Thursday, August 27, 2009

Are you a books librarian or a computers librarian?

I can't be the only one feeling slightly torn. I went to library school focused on all the books held in institutions. It was only a little later that I realized how important the machines were, for retrieving bibliographic information which made the collection more useful and for accessing networked information, from citations to databases, beyond the walls.

I am no technophobe, I usually adopt early and could not manage a fraction of what I do without digital tools. I was using many of the 2.0 tools in my private life before it ever occurred to me there might be pedagogical applications for them. I'm not a content-area teacher. Not having classes of my own, playing with educational technology means I help teachers make their projects work with digital resources. There isn't a technology specialist, not here at this school, so teachers can't really envision how they can turn their projects into ones which use the read/write web. So while I have helped the teachers who have expressed an interest in this direction, setting up blogs, gcast accounts, showing students how to record digital audio and use Windows MovieMaker, I am burning out on all this. At my school, where labs are slow and hard to get into, technology hasn't become a seamless part of the content area classroom. Instead it's an add-on that gives the teacher a break while I grapple with technical issues in a space with 14 student machines, not enough for half of most classes.

Is it any wonder, four years after playing with the read/write web in the classroom, I have found myself returning to my first love, those bound bits of paper. In the past year I have done more thinking and writing about books and how they are being promoted and extended online, but the root is the book itself. A student who feels a deep engagement with a piece of literature can use digital tools in sophisticated ways to pay homage to the author, characters, and setting. Fan fiction, which existed in analog format a long time before the online archives, demonstrates the importance of content to the manufacture of information. If read/write assignments managed to relate to that fundamental underpinning, the curriculum, in the same way, I think we would see more exciting digital student work. But we struggle here with limited hardware, with teachers micro-managing assignments, and, for a faculty many of whom do not have computers or Internet access at home, with general fear of anything with which there might be even the slightest learning curve.

Meanwhile, I'll be in the stacks.