Webwise 2014: Reflections on the convergence of education and information science

by Alyse Minter

Webwise is an annual conference hosted by the Institute of Museum and Library Science (IMLS). This year, February 10-12, it was held in Baltimore, Maryland. Webwise allows library, archives, and museum (LAM) professionals to come together and learn, network, and discuss trends and issues connected to operating digital platforms. The focus this year was Anchoring Communities. It enabled LAMs to think about programs and their impact on users, as well as utilizing current spaces and programs in innovative ways to connect with and impact communities, such as the MakerSpace movement. Twitter conversations around Webwise 2014 can be found at #WebWise2014.

The conference opened on Monday morning with a keynote address from Nick Poole, Chief Excutive Officer of Collections Trust in the UK. Poole spoke about the importance of creating ownership between communities and organizations. Many times, LAM professionals tend to view institutions as an “our,” effectively making institutions restrictive to the staff, rather than inclusive of the user community. Services, platforms, and programming should be geared towards what individuals need, want, and love. This will go a long way towards public support of institutions, as people tend to stand up for what they love. Curating institutions towards user needs also ensures the public will be more likely to fund necessary support, versus if the public is not kept informed and only those on the inside are in the know. In terms of innovation, Poole gave the example of using a hammer responsibly and “smartly”. The hammer in this analogy represents digital tools and resources available to institutions. Instead of just gleefully banging the hammer around because we can, LAM professionals should seek the best way to utilize tools, rather than embracing the new in-thing and not utilizing it the fullest potential. (The hammer was a favorite analogy among attendees.) When it comes to planning for institutions, collaboration is the key. Rather than shutting oneself away and engaging in the “silo of the LAM,” professionals should learn to work together and effectively problem solve and create solutions. The long range goal in any institution is to impact its users for the better, whether through education, research, or relationships. In order to achieve this goal, institutions must learn to be transparent, flexible, and passionate. Be open about developments and ideas. Change is okay; not everything can or should stay the same. The way things were done in 1975 most likely will not work in 2014. The mission and goals of the institution should be accessible and broadly known. People are the most important indicators of success and institutions should work towards cultivating relationships.

Speaking of change, one of the things that struck me was the repeated discussion surrounding pedagogy as it relates to information and user services. As an education major in undergrad, it was interesting to hear the terminology with which I was so familiar being tossed around as this new, grand approach to information science. For example, creating community ownership is about creating learner driven processes in which the user takes ownership for his/her creativity and innovation in research or exploration. This includes the aforementioned inclusive language and programming to distill the mystery surrounding LAMs. Just as the push in information literacy is to equip and empower users to make informed choices about information needs and results, the focus is less on the LAM or LAM professional and more on the individual or community. It’s less of a librarian as the great authority model and more of a networking, collaborative model. This was particularly obvious in the session on MakerSpaces. Because of the heavy emphasis on creativity, invention, and innovation, MakerSpaces provide for a very close relationship between information science and education. The focus is more on working together and working through the process, providing a safe space in which “failure” allows individuals to problem solve and come up with new ways to arrive at workable solutions. I think this concept is applicable to any area education, scholarship, and outreach. I personally count myself lucky to have received a strong foundation in pedagogy and student-centered learning. I’m excited to see this approach begin to intersect with the library field and am excited to see what future developments hold, particularly in the area of LAM collaboration and educational/information building for community support.

So, what can we do about it?

As I’m sure many have seen, this story is floating around the news-o-sphere which indicates that American adults lag behind countries like Japan, Finland, the Netherlands, Australia and Sweden in terms of literacy, math skills, and computer skills. A truly sad record of the state of education in this country, this should be a call to action for all educators (administrators, classroom teachers, and such). But what role should librarians play in solving this issue? Clearly, depending on your institutional type and individual role, issues of literacy and math might not be within your purview. But certainly technological skill sets are a part of every library, regardless of focus. So, maybe these are some ways in which we can help promote American education:

  • Recognize that information technologies are an unavoidable element of learning and professional performance (and try to convince others of same)
  • Promote life-long learning through face-to-face training tutorials, free online asynchronous training resources for everything from basic math to advanced computing
  • Build relationships with social welfare organizations in order to adequately assess the need of under-served segments of society and work collaboratively to provide the needed services, training, materials, etc.
  • Advocate for education reform and for the increased presence of librarians in classrooms K-12. Not only can librarians promote information literacy (a huge part of continued technical and informational proficiency), but they can also help to identify information needs and locate much-needed resources for teachers and students that do not have the time or motivation to seek it out themselves
  • Advocate for the increased presence of librarians in all professional capacities. Embedded librarians in professional organizations can help to identify gaps in professional competencies and can provide access to helpful resources that will educate individuals on needed skills, benefiting both the individual and the business for which he/she works

Of course, these are just speculations. Regardless, the findings of the above mentioned story should be a call to action for every professional. Considering our role as librarians, we are positioned to provide help in many different capacities. What form it will ultimately take is unforeseeable, but we can bring our knowledge and skills to the issue to hopefully benefit our patrons, our institutions, and our country.

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A good video about the college education in America.