I recently read a Forbes article by Kalev Leetaru, entitled, "Computer Science Could Learn a Lot from Library and Information Science," wherein the author, an expert in large-scale datasets and computing platforms, reflects on two sides of the same "data coin" in today's era of intersecting disciplines of technology. Where computer scientists marvel at the power of data and all that can mined and manipulated, Leetaru, who holds a PhD in LIS, explains that library and information scientists respect that power, espousing concerns for privacy, individual user preferences and needs, and societal effects of evolving information capabilities.
In practice, the distinctions between the fields of computer science and LIS might actually be more blurred than the lines Leetaru draws, and arguments can be made that more academic programs and initiatives are working to merge these areas of thought and expertise through systems approaches to policy and innovation. Yet, I was still struck by this reminder of what I know as a library and information professional and how this knowledge is unique from the expertise of those I consider colleagues in education.
We're hearing more and more about professional isolation of teachers, particularly for educators in specialty areas, including school librarianship. One natural tactic to feel deeper belonging and connection may be to focus on sameness with others, identifying those points where our jobs, tasks, and priorities align: We're teachers too. We're on the same team. We want the same things.
As a librarian, you likely know the story of Elmer, the patchwork elephant. In David McKee's 1989 picture book, colorful Elmer decides he is tired of being different from all the gray elephants and covers his patchwork in elephant-colored berries. But something is missing when an unrecognizable Elmer returns to the herd, a serious bunch in need of a laugh. With a show of his unique humor and a wash of well-timed rain, Elmer's patchwork and his cherished place in the community, are revealed.
Whether functional or conceptual, there is value in identifying things we share with fellow educators, but we must be mindful not to blend in too much, lest we forget our contributions. This notion comes to mind when considering the librarians' deep knowledge and context for navigating and evaluating information sources, our issue theme. Leetaru's article emphasizes the complex system of understandings of people, information, and technologies that librarians draw upon in engaging with patrons. When a school librarian recommends a resource to a student or teacher, this suggestion isn't a superficial match to a topic, or even grade level. The appraisal is rich, reflecting characteristics from accessibility to quality of content, from policy appropriateness to authority of the provider, to navigation and language.
In describing dimensions of inquiry learning, Harada, Chun, Louis, and Okemora assert that learning is about more than facts; it is about process:
In his work with Harvard's Project Zero, David Perkins (1992) maintains that understanding is not a state of possession but one of enablement. He explains that when we understand something, we not only possess certain information about it, but must also be "enabled to do certain things with that knowledge" (2017, p. 14).
What are you enabled to do with your knowledge of library science in matters of curating information sources? And how do you show your "patchwork" to students, colleagues, and your school community? School librarians are teachers as purely as Elmer is an elephant. But when we extract our expert perspective as librarians, not to subtract it from the conversation but to examine it and consider its value, perhaps we can proffer even more dynamic and confident service as information professionals.
Harada, Violet with Lori Ezaki Chun, Patricia Louis, and Audrey Okemora. "Librarians as Learning Leaders: Cultivating Cultures of Inquiry." In The Many Faces of School Library Leadership. 2nd Ed. Libraries Unlimited, 2017: 14.
Leetaru, Kalev. "Computer Science Could Learn a Lot from Library and Information Science." Forbes (August 5, 2019). https://www.forbes.com/sites/kalevleetaru/2019/08/05/computer-science-could-learn-a-lot-from-library-and-information-science.