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.