Data dreams and what it means to be a good librarian.

Personalization is the holy grail of education technology, but it can’t be achieved without mechanisms for rich data about each student’s learning. And that data must be persistently stored and appropriately accessible. Matthew neatly turns the traditional metaphor of a “digital locker” on its head by replacing it with the “data backpack” — a container that goes everywhere the student goes.

It sounds nice, being able to keep track of kids so they don’t fall through the cracks. But quickly it is revealed that this O’Reilly Radar blog post is based off of  a white paper written by Lauren B. Resnik and Larry Berger, supported by the Wireless Corporation. It was just acquired by News Corp. If the amount of editorial discretion that News Corp.  tends to exercise goes into educational software used by 3 million students, it is time to be weary of the result. Still, the real question worth raising is this: why is data the holy grail of personalization? This the fallacy of Facebook. When your friendships become wholly data-driven, you lose something along the way.

All of this resonated when I read a blog post Michael Stephens wrote about his Office Hours column  in Library Journal:

I’ve received some good feedback, including this from Nann Blaine Hilyard, director of the Zion-Benton Public Library in Zion, IL:

Michael’s closing paragraph recalls something that Lawrence Clark Powell wrote:   “A good librarian is not a social scientist, a documentalist, a retrievalist, or an automaton. A good librarian is a librarian: a person with good health and warm heart, trained by study and seasoned by experience to catalyze books and people.”

I was one of the lucky ones and received a world-class education, not because of technology, but because of the people who taught me. In libraries as in education, the increased use of technology does not replace the presence of thoughtful, considerate, and well trained librarians. People make personalization, data does not.

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