Content Used To Be King
There was a time when books, newspapers, magazines, and journals were the primary sources of content and information. You had to enjoy slow reading of (limited) information sources to gain a knowledge base that matched a particular curriculum outline.
This was when content was king and the teacher was the sage on the stage. Now communication is the new curriculum, and content is but grist for the mill that churns new knowledge. A few good reads recently set me thinking and wondering about the changes that we must support in our teaching and in our library services.
Teaching the Teachers
The era of school library media specialists taking a class to show kids how to search, master basic skills, or navigate resources is over. That's now the teacher’s job. Library media specialists should teach the teacher by all means (that's professional development), but they shouldn't waste time doing repeat performances for teachers who haven't caught up with how to integrate information resources into the curriculum. Using information effectively, navigating databases, and making use of search tools are not specialist skills any more—they are core skills for learning.
The era of collaborating, communicating, and integrating resources flexibly and online is here to stay. School libraries should deploy every form of interactive and social media tools to support learning, teaching, and communicating with and between students. Are teachers ready for this? Are library staff members ready for this?
Dealing with Content
In Dave Pollard's post "The Future of Media: Something More than Worthless News" (2009), on his blog How to Save the World, he recalls a speech he gave to mainstream media types nearly 15 years ago. His analysis and advice is relevant for information professionals: media is changing, and the way media can work for or against learning is deeply concerning.
Pollard writes, "Few people care to take the time needed either to do great investigative work, or to think creatively and profoundly about what all the mountains of facts really mean."
There's the rub—mountains of fact. Authority and relevance are nothing when we are confronted with mountains of information to sift and verify. The alternative is to grab "something" and miss the opportunity to engage in real metacognitive knowledge activities. In the age of information, how do we deal with new and urgent information needs, including current affairs, or other global, political, social, or economic events? In an era when Twitter provides faster updates than the mainstream media, or blogging and wiki news present alternative viewpoints to the mainstream news services, what value do we place on media scrutiny?
Of course we can't answer questions effectively about information access and usability without taking into consideration the shifting dimensions of interoperability (from one database or data set to another) and semantic search. We are data-mining on the one hand and creating data on the other.
So what are the implications of this? Semantic search depends on our tags. And our tags depend on our understanding of the strengths and weaknesses inherent in data sets. It all depends on how things are defined and linked. Duplicate and meaningless content is created by poor search engine optimization and keyword cannibalization. This means that the info junk pile continues to grow. Search Engine Journal provides a good set of graphics (with explanations) that spell out these problems.
Of course, alongside the need for good search engine optimization is the growth in search functionality and growth in search engine options. Google has some new features that offer advanced search options to refine the results without opening a new page. You’ll be able to restrict the results to forums, videos, reviews, and recent pages, among other choices. One option lets you customize the snippets by making them longer or by showing thumbnails, much like the search engine Cuil. Google wants to make the process of refining queries more fun and exploratory by adding a wonder wheel of suggestions that creates a graphic web of related, clickable terms radiating from the hub of a keyword query.
Massive Changes to the Info Maze
Massive change has pushed us into a 21st century information maze. Searching to recognize, categorize, and evaluate good-quality, authoritative, and relevant information is a crucial digital information literacy skill. Searching directly relates to analyzing and organizing not just information but also services, tools, and people. As the art of searching becomes more sophisticated, so too does the need for students and educators to be critically literate in their information inquiries for knowledge creation.
According to the Pew Internet Report on search engine use, the percentage of Internet users who use search engines on a typical day has been steadily rising from about one-third of all users in 2002 to a new high of 49 percent (Fallows, 2008). Chances are, students are "Googling" anytime they have an information query. To keep abreast of the search revolution, educators should search engine news at Pandia Search Central.
Fallows, D. (2008, August 6). Report on online activities and pursuits (Pew Internet Report). Retrieved on March 12, 2009, from http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/258/report_display.asp
Pollard, D. (2009, May 11). The future of media: Something more than worthless news. Message posted to How to Save the World blog, archived at http://blogs.salon.com/0002007/2009/05/11.html#a2376
Judy O'Connell is head of Library and Information Services at St. Joseph's College, Hunters Hill, New South Wales, Australia.
Source: From Content used to be king, by J. O'Connell, May 12, 2009, message posted to Heyjude blog, archived at http://heyjude.wordpress.com/2009/05/12/content-used-to-be-king. Adapted with permission.