Teaching and research in the humanities have expanded to embrace new technologies, new formats, and new techniques. This month we asked how school librarians were supporting the humanities, beyond providing printed texts.
The responses ranged from, "We don't go beyond print sources" to "We have an Innovation Lab (huge makerspace), green screen, iPads, breakout boxes, LittleBits. All of these can enhance projects and encourage collaboration throughout the humanities." One telling trend was the connection between the humanities and database resources. Although we didn't offer predefined responses, 40% of respondents referenced the databases they provide to teachers and students.
Other responses focused on devices that facilitated access to sources. And yet other respondents seemed to look at the question very differently and discussed video production, music-making software, and other creation tools.
Though this is a small sample of school libraries, the divide in access to and use of beyond-print resources is apparent. One respondent with experience in small, rural school libraries, commented on the connection between having a certified librarian and going beyond print. They remarked, "Whether because of funding or mindset, I find these districts bound mostly to print."
Funding may be an issue, but there are other factors to consider. The range of responses we received might indicate a variance in individual perceptions of what the humanities are. For example, we write as two school librarians. One of us is a former music teacher, the other has a background in English education. One of us automatically connected this question to music and the arts, while the other went right to literature and philosophy. Neither of us is wrong, but we answered very differently because of our unique perspectives.
Since we seem to approach the idea of how we can support the humanities, so very differently, it might be helpful to consider our school library as an "information ecology." Nardi and O'Day define this as "a system of people, practices, values, and technologies in a particular local environment." As in environmental ecology, key components are diversity, keystone species, locality, and co-evolution. It's fairly easy to apply these concepts to nature, and interesting to consider them in our library.
Nardi and O'Day's framework allows us to view our program and our place within it, how we affect others in our ecology, and how they affect us. (Is anyone else thinking about Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder" right now?) It can be so easy to draw a few obvious connections for who and how our program serves students and teachers within our school. For some of us, we readily see how to provide support to the arts or humanities. For a lot of us, that isn't something we've spent much time considering.
Let's consider it! Perrault, whose work also delves into information ecologies, drew some exciting conclusions about our place within the school: "In an information ecology, a school librarian who has a distinct repertoire of skills, knowledge, and expertise about information-seeking and information literacy is a keystone species—a species whose presence can be vital in fostering and supporting key ecology activities." As a keystone species, we have the power and opportunity to make connections where they currently aren't. We can reach out to departments, teachers, classes, and students, who we haven't seen an obvious way to support, and consider again what resources, tools, or technologies they may benefit from.
A discussion about supporting the humanities can't help but become a discussion about collaboration. Take the time to see what and who your program is impacting right now. Evaluate neglected areas and consider how to bring a greater balance to the information ecology of your school.
Nardi, B.A., & O'Day, V. Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart. First Monday 4, no 5 (May 1999). http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/672/58
Perrault, A.M. "The School as an Information ecology" In Librarians and Educators Collaborating for Success. Libraries Unlimited, 2017.