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.