Sunday, June 10, 2012

Signing off for a while

It has been almost a month since I last posted here. It seems to me that things have slowed down in the world of publishing. Although the struggle between ebooks and print books continues, it is a long, drawn-out negotiation as to where the future lies. Reports from Book Expo this year are cheerful. Traditional publishing companies believe again that they have a future, despite the inroads of digital media. Librarians are adjusting to a mixed-media future with the co-existence of print and digital materials.

In a couple of weeks I'll be heading for the American Library Association annual conference in Anaheim. I'll be looking forward to seeing and talking with publishers at the exhibits and examining their new products. If I find new and exciting developments, I publish here and let you know what is going on.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Not a monster but a giant in the book world

There is little left to say about Maurice Sendak now because almost everyone in the library world and the children's book world have been talking about him since his recent death. The news shocked readers who had grown up with Where the Wild Things Are and Sendak's other books. The tweets started pouring out about childhood memories of those remarkable monsters which were scary but somehow not threatening. Now the NY Times has published a particularly charming tribute from many of the illustrators and writers of children's books who have been influenced by Maurice Sendak's work. If you haven't read it yet, be sure not to miss it--and don't miss the slideshow. Sendak has influenced generations of writings, publishers and librarians who have come to expect some of his honesty and quirky vision in children's books. He can truly be called a revolutionary figure.

Would Maurice Sendak be part of the current revolution in children's books? It's hard to say. He expressed his opinion of ebooks very tartly on the Stephen Colbert show not long ago. He dismissed them out of hand as not being real books at all and his scornful words have been flashed around the Internet on YouTube. Is he right? Does his status as a pioneer make his opinion of the future, or the present, believable? In the long run it will be the children who decide. Change is inevitable and perhaps future generations will feel just as nostalgic and sentimental about their apps as today's adults are about the picture books they grew up with.

The value of librarians is that we welcome all sorts of innovations and accept the best of the new while preserving the treasures of the past. We certainly have a responsibility to keep alive the seminal works of Maurice Sendak, but we don't have to accept his opinions as gospel. There will undoubtedly be great ebooks coming along and the future belongs to the children growing up in it, not to those of us who grew up in the past.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Another player in the ebook field?

Just when it seems that the tug-of-war between publishers, bookstores and libraries is stalled with each side locked into a position unacceptable to others, a jolt has come to ebook publishing. As reported in the NY Times, Microsoft has agreed to invest millions of dollars in Barnes & Noble's Nook publishing. This sudden influx of money should make B&N a real contender against Amazon's Kindle. The partnership of bookstores and ebooks should be a natural one, although it doesn't exist in the Amazon-Apple world. Many readers (or borrowers in a library) would likely enjoy browsing through the print edition of a book before deciding to choose it to read on their e-reader. The all-online world of Amazon offers enticing pictures of book covers and snippets of reviews by journalists and other readers, but seeing the actual book offers an even stronger incentive to read.

Although this move may complicate librarian's choices in deciding what formats to choose for their ebook collections, any competition in the field is actually an advantage for libraries. Competition between producers of ebooks is likely to encourage all sides to enter into negotiations to make their products available through libraries as well as bookstores. Let's hope this business move will open up choices for all of us.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Still hungry for the Hunger Games

The success of films based on books written for children or teens is one of the trends of the last couple of years. The film "Hugo" was honored with Academy Award nominations as well as good reviews and popularity last year. This year "The Hunger Games" was one of the most eagerly awaited movies of the year and is a popular favorite with adults, teens and tweens (and even younger children who worm their way in to see it). Why this trend toward adults' welcoming children's materials? No one knows for sure, but the N.Y. Times has come up with a discussion of possible causes and effects.

Is it the strong plots and vivid dialog that seizes people's interest? Certainly YA books tend to move faster and have quicker resolutions than most literary novels. Popular books have always tended to be the ones that grab your interest on the first page and propel the reader forward. Are YA books the best books being written these days? Some people have suggested that the literary novel is a dying form and that may be true. The long, meandering ruminations on the meaning of life that used to appeal to people in books now appear mostly in blogs. One of the most appealing aspects of blogs is the chance for readers to comment. Are blogs the future of reading?

No one is closer to the secrets of the appeal of YA books than librarians. We should hear more from people out in the libraries. Why do adults read YA books? Does the shared interest bring adults and youth together? Let's hear from the people who know.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Librarians with hungry hearts

A lot of the questions that come up when students and parents are deciding about college choices are about the cost\benefits. Is a college degree worth the price is you are going to spend your life selling real estate or fixing laptops? It’s the same question families asked generations ago about the value of sending a girl to college. “But you don’t need a diploma to raise a family!” Are those the questions we should ask?

Mark Edmundson, writing on the NY Times opinion page describes the people who should go to college—those with hungry hearts.

Some children and adults have a driving curiosity about the world. They enjoy hearing about new people, distant places, historic events-- almost anything can spark their curiosity and interest. Those are the people who should go to college and on whom an education is never wasted. They are also the people who love libraries and always find something to interest them there. Many librarians have hungry hearts; that’s why they aren’t bored by books and never tire of hearing new reference questions. We are the ones with hungry hearts and our favorite patrons share the trait. Let’s celebrate all the people who never lose their love of education, libraries, and the world. We’re very lucky to be able to spend our lives with them.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Is the Web really dead?

Which serves users better—the Web or apps? This controversy emerged after a famous 2010 article in Wired magazine proclaimed that the Web is Dead. The authors Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff wrote that apps would replace websites as the major source of information and entertainment for users. Librarians are naturally worried about technological innovations that potentially have impact on the resources that library users request. Pew Research decided to survey experts in the field of Internet technology to see what they said about future directions. The report, released this week, sheds light on what librarians and others can expect in the future. It is well worth your time to read the whole report on the Pew Research website, but here are a few highlights.

The fear of many experts is that the Web will be broken into many fragments, each one an app designed to lead users to a particular site. The value of apps is that they are easily browsed on mobile devices such as phones and tablets. As more and more users turn to these small-scale entries to the online world, their use of apps will increase (Cisco predicts that by 2016 there will be 16 billion mobile devices in use). But one of the major values of the Internet has been the serendipity that leads browsers to jump from one site to another to investigate sidelines and ideas generated. Will these users in the future be more likely to stay in the narrow realm of the app, whether it is a magazine, newspaper, or retailer?

The survey of experts conducted by Pew Research and Elon University collected a lot of information about what is expected in the future. To the vital question of whether apps would replace the Web, 59% of the experts agreed that by 2020 the Web would still be a vital and growing resource for people, although many individuals would use apps for specific purposes. Only 35% of respondents believe that apps will largely replace the Web by 2020.

The reason for optimism about the development of the Web seems to have grown out of the conviction that people enjoy the open environment of websites that allow them to explore much more of the online world than apps do. Perhaps this quote from the report sums it up most concisely:

“The gated bubble worlds formed by app markets, Facebook, and other private spaces will bloom and fade, while people will keep gathering in the open spaces.” – Jerry Michalski, founder of Relationship Economy Expedition and consultant at the Institute for the Future

What does this mean for librarians who serve young people? Well we are certainly not going to stop collecting apps and recommending them to patrons. But we should remember their limitations and help youngsters to learn how to handle a larger Web experience. Some parents and other adults prefer to have their children limited to apps that contain carefully controlled content, but if we want young people to grow intellectually, we also need to help them explore a larger world. And we need to help parents accept the fact that we cannot control and limit all content that children view. Our role is to guide and explain and to gradually help children move into the larger world, not to keep them locked into the safety of any limited bubble world.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Ebooks belong in libraries

News about the difficulty of providing ebooks in libraries is finally spreading to the general public. Librarians have been worrying and debating for months, even years, about the restrictions placed on ebooks in libraries, but few people outside the profession realize what is happening. Many people believe—whether they approve or not—that libraries are providing ebooks easily to all of their users. An article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle recounts some of the difficulties that librarians face

As the library journals have pointed out, and most librarians know, publishers are pulling back on their offerings of ebooks in libraries. Many of the major publishers do not allow new books to be sold to libraries; some have stopped supplying any titles at all. All of us who are librarians should speak up for the people who want to borrow ebooks from the library. Encourage our professional organizations, especially ALA to continue to press the publishers for changes. Encourage our congressional representatives to support the right of readers to find books in school and public libraries in many different formats.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Is it time to retreat?

Libraries have been increasing their purchases of ebooks for several years now, and those of us--including me--who think this is a good advance have been cheering, but dissenting voices are now being raised. The struggle between publishers, libraries, and ebook users has been heating up recently. Several publisher are refusing to sell to libraries. Harper Collins has instituted a strick limit of 26 circulations per book for its ebooks, and has seized the opportunity to start a lending program of its own for ebooks. The meeting of ALA leaders with book publishers does not appear to have accomplished much, although it's always good to have an ongoing conversation. Now along comes a thoughtful commentary by Bobbi Newman who writes the Librarian by Day blog. She suggests that libraries stop buying ebooks for a while until the market has worked out the way in which these purchases will work. As she suggests, and several other librarians have agreed, we always have other needs to fill, other resources or programs we could spend money on rather than ebooks. Why not concentrate on meeting those needs until the market quiets down? I agree with many of her ideas. It is irritating to try to work out the best way to spend library budgets, ebooks are difficult to administer and require lots of staff time helping patrons, and the increasing prices of ebooks are a burden for libraries. Still, in the long run, I think we have to stick with our purpose of pushing forward into an increasingly digital reading environment. It's frustrating and some patrons complain about our spending our money that way, while others complain about not buying enough. We have a long way to go in establishing relatively simple ebook circulation. But still...the future direction seems clear and how long will we have to wait for perfection? A wise colleague once told me when I was thinking about postponing the purchase of computers "until something better comes along" that a waiting attitude won't work in our world. "You have to step on the escalator" he said. "Sure there will be better products in 6 months or a year, but you will lose those months in waiting." It's the same with ebooks. If we wait for the publishing and distribution problems to be worked out, we may have pushed our libraries into oblivion. Our patrons will borrow from or from some other source; young people will share the ebooks they buy without bothering with libraries; our budgets will probably fall even further behind. Libraries are already seen by many people as somewhat old-fashioned and unnecessary. If we stop purchasing ebooks, we will be viewed as even more irrelevant. We know there is a strong, appreciative audience for ebooks out there; young people are more and more accustomed to getting materials online. We need to remain players in the ebook field; we need to support our professional organizations in their attempts to influence publishers and distributors. It's a tough fight, but this is no time to give up the battle.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

How much more can we pay?

The news that Random House publishers are doubling and tripling the price of their ebooks came as a shock to most librarians. Just as children's and YA librarians are developing their ebook collections to meet the requests of patrons, they suddenly become luxury itens. As the LJ/SLJ blog "Digital Shift" reports, children's books that used to be priced at about $20 will increase to $35-$85 per title. Librarians who have worked for months to persuade their administrators that even children's collections should include ebooks, will find their budgets severely strained. At the very least the number of copies of popular books will have to be reduced. And there are tricky questions to answer about whether a dozen paper copies of a new series title is better than a handful of digital copies. Which do teens and tweens really want?

Paper publishers are fighting for their lives now and not inclined to listen to the budgetary woes of librarians, but I hope they can be persuaded that we are all in this together. If young people don't grow up with easy access to books, they are unlikely to become lifelong readers. What will publishers do if their market for both digital and paper books shrinks away?

But talking to publishers is difficult for the average librarian. What we need to do right now it talk to our patrons. We need to open a dialog with kids and their parents to find out what they really want. How would they decide about which format to provide? The one thing a crisis may help with is establishing communication. Now's the time to rev up the Facebook page and liven up the blog so we can get plenty of input from the people who really matter--the children and teens we are hoping to provide with reading experiences.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Glass half full or half empty?

There has been a lot of talk recently in library circles about ebrary's "2011 Global Student E-book Survey". News of the results have been coming out in bits and pieces for several months now. You can find a good summary at the No Shelf Required blog. Reactions to the results vary from--"kids don't like ebooks" to "Why bother with social media when kids don't use it for research?"--but the results don't seem to justify the reactions. O.K., so 41% of the students in the survey are currently using social media for research or study, while 59% are not. Before we start pointing out the almost 20-point difference between the two groups, we might pause to marvel that 2 out of 5 students are already using it.

For some reason many adults, including librarians and teachers, want to downplay the changes being made by ebooks and new forms of information searching. You can almost hear the sigh of relief from the media when they are able to report that teenagers aren't really crazy about new media. Surveys that give us a snapshot of a specific point in time will never give a complete picture of how people are moving. The important thing to watch is the trend over time. Reading on digital devices hasn't swept the country quite as quickly as is often predicted in Silicon Valley, but it is slowly and surely creeping into public consciousness. Considering how much bad publicity social media has received in recent months over privacy issues and lurid stories of bullying, it is surprising that so many students are intereted in using it intensely. Instead of bouncing back and forth between hailing innovations as saviors of education and denouncing them as dangers and frauds, librarians and other adults ought to concentrate on helping students learn to use all these new tools to share information and insights. They are terrific ways to collaborate with students all over the world and learn more than past generations ever could about what life is really like out there. Percentages don't matter nearly as much as the people behind them who are quietly going about their business of investigating the world they live in.