School libraries: Vital filter developers

Libraries are developers the ever more important filter that spells both online safety and academic success: the cognitive one.

By Anne Collier

Actually, the library is both a filter and a developer of the most effective filter there is: the software between students’ ears (as my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid first put it years ago). It’s a great filter as school’s nerve center of media competency and literacy (hopefully including new media as well as the traditional kind).

As for the filter the library helps develop in students’ heads: If properly developed, it can guide and empower them the rest of their lives. Its other pluses:

* Comes universally pre-installed, free of charge
* Has no socio-economic barriers to “adoption”
* Is automatically customized in micro detail as it’s used
* Works at the “operating system” level
* Not only doesn’t conflict with, but supports and enhances, all other “applications”
* Improves with use
* Is the No. 1 online-safety tool.

Critical thinking – about what one is posting, producing, and uploading as well as reading, consuming, and downloading – has never been more important for personal and academic success because of the flood of media flowing to and from the Internet’s most active and social users, youth. But now – because media is also social, or behavioral – media literacy is also protective. If it teaches critical thinking about incoming social influencing (by friends, ex-friends, advertisers, predators – see this) and about their own behavior in social media, media literacy will go far in helping students have enriching, constructive experiences online and offline now and in the future. Critical thinking about one’s behavior in and with media is protective because people who engage in aggressive behavior are more than twice as likely to be victimized in social media, researchers reported in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine in 2007.

So I hope schools are engaged in an important shift, not entirely away from tech filters, but at least toward understanding how vital librarians and other media-literacy teachers are to students’ safe, constructive use of media and technology. [Besides, in many schools, tech filters are “knee-high fences” that only trip up adults at school (see this commentary in the Washington Post).] I see librarians in a key role of helping administrators, parents, and teachers of all subjects to 1) see the value and effectiveness of the cognitive filter, 2) loosen dependency on tech filtering and other tech “panaceas,” and 3) become comfortable with social media. Then schools will be free to do for new media what they’ve done for traditional media for centuries: guide and enrich students’ experience with them (see “School & social media: Uber big picture”).

As Joyce Kasman Valenza and Doug Johnson recently wrote in School Library Journal, “It is the best time in history to be a librarian,” but they seem to share my sense of urgency about the need for everybody, including librarians, to understand why.

[I guess I’ve been thinking about this so much lately because School Library Journal just published my view of “online safety 3.0” here.]

Related links

* Here’s a librarian who’s clearly developing that filter. The article doesn’t say if she’s folding the behavioral part of new media into her literacy instruction (critical thinking about what students are uploading, sharing, and producing as well as downloading and reading), but she probably is.
* The 2009 small, medium, and large school districts honored for technology performance in Converge magazine
* I’d love librarians’ feedback on this proposed definition of new media lit.
* Of new media literacy in Europe
* President Obama and new media literacy
* The media literacy part of parenting
* A new online safety: The means not the end

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