Where do we go now? Straight to the Library of Congress

This past week I took my kids (age 7 & 8) to Washington D.C. We saw the monuments, looked through the iron gate at the White House and took selfies in front of the Supreme Court. One of my favorite sites is the Library of Congress. It is a work of art in and of itself. A sculpted water fountain welcomes visitors to climb the stairs toward the grand bronze doors. If you are not impressed by the exterior of the building, wait until you get inside.

Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

These pictures do not highlight the real beauty of the library; what it contains. The LOC contains over 838 miles of bookshelves; books, manuscripts, newspapers, microfiche, maps, sheet music, sound recordings, prints, and photographic images. Anything copyrighted in the United States of America must be submitted in duplicate to the Library of Congress. And the Library makes millions of digital objects; videos, audio and archived Web content; most of which can be accessed for free on its website. The collection is so vast, I had to look up the term for this quantity of information, petabytes.

The Library of Congress has long understood that literacy is not simply books.  It is time our schools follow suit.  

In Learning, Teaching, and Scholarship in a Digital Age: Web 2.0 and Classroom Research–What Path Should We Take “Now”? (Greenhow, Robelia and Hughes) the authors argue that the Web has morphed from its origins as technology allowing access to information.  It has become a technology that allows interactive participation and content creation by all users. While I agree the Web has morphed over time; neither I nor the Library of Congress agree it is simply a technology.  Instead, the LOC and myself agree with Comments on Greenhow, Robelia, and Hughes: Expanding the New Literacies Conversation. Leu, O’Byrne, Zawilinski, McVerry and Everett-Cacopardo argue that the Web is instead a continuously changing context in which to read, write and create. These authors further explain that online literacies must be integrated into subject standards, integrated into every subject area, each classroom teacher must be responsible for teaching online information and communication use and online information and communication skills must be included in subject area assessments.

What does this look like in my classroom or yours?  It looks like we allow students to explore the new forms of literacy that pop up everyday.  Assignments that require blogging, texting and multimodal metaliteracies must become part of our curriculum standards. We must continuously educate our selves in these new literacies. Those of us enrolled in the IT&DML program have agree to a full year of education in these new literacies.  But in reality our course work can never end.  I imagine our instructors must change their syllabi every semester as new media platforms are born and old ones become obsolete.  I imagine our students will know more than us in some areas and less than us in others.  I imagine a whole nation of students learning together and teaching together to improve communication and knowledge.

There is a Shakespeare quote in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress is the East Corridor that sums up my vision of “where we go from here.”  It states THE WEB OF LIFE IS OF A MINGLED YARN, GOOD AND ILL TOGETHER (All’s Well That Ends Well, Act iv., Sc. 2).  This WEB is now the internet.  It is full of hurdles to overcome and dangers that lurk online; but this WEB is still how we live and how we will learn and create knowledge.

The Gutenberg Bible is ensconced in the Library of Congress in a case for all humanity to view.  The content of the pages is not important.  It is there as a symbol of a new form of literacy (the printing press) that expanded teaching, learning and knowledge and for the masses.  One day the Library of Congress will also contain a memento of the Web as a new form of literacy. Maybe, just maybe it will honor the teachers who strove to incorporate metaliteracies into their classrooms and educators will become our heroes.

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