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?