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#OnTheRoadULC: Featuring Brooklyn Public Library // Two Librarians & A Microphone Podcast

We are hitting the road and taking our listeners to the 2018 Urban Libraries Council Annual Forum in Baltimore, Maryland. Join us as our hosts interview the Top Library Innovators, starting with Brooklyn Public Library's Teacher Lab. 

Like the start of many great ideas, Amy Mikel conceived the concept of Teacher Lab in 2014 while promoting a completely different initiative to local Brooklyn teachers. She quickly discovered that teachers had many questions about the library, the available resources, and how they could use this information to better equip their students. With the steadfast support of her forward-thinking team at Brooklyn Public Library, Amy elevated Teacher Lab from a small experimental program, to a fully-developed online course. Learn how this program was developed over time and most importantly, how your library can create this type of teacher education in your own community.


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Nick Higgins, Chief Librarian, & Amy Mikel, Coordinator of School Outreach, during the recording of the podcast.


Jim Heuer [00:00:16] Hey, everybody, this is Jim Heuer and I am the host of the Ingram Library Services Podcast: Two Librarians and A Microphone. I'm here with Donna George, librarian number two, and we are excited because we are recording live at the Urban Library Council Annual Forum in Baltimore, Maryland. Ingram Library Services is a proud sponsor of The Innovation Award that the ULC bestows upon its members, and today we have two librarians from Brooklyn Public Library who have been awarded Top Innovators this year. First, we want to welcome the Chief Librarian from Brooklyn, Nick, welcome.

Nick Higgins [00:00:57] Good to be here.

Jim Heuer [00:00:58] Thank you. As well as the Coordinator of School Outreach, Amy, welcome.

Amy Mikel [00:01:03] So happy to be here, thank you.

Jim Heuer [00:01:06] Alrighty, thank you. What we would like you guys to do is to tell us about your innovation. You won an award in the Education Adults category.

Amy Mikel [00:01:17] That's right.

Jim Heuer [00:01:18] How about you explain that to us or tell us what that award was or what the award signified?

Amy Mikel [00:01:24] Well, the award was for a project called, The Teacher Lab, which is a course for educators, mostly kindergarten through high school educators, about how to use the library. It actually started as a small pilot in 2014. It was originally a two-week course that I held out of The Brooklyn Public Library classroom over the summer, and I had 12 teachers attend. The reason I decided to try this idea is because at the time, I was doing a lot of outreach in schools, promoting something new that we had for teachers. We had a special educator card that we wanted to let teachers know about. I was doing a lot of promotion in the schools about this and then realized that teachers didn't know a lot about the library and I was making a lot of assumptions about what I thought they knew. I decided to launch the summer course to really sit teachers down and talk them through all the things I wished they knew about the library. It was kind of an experiment. I wanted to see if any teachers would give up their time over the summer to sit with me. It went really well the first year. I've refined it a little bit, since it launched five years ago, and it's since been certified with both the city and the state as a professional development workshop for educators. The actual innovation is that last summer, I took the course online. It's an online course now instead of an in-person classroom course. I thought it would translate really well to that environment, and it would help me reach many, many more teachers than I was able to just out of a classroom. In a nutshell, the course covers

Amy Mikel [00:03:05] many library and research fundamentals. We talk about the basics of what a modern library does, the programs and services that we provide, how to use the online catalog, how our library collection is organized, how do all those books get there, and how do they move around the system, that kind of thing. How to use our awesome online resource, our databases, and then we move a little bit more into our more general information. We talk about using the open web, like Google and Wikipedia, how to analyze a resource for accuracy, credibility, talk a lot about that, how to cite your sources correctly, all of these things that teachers have to know how to do for themselves and they need to know how to teach students how to do this, too. The online format's been really great, it's allowed me to offer the course year-round in an on-going basis, and the teachers can do this on their own time, they can complete the course work in a sort of a self-paced method, and then they earn professional development at the end of the day when they complete the course. That's been really great. It's been great because what is happening with teachers, is the information world is speeding up and the teachers need a lot of help navigating this world. The thing is, they have a very can-do attitude about this, they're willing to try and they're doing the best they can, but they don't have very good information literacy skills because they haven't been taught how to use these skills, and they don't know what resources

Amy Mikel [00:04:33] are out there to help them with this. I felt, with this course, that it was a chance for the public library to really step in, and really step up to the job, of doing that.

Donna George [00:04:45] Awesome, thanks so much, Amy. I'm glad you brought up that you have a certification tied to this course. I imagine that that's a really important aspect of your success and hopefully gets you lots of users and people who take advantage of this program.

Amy Mikel [00:05:01] Right, it's kind of my currency. It's sort of a stamp of approval, and it allows teacher to know that if they dedicate their time to this, then they'll get something valid, not just the knowledge, but actually something they need.

Nick Higgins [00:05:15] Yeah, that's actually…you shouldn't, you can't overstate that. It's sort of like giving teachers the space to pull back and slow down and actually think about the resources that their students need to access to succeed. Teachers, in their busy, busy lives, they don't really have that time to do that, tying it to a certification, that could in turn, lead to pay raises as a very real-world application of this training. Which hasn't been done in libraries before, which I find so remarkable that it just came out of these relationships that you had with DOE Administration, and the Certification Board at the state level, it's just remarkable.

Jim Heuer [00:05:51] I would imagine that if there were other libraries that were thinking about something like this, the advice that you would give, certainly, the certification sounds like that turbocharged your program or is that a necessity if someone wanted to replicate that or would you say that it's a nice have?

Amy Mikel [00:06:07] It certainly helps and that any library of any type, it can be public school, academic, Archives and Special Collections can look into this, anybody interested in doing this kind of programming for educators should definitely look into the certification side of it, but it's going to vary by state, how difficult it is. New York state has a very rigorous process of getting approved. Other states, I don't want to say that they're less rigorous, but a program that is run for educators, it's a little bit simpler. You can just issue a certificate and then that certificate is then validated by the school system, so it's less that the library has to go through this whole song and dance of certification. I would encourage libraries to really look into it because there is an audience there, there is space for libraries to offer programming for teachers, and you don't have to do this huge project to get started, you don't even have to do a course to get started. You can start really small, you don't need any money to get started. You just need somebody who can devote the staff time to building out a few workshops. You can teach them yourself, if you feel you have the knowledge within your library system. You can connect with people out in the community and bring the knowledge into your library to just leverage your space as the learning space, and you can get started without a whole lot in terms of resources, but you really do need that person at the library who can stick with it and manage the program and build the audience

Amy Mikel [00:07:43] and really keep the consistency going.

Jim Heuer [00:07:47] You said this was the fifth year and you took it online, what are the other plans or what's next? When you dream in technicolor, where do you see this going?

Amy Mikel [00:07:56] One of the biggest pieces of feedback I hear from teachers is they really appreciate that it's self-paced, and as I'm sure, everybody in this room has tried to take an online course and maybe just fell off the wagon because they just couldn't keep pace with the weekly expectations. So, the fact that it's self-paced is really helpful and the other big part of the model is that it's free and it's on a learning platform that's not very complicated, it's all web-based, it's very easy to use. So, I hear from people who've never taken an online course before and they thought it was a great experience. In terms of what's next, there's some possibility for using this kind of model for other kinds of learning for teachers, and I'm in conversations with a few other people about that, but also, we've talked a little bit about using this kind of model in our own library system for professional development for librarians. Having a course that we've developed that is certified for what librarians need, but that they can work through at their own pace. And has a lot of the independent and practical application that takes time to work through when you're taking a training and you're learning something new and you're trying to figure out how to apply it to your own work.

Jim Heuer [00:09:11] That's some fascinating stuff, that's really interesting. We see more and more of the interplay with public libraries and public schools. Obviously, that's a big direction, big focus in the market. Wow, that's some great stuff. Once again, thank you for your time, want to make sure that we covered all that we had. This was some really interesting ideas that you've espoused, and you've given some good direction for some libraries who would want to follow in your footsteps.

Amy Mikel [00:09:39] I just wanted to say thanks internally for the support and the vote of confidence to try something like this. It's turned out really well, we've gotten really good reactions from educators who've taken the course, but when it's just an idea on paper, there's a lot of reasons that someone would say no to it. So, thanks to the library for being willing to take a chance on this kind of thing.

Nick Higgins [00:10:02] Of course, Amy, and congratulations. That may be one of the bigger challenges of some of the big urban public libraries or larger systems, is to create a space for recognizing that leadership comes from any level of the organization and to really build in support for encouraging projects like this that are coming out. Any library can replicate what Amy has done. But it's harder for an organization that's large, complex, has a hierarchal structure, to give up or seed some of that power, that innovation to people within the system, and to give them that space and that support to develop something, and Amy has done a remarkable job and kudos to you and your team and your innovation.

Amy Mikel [00:10:42] Thanks, Nick.

Nick Higgins [00:10:43] All the congratulations in the world.

Jim Heuer [00:10:46] Yeah, and we'll offer our congratulations on your top innovations. Thank you very much and enjoy your week here in Baltimore.

Amy Mikel [00:10:51] I plan to, thank you.

Nick Higgins [00:10:52] Alright, thanks folks.

Jim Heuer [00:10:54] Two Librarians and A Microphone is brought to you by Ingram Library Services, it is a division of Ingram Content Group. Our producer and director is Rachel Cope, sound engineering by Craig Simpson, special assistance by Essence Brisco, and Elizabeth Wilcox. The research done by our librarians Tricia Bengel and Donna George. I'm Jim Heuer, thanks most of all to you for listening. Please follow us on Instagram @thelibrarylife, tag us in your #thelibrarylife moments, because we got some cool stuff going on, on that social media platform. We're going to be giving away some exclusive books, ARCs, perhaps a signed copy. In order to make sure that you're staying tuned to this podcast, we'd love for you to go to our landing page, but most importantly, the best way you can show your support for us, we'd love some reviews on Apple iTunes. If you could go in there, leave us a positive review, that would really help. Tell us what you like to hear. That might help us as we're thinking about some of the content we're trying to bring you, but it's the best way you can support what we're doing. We're trying to bring you interesting, fun, compelling, thought provoking content. We might see some of you at ULC in Baltimore, and if so, we look forward to that, and if not, we will see you in your libraries. Thanks, everybody.