Wednesday, February 25, 2009

More technology again!

Amazon's Kindle, the electronic book platform, has just appeared in a new, thinner, apparently more user-friendly version. This little device that makes it possible to store a library of books in a small package has been hailed by some educators as a way of coping with the impossible load of textbooks children are now carrying. While that development hasn't come yet, more and more recreational reading is appearing in Kindle versions. Many teenagers and tweens are attracted to these electronic tools, but authors have raised concerns. One of the features of the new Kindle is the ability to turn any book into an audio book. A reader can choose to read the print or listen to the story from the machine. This of course affects authors' earnings from audio rights to books, an important consideration when it is already so difficult to earn a living by writing. Librarians and teachers are keeping an eye on the Kindle and should be aware of possible copyright issues involved in using these readers. Even while we embrace technology, we have to be sure it isn't causing trouble in the wider world of writing and publishing.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Video games in the library?

The Nokia Games Summit of Nov. 2008 didn't look or sound like a library conference. You can check out this video report from YouTube and see the differences, but don't dismiss it as irrelevant to librarians and teachers today. Things are quiet in book publishing, with gloomy news and predictions, but video games are booming. Even though schools and libraries are still struggling to provide desktop computers for children, the young people themselves are moving into smaller, more mobile means of getting entertainment and information. When children bring their cell phones to the library and play games, search for information, or even read books, what is the role of the librarian? We know that children, teens, and most adults need guidance in searching effectively for information, but how to we convince the public of this? One of the most important things we have to do is be aware of what's going on in other parts of the media world. We are part of a huge enterprise, so burying ourselves in our book-lined libraries is not an option if we want to survive.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Do they see us now?

Year after year the media seem to present stories about librarians that emphasize outdated stereotypes of quiet libraries filled with books. That's one reason why it is good to see the story in the N.Y. Times about a new-style school librarian who helps children use technology as well as print to answer their questions and do assignments. In schools lucky enough to have a full time certified librarian, and there are too few of them, children and teachers expect this kind of expert help from librarians, but many people outside the education establishment haven't caught up yet. Not only has this story appeared in the newspaper, but it tops the list of "most emailed stories" demonstrating that parents and other adults care about what is going on in school libraries. Perhaps at last the outside world is catching up with what librarians have been doing for the past decade or two.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Keeping up

How many teenagers use Twitter to update their status with friends? That's a question a lot of teachers and librarians would like have answered, but answers are hard to find. As this CNet update indicates, statistics even from the reputable Pew Research Center can be difficult to understand or downright misleading. What exactly is meant by "updating status"? Many young people seem to give almost minute-by-minute accounts of what they are doing on their Facebook pages. The updates are much like Twitter, but not quite the same. Every statistic has to be taken with a grain of salt, especially statistics that report what people say they do rather than documented reports of what they actually do. Librarians trying to understand their patrons or potential patrons still need to use simple observation, talking to individuals, and watching computer use to get an idea of current activities. Reports, scientific and otherwise are useful, but we still have to rely on common sense to stay aware of what's happening in our schools and libraries.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mixing books and toys

The Scholastic Book Clubs are a popular way for teachers and parents to encourage children to read. Selling inexpensive books for children at school book fairs has been a successful marketing tool for Scholastic and has been welcomed by adults and children. Now a group called the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is accusing Scholastic of "using its classroom book clubs to push video games, jewelry kits and toy cars." The group maintains that one third of the items listed in Scholastic's brochures are not books or are books that include non-book elements. As librarians and teachers are well aware, mixing books with other items has become standard policy for many publishing companies. Is this practice exploiting children, as the campaign group suggests or is it merely taking advantage of the added value a non-book item can add to a book? This is not a subject that has been studied widely and it would be difficult to approach through research. Librarians will have to make their own choices about whether where to draw the line when books are mingled with other commercial items. Choices are never easy, but that's what makes us professionals.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Yet another platform for books

As cell phones become more and more important in the lives of teens and tweens, librarians will want to check out the new move by Google and Amazon to make more books available on phones. E-books have not yet gained a strong place in children's books, but the Amazon's Kindle is becoming a favorite for some advanced readers in the 10 to 14 group. Still, this requires carrying around an extra piece of gear to read a book, while having a book available to download directly to your cell might be attractive to the affluent suburban kids who are proud possessors of i-phones. Most of the books announced for this format are out-of-print classics more suited to college students than junior high, but if the format takes off, publishers may rush to make teen-friendly fiction available in this format. It's something to watch.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Another master gone

During the 1960s, American children's books became more international in scope. Folk tales from around the world were retold and published for American children. Several of these were illustrated by Blair Lent, whose death at the age of 80 was announced this week. Probably his best known works were his illustrations for The Funny Little Lady, a Japanese folktale retold by Arlene Mosel. Like many of the other folktales published during those years, this story helped to expand the horizons of children and to make exotic countries like Japan seem more familiar. We take it for granted now that children's stories should be international, but this wasn't always true. We should stop to honor one of the pioneers who introduced many of us to new stories in unfamiliar settings.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Is it a book?

A thoughtful article in today's New York Times takes on one of the questions that has bothered librarians for twenty years or more. "Click and Jane" describes some of the websites that present stories for children, stories either previously published as books or patterned on books. Are these books? Is a child learning to love books and reading when she experiences stories online? As I read the article--online--I wondered whether that's the question we ought to be asking. Is translating a book, unchanged, to the screen even desirable? That's the way Weston Woods started presenting picture books to children back in the heady days of the 1960s. Some librarians can still remember the projected filmstrips which made picture books visible to a large group of children at the same time. Gradually those filmstrips became animated and turned into films and videos, less a replication of the book than an amplification of it. The old filmstrips have disappeared but some websites are still experimenting with different ways of introducing stories to children. Perhaps we need many different ways to present stories to children, especially pre-literate children. Certainly cuddling with a parent while being read a story is an experience every child should have, but need it be the only way to share books with children? Perhaps we should turn our attention to the magical combination of pictures, words and narrative that make up the great picture books and encourage children to experience them in as many formats as possible. One thing we know for sure is that we can't turn back the clock to a world where print offers children the only access to stories. Librarians have dedicated themselves to offering children wider horizons and richer experiences. Let's welcome the best of the new, while never forgetting the value in the old versions. Children will embrace them all if we give them a chance.