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On the librarian: What’s the point . . ? The Twitter conversation

@karlfisch: What’s the point of having a media specialist if they aren’t specialists in the media forms of the day?

I was nearly finished copying and pasting, figuring out how best to post Tuesday’s Twitter conversation, when I discovered that Karl Fisch (@karlfisch), who kinda started it all, already took care of that.  (You likely know of Karl’s very popular and provocative videos.)

I am still not sure how best to frame this conversation on the place of the information/media specialist in today’s school. 

What is clear is that a lot of smart people–people who are out there teaching, speaking, moving, and shaking–are disappointed in what they see when they see school librarians.  Either we have a perception problem or we need to do some serious retooling.  I’d say we have to deal with both.  In a hurry.

Being an information (or media) specialist today means being an expert in how information and media flow TODAY!  It is about knowing how information and media are created and communicated. How to evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information and media in all their varied forms.  It is about being able to communicate knowledge in new ways for new audiences using powerful new information and communication tools.

Forgive me if it hurts. 

In my mind, if you are not an expert in new information and communication tools, you are NOT a media specialist for today. 

Tuesday’s conversation happened in the open, on Twitter.  We need to be aware that these conversations are happening where we cannot hear them–at conferences, at Board and cabinet meetings.  We also need to make sure that our voices are heard and that we hear the voices of others in places like Twitter, where so many educational leaders and thinkers are chatting about us and many other things.

I’ve selected the remarks that resonated loudest for me.  (I’ve shuffled a bit, but you can visit Karl’s post for details and context.)

What are your reponses to these remarks?

@karlfisch: What’s the point of having a media specialist if they aren’t specialists in the media forms of the day?

@sjciske I too am careful w/business analogies, but the role of media specialist now is different than it was pre-web, let alone Web 2.0

robinellis: @ddraper @karlfisch our librarians need to begin to broaden their thinking outside of books, reference databases many not ready

ddraper: @karlfisch Many of our current media specialists began the profession 25 years ago. What did social media look like in the 80’s?

ddraper: @karlfisch You know as well as I do how difficult it can be to fire someone for not performing a job they never signed up to do.

robinellis: @karlfisch @ddraper those who supervise don’t understand so who knows anyone is missing out or there is something they should so they’re not

karlfisch: @ddraper @robinellis Agree for the most part, and yet . . . why would we continue to employ media specialists that can’t/won’t do this????

ktenkely: @karlfisch Isn’t it all of our jobs as teachers/specialist in our fields to keep current? how else can we be effective as teachers?

@wardjhs Why would the social media specialist need to be the librarian? Perhaps a team (which includes those you want to train)?

karlfisch: @ddraper @robinellis Can a media specialist do their job now if they are not also a social media specialist? I’m not sure.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza



    I hope you take the time to visit Karl’s post and see my comments. I also responded on my own blog. Karl and Darren both responded to me in twitter too. Here’s the one I felt a jab with:

    Darren Draper: I know this was @KarlFisch’s argument yesterday. I’m still not settled on how to bring current librarians on board.

    To that (in my blog at @ddraper in twitter) I replied:…if they are current, they are on board. I am.

    Thanks for sharing this. I shared in Facebook, and retweeted some in Twitter too.

    I am stunned. But what is more sad is that some of the generalizations made are true. Not necessarily for all of us, but yes, true for a good many. Maybe we should develop our own PLP program for LMS’s modeled after Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum Beach’s Powerful Learning Practice program.

  2. Elizabeth Crispino says:

    Joyce says, “Either we have a perception problem or we need to do some serious retooling. I’d say we have to deal with both. In a hurry.”

    I have found that the job of a media specialist is as much about being a salesperson as it is about anything else, and even the best of us often forget (or don’t want) to sell ourselves. Even if we’re doing great things, it doesn’t do us any good people don’t know about them!

  3. I am one of those librarians that have been around for 30 years. I expect the job to keep changing just at the information and sources have been changing throughout my career. I want to stay current with my students but I feel supporting books and reading is just as important. I don’t have to throw out one to add the other.

  4. joycevalenza says:

    Supporting books,of course. No one ever suggested that we throw that out. (Not me, anyway.) But both parts of the job are critical. We need to lead in several arenas. The other thing is that I hope we guide and inspire and lead, not just stay current with students.

  5. I agree with you, Ukiah, and Joyce, your reply I also agree with. I feel I am on the cutting edge of technology at my school district and, frankly, feel like I know much more and contribute more than some of the tech people the district employs. BUT I constantly feel that pull to be the book expert too, especially in dealing with K-4 students. It’s very hard to be on the cutting edge of both. Very hard indeed.

  6. Karl Fisch says:

    @Joyce – I think Darren Draper started it all with his darn question.

    @Cathy Nelson – That’s an interesting idea, PLP for LMS’s – I wonder if that would work? Some of PLP has been somewhat geographically constrained, due to the face-to-face component and school-based teams approach, but I bet it could be modified. Perhaps you should pitch it to Sheryl and Will?

    @Ukiah HS – I don’t think anyone is discounting the role of books in all this, although I think the article that Will Richardson blogged about recently ( certainly brings up the idea that books are also at least partially becoming social media (or at least have the potential to).

    The other part of your comment I found interesting was the “supporting reading” phrase. I know it was just a short comment, and therefore doesn’t have the full context of your thinking, so I don’t want to read (pun intended) too much into it. But one way to interpret that would be that you don’t feel that helping educators and students with social media is “supporting reading,” or that somehow “supporting reading” has to be set aside in its own little box. I certainly don’t have all the answers, here, but I would strongly suggest that if you want to support reading, then you have to be doing it in the social media space as well.

  7. Millerlibrarian says:

    Although I am not a School Media Specialist, I think that “Skill and Attitude” are important things here. Yes, there are some (SMS, Lib., etc.) that follow outdated rules, avoid change and worry about getting in trouble (Tribes), but there also MANY who are leaders and change agents. Small steps that lead to a greater goal are just as important as giant leaps!

  8. Kansas librarian says:

    Twitter, facebook, blog at work! I don’t think so. Our tec people have all those holes blocked. Good thing too. My administrators are just looking for an excuse to trim the budget. I like my job.

  9. joycevalenza says:

    Karl’s point is important: If you want to support reading, then you have to be doing it in the social media space as well. (I’d add how powerful the space is for creating writers too.

    I also hope that we really begin to see social media as an intellectual freedom issue. It’s OUR fight. (One of them, anyway.)

  10. SMinnoch says:

    I’ve now read all the posts, as well as the original ‘social media specialist’ question. All the school librarians I know – and I mean from many, many schools in our metropolitan suburban area – are very knowledgeable about Web 2.0, 3.0, etc. – as knowledgeable, really, as the tech people at their schools, in many cases. Do I Twitter? No, not yet – maybe never – but that’s by choice. I have, though, started a blog (and read others’), use an RSS feed, GoogleDocs, Moodle, Shelfari, Diigo… I wonder sometimes though, is the gauntlet going to be thrown down (particularly) to librarians every time there’s a new application – “do you do this???” – as though we’re the least likely to ever try new things.
    I realize there ARE librarians out there, even if I don’t know them personally, who are resistant. I think our profession is getting poked with a stick, however, far more than we deserve for being “tied to the past”. I think most of us work very hard to understand, consider, AND bridge the past, the present and the future. Should there be social media specialists at schools? I don’t know if this is a serious question, or just meant to be provocative. Teachers, librarians, tech people, administrators – everyone in schools should be doing their best to understand where information and communication is going; to adopt, experiment, and use the new tools, but also maintain a critical stance. My view is that a whole lot of librarians are already in the forefront.

  11. @wardjhs says:

    “Why would the social media specialist need to be the librarian? Perhaps a team (which includes those you want to train)?”

    This was my comment in the conversation on Tuesday (though my name is missing from the quote above) and the more I follow this idea, the more strongly I feel that the responsibility to learn and teach social media doesn’t have to be placed entirely on the shoulders of the LMS. With our current budget issues in public education, I don’t think we need to hire anyone either. A response to my comment during this Twitter conversation from Karl Fisch was, “Well, to quote myself from a presentation I do, we all need to be media specialists. But I think the whateveryouwanttocallit could be the point person.” As a new teacher, I am still learning about my role in all of this, but at the foundation of my beliefs about my role is the knowledge that I am responsible for my own learning. Another thing I am learning is that the solution for most of the problems we face in our building can be found within, or at least very close to, the walls of our school. We are smart enough, we are capable, and most are more than willing.

    If the LMS is willing and able, allow him/her to take the lead. If they need help, ask for it in faculty meeting, school community council, PTA meetings, etc. Would it be terrible if a teacher was the lead and the LMS was a member of the team? Gather a group of people who have skills and interests that fit what you are looking for, give them the time (and if you really want to let them know it is important, compensate them for their time), and let them figure out how to solve the problem. To me, this sounds a lot like the process of collaborative learning that we are looking for in our classrooms and from our students. Why is it that we are reluctant to do this as adults?

    The standard methods of hiring and training those who we think should be doing this job will probably work in the long run. And, because it’s the way things typically get done and it is the way many are comfortable with, in the end, it will probably be the way it is done. But I see this as an opportunity to model the collaborative problem solving that social media is intended to foster. And, if we all have a stake in this and “we all need to be media specialists,” then why place the responsibility for this on one person?

    This conversation has grounded me a little bit, causing me to look at myself andmy leadership roles. I am reminded of the quote, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” If there isn’t a fundamental change in how we solve problems, communicate, collaborate, can we expect a change in results?

  12. BBoyer says:

    Glad to have this conversation…As I have just been talking with a friend who is a PD director…It is difficult to find teacher librarians(teachers and principals) who understand true collaboration, information literacy, digital literacy, and now social media mean. I believe that this conversation does not go deep enough. As it seems concerned that LMS don’t know enough about the popular tools (twitter, blogging,moodling, wiking, facebooking, ninging-and I am doing all of those!), but I would like to hear more about connecting those tools with authentic student learning. How are these tools creating learning environments that bring about greater learning yield for time spent or how instruction has been differentiated for the learners’ needs? Are we to keep current for appearance or are we really making a difference in the lives of students? I think what we are talking about is building the capacity for change within our own discipline. That learning these tools makes one the hip, trendy librarian-no doubt, but that the learning community at your school will be greatly impacted by your ability to adapt to the changing tool belt is powerful. Please spare the “self-promotion” that so many postings on a variety of media are boasting. I don’t care how spotty the cluster map is, show me enhanced student learning!

  13. Katie Voss says:

    I think that librarians continue to have a public relations issue; we are not selling (loudly and persuasively) what we have to offer. It seems to me that running a school library is very much like running a small business. You have to show the customers how they need what you’re selling. I think a PLP for librarians would be a great idea, but I wonder if those who already use the kinds of social media we are talking about would be the ones interested in participating. . . In my school library we blog, we use twitter and flickr and delicious, we circulate video games and CD-drives, and we depend on technology as a 1-1 school. See our website for some examples: We have a technology department with whom we work very closely, and most teachers will go to them first for tech questions. However, students usually come to us first with many tech issues because of proximity and convenience, so we absolutely need to be up on whatever latest technology their teachers are employing in the classroom. We are here to support learning, and in order to do that, we have to continue to learn ourselves.

  14. I don’t think those criticisms are entirely fair. First of all,I don’t think that being a media specialist means that you have to jump on the bandwagon with every single new technology that emerges. Sometimes it might not be appropriate for your users. I started a Facebook page for my Library and I also made sure I did my best to promote it but I got very little response from the students. Finally, I developed a survey to find out how the students felt about it. Perhaps I should have done this first because what I found was that the majority of the students didn’t feel that a Facebook page would improve Library services and a large number said they would prefer if the Library communicated with them in another way – good old notice boards & PA system announcements.

    Secondly, it is an uphill battle in alot of schools setting up these technologies. The Ministry of Education has Facebook blocked at all schools in my country plus Principals need to be brought on board. Not all of them convinced that it is a good idea.

    Yes, I agree that media specialists should be up to date with technology and I would even admit that Librarians might be guilty of bad PR but I don’t think that each and every Library needs to have Twitter + Facebook + a blog etc. And to make a blanket statement chastizing those who choose not to do so when they may have perfectly valid reasons for such a choice is totally unfair.

  15. I agree with many of the comments made in the original article and the many comments, but I wonder where the meeting of the theoretical “Media specialists SHOULD Tweet, be knowledgeable and active in Myspace, Blogs and the rest of the Web 2.0 world” and the real world of schools is. Is my school alone in that the filter blocks most of this from students, the IAUP prohibits more and teachers have been directed by the administration not to have myspace or facebook accounts? Merging the two is where I am lost!
    I am knowledgeable and eager to share my knowledge, not only with students but with staff. However, I find that, at least in my community, there is a fear of these types of technology and rather than embrace them with careful vigilance we are eschewing them entirely.

  16. congerjan says:

    The sad part is we are preaching to the choir and those in the mainstream have no idea this dialogue is even happening.

  17. Cathy Keim says:

    I am old fashioned, I guess, because I prefer to call myself a librarian. To me, the team approach to social media seems most appropriate. I cannot be all things to all people and still be a sane, healthy person. In my small elementary school library, it is all I can do to manage the collection, keep up with new materials, and promote books, reading and the love of learning, inquiry skills, and literature to the students who come to the library weekly. I view my primary role as teaching students to think about information and literature and to make it part of themselves.

  18. In my small, rural community, my problem is lack of training in these Web tools. We have no computer teacher and our tech is not very elementary friendly. The computer training is High School based and then there are the budget concerns….
    I agree with Cathy Keim. Today I had breakfast duty, substituted for a third grade teacher for 2 periods,had lunch duty and taught four classes. I have to re-shelve books from Friday(when I was putting together two weeks of information on Internet Safety)and today. Then I have to pick out books to read to kindergarten. After my classes are gone, I have bus duty. When can I do Web 2.0?

  19. Very interesting discussions…I think the best thing about these “conversations” is that they are happening…at least librarians are willing to admit that we can make some changes…we are the only profession that is continually questioning ourselves…I never hear my attorney son or accountant husband admitting that they need to keep an open mind when it comes to 21st century! They already think they have the answers…We may not all agree, but at least we care enough to blog, twitter, and READ!

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