Ross Todd …In Six

Reposted from 3/9/12

My interview with one of my favorite Rutgers professors, Ross Todd

Naomi: Favorite library you have been to? (and it talks a little about my favorite thing about libraries/library technology)
Ross: In recent years I have had several opportunities to visit the historic city of Zadar, Croatia, a walled town on the Adriatic Sea, and to work with colleagues there in the Department of Information Sciences at Zadar University. With a long history under Venetian, Austro-Hungarian, and Yugoslav rule from 1945 to 1991, and almost 4 years of war with Yugoslavia to 1995, Zadar is an amazing city to visit. There is a sense of resurgence and revitalization. And here is located my favorite library – the Zadar Public Library ( It is not an architectural wonder. These days it is easy to be captivated by spectacular designs and miss the essence of what libraries are all about. But here is a whole community that has had decades of information restriction.

While the public library system existed during the Yugoslav period, information provision was heavily censored and access restricted. The public library has had a phenomenal growth since 1995. The metaphor that has shaped its growth is that of the “community living room”. Emphasis has been placed on conversation, interaction, communication, and socialization and the public spaces in the library are designed just like wonderful living rooms. The living rooms provide access to a wealth of information resources never before been available to the whole community – they see the resources are the window to the world, and fundamental to the conversations and interactions. Internet is abundant, free and without any restriction. There are whole plethora of local events – cultural, social, informational, that bring the community into the library – enough goes on that there is a regular press conference there each week to promote the events of the library, and a weekly television program.

The library is built around an open courtyard, which has one of the most luxurious cafes I have ever seen in any library space. While there, I spent time with the children’s librarians. They have developed extensive co-operations with the local hospitals. When a child is born, the librarians visit the mother and newborn child in the maternity ward of the hospital. The baby is presented with his / her first picture book and library card, valid for a life time. Sometimes this is very poignant – as it is often the first time too that the mother and father also get their first library card. One impact of this over the years is that families – parents and children come together to the library. There is an extensive collection of parenting resources, and the hospital and community services run an amazing array of programs for new parents, and programs especially for fathers to engage their children in reading. There is also a vast array of cultural and social programs targeted for young children and adolescents. I was shown quite a selection of books authored by children – individual and collaborative. These were hand made, illustrated, and all part of the collection. One impressive one was “The 10 Commandments for Saving the Forests” – each of the 10 principles written to save the forests was beautifully illustrated by page-size pictures of forests and conservations, created by hundreds of pieces of small colored paper pasted together – a mosaic effect. Even children are knowledge producers, and their work celebrated as part of the community.

The courtyard is a major venue for community events – cultural, literary and music productions, and especially a vibrant performance space for teens creating their own music and drama productions. They also hold regular town-hall type meetings here, in order to present their voices on community issues, and work on community problems and solutions. These are often televised to the whole community. Inside the foyer of the library was a lovely display of handcrafts – made by a group of mentally and physically handicapped people – the library lead in the development of this display – access to resources being a connector in all of this – and worked with various medical groups to enable these people to feel part of the community. It is well worth a visit.

And so the library is the great community connector – connecting people, cultures, homes and schools through expert librarians, information technology, and resources. It is a multicultural living room providing doors to the world, windows to the mind, and steps to the future. Without them, and the opportunities and connections they provide for learning, working and living, we take the color from our world.

Naomi: My spare time?
Ross: In my spare time (do I actually have time for that?) I have the wonderful privilege, though my work at Rutgers, to travel to many places in the world. And that carries over into my spare time. Even though I have visited about 85 countries in the world, it is ever an amazing experience to be heading off to some new destination. These are always memorable journeys of discovery and learning, challenge and experience. It is impossible to forget staring out of a plane window as it circled the top of Mount Everest and peering close so at Everest’s black face. Scraping the ice off the inside of an old bus with my credit card just so I could get my first glimpse of St Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square, Moscow with -30C temperatures outside. Walking along the ancient Inca Trail and seeing Macchu Pichufor the first time. Watching the sunrise on New Year’s Day behind a platform of fifteen Moai sculptures at Ahu Tongariki on Easter Island. Standing amidst dozens of vipers in the Snake Temple of Penang, Malaysia, fortunately made harmless by the smoke of incense! Trying to sleep in a traditional chalet in Kruger National Park with the roar of lions in the creek bed below. Drenched with water as the tourist boat plunges into the torrent of Iguazo Falls in Brazil. Enough said.

Naomi: Favorite book?
Ross: My favorite book is “The Arrival” by Australian author and illustrator, Shaun Tan. It is a wordless story of a migrant journey, beautifully told in a series of illustrations, and it reminds me of my own arrival into the USA 12 years ago with only one suitcase. The work is visually experimental, creative, and compelling. Each reading is creating a new story, a new chapter.

My favorite all time professional book is “Revolting Librarians Redux: Radical Librarians speak Out” Edited by Katia Roberto and Jessamyn West. When I get tossed around and down by the turbulent sea washing over libraries, I cannot help be revived and amused with chapters such as: “Sex, drugs, and will you please be quiet: – Our revolting jobs”; “An archivist’s classification of problem patrons”; “In the stacks and in the sack: An undercover look at librarians and erotica”; “Being a cataloguer is better than gutting fish for a living because…” and “Astrology and library job correlation”

Naomi: Blogs we should be reading?
Ross: Well, it has to be the The Travelin’ Librarian ( This keeps me on the edge of the known world with technology, innovation, inspiration and fun. Then there is Dr Joyce Valenza’s blog “Neverendingsearch” for School Library Journal: ( keeping me updated and thinking about where to next in relation to school libraries and the future of learning. Overall I am not a big fan of blogs! Did I say that? I have to say I love reading micro-blog responses that many media news service websites provide on world events. I can read a news story and then dip into hundreds of short responses. They are often so outrageous, funny, creative, so out-of-the-box, so diverse in viewpoints, at times offensive. They never cease to get my mind going and have me thinking about things in new and refreshing ways. The human mind amazes me.

Naomi: Best piece of job hunting advice?
Ross: Know clearly your own dreams and goals, and seek answers about them from the organization you are interviewing for. If you are looking for a school library job, and value instructional partnerships with classroom teachers, then ask about the culture of collaboration in the school. Ask about interdisciplinary partnerships. Be prepared to demonstrate your critical thinking and problem solving capabilities, and showcase your capacity to generate capable and creative solutions. Even if the steamroller is moving slowly, it is better to be part of the steamroller, not part of the road. Focus in what could be, not what is or what was. I like this quote by JF Kennedy, and came across it when I visited that tragic site in Dallas, the Sixth Floor Museum in the former Texas School Book Depository Building: “The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men [and women!] who can dream of things that never were”. (Italics addition is mine!) Live it, tell it, do it.

I’m associate professor in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University. I am also the Director of the Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CISSL). My research interests center on adolescent information seeking and use. This research is multi-faceted, and includes: understanding how children learn and build new knowledge from information; how school librarians and classroom teachers can more effectively empower student learning; how the development of information and critical literacies through guided inquiry and constructivist learning approaches lead to deep knowledge and deep understanding. Recently (together with Dr Carol Gordon and Dr Ya-Ling Lu), we completed a two year research project of New Jersey School libraries. The reports of these studies are available at: There are also some YouTube videos on our research. You can track these down by doing a search for “CiSSL Talks”

Photo used with permission

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