Tapping the Tools of Teen Culture in the LMC 0

This article first appeared in the Sept/Oct issue of “Multimedia & Internet @ Schools.” They put it online full text (yay) but I’m going to reprint it here now in case you didin’t click through, and because I can. While it is focused on Library Media Centers in schools, it is could be useful for public librarians too.


On Dec. 13, 2006, TIME named us all Person of the Year. The cover read, “You Control the Information Age. Welcome to Your World.” It should come as no surprise that this declaration set the Web atwitter. Some people saw TIME’s choice as a validating instance of mainstream media recognizing the shift occurring in the production of information and online content. For younger people, the people we’re teaching in our school libraries, there was no shift to recognize. Many of them have never known an information landscape without things such as blogs, YouTube, MySpace, and instant messaging. They’ve always known the Web to be not just for reading content but for writing content as well.

Let’s not mistake their acquaintance with Web 2.0 for expertise. While our students might be able to click through Web sites with ease and change the layouts of their MySpace profiles in the blink of an eye, there are still many things we can teach them about the read/write Web. There are also many ways we can teach our students using the read/write Web. Underlying these opportunities is the possibility to use the read/write Web to discuss the issues of authorship, authenticity, and the production of information—all topics for rich discussions of information literacy.

This article will provide a cursory review of some of the best online tools you can use to excite teachers and to prepare students to be active agents in today’s participatory culture.

Start a Conversation

Don’t think of Weblogs as a certain type of Web site. Certainly there are plenty of blogs that fill the “online diary” stereotype, but we’re not necessarily concerned with these here. Think of Weblogs from the back end. Blog systems are powerful pieces of software that allow nontechies to publish things on the Web. That highlights their potential a bit more, doesn’t it?

Ease of use isn’t the only reason you should employ blogs. An important reason is the availability of interactivity. Usually blog posts are enabled to receive responses through comments. Blog posts and comments are a great way to get students talking about books online, and this is already taking place in commercial venues. See the Readz section of the tween blogs site AllyKatzz, for example. The blog Student Reflections on Night by Elie Wiesel is an example of students responding to posts about a book through comments. Students can also use blogs for creative writing purposes. They might really enjoy writing a blog from the perspective of a book’s character or historical figure. Whatever content they are putting online, they are sure to be engaged with the process of blogging more than the process of turning in a document to a teacher.

Google’s Web-based Weblog system, Blogger, is a good place to start because you can have a free blog up and running in less than 10 minutes. If you’re at a loss for what to put online, use content that you’re already preparing for use on paper. Better yet, put your book talks into text and post them online. Like most online tools, there are a variety of privacy settings you can explore to best suit your needs. If you want to go beyond blogger, check out Edublogs, which is a free Weblog hosting service for educators and students. The software it uses is the current darling of the blog world: WordPress. If you get serious about integrating Weblogs into your curriculum, you (or your school’s IT department) can download your own version of WordPress and host it on your school’s server. This is the most technically difficult solution, but it will afford you the most control over your blogs.

No More FrontPage!

School librarians often make Web pages for teachers who want some of their units to be online. Skill and time restraints have often forced school librarians to use the now-discontinued Microsoft FrontPage to accomplish this task. The increased usability of wikis—Web pages that can be quickly and easily edited—have pushed FrontPage further into obsolescence.

Wikis are one of the best tools to increase collaboration among school librarians, teachers, and students. School librarians can hold instructional sessions and show teachers and students how to edit wikis. Thus, the task of making a Web page for a teacher’s project becomes an opportunity to empower teachers and provides an information literacy lesson for students. Other uses for wikis include using them as a Web notebook with which to collect links and information, as a brainstorming space, and as a way to make easy to update pathfinders.

There are different levels of protection and security you can give your new wiki. The popular and free wiki site PBwiki.com allows users make their wikis private by password protecting them. Only people with the wiki’s password can see and make changes to the wiki.

Pretty as a Picture

At first glance, Flickr is a photo-sharing Web site through which people can easily upload photos to the Web. Looking further, you’ll notice that Flickr is a large pool of user-generated content and an interesting example of everyday people cataloging information and working with metadata … for fun! Users can tag the photos they upload, creating a searchable keyword index to the photos on the site. Flickr aggregates all of these tags and assembles them into a tag cloud, which is a visual representation of the tags used on the site. While students might be bored to tears if you lecture them about formal taxonomies versus folksonomies, there are still a number of ways you can use Flickr in the LMC. Flickr can be searched by tags, or full text, including photo titles and annotations. A Flickr scavenger hunt might be a good way to talk about search strategies and the reliability of user-generated content. Photos can be organized into sets on Flickr. Having students upload images to Flickr, group them into sets, and provide text annotation is a way to get them more interested in presenting their book reports. Use Pictobrowser and your Flickr account to easily create an online slide show of photos. There are many tools available at fd’s Flickr toys that you and students can use to make magazine covers, motivational posters, and more out of Flickr photos.

Buddying Up to IMers

In schools, instant messaging (IM) is often maligned as a social distraction. It is indeed a channel for powerful social interaction, a fact that has secured a place for IM in young people’s life toolkit. For many of them, IM is the preferred mode of communication; it is as important as—or even more important than—phone and email correspondence. Some libraries are responding to this by being available to communicate with their users via IM. This meets IMers where they are and removes a barrier to service.

People who IM the library often add the library’s screen name to their buddy lists, which are lists of online contacts. Libraries become the “buddies” of IMers. What a great relationship to cultivate! When libraries are on a student’s buddy list, the library has a near-permanent presence in his or her online experience. Along with friends and family, the library is there as a trusted source of information.

One of the best things about starting IM in your library is that the software is free. AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) is the most popular IM service for young people, so be sure to register for an account on their Web site. You can download the AIM software, but if you don’t want to bother (or it isn’t allowed in your institution!), try using a no-download Web-based service such as meebo. If all forms of IM are blocked in your school, you’ll have to have a conversation with the IT department and school administration.

Be the Change

School librarians wanting to start new, interactive Web projects often face resistance from school administration. Is there an effective way to convince risk-averse administration to green light your project? Tim Lauer, principal of Lewis Elementary in Portland, Ore., highlights the fact that “school librarians are in a unique position to help students, teachers, and administrators understand the challenges and opportunities that present themselves as technology and communication tools change and take on a more social nature. Ignoring these changes will not make them go away, so it is imperative that we help our students learn the responsible use of these technologies.” It is this urgency that needs to be expressed to resistant colleagues. If we continue to let other librarians, teachers, and administrators stick their heads in the sand, we’re not successfully filling our roles of information professionals.

##sidebar content##

Choices, Choices! Do I Wiki or Blog?

Blogs and wikis are both tools that enable people to get content online. Once you play with both tools, you’ll soon discover that blogs are good for displaying content in order and archiving that content. Wikis don’t automatically archive content like blogs, and it is easier to keep certain content
in one place. When using blogs, new content pushes older content off the page into the archives. Generally speaking, blogs are good for always having current, different information on a page. Wikis are more Web-like and are good for having multiple, linked pages that hold specific content. Looking at the Wikipedia page for a certain topic and then a blog that covers the same topic will highlight the differences.

Resources for Keeping Up With Teen and Tech Trends

“2007 Horizon Report” by The New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE
“Highlights six technologies that the underlying research suggests will become very important to higher education over the next one to five years.” Includes discussions of social software, virtual worlds, and user-created content.

“Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century,” by Henry Jenkins

“Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants,” by Marc Prensky
A classic essay on the learning habits of young people.

Totally Wired: What Teens and Tweens Are Really Doing Online, by Anastasia Goodstein

This book cuts through hype and details how young people are using the Web.

Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture, by Henry Jenkins
Not only valuable for its content about the tech side of participatory culture, this book examines fandom, a realm in which many teens enter.

Ypulse: Media for the Next Generation
News and information about teens and tweens geared toward “media and marketing professionals” is very useful for librarians wanting to gain insight into the preferences of people that age.

Pew Internet Studies
These reports are useful for gauging what teens are doing online. The statistics provided can help you make the case for interactive and engaging Web projects.

Social Networking Websites and Teens

Teen Content Creators and Consumers

Teens and Technology: Youth are Leading the Transition to a Fully Wired and Mobile Nation

meebo firefox add-on alerts you 3

IMming Reference Librarians, listen up! Meebo has released a meebo firefox add-on. Installing it will put a buddy list in the sidebar of your browser. The sidebar can be hidden if you don’t like it taking up the screen real estate.

One of the biggest complaints about using meebo at the Reference Desk is notifications and alerts. We probably weren’t the only one with this concern, because the add-on has all sorts of options about alerts.

Note: You’ll still need meebo.com open in a window or tab for the sidebar to work.

meebo rooms 4

Too bad I’m swamped at the library right now. I’d like to give Meebo Rooms a proper write up. Evidently what’s old is once again new…with a twist. Meebo Rooms are user created chat rooms that allow easy integration of media from YouTube, Flickr and probably other places. To include media for all chatters to see, all a user must do is type a URL in the chat box. Also, Meebo Rooms can be embedded into a web page ala the MeeboMe Widget.

Just to try it out quickly, I created a room called Library Fun. I used “March of the Librarians” to try out the video feature. Click through to see if anyone is playing around.

One other thing. There’s a “Search for Rooms” feature so I had to do a quick search for ‘library.’ A few rooms came up. One for Huddersfield University, one from Johnson County, and one already filled with chatting librarians called Library Society of the World.

meebo love 3

Jessamyn and I got mentioned on the meebo blog today:

Turns out that locked-down computers, reference librarians who always want to be in touch with their patrons, and the desire to make libraries fun and friendly have given meebo and meebo me the perfect opportunity to shine.

Just recently, we smiled when reading Jessamyn’s blog where she helped a librarian post these posters advocating the use of meebo instead of download clients. Also, Aaron has been traipsing around libraries promoting meebo me as well. He explains, meebo me doesn’t require a download and the widget can be placed directly on the library’s website.

Thanks for keeping meebo in mind when you’re visiting your local library and public computer clusters. We’re happy to help out!

Just in case you haven’t seen it, meebo me is a small web to IM gateway widget that librarians can put on webpages that allows people without IM accounts to IM the library’s screen name. It is pretty much 90% of the functionality of vendor driven web-based chat products….but it is FREE. And it just works. And doesn’t commandeer their whole browser. Etc, etc.

Here’s the full post on the meebo blog: librarian love. There are a few nice, “Yay libraries!” comments on it.

Disclaimer: I would have posted about this even if meebo hadn’t just sent me a sweet t-shirt.

[thanks rob!]

web-based multi-client IM tool 3

Most of us probably know that there are a few Instant Messaging networks competing for users. Because of this, IMming libraries might be best served by being available via all of them (as to not alienate any potential users).

Many people that find IM to be a killer app use Trillian to connect to all the major networks at the same time.

IM junkies know that If there’s no client available on a machine, there are web-based versions of the major IM networks:

AIM Express



Chances are that your patrons using these tools in your library. Maybe even as.you.speak! Anywho, now there’s a web-based Trillian like IM program that will let IMmers connect with 4 networks simultaneously. It is called meebo. It is in alpha right now, and many people are trying it out, so it is a bit slow.

I bring your attention to meebo because it might come in handy for you personally, or it might enable you to try out an IM program in your library if your IT department has the IM ports blocked.