on the commons …

School librarians (at least the ones that I know … and I know many) spend a lot of our time and energy wringing our hands fretting about plagiarism, fretting about citation, fretting about fair use. If that weren’t enough, much of our remaining energy goes into fretting about why students commit plagiarism, fretting about why students do all they can to avoid doing citations, and fretting about why students don’t always respect fair use.

Sometimes I get so caught up in my fretting (is that a word?) that I forget to take a step back and see the forest for the trees. Why is all of this important at all?

The way that I see it, it’s all about participation in and respect for THE COMMONS.

Recently, we’ve FINALLY had some success in this arena! We’ve been teaching kids how to locate and properly use images and sound files licensed for reuse. As you might have already guessed we’ve been talking about this stuff for years, but for the first time we’re seeing kids actually DO what they’ve been taught is the right thing to do even when a grade doesn’t hang in the balance.

The big change is that we finally keyed into the fact that middle schoolers today see themselves as content creators (or at the very least, aspiring content creators). When we create book trailers in Windows Moviemaker, for example, we teach kids how to search for images licensed for reuse and how to give proper credit to the creators of those images, but we’ve been going a step further in talking with them about their trailers themselves … “Who owns the copyright to the trailer that you are creating? If I want to show your book trailer at a Monday assembly, can I do it without your permission? Why or why not?”

By making kids understand that they are content creators and that they would like others to honor their rights as creative beings, they get it. They get that creation and maintenance of a commons is a really great thing and on some level they also understand that failure to respect the commons leads to tragedy of the commons.

We also have been talking about traditional citation in papers in the same way. “Bibliographies and works cited lists aren’t just about plagiarism. In the bigger picture, we’re introducing you practices in the work of academia and research. Some day, you may do ground breaking research on cancer and someone may reference your publishing as part of their research and lead other researchers to your work. In a lot of ways citation is about sharing ideas for the good of everybody …”

Kids get that. They’ll amaze you sometimes …


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