Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians

#24, August 27, 1999. Published every Friday.

August 27: hurricane hunters, writers' workshops, antique American expressions, comparative salaries and more.

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What IS Ex Libris?

The purpose and intended scope of this e-zine -- always keeping in mind that in response to readers, I may add, subtract, and change features.

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Archive of Previous Issues

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Part 2: What's the Best Search Engine?
Part 1: Clever Government Tricks

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My Favorite Sites on___:

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My Rules of Information

  1. Go where it is
  2. The answer depends on the question
  3. Research is a multi-stage process
  4. Ask a Librarian
  5. Information is meaningless until queried by human intelligence

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Guru Interviews

  1. Tara Calishain
  2. Jenny Levine, part I
  3. Jenny Levine, Part II
  4. Reva Basch
  5. Sue Feldman
  6. Jessamyn West

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Wanna See Your Name in Lights?

Or at least on this page, anyway? I'd like to print here your contributions as well as mine. As you've noticed, the articles are brief, somewhere between 200 and 500 words -- something to jog people's minds and get their own good ideas flowing. I'd also be happy to run other people's contributions to the regular features: RE:SEARCHING and Favorite Sites on _____. I'll pay you the same rate I pay me: nothing.

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E-Mail Subscription?

To subscribe to a combined subscription to Neat New Stuff and ExLibris, please click HERE, complete the form, and click on "subscribe." To unsubscribe, use the same form but click on "unsubscribe." To change addresses for an existing subscription, unsubscribe from that form and then return to the page to enter the new address.
PRIVACY POLICY: I don't collect or reveal information about subscribers.

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Drop me a Line

Want to comment, ask questions, submit articles, or invite me to speak or do some training? Contact me at: marylaine at netexpress.net.

Visit My Other Sites

My Word's Worth

a weekly column on books, words, libraries, American culture, and whatever happens to interest me. For the subject index, click HERE.

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My page on all things book-related.

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Best Information on the Net

Still my favorite pit stop on the information Highway. This is a mirror of the real site, which has moved to http://www.sau.edu/bestinfo/.

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My personal page

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My resume

or, why you might want to hire me to speak at internet or library workshops or conferences, or have me consult on building your library page.


Debbie Abilock is librarian at the Nueva School in Hillsborough, CA http://www.nuevaschool.org/, and editor of Knowledge Quest http://www.ala.org/aasl/knowledgequest.html. You can reach her at .
UPDATE, MAY 14, 2002: Debbie is moving on to become assistant head of San Francisco School, http://www.sfschool.org/ and her new e-mail address is .

Marylaine: You're the first school librarian I've interviewed. What do you see as being the special opportunities and challenges the Internet presents in a k-12 setting?

Debbie: Because of its nature, Internet raises some interesting questions which are special opportunities and, clearly, challenges:

  • Locating information has become less about controlled vocabulary or alphabetizing, and more about thinking. Here are our opportunities to integrate mathematical thinking with library research! As search engines become better at using the behaviors of many people to predict what they logically guess your information question is (e.g. http://www.google.com) what will be "filtered" out without one word of protest from free speech advocates? Will eccentricity in thinking be muted?
  • Since evaluating information is important, how can we teach the critical thinking skills that have become doubly "critical"? A very nice summary of the research on the components of evaluation is at School Library Media Research's Web site by Mary Ann Fitzgerald: http://www.ala.org/aasl/SLMR/
  • Reinventing ourselves is another challenge. Every home and every classroom have potential virtual access to libraries. What is the functiuon of a school? In relation to the learner, what is the role of a librarian? the teacher?
  • How do we teach intellectual property and attribution of sources as a thoughtful process which supports a vision of education in a democracy, not just obeying "authority." For, if all children know is that they *should* cite their sources, and if technology itself does not make it easier to do, inertia and laziness will act as powerful deterrents. I have seen kids enthusiasm about the power of using the interactive forms for MLA citations (see http://www.nueva.pvt.k12.ca.us/
    ~debbie/library/research/research.html) and my son and I are working on an even easier to use interface...but this needs to be taught in a context.
  • 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: http://www.nueva.pvt.k12.ca.us/

    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 (http://www.nueva.pvt.k12.ca.us/
    ~debbie/library/cur/curriculum.html) and explanations of special Library programs like Literary Club which is now almost 20 years old: http://www.nueva.pvt.k12.ca.us/

    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 (see: http://www.nuevaschool.org/
    ~debbie/library/research/adviceengine.html and http://www.nuevaschool.org/
    ~debbie/library/research/advicedepth.html) or examples of critical thinking in research see: http://www.nuevaschool.org/

    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 have one.)

    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 hook!

    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.