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Sunday, 20 October 2013

Making a way to the place in future

By Suzana Sukovic

Thanks to Kristina Stoney for her generous permission to reproduce her and Nicolas Arney's beautiful photos.
In transition (Turkey)
This week I learnt at some majestic places – NSW Art Gallery, State Library and sandstone buildings of a private college. However, the main part is happening right now as I am trying to make sense of it, writing this blog at my desk – a very modest place of learning.

The week started with the ALIA Future of the Profession summit at the State Library when we tried to work out what the future holds for us, librarians and other information professionals (see #alliafutures on Twitter). On Tuesday, it was the AIS ICT Integrators Conference where we talked about using wonderful digital tools in a meaningful way in education, which refuses to change fast enough (#aisitic). Anne Cutler, Director of Learning at Tate, topped the week with a guest lecture at the NSW Art Gallery.
In all these events, we talked about knowledge industries and repeated the same questions: Will we be needed in the future? Where is our place? What do we need to do and how? Professionals in ‘easy target’ industries worry about copping another round of cuts, but it isn’t the only problem. Even doctors wonder whether they’ll treat sick patients in the future, I’d read just before the summit. Democratisation of knowledge enabled by fast developments of ICT has quickly shifted our sacred grounds leaving us slightly insecure on our feet.
People working in the knowledge sector have lots of questions and doubts but, fortunately, they also have some (tentative) answers.  Librarians, teachers and curators believe that future knowledge will be shared, collaborative and learner/client-centered. But, where will we be with our professional knowledge, authority, special buildings and artefacts in the culture of Google, Facebook and Wikipedia? There, with people, working as facilitators, we say.
 A key to that shared vision can be described in four points.
Checking it out (Casablanca)
1. People, our students and clients, should be trusted to set their own learning agenda. Kristina Stoney ( travels around the world on her bike and engages students in challenge-based learning. Students choose their challenge and find their answers thriving in the experience, explain their teachers. 

Some community libraries have started people records describing their unique knowledge. Community members can ‘borrow’ a person to talk with them in the library.

‘We are misunderstanding what our public wants from us,’ says Anna Cutler. She wants visitors at Tate to set up their own gallery programs. Young people organised a festival at Tate gathering 20,000 participants who spent hours at the gallery.

People want to learn, to participate and share. We have to allow them to tell us how.
Bread tools
2. Our tools and resources are valuable and, often, unique. We need to use them in partnership with other players.

Google doesn’t know everything, but makes an information professional’s job easier, says Mark Pesce. Is this question Googleable? may be the question to filter reference enquiries. Today, a meme has come my way. The joke is about the infamous question Do you have that green book by that famous guy? But, the whole joke is a misunderstanding. The question is legitimate. Librarians have reference interview, knowledge of literature and search tools to answer questions that can’t be searched online, though Google may come handy. Students need teachers to guide them, although YouTube is often better for specifics.
Our greatest tools are our mind and professional knowledge.
3. Values. What are our values? What do we mean by them? How do implement them? - are questions at the core of a learning transformation at Tate. How do we recognise our values in practice? asks Cutler’s team.
Tyre inspection
4. Evidence is crucial for change. In order to answer the questions about values, the Tate team constantly gathers, analyses and shares data looking for evidence that they are on the right track and finding areas for improvement. The title of Cutler’s talk, Changing the refrain: creativity and the idea of learning, suggests a creative change of the learning refrain. But, even a creative change, needs a systematic, evidence-based practice.
Schools and libraries don’t talk often about evidence-based change. They tend to be more focused on assessment of what they have always done – How much has the reading improved? Are we getting good HSC scores? How many visitors do we have in library spaces and online? In schools and libraries, we rarely gather evidence to inform change. Perhaps, a lesson is in this point of difference. We should stop waiting for our institutions for instructions and start gathering evidence of a change we want to see and lead. That way, we’ll be a step closer to that future we envisage for our profession.

A good place to start is at our desk.