Vagabond Librarian

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


Library and Information Science

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.

Library Learning Blogs

Teacher-librarians can use blogs in their school libraries to connect with students and the community, to support learning standards, and to give students a voice in collection and program development.

I like the idea of a blog written by the school librarian(s) that promotes library activities and resources; a blog written by students in which they share reviews and library thoughts; or, a blog that invites outside participants like community leaders and authors to directly engage with students. The library blog project I’m especially interested in, though, involves librarians, students, teachers, administrators, and trusted community members all engaging together in civil discourse. All educators should be addressing civil discourse in all our subject areas, and the library as a center for literacy learning should focus on it, too.


While engaging in civil discourse through blogging meets criteria across the board in the American Association of School Library’s standards for the 21st Century Learner (which I explained briefly in my last post), it particularly supports Standard 3: Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society.

This is what I envision: A school library blog, focused on student engagement and ideas, that serves as a platform to encourage informed, civil debate based on critical thinking and generating understanding of different perspectives that leads to collaboration and the creation of new ideas.

  • Students will create the guidelines for engagement in this blog community and suggest topics about issues that are important to students. The librarian will facilitate the creation of a rubric by which students will assess their own blog posts and responses for appropriateness.
  • Students will view select news clips and blog posts (and responses) to evaluate tone, bias, and factual accuracy. They will assess the material for helpfulness and edit these real-world examples to practice writing comments that would provide more value than the original, and that represent civil disagreement.
  • Students, the librarian, and teachers will engage in ongoing assessment and reflection of the power of fact-based, rational engagement in civil discourse.
  • The librarian will provide links to resources that include factual information and varied viewpoints for further investigation by students. This activity will be richest when topics are developed through collaboration with subject area teachers, who will also provide resource content advice.

Our students learn in an increasingly participatory environment, they deserve a platform to develop critical thinking and communication skills that will prepare them to be participants that will be taken seriously.

Motivational Mixer

American Phychological Theorist David McClelland had a theory about motivation that you are probably familiar with, even if you didn’t know exactly what it was called. The Achievement Motivation Theory is one of those so-simple-yet-so-complex ideas that is easily grasped and multilayered. Simply put, it is the idea that we find intrinsic motivation through three avenues–the need for achievement, the need for affiliation, or the need for power. Being complex creatures, we will find the greatest motivation through our own special blend of these three ingredients, but you are probably already thinking about which of them inspires you the most.

My fellow students and I were asked to think of some advice we could give to other school librarians about how to use what we know about Achievement Motivation in the context of library and information skills instruction. The idea that remained at the forefront of my mind throughout my investigation of Achievement Motivation Theory is that each student will find the greatest satisfaction from their own unique mix of achievement, affiliation, and power, so it is important to offer a variety of opportunities for students to find satisfaction in each area throughout our instruction time with them.

School librarians are in a position to offer new ways of using learning to address achievement motivation. We can leverage information literacy skills and technology that connects with students’ achievement needs while introducing students to new resources and research methods. We can provide opportunities for learners to interact socially with each other in work groups and peer learning groups that meet students’ affiliation needs as well as their learning objectives. Librarians also often provide students with instructions to access school resources from home, which further satisfies students’ affiliation needs. Those social opportunities that address affiliation open the door to peer learning roles and providing students with leadership opportunities in which librarians can help students cultivate positive leadership and peer tutoring experiences that will meet their need to exert influence, or power, over others.

While school librarians should offer opportunities to meet all these needs, I would caution my fellow teacher librarians from trying to evenly “shoehorn” every aspect of Achievement Motivation into every half-hour or hour long information skills lesson. While addressing each aspect is a wonderful goal, sometimes it will be better to provide multiple and varied opportunities to satisfy different motivational needs over a number of lessons, so that we give students more time to engage with the behaviors they find motivationally satisfying.

I would also remind my peers that although our instruction time may be limited, we can offer opportunities through school web sites, after school activities, and, when appropriate, e-mail, chat, or other library social media connections to help students maintain their affiliation with their librarian and library resources even when they aren’t physically in the library.

Are you motivated to learn more about Achievement Motivation Theory? Go to your library and check out McClelland’s book The Achieving Society. Whether or not they have it on the shelf, they can certainly obtain a copy for you.

McClelland, D. C. (1961). The achieving society. Princeton, N.J: Van Nostrand.

Original Post: Thursday, February 14, 2013 5:44:35 PM EST

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