Thursday, December 30, 2010

Libraries are given a gift

Publishing tends to go into hibernation for the last few weeks of December. All the books available for holiday gifts have been published and all the companies can do is wait and see what the public (including libraries) will buy. This year there is a new factor in the equation--ebook readers were among the most popular gifts for the holiday. Thousands of people around the country found one among their gifts. Publishers celebrated the number of people who ordered ebooks the next day, but libraries have at least as great a reason for celebrating. According to library figures, the borrowing of ebooks jumped 93% in the two days following Christmas. This has been reported in Stephen's Lighthouse blog which points out that libraries now have a stronger mandate than ever to collect ebooks for borrowing and to make them available for many platforms. Amazon's Kindle is still limited to purchased books, but almost all of the other ebook readers are compatible with borrowed books from library collections, and as more people become aware of this, Amazon will be pressured to follow suit. The availability of ebooks in public libraries will encourage more people to read and perhaps will broaden their reading interests. Although there are no figures I have seen on how many children's books are among those borrowed, but these figures will follow. As long as librarians remain aware of what patrons want and are willing to offer them, the use of libraries will expand. Even though the use of ebooks has increased dramatically in 2010, many people are still not aware that most libraries have ebooks available for borrowing. Here's an effective area for more publicity throughout the library, including the children's room. This is the time to build awareness, while new ebook readers are searching for sources of reading materials. Let's make 2011 the year when every library became a resource for digital as well as print books.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Politics for preschoolers

Children seldom see political messages in picture books. Even the strong pro-peace and cooperation messages of Dr. Seuss often pass them by although adults are strongly conscious of them. And the emphasis on equality and ecological issues in many modern picture books don't add much to their appeal. But the liberal emphasis in many children's books have not escaped the notice of conservative writers who want to shift the point of view to extol more traditional conservative values. Writing in the Boston Globe, Tom Scocca discusses several of the latest offerings by conservative writers. A number of writers immersed in Washington politics have turned their attention to writing for children, among them Lyn Cheney and William Bennett, both of whom try to counter what they see as a liberal bias in most books for children. Librarians, parents and teachers should be aware of the politics of the books they offer as well as of the stories. There is nothing wrong with extolling the political views of various groups of Americans, but the story and presentation will always be most important to children and should take precedence for book selectors too. A well-balanced collection is the goal of any public or school library and neither the political attitudes of authors nor those of the librarian should dictate which books will be chosen. We can take comfort in knowing that children presented with a wide range of materials have the best chance of developing reasoned preferences both in books and in politics as they grow up.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Stretching the boundaries

How do you feel about Street Lit? For many of us it is hard to accept books for young teens that paint a bleak picture of life. We try to shove it off as applying to "other kids" usually the minority children growing up in cities. Not true--young people can have bleak, difficult lives in suburbs and rural areas too and family problems and unhappy endings aren't reserved for minority children. For those of us who were not at the recent YALSA Lit Symposium, SLJ offers a blog that gives some of the highlights of presentations by authors and librarians. These speakers know the material and they know the readers. They point out that as librarians we are committed to giving our patrons the materials they want. Reading improves skills and helps a child move toward a happier and more successful future even if the reading is about other kids who have tried drinking, drugs and sex in ways unacceptable to many parents. One of the most important points made is that Street Lit or Urban Lit or whatever you call it is not just for underprivileged youth. Our society is more and more polarized between the have's and have-not's and books are one of the most important ways to bridge that gap. Reading widely helps kids understand their lives and the lives of others. Whatever we can do to encourage that is good, and reading this blog with the un-urban title "A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy" is a good way to start.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

How many apps in your collection?

Publishers Weekly's recent Webinar "Children's Books in an iPod Age" presented a panel of experts who talked about how devices like the iPad and other ebook readers might impact picture book publishing. Susan Katz of HarperCollins explained how the new digital devices had given her company the opportunity to sell directly to teens and the parents of younger children. Rick Richter of Ruckus Media said his company is focusing on apps as a way to function in the digital world. He expects that apps will offer links to "drive people to bookstores." Perhaps librarians may speculate how apps could drive children and their parents to the library instead. With even very young children becoming familiar with iPhones and iPads and the wonders to be found on them, libraries could consider featuring material in their collection which is also available as an app. The recent appearance of Alice in Wonderland as an app on iPad may very well encourage some patrons to look for the original print version. Librarians ought to follow trends in the release of app and the growth of app-related websites. Just as publishers can offer both digital and print media, libraries also can become sources of linkage between old and new media. Books are not likely to disappear anytime soon, but libraries will have to find new ways to make patrons aware of them.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Librarians listen to users

Once again the School Library Journal has provided youth librarians with an article that should make us all think about what we do best. "The Big App" is an account of how New York City librarians tackled the problem of too little use of their thoughtful homework help page. Despite having it filled with useful materials for students, somehow the students didn't flock to it in any great numbers. So, with the help of a grant from IMLS, the librarians decided to ask young people what they wanted. One of the things they don't want, it turns out, is to have to go to the library site for help. They know and use Google; they follow-up their teachers suggestions about websites for homework; but they seldom turn to the library. New York's answer was to provide apps that could be accessed through sites the kids use like Facebook and MySpace. The NY team is working on making homework apps available where the students actually are and integrating the different kinds of help they want, including having recommended websites, the opportunity for online chat with a librarian, and the ability to bring it all together for their research. It looks as though the days of having a knowledgeable library staff decide what their public wants and providing it are over. Today's young people are moving into a collaborative future where help and resources provided by libraries will be designed and made available through channels chosen by the users. Besides giving us a glimpse into the future of the New York libraries, this article provides lots of ideas that might be applied in localities across the country.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Research you can trust--perhaps

Librarians have always been careful researchers, checking multiple sources and seeking out the best. Now in the fleeting world of technology thoroughness is scarcely possible. We have to snatch the information as it comes roaring past and try to evaluate it on the fly. An example of this is a story in the NY Times about a study that found younger mobile users (under 35) often prefer apps to using the mobile web. As more and more libraries, including the children's and YA departments, hasten to put their information in a format available to mobile users, this is an important trend. But is it true? The story, like all good reporting (or librarians) goes on to cite other recent studies that suggest this may not be true. Much depends on the way questions were asked of people in the sample. Everyone agrees that the secret to getting people to pay attention to material posted for mobiles is to keep it simple and clear. Some libraries try to crowd too much on their websites and then compound the problem by trying to adapt their sites to mobile access without changing the format. It's time to review the research and decide which you can trust. Perhaps experiment a little with your website. More is not always better. Listen to what users are saying about wanting information simple and clear on their mobiles and then analyze what you are offering. It takes time and effort, but there is no easy way to give the patrons what they want. Keep tinkering, keep reading the research and find the best guidelines for your library.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tech trends for 2010

Librarians don't need to be told that e-books are a growing trend, but even so the latest figures are startling. According to the NY Times, 9 % of consumer book purchases are e-books. The Kindle started the trend off, but now half a dozen different e-book readers supply the demand for digital books. Now in time for the holidays, Kindle has enabled gift books for Kindles, something that will no doubt increase the sales of e-books during this season. While adult books are still the major component of e-book sales, there is no doubt that sales of children's and YA e-books will also increase. They are a natural for digital natives. Librarians will have to run to keep up with this trend and give patrons the choices of book format as well as book titles.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Crossing boundaries

The line between standard adult fiction and YA fiction becomes more blurred every year. Adult authors of fiction and nonfiction have often decided to try their hand at writing for children or young adults, but now it seems a definite trend is starting in at least one genre. Romance writers usually see their audience as young, or not so young, married women who enjoy the sheer escape of falling in love with dashing Arabian sheiks or stalwart cowboys. The audience for romances is creeping lower and lower and now editors of YA books are actively recruiting some experienced romance novelists to aim their books at a youthful audience. As SLJ reports, several prolific romance writers have turned their attention to writing a series for teens. As romance fiction incorporates more and more fantasy elements, just as YA fiction does, there is less of a difference between the two. And books for teens can now be more erotic than they were a generation ago, so the romance writer is a natural to appeal to girls. Librarians may want to check out some of these new authors and sample their wares.

Monday, November 15, 2010

But why do they do that?

How many times have you said to a colleague, or thought to yourself, "But why do kids want to do that?" whether it is texting across the room or posting comments on Facebook two minutes after talking with someone on the phone, or some other weird use of totally unnecessary technology? Adults have an annoying habit of deciding once and for all how people should communicate and which tools they should use--and all of us fall into that trap sometimes. YALSA has a great blog posting every librarian (and teacher and parent) should read pointing out that we don't need to understand why our patrons want to use technology in a certain way. All we need to do is provide the means for them to do it. If we can't fathom why any tween would want to read every graphic novel on the shelves and then go back and start over, so be it. We don't need to understand. We only need to observe and help kids do whatever enriches their lives, whether or not we think it makes sense. We should always avoid immediate judgments about new technology and new formats. Curiosity and a willingness to suspend judgment is a great trait for anyone who works with young people.

Friday, November 12, 2010

They never learn

By now everyone has heard that ebooks are outselling hardcover print books at and elsewhere. Mainstream publishers in the UK announced recently that they would fight back by severely restricting access to library copies of ebooks. A NY Times story recounts the familiar tale of how another conventional industry is going to try to market its products in a way sure to irritate customers. Using DRM technology to limit access, these publishers want libraries to lend a copy of an ebook to only one reader at a time and to limit use to in-library reading. Well, the whole point of ebooks is to make their content available in various places so readers can consume content whether they are at home, in a train or plane, or relaxing in a park. Like the music industry before them, it appears that some publishers want to turn back the clock and hang onto outdated technology. This is a losing game for everyone. A fair and equitable distribution of ebooks is necessary to encourage people to read, to support authors, and the publishing industry itself. Librarians should work with publishers to design systems that will allow a writer to reach readers, to support herself, and to encourage increasing literacy throughout the community.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Research tells us how

It's good to be reminded every so often that much of library practice can and should be based on research rather than just our gut feeling that something works. SLJ this month has an article outlining some of the beliefs about reading that most librarians hold and tying them to the research that has been done. The first and probably most basic belief that is backed up by research is that children get better at reading by reading--frequently and for sustained periods. Booktalking and letting children know about what is available may lead to reading, but it is the actual sitting down and reading that helps. Silent sustained reading has been demonstrated to increase reading skills and yet it is being cut back in more and more schools, perhaps because adults think that letting children simply read and enjoy a book doesn't look enough like hard work. Librarians should push to keep this program alive. Another proven method of encouraging children to read and improving their skills is to offer a free choice of reading matter. Reading programs that rigidly limit the books children are allowed to borrow and read do not help nearly as much as letting children follow their own interests and choose their reading. In these times of testing and measurable skills, librarians ought to be strong voices for helping children find their own way through reading and giving them plenty of time to do it. That's the only way we are going to grow a nation of readers for the future.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Library heroes with Pow!!

Thanks to Stephen Abram's Lighthouse blog for pointing the way to this article about Librarian Heroes in popular media. Most of us probably remember Giles in the old Buffy the Vampire TV series, but how many of today's librarians keep up with comics and graphic novels enough to recognize the other heroic figures that librarians have become? Perhaps it's time we took a look at some of these models. I wonder how many kids today think their school or public librarian could match up with these heroic models. The least we can do is welcome these formats into our collections and encourage kids who love to read them.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What do publishers think of blogs?

Librarians should give a lot of thought to publishers so we can understand what makes them produce the books they do, rather than the books we would like them to publish. One good insight into how publishers think comes from this interview with a John Wiley rep at the recent BlogWorld conference. Although she is focusing on aspiring writers rather than on librarians, she gives good advice about what publishers are thinking about. Publishing a printed book is only one of many outlets for producing information these days, so writers, publishers, and purchasers of materials have to think about which platforms are going to be of interest to their potential readers. Although this interview focuses on publishing for adults, children's publishers are also following this trail, especially for nonfiction material. They ask questions like--Will children want to read this in a picture book, would it work better in a graphic format? Should be plan to release a version for the iPad or other ebook format? Those decisions are going to affect the way the writers and illustrators design the information and present it to children. Some librarians may want to cling to the old idea that all good information comes in print, but that's just not true any more. We have to listen to voices from the tech field and the publishing industry to find out where the best information for the future will be found. It's a challenging task, but let's admit it's also fun to be cool and tech savvy.

Friday, October 29, 2010

In time for the holidays

With smart timing, just when parents and grandparents are thinking about what to buy for children for the coming holiday seasan, Barnes and Noble is introducing Nookcolor, a new version of its e-reader. You can read all about it on the SLJ website. This is seen as a challenge to the iPad and Barnes and Noble are stepping in quickly to offer a wide range of children's books including many old favorites like Beverly Cleary's Mouse on a Motorcycle. Now the question for librarians is, how will this affect the circulation of children's books from the library. Should libraries purchase e-readers and make them available to patrons? Is there a way of licensing those ebooks so the library can loan them out? This is a topic that should be discussed more often, because things are moving quickly in the electronic publishing world. Let's not allow libraries to be left behind.

Monday, October 25, 2010

books keep coming in all sizes and shapes

No matter how much hand-wringing there is about books disappearing, they steadfastly refuse to do so. Instead they are reinvented in a variety of formats and styles and it looks as though they will continue to change. Book design is flourishing in this digital age, as an article in the N.Y. Times makes clear. As its author Alice Rawsthorn makes clear, "The Invincible Book Keeps Reinventing Itself" Not only are design books more beautiful and varied than ever before, but some books, frequently children's books, are appearing as apps which can do far more than a print book could do. One example given is Alice in Wonderland as an app for the i-Pad in which a child (or adult) can manipulate the pictures by touching and pinching the screen. Surely Lewis Carroll himself would have approved of having a visual rendition of some of the madcap pranks of the creatures of Wonderland. As long as children still have access to the magic of Wonderland, the spirit of the book will not disappear. We should welcome its availability in new forms and dimensions.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Which e-reader is best?

A thoughtful post on the Craig Mod blog asks some questions that librarians might consider when checking e-readers for purchase. Of course this is written from the point of view of designers of text and graphics for online reading, but as consumers of that text, librarians have a stake in how well they are designed. Accessibility is one important question about e-readers. As more and more library material shifts online, we have to remember those users who have difficulty with standard formats. It's all too easy to forget them in the excitement over new products. And because most young people have sharp eyes that can read text difficult for many adults, we sometimes forget that other youngsters have visual limitations that make the size of the text and the ease of changing size important topics. There are so many parameters to consider in buying e-readers that it is useful to draw up standards. It's not just the content--the books available--or the graphics that matter. The ease of use and portability are important issues. Designers and artists have a lot to tell us about the way the users see test and what can be done to make the experience of reading on a screen more comfortable for everyone.

Monday, October 18, 2010

One more thing to worry about

Topping the list of most-often-emailed stories of the last few days at the N.Y. Times has been a report that many toddlers prefer an i-phone to any other toy or book. We used to worry about TV in the living room, but now it appears that the cell phone in mother's handbag is far more exciting. When they learn to read, children become even more fond of cell phones and it's likely this generation will grow up thinking of a mobile as the natural source of all information. More and more libraries have found their users prefer to access databases and articles on their cell phone rather than using a laptop. How many children's librarians have thought about whether their webpage is mobile-friendly? It would probably be a good idea for librarians and teachers to check out this video presentation about making a library mobile-friendly. The Librariand in Black blog has once again captured the latest development in library technology and gives the rest of us useful tips on how to modernize our own sites. Take a look!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Saving money and boosting circulation

With budget cuts threatening libraries across the country, children's librarians have joined in the search for inexpensive, popular materials that will satisfy the rising number of library users. Many of them have found that graphic novels and comic books are a great way to provide materials for kids without breaking the budget. At New York's Comic Com this month, librarians clustered around the ALA booth to learn more about this format and to share news on their push to get a comic book interest group established within ALA. An article in SLJ reports on a number of librarians who have found that comics circulate more heavily than many other materials. They offer suggestions about how to help them circulate even more by, for example, shelving DVDs next to the print version of stories. The downside of comics is that they also tend to raise more complaints than more conventional materials. The surprise is that many of the complaints come from library staff rather than from the public. Perhaps its time to do more continuing education about graphic formats, how they work and what the conventions are. We know that kids love the format--it's time for adults to catch up and discover the roots of the appeal. We may not become great fans, but at least the effort will bring us closer to our patrons.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Not for children, but worth seeing

Graphic novels have become an integral part of children's library collections in recent years--and in bookstores they are almost pushing the more conventional books off the shelves. Now that this format has become more respectable, it's time for librarians to take a respectful look at their antecedents and the perfect opportunity has come up with the publication of Lynd Ward's graphic novels from the 1930s and 1940s. The American Library has produced a lovely boxed two-volume set of Ward's novels reviewed in Sunday's N.Y. Times Book Review. It's difficult to find a link between the comic books so many writers and artists read in their youth and the dark, often grim woodcuts Ward uses in his book. Perhaps the secret is that Ward was not allowed to see comics when he was a child. Instead, he apparently learned from earlier artists and developed an unusual style of telling complex, psychological stories without using words. These books are definitely not for children, but librarians and teachers will enjoy studying the similarities and differences between these books and more recent graphic novels such as Spiegelman's Maus. Some parents and teachers, not to mention grandparents, still resist allowing children to enjoy the strongly illustrated graphic novels, so having some background in the long history of using pictures to tell stories is helpful for a librarian. After an hour spent poring over these wordless novels, a reader will come away with a new respect for the subtle art of telling stories without words. It helps us to understand why children are content to spend enless time studying illustrations in picture books and graphic novels. Reading pictures is an art, just as compelling as reading words. The more we know about both types of art the more we will understand how all types of materials serve the needs of children and help them grow into perceptive adults.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What's that got to do with libraries?

Occasionally I come across a news story that never mentions a library or a book but nonetheless has a lot to tell librarians. An example appeared today in a N.Y. Times story on how some scientists worked together to solve the mystery of dying bees--the collapse of bee colonies across the country. Turns out the solution to this difficult and important question offers a great example of collaborative study and learning based on both electronic and personal connections that crisscrossed the country from Maryland to Montana. Who would have thought that the military was working with bees? As it happens they have even learned how to use bees to locate land mines. The connection with Montana came when the brother of one of the scientists recognized the similarity of work being done by his brother's colleagues and a man who spoke at a business conference. A software program was also crucial to manipulating the data that led to figuring out that it was a combination of a virus with a fungus that did the bees in. The results when they were reached, were published in an online science journal. What can librarians learn? Well, we can help kids learn that all sorts of sources can work together to solve problems, that two or more heads are usually better than one to solve problems, and that no source of information should be overlooked or dismissed. It's a great example of collaborative problem solving, which will probably be the way most problems are worked out in the 21st century. Teachers and librarians should think about how they can encourage young people to work together, to share information, and to use every tool in the box to help find answers. It's an inspiring story--and I'm awfully glad the California almond industry will inevitably be helped by healthy bees reappearing in our state.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Ebooks to go in libraries?

School Library Journal's latest issue is filled with news about ebooks and the attention they are getting from librarians and teachers. They report on a conference on virtual books at which speakers talked about the opportunities and problems for librarians in providing ebook materials. One of the biggest obvious issues is the variety of formats for ebooks. Kindles are currently the most popular platform but the Nooks, iPad and other formats have their supporters. Librarians worry that if they go with the wrong format they will end with obsolete equipment and materials just as many libraries did with filmstrips and tape recorders in the past. Perhaps an even greater issue is the rights of libraries to provide ebooks to patrons who own their own device. The marketers have built their business plans on each user buying a device, which cuts libraries out of the picture. It's time for professional organizations like ALA to try to start a dialog with ebook producers to work out some reasonable way for libraries to circulate materials. On pattern that might work in schools is the model, also written up in SLJ this month, at Arizona State University. The library there is buying a supply of Kindles for students and will have a collection of YA materials available for each machine. This model could work in other school situations where authorized users are limited and easily identifiable, but it doesn't seem feasible for public libraries. We need to think about the future of ebooks in libraries for the next 20 years, because they are not going away.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A study to watch for

Although the full report hasn't yet been released, Scholastic's survey of 2000 children about their attitudes toward e-books seems to have some interesting tidbits. According to a N.Y. Times report today, the report shows that not very many kids have access to e-books, but they would like to read e-books. Many of them say they would read for fun more often if they had e-book readers and could use those instead of print books. At the same time, they express a liking for the old-fashioned print on paper books--but then, don't adults have the same dual response to e-books? It seems to me most readers enjoy reading e-books for their practical advantages, but the tug of emotional attachment comes from print books that we have read over the years. Probably both formats will survive for many years to come and those of us who are lucky, including libraries, can have the best of both worlds--as long as we can pay the price.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Miss Spider at the Grocery Store

The latest PW article about Digital Publishing for Children makes a good point and one that librarians should note. Buying a book as an iPad or iPhone app does not necessarily mean a family won't buy the same book in print or borrow it from the library. A popular story like "Miss Spider's Tea Party" makes a perfect bedtime read at home when sitting in Mom or Dad's lap is part of the enjoyment, but as an app it can also be enjoyed over and over again sitting in a grocery cart or in a subway car. All librarians and parents know that children love to return again and again to the same story, so why not have it available in convenient format for many occasions? Several publishers believe that owning multiple copies of books in different formats will become an important factor sales. For less affluent families for whom a hardcover children's book is too expensive, a library copy to supplement the inexpensive phone app will be a likely solution. Everyone connected with publishing these days is making predictions about what the future will hold, some will be right, but not all. To catch up on what the industry is thinking, librarians will want to check out the new issue of PW, which also lists the forthcoming books for the fall.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Anyone for a rainy Sunday?

I hope you planned on a quiet Sunday this week, because the N.Y. Times produced an issue of their Sunday magazine that deserves some thoughtful reading and mulling over. One article that could get you started is Kevin Kelly's piece on "Achieving Technoliteracy". It starts from Kelly's experience home-schooling his 8th grade son for a year, but it raises issues that affect every teacher and librarian. In helping his son learn about the world around, Kelly and his wife found that technology was essential but not sufficient. A computer, camera and other technology can help students learn, but they are not sufficient. Librarians could think of themselves as a type of home-schooling teacher, because they encourage young people to lern at their own pace and they supply the tools to help them do it. Teachers are great at leading a group into learning experiences and helping them to master skills, but the time comes when individuals must take responsibility for their own learning. None of the facts and figures children learn in school today will be enough to get them through their working life, and many of them will turn out to be false and outdated. Children need to learn how to learn, and learn how to use technology as well as books and experience to help them to do this. Librarians can offer a wide range of materials from which individuals can pick what is useful to them. In a learning society we will all be teachers and we will also be learners. So curl up in a comfortable chair today with the print edition, or fire up your laptop, and read this article and others in the NY Times Magazine to start your ideas flowing.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Scattering libraries around

Airport bookstores are the despair of many frequent flyers because the book stock is often limited to bestsellers and business books aimed at travelers with their minds on work. Now, according to a N.Y. Times report a new library has opened at the busy international airport in Amsterdam aimed at a different audience. The library books are chosen to show Dutch culture and thought to the world through a variety of books--short stories, essays, poetry--with the idea that travelers who often spend four or more hours between flights will be able to dip into the life of the Netherlands even if they aren't able to travel into the city and see the sights. It seems to work. The library has attracted a number of users, some of whom like the books so much that they take them with them and then return them on their next stopover at the airport. The Times article doesn's say whether any children's books are included in the library's collection, but it surely would be a good idea to have some. Many families heading for overseas vacations spend dreary hours in airports. How refreshing it would be to have a handy source of reading materials for impromptu storyhours, or just browsing. Perhaps American libraries could consider offering similar outposts in busy stopover airports. Surely with all our technology today, a library could even loan the books on someone's local library card and allow the patron to return the book at home. There might have to be a small postage charge added for the service, but what a wonderful way to introduce good books to children and their families.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Encouraging young scientists

An article in School Library Journal alerts all of us to an encouraging development at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, PA.The YA department there has created a new webpage called STEM featuring nonfiction books in science, math and technology for teens. Publishers are producing slick, attractive books with intriguing titles on a multitude of science-related topics these days and the Carnegie PL has found a way to encourage teens to find them. It will take some time to see whether this site actually encourages more girls to study science, but it's a logical step to take. Librarians across the country will be watching to see how successful it is.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Graphic novels going strong

Kids still love graphic novels, although some publishers find sales are dropping, perhaps as a result of the economic climate. As long as there are good graphic stories available, librarians will continue to buy them because they move quickly in libraries and keep children coming back for more. Lerner has become a leader in providing these books for the school and library market and according to Publishers Weekly has no intention of cutting back. Children are still delighted with stories about King Arthur and Greek gods as well as modern detective stories told in graphic formats. Perhaps it is their grandparents who harbor dim memories of the old Classic Comics who understand best the appeal of mythic heroes in strips of pictures and text. Whatever the reason, the elaborate artistic, and often rather static, illustrations of years past have given way to the stripped-down, action-packed style of comic books of today. Is this a genuine turn in aesthetic taste or a short-lived trend? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Librarians aren't the only ones

It's not just librarians who are fretting about how far to go in moving their collections toward e-books. What is going to happen to all those people who prefer paper and enjoy the feel of pages turning? A recent article in the N.Y. Times points out that publishers, editors, and readers are just as confusing. Some couples are becoming two-copy families as they purchase both the print and e-book version of a book because they differ on which version they like to read. It seems that for quite a while to come, librarians will have to have two versions of many of their materials (perhaps more than two) in order to satisfy the differing preferences of patrons. With budgets being what they are, this couldn't have come at a worse time.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Try this at your library

An innovative approach to encouraging poetry writing is being tried in Long Beach, California where poetry boxes have been placed outside two coffee houses. The boxes are designed to look like green mailboxes, and the idea is for writers to slip their latest poetic efforts into the box. When enough good poems have been collected, they will be published as a book. Why not try this at your library? Teens and tweens often like to write poetry, although they are sometimes shy about sharing it A nice anonymous box to drop it in might attract them. A committee of teens could choose the poetry for publication. It wouldn't have to be printed in a book--it could be featured on the library blog, webpage, or Facebook page. Writers could have the choice of putting their name on the piece or having it shown anonymously--most will no doubt opt for the fame of being named. Who knows what talent might turn up at the library?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sometimes together; sometimes separate

I was talking with a children's librarian the other day and mentioned a great idea I had seen on the YALSA blog. Her immediate response was "Oh, I'm an ALSC person, not a YALSA" That remark has bothered me for days now. Maybe as librarians we do too much to categorize ourselves into little groups with different characteristics and interests. Of course we want to exchange ideas with people who have the same kind of job and the same problems we have, but there are times when it's important to look beyond the narrow precincts of the children's room. After all, our patrons don't stick closely to what we define as "children's materials" or "children's services". They go through a stage of trying to be a teenager, slipping back into childhood, and then trying again. There is no hard and fast line between a tween and a teen and we ought to think about both groups. Some of the most exciting advances in library services these days are coming from the teen department. If you haven't talked to a "YALSA person" lately, you ought to think about signing onto the YALSA blog and checking out what they have been saying. Many of the ideas there are just as applicable to younger children as they are to teens--and you'll get to hear ideas from some pretty nice people. It makes you proud to be a librarian.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

More fuss about censorship

The optmistic way to look at attempts to ban particular books from libraries is to realize that if people didn't think books were powerful, they wouldn't bother to ban them. However, it's difficult to hold onto that thought when authors' works are being withdrawn from some schools and libraries and one YA writer has been disinvited from a YA Lit Festival. Ellen Hopkins was dropped from the Texas festival after a librarian and a few parents had expressed doubts about her books which deal with current teen topics such as meth addiction and prostitution. Several other authors also withdrew from the festival after reading the story on Hopkins's blog. It's sad that so many parents and school officials don't believe teens can handle mature subjects when most teens are dealing with them day to day. When are we going to learn to trust young people?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Historic graphic novels

Graphic novels seem like a new format to many librarians, but the early graphic novels in the U.S. date back at least 80 years. Lynd Ward, the distinguished illustrator of many children's books during the mid-twentieth century published his first graphic novel in 1929. Now the American Library is reprinting several of his books in a boxed set with an introductin by Art Spiegelman. These books don't resemble recent graphic novels very closely. They consist mainly of full page woodcuts, beautifully detailed, and with no words at all. The story is told entirely through pictures--black-and-white pictures at that. If you don't think such a book could hold your interest, you ought to take a look at these. They are remarkably beautiful creations. You probably don't want to order them for the children's collection, but for an adult collection they will be a valuable source for art students, writers, illustrators, and anyone interested in American literary history--or just a good read.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

E-books march on

Day after day new reports come out about how e-books are supplanting paper books in many readers' affections. Today the N.Y. Times reports that Barnes & Noble, one of the country's largest booksellers is switching its emphasis toward e-books. With many readers now switching to e-books downloaded from online stores, the standard old-fashioned book stores are desperately worried. Barnes & Noble recently announced it would devote more space in its stores to the Nook, it's e-book reader, and less to bookshelves. The N.Y. Times piece quotes several readers who prefer e-books to print, especially because they are cheaper to buy. One odd thing about the report is that no mention is made of libraries, where books area vailable free. We know that only a tiny percentage of all Americans buy any books at all. Far more use their local library. The switch to e-books will not actually affect the majority of Americans; losing support for libraries would be more damaging. The challenge for librarians is to decide how to make e-books and other online products available to their users. Journals have found viable business plans for moving online while remaining available in libraries, but book publishers do not appear to be thinking about that. Perhaps librarians should take the initiative and suggest possibilities.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Phone to library databases

Many middle and high school students are seldom seen without their iPhone in hand. Now they can use that phone to access the databases in their school library. A new app reported in School Library Journal recently allows a student to enter a password and be given access to many of the databases purchased by their school library. Of course they are limited to a ten-mile radius of their school but that shouldn't be a problem. More difficult for an adult to understand might be how they'll be able to read the references on the tiny iPhone screen, but no doubt many youthful eyes can cope with that. Teachers may find better documentation in homework assignments and essays as students learn about this useful new tool.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Writers and illustrators into the future

The Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) met in L.A. last weekend. This gathering of over 1,000 writers, illustrators, editors, and agents is one of the most important in the children's book world. These are the people who produce the content that keeps our public and school libraries going and introduce each new generation of children to the pleasures of reading. As reported in Publishers Weekly, the emphasis this year was on embracing the digital world.The growing trend toward using e-books means that childrens' writers and will have to produce more content than ever and produce it in formats that look good on i-Pads, Kindles, and other e-book readers. Librarians would do well to keep up with the writes and publishers and think more about how to integrate these new materials into all of our libraries.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

one more new format

Librarians aren't used to paying attention to the nuts and bolts of formatting the materials we provide to patrons, but in the digital world we at least have to be aware of changes. The latest Big New Thing is html5, which according to some forcasts in Publisher's Weekly will change e-book publishing forever. Why do we care? Well, if e-books finally do become the majority choice for many books, our collections will have to change. One aspect of e-books that isn't often discussed is the cost of them. Oh yes, they can be cheaper than hardcover books, but very few children or teens ever buy hardcover books. In fact, not many people buy hardcover books any more except for textbooks and Bibles. In recent years many people depend on the library for hardcover books, but are willing to buy paperbacks on their own. But if the public deman shifts to e-books, what will be the economic model for libraries? This is something library leaders should be concerned about and discussing. At every library conference in recent years there have been many discussions about new technology but we should shift our attention to the economics of e-book publishing and make sure that libraries are able to continue to offer patrons free access to the books they want in the formats they want. How will we be able to do that?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Curiouser and curiouser

The classic picture books about Curious George and the man with the yellow hat continue to fly off the shelves in libraries and bookstores. Now the Library of Congress has decided to feature these characters in their ads to promote reading. According to a story in the N.Y. Times today, ads designed to encourage parents to read to their young children will be shown on TV and published in magazines. Many researchers have demonstrated that children whose parents read to them during their preschool years generally develop a love of reading and learn to read on their own more quickly than children whose parents do not read to them. Anyone who has worked in a children's library or school knows that Curious George will fascinate any child so the campaign is likely to succeed. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Reys for producing the books and to Random House and the Ad Council for making the campaign happen as well as to the Library of Congress for sponsoring it.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Something good for your library--and the birds

Like just about everyone else in the U.S., children's illustrators are worried about the oil spill in the Gulf and how it is affecting wildlife. Now a number of them have joined together to offer small illustrations that are available for a donation to one of the nonprofits working to save birds and other creatures being affected. An article in School Library Journal tells how this new website will work. Kelly Light is the generous illustrator who cared enough to set this whole thing up on her Ripple blog. Those of us in California and other Western States will have to get up early to join in because the bidding starts at 6:30 AM Eastern time, but it's worth rising at dawn to send some help, especially when it comes with a beautiful illustration as a remembrance.Thank you Kelly Light for making this possible!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

China leads the way

Not very many American librarians go to the Hong Kong book fair, but it sounds as though those who did got a glimpse of the future. For the first time, according to the NY Times, the e-book made a splash at the fair and children's books were front and center. Kiwa, the New Zealand software company, showed off its i-Pad app for children's picture books. Not only do the pictures and text appear, but they can be translated into half a dozen different languages. Chinese children and American children can watch the action and laugh at the jokes while their parents read them the story in whatever language they choose. What an asset this would be for libraries in multi-lingual schools or neighborhoods in the U.S.! It may take a while, but almost inevitably these will be added to the collections at many libraries.

Monday, July 19, 2010

E-books top list

For the first time announced today, e-books have topped print books in sales this quarter. 143 copies of e-books have been sold for every 100 print books. Does this mean the end of print books? Will kindle versions eventually take over all sales? That's unlikely no matter what some media reports suggest. As librarians and publishers have insisted time after time, the book is a very convenient package that serves a valuable purpose in many people's lives. E-books add to our options, but it is likely both formats will persist for many years to come.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Watch for this one!

There is nothing like a good film to get parents and sometimes children more interested in children's books. and if you are dealing with committed middle-class parents, a connection with a New Yorker writer doesn't hurt. That's why it's good news for librarians and teachers to hear via Publishers Weekly that Adam Gopnik has collaborated on a new film of interviews with authors, illustrators and editors of children's books. Gopnik's article about the Babar books that came out in 2008 about the same time as the Babar exhibit at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, excited many parents and inspired new authors and illustrators. The film, Library of the Early Mind will be released this summer and outtakes from it will be available on DVD for the educational market soon. The trailer now available on its website gives snippets of interview that will whet every librarians' desire to hear more. Be sure to put this one on your wish list.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Books still do it

For years librarians and teachers have been preaching about the important role books play in a child's academic success. Now a supporting voice comes from an unexpected place, David Brooks, New York Times columnist writes about the way giving a child twelve books to take home for the summer increases their scores on reading tests and seems to eliminate the "summer slump" in reading. Possessing these books seems to help, reading them certainly does. At the same time, Brooks points out, having a home computer and Internet access appears to depress children's academic success. This second report seems a lot less believable than the first, so let's stick with the tried-and-true finding that reading over the summer is one of the best ways of keeping children on track for learning. The old familiar summer reading program may keep librarians busy and cause some grumbling, but from all indications, it is worth all the work we put into it. Children owe a lot to the traditional summer reading programs--let's not slacken in our efforts to get books to children all summer long.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Something completely different

Sometimes even librarians get tired of worrying about the state of publishing or the future of books. When you want to hear a cheerful story about how kids can interact with books, click on this one from Publishers Weekly blog and see how children can react to an imaginative project suggested by a creative school librarian. Building birdhouses out of old picture books may not strike you as something you'd ever want to do, but it is refreshing to see how cheerful and inspiring an unusual work of art can be. It may even inspire you to create other inspiring projects for the children in your library.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Where did they get that cover?

For librarians who have wondered about how the covers for YA books are chosen and produced, there's a don't-miss article in the current Publishers Weekly telling the whole story about what publishers are looking for to attract teens. As we all know, covers do sell books, so the selection of a cover must be right and the current idea about "right" seems to be photos of teenagers. But choosing the right face, the right make-up and the right clothes isn't easy. Editors and photographers agonize over getting a look that appeals to a wide range of today's teens. Take a look at this backstage story about the "Autobiography of a Cover" it will help you understand how publishers spend their time.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Want to argue about games?

Whenever life in the library gets to feeling slow, you can generally stir up some excitement by starting an argument about the value of video games and whether libraries should encourage children to play them. Now a respected young writer has given us a book describing and defending the value of video games as entertainment and art form. Tom Bissell has had literary success with his short stories, but his new book "Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter" goes in an entirely different direction. Bissell confesses that he has spent many hours of his life playing video games, sometimes obsessively. He acknowledges the violence of the games, but nonetheless claims they are, or can be, an exciting new art form. Not all the reviewers are convinced by his arguments, but they are worth paying attention to. At the very least they can give us a better understanding of why so many young people are fascinated by these games. Librarians ought to read this book and perhaps reconsider their opinions about games in the library.

Friday, June 25, 2010

New twists for e-books

There will be a lot of children's publishing news made at the American Library Association's annual conference in Washington, D.C. this week. One exciting new product that's being introduced by Lerner is a new line of e-books for children who are struggling with reading. According to a report in PW, these books will have an audio component with varying speeds that can be adjusted to the child's reading speed. There will also be a feature that will highlight each word in the text as the child reads. Additional content and quizzes to reinforce learning will also be part of the package. At $39.95 each, these books are aimed at the school and library market rather than at families, and they should serve their audience well. It's another example of some of the exciting innovations that e-books can bring to enhance a child's reading experience. How sucessful the line will be is impossible to predict, but it's an open market with plenty of chance for tweaking and experimenting. As librarians we can look forward to more help in bringing literacy to children who need a little extra help in the struggle toward reading.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

More on multitasking

The issue of whether or not new media has caused a drastic drop in people's ability to concentrate has sparked continuing discussion. The most recent contribution in the N.Y. Times points to the advantages of being able to gather and share information quickly. Steven Johnson points out that most innovation comes from a shared social context--the coffee houses of the Enlightenment period or the college campuses of the 1990s. The new Kindle inovation of indicating the most popular phrases and ideas that people highlight as they read books enables readers to get a sense of how others are reacting to ideas. We all know the pleasures of coming across a pencilled note on the pages of a print book that suddenly gives us the feeling another human being has been struck by the same idea we had. Reading an e-book may soon offer a similar experience, only enlarging the experience as if thousands of people read the same copy of a book. That's something to look forward to, not to fear.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Why such gloomy books?

Adults often wonder why young teens choose painful, depressing books to read, but they often do. Laura Miller in the New Yorker has a fresh take on why dystopian fiction is so popular with tweens and teens. She points out that with the restricted movements generally allowed young people these days with parents hovering over them as they are taken to sports practice and lessons there is very little chance for adventure. The popularity of books like the "The Hunger Games" and other dystopian fantasies give young teenagers a chance to experience the desperation and hope of live and death struggles. Perhaps the struggles of the heroes of these books reflect the anguish of high school society these days. It seems that hovering parents cannot protect their children from all suffering no matter how intently they try. Librarians will surely continue to stock these books, but perhaps they should also encourage some young people to try the less gloomy, but more realistic stories in earlier fiction. There are still life lessons to be learned in the works of Robert Cormier and even Harper Lee.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Will online schhols replace home schooling?

The New York Times today (June 4, 2010) reports a movement in California and other states to offer online schooling as charter schools. By signing up for this system, parents can have the flexibility of home schooling, avoid the local public schools, and still ensure their children receive a sound education. At least that is the way it is supposed to work. Education experts differ on whether elementary and high school students really receive a comparable education from a home-based online school to the one they would get from a face-to-face school. The social interaction of classrooms and the mix of children from many different kinds of homes certainly offers a different experience from home-based learning. Also missing at home are the gyms, libraries, and extracurricular activities offered in many schools. Nonetheless, charter schools are encouraged and will probably continue to grow. Public librarians will have to take over more and more of the work of school libraries to fill the gaps left by bypassing brick and mortar schools. Are we ready for that?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What do librarians do?

People who think librarians spend all their time shelving books and helping children to find a good book ought to read about how one school librarian worked fast to create a lesson on the Gulf oil spill. Putting together online information from a variety of sources is going to be a greater and greater share of a librarian's job. Teachers and students want to learn about what is going on in the world right now and want to understand how to get information about current issues as well as history, science and all the traditional school subjects. Librarians are well positioned to be leaders in finding information and putting it together in meaningful packages for students. The world moves too quickly for books to keep up. We have to supplement books with all sorts of digital information that makes connections between the lasting truths of books and current news headlines. Three cheers for librarians who become leaders in this task.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Catching on to e-books

More and more librarians are experiencing the pleasures of e-books and thinking about how they can be integrated into the library world. In his blog "The Civil Librarian" Chris Freeman writes about downloading a recently discovered title to his iPhone and having it available almost immediately and completely without cost. Why not have this service available in libraries, he asks. Why not indeed? Many of the classics read by high school and college students are freely available online. Instead of buying multiple copies, a library could lend out e-book readers and give directions for downloading the book. That's quite a saving of space and budget, although the cost-benefit calculations are still to be made. There are issues of the durability of e-book readers and their cost. Many library users, even teens and tweens, have their own e-book readers so all they need is a little help in locating texts. It's something for all librarians to consider.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Change or die!

Publisher's Weekly reports on one more conference in which publishes wring there hands and wonder what will become of the industry. As e-books sweep more and more of the market, what will traditional editors and print professionals fit in? Not to mention bookstores, which seem the most endangered species of all. There is no agreement on what will come next, how many printed copies of books will be produced or preserved, but everyone is worried. Are librarians worried enough? Perhaps not--especially children's librarians who go happily along planning story hours and choosing picture books. I think it's time to acknowledge that even doting grandparents will eventually surrender to the Kindle and iPad (many are among the early adopters of these handy technological aides to comfortable reading for aging eyes) and future grandkids may be raised on picture books on screens. Librarians had better not be the last people on earth to cling to printed books as the only worthy format. Yes, there are many advantages offered by print on paper, especially for long-lasting books that will survive through many technological shifts. But let's face it--most children's books are as ephemeral as adult bestsellers. Perhaps they are best downloaded electronically, given to as many children as want to read them, and then vanish into thin air (well, maybe one archival copy per library system). When you look at schedules for library conferences for children's librarians, you often seen the same old program titles that have been offered year after year. But the world is changing. Isn't it time that we push our professional organizations into the kind of future probing that the publishing industry is doing? It's time to stop listening to self-congratulatory speeches by yesterday's authors and start paying attention to tomorrow's children.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Which e-book is best?

Librarians may complain about the difficulty of reading text on an e-book, but most of us can't easily find the reason for the problem. That's why blogs written by specialists in typography and book design are so fascinating and valuable. Craig Mod writes a blog not aimed specifically at librarians, but extremely useful for them. A few weeks ago he discussed some of the problems of reading e-books and talked about how of them could be overcome by a more careful choice of font and attention to details. Hyphenation may not seem a serious problem to most readers, but when font size is increased for people with visibility issues, the absence of hyphens causes unacceptable blanks in lines and makes reading difficult. There's no doubt many book designers and programmers are reading this blog and learning. It's time librarians did the same. The more we know about what makes a readable book, the better we'll be able to serve our patrons, whether children or adults.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How much are you willing to read?

Most news that we meet online comes in small, manageable bites, but this morning I found an article that requires devoted attention through six long pages. Nonetheless, this article by James Fallows in the Atlantic rewards the effort (and the eyestrain). Fallows reports on the efforts Google is making to revive the news profession. Instead of pooh-poohing print media as many online types tend to do (Remember Steve Jobs saying "Print is dead"?) the folks at Google understand the importance of allowing ordinary citizens to get access to news. To do that requires more than just on-the-spot tweets from major events, it requires dedicated journalists with enough background to understand the background and history of stories. Video clips of David Cameron and Nick Clegg standing side by side at 10 Downing Street do not reveal the tortured history and uncertain future of coalition governments in Britain. So what are we to do as newspaper circulations drop and TV news becomes a series of one-sided blasts from opinionated political junkies? It may not seem that children's librarians need to trouble themselves with this question, but it is the children we serve today who will determine the future of media--of the country--in the future. The more we help them to understand the choices they need to make about which news is worth paying attention to and how to find it, the better they will be able to run the world. Google is working on various models to understand how news will be transmitted in the future; some will probably thrive and others will founder. It is important for those of us who work with information to understand the changes that are coming about and to help our patrons to understand them too. So yes, six pages on a computer screen takes some time to read, and printing it out may mean it will be buried on your desk for weeks, but it's worth setting aside some time to read Fallows article and to follow what Google and other companies are doing to salvage our right to hear the news we need.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

E-books with extras

The flow of e-books for children into the market continues unabated. The iPad has unleased a flood of creativity and publishers are offering not only facsimiles of printed books and illustrations, but also variations. Warren Buckleitner, writing in the N.Y. Times, discusses some of the new products that parents and librarians can c hoose from. These include a new presentation of Alice in Wonderland (condensed) in which with a shake of the e-reader a child can change the picture presentation. It's not only the iPad, the iPhone and the Kindle that offer interesting new ways for children to enjoy books. Other platforms will no doubt come up with other variations. Should libraries purchase these versions? That's hard to say. How many will remain accessible and desirable for more than a year or two? With very view guidelines in this area, librarians may want to turn to Friends of the Library or other philanthropic groups to provide some of these possibilities to children. As time winnows out the ones that have less appeal, libraries may consider using some of their precious budget funds to provide the winners. The important task at this point is to remain aware of possibilities.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Essential reading for librarians

Once in a while I come across an article which offers such useful, commonsense information that it's almost impossible not to recommend it to everyone I meet. Our old friend School Library Journal offers just such an article today about the importance of making school libraries accessible to children who have difficulty reading print. Although most libraries still place heavy emphasis on print sources, David Socol's article on "The Unhappy Place" points out that as a child he was unable to sign out books because he had difficulty in writing. Media switching--listening to books, viewing drama--can offer experiences just as vivid and thought-provoking as reading pring. We all know this, but all too often libraries still have some barriers to full participation by all individuals. Read this article and think about what you can do to make you library more accessible.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Comic book bonanza

Every library has comic book fans and this weekend they may be able to get a freebie of one of their favorite items. Saturday, May 1, is Free Comic Book Day and comic book stores across the country will be giving away a free comic book to anyone who comes in. The YALSA Blog gives details about this event. Children's and YA librarians may be able to make new friends by telling kids about this opportunity. Now that almost every library has become accustomed to including comic book formats in their collection, there's no reason not to celebrate them. Comics are great for drawing in readers, not only reluctant readers, but many of our best students enjoy the format. This is short notice, but you can get the word out in your library and mark your calendar to publicize it next year. The day is celebrated on the first Saturday in May every year.

Monday, April 26, 2010

No end to e-books

The controversy about e-books set off by the release of Apple's i-Pad last month continues on and on. Charlie Rose interviewed Ken Auletta, who wrote an article about e-books in the New Yorker. If New Yorker readers, who must be more print-oriented than almost any other Americans, are fascinated by e-books, you can imagine what the general run of young readers must think. The Los Angeles Times book festival last week featured a panel on the future of e-books, which according to the report in Publishes Weekly was a lively discussion. The pricing of e-books continues to be a factor in their popularity because the average reader cannot fathom why an electronic file should cost just as much as a heavy, print on paper creation. The work of authors, editors, and publishers is unseen and less valued by people who think of the book as a commodity. Of course, the erosion of editorial work on many books, leading to sloppy typos, factual mistakes, and misspellings that litter many new books, has lessened everyone's respect for the traditional craft of copy editing and fact checking. And the insistence of publishers on producing outsized, hard covered editions that are inconvenient to read or to carry around, irritates many potential readers. Instead of insisting loudly on their rights, all participants in book production ought to look to improving their services and the value of their products. Then perhaps readers would be willing to pay for a well-crafted, well-edited, and attractive reading experience.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Keeping up with the flow

Once again we can thank the Pew Research organization for giving us useful information about how young teenagers (13 to 17) use communication media. As reported in School Library Journal, the research group found that social media sites are the most popular place for young teens to post. Blogs are fading in their appeal, perhaps because blogs are based on the idea of longer posts, which might strike some teens as almost like an assigned paper for school. Facebook is filled with short twitter-like posts, although the twitter site itself is not a favorite choice for teens. As usual, what librarians probably want to take from this is to be sure to keep up a Facebook, or other social media, presence until the trend turns. And whatever you do, don't turn in love with any one format. When the kids move on to something else, we have to be ready to move too.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Keep your eyes open

Children's librarians struggle to keep a broad range of books and other materials on the shelves for children. Both school and public librarians do most of their purchasing from large wholesalers, but very often less high-demand items are purchased from small suppliers. If a recent move in New York City spreads very far, this source of targeted materials may dry up. According to a recent story in the NY Times, the large wholesalers have offered city schools a 30 percent discount on all materials and thus insured for themselves a monopoly on school purchases. While this arrangement is not for library materials but for classroom supplements, it may cause ripples across the system. Small suppliers often handle foreign-language materials or those aimed at special education students. If they go out of business because of this decision, as some are saying is likely to happen, that source will dry up for libraries as well as classrooms. Decisions made in remote administrative offices often affect the day-to-day activities of children's librarians. It's important to watch what is happening and to raise the alarm through professional associations so that our children will not be shortchanged because of being overlooked by those at the top.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Another giant passes

As the years go by, many of the great authors and illustrators of the late twentieth century are leaving the scene. Today's news is that John Schoenherr, the honored illustrator of Owl Moon, which won the Caldecott Medal, has died. Most libraries still have copies of Owl Moon, written by Jane Yolen, on their shelves so a new generation of children can continue to see the mysterious, unforgettable illustrations of a night in the woods. Knowing there won't be more books from John Schoenherr makes a librarian realize how irreplaceable some of the children's books in their collections are. I'm a fan of e-books for many purposes, but having a digital copy of a classic book still isn't the same as a beloved paper copy. I wonder how John Schoenherr felt about his legacy. He was also an illustrator of science-fiction books including the classic Dune series so presumably he kept his eyes on the future and welcomed changes, but there are some works of art that shouldn't change too much. John Schoenherr's illustrations were among the keepers.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Are picture books migrating?

The release of the i-pad has unleashed a lot of excitement in the children's publishing world. At last it seems possible that children's picture books could go online without losing the illustrations and idiosyncratic fonts that make many of them so appealing. Publisher's Weekly outlined the plans of some of the largest publishers. There is no doubt that authors and illustrators will be watching to see whether these first ventures are accepted by parents and children. Anyone who has watched young children in cars or airplanes busily watching DVDs of children's books knows that young children are not opposed to seeing books on a screen rather than in print. And think of the convenience of a long road trip or family vacation on which parents could take dozens of picture books and alternate reading them instead of going over one dog-eared copy of Curious George fifty or sixty times. The i-pad may be a boon to several generations.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The joys of blogging

Starting a library blog is a favorite activity in many children's departments these days. Blogging librarians might want to read about the success of a New Jersey family--mother, father, and two daughters--who started blogging about the books they enjoy and have attracted thousands of readers. According to the NY Times in "A Family that Reads and Reviews together" the Lateiner started because they enjoy sharing the books they love with others. Their success has led publishers to send them review copies of new books, so their enterprise grows. Perhaps some energetic librarian will start a neighborhood or school blog that could be equally successful. Check it out!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Where is Mom anyway?

The absent or dead parent has been a long tradition in children's books. Many of the favorite characters have adventures in a world free from parents. Think of Tom Sawyer or Alice who never gives a thought to her parents as she wanders in Wonderland. But as the N.Y. Times book review editor Julie Just points out, in the past parents weren't pictured as being bad parents, just absent ones. During the 1990s and 2000s, however, parents became more problematic. Teen novels in particular began to feature parents who were too preoccupied to pay attention to their children or were lost in mists of drugs, alcohol, or mental illness. Should librarians worry about this trend? Surely it does not reflect the true state of parenting today when many schools (though surely not all) worry more about hovering, interfering parents than about negligent ones. Most likely the portraying of parents in a popular book like Coraline who are too preoccupied with their computers to notice their daughter leaving, indicate that many children love the idea of such independence. Unlike authors of a century ago, authors today no longer kill off the parents, but they still manage to get them out of the story. This frees up the young protagonists to enjoy the independence they crave.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Something to be angry about

Everyone knows librarians are peaceful people who get along well with people, so it's refreshing to read a blog by a librarian who's not afraid to express some anger. When publishers of books or audio products take liberties with cover art and in do so distort the story, that's something to be angry about. SLJ blogger Elizabeth Bird points out that some producers of audio books change the ethnicity of characters and use generic white children on their products. What's the point? It's unlikely the producer cares that much about the ethnicity; more likely the only concern is cost and convenience in finding cheap illustrations. But the children who read the books deserve to get the original in all it's details. Ethnicity is not a minor point, it's a major part of identity. Let's not take it away from fictional characters any more than we would take it away from children.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Follow that monkey!

There are few stories more intriguing to librarians than the stories of how their favorite children's books came to be written. The Curious George books, as most children's librarians know, were written and illustrated by H.A. Rey with help from his partner and wife, Margret Rey. Now the Jewish Museum in New York has created an exhibit based on the story of how the Reys escaped from Europe during World War II and created George as they were on the run. Despite the aura of innocence and naivete which the books exude, they came out of a world of war and terror. George's thoughtless escapades, from which he is always rescued by the Man in the Yellow Hat, have enchanted several generations of children, but the books were written by adults under the threat of concentration camps and death. The Museum exhibit shows letters and part of H.A. Rey's diary, most of which do not reveal much about what the couple was thinking as they fled from Paris to the South of France, then bicycled to Lisbon and managed to get to South America and finally New York. We will probably never know what the authors were thinking as they wrote and drew the pictures for the early books. Perhaps they survived by creating for themselves a world safe from war and death and where the threats of runaway bicycles and all-too-buoyant balloons can always be solved by a helpful hand from the cryptic Man in the Yellow Hat. This exhibit will show in New York until late summer and in the fall will move to the Jewish Museum in San Francisco.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Will textbooks be different?

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the Texas School Board's curriculum guidelines for textbooks to be used for the next decade. The politically conservative majority on the board has decided to emphasize certain aspects of American history and downplay others. The Judeo-Christian background of the Founding Fathers, for example, will be discussed, but not the reasons why they decided to separate religion from government in the new country. Liberals have protested that these decisions give a false idea of history and because they will be enshrined in textbooks for Texas, textbooks in other, smaller states will be affected as well. The eSchool News offers us a balanced assessment of whether or not liberals should be so worried. Perhaps the danger is not so great as feared, because many publishers now offer different versions of each textbook tailored to the curriculum requirements of many states. One question that bothers me is whether we as librarians and teachers should look forward to a country in which children learn different historical facts in each state. It is rather sad that a country cannot agree on whether to call our system of government a "constitutional republic", as Texas will, or a "democracy" as most of the rest of us do. The whole issue of textbooks, of course, is changing as more texts move online where they can be updated and changed frequently and inexpensively. But a new fear grows if each state and school district can modify the electronic textbook to suite the prejudices of the local community. It's something to think about. A side issue that has not been discussed is the increasing importance of libraries, which continue to offer a variety of points of view. Children and parents who want a broader view than that offered by the standard textbooks should be able to find many points of view in the library. New books, new websites, and new media offer far more information than is available in textbooks and far more individual voices. We must continue to work for continuing support for school and public libraries so we can raise children who are aware of different individuals and different visions which have contributed to the growth of our country.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Gotta Keep Reading

As of today almost half a million people have watched the video "Gotta Keep Reading" made by students at a middle school in Florida. Like many other useful and valuable items about reading, it was made famous by Oprah Winfrey who featured it on one of her TV shows. Any teacher, parent, or librarian's heart will be warmed by watching the students, each one clutching a book, sway to the music and sing about the joys of reading a good book. The children look natural and happy, but it would be fun to see them actually sit down and start reading those books. Someone ought to consider having a sit-in for book reading, where students would sit down in the schoolyard and read quietly for a few minutes. That might be an effective video too, although the sound track would be far different. Let's hope this video encourages kids not only to pick up a book and sing, but to have some quiet time to settle down and read.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The joys of chasing links

Sometimes following links on the SLJ website can lead to fascinating destinations, making it worth the time I sometimes spend doing it. Not all link-chasing leads to frivolous sites to find out the latest celebrity scandal; in fact, none of SLJ's links do that, but you can often find useful tools for helping patrons. If you've ever tried to explain social software to teachers or parents, you know how difficult the concept can be, so finding a clear, logical article that explains the components of social software is very helpful. Here is just such an article, called "Social Software Building Blocks" It's rather old now--dating from 2007--but the concepts are still relevant and can help to explain the appeal of social networks for so many young people. The more understanding librarians and other adults have about social networking, the less likely they will be to try to block youngsters from using them. The faster we get schools and libraries on board to support constructive uses of social networking, the better we can serve the young people who use them.

Friday, March 12, 2010

New, faster Internet for all

Despite the overwhelming presence of online entertainment and services for most young people in America, there are still pockets of the country that are unable to access Broadband. And of course there are also thousands of families that cannot afford access. The FCC is announcing a new ten-year plan designed to introduce Broadband access to every part of the country and to encourage making it available to all individuals and families. Part of this new plan is a digital education component to teach people how to use online information and services. The Obama administration believes, as many others do, that the Internet will become the major channel of entertainment and information in years and decades to come. There is no information yet about how librarians will be integrated into these new plans, but if we are wise, we will work to make libraries and librarians a vital part of the system. Libraries exist to provide information and entertainment, if the channels of delivery change, we need to be sure that we change with them.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What do publishers do?

The flurry of new books that have been challenged for accuracy, or even basic truth, has caused a stir in publishing circles. As this N.Y. Times articles explains, the latest scandal over the withdrawal of Last Train from Hiroshima only causes a gentle sigh among most booksellers and librarians. We have been inundated by fake memoirs and "creative non-fiction" that sometimes has been pure fiction. Children's books have so far escaped the furor that rocks the adult publishing world. Is this because editors in children's publishing houses are more careful about checking the facts? Certainly they have set up strict rules for authors about having experts review works, supplying documentation for statements of fact, and checking many details. Librarians are at the forefront in trying to keep books credible. We need to complain when small inaccuracies creep into the books we offer children. So far it looks as though we're doing a good job, but with all the cutbacks in both libraries and publishing houses, it's important to keep our guard up. Eternal vigilance is the price of accuracy.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

New forms for books

It's a good thing this is a weekend because all librarians should take some of their extra time to read an insightful blog about book format. Craig Mod, a book designer and writer, discusses the endlessly-debated question of whether the i-Pad and other e-book readers will make printed books obsolete. Instead of merely recounting emotional feelings about print and paper, Mod thoughtfully distinguishes between different kinds of content. The content, after all, he says, should be the determining quality of the book. Much content is formless, it is essentially a flow of words telling a story about something or arguing a point. The author isn't thinking about how the words will look on a page or on a screen, but how the reader will encounter them in his mind. Other contents--poetry, and works with images embedded--are definite content. They cannot be changed in format without losing or confusing some of the meaning. People who present books to the public should think about what kind of content they are dealing with and how it should be presented. Digital or non-digital are lesser questions. Now that the i-Pad is poised to show us how digital content can integrate words and images, it may be possible for formed content to be presented in an e-book. On the other hand, some books are artifacts that should be preserved for their own sake because they are irreplaceable. This article is necessary reading. It will get you thinking. Those of us who have seen some of the book art exhibitions in which content is subordinated to lovely but gimmicky illustrations and format can appreciate Mr. Mod's respect for content. Anyone involved in the content-sharing professions of writing, reading, building a library, or publishing will want to think about what their highest goals should be.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Who's selling books?

Publishers continue to worry about the threat of e-books taking over more and more of the book market, but so far that hasn't happened. According to Bowker, the company that tracks book publishing and sales, e-books accounted for only about 2 percent of books sold last year. This percentage will probably rise as more people buy Kindles and other e-book platforms, but there's still a lot of life left in print. One question teachers and librarians might ask is whether they will be influencing the book buying choices of young people by getting them used to e-books. If textbooks become digital, will children and teens learn that the natural place to read a book is online? That's what publishers fear, because it cuts into their profit margin, but only time will show us what the future holds. Meanwhile the big bookstores are holding their lead as the places most Americans buy books, but online sales now form 20 percent of all sales and that's likely to increase. The businesses that are losing out, to no one's surprise, are the independent bookstores, which now handle only 5 percent of sales. It's unlikely many small bookstores will be around in another five or ten years. They will be missed.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What kind of review?

Most librarians want reviews to tell us the good and the not-so-good about each book, but some parents and other adults are primarily interested in hearing about the "troublesome bits" that they think might harm their children. Publishers Weekly reports that a recent move by Barnes & Noble to include reviews from Common Sense on their website, presumably to help parents identify books they might not approve of, has raised issues in the blogosphere. Some bloggers contend that the Common Sense reviews concentrate on sex, violence and bad language rather than trying to give a balanced review of YA titles. Of course, librarians have grown wary of reviews from sophisticates on both coasts who give good reviews to books that lead to complaints from parents in some parts of the country. Many librarians prefer to know about any possibility of trouble, and some librarians undoubtedly refuse to purchase any book that might cause trouble. This is not the attitude approved by ALA and other professional organizations, which want books and other materials to be chosen on the basis of their overall value rather than the possible touchy parts. Will the Common Sense reviews lead to a drop in sales for some titles--or perhaps an increase in sales? The only thing to do is to check out the reviews, form your own opinion, and then see what happens. You might also contact Barnes & Noble to tell them what you think about their move.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Changeable textbooks

According to the N.Y. Times, Macmillan Publishing company is releasing software that will allow academic authors to change their textbooks after publication. Authors will be able to revise, update, and rearrange chapters to suit the needs of individual courses or new developments. They will also be allowed to insert new material from their other works or from other authors (presumably with the author's permission). This is an exciting new development in publishing form college texts and it's quite possible the trend will be extended to high school textbooks too. Of course there are dangers--new errors could slip into the book as the author makes changes without editorial oversight. I wonder whether there will be any hacking of textbooks to insert material contrary to the wishes of the author. The issue of security is always important for online texts. Overal, however, the possibilities for better, less expensive and more up-to-date textbooks look good. Let's hope this trend continues.

Friday, February 19, 2010

What if we lost it?

Teachers, librarians, and students--just about everyone who spends any time online--knows about Wikipedia. When searching on almost any topic, it is the source that pops up with a relevant article. But will it always be around? An article in American Libraries calls attention to the challenges that Wikipedia faces. Rumor has it that the organization of Wikipedia is becoming more bureaucratic (not surprising in any group) and, although funding drives have been successful so far, depending on voluntary giving is always chancy. Now that people have grown used to having an online source to answer almost any question about facts and figures, how would they survive without it? Print encyclopedias are rarely available and no satisfactory model for paying for online access to reference tools has been very successful. Perhaps individuals and libraries ought to consider increasing support for Wikipedia. Imperfect though some of its articles are, the work as a whole is of great value to us all.