Neverending Stories

I want to talk about some thoughts I’ve had regarding creativity, learning, and the way our brains work. I’ve never formally studied neurology, psychology, or education, so this is basically a punk thrash song. If you’re not big on that kind of thing, back out now.

My library developed an early childhood literacy program a few years ago which we call “6 by 6“–six skills by age 6 that help develop a child’s literacy. Some of those skills are: “have fun with books,” “talk, talk, talk” (using a large, broad vocabulary), and “tell stories about everything.” Parents, guardians, caregivers, and early educators can help children a lot by helping them develop these skills. Studies have shown that children who develop these kinds of early literacy skills grow up to be much more literate teens than children who don’t develop these skills.

A very strong principle of librarianship is “life-long learning.” We never stop educating ourselves, whether it’s by taking formal courses and attending seminars and workshops, attending professional conferences, or just reading and investigating things on our own. It’s along the same lines as educators and academics. I don’t think life-long learning is something that is or should be specific to librarians, educators, and academics. Everyone should be learning new things throughout their life. And it seems to me that the principles we put forward in our 6 by 6 program never stop applying to our education.

Which brings me to fandom. When I was in elementary school, I played with my Star Wars action figures, making up new stories (and often giving the action figures new names, personalities, and roles in the story) based on the original Star Wars movie. I drew comics and wrote stories that heavily ripped off from Peanuts, Dick Tracy, Star Trek (the original series), Scooby-Doo, Disney and Warner Brothers cartoons, kaiju movies, and the books and superhero comics I loved. Engaging with pop culture like this helped exercise and develop my creativity and my understanding of story. It helped build my vocabulary and inspired me to seek out more information on the world around me. I believe this kind of play is crucial to us, and it’s a shame that much of it is left behind as we grow out of childhood and into adulthood.

It seems to me that writing fanfic, role-playing (both the formal tabletop games I grew up playing and the looser internet role-playing many people do today), creating GIFs and internet memes out of pop culture, mashing up pop songs, playing in fantasy sports leagues…these things (and activities like them) are all important culturally (which is a different but related topic), but they’re also important for our brains. They continue the acts of having fun with books (and movies and TV shows, etc), learning and communicating with a broad vocabulary, telling stories about everything, making education playful and play educational. It’s better to actively engage with books, movies, music, etc than it is to passively consume them. Our brains change as we grow older, but not so much that we need to stop interacting playfully and creatively with the media we’re presented with. If we want to stay sharp, if we want to continue to grow, we need to always be playing and learning.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to take a nap. (Nap time is something else we should continue from childhood. But that’s another post for another time.)


21st Century Girl

My daughter Morgan was notified today that she’s been accepted into the 21st Century School Animal Health program at Olathe North High School. Morgan, her mom and I are all very excited at the opportunities to study and work she’ll have while in high school.┬áIt also shows that she’s not only smarter than I am but a much harder worker and much more motivated than I was at that age.

I’m very, very proud of her.

You Can’t Just Walk Away

Gareth-Michael Skarka tweeted this morning:

Deleting Facebook accounts over privacy concerns is the new slacktivist hotness. If you’re concerned about less-savvy users — TEACH THEM.

And he’s absolutely right.

Colleen Harris blogged last week:

It’s not the nerds, social networking experts, librarians, Alex Scobles or other techgeeks Facebooks awful privacy settings take advantage of, though we’re teh ones bitching to high heaven for or against them.

It’s the casual user. It’s your mother, your Aunt Louise, and your next door neighbor. Perhaps it’s you.

And she’s absolutely right.

As a librarian, part of my job is to teach patrons and staff about new technology. As something of a tech geek, I do this in my off-work time, too. I’m always more than happy to teach friends, family, coworkers and complete strangers about the web and social sites, as well as issues surrounding privacy, copyright and general computer use. Walking away from Facebook isn’t just a personal thing, it’s a teaching moment, an opportunity to educate others on privacy and the social web.

If you’re thinking of deleting your Facebook account, or you’re just generally concerned about privacy on the web, or you simply have knowledge about computers and the internet, you need to share with others. Teach people how to protect themselves and to better use this new technology. It ain’t going away any time soon.


As I said in my previous post, I went to a school in Kansas City called Loretto for 5th-8th grades. Loretto was a private school that promoted self-paced education, cooperative learning, broad educational study and free thinking. It wasn’t quite “anything goes,” but it was much looser and more open than almost any other school I’ve gone to, not too dissimilar from the Montessori method. I really enjoyed my time at Loretto, and I was very upset when it closed during the summer of 1984, but it didn’t really hit me until this past weekend, reuniting with old friends and teachers from the school, just how much Loretto helped shape who I am and what I do today.

The Library Society of the World, begun on a whim and a dare, is completely a Loretto thing. It’s nonhierarchical, loosely-structured, open, free, collaborative, sarcastic and often lazy about getting things done…just like my classmates and I were at Loretto. Library Camp Kansas and my fondness for unconferences in general, that’s also Loretto-inspired. My dislike of formal presentations, standing at a podium and lecturing to an audience, and my preference for free-flowing conversations and the equal exhange of ideas also comes from my time at Loretto.

If I can continue to bring the Loretto philosophy and style into my professional and personal life, I’ll consider myself very successful indeed. The world needs fewer squares and more circles.

The News of the Day

The New York Times has released TimesMachine, a specific wayback machine that allows you to browse replicas of past issues, from September 18, 1851 to December 31, 1922. Hovering over an article brings a little box that contains the beginning text of the article and a link to read more, which opens up a PDF of the full text of the article. Each PDF even has its own URL, so you can link to it.

It’s loads of fun to play with, and I think the educational potential of this is inspiring. I’ve been looking at the news printed 100 years before I was born, and I’ve been having a ball.

Your Future, Now With Extra DRM!

Utterly despicable.

New federal legislation says universities must agree to provide not just deterrents but also “alternatives” to peer-to-peer piracy, such as paying monthly subscription fees to the music industry for their students, on penalty of losing all financial aid for their students…

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) applauded the proposal, which is embedded in a 747-page spending and financial aid bill. “We very much support the language in the bill, which requires universities to provide evidence that they have a plan for implementing a technology to address illegal file sharing,” said Angela Martinez, a spokeswoman for the MPAA.

According to the bill, if universities did not agree to test “technology-based deterrents to prevent such illegal activity,” all of their students–even ones who don’t own a computer–would lose federal financial aid.

Because nothing, not even the education of the next generations, is as important as the entertainment industry’s profits.

If you live in the districts of Rep. George Miller (D) of California or Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D) of Texas, please call and remind them it is not the responsibility of schools to protect the entertainment industry’s interests and denying a college education to lower-income students to make the entertainment industry happy is reprehensible.