Monday, February 23, 2015

LIBR 200 Post 5 of 8: Teacher Librarians and Ethical Issues

As with the general public, many Teacher Librarians have taken to utilizing social media and other digital tools to engage with members of our information community. The benefits of open access, participatory communities are lauded in the LIBR 200 “Community-Generated Information Sources and Services” lecture delivered by Dr. Michael Stephens.  Rather than just “passively consuming” content, users are able “to contribute back, to share, to write to post, to transcribe, to become part of the community, and to give something back” (personal communication, 2015).

While I believe in and regularly benefit from the positive power of online communities, I am also curious to consider the unique challenges that these new communication platforms pose in ethical terms.  I can’t help but consider Stephens’s words juxtaposed with the LIBR 200 lecture “Intellectual Freedom and the Web: A Troubled History,” which concluded with Michael Zimmer’s research that identifies a “policy vacuum” when it comes to defining ethical use of new technologies (Hansen, D., personal communication, 2015).  It seems that while we been launched into a new cultural norm, the norms of that culture have yet to be clearly defined.

This brings me to an interview that I recently conducted with Dr. Mary Ann Harlan, San Jose State University iSchool professor and coordinator of the Teacher Librarian Program.  In addition to her work at the university, Harlan is active within the greater school library community, participating as a notable leader within the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), California School Library Association (CSLA), and more.  Having great respect for Harlan’s work experience with Teacher Librarians, I was interested in hearing her personal observations regarding the ways in which conversations occur within the community.

While many of my questions focused on how Teacher Librarians connect with one another as professionals, Harlan’s most salient point was that there is an even more critical need for Teacher Librarians reach outside of their professional circle and prioritize “listening in” to others in their school communities. I plan to address this idea in my next blog post regarding multiculturalism, but at this time, it is actually her more casual observations that have inspired my thinking regarding ethics. While the discussion had not directly focused on ethics - the word was never brought up - our conversation sparked a trail of breadcrumbs in my head that led me to an ethical musing related to to my information community in particular, and more generally for our larger networked world. The path is admittedly a little roundabout and not as linear as the numbering below might suggest, so bear with me.

Crumb #1: How active are Teacher Librarians on Twitter?

When considering the number of Teacher Librarians who are working across the country, how truly active is the Teacher Librarian conversation on Twitter?  There is certainly evidence of the information community connecting on this platform, but Harlan expressed doubt regarding how widespread the tool is being used across the professional group: “If you’re an active participant, you can build relationships well on Twitter. I just don’t know how active people are.”

Crumb #2: Can we ever find all Teacher Librarians in any single online community?

As Twitter is just one outlet out of many, what segment of the Teacher Librarian population is active there as opposed to being active on Facebook, LinkedIn, Ning, listservs, and on and on? Surely there are some Teacher Librarians who may be active in varying degrees on a mix of platforms, but the reality is that any one platform will never be representative of the voices of all in the professional community. As Harlan noted in our interview, “We have to make choices about which communities . . . [to be] part of, because we can’t do it all.”

Crumb #3: How do we gauge online community activity in a world with lurkers?

As we question who is active within any given online community, I am reminded of an article I recently read regarding another social media platform, Goodreads. Reflecting upon user activity, Naik (2012) suggests:
Another possibility that is impossible to test is that there may be many people viewing and reading . . . discussions but who do not participate--it is impossible to know how these invisible or lurking readers have been influenced by the discussions. (p. 321)
Thus, without looking at advanced analytics, we should be careful when assuming people are not benefiting from a community just because they are not posting. Not in our interview, but in an article that Harlan co-authored with Bruce and Lupton, lurking was in fact noted as serving a useful purpose for teens who chose a community to participate in. Generalizing their findings, we may consider how observers of any age may use a silent period to “familiarize themselves with the community, including the tenor of interactions, and the social mores of the community and evaluate[] their potential role in participating” (2012, p. 578).

Crumb #4: Are most Teacher Librarians active members of a community or more of an audience?

Whether we consider lurking to be a precursor to greater participation or not, another aspect I’m reflecting on is Shirky’s distinction between communities and audiences. Looking specifically at how the size of a group affects communication dynamics, Shirky (2002) claims that the larger a group grows, “the more it must become like an audience largely disconnected and held together by communication traveling from center to edge,­ because increasing the number of people in a group weakens communal connection.” He explains that an increase in group size results in a loss in connectedness that cannot be avoided.

Shirky’s specific mention of mailing lists immediately made reflect back on my interview with Harlan and how she cited listservs as being some of the most active communication outlets for Teacher Librarians over the long term. In particular, she mentioned the nationwide listserv LM_NET and our California state listerv CALIBK12. While these channels are active, Shirky’s ideas make me think about the social dynamics of these listservs. How deeply connected do Teacher Librarians feel when participating on the listservs? Do they lurk as audience members, or do they participate as contributors? Are contributions functioning more as broadcasts of information, or do they result in authentic conversations?

Crumb #5: How might we sometimes be reticent to share within our own information community?

As I consider the questions posed above, another thread that enters my mind comes from Flanagin, Hocevar, and Samahito (2013), who debunked their original hypothesis that users who share a strong shared group identification will be more likely to contribute to an online community. They found that to the contrary:
High group identification might potentially act to convince information contributors that their knowledge is redundant with others’ information. Therefore, potential information contributors may believe that their information is actually less valuable to those with whom they share group identity, rather than more so, because they assume that others like them are likely to already hold the same information. (p. 8)
In other words, within online community settings, are there Teacher Librarians who abstain from participating because they do not feel confident or comfortable that they would be sharing information that is considered to be original and valuable? How might this play out for online communities in general, and how might this trend result in an absence of voices that could otherwise create a more representative information landscape?

The Ethical Quandary

If you have managed to follow my various breadcrumbs, then you’ve at last arrived at my ethical quandary. Given the context that for any given channel,
  • we are only reaching a certain segment of people…
  • that people self-select their membership in online forums…
  • that we may not fully know the scope of membership since people may simply be lurking…
  • that a community may outgrow its ability to function as a true community...
  • that members may not always feel comfortable sharing information… may we ensure that online communities are most equitably participatory? 

After all, in the absence of equitable participation and representation of information, how may a community become ethically deprived?

An example from my interview with Harlan highlights just such a situation when our ethics may be put to the test. She shared how Teacher Librarians are just as human to spreading unreliable information as any other user-centered community. Regarding the information community’s listservs, she cited how it can at times function as “a perpetuator of myths and misunderstanding and bad ideas. Because it’s crowdsourced, a lot of times information that is shared is inaccurate.” When I asked her if the information is generally corrected, she answered: “It doesn’t always happen, it just depends.”

For librarians, who as “information professionals have as one of their important ends the advancement of truth and knowledge” (Rubin & Froehlich, 2010, p. 750), we must ask ourselves: What is our role and responsibility when it comes to addressing misinformation that is shared in online participatory communities? 

Harlan suggested that perhaps one reason information is not corrected is because, “we all want to be nice to one another.” In fact, she has witnessed occasions when “in the interest of civility, those conversations get shut down.” While these anecdotes and my breadcrumb stream of consciousness do not provide me with answers, they do prompt me to pose three final questions for Teacher Librarians:
  1. How do we create a culture of respect in online communities that welcomes the thoughtful sharing of different or conflicting information? 
  2. How do we engage in transparent and open-ended conversations online that allow for genuine interaction and interplay of ideas?
  3. As Teacher Librarians, how do we use the opportunity of experimenting within our own professional information community so that we may serve as models for others through our experience and example?
When recognizing an ethical gap in teens' navigation of the digital world, James (2014) identifies how adults often place more emphasis on cyber safety and individual consequences than on ethical behavior and social responsibility. She cites a "mentorship gap" (p. 107) and encourages that adults seek to fill the void with "conscientious connectivity," which she likens to mindfulness and "moral attentiveness" (p. 109). By focusing on addressing the three final questions listed above, perhaps Teacher Librarians will be able to increase our own conscientiousness and better mentor the students we serve to do the same.


Flanagin, A. J., Hocevar, K., & Samahito, S. (2013). Connecting with the user-generated web: How group identification impacts online information sharing and evaluation. Information, Communication & Society, 17(6), 683-694.

Harlan, M. A., Bruce, C., & Lupton, M. (2012). Teen content creators: Experiences of using information to learn. Library Trends 60(3), 569-587.

James, C. (2014). Disconnected: Youth, new media, and the ethics gap. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Naik, Y. (2012). Finding good reads on Goodreads. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 51(4), 319-323.

Rubin, R., & Froehlich, T. J. (2010). Ethical aspects of library and information science. In Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences (1743-1757). New York: Taylor and Francis.

Shirky, C. (2002). Clay Shirky’s writings about the internet: Networks, economics, and culture. Retrieved from

Monday, February 16, 2015

LIBR 200 Post 4 of 8: Teacher Librarians and Perceptions of Information Services

In my previous blog post, LIBR 200 Post 3 of 8: Information-Seeking Behavior and Needs of a Teacher Librarian, I had the opportunity to interview a colleague and the discussion that we had led me to thinking more about the variety of information needs that exist for Teacher Librarians, as well as the role of prioritization. These themes also resonate with another interview I recently conducted with Dr. David Loertscher.

Having worked with school libraries in different capacities for more than a decade, I have been familiar with Loertscher’s work for many years. Steve Montgomery, a colleague and Teacher Librarian at El Cajon Valley High School, introduced me and others to Loertscher’s literature on the Learning Commons concept, and our district used these ideas to help shape the vision of our school libraries.

rv6lrANeedless to say, when I started my studies at San Jose State University’s School of Information this spring, I was excited to see the name David Loertscher listed as my Program Advisor. Fast forward to this LIBR 200 project, and I feel extremely grateful that Loertscher was kindly supportive to be be interviewed. Loertscher is not only my advisor and a professor at SJSU, but has served the greater library community as president of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), author of multiple books including The Whole School Library Handbook 2, and more.

Given Loertscher’s established experience and expertise in the field of school librarianship, I was eager to hear his perceptions regarding Teacher Librarians and their use as a community of available resources and services. Regarding availability of information, Loertscher explained, “The opportunity is already there . . . The structure is in place.” He cited sample resources from professional organizations such as the California School Libraries Association (CSLA), which had just held its centennial conference and professional journals such as Teacher Librarian, which he co-edits, to online forums such as Joyce Valenza’s TL Virtual Cafe.

Given the number of resources that exist, there are clearly Teacher Librarians who are actively creating information sources and services to connect members of the information community. A bigger issue that Loertscher identifies is the lack of more widespread participation by Teacher Librarians within their own professional information community: “People just have to join and get busy . . . We don’t need any more channels, just people that are participating.” To support this point, Loertscher referenced how less than half of school librarians in the country belong to AASL, how few in California belong to CSLA, and how a library journal recently collapsed due to low subscription levels.

Thinking about lack of participation leads me to consider two questions that tie back to my previous blog post:

(1) How does lack of time and money affect community participation? 
I shared my personal experience with Loertscher regarding how I am currently working as a Teacher Librarian in one our district’s school libraries that no longer has a paraprofessional Library Technician. Reminded of Vakkari and Kuokkanen (2012) regarding how time limitations may impact information-seeking behavior, I wonder how much lack of participation may result from others like me having many competing demands for time. Furthermore, how may a decrease in activity relate to Teacher Librarians likely receiving limited or no financial support from schools to cover costs to join professional organizations, subscribe to professional journals, and attend professional conferences and other programs? Loertscher agreed that “The downturn in the economy really hurt school libraries all over the country.” At the same time, he cites how there are many online communities that provide opportunities for individuals to connect with others and grow professionally without expending a lot of money. In other words, Loertscher asserts that “It’s just on what the individual librarian wants to do,” which leads to the next question regarding prioritization. 
(2) How do and should Teacher Librarians prioritize connecting as professionals within the information community of other Teacher Librarians? 
Given the constancy of change, Loertscher emphasizes the critical need for Teacher Librarians to remain current professionally. He gives his library and information science students the advice: “The minute our class is over, your coursework now starts to fade. We’re not on the cutting edge again. You purposefully have to keep up.” Besides prioritizing community involvement for personal development, we should also consider implications for the profession at large. Veinot and Williams (2011) connect human ecology with information behavior, linking participation with social change. In turn, how might advancement across the field be limited by lack of participation? This question must be considered in context, acknowledging not only potential factors of time and money, but also how Teacher Librarians belong to multiple social worlds and must prioritize efforts devoted within each of these communities. In the end, though, Loertscher reiterates that the decision to connect and grow is ultimately personal. “It’s a personal choice.” 
As the issue of prioritization has come up in both the previous and current blog posts, I am curious to consider other related issues in future blog posts. For instance, what role might inclusiveness play regarding Teacher Librarians’ participation - or lack thereof - in the professional information community? Also, how is technology changing how Teacher Librarians connect as an information community, and what is the potential for it increasing and improving the effectiveness of information sharing in the future? As for now, I simply want to express my gratitude to Dr. David Loertscher for his gift of time and knowledge. I feel fortunate to be starting my career as a Teacher Librarian with these questions in mind so that my personal choices are better informed as I find my way within the information community.


Vakkari, P, & Kuokkanen, M. (1997). Theory growth in information science: Applications of the theory of science to a theory of information seeking. Journal of Documentation, 53(5).  Retrieved from 

Veinot, T. C., & Williams, K. (2011). Following the “community” thread from sociology to information behavior and informatics: Uncovering theoretical continuities and research opportunities. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 63(5). 847-864. doi:10.1002/asi.21653/

Saturday, February 14, 2015

LIBR 200 Post 3 of 8: Information-Seeking Behavior and Needs of a Teacher Librarian

My favorite aspect of the blog series assignment for LIBR 200 is the requirement to interview information community members since this provides me with a reason to reach out to people and have conversations that I would not be having otherwise. For this particular post, which focuses on the information-seeking behavior and information needs of Teacher Librarians, I decided that I am most interested in using this opportunity to learn about the perspective of an immediate colleague.

To provide some context, I work in the Grossmont Union High School District that consists of nine comprehensive high schools. Each high school has a Teacher Librarian, and four of the nine schools also have a paraprofessional Library Technician. The nine Teacher Librarians meet in-person monthly at an after school meeting as a district Library Council and communicate in between via email and occasionally by phone. Having said that, our meetings never seem to be long enough to cover all of our agenda times, and during our work days, we usually cannot talk for more than a few minutes by phone before we are interrupted and must hang up.

This reminds me of a course reading by Vakkari and Kuokkanen (1997) that suggests shortage of time as a situational factor affecting information-seeking. In my case, it makes me wonder how my fellow librarians and I may be missing out on information sharing simply due to lack of time. And so, I used this assignment as an opportunity to carve out valuable time with one of my colleagues and pick her brain about ideas we would not normally discuss. The conversation that we had turned out to be so helpful, enriching, and uplifting to me professionally, that it makes me think about finding ways to prioritize more check-in conversations with colleagues in the future.

The librarian I connected with is Carolyn Teschler, who works in the same small city of Santee as me, but as Teacher Librarian at our “rival” school, Santana High School. While this is my first year working as a Teacher Librarian and I also happen to be working under an emergency credential, Carolyn is fully credentialed and draws from seven years of experience working as a Teacher Librarian.

I started off the interview asking Carolyn to share some specific examples of information-seeking that she engages in as a Teacher Librarian. As Carolyn talked about a number of needs that arise in her everyday work life, I noticed a thread of how information encountering, more than focused seeking, plays a large role in how she gathers information to serve her students and teachers (Erdelez, 1999). Inspired by simple, but wise advice she received during her first year as a Teacher Librarian to “get good books in kids’ hands and the rest will follow,” Carolyn keeps current with fiction and nonfiction by following the LA Times, subscribing to Goodreads, and browsing through Barnes and Noble. Perhaps of greatest importance, Carolyn mentions how students themselves inform her purchases. Having built strong relationships, students directly offer suggestions, and in this way, users not only benefit from her information-seeking, but they also drive it.

Another idea from our readings that interests me is how Vakkari and Kuokkanen consider work experience as a personal factor that may affect information-seeking behavior, suggesting that as someone gains experience, information-seeking may become more streamlined (p. 510-511). I asked Carolyn to reflect on how she has evolved as a  Teacher Librarian over the years, and while I am sure that she has become more efficient at meeting individual information needs as they arise, her comments shed light another aspect. It became clear to me that Carolyn’s growth in experience has simultaneously reaped growth in terms of her web of relationships with others, which in turn has increased the volume of expressed and identified needs. She explained:
From beginning to now, the huge thing has been, I have had to learn that I have to put on so many different hats to do this job. I’m not just a librarian, I’m a therapist, I’m an advocate. [The library] really is a hub of school activity. I’m an emcee, a comedian . . . I’m a technology person . . . a textbook clerk. There are so many different needs. I feel like I have to be super flexible . . . in a way that is productive. Sometimes it is difficult to balance the two. I really have to be mindful of the projects that I have to accomplish. I feel like there’s this frenzy of activity and need and demand, but I have had to learn to structure and prioritize all of those things and to accept that I can’t do it all. It is physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually impossible to do everything that I need to do.
Carolyn humbly identified technology as one area that she considers to be a personal weakness. Having said that, it is not lack of interest that keeps her from “fine tuning [her] own skills” in that area. She simply wishes she had more time. Along those lines, connecting with other librarians for professional growth has also “taken such a back burner” other than connecting with immediate colleagues of our district’s Library Council group and participating in some annual programs hosted by the San Diego County Office of Education. Again, she reiterated: “To be honest, it’s the time.”

Talking with Carolyn has helped me further develop my thoughts about Teacher Librarians as an information community. I see how broad in scope their potential information-seeking needs may be and how a critical piece to focus on is how the professionals choose to prioritize efforts. In Carolyn’s case, I have personally witnessed the way that she consistently prioritizes the students and teachers at her school. I have attended one of her impressive fundraisers with line-ups of performing students and teachers so that she was not only raising money for her program, but also bringing together her school community. Carolyn has been a leading advocate with our Library Council to develop research curriculum resources to support students and teachers. And, during our interview, Carolyn also shared about an upcoming school-wide program she is organizing to host guest speaker Vicki Crompton, author of Saving Beauty from the Beast. With this initiative, she is helping facilitate powerful discussions on her campus about real-life information needs regarding healthy relationship-building and communication.

Thus, in the end, while Carolyn openly admits that she does not have time to do it all, I see how she does a lot. Getting to the heart heart of what drives her prioritization and how to choose among the many needs that come her way, Carolyn says without hesitation: “I am going to choose my kids and teachers, because they are more immediate needs.”

As I continue to grow professionally, I think these words will continue to inspire me as simple, but wise advice I received during my first year as a Teacher Librarian. Maybe years down the road, I will get interviewed by a library and information science student and I’ll be able to tell how early in my career, I was reminded by a colleague working just down the road at our “sister” school: when setting priorities, I choose my students and teachers.


Erdelez, S. (1999). Information encountering: It’s more than just bumping into information. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science 25(3). Retrieved from

Vakkari, P, & Kuokkanen, M. (1997). Theory growth in information science: Applications of the theory of science to a theory of information seeking. Journal of Documentation, 53(5).  Retrieved from

Sunday, February 8, 2015

LIBR 200 Post 2.5 of 8: Widening My Information Community to Teacher Librarians Across the United States

Through the process of working on my Reflection Essay for LIBR 200, I have decided to expand my initially chosen information community of California Teacher Librarians to include Teacher Librarians nationwide. Below is an excerpt from my essay that addresses the change:
My reasoning for initially focusing on professionals in California in particular is that I am already aware of some state-level activity through the California School Library Association (CSLA). Now, however, I believe that the topic may be too narrow when limiting myself geographically to a single state. While I may still reference state-level sub-communities that exist, I think it will be beneficial to broaden my topic to include Teacher Librarians located throughout the United States. By opening up the topic, I will be able to draw upon nationwide organizations such as the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), as well as reference other Teacher Librarians who are active in leading online conversations (e.g., Joyce Valenza in Pennsylvania, Buffy “The Unquiet Librarian” Hamilton in Georgia, Gwyneth “The Daring Librarian” Jones in Maryland).

Monday, February 2, 2015

LIBR 200 Post 2 of 8: California Teacher Librarians as My Information Community of Focus

This past fall, I was fortunate to be hired as a Teacher Librarian in my school district with the condition that I earn my California Teacher Librarian Services Credential in the next couple of years. While I have previously worked as both a regular classroom teacher and as a classified school library staff member, my inclusion within the Teacher Librarian community is new. As a result, I am curious and eager to learn more about how California Teacher Librarians function as an information community, and in the end, I hope to personally engage more effectively as an official member.

As defined by Fisher and Durrance (2003), information communities are similar in nature to any general type of group, but with a central unifying focus on information. Information communities form based on the needs of members to “use information from distributed information resources,” and they are share a “common interest in creating and increasing access” (p. 658) to these resources. 

When thinking about California Teacher Librarians, I can immediately think of shared needs for information related to a host of topics such as education, libraries, curriculum development, literacy, technology, reading, and research. In my own short experience as a Teacher Librarian, I find that this need is unique when compared with other classroom teachers because Teacher Librarians are commonly the only person with the role at a school site. A core subject area teacher will have a department to collaborate with, a counselor may be one of a whole team, but Teacher Librarians are usually alone in their immediate work environment. In this respect, I believe that there is an even stronger need for Teacher Librarians to connect with a more distributed, and thus likely virtual, information community of like professionals.

In defining information communities, Fisher and Durrance further outline five characteristics that all share. Let us take a brief look at how California Teacher Librarians relate to each of these characteristics.
  1. “Information communities anticipate and often form around people's needs to access and use information in ways that people perceive as helpful” (p. 660). Despite the fact that Teacher Librarians are relatively few in number and located far apart from one another geographically, I get a sense that the community is well organized and supportive of its members. One example that stands out to me is the California School Library Association (CSLA) CALIB12 Listserv that I have been following. The discussion threads consist of a mix of information requests and offerings, and while I have only been lurking at this point, I find the information to be helpful in furthering my professional practice.
  2. “Information communities exploit the information sharing qualities of technology and yield multiplier effects for stakeholders” (p. 660). As mentioned above, Teacher Librarians who seek out information sharing within the professional community will most likely rely on virtual connections since they are nearly certainly located in physically disparate areas. Just with the immediate example of LIBR 200, I can personally attest to the multiplier effect that these types of technology-facilitated connections may enable. With the ability to reach out to various professionals online, I have been able to contact multiple individuals across the state of California who have agreed to serve as interviewees for future blog posts.
  3. “Information communities emphasize collaboration among diverse groups that provide information and may share joint responsibility and resources” (p. 660). With Teacher Librarians, increased diversity among members may allow for the existence of an even stronger resource base. When a member poses an information inquiry, diversity allows for a wider range of responses to select from and that may be combined to create a most appropriate solution. When a member is seeking information, there is hope that someone in the community will step forward with a resource to share, or in the least, a lead for further investigation.
  4. “Information communities remove barriers to information about acquiring needed services and participating in civic life” (p. 661). As already mentioned several times, the ability for Teacher Librarians to share information online removes barriers to access that may otherwise exist due to physical distance. At the same time, I hope to touch some on the role of in-person information sharing in a future blog post, and I am also interested in considering what barriers persist. For instance, one issue that comes to mind is the reality that California school libraries may be staffed with classified employees or even volunteers as opposed to credentialed Teacher Librarians. In these situations, who is included or not in the broader school library information community?
  5. “Information communities foster social connectedness within the larger community” (p. 661). While Teacher Librarians may share information among themselves, the role is by definition tied to greater communities. After all, the information that Teacher Librarians seek is generally intended to benefit others, whether it is for sharing with teachers who serve students or directly for students themselves. Furthermore, I have also witnessed the way that Teacher Librarians will share information intended for wider stakeholder distribution. An example of this is the series of advocacy videos produced by the CSLA. These videos are distributed to the California Teacher Librarian information community and members in turn link to these videos for more expansive sharing via individual social media networks. Below is a sample video that I have noticed linked on Facebook, Twitter, and embedded on individual library websites.

Having decided to focus on California Teacher Librarians as an information community, each of the remaining blog posts in my eight-part LIBR 200 series will take a closer look at a particular aspect of the information community. Stay tuned for Post 3 of 8, which will look in greater depth at the information-seeking behavior and information needs of California Teacher Librarians.


Fisher, K., & Durrance, J. (2003). Information communities. In K. Christensen, & D. Levinson (Eds.), Encyclopedia of community: From the village to the virtual world. (pp. 658-661). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. Retrieved from