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 amazon.com 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.