Vagabond Librarian

Reports from the intersection of military life, motherhood, & librarianship.


Information literacy

Thankful for an Opportunity to Learn

I first saw the Facebook Data Science What are we most thankful for? chart on the Mental Floss Facebook feed. I was fascinated by the topic, the data, and, as always, the comments following the “share.”

I like seeing this sort of data science at work. I found Facebook’s “thankful data” fun because it offers a snapshot of something quirky, and positive, about how some Americans think. I am not kidding when I say that it warms my heart to see what people using Facebook proclaimed they were thankful for during the periods the study covered. Although Netflix didn’t make my personal thankful list this November, I am glad it is around–and, I’m all for sunsets, freedom of speech, and the ability to laugh.

I am also not kidding when I say that it horrifies me to read the comments on the Mental Floss, NPR, and Facebook Data Science posts of this article that reveal that many people commenting appear to have had no interest in actually looking at the relatively short, and clearly written and illustrated, science behind the data. Even allowing for Thanksgiving Trolls, the comments that I saw overwhelmingly suggest that people simply are not interested in understanding how a study works, much less the variety of ways data can be used and organized. Many commenters are adamant that their state was misrepresented because they would not personally *ever* be thankful for [whatever it is the text-clustering algorithm identified for their state].

Facebook Data Science: What Are We Most Thankful For?

Map of United States with Words Representing Things Residents are Thankful for.
From Facebook’s Data Science Team: What are we most thankful for? by Winter Mason, Funda Kivran-Swaine, Moira Burke, and Lada Adamic

As a librarian and an educator that lack of understanding is a big deal to me. If I were to view those comments in the context of iterative assessment while working with a class who was responding to the results of this survey, I would determine that we had missed the mark in gaining meaningful understanding that would lead to producing our own sound conclusions. As thinking members of a society, this should be a big deal to all of us. No, not the realization that English-speaking, California Facebook users whose data made it into this study were thankful for YouTube. What should be a big deal is what the anecdotal evidence we see in the comments reveals about what we should focus on in education to prepare today’s students become productive members of a globally connected society. Being able to read, understand, and interpret information is a basic literacy skill. I hope that we can help our students develop this basic skill. I hope we can also engender in our students the motivation to investigate and question the data that drives the creation of these charts, then to review that information and apply the details to enhance their understanding of how data is collected and what it can be used for. Or even better–to analyze the way data is collected and used to create new understanding and to apply that knowledge to investigate something they are passionate about.

All that from a silly little “share” about what people are thankful for on Facebook? Yup.

I know this isn’t a new issue, and I know it isn’t going away soon. I know some of you got to that second paragraph and thought, “in other news, water is still wet.” That doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference, though. I’m thankful for articles, data, and comments that make me think. I’m thankful for my family, friends, education, passion, freedom of speech–and for math and science teachers who might like to collaborate with a certain Teacher Librarian on a few data science lessons.

Intellectual Freedom & Internet Filtering

Initiating Collaboration for Guided Inquiry

In this post, I explore some of the challenges new school librarians face in collaborating with educators who are already strapped for time and stressed out about the pressures of their ongoing transition to implement the Common Core Standards. Collaboration takes time, and if teacher librarians want to be included in learning partnerships with classroom teachers, they will need to find ways to meet teachers on their own turf, to provide teachers and students with meaningful planning and instruction, and to communicate clearly what we have to offer.

The semester of Fall 2013 has been my Fieldwork semester. In addition to my regular courses, I spent over fifty hours each in an elementary school library and a high school library–observing, learning, teaching, and creating. During both fieldwork experiences, I observed teachers working harder than ever as they transition to the curriculum changes necessitated by the Common Core. Bright-eyed student that I am, I asked teachers (during our fifteen minute lunches and quick hallway chats) what type of collaboration they would like to engage in with their librarian. Most teachers expressed to me that they were frazzled and didn’t feel they had time to collaborate. They said they saw the library as a great resource for certain projects for their students, but they did not view it as a resource for their own learning. We should change that.

“Change that” is easy to say, but years of debate about effective advocacy indicate that it is easier said than done. That’s okay, I like a challenge. I’ve come up with one or two ideas, based on Carol Kuhlthau’s suggestions for collaborating in school libraries. Kulthau emphasizes in Chapter 7 of her book Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century that guided inquiry, which is well suited to the library learning environment, supports national standards and can provide a valuable model for collaboration in the information age school. Guided inquiry provides opportunities to offer students personally meaningful approaches to investigate questions and to go beyond merely answering questions about a topic to pursue deeper understanding of the topic and to pursue new questions related to the topic.

One way librarians could begin to build a strong foundation for collaboration is to regularly communicate with teachers where they are–to not wait for them to come to us. Librarians, who I realize are as “strapped for time” as most teachers, must make it a priority to get out of the library both physically and by other means. One idea for reaching beyond the library walls is to send out a weekly “what’s hot” message that can be quickly read and that will provide teachers with links to find more information about topics that are of interest to them. Asking teachers what they want to know more about will ensure we provide relevant information. Keeping the message short will mean our weekly missive has a better chance of being read. Providing useful, timely, and annotated information will make it a good investment of everyone’s time.

We can further advocate for an active role in collaboration by providing teachers with proof that we can aid their regular classroom activities in meaningful ways. And, by reminding them that we offer so much more than just netbooks, print materials, and databases. We can demonstrate the potential of partnerships by preparing and presenting teachers with specific strategies and ideas that support their new curriculum maps.

One strategy for meeting the collaboration challenge head-on is to create and distribute a Ways Your Librarian Can Ease Your Transition to the Common Core document (electronic or print, depending on your audience) highlighting the five kinds of learning that Kuhlthau describes in her article Guided Inquiry: School Libraries in the 21st Century (p. 22).

• Information Literacy

• Learning how to learn

• Curriculum content

• Literacy competence

• Social skills

The document could include examples of collaborative lesson ideas and links to useful planning and assessment generator sites. The communication would also make clear that the ideas included were to generate thoughts and to spark conversation to begin a collaborative effort that was customized for the teacher or teaching team. The one caveat that goes with this outreach effort is that the librarian will have to remain open to suggestion and be willing to adapt to teacher and student needs while maintaining focus on the information skills that support the learning at hand.

These suggestions all take an investment of time and effort, but it is an investment from which teachers, librarians, and students all stand to benefit.

Kuhlthau, C. C., Caspari, A. K., & Maniotes, L. K. (2007). Guided inquiry: Learning in the 21st century. Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited.

Kuhlthau, C. C. (January 2010). Guided inquiry: School libraries in the 21st century. School Libraries Worldwide, 16(1), 17-28. Retrieved from

Original Post: Monday, March 25, 2013 4:18:58 PM EDT

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