Child-centered classification

I’ve been reading about Metis, a Dewey-free library classification system developed and implemented in 2011 by the librarians at the Ethical Culture School in New York City (Kaplan et al., 2013). The system places the thinking, interests, information needs and information-seeking behavior of children at its center. It was developed as an alternative to the Dewey decimal system, which is currently the most commonly used system in school and children’s sections of public libraries.

Metis is named for the Titan Metis, who was the mother of Athena. The Greek word metis means a quality that combines wisdom and cunning. The system is designed to encourage productive independent browsing and successful catalog searching by children. Its emphasis on situation specificity, flexibility, and user-centered design is closer to John Dewey than to Melvil Dewey. I liked this on the Metis site:

Our decision to create Metis is a result of our progressive approach to education and the library. The system isn’t a cut-down version of adult thinking. Kids feel empowered to navigate the library because it is organized in a way that they understand. Metis increases the success rate of finding books, which fosters self-reliance and produces joyous discovery.

The Metis main categories are based on studies of the practices of young children. They put users and their needs and interests at its center, and curriculum, collection, and library geography second. In contrast to the Dewey system, they are not meant to reflect the state of human knowledge or depict the relationship of one branch of knowledge to another. The categories are ordered using the letters of the alphabet, A-Z. This is the only code that is not whole language.

For example, H. Arts, might include art books, biographies of artists, and fiction featuring artists, whereas in most other systems those would all be in widely separate categories. U. Scary is a category of special interest to children, either as one to seek or one to avoid. G. MakingStuff would include cooking, model building, magic tricks, and crafts of all kinds.

Some obvious concerns about Metis are whether youthful readers can make the transition to other systems. One critic asked “What happens to these children when they arrive at a college or university and need to learn the Library of Congress classification system?” Notwithstanding the fact that very few college-educated adults presently learn LC, I’m inclined to support an experiment aimed at getting children to read more. Moving to another school could present problems, too, but seeing classification as a human construction could be a valuable learning experience in itself.

Almost a century ago, Célestin Freinet developed a classification scheme with a similar motivation, to facilitate the easy finding of documents. It was also for his Bibliothèque de Travail, a collection of student and teacher-made booklets for the classroom. The Freinet classification is also a simple system, similar to the Dewey decimal system, and reliant on the decimal coding.

There are 12 major divisions, such as 1.3 2. Plants1.4 3. Animals, and 1.5 4. Other sciences, with subdivisions and sub-subdivisions. Many educators see it as more logical and natural for school work than the Dewey system, although it is closer to that than is Metis. The Freinet classification is still used in the libraries of some elementary schools.

I’ll be interested to see how well these alternatives work and how much they spread to other libraries.

References

The Frontiers of Democracy, almost

The Social Frontier was a radical journal, which saw the school as an agent of social change. It was published at Teachers College for six years, starting in 1934. After that it was sponsored by the Progressive Education Association and changed its title to Frontiers of Democracy. The final issue was published in 1943.

The writers and editors for Social Frontier / Frontiers of Democracy (SF/FD) were dedicated to creating a more open society, one in which democratic participation was not simply a slogan, but a living reality. That meant expanding educational opportunities, increasing access, developing critical, socially-engaged citizens (where “citizen” means any resident), and involving all in what Dewey called the process of authority.

I’m sure the SF/FD writers would be pleased to know that the Teachers College Record and the Gottesman Libraries are “re-releasing the journal both because of its historical importance and because of its continued relevance to educators today.” The collection has been digitized and presented on a well-designed web page.

SF/FD writers would applaud the recognition of its continuing value. They would quickly understand the web as a new means for increasing access and accomplishing more of the democratic mission that they had undertaken. They would envision that teachers, parents, administrators, politicians, and the ordinary citizen as well, would certainly have some means for convenient access.

Along with that they would of course recognize the need to recover costs and to value the labor required to publish and distribute texts. But it’s hard to imagine that they would be pleased to know that the very journal they had established “to lead educators in the building of an enlightened America” (Harold Rugg) is effectively off limits to most of the people they hoped to reach, despite the new technological affordances.

How many individuals will choose to subscribe to TCRecord simply in order to access SF/FD? Even people at other universities willing to pay the appropriate costs, and current subscribers to TCRecord, are excluded since the institutional subscription does not include SF/FD. In the midst of information overload, the apparently modest terms can be off-putting: “The introductory rate of $20 is available for a limited time…Your membership will automatically renew every 365 days…No refunds are offered for early cancellation.” I suspect that at best many will decide to look at the print version if and when it’s available to them, and resign themselves to being unable to share any findings more widely with the very audience that the journal envisions.

Rugg’s books and the progressive education movement in general suffered from rightwing attacks through the late 1930’s into the McCarthy era. Today the movement suffers more from indifference and a lack of understanding of the issues involved. A paywall for a relatively obscure journal that ceased publication over 70 years ago does little to help. I assume that TC or TCRecord has full copyright, but it’s worth noting that the journal was sponsored for half its life by the Progressive Education Association (as Frontiers of Democracy), and as such only in part by TC.

In the final issue, Rugg says, “Our treasured American way of life is in great danger, not only from menacing fascists and false patrioteers, but primarily because our people, standing baffled and bewildered on the threshold of abundance are unable to bring about such a life.” Much the same could be said today; it’s a pity that the opportunity to further dialogue on these issues has been lost. As too often happens, a good project with a noble purpose undermines its own agenda, for apparently petty reasons.

My retirement plans

It’s with satisfaction, relief, anticipation, and a tinge of sadness, that I submitted my intention to retire in August of this year. I will have been with the University of Illinois for twenty years, half of those in the College of Education and half in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. The retirement means that I’ll be changing my mode of work, with more attention to writing and more international projects.

I’ve enjoyed and benefitted greatly from my time here, and even more from working with you all. I can’t think of another group anywhere with such high collegiality, dedication, moral perception, and responsible leadership. The scholarship, teaching, and learning have always been outstanding and there’s been a lot of fun on top of it all.

I expect to continue working part-time on the Youth Community Informatics and Community Informatics Corps grants through June, 2011, and perhaps do other work after that, so this is not a good-bye, just an announcement about a new role for me.

Best wishes and enjoy all the snow,

Chip

UI 4th for hosting foreign students

The University of Illinois’s Urbana campus continues to host more international students than all but three other universities in the nation, according to the Institute of International Education.

The UI is No. 1 among public universities.

via The News-Gazette.com: UI 4th overall in 2008-09 for hosting of foreign students.


A highlight of my job is to work with a diverse group of students, who bring different experiences and perspectives. This diversity includes nationality.

Considering just the doctoral level, I’ve now served on the committee for 80 students who’ve completed their Ph.D. and another 25 who are still working towards it. Here’s the list of countries represented, among just those for whom I have an official role: USA (58), Taiwan (11), Korea (7), China (5), India (5), Australia (3), Romania (2), Singapore (2), Austria (1), Azerbaijan (1), Belize (1), Germany (1), Haiti (1), Hungary (1), Ireland (1), Japan (1), Nepal (1), Puerto Rico (1), Spain (1), Turkey (1), Vietnam (1). I’ve also been able to work closely with students from Brazil, Canada, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Cypress, Egypt, Iran, Malaysia, Mexico, Pakistan, Poland, South Africa, and many other places.

This list is by nationality, not necessarily by ethnicity or residence. For example, one student was originally from Mexico and now lives and works in Japan, but I counted him as USA, because he’s a US citizen. The number from Asia (32) isn’t far below that from the US, but there are none from Africa, and only two from South America and just seven from Europe (or eight, counting Turkey).

Knowing well the challenges of travel and life in other countries, I’m impressed with the imagination and the perseverance of students from abroad. I’m also very grateful for what they’ve added to the university and to the life of myself and my family.

Community Inquiry Labs

Inquiry cycle

Inquiry cycle

Community Inquiry Labs (aka CIL’s or CILabs) is rising again!

What is CILabs?

Drawing from the work of John Dewey and others, showing that education begins with the curiosity of the learner, CILabs promotes an iterative process of inquiry: asking questions, investigating solutions, creating new knowledge, discussing experiences, and reflecting on new-found knowledge, in a way that leads to new questions.

In addition to the standard features found on group support sites, such as Ning, Google, Yahoo, and Moodle, CILabs offers a means for building Inquiry Units based on the Inquiry Cycle. Also, unlike most university-supported software there is a secure means for users without university netid’s to participate. This is crucial for university-community collaborations.

CILabs (aka iLabs) are being used currently in courses such as Will Patterson’s Hip Hop as Community Informatics and Martin Wolske’s Intro to Network Systems. Projects such as Youth Community Informatics use it as do a variety of  other projects and organizations.

The redesign

Despite filling a need for many individuals and groups since 2003, use of CILabs fell off after a security hole was discovered in CILabs 3. That led to a temporary shutdown and a major redesign on the Drupal platform.

Thanks to the support of Robert Baird at CITES EdTech, a project to rebuild CILabs was led by Alan Bilansky with Julieanne Chapman as lead programmer. Claudia Serbanuta represented GSLIS and the CILabs user base. The new CILabs is now hosted by the University of Illinois College of Education, thanks to Ryan Thomas and John Barclay. This represents an unusual and successful collaboration across two colleges and CITES, with support from the Center for Global Studies, Community Informatics Initiative and the Illinois Informatics Institute.

I encourage you to give it a try now, and to let us know how to improve it.it

Why I came to library and information science

My academic career includes degrees in biology and computer science, teaching computer science in two universities, research in a high-tech, R&D firm, teaching in a college of education, and teaching now in a school of library and information science. My dissertation adviser was in philosophy, and the dissertation itself was in mathematical logic and artificial intelligence. I’ve published in a variety of journals, including those in other fields. People have often asked: Is there any rationale for this? Were you just booted from one place to another?

I could give a practical account of why I moved to a library and information science school nine years ago, but that wouldn’t explain how I think of the field and what led me to that decision. To do that, I need to start a bit earlier…

chip54

Chip in Fort Worth, 1954

When I was three years old, I enrolled along with four other children in the Frisky and Blossom Club held at the Fort Worth Children’s Museum (now the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History). Frisky and Blossom were de-scented skunks who lived in the old house that was the Museum then. The club evolved into the Museum School, the largest in the US, with over 200,000 alums. I stayed with the school, learning about plants and animals, astronomy, history, and many other topics. Most importantly, I learned how energizing learning could be when it’s connected to what we care about and how it can grow out of things in the world around us.

That interest in informal learning bolstered by museums and libraries, continued. When I was eight years old, I never missed the bookmobile when it came by our neighborhood. I was a collector of insects, sea shells, postage stamps, books, and all sorts of other things. But reading and writing were the most important means for expanding my world. It’s sad to say, but little of this occurred for me in school, which often felt like some unjustified punishment. I learned arithmetic from card and board games outside of school, but also by counting the minutes until the end of the class, the school day, or the school year. Science was as much through a chemistry set and nature study as through classes. And so on.

These experiences led me to value inquiry-based learning. They also made it harder for me to understand knowledge as confined within static categories. When I applied to college, I considered majoring in history, geology, biology, and English, but later thought philosophy or behavioral sciences might be better. For graduate school, I chose computer sciences, not because I was so enamored of the machine, but because the field appeared the be the closest to offering a general tool for interdisciplinary inquiry. My work in artificial intelligence emphasized computer natural language understanding and reasoning. That led in a more direct way than might appear at first into education. Fortunately, working on projects such as a statistics curriculum and software for high school students, or Quill, a program for reading and writing, allowed me to create learning environments that were more integrated and connected to the life of students, something I had missed to a large extent in my own schooling.

Later, I brought those experiences to a college of education. I found many opportunities to expand on those experiences. But I also found that the means of formal schooling were sometimes disconnected from the ends I valued. The emphases on measurable learning objectives and teacher credentialing often crowded out discourse on the changing nature of literacy or the connection of learning and life. Because my work involves collaborations with those in other disciplines, I saw space for those ideas in other realms, such as writing studies, communication, occasionally in the sciences, and especially, in library and information science.

me

Chip in Dublin, 2007

As I worked with people in library and information science, I found a serious engagement with issues such as the moral and political aspects of texts and information systems, changes to literacy practices related to new technologies and globalization, distributed knowledge making, information for community needs, and new ways of organizing and providing access to information. Although not all of my colleagues would characterize it this way, I see issues of learning threaded through everything we do. Learning is the creative act of meaning making that occurs in praxis, the integration of theory and practice. More than any other discipline, library and information science provides the space to engage with that phenomenon. It brings together the informed and critical understanding of texts and information systems with serious attention to the impact on human life.

There are many other reasons I might add for my joining GSLIS per se–the high level of collegiality, the moral commitment, the respect for both the old and the new, and the sincere interest in and openness to continuing to learn. These things make coming to library and information science seem wise, in spite of myself and my meandering path.

Libraries: Changing information space and practice

librairiesThis volume examines the social, cultural, and political implications of the shift from traditional forms of print-based libraries to the delivery of online information in educational contexts. Despite the central role of libraries in literacy and learning, research of them has, in the main, remained isolated within the disciplinary boundaries of information and library science. By contrast, this book problematizes and thereby mainstreams the field. It brings together scholars from a wide range of academic fields to explore the dislodging of library discourse from its longstanding apolitical, modernist paradigm.

Collectively, the authors interrogate the presuppositions of current library practice and examine how library as place and library as space blend together in ways that may be both complementary and contradictory. Seeking a suitable term to designate this rapidly evolving and much contested development, the editors devised the word “libr@ry,” and use the term arobase to signify the conditions of formation of new libraries within contexts of space, knowledge, and capital.

Kaptizke, Cushla, & Bruce, Bertram C. (Eds.) (2006). Libr@ries: Changing information space and practice. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. [ISBN 0-8058-5481-9]