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Reconceptualizing the library

Written by Joe Dillon
March 30, 2012

I’ll be blogging in response to a webinar series offered by at the invitation of the National Writing Project’s Digital Is . In this week’s session, hosted again by Howard Rheingold, we heard from Buffy J. Hamilton, The Unquiet Librarian, who engaged in a discussion about libraries and learning spaces.

Dr. David Preston’s high school class “hung out” during the webinar and asked a big question: “What [does] the future of libraries look like, considering the rapid growth of reading technologies such as the Kindle and the iPad?”

A great question by itself, this inquiry only gets better when you consider the context: from their classroom in California, this group of students asked this question of Buffy Hamilton an innovative librarian in Georgia, Howard Rheingold , prolific author and a teacher at Stanford, and a live stream audience of educators. It appears these students came to the right place for answers.

In her opening remarks, Hamilton hinted at the work that educators will have to do to answer the students’ question. She challenged her audience to “reconceptualize the library as a place that is a shared composition.” She said educators have to collaborate with the students they serve to “compose and construct the story of library participation,” with the goal of developing responsible, agentive students who learn what education can be in a lot of different spaces.

Where do we even begin?

Well, we might begin here- Librarian 2.0 . It’s Rheingold’s 2010 interview of Hamilton. When I read this the day after the web session, still thinking about connected learning, I stopped only for a brief moment to name what I was doing.

I’m looking at exemplary student work that came from an nationally-recognized librarian’s collaboration with a classroom teacher, mediated by the writing of an expert on the Internet and learning . (And I’m in my pajamas!)

I poured through some student projects, and I read for a while on each of the two blogs I found that Hamilton offers, The Unquiet Library , The Unquiet Librarian . (I found three or four other virtual platforms for the work she does with her school, and skimmed those, too.)

I think I got a glimpse of the future of libraries, which is what those students in the web session asked about. I saw pictures of a dynamic physical space and I toured an unbounded virtual space.

During the web session, Hamilton spoke about her work with students and Personal Learning Environments (PLEs), remarking that asking students to work in public, virtual spaces was asking them to take a “leap of faith.” Hamilton’s own work demonstrates for students and teachers alike the benefits of this leap. By publishing her work to the web, she gives us all access to her joyful approach and her strong thinking about physical and virtual spaces which promote inspired learning. By sharing in this way, she encourages other educators to take the leap of faith, to share and think with a larger community focused on answering tough questions.

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