Marketing and Outreach

Interview with Frances Jacobson Harris

I had a chance to interview Frances Jacobson Harris, Educator, school librarian, and author of I Found It on the Internet, Second Edition.

J. Michael Jeffers: Frances, you have been a high school librarian in a very special school for how many years? Tell us a little bit about your school and also what has changed the most in your tenure?

Frances Jacobson Harris: This is my 24th year at University Laboratory High School at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Uni is a public laboratory school that serves gifted students in grades 8 through 12. We're small - only about 60 students per class (300 total). The program is rigorous and students are held to high standards. At the same time, teachers have a lot of autonomy to develop curriculum. Pretty much each of us gets to know every one of the students. What has changed the most while I've been here? Technology, without a doubt. It's changed the way we communicate and, for many of us, the way we teach. What hasn't changed is a school culture that values trust, creativity, and community. Lockers stand open, students have free periods rather than required study halls, and most every student participates in extracurricular activities and/or sports. As illustration - the class of 1972 sponsors the Wylde Q. Chicken Spontaneous Generation Award for Coloring Outside the Lines. For the most part, technology has served to facilitate this culture.

JMJ: Have these changes been good for the school learning environment?

FJH: Definitely. Advances in technology have certainly improved access to information resources and possibilities for collaborative learning. Our student newspaper is entirely online; student journalists now write for an unlimited audience (and the comments on their stories to prove it!). In fact, I wish some of our teachers would do a lot more to transform their teaching with technology. A few still use it in the same way they used overhead projectors.  

JMJ: What about the students themselves. What drives, motivates, interest them?

FJH:: Many of our students come to us with a lot of intrinsic motivation, which is a too-rare, but entirely wonderful characteristic. They are, of course, interested in all the things their peers are interested in - music and other media (including books), friends, hanging out, fitting in, and getting more sleep. Unfortunately, grades are often a big motivation around here. We don't do class ranking, or it would be even worse. Many, though, are just insatiably curious - which is a joyful thing for a librarian.

JMJ: Tell us some of the new initiatives or programs at your library.

FJH: Our main claim to fame is the team-taught computer literacy curriculum, a semester course which is required of all incoming (eighth grade) students, followed by another semester course in the freshman year. Some of my pieces of the course can be found on our website: http://www.uni.illinois.edu/library/computerlit/index.php. While not exactly "new" (we've been doing this since 1996), the courses are in constant evolution. They have given me a chance to really focus my instruction on information evaluation and responsible use of information and communication technology. These skills are particularly important in our environment because we have never installed Internet filtering software (having the University of Illinois as our Internet service provider obviates the need for E-Rate funding and its mandate of filtering software). Therefore, it's terribly important that we talk, talk, and talk with students about what they find online and how they treat one another online (and in person). The course, as well as collaborative work I do with teachers, gives me lots of opportunities to keep those conversations open. In fact, the vast majority of problems we have do not involve exposure to inappropriate content, but tend to revolve around interpersonal relationships.

It is my hope that our approach to information access can serve as a model of what "normal" could be. Yesterday I saw a tweet from Dr. Alec Couros, a professor of educational technology and media at the University of Regina, who posted "I'm feeling pretty stifled with China's Internet filtering, but it still seems more liberal than most western K12 schools." Unfortunately, I think he's spot on about the draconian way we restrict access to the Internet in schools. I'm convinced there are ways to keep our students safe AND to allow them to engage in the online world in enriching and engaging ways - ways that prepare them for the world outside school.

   JMJ: When you talk to colleagues and friends in the (school) library world, what are their biggest concerns?

FJH: Lack of funding for staff and materials are HUGE points of discussion. I also hear a great deal about restrictive technology environments - not just filters, but rules and administrative procedures that tie librarians' hands, making it difficult to deploy Web 2.0 tools, communicate with students and parents, and even update library websites. And of course, many of my colleagues are concerned about the impact of today's high stakes testing environment, one that overly ties a curriculum to preparing students for testing.  

   JMJ: You must be very proud of the second edition of I Found It on the Internet. What is especially new and significant in this edition that readers really must know and understand?

FJH:: For this edition, I was particularly happy to shine more light on what we now understand about young people's use of the Internet as it relates to safety issues. Recent research tells us that the stranger-danger "technopanic" response is no longer the appropriate one. The vast majority of kids know how to protect themselves from those textbook types of dangers. Those who do not, or who actively court risky online situations, do need our attention. But we do kids no favors when we broadcast a generic "just say no" response. Instead, we need to recognize that young people are active participants in the online world, not just passive inhabitants. Truly, they shape their online world as much as it shapes them.  I'm hoping that after people read this edition of the book they'll be better informed about how we can help kids do that shaping, as much as coming to a better understanding of what we can and should do to protect and educate kids.  

JMJ: Finally, a trick question: Since your recent book went “rather well” would you consider doing another book for Editions?

FJH: Yes - when I retire! Actually, I will probably do that (retire) within the next 5 years. Right now I hardly have time to eat. I've been spending every available minute filling this website with content: http://www.cufolkandroots.org.

Welcome to alaeditions.org!

I would like to welcome you to Editions.org and our open-forum blog. It is my privilege to be the Publisher of both TechSource (subscriptions, e-learning, webinars, and workshops) and Editions (professional and reference books, both print and electronic). My team is part of a larger unit at the American Library Association called Publishing.

The dirty little secret is that I am not a librarian, but I know a great deal about what librarians do, what they think about, and what they are concerned about.  But I never know enough; I will never be close enough to the action because I do not work in a library. So my colleagues and I depend on you tell us what is going on and what you need for your professional development. And here is a chance for you to do just that.

Something that we in publishing share with librarians of all kinds is high anxiety about how quickly our work world is changing. I am old enough (the proverbial 39, thank you Mr. Benny) to remember when the art and science of putting a book together meant having a hand-written manuscript typed by two different people (in order to ensure that the material was correct), comparing the documents, creating a master with hand edits, and sending it off to the compositor—who made galleys. (And why did we call them galleys, anyway. A galley is a long metal tray that holds type ready for printing.)

The galleys would be edited, read by the author, edited and corrected again, and sent back to the author. Changes would be made again until we finally had page proofs, which were sent back to the author and then to a proof reader. Cover art had to be hand drawn; even charts, graphs, and other display elements were hand drawn—we had an art department with lighted tables, for goodness sake.  And permission letters were a horrible bore—they took forever to do and get back. Did I forget the index……done manually? Once the art was in place and the index readied the second set of page proofs were sent off to the author. Corrections always came back, no matter how often you explained that an author could not rewrite anything! Finally, everything was sent to the printer, who put the book under the camera to make film, to make plates....and on and on.

Well, the back and forth still goes on, and we still go to the printer (for how long, one wonders). But it is all so wonderfully different now; still a lot of work for both author and publisher, but our output is more than just a physical book. It can be a PDF of the book you can print yourself; but it also can be an e-bundle that allows you to read one of our books on your Kindle or iPad or whatever your favorite device happens to be.

And of course, this is part of our shared high anxiety: Will an actual book disappear? Some may remember a quaint little movie “84 Charing Cross Road” with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins from 1986—a movie that glorified and revered not only books, but old books. In it are great scenes from the proverbial musty book shop in the basement of a London building. The staff was totally devoted to and knowledgeable about books, great ones and little volumes of seemingly no consequence other than the fact that someone wanted to own them and read them. To have them. Librarians and publishers alike are anxiously asking if patrons will continue to want and to own books. And no one knows for sure.

Now I have to confess my second dirty little secret: I have owned a Kindle for over two years, and I love it. Not only do I love it, I take it everywhere. My non-publishing friends are scandalized. But you are a book publisher. No, I respond, I am a publisher and my world has changed greatly. I want librarians to own our books, courses, and newsletters, but I don’t care if they buy an actual book or something they load on their Sony Reader. Just tell us by your buying decisions that we are publishing correctly for you. What I really want to know is if our content is helping librarians be better librarians, which is what ALA Publishing in general and TechSource and Editions in particular are all about.

So, welcome again to our blog. We want to talk about anything that has to do with books, with publishing, with libraries, with technology…..come join the party.

Michael


P.S. Many of you may have heard that Barnes & Noble is for sale. Leonard Riggio, the founder, will probably lead a group of investors and take the chain private (again). It was not long ago that the entire industry was in fear and trepidation about the power and control that the super store chains would have on the book world.  Everyone fretted that one company, with over 700 stores, would so dominate the market. They indeed did change the landscape. There are very few independent stores around. In 2001, B & N’s total market capitalization was $2.2 billion while Amazon’s capitalization was $3.6 billion.

Now the shoe is on the other foot. B & N today is capitalized at $950 million while Amazon is currently at $55 billion. Who’s the monster now…….?
 

Syndicate content