Mar 02 2009
by Diana K. Wakimoto (diana.wakimoto(at)csueastbay.edu)
My educational experience in library school was wonderful, but we all know that we learn much more on the job than could possible be covered in school. However, I wish I had learned two things in particular before graduating:
- That playing is underrated and necessary, especially when learning new technology, and,
- How to make online library resources and services accessible to everyone.
I learned these two lessons after my formal schooling ended, but believe they are important for all librarians to know.
Playing is Underrated
Playing has been severely underrated as frivolous and as having no part in “serious” work. Thankfully, however, playing is starting to be recognized as an important part of “real” work. For example, see Michael Casey’s and Michael Stephen’s Library Journal column, “Let’s All Lighten Up,” or Stephen Abram’s talk, “Twenty five technologies to watch and how.” Both the article and the presentation encourage play as a way of exploring new technologies.
A sense of play makes exploring new ideas, tools and technologies less onerous and opens up the possibility of having epiphanies in the application of these tools by relieving the pressure to be perfectly serious about our work. How many times do we have our best ideas when we feel the pressure to be serious and perfect in our work, or feel pressured to learn in an unsupportive environment? Pressure and the inability to play with new ideas, technologies, and tools makes us less likely to learn in the classroom or on the job. This environment inspires frustration and negativity.
If, though, we are shown new technology and tools in a supportive learning environment, with someone facilitating our learning through play, we are much more likely to have a positive learning experience. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But, this requires an acceptance that playing is a legitimate way of learning and an environment ripe for synergy and epiphanies. I get excited when I learn something new and can see ways of applying that knowledge to my job. But for me, and I suspect for many people, these insights happen more often when I am playing with new technology or tools.
Playing allows our subconscious to mull over problems and see connections that we could miss if we are worried and self-conscious about trying to learn everything (whether about WordPress, Facebook, Second Life, or anything else). Playing makes learning fun again, and we need fun to overcome the technological anxiety from being bombarded by so much new information. At my workplace we hold technology brown bags, where I facilitate playing and exploring new online resources that we can use in our library. These are based on the same theory as the technology pettinz zoos Stephen Abram describes in his webinar — that learning together in a non-competitive, playful atmosphere allows everyone to learn and increase their technology skills without the anxiety. Playing is not superfluous to learning; it is the way to better learning and fuller engagement with technology. So, seriously, go play!
Play as a way to overcome the new digital divide
One way in which play can help us re-envision our services is in overcoming the digital divide in the accessibility of our services. Looking at accessibility as the next digital divide may seem like a complete departure from the admonishment to play more, but accessibility is interconnected with play. Play has a purpose: We play to learn, to improve services to our patrons, and to find uses for new technologies in the library. Playing is one way of synthesizing and internalizing knowledge about new tools, Web 2.0 technologies, and their uses in the library. The web makes it possible for the library to serve a global audience, which makes it all the more imperative that our resources are accessible and understandable for everyone.
Part of providing services to a diverse audience include the responsibility for making our resources accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities. As we create and integrate new technologies into our libraries, we need to ask ourselves if these resources are accessible to all; we need to be alert to another digital divide in which some people are able to utilize online resources and services, while others cannot. By playing together and being creative we can provide new and improved resources and services to our patrons, and make these resources and services accessible so everyone benefits.
Free and open source tools let us create accessible resources; we can test the accessibility of online resources, create new resources, and retrofit older resources. When trying to find solutions to accessibility issues, play becomes important because the creativity it inspires translates to new solutions. Through learning communities playing with and utilizing new technologies, we can figure out ways to retrofit older technologies to be accessible and support the creation of new, accessible technologies.
Re(envision) Library Education as Playful and Accessible
My wish for library education is that we learn to stop being unnecessarily serious, that we remember to play, and that we make and use online resources that allow access to people with diverse needs, backgrounds, and abilities. Creativity should be the hallmark of our profession and inclusivity the mark of all our services and resources. There is nothing librarians cannot accomplish, or cannot include in the education of future librarians, if we make it a priority.
Seriously, play! Get your friends and colleagues to do the same, because together we learn and together we can expand our resources and services for all. Perfection is not the goal. Being open to learning, being comfortable with change, and striving for accessibility are goals of our ongoing education as librarians.
Diana K. Wakimoto is the Online Literacy/Public Services Librarian at California State University, East Bay. Email Diana at diana.wakimoto(at)csueastbay.edu or leave a comment on her blog, The Waki Librarian, at http://thewakilibrarian.wordpress.com.
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