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Transparency is the new fierce

Transparency, as used in science, engineering, business, the humanities and in a social context more generally, implies openness, communication, and accountability. Transparency is operating in such a way that it is easy for others to see what actions are performed. . . All organizations have a transparency culture, that part of the culture that relates to transparency; but few have a culture of transparency, i.e., a culture of being aware of transparency and incorporating it routinely into how things are done. (Wikipedia)

Invisibility is the state of an object that cannot be seen. An object in this state is said to be invisible (literally, “not visible”). (Wikipedia)

Though these two words may seem connected, they mean day and night for our practice.

Last year around this time, I considered fierceness the quality I personally wanted to work on.  I thought it might work for others too.

Whether or not that particular post was sticky, looking back, it worked for me. And I noticed a whole lot of fierceness going on in the larger TL world.  We’ve seen so many talented and vocal young/new leaders emerge over the course of the year.

(A brief apologetic side trip: I started naming lots of fierce librarians in the paragraph that once was here but is now deleted. My list of young, or newish TLs, and their accomplishments quickly grew epic and I was terrified I would leave important names out.  Clearly, a story for another post!)

Let’s just say these fierce ones made their impact on Twitter, on our TL Café, in their shared videos, podcasts, online presentations, and through their blogs and wikis and binders and guides.

The fact is, they are not only fierce, they are transparent.  They are hybrid. They are blended.  They are embedded.  They contribute. They participate in the conversation.  Their influence reaches well beyond the walls and hours of their libraries, their learning commons, their libratories, to their larger learning communities, to students’ classrooms, to students’ homes, and to the education and library communities near and far.  They are able to scale their own ideas and their practice out in the world, and in many cases, they scale the ideas and contributions of their learners as well.

Likely, there are many fierce and hardworking librarians whose good work we never see.

That’s great. And it’s a shame. They could be even fiercer.

In my mind, transparency is the new black.  Transparency is the new fierce. And it may be the most critical way we demonstrate fierce.

Being transparent, being hybrid or blended–these qualities of our practice are no longer optional.  In my mind, they are not optional even if you have the most vibrant learning commons in the universe.

After more than 16 years of Web-based potential, web-based practice for school libraries has been inconsistent and often absent. Practice continues to range from single-page brochures to dynamic, interactive, collaborative, mashed-up learning environments. The disparity of these efforts, compounded by the digital lives embraced by our students, funding realities, confusion relating to emerging roles, and a body of professional literature that documents the need for instructional intervention with learners, suggests critical and immediate need for teacher librarian transparency.

It’s about equity.

Back in 2009 our library hosted a visit I will never forget.  Seniors from a nearby urban high school spent the good part of a day at our suburban facility planning a library to be funded by their alumni society. They were impressed what we daily took for granted. They came to Springfield to see our physical space.  They saw a friendly, attractive, and heavily-used space.  But what these honor students were most impressed with was our virtual library and our online resources.

In their school, no one curated the substantial state-funded online resources they were entitled to into an accessible portal. They’d never heard of databases, web-based tools for digital storytelling or publishing, citation generators.  They spent their four high school years without access to the collection of subscription databases, e-books, and media that was purchased for them.  They felt cheated.  Most of the students had computer access at home, but no school library page led them to these free resources.  This access is even more critical in a city with a limited number of professional school librarians, in a city with local public library branches closing.

Transparent or hybrid practice addresses equity.  It must be anywhere, anytime, any platform, any device, and just for me and just in time. For suburban, rural, and urban kids.

It’s about making practice visible.

Can your whole community see what you do, what you teach, the difference your library makes?  Transparency translates our practice. On Parents’ Night we should be able to point to the resources, the tools, the instruction we share with their students.  Can you easily share out your documentation guidelines, new tools for digital storytelling, research scaffolds, thesis building lessons, college search resources, ESL support, your calendar, and more?

It’s about scalability.

I’ve been thinking about scalability in multiple ways.  Clearly our web presence allows us to provide access to e-materials in more efficient and effective ways.  The same reference title, usable by one learner at a time in the old days, may now be accessed anywhere, anytime, by the entire class or grade.

We can maximize our substantial investment in databases and e-books through their placement in our catalogs, in multiple pathfinders and lessons and various content-related pages and sites with share with teachers. And because many of the tools offer analytics, we can show evidence of the use and impact of our purchases and our curation efforts in our reports.

In our high school, with COWs (computers on wheels carts) in the majority of our classrooms, students use library resources, tools, instruction, whether or not they are in the library. Library is everywhere. Whether or not I am in a classroom doing a house call, students can hear my instructional voice. It is scaled.

In those districts, where one librarian is unfortunately stretched across more than one facility, a virtual library may be the only truly effective way for that librarian to scale his or her professional efforts.

There’s too much stuff

Real-time search, relevant feeds, tools for digital storytelling and polling and video editing, databases, instruction, student work and art, instruction, teacher tools, rubrics, lists of great reads–the list goes on forever.  Curation is the buzz word across a number of fields.  It is also the job of the school’s CIO. Without a librarian to pull resources together, create context, and to model curation for teachers and learners, a school is at a serious disadvantage in managing, filtering and organizing all that stuff.

We must be mobile.

Will Richardson writes in the the New York Times‘ Room for Debate, We Live in a Mobile World:

There’s no doubt that the current slate of mobile devices have their limitations. There are still better technology options for constructivist, meaningful learning (i.e., laptops) that provide power and flexibility that phones and tablets cannot. That, of course, may change. But regardless, for many kids right now, especially at the lower end of the income scale, these devices are their only connections to the content and people who can help them learn great things. We need to leverage that. . .Access in our kids’ pockets will force us to rethink much of what we do in schools.

I want to be an app.  I want library to be as easy to access as Words with Friends or Angry Birds.

I shared my interest in appiness in Buffy and Kristin’s e-book, School Libraries: What’s Now, What’s Next, What’s Yet to Come.

Universities now offer their constituents entrée to access to their wealth of resources from a single mobile portal.  On the K12 level, our learners are equally ready.  And they are ready for something more than a basic index-type phone app.

Building on my research on library websites, this is the year I want to develop an app. School library, the app should be fully customizable, brandable, beautiful. It should represent the mission of ensuring that learners are effective and ethical users and producers of ideas and information. I want it to offer easy access to our catalog, with immediate and attractive access to our ebooks; access to our heavily-used database collection; access to our curated instruction and resources; access to our evaluation, documentation, and annotation tools; access to our collaboratively developed online instruction and media; access to tools for outlining, mindmapping, storyboarding, writing, reflecting and creating; opportunities for interaction and intervention.

I want our whole program—instruction, services, tools, learner contributions, as well as our resources, and somehow its joy—to be as available to our learning community as their favorite online games or shops.  I want whatever we do in our library to be supported, enhanced, reinforced, and reinterpreted by a vibrant digital presence.

It’s not rocket science

I visit lots of state conferences. Many hands go up when I ask how many folks haven’t yet developed a serious web presence.

You are probably thinking, not every teacher librarian has the Web chops to create transparency.  I am thinking,  if that’s ever been an excuse, it’s no longer one that will fly.

Free Web/cloud-based tools (wikis, Livebinders, Google Sites, and more) require no serious technical knowledge, just the desire to build.  Web-based tutorials are widely available for any of these tools.

This summer, Deb Kachel and I initiated statewide Digital Collection Curation workshops using a train-the-trainers model, to ensure that Pennsylvania librarians moved towards transparent practice.

We used the modestly-priced commercial product LibGuides as our platform for this demonstration project and invited any interested school and public librarians.  In fact, school and public librarians collaborated on a Civil War LibGuide with a Pennsylvania flavor to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.  In all, nearly 150 guides were created.  And participating librarians developed serious curation skills.

Our free workshops, funded in part by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, applied traditional collection development methodologies to the curation –selection, organization, and professional presentation– of digital content, services, and tools for K-12 students and teachers and public library users.

We hoped the participants would take away:

· New vocabulary in regards to digital tools and resources, and services,
· An expanded concept of collection,
· The basic types and availability of digital tools appropriate for K-12 students and public library users and readers,
· How to collaboratively develop and promote digital tools, resources, and services,
· How to model curation strategies for learners and users, and
· How to select, evaluate and, embed digital organization and communication tools in their evolving practice as collection curators.
All trained workshop participants received one-year access to the PA Digital Collection Curation test-site, where they experimented with curating up to three Guides with multiple pages.
Our academic-year project ends August 2012 and, although we won’t formally evaluate the project until the end of the year, judging by the activity on the Guides created so far, we suspect this project has been very sticky.  We hope that the participating librarians will either archive what they have created and migrate to a free platform, or more likely, they will find funding to continue curating in LibGuides.  (A single school site license per year is normally $549, far less than the cost of many of the databases it would host.)

Deb reflected: The product was intuitive and easy to use even though some participants were nervous about technology.  Once they got in and developed some of content boxes, we heard sighs of relief.  “Hey I can do this.  In fact, a women about two days from retirement, was the first to share her page.”

Deb described the connection between transparency and advocacy.  What do you do as a school librarian? I can talk about that for hours.  But I can show it to you in 30 seconds.  This type of curation is an advocacy tool.

Sara Cantor, one of our pioneer trainers, responded to a LibGuides query on our state school library list:

I like LibGuides for many reasons!  They make it so easy to customize resources for specific classes and projects because you can easily move your own content around to new pages within the guide. Also, embedding any kind of html code is super user-friendly even if you are not an html expert. Teachers love when you create guides for their classes and the great part is that it doesn’t take much time!  Students and teachers like the organization and accessibility of LibGuides which are now linked to my main library site.  I definitely think the increased usage of our databases and e-books justifies the small amount spent on LibGuides!

To sum up:

  • Being transparent scales out your purchases across the school population.
  • Being transparent allows you to scale your practice and your instructional voice to the whole community.
  • Being transparent allows you to reach your learning community 24/7 wherever they are, wherever they go.
  • Being transparent demonstrates your value as a teacher and an information professional.
  • In tough times, when one librarian is spread across more than one building, being transparent is the most effective way to be a professional, to be there virtually when you cannot there physically.
  • Being transparent is no longer optional. It hasn’t been optional for a long time.
  • Practicing teacher-librarians today are obliged to communicate their programs effectively in both face-to-face and online spaces.
  • Transparent practice is no longer optional.  Mobile practice is no longer optional.  Our practice should be cloud-based, participatory, portable, and attractive.

We are all about openness, communication, and accountability. At a time when we need to world to recognize our contribution to learning, we must be transparent. It should be our culture.

Let’s make 2012 a year to be both fierce and transparent.

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


  1. This article is why you have received the 2011 Edublog Award for Lifetime Achievement…fantastic!

  2. Thanks for a great article Joyce. I’ve found the “Community” site on LibGuides to be quite helpful. You can poke around and look at the guides others have created and even share pages. Collaboration and transparency!

  3. “Transparency is advocacy” has been my mantra for years while fighting the lockdown, barrier-building attitude of my school District. Everything in my common sense and paedagogicall worlds tells me that an open generosity of spirit is the essence of our profession.

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