A Daring Middle Grades Librarian

In America’s post-analog, budget-stressed era of public schooling, many teacher librarians are struggling to justify their existence and explain their continued relevance to an audience of skeptical school boards and taxpayers who can barely remember a world without Google.

But Maryland middle school librarian Gwyneth Anne Bronwynne Jones has no problem explaining hers.

The Daring Librarian (you need only check out her blog) told the New York Times last June: “We are not expendable because we are guiding the minds of our students to lead them to become life-long learners, curious searchers and good digital citizens.” It’s one of the most exciting times ever to be a teacher librarian, she said, but “We must shift our language, adding words like attribution, tagging, widget, Creative Commons, transliteracy and authority.”

School librarians must become more like Lady Gaga, the Daring Librarian proposed, and less like the 20th century stereotype in owl-rimmed glasses. “Librarians need to establish a clear, pervasive, vibrant and involved presence in their schools, communities and on the Web.” We asked her five questions.


1. You’re on the board of ISTE, the International Society for Technology in Education. In fact, you’ve just been elected to a second term. How did this come about?

((I know, ISTE, pinch me, right?))

It has been both an honor and a pleasure to serve the members of the ISTE organization as their PK-12 representative. I was nominated by a colleague & SIGMS professional development chair Brenda Anderson and since then have striven to be the voice of the school based educator.

What does a middle grades teacher librarian bring to the ultimate ed-geek organization?

Other than my immense geeky charm and natural immaturity? I mean, you are who you teach, right? Seriously though, my students keep me grounded. I’ve had opportunities to go corporate, non-profit, higher ed, and district level but I really can’t see myself leaving the middle school environment. A few years ago, my district opened a new high school that my middle school kids would matriculate into – and many of my students begged and tried to get me to apply to open that school so I could follow them there…but honestly, I’m just not grown up enough to teach high school. My awesome (read corny and sophomoric) jokes that get laughs here in middle school would probably only get sarcastic eye rolls in high school. I’m SO not an apathetic person – I’m an annoyingly positive but snarky Pollyanna type. I don’t suffer negative or toxic people gladly. If at all.

What are the messages you promote in your work with the ISTE board and its sizeable membership (including big organizations and giant corporations)?

The ISTE board is comprised of many illustrious and impressive professionals including college educators, district directors and administrators, CEOs and corporate luminaries. It’s my privilege to advocate for the PK-12 educator who is working every day “in the trenches” in the school. If they should ever go “off track” and move in a direction that I think would hinder or not serve the majority of our ISTE membership (school-based educators) then that’s when I would spring into action.

I haven’t had to to do that yet because really the ISTE board is comprised of a pretty amazing group of people, and the ISTE staff members in both Eugene, Oregon and DC are AWESOME. But believe me — I’m ready to pounce with the Daring Librarian cape firmly affixed! The messages that I promote in my service to the board and our membership are illustrated here.

Daring Defender of Books, Libraries, & Lifelong Learning! Fearless fighter of filters! Protector of Goofballs & Geeks! Super supporter of digital citizenship, & intellectual curiosity & freedom! Enthusiastic champion of transliteracy, creative commons, open source, & shameless sharing! Committed to being a fierce and positive change agent within my school, community, district, state, nation, world, & the universe!

What!? Was that too grandiose?

2. You were doing infographics before infographics were so cool. What got you on that path?

I’ve always been a visual learner. If I can picture in my mind something like a name, how it’s written, or a painting or photograph, I can recall it and decode it faster and it stays with me longer.  I’m also really good at putting together IKEA furniture.

Do you take credit for the infographic revolution in education?

Absolutely! It was without a doubt all me — I come from the internets and I’ve been doing infographics since 1997! All bow down before my graphic power, Muuwaaa!  Umm, kidding. I dunno — I guess it was because my district got an early license for the software Comic Life and I immediately bonded with it and eagerly showed my teachers how to use it to create engaging graphics and worksheets for their lessons and projects.

Once I started up our Daring Tech Wikispaces in 2006, I found that it was SO much easier to create comic directions with screenshots to help my teachers with day to day technology troubleshooting problems and professional development challenges. I’d discovered I was explaining the same thing over and over. So I figured that if I made a comic tutorial on how to do it and posted it to the wiki, I could just point them in that direction and they could be empowered! — Create it once, share it forever. Here’s an example.

The simple act of how to clean your LCD projector filter can turn a red light to green & save the day! The full graphic that I created in 2009 for cleaning that filter is here.  Another early comic was my Burn Baby Burn graphic, where I showed how my teachers could use their new iBook laptops to burn & backup their data to a CD! My stuff is all Creative Commons so feel free to snag it. Some of it was made before I was putting the CC graphic on the bottom of all my comics, but I’m tellin’ you: if there’s a comic that I ever made that you want, it’s yours! ;-)

What are the best ways for teachers to create and use infographics with students?

That’s a tough one because our district hasn’t purchased Comic Life for our students, just our teacher laptops. But you really don’t need fancy software to make an attractive infographic — basic MS Word can do lots! It’s all about the storyboarding & early planning, grabbing useful screenshots, & keeping the accompanying verbiage to a minimum.

Infographics should be more graphic than info, IMHO. This is also a perfect teachable moment for starting the discussion about Creative Commons: what it is, and why you should use it. Because you know, it’s not just a license — it’s a lifestyle!

3. What are 3-4 favorite infographics you’ve created (you and/or your audience)?

My QR Code series has been a favorite: what they are & how to make them. Check these out:

1. QR Codes At-a-Glance

2. How to Create a QR Code in 3 Easy Steps

They both still get a lot of views on Flickr (combined over 18,000! WTHeck!?)

What really tickled me was that a friend of mine in St. Louis saw my QR Code Comic blown up huge poster-sized in an exhibit at the St. Louis Science Center. She took a pic with her camera phone & Tweeted it to me. I ’bout died and went to geeky creative commons heaven! See here and especially here!

Another personal favorite is my Teaching Wikipedia comic to go along with my blog post – Wikipedia Is Not Wicked. That was picked up by the Washington Post which made my Mom super happy!

Can you point to some infographics created by others that you think are especially effective?

Tiffany Whitehead, the Mighty Little Librarian, has tipped the Comic Life kool aid with me and created some amazing infographics! Here’s one she did on Voki, the talking avatar software. Also, my mentor Dr. Joyce Valenza has also created cool comic tutorials! Here’s a great one on writing a thesis statement that she co-authored.

4. OK, give it up. How did you become The Daring Librarian? And how are you hanging onto your job in an era when many middle grades librarians are losing theirs? What do principals need to hear about the role of effective teacher librarians today?

After attending NECC 09 in DC I really wanted to go transparent & brand myself. That’s when I started my professional blog and called it Library Tech Musings — I blogged about the process of branding and asked for suggestions. I really wanted the Animated Librarian but it was taken….I went round and around crowdsourcing other suggestions. But of course, in the end, my Mom (a retired English and gifted and talented teacher) came up with it. The fact that The Daring Librarian is an assonance rhyme just made it giggle-worthy and middle school perfect. Heh heh assonance.

As for how I’m hanging in there with my job — I wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times last summer about how teacher librarians need to stand up, be noticed, and channel their inner rock star. But in the end there is no true safe in the world — the only thing any of us can do is to be damn good at our jobs, be passionate, and digitally adept to change — and ALWAYS make our students our first priority!

5. Publishers must be clamoring for a book from you, just to get your high-profile avatar-logo on the cover! Is there a book in the works? If so, what might we expect? And if not, how come?

You’re kidding right? I tried NoNaWriMo years ago and gave up after 15 days. Though no one seems to believe me when I say this, I’m very lazy! Although my inflated ego would LOVE my avatar on a cover of a book (Oh WHY did you have to say that? So tempting!), unless it’s fiction or education practice philosophy I really believe the days of writing Teacher Tech books have gone. By the time anything is published now, it’s out of date. That’s why I love blogging so much! Instant gratification! So, unless I get inspired to finish the 2 YA novels I’ve outlined in me wee little heid, I’m going to leave the writing to the other Gwyneth Jones of British science fiction fame! I know, quite generous of me, huh? You’re welcome.

I wish I could find a blogging job where I could get paid by the amount of !’s I use when writing about my library and teaching practice. I always feel like Elaine in that Seinfeld episode where she has to take out exclamation marks, because I do use so many. Those and ellipses!

But let’s face it: If you, as a teacher, find that when you write about your middle grades teaching practice, you don’t feel the urge to use an inordinate amount of !!!!!’s, then maybe you need to go re-kindle your passion or get the heck out. Our profession is so precious, our responsibility to our students is so great, that if you don’t have the proper enthusiasm and optimism for it then maybe some serious soul searching needs to happen – STAT!

John, hope what I’ve had to say works for you. As lazy as I am this was a lot of effort on my part. Can I take a nap now?

Yes, yes you can. Challenging work, well done. Slip into your steampunk dreams. And while you’re napping, our readers can peruse another Daring Librarian interview, conducted by our friend M.E. Steele-Pierce (a deputy school supe, no less) for the blog Voices from the Learning Revolution. I notice you have a good bit more to say there about the future of teacher librarians. Daring stuff. Right? Gwyneth Anne?

John Norton

John Croft Norton is an education writer and editor. He's the founder and co-editor of MiddleWeb. John also co-founded the national Teacher Leaders Network and enjoys developing and supporting virtual communities of educators and promoting teacher voices. He lives in Little Switzerland NC, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, and once lived in Atlanta, where he was vice president for information at the Southern Regional Education Board.

3 Responses

  1. Awww maaan! John! Some of those snarky parenthetical asides were just for ya’ll –sheesh! [blush]
    Anyway…thank you – I’m very honored to have been asked & your questions were a hoot!
    Cheers!
    ~Gwyneth

  2. Such a great interview! Gwyneth is always such a gracious sharer of ideas, and hilarious & snarky to boot! And the shout out just warms my heart… I’m such a Comic Life fanatic thanks to Gwyneth :)

  1. 06/21/2012

    [...] in, and cheer for your kids? I know when writing I use a LOT of !!!’s Like I said in a recent interview for the excellent website Middleweb: “I always feel like Elaine in that Seinfeld episode where she has to take out exclamation [...]

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