My Thoughts on ACRL’s Springboard Event

Today was an important day in the history of ACRL. Even from my newly-minted librarian perspective, I can recognize this as a momentous occasion. ACRL listened to the needs of their members and offered their first ever free webcast. Only members were able to participate in the webcast, something that I think is completely reasonable. As Steven mentioned in his post announcing the event, it’s only right that we get something back for the hefty dues we pay. Believe me, as someone who has recently made the switch from student dues to librarian dues, the word “free” means a lot!

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the webcast; according to the March 10 press release, the subject was billed as “a lively discussion examining the skills and fluencies students will need for the 21st century and what the library can do to prepare for the future of higher education.” I was a little nervous that the talk would be dry or, at the worst, irrelevant, but I was very pleasantly surprised. The featured speaker was an intelligent and interesting man by the name of Henry Jenkins, Peter de Florez Professor of the Humanities and co-director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT. His talk today focused around his MacArthur funded New Media Literacies Project. I felt his presentation was thought-provoking and extremely relevant to modern academic librarianship.

Jenkins discussed a concept called the “participatory culture” that many young people live in. Characteristics of this culture include low barriers for engagement, strong support for sharing creations with others, informal mentorship, members who believe their contributions matter, and members who care about others’ opinions of themselves and their work. Since many students are growing up within this culture, there is the ever-present need for them to become media literate. This requires the students to build social skills and cultural competencies such as appropriation, multi-tasking, collective intelligence, and networking. Jenkins assured us that these new literacies do not, of course, replace traditional literacy: students will still need to know how to read and write in order to keep up in this participatory culture. To illustrate his points, Jenkins used relevant, real-world examples such as the potential “poster boy” for new literacy, Soulja Boy (a young rap musician who made it big purely through exposure on YouTube and MySpace and encourages fans to remix and circulate his hit song Crank That (Soulja Boy) through social networking).

So where do we, as librarians, fit in? Remember the “mentorship” component of participatory culture? That’s us. Jenkins stressed the need for librarians to act as information facilitators rather than curators of collections (we ought to market ourselves, as a cartoon he displayed so aptly put it, as “human search engines”). It’s important for students to recognize that we do have up-to-speed technology skills and that we are available as a sort of coach or mentor for communicating via social networks. This is especially vital for students who don’t have round-the-clock access to computers and the Internet. These students need to know that we can guide them through the use of these tools so that they don’t get left out. In the same vein, it’s important to stand up for students’ right to use social networking tools such as MySpace or Facebook, rather than banning them from library computers. We already know this is one of the main ways students communicate, and it wouldn’t it be better, instead of shutting them down, for us provide guidance to students navigating through the highly public, often ethically-challenging world of this new culture?

I’m happy to report that although this program lacked in cost, it most definitely did not lack in content. I hope many of our readers also participated in the webcast, and that some of you are willing to share your thoughts. Did you find the speaker/topic to be relevant? Was it worth your time? Would you “attend” another such event? Thanks again to ACRL for this great opportunity! I can’t wait to see what they offer us next time.

7 thoughts on “My Thoughts on ACRL’s Springboard Event

  1. I agree this was a very content rich and important program. Hopefully the discussion will continue and become more pervasive in a way that continues to promote and partake of the paticipatory culture.

  2. I am really impressed that ACRL offered such a high quality program free to the membership. The program was thought provoking. In our library we watched it around one computer and had mini quick conversations related to the topics discussed. The experience allowed us a much needed professional development “get away” in the middle of our busy week. I am looking forward to more sessions like this from ACRL!

  3. Was this a webcast or a traditional F2F presentation conducted over the web? The webcast content was thought provoking and certainly challenges academic libraries to leverage this participatory culture to reach our communities. But I was a bit disappointed in the lack of what I usually get in webcasts – participation and chat – with attendees and the speaker. Think about it. We all got together in a (virtual) auditorium, then we heard an introduction and then the main presenter talked, and then we asked (chatted) questions. All very nice. But at typical webcasts all the participants can chat the entire time so we get a unique dialog going. The presenter uses polls to get us to respond to questions. We can use our mics to talk to the presenter. Now in ACRL’s defense they said there were over 500 registered and at least 300 showed up. That would make it very difficult to get everyone engaged online – but there might be ways to do it. What do we prefer – a hugh webcast with lots of people where there’s no chance for interactivity – or webcast events that are limited to 100 or 200 ACRL members that are far more interactive? I vote for smaller more interactive webcasts – and keep them free. Perhaps that is why ACRL is also introducing its chat series, so members can be more involved in the discussion. I think these events can get better, but I applaud ACRL for giving this a try. Think of it as free ACRL webcast version one.

  4. I’m not sure. With all the interacting I do in my day, I could probably stand to listen for while. I do think it should not be “members only” if possible – because it’s going to be hard for our organization to have an impact if we only play in our own exclusive sandbox with others just like us.

    I’m glad there’s a podcast because then I can watch it when it works for me. I’d love to have ACRL-branded talks like the TED talks – things you can share and embed and rave about outside the sandbox.

  5. Check out this week’s CHE Review which features a Henry Jenkins essay. If you missed the ACRL webcast this article can provide some insight into the topics Jenkins covered in his presentation.

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