Urban Myths

Here is how it started. A librarian discovered that emails sent via Google Docs, asking teachers and students to collaborate on projects, were being filtered by the school. When the librarian asked the school technician about this she was told that use of Google Docs, and like services, was not allowed in the school because of a recent ruling by a state judicial body. She was further informed that the ruling stated that schools needed to archive locally all materials created by students and teachers, so using something like Google Docs – which is not local storage – would go against that ruling.

The librarian tweeted this discovery which started a discussion about whether this ruling could prohibit schools from using web-based collaboration tools. Emails and Twitter messages went back and forth and librarians working for the state’s law library system were asked if they knew anything about the ruling and its impact on schools.

The law librarians didn’t find any information about the ruling and asked for an official citation so they could do some more research. When the original technician who mentioned the ruling was asked for the citation he was not able to provide it.

So what’s the real story here? Is there such a ruling? Is it an urban myth of some sort? So far a record of the ruling has not been found. (At least in the state where this story took place.) The real story seems to be that a rumor somehow started that schools were required to store documents locally and that that would mean web-based collaborative tools could not be used by students and teachers. The real story is that a technician in a school had the ability to block tools that students and teachers should have access to by simply saying a ruling had been made. No one, except the librarian, asked questions. No one checked to see what the ruling actually said, or if it even really existed. The real story is that members of a school community, at least in part, abdicated their responsibility to provide high-quality teaching and learning experiences by simply not paying attention to what the real story is. (What legal rulings actually exist in this state.)

This is also a story that attests to the importance of librarians keeping on top of what is going on with legal issues as they relate to technology. If the librarian in this school didn’t start to ask questions. If the librarian didn’t wonder what this ruling was all about. Then, it’s possible, that web-based collaborative tools would be completely banished from the school’s classrooms and library. But, because the librarian was willing to ask questions and seek out information, there’s a chance that Google Docs, and other like technologies, will return to the school.

Remember, it’s never a good idea to take someone’s word for it. Even if you feel like you aren’t technology savvy, don’t assume that what someone is telling you about a technology tool and its place in the library is correct. It’s no different than books. If someone says a book isn’t right for a library’s collection – or a school classroom – librarians don’t simply say, “OK.” Do they? Librarians know what laws there are that relate to their collections and if they hear about a legal ruling related to materials they don’t simply say, “OK, I believe you.” Do they?

Don’t let your reactions to technology be any different than they are for the books you keep on your shelves. Make sure you aren’t taken in by an urban myth. You can do that by keeping up on what is going on with technology legislation locally, at the state level, and nationally. Not believing everything you hear about technology and the laws that surround it, is the only way you are going to be sure you are serving teens in your community as they deserve to be served.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.
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