March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Time Is Right for Libraries to Embrace Participatory Culture | SLJ Summit 2013


Antero Garcia delivered the closing keynote at the 2013 SLJ Leadership Summit in Austin.

By Antero Garcia

I had the pleasure of speaking at the School Library Journal Leadership Summit in Austin, TX. My September 29 talk, “Participation and Collaboration as Critical Transformation,” highlighted several examples of how I engage students in collaborative and transformative practices in my work as an English teacher in South Central Los Angeles and at Colorado State University, where I am an assistant professor of education.

To help clarify and expand some of the ideas I shared at the conference, I  summarize the key takeaways for summit attendees and SLJ readers. As I mentioned in Austin, I’m fairly easy to get a hold of—there aren’t too many Anteros when you do a simple Google search— and I encourage continuing this dialogue with anyone interested.

Participatory culture: context and relationships

There’s a lot of important and necessary talk about participatory culture these days. A recent edition of ALA’s Knowledge Quest edited by Buffy Hamilton and Ernie Cox examined the potential of participatory culture and libraries. The work of Henry Jenkins, too,  makes clear how the spaces of learning must change to meet the needs of today’s students.

My own sense of what’s most important for librarians to recognize in an era of participatory culture is the relationships and the context of learning.. During my talk (below), I mentioned that mainstream rapper Kanye West did a great job highlighting how connections with an audience redefined relationships in participatory culture (my theoretical framing of this will be released next month in the journal Radical Teacher). At the same time, the context of who our students are is really important. Just because I may like Smartboards (I don’t, actually) and want to create dizzyingly complex Prezis for my classroom doesn’t mean these may be the best tools for approaching how I work with youth. As my colleague Thomas Phillips and I have argued in a recent article for the Harvard Educational Review, it’s “the context, not the tool” that matters. I shared a couple of cute pictures of my dog, Olive, as an example of how my expectations within one learning context made problematic assumptions about the rapscallion of a canine that I lovingly deal with on a daily basis.

Examples in action

I shared two different forms of gameplay that I used to engage students in civic and transformative learning. The first, “Ask Anansi,” asked students to use mobile devices to curate and tell stories about the spaces around them Since creating this game, I have also adapted it to function as an engine for exciting teacher professional development. (I realize “exciting teacher professional development” may sound like an oxymoron to many readers…).

The Black Cloud Game demonstrates what can happen when some fancy technology and a community of collaborative neighborhood partners come together for social change. This video does the best job of explaining the project:

Expanding the possibilities of young adult literature

In thinking about global implications of participatory culture, I discussed how youth identity can be shaped by today’s young adult literature. In particular,  John Green’s nerdfighting community helps make reading books a means of fostering civic agency.

At the same time, fan fiction can create both opportunities and challenges for educators to consider: issues of copyright and plagiarism (as Cassandra Claire came to realize in her series The Draco Trilogy) present significant areas of fuzziness in today’s participatory culture.

Much of my final focus on YA comes from my forthcoming book Critical Foundations in Young Adult Literature out next month – information for ordering here.

Finally, I ended my talk by mentioning my mentor and good friend, Travis. His work teaching the Elie Wiesel book Night  in a South Central L.A. classroom powerfully illustrates the persistence of privilege and power.

Looking forward

I want to, again, thank everyone involved with this year’s SLJ Summit. I am humbled by the powerful work librarians do every day,. In particular, my favorite librarian—my wife—makes clear the ways lives are changed and communities strengthened by the tremendous teaching and outreach within our own neighborhood.

As I mentioned in Austin, now, more than ever,is a moment of revolutionary potential for libraries. Grasping the tremendous opportunities for engagement fomented in today’s participatory culture, we can move beyond the era of rote testing and standardization and redefine the learning potential within our schools and communities.

About the author: Antero Garcia is an assistant professor in the English department at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO.

Building Literacy-Rich Communities
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