Although I believe it is essential to regularly reflect on various aspects of our lives, the new year is just one of those times when some of us are “programmed” to take our reflections especially seriously.
This year, I owe a great debt to Dr. Maryanne Wolf for my New Year’s “professional life” reflection and commitment to future action. In the past four weeks, I have read, made notes, reflected, reread passages, and written about her latest book Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World (2018).
This is not the first time in my life that questions about reading in the digital age have kept me awake at night. In 2008, I read Dr. Wolf’s book Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. Since that time, I have often found myself wondering about how, what, and why we read is changing our personal and professional lives as well as our national and global society.
The Past: Cautionary Tales
Way back in 2010, I presented “A Time to Skim, a Time to Read, or How to Convince Surfers to Take a Deep Dive” at the School Library Journal Summit in Chicago. In that brief talk, I advocated for slow reading—what I would now call “deep reading.” (If I were sharing that talk today, I would advocate even louder!)
The next year, two books greatly influenced my thinking on reading in the digital age. William Powers’ book Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age (2011) made me think about taking time away from my devices in order to create time for reflection and perhaps access to my own imagination and creativity. Later that year, I read Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (2011) and furthered my quest to find online and offline balance in my life.
In 2012, I coauthored an article with Cassandra Barnett for Knowledge Quest in which we connected school libraries to Nicholas Carr’s work. We wrote if Carr “is correct, we should nurture the fertile thinking time that can happen between input and innovation by providing students the option of a peaceful environment in the midst of the action in the school library” (Moreillon and Barnett 2012, 2).
Sherry Turkle’s research and writing about the impact of technology on relationships and empathy also influenced my thinking that year… Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (2011) and more recently, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age (2015). Turkle’s writing and TED Talks created fertile ground for planting the seeds of Maryanne Wolf’s latest cautionary tale.
The Present: What We Don’t Yet Know
Wolf is not a technophobe. She is involved with others in developing technology tools to support young readers. TinkRBook involves something called “textual tinkerability” that encourages readers to interact with text (145). Her Curious Learning research project is looking at apps for learning oral language (147).
But Wolf stuck a chord with me when she made this observation in Reader, Come Home. “No self-respecting internal review board of any university would allow a researcher to do what our culture has already done with no adjudication or previous evidence: introduce a complete, quasi-addictive set of attention-compelling devices without knowing the possible side effects and ramifications for the subjects (our kids)” (Wolf 2018, 125).
We have indeed entered into a grand technological experiment with the minds, bodies, and futures of the youth who were/are born into a digitally dominant U.S. society. We want them to have all of the benefits that the technological world offers—access, speed, connection, and possibilities as yet unknown. Yet, we also want them to know the affordances of the analog world—a world in which information and life move at a slower pace, a space that may allow more time for critical thinking, creativity, reflection, and innovation.
If you are curious to learn more about Maryanne Wolf’s work, read her November 16, 2018 Science Friday article and then seek out a copy of her book!
The Future: Transformation (Marrying Values and Reflection with Action)
I truly believe, as Carr (2011) noted, schools and libraries are the epicenter for transforming learning. With effective, state-certified school librarian leaders serving the multiple literacy needs of students, colleagues, administrators, families, and communities, schools can reach their capacity to prepare youth for living and working in a connected world. School librarians can collaborate to ensure students can read, analyze, use, and create new knowledge online and offline. We can help them find their personal sweet spot—a balance between life on the screen and life off of it.
Transforming our schools and libraries is the school librarian’s path to creating opportunities for transforming our world. For my part, I recommit myself to the 2018-2019 Maximizing School Librarian Leadership blog-based book study, monthly podcasts, and Facebook Group as my contribution to this timely and critical goal. I will continue to learn from and think with others in my PLN, write, and make the case for the critical importance of effective school librarians and fully resourced school libraries in future ready education.
How would you describe your 2019 commitment to transforming learning and teaching through school libraries?
Wishing you all the best in the New Year,
Carr, Nicholas. 2011. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. New York: Norton.
Moreillon, Judi. 2010. “A Time to Skim, a Time to Read, or How to Convince Surfers to Take a Deep Dive.” School Library Journal Summit, Chicago. https://tinyurl.com/time2skimtime2dive
Moreillon, Judi, and Cassandra Barnett. 2012. “April is School Library Month: You Belong @your library: A Portrait–in Words and Pictures.” Knowledge Quest 40 (4): 1-6.
Powers, William. 2011. Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age. New York. Harper.
Turkle, Sherry. 2011. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic.
_____. 2015. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age. New York: Penguin.
Wolf, Maryanne. 2008. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. New York: Harper
_____. 2018. Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. New York: Harper.