Looking At The Importance Of Genre With The Mighty Little Librarian

Due to popular demand and in celebration of Throwback Thursdays, enjoy this interview with librarian Tiffany Whitehead from a recording produced during this year's National Library Month.

Rod Berger: I'm Dr. Rod Berger. Sit back, grab a cup of coffee and explore some of today's most pressing educational issues through the experienced eyes of leading education personalities. Welcome to CoffeED.

We are continuing our series focusing in on libraries, library media specialists and the power of libraries in this month of April, National Library Month, for school libraries, National Library Week, the 10th through the 16th. We want to thank our sponsors at Choosito.com, search and learn, because the web is not a library and search engines are not librarians. Go to Choosito.com; that's C-H-O-O-S-I-T-O.com.

It's nice to be speaking with the Mighty Little Librarian who's official name is Tiffany Whitehead in Baton Rouge, Louisiana at Central Middle. Tiffany, tell us a little bit about the name, Might Little Librarian that you're known as, on the web.

Tiffany Whitehead: So my blog name came from a good friend of mine from college. She called me Mighty Mouse because although I was small, I had a lot of personality and a lot of opinions. And so from that nickname, I created the blog, Mighty Little Librarian.

RB: Okay. So let's use that as a launching point. Talk with me about some of your stronger opinions in the world of library media sciences. I know on your blog; you've got posts around "Ditching Dewey." I can only imagine that might be one of them. What are some of your stronger opinions right now with where the state of library media sciences is, as an entity, as a provider of resources within a school community?

TW: I am a firm believer that the library should be one of the most active locations in a school. It's something that I strive for in our school library. I feel my job here is to support the students and the teachers in any and every way that I can. I feel the role of the school librarian now is very technology-centered, which is a good thing. We can be technology leaders in our school, and that's something that I strive for as well.

You are right. The idea of Ditching Dewey is one of my more controversial ideas and a thing that I'm very passionate about. I work hard to create a very student-centered library. This library is not my library. It's theirs. And I want my students to feel that way.

Through our "genre-fied" library collection, and through implementing things like a self-checkout system for my students, they're able to take ownership of this library in this space and manage it themselves.

RB: So tell us about Ditching Dewey. Get on the "soap box" and tell us a little bit why we should be Ditching Dewey.

TW: I wanted my students to be able to come in and easily find the books they wanted, particularly with my middle school students. I often got the question of where are the mystery books or where are the science fiction, fantasy books and where are the sports books. My students would find one author and go to that author repeatedly, and then after they finish, they didn't know where to go.

Five years ago, I "genre-fied" our fiction and then our non-fiction sections in our library. Our fiction is broken down into subcategories by genre, all of our science fiction and fantasy books are shelved together. All of our sports fiction is shelved together, all of our mystery, suspense and action/adventures.

My students, read more broadly now within the genres that they enjoy, and I find that they are more willing to try new things. They know where to go to find the books that they want to read. We've also moved because it was such a success, and we've "genre-fied" our non-fiction as well.

It's allowed me to revamp the arrangement of our library. Sports is the best example: I have all of my sports fiction books and all of my sports non-fiction books all shelved right next to each other. My students who are interested in sports are much more likely to pair fiction and non-fiction now, and it's easier for them to find what interests them.

RB: I love that idea. It makes me think when I was a kid, how would I have known where to go to get the resources that interested me.

You know, Tiffany, one of the biggest things I'm finding when we look at information literacy, and I want to talk about that in a moment. But when we look at the challenges in a 21st-century environment, it is not the access to resources. I'm finding it is the curating of those resources. How do you interpret that? Am I right or what is your thought around that, the curating of resources, as opposed to just general access?

TW: Right. Our students are living in a world that we didn't grow up in. They have massive access. They have access that they can't wrap their brains around, and they don't know how to get the handle. Curating is essentially the only way that we can support our students in getting them access to the quality resources they need.

The same for our teachers as well, I find that curating materials for my teachers through, you know, digital media, is a great asset for them. That's a way that I can be of help to them because just like the students, they are very easily overwhelmed by the amount of information that they have access to. As the librarian, I feel there's a calling through those materials to help them locate and organize the most valuable, most useful, most relevant information. It is a big part of my job.

RB: We want to remind everybody that this series is sponsored by Choosito.com, search and learn, because the web is not a library, and search engines are not librarians.

Let's talk a little bit about information literacy. Tell me how you interpret that. We see a lot in regards to digital literacy in the popular press. We're starting to see this growing trend around what does information literacy mean? So how do you interpret information literacy in the vein of library media sciences?

TW: When I think of information literacy and digital literacy, the first thing that comes to mind is the idea of digital natives. And a lot of people talk about all these students. They are coming to us with all of this background information and this ability to use technology. And those of us who are on the frontlines working with students every day know that that is not necessarily the case. Although they may be very capable of operating their smartphones, they're not necessarily informed when it comes to, really evaluating information and thinking about their digital lives and how things that they're doing now can impact them in their future.

Teaching digital citizenship is something that I am very passionate about. Not only teaching my students how to access information and call through information and decide if the information is reliable and valid, but also just think about their digital lives in social media and how all of the things that they're involved in has an impact on their life.

RB: Tell me about some background on you. When you were looking at what you wanted to do as a career, when did it hit you that this was going to be your career path? The working in a student-centered library, being a part of different projects with kids' academic subjects and teachers, what was it that was so exciting?

TW: I was drawn to this career path very early on. I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher and work with students. I got my library certification with my undergrad degree knowing that the library is where I belong. I worked in the public library all through high school and college.

The library was always that safe place, comfortable place. And so I saw the potential in what a school library could be a valuable place for students and teachers. I was very lucky to get a library position very early on in my career. I've been able to build from there.

RB: Tell me about the community of librarians around the country. Is that what the blog has been, a way to connect with other librarians? I would imagine that it could be, one side of it, a little bit isolating, because often, there are one of you on a school campus and not five librarians. Differing from how you might have five math teachers that can congregate. What's the blog done for you with regards to the community of librarians?

TW: That's how I got started with my blog. I felt very isolated in the library. Although I knew that the library was the career for me, that first year was very difficult because I was the only librarian in my district working with that particular age group. I did not have anyone to go to as a resource, and that drove me to the online community of school librarians. Once I discovered the value that that group of people had to offer, I would not be who I am, professionally, without that network of people that I learn from and connect with on a daily basis through Twitter, our blogs, and our professional organizations.

RB: Yes, even in my short time doing this series, I've noticed the strength of the community, especially now with blogs, like you were saying, just that way to connect not only with resources but personalities and passion for library media sciences.

We want to thank the Might Little Librarian, Tiffany Whitehead, out of Central Middle in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She has served in the past as president for ISTE's Librarian's Network, and she was recognized as one of ISTE's 2014 Emerging Leaders. She is a National Board Certified Teacher and Library Media Scientist, named one of 2014's Library Journal Movers and Shakers. We also want to thank our sponsors at Choosito.com, search and learn, because the web is not a library, and search engines are not librarians.

Once again, I'm Doctor Rod Berger.

Join us for our next cup of coffee as we continue to have conversations in education that matter to you. I'm Dr. Rod Berger, and this is CoffeED.

Supported By: Choosito! 

Choosito! supports the library community and stands by the mantra: "Because the web is not a library and search engines are not librarians." If you are a librarian, click here for a free trial of Choosito!

Tiffany WhiteheadTiffany Whitehead, aka the Mighty Little Librarian, is an obsessive reader, social media user, and technology geek. She is the school librarian at Central Middle in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Tiff earned her undergraduate degree in Elementary Education and School Library Certification from Southeastern Louisiana University and her graduate degree in Educational Technology Leadership from Northwestern State University. She has served as the President for ISTE’s Librarians Network and was recognized as one of ISTE’s 2014 Emerging Leaders. Tiffany is National Board Certified in Library Media and was named one of the 2014 Library Journal Movers & Shakers.

You can follow Tiff on Twitter @librarian_tiff.

Click here to view Tiffany’s work experience, presentations, etc.

For Further Examination of Library Topics visit the previous edCircuit article: Will Librarians Be The Overseers Of The Information Age?

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