thoughts about the internet when it first started to take over our lives we believed it to be the connection to the world; that it opened up possibilities for us to be closer as a species and that communication would become easier. However, what we seen over the past decade is instead something very different. We have seen a dramatic shift in the way information flows across the world. Sites such as Google and social media representations are filtering the information we receive to personalise the what and when of our lives. We are becoming part of a filter bubble where we only see what an algorithm thinks we want to see.

A perfect example of this is my smart phone. The Google app on it tells me in the morning how quick it is to work and what the traffic is like. It also tells me that on a Wednesday I take a different route as I drop my son off. Brilliant, you may think. But, I have never told it this information or created a setting to tell it do so. It does it because of the algorithm. Big brother is indeed watching us.

Even when we are not logged on Google uses 57 signals to personally tailor the information we receive based on those different factors. There is no longer a standard Google anymore where we all receive the same results based upon our enquiries. What we receive is information that places us in a bubble by not only showing us what it thinks we want to see but also eliminating everything else we don’t. The worrying fact is that as these corporations become more targeted in this way our students in our schools may be receiving a quantity of information from any one search but they might not be receiving the right types of information or only information targeted towards what they algorithm thinks they want. This could be disastrous and potentially harmful in the learning process.

So how do we overcome this? How do we stop this from happening and make sure that students get the information they need without the over reliance on internet where they are only receiving biased, tainted facts?

The answer is obvious. Libraries and librarians. We need to trust the skills and knowledge of the librarians and we need to make sure these skills are utilised when analysing curriculum needs and looking at resourcing subjects. They need to be part of design of schools and the fabric of learning just as the classroom teacher and senior leadership are.

The curriculum does not need the internet but with some taming and an understanding of where and how it can be used to enhance learning and improve processes the internet can be a useful tool for all of us. So let’s use the people that can already do this in schools, the school librarian.

The Theory of Shelving – moving from 2 to 3D shelving

As any librarian knows shelving and organising of books take a large part of the basics of the job and of any library. Over the past few years we’ve been playing around quite a lot with the idea of shelving and ordering and specifically the role this plays alongside non fiction and student searching in a school library. We’ve been quite revolutionary in our designs but the theory we’ve always held to is that any organisation needs to meet the needs of the students in your own school. 
In a school the needs of the user are different to that of a public library and I have delved deeper into these ideas in different posts but the main point is that schools should not be tied to a public library model but to reflect the differing needs of their students who all (fundamentally) have the same needs, unlike the users of a public library.
Due to the fact we’ve been looking so much at shelving I’ve started to form lots of different opinions around the idea of shelving. As we all know shelving is only ever truly realiable as soon as the books have been shelved correctly. As the first book gets taken off the shelf the ‘trust’ in the ordering of the shelf becomes questionable as we are not sure if the peruser of the book has placed the book they were looking at in the correct position. This is the reason why shelving forms such a basic practise in any library.
Luckily students don’t read too much into this and are probably not aware of it at all. However it has had me questioning and thinking about how users do access and look for specific content. As mentioned a lot of my research had previously been around non fiction so instead I’ve been thinking recently about fiction. 
Libraries, in general, organise fiction via alphabetical order of the authors surname. This makes sense and makes it easy to move from one place to another and still find what you want. However as we have seen with non fiction this isn’t necessarily the easiest or best model. Some schools organise fiction based on genre. This brings about lots of slightly different problems though. What about books that have multiple genres? Do you put it under the main genre or different copies of the same book into the different genre sections? 
The way we’ve normally organised our fiction has been through the alphabetical system and then a mixture of smaller collections. So we’ve had separate shelves on award winners, author or series focus, firsts in a series, humour more recently a mindfulness section as well as a lgbt one. This has worked well and as we have such good knowledge of our stock we can highlight to users where exactly books could be even if they may appear under a number of different types. For me such a knowledge of stock in a school library is fundamental. We work so much with it we should know at a drop of a hat where a book could well be.
But all of this organisation still feels a bit 2d to me rather than a higher definition version of what could potentially be possible. As mentioned before we need to reflect our systems dependant on how students want to access it. The question then becomes how do they access other content? 
If you take a look at the list of popular content organisers for teens in 2015 it is no surprise to see they are driven almost solely by social media. Facebook takes pole position with teens also heading to Twitter, snapchat and other similar platforms to access information. So if this is the case is there anything in utilising how these work into the organisation of a library? 

Obviously there seems to be more likelihood in these being tied closer to the non fiction collection as they are all being used to access information/knowledge than a fiction collection but could there also be something in the way the information is organised within these platforms that might help us?
If you take a look at how Apples App Store or androids Play Store organise their content it gives a little clue into how people and especially teens are searching for content. Within these systems there is a mixture of organisation going on. At the top there is content organised by genre with specific collections cropping up to tie into special events etc. For instance logging in today there is a collection of content related to the earth and conservation. Further down there is content highlighted as being new, then most popular content is drawn out into a collection and finally at the bottom of the page is content that is specific to the user based on previous downloads and search requests.
From the organisation of genre down to most popular these make perfect sense. These are the things that we try to do in our library and I would hope in most libraries. Have these smaller collections highlight things that are popular to other users (peer reccomendations) and topics tied into real life events (popular culture etc but ‘of the moment’ so in the forefront of people’s minds). But it is the final section that I like the most and feel has the most potential.

Content that is specific to the user based on what they have already accessed or searched for. This is exactly how Facebook makes it timeline work and how Twitter has begun to organise content on your feed. Although it is a complicated ever changing algorithm the fundamental is that by looking at the people you are friends with, or follow, it organises the content you see based on how much/often you interact with them. Scores are given to comments on photos/statuses and even how much time you spend looking at someone’s profile and these scores highlight the users you would probably want to see the most of.
So how can we use this and bring it into a library? We couldn’t have a separate shelf for each of our users that changes on a daily basis.  

But are there other things we could learn. There are platforms that we can utilise that do emerging similar or at least give us the potential to. For instance MicroLibrarian allows us to set up recommended reading lists for students that they can access through the app. This brings a recommendation to them which could well be based on their interests etc. Although this is a great tool the only downside is that you would have to continually update your list (as facebooks algorithm does) to keep it up to date.
One thing we are currently trying to attempt is to use this idea alongside the things we are already doing to make a more 3dimensional shelving profile for our students. We already have a self developed program that tracks users reading ages, interest ages, genre preferences and many other pieces of data and we are beginning to tie this into our (again self developed) management system where books are put onto the system with fields including as to a band of interest ages, genres and a readability age. We also have it tie into books already issued looking at authors and genres and the readability ages of these books to then automatically select recommendations based on all this criteria ordering the most relevant books at the top. Students can then access these ‘shelves’ through the iPads in the library. By no means is this a scheme of any sorts. Students do not need to read these books however it does introduce them, like the App Store to personalised content for them.

Ideally this would also be linked to the eBook collection where books could be downloaded straight from this recommendation list.   
The more you think about the more potential there is to move into a 3 dimensional model for shelving. All it takes is some imagination and the possibilities truly are endless. Instead of just you usual alphabetical ordering system a personalised, individual, ready made shelf for each student could be possible to further advance reading for pleasure beyond the ordinary. 

Rethinking information in the school library

So we’ve always been a bit different in our school library. Not different for the sake of being different but different in responding to our students needs and remembering that when it comes to information, reading and libraries there is nothing that is set in stone. No methodology, no process or way of doing things that cannot be changed or adapted to match and meet the needs of our users.

It is with this knowledge and understanding that we have gone through a process of rethinking how students access information and what we can do to make this as easy and successful as possible.

In doing this we needed to think about those things that are providing barriers to the students accessing information successfully and willingly. In knowing that there is nothing set in stone is quite refreshing as it means that everything is up for grabs. This means that we have a blank canvas where we can put the students needs first instead of trying to force them to conform to an outdated model.

This is not only in terms of how they can go about finding information but also about how they can access information too. We thought long and hard about all these things and spent a lot of time talking to students and teachers and watching how students find, pick and view information. An idea that everyone working in school libraries should spend time doing anyway.

From this refreshing viewpoint we started to work out what it was we wanted to achieve and what we wanted to achieve was a couple of different things. The first was a way of organising our stock to make it not only as simple as possible but also organised in such a way that students want to use this type of information instead of going straight to the internet. This was one of the biggest issues and one that from talking to the students you can understand. The internet is seen as an easy alternative, even if we know it isn’t, students perceive it to be. So the question becomes ‘how can we make accessing information in books as simple as possible?’

Now, this is where I may lose some people and don’t get me wrong I do really like Dewey. However I honestly feel that if we stick to certain systems ‘just because’ then we can’t go about actually making anything better. If you want some more of my opinions on Dewey then please see this past blog post.¬†It is also interesting that a lot of the librarians I’ve had comments back from are more than willing to change their fiction collection and ordering system and stickering process to the extreme to ‘make it easier’ for students to access yet won’t even consider doing this in the non-fiction collection. It seems that there is almost a ‘precious’ nature around Dewey and that it ‘belongs’ to libraries and librarians so shouldn’t even be changed?

I won’t go into any more detail about Dewey except to say that we shouldn’t let anything limit our students from being able to access information successfully and willingly.

From our conversations with students and our observations of students we felt that the way stock was organised in the library was by no means conducive to students wanting to and being able to find information quickly and successfully. This became more than just signage it was about the fundamentals to how a library was organised.

At the time we were in a very lucky position where small amounts of money was being made available to improve the library facilities (as well as bidding for lots of different pots). Being a comprehensive state school this didn’t mean a bucket full of money or a complete rebuild. What it did mean though was that we had an opportunity, if we were clever, to be able to doing special to improve how students access and use information in the library.

As mentioned above this was going to include a new way to organise the books in our library and to allow access to information in very different ways. Many people have already heard me talk about our new model and I have been lucky enough to run numerous training course across the country and Europe on information searching and gathering in education sharing this, however I will recover it here for anyone that doesn’t know.

In schools a students life is split up into numerous sections in a very specific way. This is down to what year group they are in, which term it is and what subject they are currently studying. We therefore already had a model of information that students are not only used to but how they actually think. It therefore seems silly not to take advantage of this when we are trying to organise the information we have.

This began our thinking in trying to utilise this. We started to think what this might look like in terms of sorting our books and the result was to simply split stock up relating to the year group it was studied in, the term and importantly the subject that was covering it. It was one of those moments that you think to yourself ‘why haven’t we done this before, it’s just so obvious!’ To achieve this we needed to know specifically what was being studied across the curriculum and when, not necessarily a easy feat to achieve but one made easier by the fact that we were also going through a whole information literacy revolution in school where we were changing the idea of homework and moving it towards research and preparation for learning and encouraging more learning outside of the classroom . This is also set through our information literacy model OPUS (found here). Through this¬†departments created subject overviews which were perfect to be able to make available to parents but also were to be used to allow us to know how to organise the stock.

We specifically purchased the right types of shelving (from Peters suppliers in Birmingham their ‘4-Square’ unit) which allowed us to create 4 shelves on each side. On this we were able to put the subject overview and signage at the top and then create a shelf for each of the KS3 year groups. We decided to stick for KS3 as there was a lot more rigidity in the KS3 curriculum to make this process easier. From just this small change and restructure the amount of non-fiction books that have been issued to students has dramatically increased. Books that were never touched have suddenly become extremely useful because students can easily access them and the information, almost quicker than logging on to the computers! Due to the fact that we do prep students are being conditioned to think ahead in their learning so we have also noticed that books are going out ahead of time as students read up on what they are going to be learning in preparation.

Alongside changing the way students access physical books we also wanted to look into how they go about accessing other types of material and information. We wanted to provide them with the opportunity to access e-material and online resources in as easier a way as possible. To allow this to happen we introduced a number of devices around the library. These had access solely to our library catalogue, to our ebook lending facility as well as devices where they could access a range of apps and the internet.

These have proved successful for a number of different reasons. The ones that we have allowed access to the internet and apps have further promoted our desire for students to use more info lit skills. With an e-device students cannot copy and paste information. It requires them to read, make notes and so their learning is much deeper because of this. As the devices are a lot quicker to load than the computers students are choosing to use these over the computers and because of this we are getting more students, sub-consciously improving their information literacy and note-taking skills.

The other devices dotted around the library are giving students quicker and better quality access to information and allowing them to be more independent in their use of the library and their studies. So much so we have extended this into our reading for pleasure areas by making kindles, talking book stations etc available to students to use for reading for pleasure. Again this is giving students more options in how they can access books and the result is that many more students are reading because these are available for them.

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To all the information literacy specialists

Dear Information Literacy Specialist,

Are you an information literacy specialist in your school? Do you teach information literacy skills to your students? Do you consider this to be your role?

Have you ever thought that your insistence on doing this or being this is actually having a negative and detrimental effect on the teaching of information literacy across your school?

Let’s look at the facts and numbers. Surely a model that all schools should be looking for with the teaching of any kind of skills is that it is in every classroom. On the whole students are lazy so for them to gain a understanding of certain skills they need to access them on a regular basis. If we want them to use these skills without thinking when they come across situations in which they are needed we need to make sure that they become second nature to students.
I think most sensible people would find this hard to disbute.

So, if you teach information literacy skills are your students getting a diet of this on a daily basis, because surely it must have to happen on a daily basis for these skills to become natural? And by this I of course mean all students not just that you are teaching the skills regularly but one student will only have have this type of teaching once a month or so. I also mean that it needs to happen to all students all the time not just intensively with one year group , like yr7 or yr12. Even if you work with some classes and ‘teach’these skills ad hoc that’s all it ever is.

Surely the only answer to these questions can be no. If you’re the specialist and you’re ‘teaching’ it there is no way you can do this. If you have 8 form groups in each year 7-13 and 5 periods in a day that’s 280 classes each day, so are you in all these classes embedding these skills? Clearly not.

So the question then becomes is your insistence on you being the information literacy specialist in school having a negative effect on the teaching of information literacy? Is your precious nature of this being part of your role giving off a negative view of what information literacy is? When you drill even further are you actually the best person to be teaching information literacy skills? This answer I would have to say is a big no. For if you ‘teach’ it then students will only ever view it as a skill that is separate from everything else just because your teaching it, this is regardless of how much you can actually do and how many classes you can be in.

The best model is that every teacher is an information literacy specialist. That every teacher, in their lessons is teaching these skills on a lesson by lesson basis. Then all students not only get a fantastic diet of these skills on a regular basis but they see how these skills fit together in all their subjects. This cannot be achieved any other way.

So are you the person that is stopping information literacy skills being an integral part of the classroom? Is it your precious nature that only you can ‘teach’ these skills that is stopping students from having access to them and them becoming ingrained in their learning? Are you making these skills so far removed from the classroom with the view that only you are the specialist?

Why not alllow all teachers to be information literacy specialists and allow them to do the things they are good at, teaching, while you enable them to do so by leading them. Why not let others, especially the students see that they can be specialists and that it isn’t something only one person in the school can be?

Are you the person stopping this from happening or are you enabling it to grow?

The Death of Dewey Pt 1

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It is with great sadness that I have to bear the news that the Dewey Decimal System is dead.
For many a year now it has guided, stored and helped information. Many a book has been stamped, with it’s loving embrace tickling numbers down its spine.
But now, in schools, it seems the Dewey system is beginning to become redundant. It’s lost its gloss and its youthful promise of eternal storage and ease of use have withered away into disillusionment, complexity and anonymity.

Now this may in part be a small jest but it is a jest based in reality and a reality that I feel school librarians need to be aware of and consider.
The ultimate role of a library (concerning information) is to store facts and provide people (it users) access to the information in the easiest way possible.
A library needs to know its customers, be aware of their requirements and provide information to them how they want it.
In a public library this is via the Dewey system. It works because anyone can go into a public library searching for information. The ordering system leads the customer, otherwise if you tried catering for just one sub section of customers, organising for them the easiest way for those individuals to find information then you alienate all your other users.
But how about in a school where the clientele is so specific, similar and used to other ordering systems. Should the customer in these situations not lead the ordering systems?

In a school, students are focused on a very different ordering system. What year they are in, what term it is and what subject they are currently studying. A variation in any of these results in a different outcome. A year 8 student in the summer term in history will study something different to a year 9 student in the spring term in maths.
This is how they are conditioned to think, act and behave with this knowledge of ordering at the forefront of their minds. Keep this in your mind.

Now it is common knowledge that the use of non fiction in school libraries has dramatically declined over the boom of the internet, smart phones, iPads etc etc with information so easily accessible at the touch of a button. Ok it might not be the right information but does the student care if it only takes then seconds to find it?
Why would a student want to try and work out how the Dewey system works before they can find the book they want, before they can get the information.

Some would argue that it’s because the Dewey Decimal System is a transferable skill, that universities use it and that it is important in case a young person ever needs to use the public library. This is in fact a fallacy. The Dewey Decimal System is not a transferable skill it is just one example of an ordering system, one that not all libraries use anyway.

No, what the transferable skill is, is the ability to walk into a room, to know that an ordering system is in place, to know how to find out what that system is and then to be able to successfully find what you are looking for within the system. Those are the transferable skills and the skills, importantly, that we need to be teaching. Young people are going to come up against many ordering systems in their life, some on a day to day basis. The supermarket, the music shop, the book store, the App Store etc etc. understanding Dewey gives you no help here whatsoever but having the skills to decipher when an ordering system is being used does.
So if Dewey isn’t a transferable skill and students want to access information in an easy way why do we insist on sticking with Dewey? Sticking with it to the point that we are arrogantly stating to our users ‘we know better and if you can’t use Dewey you can’t borrow books.’ Well, ‘fine’ our kids are saying ‘I was going to use the internet anyway.’
But how about, instead, we take all we know about how we have conditioned our students and how we have ordered their lives and put this into a system that makes information as easily accessible to them as possible.

Well, that, is exactly what we’ve done…