Sunday, December 28, 2008

Are we ruining publishing?

It's not easy to blame readers for ruining publishing, but David Streitfeld in the N.Y. Times manages to do just that. He suggests that people who buy books from other individuals online are hurting publishers and authors by bypassing the usual purchasing channels. It's true that finding used books online has become easier in recent years, if not quite as much fun as browsing through a used book store. But I doubt there is much proof that people who buy online have cut down much on the number of books they buy. Using Streitfeld's logic, you could complain that lending books to friends is also destroying publishing, but in fact reading and book buying tends to feed on itself. For most readers, the more books they read, the more they buy even though some may be secondhand. They are still buying more new books than most people these days. And secondhand books, especially for children, are a wonderful way to spread the word about great new authors and books. If a child reads a library copy, then decides to take a chance and buy the book online, chances are you have a lifelong reader budding. In years to come these readers will support book publishing no matter how much moaning and hand wringing we do about the perils of secondhand books. Let's just celebrate the joys of avid readers both young and old.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Another look at Narnia

Thousands of children have been fascinated by the world of Narnia created by C.S. Lewis during the early years of the 20th century. And thousands of adults continue to have nostalgic feelings for the books even though most of them do not go back to reread the stories. Now Laura Miller, a respected critic, has written The Magician's Book, a reexamination of the books she loved so much as a child. Although most children miss the references to the Christian tale of redemption when they first read the books, by the time they become teenagers, many have been enlightened by friends or teachers. This can lead to disillusionment or to a greater love of Lewis's fantasy. Miller's book takes a careful look at her own response as a skeptic and a critic. Librarians and teachers will find insight in Lewis's life, his friends and his ideas. Miller has produced a book well worth reading for any adult who interacts with children and books.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

More than meets the ear

Thousands of children this holiday season will listen to their parents or other adults read chapters from The Wind in the Willows to them. Others will read or reread the book themselves. This famous children's book is 100 years old this year, but as an absorbing article in tells us, the story behind it is not childlike at all. Like some other famous children's book authors, Kenneth Graham was a complex man who found solace in writing for children even as he went through many adult tragedies. Why is there a link between a feeling of failure in adult life and an ability to reach into the mind and thoughts of a child? Does the introspection these authors are driven into give them a chance to reimagine the depths of childhood? Perhaps we'll never know, but while we wonder we can still enjoy the magical world that Graham and Lewis Carroll and others have constructed for us. They may have felt their lives incomplete, but they left a greater legacy for the world than many happier individuals have been able to achieve.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wasting time or studying?

Children and teens can spend hours browsing through YouTube videos and sharing the jokes and spicy bits, but now some students are discovering that YouTube also offer help with classes. Math is an especially difficult subject for many students and a visual approach can make it easier. More than 50,000 people have watched some of these videos on calculus, algebra, and other complicated subjects. Once again librarians should take note of a development that may affect the way young people use library collections. While books continue to be the basis for teaching in most areas, supplementary materials add a lot to the mix. Rather than libraries having to buy AV products--remember all those filmstrips we used to have?--they can now link to valuable free material online. Of course, the usual problem of sorting the best from the shoddy misleading products is a vital service. But think how useful it will be to be able to offer teachers and students a vetted list of supplementary materials available free both in school and at home. Another valuable resource brought to us by technology.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Learning through Sharing

As librarians and teachers we are always asking ourselves how we can help our students learn the skills and facts they will need, but also learn how to learn because those skills are constantly changing and new facts appear every day. Books are one way of keeping up with the world, but books are not sufficient for modern schools. As businesses and government turn more and more to collaborative ways of bringing experts together to solve problems, our children have to learn this way of interacting with one another and learning. Collaborative learning through sharing blogs, wikis, and using social networking sites has become more and more important in education. Edutopia is one organization that helps teachers and other adults understand how these tools can be used in schools and libraries to make education a positive force for our children.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Who wrote that?

As Christmas nears, books are pouring out from publishing companies in the hopes of increased sales for the holidays. Who are the authors of these books? Well, many of them are not writers; they are celebrities known for success in media, the arts, or just because of a fluke of publicity. An op-ed piece in today's New York Times points out how insulting this is to the hard-working writers who labor to produce worthwhile books. The examples used in the column are from adult publishing, but librarians know the situation is the same for children's books. No one who has been featured in a news story seems exempt from the temptation to produce a book that some publisher will seize upon. Adults must fend for themselves, but it is librarians, teachers, and parents who usually are responsible for what children read. Do we really want to feed our children a diet of mass-produced word packages (with lots of pictures) just because they can recognize the name of the so-called author? What about the hundreds of skilled writers and illustrators who are giving children a truly literary experience with carefully wrought words and imaginative pictures? Surely it is up to us as adults to let children read these books and come to know the names of authors who may never appear on TV or YouTube (although some of them do). Writing and illustrating are hard work and we should honor those who do it well.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A month to celebrate

It seems unlikely that all of December's celebrations will be widely acknowledged, and perhaps the one least known is the one announced in the New Yorker this week-- December is National Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give It to Somebody Not Black Month. Now this is one that children's librarians should definitely notice. Often we buy books about one group's heritage to make them available to that group, but we fail to recognize that it is the outsiders who need to learn about our minority cultures. Knowledge and acceptance of a variety of cultures is a cornerstone of our country and of the global community. Not only should we provide books by African American authors for white, Asian, and Hispanic children. We should also celebrate the Chinese New Year with African American children and Ramadan with Jewish children. Books are not meant to serve narrow interests but to broaden all of our horizons.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Who owns the tunes?

Copyright and the variations of laws about it have troubled librarians for years, but seldom has it been as major a concern as it is today with electronic downloading of copyright material. Lawrence Lessig of Stanford University has written several books on the way copyright has been handled in the U.S. over the years. His latest book Remix deals with how government should handle the difficult problem of downloading and using music from the Internet. A fascinating review from the U.K.'s Independent compares Lessig's views with a fictional exploration of the revolt of techies portrayed in Little Brother. Although these issues may seem remote from the world of children's librarians, children grow into teenagers very quickly and they learn how to download and reuse both ideas and music. Is this creativity a good thing or do the rights of the creators of art and information overshadow all other concerns? This is something all librarians need to think about, and here is a little reading to get us started.