Facts! Facts! Facts!

Sometimes I feel like the last analog citizen in the world. This morning at Starbucks, I paid for a vente americano with 14 quarters. The three customers in front of me all paid with some variation of a plastic card embedded with information: a Starbucks card, a debit card, a credit card. I think I saw someone tap something. Although my form of payment was perfectly acceptable, I was left with the impression that I am somehow old fashioned. Nevertheless, my transaction was quite fast and I did not have to fumble over a keypad or wait for “Approval”.

This unease informs my practice as a teacher-librarian. Regardless of evidence to the contrary, I am the “book guy”. It does not matter that my library subscribes to a dozen databases of journal articles and multi-media primary or secondary resources, or that the library manages one of the largest databases in the school. Our card catalog disappeared in the 1990s (and even then it had not been used for ages), but teachers routinely express amazement over our electronic catalog.

I think part of the problem is the unwillingness of librarians to succumb to the “it has to be on the Internet to be good” philosophy of many 21st century educators. Librarians are nuanced in their approach to research and information gathering, appreciating that the best answers are found in a mix of resources.Yes, it might be easy to find out what the capital of Mongolia is without consulting a library, but that has never been the definition of research. In the library world, this kind of fact gathering is referred to as “Ready Reference”, Ready Reference is one small part of what librarians have traditionally done. In large research libraries many librarians still assist users with this task, as not all facts are on the Internet yet, believe it or not. ┬áReady Reference is not the only form of research, and saying “information is a click away” is not a substitute for understanding how to find and effectively use sources in any format.

A side note – To celebrate the upcoming Grey Cup I have placed six books about CFL teams on display in the library. This series, published by Weigl, is aimed at an elementary audience, and had been a big hit with our grade 4 class.

CFL books sized

Several high school teachers have expressed amazement such a series exists. Now I know some of this amazement might be based on an assumption about the lack of interest in the CFL (clearly not the case in our grade 4 class), but much of it is based on the very idea of this kind of item exists in print at all. Isn’t all of this information readily available on the Web? Well, yes, it might be, but not prepared or presented in this fashion. In a Gradgrind-type way we have assumed everything is to be consumed as a set of facts, easily accessible with a click. What these titles do, and something print non-fiction aimed at the elementary level does so well, is make learning, reading, and researching a pleasurable, positive experience. These are not the greatest designed books, but they are still better designed than 99% of sites on the web used by children or adults for research purposes.

So, I would encourage you to check in with your librarian. Yes, she or he might be reading stories to your youngest students at one moment, but in the next might be directing a student in the finer uses of JSTOR. Working in all formats is what the best librarians do, and the best teacher-librarians serve a tempering role in the rush to assume the Internet is the end of all things.

6 thoughts on “Facts! Facts! Facts!

  1. Hi Tim,
    Great to read this from you, as it brought back many great conversations that we’ve had about this. I’ve been really challenging this notion of internet research, and now that I am at a school with an actual library, with an excellent librarian, I have to say it is a wonderful conversation to be having!

    I would encourage you to think about how your opinion here jives with inquiry. What I like to reference is that KICA (Knowledge, Inquiry, Communication & Application categories from the Ministry) is not the ‘order of operations’. You can start with Inquiry and get students to go after the knoweldge – the facts, if you will. Check out some of the work we did with TPACK as I think that this framework has something to offer in this conversation as well: Do you start with the content when you’re designing learning, or do you start with the pedagogy? Or with the Technology?


  2. Tim,
    Like you, I am a lover of books. I can’t bring myself to buy a Kindle because nothing can replace the smell of a bookstore/library and picking through shelves to find little gems. That said, I think that the work that librarians are doing today to marry technology with books (Project Gutenburg – https://www.gutenberg.org/) and to make new technology accessible to all (Toronto Public Library’s Maker Lab with 3D printers) is incredible. This past weekend, I went to the Maker Faire at TPL and it was the epitome of a rich, engaging, public space that is should be placed at or near the top of things we value in the city. Kudos to you and all the great librarians out there!
    Also – there was a great little piece on the library in Ferguson, MO on CBC yesterday. I think it was on The Current or As it Happens. The librarian also makes a great case for the importance of libraries!

    1. Hi Leslie – I was at the Maker Faire too. Very crowded!

      I see a natural fit for school libraries, even independent school ones, in the broader culture of making and socially progressive entrepreneurship. Last week I hosted the CIS Librarians, 35 of us, at the Centre for Social Innovation on Bathurst Street in downtown Toronto. It is a focal point for private profit and non-profit start-ups, and home to maker-type events on a regular basis. For me though, the books are coming along for the ride.

  3. Tim,

    I have to agree with you here, especially in the elementary space . A well levelled non-fiction resource can engage a student in the research process of reading, understanding, synthesizing and connecting far faster and more efficiently than a web resource can. To teach a grade 3 , 4 or 5 student how to research efficiently on the web “well” is a long drawn out process. Put a book in front of them and you also give them focus. Something that everyone, including adults struggles with when researching online. I think my point is that for me non-fiction books and print resources will always occupy an important place in the teaching and learning of research skills.

  4. Hey Tim

    I read this article a long time ago and it does a great job, I thought, of explaining how different media sources affect our reading differently. I think it is actually so interesting and encouraging how so many of my students actually prefer reading with paper. They can actually see when it makes sense to read on a screen and when it is best to read on paper.

    Here’s the article: http://getpocket.com/a/read/333862782

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