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.