Saturday, December 26, 2009

What are they searching for?

Librarians have known for a long time that most kids have a hard time finding specific online information. Skill in gaming and using social networks doesn't easily transfer to searching Google. Now the company itself has recognized the problems young children have in searching and is starting to conduct research to make its product easier to use. Choosing a search term that will lead to the correct bit of information can be tricky, as research by librarians over the past 15 years has shown. Many schools have developed training programs to help students learn how to search. It's good to see that the search engine companies themselves now recognize the problems and are looking at user needs. Making the Internet easier for children to search will make it easier for all of us. As so often happens--unsung librarians led the way to new knowledge.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Revisiting Cinderella

Looking for new books is a natural this time of year as we search for holiday gifts for friends and family.For librarians it's also a time to catch up on the year's books that we've missed during the busy summer and fall. It's been a good year for YA novels in which new young authors experiment with old stories and formats. One of the most unusual approaches to the Cinderella story is Malinda Lo's Ash,which combines a classic Cinderella story with some elements of Irish folklore. The combination works and Publisher's Weekly includes Lo as one of the rising new stars of the YA publishing world. There is something very encouraging to see that as books stream out of publishing houses year after year, some of them repetitive and clearly designed to capture a media sensation of the day, there is still room for a fresh new approach that succeeds. Teens are lucky because so much of the writing talent today is focusing on the YA market where there is still room for innovation and imagination.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Now the digital magazine

Children's magazines were a flourishing business only a decade or two ago, but many of them have disappeared as more and more children seek content online. Few families have subscriptions to magazines for their children and many schools and libraries are dropping them too. What does the future hold for short-form writing in the digital age? Adult magazines, which are also feeling the pinch, are experimenting with new ways of delivering content. One prototype that's being talked about is the digital magazine. As described by the NY Times, a tablet version of a magazine might be able to contain both the articles and visuals of a magazine in easily manipulated format. As with most digital products, the cost of the e-reader will be a deterrent for many casual magazine buyers, but it's possible that costs will drop if enough people want to read magazines this way. And if adult magazines can be successfully marketed as e-products, children's magazine publishers are likely to try to do the same. Take a look at the article, which shows what a Swedish publisher is planning, and be sure to watch the embedded video

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Who owns the rights?

An article in the NY Times today discussed a problem that may not at first glance seem related to children's books--the questions of who owns the rights to e-book versions of literary works published before e-books existed. Books by several of the authors who wrote in the mid-twentieth century have slow but steady sales through the years. These sales might grow if the books were available in popular e-book formats, but the heirs of the authors are arguing with publishers about who owns the rights to that format. Producing an e-book from material already available in electronic format is cheap and quite easy. Publishers can earn a lot of money if they sell well, while authors or their heirs get about 25% in royalties. The issue of what a fair royalty payment would be has not been settled, but many publishers have long backlists of titles that would find new sales in e-book format. Children's books often last longer than adult titles and it is likely that as publishers decide to produce them in electronic format, the same issue of rights will come up. Librarians will have to keep on eye on how the legal battles are progressing because unless a reasonable arrangement is reached, children may be denied access to some of the books they could and should be able to enjoy.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gloomy publishing news

Writers, publishers, librarians and others involved in the book trade have for many years been looking to Kirkus Reviews for the earliest and savviest book reviews to be found. Now, we get an announcement that Kirkus is ceasing publication. What we loved about Kirkus was their willingness to take a chance and pan a bad book even if it was written by a celebrity and published by a major house. This fearless quality is hard to find in today's media world where most reviewers hesitate to disturb anyone who might someday have a chance to strike back. Too many reviews in major review journals are written by old friends and colleagues eager to put in a good word for a pal. And for those of us who take children's books seriously, it was good to have a source of reviews that didn't pander to the popular celebrities who turn out children's books at an alarming rate. Online journals and blogs are doing good service in letting people know about what's worth reading and what's not, but so far none has come up to the standard of Kirkus. Let's hope someone does soon; we'll miss the astringent voice of Kirkus.

Monday, December 7, 2009

At last--practical e-textbooks

According to reports in the N.Y. Times, a practical device for reading textbooks, complete with color illustrations, graphs and charts may be available before long. The device being planned has two screens, one of which fits behind the other for storage. One screen would be for text and would not be back-lit, so that it would be easier to read or long periods of time. Students could also take notes on their reading and highlight sections of the text. The other screen, facing the first like two pages of a book, would off color graphics to show pictures, graphs, or charts. The two screens would work together, so an item mentioned in the text could be opened on the color screen, back-lit for easy visibility. Of course the initial expense is likely to be high, but like all electronic products, the cost will drop over over. The device may not be perfected yet, but it offers great possibilities for the future. It's a far more practical way to distribute textbooks than to expect students to read them on a computer screen.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Looking for lists?

This is the time of year when librarians and teachers are being asked over and over again about gifts for children. It's hard to keep the titles of all those good books on the tip of your tongue, so we turn to lists of best books thoughtfully published by many journals and some newspapers. You probably already know about the School Library Journal list and the N.Y. Times Book Review list, both of which appeared recently. Here's another that's not quite so familiar--the Boing Boing list. You may have missed some of these titles, but so many of them sound enticing that you'll end up ordering some for your library as well as for your nieces, nephews and friends, maybe even yourself. It's always nice to have another source for good holiday ideas.