Tuesday, November 30, 2010

txtN N d library: Ideas for Librarians Who Want to Embrace the Power of Cell Phones

While for some, libraries bring to mind microfiche, card catalogs, and dusty stacks, today’s innovative librarians are shattering these stereotypes using technologies to provide engaging and relevant learning spaces for students. Tamara Cox, Heather Loy, Tracy Karas, Joyce Valenza, and Gwyneth Jones know that to engage 21st century readers, researchers, and writers, they need to use the tools and technologies students love. The following is a collection of ideas these librarians have implemented to successfully engage learners and empower students with the freedom to use their cell phones as personal learning devices.

Phone Basics
There are many standard features that most phones come with that make librarians more effective and efficient. Heather Loy, librarian at Wagener-Salley High School in South Carolina, utilizes the “notes” or “memo pad” feature on her phone to record meeting notes, outlines, and even taking roll at the graduation ceremony. The benefit of this over paper is that it doesn’t have to be transcribed. It can instantly be shared and it is searchable.

Students also enjoy using the notes or memo pad on their phones as well to write short book reviews which they can submit to their teacher right from their phone for posting on the library website.

Even though her school has a significant low income population, librarian Tamara Cox says many of her students have cell phones and in the last few years she has seen cell phone use skyrocket among her students. Knowing research indicates that texting is the preferred method of communicating for young people she felt it would be a great idea to reach out to her students via text. She thought starting with school library notices might make sense so she gave it a shot. Today, students at Palmetto Middle School in South Carolina can sign up to receive text notifications from the library. Ms. Cox can text overdue and hold notices which not only gets information directly into the hands of students, but it also enables her to stop wasting paper.

Another way Ms. Cox tapped into this technology was by placing her book club students in a group so that she can text them reminders of book club meetings and other club news. Her students love being in contact with her in this way.

Phone casting
Book talks are one of the favorite tools in a librarian’s bag of tricks. The purpose of book talking is to get students excited about reading books telling them just enough to whet their appetites, then setting them free to explore on their own. Innovative librarians are using phone casting to create book talks and make them available for students anytime/anywhere. A phone cast enables you to use your phone to record, capture and share audio using your cell phone. There are a number of free services that allow you to record audio from a phone including Google Voice, Voki, iPadio, and Yodio.

Librarians can set up an online space like a wiki or website to list books in the library and use their selected phone casting service to embed an audio recording of the corresponding book talk. Many librarians have also had success inviting students to create book talks as well. Not only is it great for students to hear about books from their peers, but creating a book talk can also be a great project for students. In schools where librarians organize buddy reading with upper grade students reading to younger buddies, having the older partner record their book talk with their buddy in mind provides a built in audience and perhaps even someone who can provide useful insight into if the talk inspired the buddy to want to hear more.

Librarians love Twitter not only because it provides an instant and easy window into what is happening in their libraries, but also because it serves as a tremendous professional development resource as well as a tool to globally connect teachers and students.

Using Twitter right from your cell phone enables librarians to provide the entire school community with a window into their library. Tracy Karas a Librarian in New York City uses her phone to Tweet updates about new books that have come in, to celebrate student successes, to provide reminders about upcoming events and more. All these Tweets are embedded directly on her school library page from the school’s website.

Other librarians use Twitter to help their students connect or reach out for on demand professional development using the hashtag #TLchat (T for Teacher, L for Librarian) started by the popular librarian Joyce Valenza. Using and following the hashtag provides viewers with a minefield of ideas, resource sharing and networking. For example here are some possible librarian Tweets:
  • 13 yr-old male who luvs skateboarding. Book ideas? #TLchat
  • Looking for a student(s) who’s reading or luvs Catcher in the Rye to join our book talk? #TLchat
  • Looking for someone to Skype with our class abt creating a digital footprint. #TLchat
  • Anyone have a resource for free eBooks? #TLchat
Using this tag brings your message to innovative librarians across the globe. Your 30-second investment results in a payoff consisting of plenty of ideas and responses on demand and for free!

Librarians should also be aware of the many notable librarians that tweet. By following #TLchat, you’ll quickly see popular names appear time and again including @buffyjhamilton, @shannonmiller, @joycevalenza, @keisawilliams, and @gwynethjones. You can tag Tweeps (Tweeting People) like these in your Tweets giving them a virtual tap on the shoulder when you think they may have something to contribute. For example, you may Tweet, “Wondering what folks like @joycevalenza think about iPads as a replacement for books in the library.”

Group Response
In Tamara Cox’s library, students are often asked to bring their cell phones when they come to the library. She uses the group response site, Poll Everywhere, to get the students involved. One way she does this is after viewing book trailers. Ms. Cox has her students use their phones to vote for their favorite book. Not only does this engage the students, but it also illustrates to the classroom teachers that they can provide student response to students through the use of cell phones which provides an effective way to collect and capture students thoughts, opinions, and feedback. When teachers see their librarian modeling the use of phones with students they are often more open to the idea of using them in their own classroom. This is especially important in schools that have limited or no access to student response systems aka clickers. Cell phones provide the same opportunity for student involvement without the cost.

Ms. Cox has also had success in using cell phones as an audience response system during teacher professional development where she has engaged participants by introducing a topic and polling them. She’ll have the question shared on the board with directions on how to respond. This involves the teachers immediately while also giving them a relevant topic to discuss as they wait for the meeting to begin.

QR Codes
QR codes are computer generated codes that allow Smart phone users to scan the code and be directed to a specified location online. At Palmetto Middle School where Ms. Cox works, QR codes can be found on bulletin boards and book displays. The book display of the state book award nominees includes a QR code that directs students to the Library Youtube channel, where students will find a collection of book trailers promoting these titles. A QR code on her circulation desk directs visitors to her online business card on ReTaggr. The online business card enables students, parents and visitors to follow their librarian on Twitter, like her Facebook page, friend her on Goodreads and Shelfari and share educational bookmarks on Diigo. Another great use of QR codes for librarians is putting them into books to take students to author pages, a list of read alike titles, or student-made book review podcasts.

QR codes can also be used to conduct a treasure hunt of information in the school library. Middle school teacher librarian Gwyneth Jones, aka the Daring Librarian, uses QR codes to engage students in what she calls “digital discoveries.” Asking the students to bring their cell phones to the library, in small groups or pairs, the kids hunt for sneaky QR codes posted around the library (programed with a free QR code generator) to discover clues that can be scanned that lead to other clues - some asking questions, some that lead students to wiki or webpages with further information, some that require the students to perform a task to discover the final clue and the “treasure” which is a special key code to be submitted to a Google form. Once on the Google form wikipage students input the “key” to a drawing for a chance to win an iTunes gift card or a bundle of free books. Another use is posting QR codes next to book displays & pubic access catalog computers that lead students to wikipages where they can write and read student book reviews.

Because students work in groups or pairs, only about a third of the class needs Smartphones and because she’s done a student survey in advance she knows how much technology her students have. If necessary, being ever cognizant of the digital divide, Jones has purchased several iPod touch mobile devices that students may use in the library or check out to use at home with the preloaded Kindle app and several books, music, & library pics. For more information visit No Kindle Required — iPhone App Review (http://www.geeknewscentral.com/2009/07/18/no-kindle-required-iphone-app-review)

Innovative librarians have come a long way from the days of ol’ where students were dependent upon the a librarian to help access information or thousands of dirty old index cards to find their just right book. The globally-connected, digitally savvy librarian of today empowers students to be independent learners, connected to an infinite amount of resources to meet their interests, passions and learning needs. Harnessing the power of cell phones is a free and easy way to bring this reality to life.

Tamara Cox and Gwyneth A. Jones contributed to this post.

Tamara Cox- Tamara is the librarian at Palmetto Middle School in South Carolina. She enjoys integrating technology into education and promoting reading to all of her students. You can follow her on the Eliterate Librarian blog and on Twitter @coxtl.

Gwyneth A. Jones, aka The Daring Librarian, is a blogger, a tweeter, a plurker, a goofball, a citizen of Nings and a resident of Second Life. Gwyneth is a teacher-librarian at Murray Hill Middle School in Laurel, Maryland, a member of the ISTE Board of Directors, and the author of the award winning Daring Librarian blog.


  1. Thank you so much for publishing this, it was an honor to contribute! I love getting new ideas on how to infuse transliteracy within my library program!

  2. I was thrilled to be included with such wonderful educators. It was a pleasure. Thanks for highlighting the work of librarians.

  3. Google Voice provides some great tools to use cell phones in educational settings. One possible idea would be a special "library help line" that could be set up using Google voice. Students needing assistance with research questions can leave a message. The voicemail will then be transcribed and sent via email to someone on staff. Text messages can also be received at the same number.

    This is one of my "top 10 Google Voice tricks" which you can view here: http://electriceducator.blogspot.com/2010/12/10-google-voice-tricks-that-will-rock.html

  4. I wanted to share my sign up procedure for those interested in sending text notifications to their students. I created a simple sign up sheet in Word for each homeroom. At the top of the sign up sheet it explains that I will send texts notifying the student of overdue books and books ready for pick up. Students write their name and number on the sheet. If you wanted an added layer of protection you could require students to have their parents sign a short permission slip stating they understand standard text messaging rates apply. Most, if not all, of our students have unlimited texts so it is isn't an issue. I tell students about the option then they sign up. I keep the sheets in a folder in my office so that other students can not see the numbers and it remains private.