Monthly Archives: February 2008

Missing something?

Quickly now, what nine-letter word meaning “library employee” is nowhere to be found in this NY Observer article? Just sayin’. For a borough with its own independent group of these people who happen to be raising money and resources for good causes, it is possibly a very costly omission.

Via [LibraryStuff]

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Wasting Time to Clear the Mind #1: Stuff White People Like

[Think I’ll start a little meme called “Wasting Time to Clear the Mind” (WTTCTM, for short) something I find myself doing often. I suppose the majority of these will turn out to be web links to cool stuff.]

So, you’re going along with your canvas shopping tote, blogging your favorite Oscar moments, and engaging in a bit of micro-lending to some third-world struggling entrepreneur – things are pretty great, you’re pretty great!  Then – blammo! – you get hip to the Stuff White People Like Blog and your confidence is shaken.

SWPL is a meme so shockingly perceptive, hilarious, and of our time – the meanness, the divisiveness, the cultural savvy!  – that it must have already made the rounds through the  cubicles and dorm rooms of America three times over by now, but I’m just getting hip.  It is a blog certain to cause a stir in the predominately white,  self-conscious culturally savvy circles in New York City, as everyone scrambles to erase any trace of hypocrisy and shallowness being called-out in each of its razor-sharp entries.

Despite its ability to inspire a queasy feeling, the blog is addictive as hell.   I am in there more than I’d care to mention.  Yes, I admit, I can be the guy who knows what’s best for poor people (#62), and I do think recycling is great because it’s a way to help the environment without really doing much (#64), and, lord, do I ever enjoy being the only white person around (#71) (except at nightclubs)!   Perhaps the next SWPL post should be “Looking for yourself in an SWPL post.”  The implication of putting all of this into a blog is that the list is as endless as our desire to consume crap and culture, and be apart of a world that is fast becoming less white.

And what is to be done about it?  SWPL doesn’t pass moral judgements, that’s our job.

NY Times amazes readers with its oversimplified view of scholarship, world.

In citing the recently published report on economic mobility by the Brookings Institution, the NY Times on Wednesday speculates: “Conservative scholars are more apt to fault cultural norms and the breakdown of families while liberals put more emphasis on the changing structure of the economy and the need for government to provide safety nets and aid for poor families.”

As sad as the news is about ever-dwindling opportunities for poor and working families, it’s even more difficult to swallow the Times over-simplification of the viewpoints within this debate.  Scholarship aside, civic organizations and educational institutions remain, overall, socially conservative.   Despite this, many of them acknowledge the growing economic disparity and the solutions that are within reach but politically unpalatable in a big-business economy  (economic aid, welfare reform).  Why is this so difficult to state in a Times article?  Perhaps the Times is more interested in reassuring its readers that their views are unique and valuable, while the rest of the world (especially these “scholars”) continue to think in absolutes.  Perhaps it is just journalistic laziness, another case of “All the News that Fits”.

LA will be reading on the subway…

 …if it hadn’t been already.  LAist blog shows the new book vending machine up and running in April in selected BART stations. On the NYC side, it was a library project,  NYPL had one of these on 34th St.  but lately discussion of its success has been muted.

[via Library Stuff]

Are PL’s happy in the role of “superconsumer”?

It’s nice to see that Ann Arbor District library using Twitter and once again be the one of the first to use an available software to enhance services and outreach.   It does once again bring up the question:  “Where is the public library’s own 2.0?”  You know, a software built specifically for libraries, or created by a consortium of libraries, that would finally integrate the need to reach out to users, represent the catalog, and seamlessly bring reference and recreation together.    David Lankes has a lot to say about what libraries demand of their reference staff and vendors in this area (he primarily focuses on the needs and services of academic libraries).

On the other hand, is it such a bad thing, positioning the public library as the ultimate savvy consumer that makes use of the latest consumer gadgets and social software to (almost subversively) promote programs at the public library?  I really don’t know.  What I do know is that making use of consumer-end technology for institutions is the stuff of fad.  Public libraries should not be in the business of providing free advertising for the latest gadget or gadget-driven software.  Instead libraries and the communities that use them should be openly demanding functionality that serves communities. Building a lasting, sustainable infrastructure that at the same time responds to changes in the needs of library users and stakeholders is much more difficult, but will lead to a product and service that is sure to outlast the novelty.

twitter at your library – what should or could it do? [via Superpatron]

A week of education-world intrigue

Erwin Chemerinsky, professor at Duke University, wrote an opinion published by USA Today this week discussing the Denzel Washington movie “The Great Debaters” and value of building literacy through school debating teams.

At the same time, NYC school principals opened their email inboxes to discover that their budgets had been slashed in the midst of the school year. Is this yet another in a long-line of signals by NYC Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein that he no longer feels compelled to share information with school administrators? Or is this simply a side-effect of Mayor Bloomberg and Klein’s liberation of the NYC school Principal from the role of bureaucrat to that of CEO? Another hint at an explanation for the cuts comes from an article published on the same day that reports the rise of online charter schools, lesson plans that parents can download on their own.  I would not put it past Bloomberg and Klein to have a future plan in mind as they play with the budgets of the schools.  All along they have pressured their administrators to be more “creative” and “independent”, buzzwords to indicate that they will have to do more with less.  Look for more cuts to coincide with indications that the popular conception of education depends less upon a place called “school” and more on technologies and software called “educational”.

Evaluating our educational resources

Recently I had the opportunity to sit in on a demonstration of GIS Software to a group of teachers at a high school in Brooklyn, NY. The school had just purchased the software for its computer lab (I never found out which particular version of this software was being demonstrated) and an instructor was demonstrating how the maps represented all sorts of geographic information from population to agriculture to environmental trends.

Seeing a demonstration such as this with a group of teachers is a real treat. We all saw the instructional potential of such a tool. However, before anyone could get too excited about the software’s potential for fueling creativity and curiosity in students, there were questions posed by the teachers about the ability of GIS software to represent accurate information. What are its sources? When is data refreshed? After all, teachers need to know what lessons they can teach, and what information can be accurately provided with the tools provided to them.

Often, a new technology (new to the particular environment, anyway) is introduced with very little understanding by the administration about its real-world application. At times this has led to new technologies introduced and quickly left to languish when no teacher or student has any idea how to use it to further their lessons and projects. It boils down to a big question, namely, “Am I teaching the tool or am I teaching the subject?” It is a question being pondered whenever a new tool promises big returns in education. Or, as we’ve lately seen in the world of “Library 2.0“.

Students and teachers can and should take any opportunities to learn to use new technologies together, it is no longer imperative that teachers be experts in the use of technology before bringing it to students. In the classroom, it’s not the technologies that are important, it’s the learning. But teachers and school administrators will want to know how they can apply software to take full advantage of its capabilities for teaching. Use of GIS, for example, merely to illustrate data, though important in its way, fails to demonstrate how use of the software enables more difficult calculations and leads to more refined results. It also fails to acknowledge that the reliability of the data itself is the basis of that refinement. High school students – natives of the Internet and gadget-adepts – will naturally understand the relationship of the raw data to its visual representation. What may be more difficult to grasp is the importance of the currency of the data and the use of the maps to infer other, less tangible information.

One could teach an important lesson in this regard simply by asking the rhetorical question, “There’s a hurricane approaching. Is the data in our software the same as the data given to us by mintue-to-minute by The National Weather Service? If your software tells a different story from the NOAA, which data do you trust?” The fact that the GIS map is only as good as its data is the first lesson in the proper application the software. Too often, however it is a lesson that unintentionally repeats itself throughout the rest of the school year.