February 10, 2010

School Libraries Head for the Edge

I got a treat in the mail a couple of weeks back and I'm ready to give you a full report. For some unknown reason, Doug Johnson asked his publisher to send copies of his new book to about a dozen school library bloggers to review. Well, the reason is pretty obvious but why I was included on a list with some of the top names in the school library field remains unknown to me. I'll just have to step up and try to give it a good whack and see what happens.

The book is called School Libraries Head for the Edge: Rants, Recommendations, and Reflections put out by Linworth Publishing. It's a collection of his essays originally printed in Linworth's own Library Media Connection magazine (and it's predecessor, Technology Connection).

Now the first and most obvious question any reviewer will have to answer about a book like this is, "Why should I pay for this when most, if not all, of these essays are available for free on Doug's own website?"

I'll give you three reasons:

First of all, not everyone will read the essays online. Not all of them. Second, you'll have the best of his stuff all in one place and you won't even need batteries to take it down and read. Third, you'll want to underline, markup and sticky note your copy. Trust me.

I mean just check out the table of contents! The book is divided up into seven chapters, or themes and the articles are in chronological order in each theme.

Ch. 1: On Libraries and Education in Transition
Ch. 2: On Professional Skills and Dispositions
Ch. 3: On Reading, Research, and Technology Skills
Ch. 4: On Technology in Libraries
Ch. 5: On Technology in Education
Ch. 6: On Managing Good
Ch. 7: On Determining Our Values

An amazing breadth of topics! Okay, I'd probably change the "managing good" title, but the book is a great meditation on nearly every aspect of the field. This is your "other" book, after you've read about collection management and instructional design and selection and cataloging and all the rest from your professors, you still need another book that tells it like it is from an insiders point of view after you read all those dry texts. This is that book.

He has a great attitude toward technology, running your program and keeping your focus. This book will keep you grounded. With good humor, the ideas that we must share our knowledge and see opportunities in problems (and no whining!) Johnson is a perfect guide to the profession.

You won't always agree with him and I'm sure he would joke that it as a sign of good taste if you don't. He's unafraid, and even relishes, going after sacred cows. But our job, as he likes to say, is not to make you believe but to think and this is certainly something he does with this collection.

There are only a few caveats. Even though he doesn't include every article he's written and he has gone through and updated these, there are still some dated passages. This is a minor quibble; especially in comparison to the massive amount of hard-earned wisdom that packs this slim volume. No, the only major defect in the book lies with Linworth. They must have rushed this into print without the slightest copyediting. These were magazine articles written on a deadline so of course there would be typos. In a collection such as this, they shouldn't pop up with the frequency the do. I hope this is corrected in future editions because the book deserves better.*

Johnson really does cover all the biggest topics. The importance of embracing change, of having a positive attitude, of keeping our teaching relevant and meaningful, how changes in technology are making us rethink our roles, how we can help our fellow teachers make sense of new digital tools, the importance of being an effective manager (vs. an inefective "leader"), and--most importantly, I think--how to help us make choices based on what he (and I) consider to be our core values:

"...understanding the concepts of intellectual freedom; being aware that most moral judgments center around privacy, property, and appropriate use; and believing that individuals should act out of awareness, not ignorance..."

All the best stuff. But the absolute best thing? The most important and motivating thing of all?

He's having fun doing it.

Thanks Doug!

*(Doug has something to say about this, natch.)