April 23, 2018

The Human Connection | The Digital Shift 2015

Photo ©2015 Shawn G. Henry

Photo ©2015 Shawn G. Henry

Libraries may be going digital, but librarians still bring—and need—that personal touch. On October 14, Library Journal and School Library Journal‘s virtual conference, The Digital Shift: Libraries Connecting Communities, aptly demonstrated this in a wide range of offerings throughout the day-long event.

During his keynote address, John Palfrey emphasized the need in this new digital age to highlight “humans,” he said. The author of BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More than Ever in the Age of Google (Basic Books, 2015) spoke passionately about the transition happening in libraries—and the need to “put humanity into the equation.”

“I want to make sure whatever architecture we create, we have humans at the core of it,” said Palfrey, who is also head of school at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA; a Knight Foundation trustee chair; director of the Data + Society Research Institute; and founding board member of the Digital Public Library of America. “Humans at the door. Humans meeting people as they come into physical spaces. Or humans in the digital environment helping people to sort credible from not credible information, who make recommendations to be effective guides.”

This role of the librarian as teacher, guide and lamplighter, even in the digital age, was echoed by speakers across multiple sessions. Palfrey, in particular, spoke about the need to not be nostalgic for the way librarians operated in the past—with their emphasis on tangible, physical materials and only a passing familiarity with the digital change before them.

Indeed, he believes that nostalgia “… may become a problem.” Professional development, he noted, is one area that could help librarians be more informed about today’s digital shift, and how they can adapt it to their own work.


TDS_libonconBarbara Alvarez and Gwyneth Stupar couldn’t agree with that premise more. The two co-launched a virtual space specifically for librarians to share and push their own librarianship further. During their 30-minute session, “You’re On Air! Using Google Hangouts to Connect Libraries and Librarians,” the two spoke about the free tool, and how librarians can use it to help develop new skills at no cost to those who attend.

“The whole purpose of using these tools, like Google Hangouts, is to really focus on building relationships,” said Alvarez, adult services manager at Westmont Public Library, IL. “We can share ideas, get inspired, and really network with one another, and with people across the country.”

She and Stupar launched their conference, The Library OnConference, in August 2014, even designing their own web site and logo. The Barrington Area Library, IL, where they both worked at the time and where Stupar remains as adult services librarian, paid for their web domain. More than 60 people registered from the United States and Canada for the first event, with another 300 live-streaming the conference. A second event ran in April, and a third is planned for next spring. Both see the conference as a way for librarians to gain some confidence in their own professional development.

“We want to empower people who may be listening and make it be a little less scary,” said Stupar.


TDS_pianoAt the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, IL, both students and librarians discovered how much fun programming and coding could be. Neither teen librarian Trixie Dantis nor teen advisor Alice Son studied computer science in school. But a willingness to jump in and try is really the only requirement other librarians need to launch their own digital events.

“We encourage you to be brave and get coding,” said Dantis during the “Programming at the Library” session. “You might think it’s too hard to understand, that you’d never get it. But my main advice to you is to try it out. You don’t have to be an expert.”

Dantis and Son started working with students on projects using Raspberry Pis, light sensors, and Arduinos to create holiday light shows and a giant light sensor–triggered piano. The success of those experiences led to their <code>breakers program, where students designed their own websites and programmed finch robots with free programming platform, Scratch. Now adults have gotten into the library’s digital sandbox as well, playing with a developer version of Oculus Rift during monthly demonstrations.

“Experience has shown us that teens [in particular] won’t respond as well to programs that purely about learning an education skill,” says Dantis. “You’ve got to make it fun.”


TDS_gamificationFun clearly transpired during Game Off, a gaming event launched between New York University’s Shanghai campus and its location in Abu Dhabi in 2014. Raymond Pun, a first year student success librarian at California State University, Fresno, was the reference librarian in Shanghai for two years.

During his session, “Global Library Games Across Land and Sea: Gamification as a Library Outreach Program,” Pun explained how students were encouraged to bring in games they had designed, with the library creating its own. One game, called Murder in the Stacks, sent students through the library stacks, working in pairs and in teams, using research elements to try and locate clues and books.

Scheduling across international time zones proved challenging, particularly as each campus also had a different school schedule (Abu Dhabi, for example, only holds classes Sunday through Thursday). But the goal to get students in the library, both physically and virtually, worked—and uncovered another discovery: students found collaborating together a plus.

“We were able to identify that students enjoyed working in groups, learning from each other,” said Pun. “So we really turned the library into both an activity and a space.”


TDS_BerwickBerwick Academy, in South Berwick, ME, aimed to push its library beyond being simply a center for learning. In the process, the launch of its Innovation Center also transformed the school. During their half-hour session, “Berwick Academy’s Innovation Center: Librarians Fostering Creativity & Collaboration,” multiple school staff members spoke about the change the Innovation Center has made to the school’s Jackson Library and to the students’ learning process, with digital tools stitched into nearly every feature. Among other programs, each student is offered a chance to complete an Innovation Pursuit (IP), where they deep dive into an area, creating a finished project.

“Technology is an integral component of every individual pursuit,” said Darcy Coffta, Berwick’s director of innovation and the upper school librarian. “Students are blogging, Skyping and sharing their innovation pursuits with a worldwide audience.”

The shift started with research during 2008–09. Now in its seventh year, the Innovation Center has a maker-in-residence who works directly with students, programming 3-D printers, and even soldering. The center also serves as a presentation space for each of the students’ IPs, and is the link for all of the programs, serving as a model for other librarians and libraries eager to bring this digital transformation to their own spaces.

“The library is no longer a place of quiet, individual work,” said Coffta. “Now collaboration, communication and originality fill our space.”

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