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Ad Hoc Librarianship

Submitted by Sarah Ludwig on May 22, 2012 - 11:07am

I'm so excited to share some of my experiences as a librarian and technology educator. I work at a preschool through grade 12 independent school in Connecticut. I've had two other library jobs, but I've always focused on services to kids and teens. And now I have this awesome hybrid job where I work both as a librarian, to our middle and upper school students, and as the academic technology coordinator, a position that serves faculty and students all the way from preschool up to twelfth grade.

For the first few months of my job, I was known almost exclusively as the "computer teacher." Though my predecessor also had the title Academic Technology Coordinator, she'd started as a "specialist," as we say in schools. You guessed it; she was the computer teacher. Through the tenacity of my manager, who persistently referred to me as the Academic Technology Coordinator, it became recognized as my title. The distinction relates to curriculum. Like the art teacher or the music teacher, the computer teacher has her own curriculum, which sometimes exists in tandem with the classroom curriculum and sometimes shoots off on its own totally different direction.

However, I find myself of two minds regarding this shift. No, I'm not a specialist, and by design, I don't have my own curriculum. Our principle is to teach technology not as a stand-alone subject, but rather, integrated into the content curriculum so seamlessly that students don't even notice it. Therefore, my most successful and organic projects have been initiated by teachers, not me.

If this is the goal, then what's the big deal? It's my limited control over what our students are learning when it comes to information literacy, digital literacy, research, and the like. I am forming casual partnerships with teachers on an as-needed basis, but I do not feel like I can dictate how other teachers develop projects or lessons. Sometimes I wish I could just teach what I want! Some tools are really boring to me. Sometimes I wish I could go rogue and do Scratch and Codecademy in every class for the whole year. But for good reasons I can't, and for good reasons my job centers on the needs of students and faculty.

Just in the past two weeks, a history teacher asked me to recommend and teach a piece of cloud-based video editing software (my pick is the YouTube editor). His students are making viral videos in the style of the KONY campaign. I heard from a language teacher who needed me to help her students use Bookr, a digital storytelling tool generated by Flickr images. I presented a crash course on using our history database for three seventh grade English classes, who were researching topics related to the Dust Bowl. And I reminded eighth graders how to use VoiceThread to study for their Spanish oral exam. I didn't generate a single one of these projects.

I sometimes feel guilty about this, like I'm falling short. I imagine other librarians being teaching partners with their own curricula, making sure that the library's learning goals are present in other teacher's classrooms.

Do I do any of this? Not explicitly. Instead of integrating separate library and technology goals into the classroom, the classroom's goals are integrated into the library and technology departments.

Nevertheless, I do think I influence the learning process at my school, if only because our faculty know that they can approach me about anything related to educational technology. And that alone -- that trust -- means that I make an impact. Every time I send information to the faculty about emerging research or technology tools, I get responses from teachers who are interested in trying something new in their classrooms. This may be a passive form of influencing pedagogy, but it's influence all the same.

Secondly, I truly do believe that students learn best when they learn in context. Here's what doesn't work: showing kids how to use a database and then never asking them to use it for research related to their class. What's the point? It's like that age-old question that math students love to ask: when will we ever use this? If you force students to use technology with no authentic purpose, they will not only hate it, they will forget it. Making technology the infrastructure that supports an authentic project or exploration ensures that the technology skills are reinforced and make sense -- and for kids and teens, making sense is really important.

When you support teachers, you support their learning, too. I got a message just a couple of days ago from a history teacher who has used VoiceThread with all of his classes during the past year. Every time I teach his students how to use it, he listens. He is not a power user by any means, and he'd be the first to admit it. But for his most recent project, I didn't set foot in his classroom. I was no longer needed. And that is awesome. VoiceThread was easy for him to use, and he felt confident facilitating the project on his own. He's empowered, which means his students are at an advantage. Because VoiceThread was so well-integrated into the project, they didn't think of it as something special. It was just the way they were going to present their information.

So no, I'm not a specialist like music teachers are specialists. I don't get to steal 20 kids for 30 minutes and teach them whatever I like. And yeah, sometimes that can be frustrating. Part of my job is being aware of what's going on in all of our classrooms and trying to facilitate the introduction of essential skills. I know there are gaps in what our students are learning, just like at any other school. But every day is a new chance for me to support a teacher's foray into something new. Every day is a chance to form a new connection. And the more positive teachers' and students' experiences with technology are, the more other teachers will become interested in those technologies.

The funny thing is, it's working. We're experiencing an absolute explosion of technology projects on campus. But that's not the cool part -- the technology is just a tool. The cool part is that our students are finding new ways to understand concepts, express their ideas, collaborate, share, and learn.