Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Power of local networks

Waiting for Trivia, Dianne McKenzie (cc Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License)

Last weekend I had the privilege to be invited to present a workshop at the Shanghai School Librarians Symposium. The symposium was created as a professional learning opportunity for the school librarians in Shanghai and surrounds to share ideas and learn together. We also visited 4 libraries over the weekend, had 2 dinners and lots of laughter.

Shanghai is a big city being the greatest in population in China and the largest city proper in the world with over 23 million living in the city across 6,340.5 km2. It also has two large airports serving it and other smaller ones (source of stats - Wikipedia). The city is made bigger by the ever growing traffic problems. The schools are spread out not only by distance but by time. It can take up to 3 hours to visit a school on the other side of Shanghai on a good day and the road system is great, just not great enough for the masses of people using the roads.

About three years ago many of the school librarians did not know of each other, working in isolation doing the best they could with what they knew, working within a system of government censorship. A few new people moved into Shanghai as school librarians who came from cities that had local networks of librarians. They felt they wanted that to happen in Shanghai as well. Initially a few people met together to get to know each other to share ideas, they would take turns in meeting at different schools. As time went on, more and more people wanted to be involved in the informal network and the small group of people grew into a larger one.

Being somewhat isolated from the mainstream professional learning opportunities (not many speakers visit China, and even less conferences are held there) The Shanghai Librarians group held a symposium in January 2011 where they came up with an agenda of learning opportunities using the skills and expertise of those in their group. They charged a modest fee to cost administrative costs and the symposium happened with a lot of organisation, and was very successful.

Last week was the second symposium organised. 65 people attended from all over Shanghai and an outer city of Suzhou, even some from Beijing came in for the 1 day symposium. Most were school librarians from the many International Schools in China. As a person who was dropped into the group from way down south in Hong Kong, I found the group welcoming and buzzing with ideas on how to make school libraries better places for learning. Throughout the day I became frustrated with the slow and closed internet, many responded that you get used to it and then shared with me how they get frustrated going to conferences where so many great online tools are shared, but they cannot use them due to the government blocking sites deemed dangerous for national security. Sites like twitter, facebook, blogger, and sometimes even Google search is blocked, also scoop it, youtube, and anything the government chooses for that day to be subversive. It gave me a different perspective on what challenges they face on a daily level. Many do have a VPN to subvert closed internet sites, but that is illegal, and some individuals and schools choose not to break the law.

Missing my weekend fix of reading my twitter feed and google blog roll, I found new ways I could access them. I became more creative in my approach to access what I wanted and needed to. Censorship made me cleverer and more conniving.

The symposium was a fun and informal get together of sharing ideas, knowledge and tips. One of the most fun parts was the Librarians trivia challenge where we were placed in groups, and trivial questions asked where we had to pool our cleverness and find the answer in the fastest way possible to then email the answers in. This was frought with possible problems and glitches by relying on the unreliable. But, we did it and it worked. It was made even more fun by the varying speed of the internet and the challenges of blocked sites and search engines.

The weekend was a great coming together of people who shared similar challenges and success, being able to share with like minded people in a similar setting helps to enhance learning and open discussion. Local networks are so enriching to all who contribute and partake of them. I think they often offer more value added learning than the larger conferences.

Credit for this amazing weekend must go to Barbara Boyer, Fiona Collins and Marion Van Engelen who were the inspiration and engines behind this great symposium of sharing. Well done super school librarians!

Do you have a professional local area network that you are an active part of?

The link for the symposium workshop offerings is here Shanghai Symposium

Shanghai Panorama, ©Dianne McKenzie 2011 (taken on an iphone 3G, stitched together by Dermander)

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