I worry about what Gloria Steinem at an ALA speech called "the
privatization of information." There is no more fundamental principle in
democracy than access...but powerful economic forces are at work.
Marylaine: Does your school have an acceptable use policy and if so, is it posted? How was it arrived at?
Debbie: Our library selection policy was linked to our NuevaNet Acceptable use policy when it was written in 1993. (Online at:
My own library school education and my own intellectual stance is to support
free inquiry---the "marketplace of ideas" of a free society. Therefore the
AUP was written to support parents in their role and responsibility with
their children (and we have a strong commitment in the Library to provide
parents with the education and information they need to do this job), and to
clarify that the library would not act "in loco parentis." In particular, I
made the the ALA's Freedom to Read document and interpretations part of our
AUP. The document was written by me, then circulated among the technology
and teaching staff, parents, and finally sent to the Board (who also had it
read by the Board's lawyer) for approval.
Marylaine: How have your ideas about the uses of your site evolved since you first began it? When you add features, is it in response to what you see your students doing?
Debbie: Before Netscape's graphical interface, the Internet was used mainly for e-mail, gopher and telnet. The command line was daunting for many teachers,
so the 'net was an expedient place to "chat" (asyncronously, mostly) and to
look for documents, but not much else.
Our Web has become a place to describe ourselves to ourselves, to our
community and to "the world." We have always viewed our role at Nueva as
having a mission to educate a special population (gifted) and to provide
models and help to others who might learn from us. This second mission is
evident at the Library's Web site, where we have posted examples of
collaborations in project-based learning
explanations of special Library programs like Literary Club which is now
almost 20 years old:
I have always operated on the assumption that my job is to also teach
teachers at my site, since the more people that are working on information
literacy skills or reading strategies, the more impact there will be on
student learning. Therefore, I have used some areas of the Library Web to
post helpful advice
examples of critical thinking in research
It is important for me to actually be teaching kids and collaborating with
teachers on curricula projects regularly, or I begin to get stale and speak
in platitudes, rather than realitudes! (Is that a word?)
Marylaine: If it isn't, it should be. Do you have to work at counteracting students' desire to just type something into a search engine and get immediate results, no matter how awful?
Debbie: Try Google http://www.google.com/ or AskJeeves http://www.askjeeves.com/ and
you will see that you CAN do that. It's a matter of what is needed.
Do I need some basic information on taking care of a pet cat...well then,
AskJeeves has it. Do I need some basic information about "global
warming"...well, Google can give me the EPA site and the Environmental
Defense Fund in the first two hits! If kids want answers-to-be-found, this
kind of search is "good enough." If kids (and teachers) want kids to be
thinking with complexity about problems, relationships, influences,
causes---then they can't get buy with typing "cats"---they need to develop a
genuine question "Why do some people adore cats as pets and others adore
dogs?" or "Why are there cat cemetaries in the US?" or "What is the
environmental impact of having a cat?" (Incidentally, I actually don't know
if anyone cares about the above questions, but they represent questions
which---without research and thinking---I couldn't answer...but I also
couldn't answer the first question about caring for a cat, because I don't
And how does a kid know what's awful unless they can "kiss a frog" as well
as a prince?
Marylaine: How do you keep current on the net? What do you read, what sites do you visit regularly, what listserves do you subscribe to?
Debbie: I graze, I browse, I hunt, and I luxuriate...for different reasons, at different times...
I have noticed that my reading speed has improved dramatically these last 10
years. I am a voracious reader of print in the field of gifted, education,
reading, literature, library publications---as well as childrens' books. My
husband is *my* ideal reference librarian because he clips interesting
articles about 'net topics for me from more general publications (Wall
Street Journal, Atlantic, NYT) that I may have missed. I love reading in
cognitive psychology,for example, but this is at a much slower rate since
I've got less background. Since these print publications often make me
curious, I often ask authors I have discovered to write articles for
Knowledge Quest about topics
I'm interested in and want to figure out how they play out for librarians.
That's a self-serving way of editing, eh?
I go off-and-on LM_Net because of the volume, but read ISED (the independent
schools' discussion listserv) regularly. I also adore announcements for Net
Happenings, although sometimes I go underwater when I'm busy in school.
(Gleason Sackman was my original mentor from LM_Net when I was a newbie!) I use The Informant http://informant.dartmouth.edu/ to help me when I'm
"collecting" on a topic.
Further help has come from other librarians...your Wild Things, for example, [http://www.sau.edu/bestinfo/
and Carol Leita's "Librarians' Index to the Internet" http://lii.org/...as well as
specialized gateways in particular fields when I have a particular need. In
general I read the work of educators who work with kids older than mine and
learn to tweak their ideas.
I'd like to redefine "current" here, because when I don't know something
that's "old news" but important, I'm not "current," am I? I like to go to
conferences and workshops outside my expertise...for example I went to the
week-long workshop on neurodevelopmental variation in Chapel Hill
http://www.allkindsofminds.org/navframe/navprogFS.asp , learned cognitive
coaching with Bob Garmison and went to the Early Literacy (ELLI) training.
Recently I was an American Memory Fellow at the Library of Congress and it
changed my understanding of primary sources and historical thinking...ideas
that those curators at LOC have known for ages!
It is comforting to know that the robots for Hotbot and other engines are
only keeping out with about 18% of the 'net, because it takes me off the
Marylaine: Do you have complete control over what goes on your web site, or is there a committee or supervisor you have to get approval from?
Debbie:Interesting question...I have complete control, I guess, until someone
doesn't like something!? or ? and then we'll see... A group of us (the
computer specialists, the library staff) do a lot of talking about what kind
of services to offer at the school's web site, what kids' work to post, how
the Nueva site is organized...
Marylaine: What question should I have asked you that you'd like
to talk about?
Debbie: I am interested to see what success real time applications will
have---knowing how schools work, I think that currently they are hard to
pull off (just when planned to be online interviewing an expert, you have a
fire drill). I see tremendous value in applications like
videoconferencing... reading the body language of the person...but what will
it really take for it become as ubiquitous as the telephone? Or rather,
what will it take before we can create with technology the milleu of the
adult book discussion group which meets to talk and in the act of
talking---asking and answering questions---reveals ourselves to ourselves
and to others? Not "chat"...not e-mail...
There's an interesting column coming out in Knowledge Quest in Nov/December
issue called "Leonardo at the Keyboard: Creative Thought and Networked
Computers" which provokes us to think about applications that encourage
creativity. (Do we encourage creativity OFF the computer?)
I just got a plastic cutting board that's as thin and flexible as a file
folder. When the electronic book is that flat, what will be the effect on
print products? I read somewhere that you read 30% slower on the computer
screen than on paper. Does that mean we will be impatient when the screen
presents us with dense text, or does it mean that we will kill even more
trees, or does it mean that we will actually be more reflective, or all of
the above when we have thin tech-books?
I've been reading Dresang's notion of "radical change" in books for children
and young adults---books which have changing formats (e.g. nonlinear,
interactive, graphic words and pictures), changing perspectives (e.g.
previously unheard voices) and changing boundaries (e.g. forbidden
subjects). It is clearly influenced by the hypertext, digitally designed
world of the 'net, and may be a precursor for a new kind of reading and
understanding. Or is it "Plus ca change, plus ce le meme chose?"
What is the effect of the standards movement on "real" education? If we can
use pre-created rubrics, electronically scored exams like the STAR test in
California, and one-size-fits-all standards, what is the effect on
education? Grant Wiggins' litany is that you need multiple measures and
that if it's easy to assess it measures something that isn't very
important...is technology going to give us the false sense that we can
evaluate kids easily?
The purpose of education is to have kids experience learning in authentic
situations. The "rush" of being an archeologist, the passion of feeling an
experience through good writing, the triumph of making designing an
experiment with controlled variables and good data, the glow when you've
helped define and address the needs of homeless children in your
community---education is allowing a learner "the ability to flounder around
at a very high level, until I ran into myself," as David Ward said in a
commencement address at Pomona.
Marylaine: Thanks, Debbie, for one of the most interesting exchanges I've had. I'd like to close by sharing with my readers the quote from Jacob Bronowski you use as a signature on your e-mail:
It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin barefoot
irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known,
but to question it.
You are welcome to copy and distribute or e-mail any of my own articles (but not those by my guest writers) as long as you retain this copyright statement:
Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 1999.