Monday, May 30, 2011

"OK, you win"

APS board chair agrees to step down |
Atlanta school board Chairman Khaatim Sherrer El agreed Monday to step down from leadership.
El and other members sought assurances that the move would unify the board and assure city leaders of its intent to win favor with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), which put the district on probation.
I'm not prepared to say Mr El is correct in all things, but if the charge is "the board is contentious" and the response is "one person changes", I don't understand how that can possibly be enough. That would imply that Mr El is not merely a problem, not merely the biggest problem, but the only problem.

Oh, and while we're at it:

Atlanta superintendent acknowledges cheating |
A month before retiring as Atlanta’s schools superintendent, Beverly Hall finally acknowledged this week that educators cheated to help students pass state-mandated achievement tests. And, she said, the findings of a criminal investigation into the matter will be “alarming.”
In the interests of accuracy, I should note she didn't say it would be "surprising". And I should also mention that if she'd said this a year ago, APS would not now be in the jam it's in. They'd still be in a jam, just a different, more reparable jam. And folks might, you know, trust them to fix it.

As it is, though, it just makes it look like Job One at 130 Trinity is to keep the wagons circled.

Monday, May 16, 2011

What does a librarian do?

Seth's Blog: The future of the library

I like Seth Godin, but...

Before Gutenberg, a book cost about as much as a small house. As a result, only kings and bishops could afford to own a book of their own.
No, neither kings nor bishops owned books. Why would a king want one? He couldn't read. It's only many decades after Gutenberg that the concept of "public literacy" gained any meaning at all.

Industrialists (particularly Andrew Carnegie) funded the modern American library. The idea was that in a pre-electronic media age, the working man needed to be both entertained and slightly educated.
Slightly educated? Slightly educated? Carnegie weeps.

Your kids need a place with shared encyclopedias and plenty of fun books...
Is that what you think a library is for? Carnegie wails.

Which was all great, until now. Want to watch a movie? Netflix is a better librarian...
You were talking about libraries, not movies. Carnegie gnashes his teeth.

Wikipedia and the huge databanks of information have basically eliminated the library as the best resource for anyone doing amateur research (grade school, middle school, even undergrad).
Oh, so that's where you were going. Why didn't you say so to begin with?

In any case, it's not so. Wikipedia didn't eliminate the library: Its creators simply responded to a need for a skill that students were no longer being taught. The ready reference librarians never went away: They are still there.

The library is still "the best resource for anyone doing amateur research". It's just that few people really do that any more, absent some classroom requirement. For decades, schools have taught and other media (okay, I'll say it: "television") have reinforced that only intellectuals read. Alphabetical order? Bibliographic citation? Scientific method? These are for elitists only, of no practical value to such as us. Anything worth knowing can be understood in ten words or less. (Never mind that that sentence is eleven words.)

They need a librarian more than ever (to figure out creative ways to find and use data). They need a library not at all.
The librarian was always the most valuable asset to be found in a library. Without her (so sue me: the vast majority of them are women), it's just a box of books. Even if the patron doesn't deal with the librarian personally, he benefits from her judgement in the criteria by which the collection is selected and maintained. She's an editor who culls the flawed and nonsensical, and recommends the more reliable sources, most likely to actually enrich your experience. (This is a function with which Wikipedia still struggles.)

Librarians that are arguing and lobbying for clever ebook lending solutions are completely missing the point.
Oh, really, Seth, that's a controversy you don't want to even brush up against in an article as short as this one. Publishers have always distrusted libraries (every book borrowed is a book not sold, they say, and from whence will the next book come if the previous book isn't profitable?), and ebooks embody everything they dislike about libraries. The librarian's goal remains unchanged: To get the information into the hands of the person who wants it. Librarians have no particular desire for "clever ebook lending solutions", they just want the damn books and have to compromise with the publishers who insist that access to those books be limited.

But, as I said, this is a discussion for another day.

The next library is...
The library today already is all of the things you want "the next library" to be.

But I think the next time you utter the phrase "dead paper", some librarian is going to grab the nearest, most bricklike stack of "dead paper" and throw it at you.