Category Archives: Public Libraries

Hub, MOOC, Learning Commons- all serve an aspiration

i recently read an Open Book blog post and was reminded of how all our modern systems and paradigms are really just what all exemplary libraries aspired to be. Bygone days or new variants, libraries serve the needs of patrons- of people. Oddly, our culture rewards an institution of progressive services with anchors of stereotypes. Libraries are just old irrelevant dusty books. Librarians are either old cranky grannies or sexy introverts. The reality in public libraries or school libraries is quite contrasting. The library as an access point for resources or discourse has never been so vital and frequently adopted. The stereotype still prevails while Google and hitech resources get all the accolades yet serve just the mechanics. If you want quick facts by all means Google but this doesn’t serve the majority of patron needs. People visit libraries more than ever for diversified content, expertise and service. They patronize libraries for cultural reasons not simply fact finding. 

Jaqueline Van Dyk, Open Book blog, writes about a public MOOC. Although my experience with moocs was an academic course with edtech background, it was clear the concept of open and integrated connected learning would sustain itself. It’s not all roses but serves many social learning needs. I say social learning as opposed to prescribed learning. Credit or GED etc all have specific exit outcomes that are mostly indifferent to the learner. Not that standards are evil but a MOOC addresses a user driven model more than a administrative model. Libraries, as a whole have adopted these personalized learning options for ages. It’s in their DNA to serve from a patron’s view of needs. Service is foundational. Librarians embrace open access and sharing just as we cherish breathing. 

Sometimes learning is playful and other times just damn hard work. Fulfilling your learning needs is a personal and time specific exercise. Sometimes it’s not pretty. Falling down repeatedly in order to grasp wakeboarding. Learning how to read and write at 30years old. Occasionally learning is fun and seems easy but that’s in conjunction with a persons background, goals and degree of task. Whether a public library MOOC or high school virtual library, librarians usually are driven by patron service. Our sexy little librarian or reserve matron are images that fulfill parodies or fantasies but not reflect our reality. 

The trend for finding a ‘learning commons’ is none other than trying to leverage the roots of all library programs. Advocacy, marketing or good design; MOOCs, learning commons or damn good library, all are driven by serving others. It’s like first aid for the mind. 🙂 

-Al Smith. Middle aged, male, extrovert, high school librarian. Where did they find me?! 😉

…as an extension of what we’ve been doing as libraries in facilitating lifelong learning. What’s new is that we’re creating an atmosphere for that, for bringing people together to do that. It makes the library more of a place of connection. In that regard, it’s a professional departure – by facilitating these activities and using the technology as activities unto themselves, we’re extending what we’ve been good at traditionally in new and interesting ways with our programs…
Paul’s view is that this experiment represents an exciting professional departure. “With the MOOC, we’re providing recreation – people are having fun, getting to know each other – and it provides interest in more reading materials. We’re providing an opportunity to learn and absorb materials together and talk them over and people are lapping it up. Traditionally, people used libraries for education as a solitary activity. Now we’re providing the same educational role, but with an opportunity to share and enhance their learning by learning together. We are extending what we’ve been good at traditionally in interesting new ways.”  (VanDyk)


“What’s a Mooc and Why You Should Know and Care!” Social Media Today. N.p., 25 Apr. 2013. Web. 20 May 2015. Image. <;.

Van Dyk, J. “Mooc Ecperiment.” Open Book. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 May 2015. <;.

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Filed under BCTLA, COTLA, Editorial, Personal Learning Network, Public Libraries, School Library

Enjoy the retrospective post from MCrompton

There is nothing “New” in Libraries in the 21st Century

A brief thought this morning.  I was reading through my Twitter stream over a cup of coffee and found a tweet of a Mindshift article from back in June on what the “next-generation” school library looks like.  Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of good ideas in the article, many of which I explore in my own space, but these are not new.  Or at least the ideas behind them aren’t.  The more we speak of how libraries are different than in the past, the more we do a disservice to what libraries have always been, long before books were ever “a thing.”


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CBC Checkup discusses future of libraries..


“….Cross-Country Checkup asks: What is the future of the library?
Friday, September 26, 2014
On Sept. 28, Cross-Country Checkup is hosting an episode dedicated to the library. What’s the future of the local library in the age of Google? Peter Mansbridge will guest host this special episode. Tune in at 4 p.m. ET.

If you are in Waterloo, Ont., you can join the live studio audience! Details are on the Cross-Country Checkup website.

Whatever form the library of the future takes, we know Canadians will continue to love their libraries. Check out the stories below for proof…. ”

Al Smith teacher-librarian

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Filed under Media Literacy, Public Libraries, School Library, Teacher Professional

Book Riot- ‘world without libraries’

From August post…

5) “Close your eyes. Imagine you are walking through New York City. You see many empty lots say ‘Lot for rent’ or ‘Century 21 is going to be here.’ You were going to the library to get a book on plate tectonics when it hits you…NO LIBRARIES! We would have no places where you could just get in the zone and read. When you are going to a library, you are always welcome. You are away from all the city hustle and bustle madness. You are CALM. They always said ‘Silence is golden.’”

6) “At the library you can find anything from aardvark to zebu. When you are there and reading you are holding a work of art in your hands. You can feel the authors presence telling you the story. Wouldn’t Benjamin Franklin be upset if there were no libraries and he worked so hard on inventing them?”

7) “Libraries make people feel at home. When I first moved to New York City, coming from a more rural area of New York, everything was very confusing and weird but the library was something I had seen before.”

8) “They say everyone smiles in the same language. If this is true then everyone is speaking in the same language when they visit a library.”

9) “Libraries make the world go round. They keep the little sanity we have left here.”

And finally,

10) “The world without libraries is like a cone without ice cream.”(Meade)


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Story Matters indeed…

Nice column! Amen! The story matters indeed. The Library Book by Dave Obee, is a story of service but in many ways an ethnography too. Since the campfire, the story is our humanity. It makes perfect sense that when we moved from oral tradition to written record that someone( librarians) found ways to not just preserve that vast collection if stories, fact or fiction, but provide ways for everyone to access them regardless of background, race or creed. I recall as a little boy having an aunt expose me to books on her shelf and my mother who was willing to be dragged to the small public library downtown so I get the Zane Grey title not in her set! Then again finding the renewed love for libraries I saw in the relationship of my English teacher and school librarian. This bond and sense of service toward books and literacy only made me inspired to seek out the glorious old Main Library at UBC. The story of stories could be found in all these venues. Obee has a wonderful volume.

20130514-192637.jpg KSS Library , Al Smith 2013

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Filed under Global Informed, Personal Learning Network, Public Libraries, Public Library Services Branch

Mission creep, hi-tech , another year to re-evaluate

Mission Creep? Libraries and 3D Printers? What?

In response to a recent blog post I read by Hugh Rundle .( )

I get the urge to provide modern powerful tools that help our patrons/students to learn. Emphasizing the phase of creation/production to the information inquiry cycle makes sense in 2013. Developing a learning commons in a high school makes sense but like embracing 3D printers, iPads or other high tech innovations the risk is we lose our fundamental core virtues.  A new Learning Commons without a trained teacher-librarian is like the open pool without an instructor or life guard.

nerioxman____01Hugh Rundle’s thesis of mission creep;the frenzy to embrace technologies as the savior for library programs, may be a valid concern. Public, academic or school libraries all have unique missions and contexts as they strive to adapt and improve in this information age, but they all have a common obstacle- leadership that fails to discover and focus the decisions that hold sustainable purpose. The recent BC Libraries Summit ( )explored these issues.

Embracing technologies for its own trendy value is indeed a distraction, if not a major barrier.  Rundle calls it ‘technolust’!  Although my emphasis is a high school library, we do tend to model, lead and/or persuade our community with technology innovation. It has been a natural evolution of digital information realities; however, one truth is users/patrons have always come to the library as a reliable station for content, resources and advice whether it be a rare book, thesis support or 16mm film. The computing reality has been a natural progression of this service and is part of our culture. Our ‘technolust’, although present, is abated because of budgetary realities and policies but education in general suffers the same malady.

Change in libraries and in schools in general has occurred by two means. There is the determined targeted practice of leaders and practitioners who build programs and initiatives on the ground floor and there is just the inevitable absorption from wider social technological change.  I believe strong library programs must seek out option one.  A team of leaders who can collaborate and assess many views, options, and virtues of technologies that match sound program purpose.  An inspiring colleague of mine, Nicola at RSS, once encouraged me to embrace change with my site teammates to evaluate our mission.  It may sound cliche but it is necessary to avoid the creep Rundle argues against.

Grasping state of the art trends, like 3D printing is rather absurd when we may not be doing the fundamental needs effectively. I saw the one-to-one computing initiative come and go with very little advantage and certainly debatable sustaining education value.  There is notable benefits- always  is – but the cost/benefit ratio, training practivalities, pedagogical goals, cultural values and sustainability need to all be part of change.  I offer colour printing to my students, by request, yet the demand has been far less than I originally anticipated.  It’s convenience, no harm no foul, but the investment may not always match your aspirations. 3D printing output can illustrate concepts in very creative and informative ways.  It’s mazing stuff but… soon Staples or Costco will do it for our kids- dare I say from their phones?! . ( Engadget ) Watching Neri Oxman of MIT can give you the inspiration and rationale for 3D printing projects (YouTube ) but there are institutions and agents whose function it is to deliver more appropriate than a library. She synthesized iconic designs of mythology, story telling and architecture at the MIT MediaLab to produce ‘Mythologies of the Not Yet’ showcasing the potential of 3D printing from a design perspective.  I see the library’s role in her process as nurturing capacity of all three elements. The story.  The image. The technology. We should bring the climber to the mountain. Librarians should be the sherpa and assist the inspiration and the means not bring the mountain to the climber.

Re-assessing your mission is required before you thoughtfully decide which tools and practice you need to strengthen your program for the long term.

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Filed under Library Update, Professional Development, Public Libraries, School Library, Teacher Professional

Geek Out @ your library


Report teens look to libraries for tech support#bced #sd23ed #kssed sure do KSSLChas to have answers

— KSS Library (@kssreads) March 2, 2012

Geek Out @ your library

CHICAGO– As Web-enabled tools such as Facebook, texting and smartphone apps become a staple of teen culture, school and public libraries from coast to coast will throw open their physical and virtual doors to teens and showcase technological resources available @ your library during Teen Tech Week™, March 4 – 10, 2012. Teens by the thousands will improve their digital literacy skills as they take advantage of free library social networking and digital media workshops, e-books, databases, online homework help, gaming tournaments and much more.


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Filed under Education, LIBGuides, Public Libraries, School Library

Modern citizens know a library’s worth -Lam,Globe and Mail

Modern citizens know a library’s worth


From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail

Published Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011 2:00AM EDT

Amidst recent public outcry against proposed Toronto Public Library cuts, City Councillor Doug Ford said he “wouldn’t have a clue” who Margaret Atwood was if he saw her. He has since backtracked. He also complained that “I’ve got more libraries in my area than I have Tim Hortons.” Actually, Etobicoke has 39 Tim Hortons and 13 library branches. It doesn’t really matter whether Doug or his brother Rob, the Mayor, would recognize a Canadian literary icon. What matters is that we Torontonians love and use our library, at a very reasonable cost.

“…The Toronto Public Library runs on 19 cents per day per citizen.
For this reasonable sum, 32 million items are borrowed each year..”

Malvern Public Library TorontoOne of Rob Ford’s election mantras was that he would run Toronto like a business. Now that he’s mayor, the city is “dedicated to delivering customer service excellence.” That’s the new tagline on the city’s press releases. Meanwhile, all City of Toronto departments have been directed to cut 10 per cent from their budgets. Respect the taxpayer, remember? So perhaps we must simply accept library cuts as business restructuring.

What about the 72 per cent of Torontonians who access the library’s 11 million items, making it the busiest urban library system in the world? Or the 55 per cent who said in a July survey that, if their local councillor supported closing library branches, it would affect their municipal vote “a great deal”? Tough cookies. Business is business.

But wait a minute! If this city is to be run like a business (a Ford mantra, not mine), shouldn’t our Mayor and city council prioritize, strategize and allocate money efficiently? Shouldn’t it cut high-cost, underperforming parts of the organization, and preserve or even strengthen the low-cost, high-value portions, seeking value for money? No intelligent business restructuring cuts 10 per cent blindly from all parts of the enterprise.

The Toronto Public Library runs on 19 cents per day per citizen. For this reasonable sum, 32 million items are borrowed each year. For context, the Toronto Police Service costs $1 per citizen per day, five times as much as the library. Waste management costs 37 cents. The Vancouver Public Library costs $80 per citizen per year; the Toronto Public Library comes in at $68. If I were running this city as a business, I would say the library looks like it is delivering excellent value.

Where would the 10-per-cent budget cuts come from, anyhow? Would it be from our library’s settlement and housing seminars for newcomers to Canada? From the library’s workshops on résumés and interviewing skills for those seeking employment? Perhaps some brave councillor would like to explain the axing of Homework Help for Teens, a free evening tutoring program, or the popular Business Seminar Series, which helps new entrepreneurs get off the ground? There’s no good place to cut when an organization is already delivering high-value services at a reasonable price.

“…Of course, with 10 per cent off the library budget, each Torontonian would be $6.80 richer. Every year! What would I do with my savings? I could console myself by going to Tim Hortons. I’d have a large iced cappuccino, a yogurt and two Timbits, please. Oops – $6.80 isn’t enough for that. If someone is going to claim to use their business smarts to run this city better, they’d better not gut my library without even saving me enough for a snack at my favourite coffee shop.”

Meanwhile, there are two priceless features of each of the 18 million annual library visits in this city. First, sharing wisdom through the library and its programs increases the wealth of our community. We learn, innovate and enrich our city by sharing knowledge through books, films, lectures and discussion. Second, the library is completely democratic. It provides access to information, culture and leisure for new immigrants and established Canadians, to children and the elderly, and to all Torontonians whether they’re rich or going through tough times.

Speaking of tough times, in which we’re told that all belts must tighten: Such are the precise times in which those with less disposable income need access to good libraries more than ever. Those who can’t buy books need to access the library’s collections, not to see acquisitions or library hours cut. The destruction of the ancient Library of Alexandria is one of the intellectual tragedies of antiquity.

The public anger in Toronto over proposed library cuts shows that modern citizens also know a library’s worth. The Fords might pay attention to former Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, who once said: “If you cut funding to libraries, you cut the lifeblood of our communities.”

Of course, with 10 per cent off the library budget, each Torontonian would be $6.80 richer. Every year! What would I do with my savings? I could console myself by going to Tim Hortons. I’d have a large iced cappuccino, a yogurt and two Timbits, please. Oops – $6.80 isn’t enough for that. If someone is going to claim to use their business smarts to run this city better, they’d better not gut my library without even saving me enough for a snack at my favourite coffee shop.

Vincent Lam is a writer and ER physician. His book Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures won the 2006 Giller Prize. He is participating in the “Why My Library Matters to Me” contest for lunch with one of 11 distinguished Toronto writers, sponsored by the Toronto Public Library Workers Union. (Toronto residents can enter at [ ]

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