Librarians, YouTube, and the New Media Literacies

I recently gave talks to two groups of librarians about their role in promoting the New Media Literacies: first, I did a webcast to more than 500 members of the Association for College and Research Libraries and then, I spoke in person to a meeting of the New England Educational Media Association and the Massachusetts School Library Association.

Across both conversations, it was clear that librarians are on the front lines, dealing with those who have been left behind by the participation gap, struggling to deal with those opposed to or frightened by the participatory turn in our culture, helping anxious academics understand the value and limits of wikipedia, and so forth. In the question sessions at both talks, I heard some of the concerns they are facing on their ground as they try to keep pace with the changes in our understanding of literacy and in the ways that information circulates and knowledge is produced.

I was especially struck by some questions from libraries whose school districts require them to block such key sites of participatory culture as Youtube, MySpace, and Second Life — in part out of fear of the content they will bring into their schools but also out of concern about their liability over what students may post during school hours. I was struck all over again by the tension between the rich pedagogical benefits we see through the effective deployment of such sites and the pressures schools face from those in their community who are anxious about the directions their culture is taking.

I tried to explain to them about the ways that YouTube has become an incredible archive of materials of invaluable use in the classroom. I cited for example the website, realclearpolitics, which everyday not only gathers together key articles about the presidential campaign from newspapers and newsmagazines all over the country but also collects major clips from the campaign trail, mostly posted on Youtube, so you can quickly catch up with everything from Saturday Night Live skits to the latest interviews on Sunday Morning talk shows, from advertisements to internet parodies, which help us to understand what’s happening in American civic life. This site does a great job in curating the contents of Youtube yet it would be impossible to generate such a resources without the open ended platform for sharing media content that Youtube represents. As a media scholar, I think we should be teaching students ways to understand what’s going on within Youtube and how it is impacting our culture. But I also think that regardless of what subject you teach, we can learn through YouTube. At the same time, producing and sharing media can be a powerful motivator for other kinds of academic research, can be a good way to get students to take greater responsibility over their own learning, and can be a way of introducing students to the rewards and challenges of civic engagement and cultural participation. The response to the risks posed by this new media platform is not to ignore them and let young people face them on their own outside of school but to insure that there are well informed adult mentors to watch their backs rather than snoop over their shoulders. So, I urge librarians and teachers to continue to struggle to insure that they have access to this resource in their schools.

I know that a number of teachers and librarians regularly read this blog so I’d like to invite you to share your stories and perspectives on this issue. Which sites does your local school board block access to? What rationales are they giving? To what degrees is it possible to work around those restrictions? Or conversely, what uses have you made of these sites for your teaching?

As you can probably tell from the reactions to the anonymous post, we now seem to be back on track in terms of processing reader responses: it does require a one time registration process but it allows you to post directly to the site without waiting for me to clear each post. So, let’s see if we can put the system to a test.

If you follow these links, you can find a podcast version of the ACRL talk (if you want to cut to the talk itself, it starts about 12 minutes into the podcast) and an interview with with College & Research Libraries News editor-in-chief David Free, which follows up on some of the core ideas in the talk.

Both talks allowed me to share some of the materials we are developing through Project nml, including our Teacher’s Strategy Guide on Moby Dick, our Learning Library, and the Ethics Casebook we are developing with Harvard’s Good Play Project. You can find out more about all three projects at our Project NML blog. We are still looking for schools and after school programs which might want to test some of our materials next year. I am going to share more on the Ethics casebook project later this week.