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.