Accessibility: Simple Things

In one of my courses, I stress accessibility with my students concerning school library web sites. Since they build mock sites, one of the things they must do before building their sites is to refresh their knowledge on accessibility issues. Some of the sources that we use are:

In addition, as they build their sites using a site builder, such as Google Sites, Weebly, or Webs.com, they should take advantage of the tools that are offered to them. Alternative text and annotations for links and images is one such help. Another is to use the built in headers and formatting features.

Alternative Text:

Each builder offers a similar way to include alternative text with images. When adding or inserting an image, pay attention to the information requested. Many times you will find place holders or areas to enter in text that are called “captions” or “alt text.” When you include text that describes the images in these place holders, you will notice, after saving, that text will appear when you scroll over or hover over the image. Including alternative text is a simple way of making your school library web site more accessible to diverse populations.

Teaching/Librarianship Portfolios May Be More Important Now

With the rumblings about change in education and some districts eliminating positions like school librarians to cut costs, it might be time for updating the portfolio. Building a stronger representation of  what we do with students and sharing it with those who hold the keys to our positions and paychecks is vital. We know the strides we make with each student. We see progress on a daily basis and over time. Those who are outside of our environments and who must balance budgets do the best they can with the knowledge they have. The information we provide them might help us continue our work as we support student learning.

When I created my first constructive portfolio that served me well, I referred to How to Develop a Professional Portfolio: A Manual for Teachers, 3rd ed. by Campbell, Cignetti, Melenyzer, Nettles, and Wyman, Jr. (2004). Prior to that, I followed what our school had developed for evaluation purposes. With the manual, I found a more comprehensive, professional, and reflective way to represent myself and my repertoire as a teacher and a school librarian. The portfolio I developed served me well.

Now, I am going to revisit my portfolio with an eye on the future. What will be most important for evaluation? What skills should I focus on or seek professional development so I may add them to my knowledge base? Will I include items that I have on the Web? How will I address electronic applications that do not translate well to paper? Should I develop two separate portfolios: one paper and one electronic? Should I add to those a portfolio that has elements of both?

When I make these decisions, I will want to make them with the knowledge that the formats that I select will be accessible in the future. Why? Last week I cleaned out a drawer that had floppy discs in it. They are useless now. Whatever portfolio information that I might have had on them and did not have in a different format is not accessible to me at the moment. I will want to be sure to choose formats that I can keep for a long time. This will offer me opportunities for reflection and evidence of growth.

To get started on my new portfolio, I need to plan. Decisions must be made on what to collect, where to store what I collect, and how to organize it all. I have options. I would like to use what I have rather than make a side trip to the Container Store or my local office supply store. This might take some thinking time and creativity, but I am sure it will be worth it. A good start will help set a solid foundation for developing a portfolio that will provide evidence of what I do well.

Storytelling in the School Library

I think it is time that I revisit storytelling in the school library. Why? Storytelling has so much potential for reaching people. Yet, I stink at it unless I am telling a funny, rib-tickling story. Storytelling reaches across cultures. But, I only belong to one culture, really. However, storytelling helps people make connections between the storyteller’s tale and their own experiences. I am good at making connections!

School Library Web Sites

It’s that time again: Reviewing school library web sites.

Are school library web sites changing to meet the needs of their users? Over time, I have observed more interactive sites that are attractive. The process of change has been slow, yet steady.

Many of the cute clip art decorations have disappeared. Replacing it are actual photos of users in action within the local facilities of the school library.

Designated areas for research links, reference databases, school-related information, suggested reading, the online catalog, professional development or links for teachers, and miscellaneous are now regular features.

The virtual school library is coming alive. Students and parents have the opportunity to access school resources from outside the school walls to continue the learning experience.

What will be interesting is to watch for what is to come for school library web site content.

Librarian Reading at the Academic & School Level

I was reading Michelle Leigh Jacobs’ article on “Ethics and Ethical Challenges in Library Instruction” in the  Journal of Library Administration, 47(3/4), and noticed how she clearly defined her views, her role, and the liberal/conservative tug-of-war in academia. Jacobs indicates an uncomfortableness with the struggle while expressing her views as a liberal. She believes that peer-reviewed journals have not grown, have remained conservative, and thus, stifle librarianship because they are not practical for today’s librarian’s needs other than to promote tenure and further a career among colleagues.

In her article, her discussion of the liberal/conservative struggle represents a discussion that should remain alive and well in academia and not silenced from either side. Great ideas and perspective will come from the continuous debate. (She demonstrates how a good librarian works with students providing information representing both sides, even when they – librarian and student – disagree.)

For my take, on the school front, peer-reviewed journals may not make for practical reading either. However, the discussion of ideals brings greater thought to mind. Perspective is pondered. Out of the daily grind, one is taken.

I believe that we must make time to reach beyond the day-to-day living out of our work and grasp higher reading. This may not seem beneficial when we greet the next morning’s problems that are very real, but the reading might help us remember to not become bogged down in daily living by keeping our minds above the fray as we reach for new frontiers on the horizon.

Of course, this does not rule out reading for practical problem solving as Jacobs suggests, such as blogs, or listening to podcasts. These are excellent ways to share in the here and now. As for the school library, we have excellent print and online resources for practical reading, such as SLJ, among others.

What might be of greater importance is that, for peer-reviewed journals, issues that are of the practical realm and are long term should be addressed. Jacobs presents a few of these that should be of concern to academic and school librarians, such as the sharing of information among colleagues through Web 2.0 sources and how these should be documented for future reference.

Acceptable Use Policies

Having a good Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) for Internet Use and enforcing it regularly are important for your school. In fact, according to Fitzer and Peterson (2002) http://www.ed.uiuc.edu/wp/crime-2002/aup.htm you can have an AUP, enforce it, and not need a filter if you are using software that activates when violations occur to notify of the offense. (I would like to see this software in action!)

In a previous post, I expresses concern over privacy, authentication and access for library systems. For an AUP to work, the network must be able to identify who has access to the Internet. Should this extend to the library’s OPAC?

Data trails and clickstreams may be captured and saved for violators using the software that activates when the violation occurs. All other data trails and clickstreams would not need to be collected and saved.

What about the “ones that get away and don’t get caught?” That is where responsibility and diligence come in. The school community should not be ignorant of what is going on in their libraries or on their computers. The link provided above to Fitzer and Peterson’s article provides some excellent ideas to help the school community prepare, prevent, and handle violations of the AUP.

Are School Librarians Shapers and Movers?

Here is something to think about as I begin this New Year.

I have noticed more people out walking in my community this week. It might have something to do with the resolutions that they have made for the New Year. In our school libraries, are we creating displays that reflect healthy choices that might reflect some of the resolutions made? Or, are we reflecting our community in some other way, such as the upcoming presidential inauguration or MLK holiday?

School libraries enrich a community.

School librarians play a role in how the enrichment process takes place. In a way, they help to shape the community through selection, service, and in other roles that they perform daily. Interaction between the school library and the community allow for the best information to be available for the students who live within that community. This interaction will create trust between the school library and the community because communication exists between the two. At times, there may be disagreement but the school library will reveal their bias for providing more information and viewpoints rather than less; follow sound policies that have been established for the protection of all students; and reach an agreement with the community that will best serve it, with the understanding that change is always forthcoming.

Do school librarians have the ability to shape and move a community? Yes, but they should follow ethical standards set forth by the profession and proceed with care for their students and community by providing service that represents that community and not their own desires.

School Library Access & Authentication

How do your students access school library materials and databases? Are they using their private information to do so? How far does that information travel beyond the school’s physical walls?

[Note: I do no propose that I am an expert on how data and private information is stored about students. What I want to do is consider how it is collected, stored, and what may happen to it. I believe that if we do not think about this, then we are not doing our jobs as librarians.]

When students desire to access materials, the librarian identifies them in some manner. This is authentication. As school librarians are well aware, there are ethical issues surrounding the private information of students. How students are identified for authentication in a library management system requires careful consideration. If the library’s automation system is contained to that one campus, then the issue of protecting patrons’ information is not as wide and broad as it is for a school library with an integrated online automation system or a virtual library system. The latter systems create user clickstreams, research trails, and possible other stores of data that might be traceable back to an individual student.

What is required of the librarian is an understanding of how information is stored. Decisions should be made to limit the amount of information that is collected to be stored. This would include login information. Records over time should be kept confidential or scrubbed.

The American Library Association (ALA) has a Policy on Confidentiality of Library Records, Code of Ethics, and a model of a privacy policy to help with the privacy and security implications. When working with database vendors (secondary parties) and reading their privacy policies, one will find that their privacy policies may not protect students (patrons) as well as ALA recommends. If you are unsure about this, check out an e-book or audiobook provider’s privacy policy to see if they are tracking and profiling their users.

Overall, the goal should be to protect students’ private information. Consider how students access the OPAC, checkout materials, research, and how their information is stored as they go about accessing what the school library has to offer. Is their private information safe, or is it available to secondary and third parties where it may not be encrypted or traceable back to the individual?

Common Themes of 2.0

I am attending the Internet@Schools West Conference and Internet Librarian 2008 Conference (Information Today) where the keynote speakers and the workshop presenters are sharing themes. These themes are crossing the boundaries of business and education. They are re-shaping the global society. Take a look at the following list to make a thoughtful decision for yourself if you are uncertain:

  • Blogs have the ability to be searched and mined for vital information, such as to provide answers and solutions
  • The “wisdom of crowds” has presence even if it is not always the correct strategy at the moment
  • The knowledge view is on “social;” i.e., knowledge sharing, where people participate, experts are located, ideas are debated and innovation is key.
  • We need less control over content in the way that content is defined or expressed so that the effort may be collaborative using 2.0, free shareware, that can be placed in a password, protected environment.
  • We should step back and ask, “How can I reach you?” and begin to reach out.
  • Have more forums for participation rather than complaint boxes.
  • Know that there are less people who are experienced in social networking and expect mistakes and to learn from them.

These themes are not new. They are becoming more of a lived reality that can become easily accessible if we allow and encourage them now. If we do not, someone else will. This is what i am hearing. Is this what you see?

Vlogs

This particular vlog by Howard Rheingold http://vlog.rheingold.com/ contains an entry on vernacular that really set the pace for why I will want to add professional vlogs to my “reading” list. With time limited as to how much I can actually spend on professional development, I must select carefully the materials that I am willing to devote my energies to for growth. Even though I am considering this vlog as part of my growth plan, I must not give up print. I have found that print materials, especially scholarly journals, add a richness and thickness to my personal development that other types of materials do not.