Alex Byrne Keynote


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Technology and Libraries

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Alex Byrne Keynote

  1. 1. Teacher and Teacher Librarian Professional Learning day 24may13 1Technology and LibrariesAlex ByrneWelcome to this magnificent State Library of New South Wales which is the home of thehistory of Australia and its region: we hold the world‟s pre-eminent collection on Australiaand its region from the maps of early explorers to a growing collection of tweets.No less magnificent is our learning team. They do a wonderful job of opening up ourcollections to students and teachers across New South Wales and beyond. They haveengaged with 25% of the schools across the State by bringing school groups into this Libraryfor programs, by taking materials to schools especially regional, remote and disadvantagedschools, via videoconference to the Connected Classrooms, and, as today, by engaging withteachers. It is all based on the curriculum and employs good pedagogies and innovativeteaching practices. The members of the team demonstrate the importance of teachers.Teacher librarians are equally important. I have seen that in my professional life but also inmy personal life. My children were fortunate while in primary school in Darwin to benefit fromthe skills of a very talented teacher librarian, Celia Otley. The skills and love of learning andinquiry they learnt from her have stood them in good stead, one being a librarian today, theother having achieved a doctorate.At this State Library, our teachers work with a large and diverse range of professionals whoinclude librarians, archivists, curators, conservators, exhibition and graphic designers,writers, technologists, photographers and digitisation specialists. Together, those experts intheir fields enable us to open up our collections to students, parents, teachers, scholars anda million visitors a year.Today’s connected learnersTo set the scene: for under 25s technology does not exist, it is a normal and naturalextension of themselves. The young are social and keep in constant touch, they are used tolearning with their peers in informal settings and are comfortable doing so; use social mediaroutinely and expect others to; have grown up in a media saturated world where informationand ideas are shared in visual and engaging formats without paying much attention toownership of ideas, copyright, authenticity, public and private information etc.Today‟s connected learners expect that they can converse with anyone in the world; usemultiple technologies to obtain and share information and to report on events; wear portabledevices to communicate with others, listen to music, play games, take photos and videos,check details, advertise events, watch videos and access the internet.They expect to have access to information quickly and seamlessly and have not known atime when this was not possible. New technology skills transfer is seamless. While this isvisible on the streets and beachers, in buses and bars, and everywhere we see under 25s, itis increasingly true of all of us. We are all the Google generation now!
  2. 2. Teacher and Teacher Librarian Professional Learning day 24may13 2For under 25s and many more of us, multi-tasking is a state of being – emailing, texting,Instant Messaging, chatting on the mobile, listening to music and / or the TV, eating avegemite toast all simultaneously while doing their homework is a normal state of being.1Today’s disconnected learnersToday‟s disconnected learners usually live in lower socio economic areas and rural andregional underserved communities and have limited access to devices and bandwidth. Theyare the have-nots of the digital divide.As William Gibson, author of Neuromancer, put it: “The future is already here. It‟s just notvery well distributed.”2Understanding learnersIn seeking to understand learners, Mark Treadwell made a fundamental point 3:Recent research implies that the brain of humans has three interdependent learningsystems that provide us with a unique set of learning capabilities. While a number ofspecies have the capacity for episodic learning, no other species appears to have thecapacity to form new concepts ‘on the fly’ or apply those concepts in creative andinnovative ways, as we do. We may share 99% of our genome with Chimpanzees and97% with Gorillas but that additional 1-3% makes an extraordinary difference to ourcapacity to think, learn, remember and apply thinking in innumerable, creative ways.By mapping the learning process what becomes obvious is the critical importance forlearners of all ages to be able to apply:Effective prompts to initiate learningClever questioningInquiry processesThe constant application of the thinking process - Reflect – Review – IterateSynthesis and distilling processesCreativity – allowing the mind to wander through its stockpile of knowledge, ideas,concepts and concept frameworks looking for unique combinations that have valueBased on our evolving understanding of the learning processes teachers and librarians nowneed to focus on developing their ability to “stimulate curiosity through the imaginative andcreative application of prompts that encourage learners to WANT TO LEARN through thatinnate curiosity present in all of us”, as Treadwell puts it.4This demands a huge change inthinking and pedagogy.1Together for Learning, School Libraries and the Emergence of the Learning Commons. 2013 OSLA2Quoted in The Economist, December 4, 2003.3Treadwell M (2013) Learning to Learn – the evolution of creativity4Treadwell M (2013) Learning to Learn – the evolution of creativity.
  3. 3. Teacher and Teacher Librarian Professional Learning day 24may13 3What of the library?Which brings us to the library. Is it a constant in a world of change or in flux as are so manyother aspects of contemporary life?For centuries we have thought of libraries as buildings or rooms which house collections ofbooks and other materials, reading rooms and staff areas. Technology has brought greatercomplexity, more specialized facilities and the need for more extensive support functions.Today we deal in content which is intangible, employs a wide and ever growing variety ofmedia and is available both 24/7 and on the move. Our clients simultaneously operate inphysical 3D space and in digital / mobile space, multitasking and diversely engaged.Will those trends spell the end of libraries as we‟ve known them and library buildings inparticular? If not, how should we conceptualize, create and manage library space to meetcurrent and emerging needs? And how will we intersect the physical and the digital? Thoseare challenging issues but perhaps even more challenging is how to replace the longstanding commonplace conception of the library as a „house of books‟ with a cogent imageof the new and emerging library.MetamorphosisWe are seeing a metamorphosis today in which the core mission remains constant withmany aspects of libraries‟ appearance changing. Libraries are evolving from warehouses ofbooks, journals and other publications with associated services into systems for deliveringinformation and knowledge in a multitude of formats, both physical and online. Whileretaining many of the surface appearances of traditional libraries – buildings, bound volumes(if fewer), study spaces, service points – the focus of our libraries has shifted dramaticallyfrom the materiality of those elements to the intangibility of making information andknowledge accessible and useable irrespective of format. This shift has been most apparentin the operation and design of academic and special libraries but is becoming evident in theother sectors including public and school libraries. Across the sectors and internationallylibraries are undergoing a process of metamorphosis as they – and we – question andreinvent many aspects of our operations while continuing to ensure the availability ofinformation and knowledge across borders, cultures and languages and through time.But, first, a reflection on the term “library”. It may seem pedestrian to go to a dictionary but,in this case, it is important to be clear about our terms and their connotations. The AmericanHeritage Dictionary5offers the following primary definition:a place in which literary and artistic materials, such as books, periodicals, newspapers,pamphlets, prints, records, and tapes, are kept for reading, reference, or lending;This and other core meanings focus on place, collection and institution, words which connotephysicality, permanence, invariance and authority. And, indeed, when we think of anarchetypal library our minds are likely to turn to a grand library building such as the MitchellWing of the State Library of New South Wales, the British Library or the landmark dome ofthe Library of Congress or, perhaps, to the local public library, the school library we knowwell or the university library in which we studied and researched.5The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, 2000 updated 2009, HoughtonMifflin,
  4. 4. Teacher and Teacher Librarian Professional Learning day 24may13 4According to that dictionary, secondary meanings of „library‟ include “a set of things similar toa library in appearance, function, or organization” such as “a collection of recorded data ortapes arranged for ease of use” or “a collection of cloned DNA sequences …”. Thesemeanings emphasise organisation, accessibility and delivery and their connotations comecloser to the emerging understanding of the modern library as a service or institution whichprovides organised access to and delivery of knowledge and information irrespective offormat.Technology and change„[B]uildings or rooms which house collections of books and other materials, reading roomsand staff areas‟ is a description which might have been applied to the Mesopotamianarchives of clay tablets but could certainly be applied to the Ancient Greek conceptions oflibraries as presented in Alexandria and Ephesus. And it could be applied to many of thelibraries we see today.But the adoption of technology has profoundly changed libraries and we can now see somelibraries which do not house books and other physical materials, have no reading rooms andno physical presence but continue to fulfil the role of delivering information and knowledgeand have staff who organise information resources, at least by providing a catalogue orportal, and both promote their services and assist their clients to discover and use theresources. Such „immaterial‟ libraries are evident in large distributed enterprises, especiallymultinational corporations, legal offices and, increasingly, media companies.For most libraries the change has been more evolutionary so that they still maintain a builtpresence as a room, floor or building, retain some physical collections (albeit oftendiminished in size at least for the proportion on open shelves), continue to have readingrooms (and a great variety of other spaces) and provide in-house services to clients (butoften with fewer service points). They are still recognisable as a library even if called alearning commons, cybrary, hub or something else.In all cases, technology has brought greater complexity, more specialised facilities (on siteand online) and more extensive support functions. The proliferating and ever developingtechnologies demand skills in assessment and procurement, implementation and use,maintenance and replacement. We have almost finished discarding the analoguetechnologies of the twentieth century as we embrace the digital technologies of today andtomorrow. Nevertheless, some of us are left with enormous heritage resources in analogueforms from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and earlier, resources which we are tryingto digitise quickly for contemporary and future use.Digital ExcellenceAt this State Library we are vigorously pursuing that revolutionary responsibility through ourDigital Excellence Program which will produce some 20 million digital objects over a decade.That Program will make Australia‟s history and culture available globally, and AustralianCurriculum primary sources, in particular, available in every classroom of the country.As we digitise those amazing resources, we need to invest no less heavily in curating andpreserving the digitised files as well as the born digital material we capture to represent thepresent age.The digital technologies of today and tomorrow reshape every aspect of the operation of ourlibraries. Our tools for providing access to digital resources – journals, newspapers,databases, eBooks, images and so on – are developing from the catalogue and federatedsearch to discovery „layers‟. And we are trying to find ways to „organise‟ access to resources
  5. 5. Teacher and Teacher Librarian Professional Learning day 24may13 5of value to our clients which we do not own or even licence and which are constantly in fluxas the Internet and its technologies proliferate and we experiment with new approaches suchas „web scale‟ discovery.Far from simply enabling a client to sit and read a book or view a film, we are now becomingincreasingly concerned with how we can support rendering and visualisation of our digitalresources so that our clients may use, reuse and repurpose them to their utmost potential.To offer one example, the State Library recently digitised the 3500 stunning glass platenegatives of the New South Wales goldfields in the 1870s which form the famousHoltermann Collection which has been inscribed on the UNESCO Register of WorldHeritage. The resultant files have faithfully reproduced the extraordinary resolution recordedby the photographers 140 years ago as we showed in an exhibition which has just closed,The Greatest Wonder of the World. But, for the viewer to appreciate that resolution fully, toscan a street scene and look into a pharmacy window and read the labels on the products,we need sophisticated, high end zoom and rendering software. This and other examplespresent new departures for libraries as we become, at least in some senses, mediapurveyors and publishers.Assisting clientsOur services to assist clients have also evolved and expanded as we move from directingclients to reference books on shelves and helping them to navigate those tools as well as thelibrary‟s premises. We now assist clients to discover information via tools that appear only onscreens and to evaluate and use resources whose authority isn‟t conveyed obviouslythrough impressive bindings and inclusion in a reference collection. Online referenceenables us to accompany clients on their informational journeys and to be with them at atouch on their mobile devices; online learning allows us to help them develop their skills tofind and assess information and to use it to derive knowledge. Developing both technologicaland information literacy – among the family of literacies – is vital for all but particularly forthose who find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide.So today‟s libraries deal in content which is both tangible and intangible and is delivered 24hours a day 7 days a week via a wide and ever growing variety of media to clients who areoften mobile. Our clients are multitasking and diversely engaged as they juggle work andstudy, family and travel, entertainment and exercise, with each one overlapping the other.They simultaneously occupy physical, three dimensional space and mobile digital spaces asthey sit with friends, study actively or quietly, commute but are all the time connected,tweeting, connecting via Facebook, sneaking a look at YouTube, listening via iTunes orchecking information.The end of library buildings?In an ever connected online world, do we still need „buildings or rooms which housecollections of books and other materials, reading rooms and staff areas‟?In my view, the answer is simply resolved. Humans are social beings who come together toshare stories, foster friendship, gain insights and create. From simple huts in clearings wehave developed vast conurbations. While we increasingly enjoy the virtual communities webuild through social media, we also like to come together. Many of us have heard studentsremark that „I come to the library because I am more motivated to study when surrounded byothers who are studying‟ and all of us have noted the marked growth of collaborativelearning through group projects and shared tasks. But it is not simply a question of providinga study hall; there is something special about a library, in the conjunction it offers betweeninformation resources, informed instruction, support and interpretation, spaces for interactionand study, and a safe environment.
  6. 6. Teacher and Teacher Librarian Professional Learning day 24may13 6How then should we conceptualise, create and manage library space to meet current andemerging needs? How can we replace the long standing conception of the library with acogent image of the new and emerging library?I have visited very many extraordinary library buildings. They offer spaces designed forimpact and purpose that include stunning social learning spaces, group and interactivespaces, hushed individual learning spaces as well as physical and digital collections and thenecessary equipment. But they are more than beautiful purpose designed buildings. Theyare spaces for students and also important cultural places which help to transmit cultures ofthe past and to shape the present and future. They are not merely „learning commons‟ or„student hubs‟ but are truly „places of learning‟.To create these places of learning, we need to rethink the architecture of libraries. We havemoved beyond the „boxes of books‟ which we built in the past with their thin ribbons of studycarrels around the desert like expanses of bookstacks. We are designing and building newspaces which encourage engagement with knowledge and with and between learners, notforgetting the importance of individual learning. They are evolving spaces, not just „flexible‟,spaces which can be repurposed over time as patterns of use change but also daily torespond to particular needs.These new libraries are learning centred, not collection centred. This „learning commons‟places the learner at the centre liberated to explore ideas and concepts by connecting toother learners, to information and to communities around the world. School libraries areideally placed to join this revolution, and many are doing so. Technology plays its part as itdoes at this State Library where our video conferencing program is embraced across thestate, offering topics as varied as:Research skills for HSC studentsBritish colonisationPoetry writingArt making sessions based on the Library‟s expansive art collectionsStaff professional learning sessions on using the State Library‟s resources in theclassroomExtension English 1 and 2 and Extension History workshopsThe world has gone mobileI have made references to the rapidly emerging importance of mobile technologies. It is notexaggerating to say that the world has gone mobile. Mobile phones and texting areubiquitous, smart phones are commonplace, iPads and other tablets are walking out shopdoors, eBook readers can be seen in restaurants and buses, music and video are streamedor downloaded continually, wireless network access is more robust and widespread, movingout of organisations and homes into cafés and streets. As a consequence we and the clientsof our libraries simultaneously occupy both physical and digital spaces. While sitting,reading, studying, talking or travelling, we may also be texting, surfing, connecting orviewing. The biggest change in information seeking behaviour that can currently beobserved is the continual and often simultaneous code shifting between physical, material,tactile locations and experiences and those that are digital, intangible, mobile.
  7. 7. Teacher and Teacher Librarian Professional Learning day 24may13 7These are profound changes to which our libraries are beginning to respond mightily but wehave not – and cannot – yet grasp all the implications of the shift to mobile and continuousonline interaction. The clear message is that we must design spaces and places which workfor our clients in both as buildings and rooms and as digital environments. Conceptualisingthese places and spaces will demand that we conceptualise our online services andresources as environments for interaction with people, information and knowledge.Last month, here at the State Library, we opened the new AMAZE Gallery – our first newgallery since 1929! – and simultaneously launched an accompanying app which providesimmediate access to many layers of information about what is on show in AMAZE andrelated titbits. This demonstrates our new direction, bringing both physical and digital spacesand items into dialogue.An ecology of knowledgeFor those of us who have to create new libraries, and reimagine old libraries like this StateLibrary of NSW, this growing impetus is difficult to pursue as we need to not only createbeautifully designed architectural spaces but to add the dimension of activity, the temporalaspect in which things happen. We need to focus on supporting learning by creating digitaland physical environments which foster that vital process of learning. We need to take anecological approach to creating sustainable learning spaces, digital and physical; spaces inwhich metamorphosis happens, ideas sprout, the unexpected arrives.For school libraries and teacher librarians, this would be expressed in cultivating flourishingecologies in which students and teachers engage with knowledge to develop newunderstandings and new ideas.Those ecologies may be expected to grow, develop, change, age and be replaced,presenting us with a major and very challenging translation from our long heldconceptualisation of libraries in rather static material terms. In promoting and undertakingthat metamorphosis we are reasserting the central idea of the library as a place for learningand finding new ways to express it, to create ecologies of knowledge in whichmetamorphosis happens, ideas sprout, the unexpected arrives ... we learn.