Monday, December 26, 2011

Making the Most of the Neglected Years

Occasionally an article appears in a newspaper or journal that appears to have little connection with libraries or education but which, on second thought, offers insights into children’s services. The NY Times published a piece this week about how scientists are turning their attention to changes in children during the middle childhood period of 5 or 6 to 10 or 11 years of age. These crucial years, before the turmoil of adolescence are a time when children’s brains are becoming more adult-like. Almost all societies offer special roles to children as they enter middle childhood and become capable of taking responsibility for adult-like tasks. In many pastoral societies, young girls are given the responsibility of caring for younger siblings, in some communities they learn to prepare family meals; boys learn to watch flocks and tend livestock or they learn the rudiments of hunting. In Western societies there is no comparable assigning of tasks. Few families expect 7 or 8-year-olds to babysit or help much in the house or garden. The acknowledgement of a child’s growing maturity at this time is marked by starting school and learning the developmental tasks of highly-developed societies—learning to read, to calculate, and to understand the tools we depend on in our daily life. All teachers, librarians, and parents acknowledge the importance of school in our culture and especially the importance of learning to read, but for the most part we don’t think about school as an introduction to adult work. All too often school is thought of as an interlude—a chance to get children cared for during the day and keeping them out of mischief. The tasks of school are often considered artificial lessons that must be mastered in order to pass tests and achieve recognition.

The scientists who study middle childhood have noted that these years are the time when children begin to be noticed and brought into society. In infancy and early childhood, in many cultural settings, babies and children are almost ignored. Sometimes they are not even given names until they reach the middle childhood years of becoming useful. No other creature has the long, extended growing-up period that human children have, and of course the period has become more prolonged as human work has become more complex. Perhaps it would be useful for more of us to think about the wonderful period of middle childhood when, with a brain grown to adult size, children are poised to learn more quickly and easily than they will during other periods of life. School age children are ready to be challenged with new tasks, new knowledge and new insight into other people. Most librarians have noticed that these middle-childhood years often coincide with a greater interest in reading than most people will have in later life. These are the years when we should offer children a rich and varied diet of books and other media that will stimulate their imagination and also give them a grounding in the realities of the world around them. All too often libraries become so fascinating by the joys of picture books and storytimes for toddlers that the slightly older school aged children are neglected. We are lucky that scientists are pointing out the importance of this life stage and as librarians and teachers we should take advantage of some of the new insights to offer the best we have to children starting their years of adult responsibility.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A man who understood children

Some books for children capture the spirit of childhood so memorably that they linger in the mind for years. How many adults are there who can still repeat lines from the Curious George books, or those of Dr. Seuss? This week the world lost another artist who captured children's hearts and minds in his series of Frances books--Russell Hoban. Starting with "Bedtime for Frances" in the late 1950s, Russell Hoban showed a child's life in the furry face of a badger. Frances went through many of the perils of young childhood. The story of "Bread and Jam for Frances", which describes how Frances clung to the security of bread and jam for a meal echoed a situation found in many households. The security of eating what you know you like and refusing to be tempted into trying something new like a squishy fried egg, is a sentiment that most of us can identify with. As Russell Hoban grew older, he turned to writing novels for adults. These were inventive and well-received and no doubt linger in many people's minds, but the books that will finally bring him immortality are probably the Frances books. Even after seventy years, the stories are as fresh and new as ever and as parents age into grandparents and great-grandparents they will no doubt continue to read them to eager children.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Should we hold classes in the library?

Keeping the distinction between the library and the classroom has been a theme in conferences and articles for years. Libraries provide materials--teachers teach students the ideas and concepts needed in classes. But does this distinction really hold any more? As the library, whether in a public library or a school, evolves into an information center providing access not just to print or AV materials but to streams of information, it becomes more like a classroom than ever. Indeed, what is a classroom these days when many students get their online or homeschooling courses at home? The family kitchen or a child's bedroom becomes a classroom and eventually children may complete their K-12 education without ever setting foot in what generations have called a school or classroom.

These thoughts are conjured up by two recent articles. One, in the NY Times tells of how the well-known Kahn Academy classes available on YouTube are being used as the bases for classes in some schools around the country. In the conventional classroom setting where every child has a laptop and a high-speed connection, the teacher can monitor the progress of individual students going through the math classes available through Kahn Academy videos. This combination of individualized online and face-to-face instruction may be a model for future learning.

The second article, also from the NY Times appeared this summer. It tells of an experiment by Stanford University to offer online courses free to anyone who signs up for them. More than 100,000 people did sign up and even though thousands of them dropped out after a short time, thousands others are still working their way through the courses and clearly learning from them.

What does this have to do with the role of libraries? Well, it's hard to believe that if these courses exist and are freely available to the public, a library could easily be a center for distributing them. Libraries can provide a quiet space and a fast Internet connection, advantages not available to many people living on the edges of poverty. Although most libraries, at their present level of funding, cannot provide individuals to help students and guide them through the process, they still could make the programs available to parents and young people. Most libraries have not considered offering a variety of online courses as part of their resource mix, but surely provision of these materials would increase the visibility of libraries in the community. Learning groups could be formed just like today's reading groups where like-minded individuals could meet together to engage with stimulating materials. It's a new twist to the library mix and one that should be considered as part of the move to make a library the center of the school or of the community in which it is located.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What do we do about apps?

Children's librarians are experts on picture books--we take this for granted. We know how to evaluate them, share them with children, choose the appropriate book for an individual child and even, in our professional groups, choose the best books of the year. We award the most prestigious prizes for children's books. But now we are coping with a new technology tht may be confusing and even make us feel hostile. Children and parents are choosing to buy their picture books in the form of apps that they look at on the screen of an i-pad, i-phone or a Kindle fire. A few pioneering public libraries loan i-Pads and quite a few schools offer them routinely to children, but for many librarians this whole area is a mystery. What's the future of apps in libraries? Here are some of the questions:
--Will we ever be able to loan apps separately from the equipment for viewing them?
--Most apps are very cheap, but they are not high quality. How can we encourage better apps?
--How are we going to catalog and keep track of apps if we circulate them?

These questions deserve a lot of thought, although it's not clear that the library profession is spending their time that way. For a start, you might read the Children's Apps Manifesto
put together by two savvy tech people who have thought about the pricing structure of apps and what business models best serve the needs of parents and children. The manifesto doesn't address the needs or interests of libraries, but that will come if librarians make their voices heard. While the purchase of apps is a growing trend for middle-and-upper-class families, they still haven't saturated society. If you traveled by air on Thanksgiving Weekend, you probably saw lots of kids in airports clutching little electronic screens enjoying picture book apps. If you traveled by Greyhound bus, as I did, you more likely saw a kid with a plastic bag holding a battered book from Walmart. Libraries are the great equalizers. We should be sure to make our voices heard in the discussions about the future of children's apps. Our patrons will want them and while we don't ever want to give up books, we should add the excitement and possibilities of apps to the mix. Let's pay attention and make sure the children in our libraries get their share.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Another step backward

Libraries are finding that their patrons, just like other readers, are looking more and more for ebook formats. Over the past year, there has been a sharp growth in the provision of ebooks in libraries. But now, once again, a publisher is pulling back and trying to turn the clock back to the days of all-print. Penguin publishing announced it would no longer make its new books available for borrowing in libraries. The reason given was a vague worry about security, but no one I've talked to can figure out what that worry would be. The more likely reason is a specific worry about sales of books. That's a legitimate concern, publishers after all are in business to make money, but many of them seem determined to ignore what the public wants. Most likely the average reader will not buy the Penguin ebook but will look for another book from a different publisher to borrow from the library. We don't live in a world where many people can afford to buy all the books they would like to read. That's why public libraries are becoming more popular week by week. Instead of pulling all its books from the library market, Penguin should try to work out a model that would give a fair profit to writers and publishers without making most books inaccessible to the audience that wants to read them. This is especially important for the youthful readers who cannot possibly purchase books for themselves. Very few families buy books for their children, not with the prices being charged by publishers. Libraries are the major source most children have for reading materials. Let's not cut down on the supply but work to increase it. Publishers and librarians both stand to gain from an increase in reading. Let's work together to make it possible to fill the need for good books.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Some help from the scientists

Children's librarians usually have great faith that in intoducing young children to reading books and stories they are helping them grow into the kind of adults we want to have in our communities. We believe that reading stories about children in difficult situations or those scarred by war or hardship helps the reader sympathize with other people. Sometimes this is known as the "library faith"--the belief that reading literature is good in itself and produces desirable results.Now several academic psychologists have tested this theory and discovered that it can be empirically demonstrated. In his article "In the Minds of Others" in Scientific American Keith Oatley describes how scientists looked at this problem. Oatley and his colleagues at the University of Toronto studied the social skills of a group of adults who were readers of either fiction or nonfiction. They found that the more fiction people read, the better they were at perceiving emotion in the eyes of the people in photographs they were shown. The fiction readers were also a little better at correctly interpreting social clues from the photos.

In a follow-up experiment with preschool children, another group of scientists demonstrated that children who were read stories were better able to separate the feelings of another person from their own feelings. They could put themselves in the mind of a person who preferred a carrot snack to a sweet and correctly assess which snack the individual would choose. In an interesting related finding, it was found that while reading (or being read to) improved social empathy, watching television had no such effect.

It is heartening to find some evidence that the beliefs we librarians have held for years are proving to be valid. Years of experience have taught us that children who read stories, like adults who read, may indeed gain the ability to empathize and understand other people. Surely that is a good enough reason for us to continue our work of encouraging reading.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Watch the tech page for further developments

Many librarians have been reading the Publisher's Weekly list of best children's books and it's certainly worth looking over. But also today we got another reminder that the book news isn't the only news we should be following if we want to serve our patrons well. The good old NY Times once again reported important news in its technology colums. Peter Wayner has written a fascinating article about one of the newest opportunities in the digital world, several new computer programming languages which have been developed for children. Now this may be a subject librarians haven't thought too much about because programming is usually a classroom or afterschool subject, but these new languages may change that. New tools like Scratch and Alice allow children to cooperate to produce simple video games and animated films. These tools are not for the faint of heart or those who want to have spectacular results in five minutes. They require patience and work, but they lead children into the pleasure of expressing their creativity. Surely the library, whether school or public, is a good home for this kind of extracurricular project. In a world where children spend far more time interacting with screens than they do with books, we should encourage them to use their creativity to create stories and explore the possibilities of media literacy as well as print literacy. The children in our libraries today may develop a whole new kind of book for the future and that's exactly the kind out outcome we want to encourage.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Can librarians solve the STEM shortage?

Educators were discouraged to read in a recent NY Times article that young people who move from high school to college aiming to major in one of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects, often drop out of that major long before they graduate. Despite the emphasis that the Obama administration, backed by business and political leaders across the country, have emphasized in recent years is that America needs more workers who can handle the complex engineering and technical demands of the modern workplace. The call has been for 10,000 new engineers a year and 100,000 new teachers in the STEM area. Why in this time of high unemployment don’t young people answer the call? The reasons are complex, but one of the most discouraging is that many middle school and high school students are enthusiastic about science and technology. When they enter college and endure the large classes taught in lecture format that most schools still mount for freshmen, they become bored and lose interest. The humanities and social sciences with more discussion and more projects (not to mention higher grades overall) tempt them away from their original plans. It’s clear that reforms are needed in college teaching, but what has this to do with children’s librarians? More than you might think.

One way children become interested in science, and one way of keeping them involved, is giving them books and other resources to whet their interest. And some of the best science writing being done these days is for children. Just take a look at some of the books listed on ALSC’s 2011 Notable Books for Children list:

Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature

The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe

Nic Bishop Lizards

Bones: Skeletons and How They Work

The Bat Scientists

Every one of those books is memorable. And of course these are only the beginning. As children move into high school, there are equally good books available. The YALSA award lists include many of them. Adult books too are suitable for many teenagers, including the bestseller Destiny of the Republic a biography of James Garfield which has an unusual emphasis on the history of medicine.

The wealth of nonbook media based on STEM subjects offers riches. ALA’s list of Great Websites for Kids is a start, but the possibilities are large. New games, apps, podcasts, and videos can help keep young people engaged in the excitement of discovery and problem solving. Isn’t it time for librarians to take some responsibility for the dearth of American scientists rather than just tut-tutting about how many jobs have to be filled from abroad? Even though the easy way for librarians to increase circulation is to push an endless series of books about vampires, werewolves, and superheroes, maybe we have some responsibility to open new areas to our patrons, not to just serve up warmed-over fantasy. We don't have to give up fantasy (and wouldn't want to) but just to be sure that there is a strong reinforcement for fact-based books about the exciting challenges waiting for young people to deal with as they move out into the world. The more strongly their love of science, engineering, and technology is supported not just through classes but also through the strong emotional pull of books, the more likely they are to stick with their dreams and make them come true. Think about it!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Books that disappear in the night

Halloween booklists are a familiar handout in children’s libraries. Books about pumpkins, witches, and trick-or-treating fly off the shelves at this time of year. Parents, teachers and children expect to see old favorites and a few new entries every year. But in making up booklists this year, many librarians must have been struck by the variety of what they include—printed books, ebooks, apps for the i-phone and i-pad, as well as videos and websites for streaming stories of ghosts and goblins. Will these new formats become old favorites, or will they be replaced by stories in newer formats? Will the apps of today become the filmstrips of thirty years ago crumbling in a forgotten corner of the storage closet? What is a book now and what will it be in the future.
This week the Internet Archive hosted a Books in Browsers” conference in San Francisco to explore this question. Is the print book dead? It seems unlikely, but it is worth keeping up with ideas for new formats no matter how off-the-wall some of them seem. A traditional book is written by one person and after it is edited and printed it cannot easily be changed or modified in any way even by the original author. A digital book, on the other hand, exists only as a bundle of electrons that can be altered—updated by the author, which is useful—or hacked and changed by other people, which is a problem. When librarians buy an ebook for their collection, they are purchasing it with the faith that enough of their readers have the necessary equipment and will be able to read it to justify the purchase. What happens if the technology of a book becomes obsolete? Like old tape recorder tapes or vinyl records will they become useless to the vast majority of readers who no longer have the equipment to access them? When we buy a new Halloween classic for our collection, what assurance do we have that it will remain permanently in our collection? Will it disappear silently some day because the publisher has decreed that it has circulated as often as is allowed? Will it become unusable? Should we purchase at least one print copy of each item we buy in digital format to ensure that our collection remains usable? As librarians go about their day-to-day business, especially during this busy fall holiday season, we may not think enough about the long-term strategies of collection development, but we do so at our peril. There are stronger forces than witches and goblins about to snatch away our Halloween treasures!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

How will we save the school band?

Libraries buy dozens of books and other media on topics they hope will increase students’ knowledge and improve their skills, but there are some subjects that are almost impossible to get moving off the shelves no matter how well designed the materials are. One of the worst is economics. It’s not surprising that it’s called the dismal science. Parents, teachers and other adults keep trying to instill the basics of economics into young people before they reach the age to start using credit cards and building up debts, but it’s hard to find materials that help. Now Warren Buffet has lent his name and knowledge to a series of cartoons designed to make learning economics a little more appealing. The series, called The Secret Millionaire’s Club, will be shown on Hub Channel. It is based on a series of web-based episodes that have been shown for the past year. Check out this video for a small snippet of one of these web-based animations. According to the show’s producers, the series will aim less at being a teaching tool and more on entertainment than the web episodes have done. Buffet is modest in his aims: “It’s not intended to teach kids how to read a balance sheet, it’s meant to provide a fun way for kids to understand business and develop good habits from an early age,” His approach is to set up a plausible real life problem that young teens might encounter, such as funding a school art project or band. Then he raises questions the youngsters need to answer their questions about how they might raise money. How well this format can be used to tackle other basic economic issues remains to be seen, but if the shows are well-done they would fill a real need in schools and libraries. The series starts today on the Hub channel. It has advertisers and several sponsors including the Public Library Association and the National Education Association. If you miss the show itself, the first episode should be available at on November 3. It’s well worth checking out.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Why are libraries invisible?

For those of us who are concerned with libraries and make them a part of our lives, it’s often discouraging to discover how many of our friends and neighbors don’t make libraries a central part of their thinking even when they try to encourage their children to read. I was reminded of this again reading a blog post by a mother concerned about her daughter’s reluctance to read. Mia Wenjen, the blogger, started by pointing out that the loss of the Border’s chain of bookstores is going to affect the reading habits of many children. There’s no argument about that and librarians and teachers across the country are mourning the loss of one of the few bookstores serving many communities. Nonetheless, in describing her technique for turning her daughter into a voracious reader, I was surprised at what a small role the library played. First on the list of steps to take to encourage your child to read was to make regular trips to the bookstores to buy books. There is nothing wrong with that, but very few families these days have access to bookstores; for many the only place to buy books is the scanty space in a big box store. Besides that, very few families have the money to spend on buying children’s books regularly. Another technique mentioned was for a parent to start a reading group. Again, this is a fine idea, but many libraries already have reading groups for children and they have a wide selection of books to support them. A reading group in a home is likely to have very limited access to books unless one or more of the families involved has an unusually wide selection of books at home. What was the problem with the library? Well, the short three-week borrowing period seemed to be the major one. That time was often too short for the girl to finish her book. Perhaps libraries should think about encouraging parents and children who find the borrowing period too short. Most libraries offer renewals online and by telephone, which lengthens the period to six weeks or even longer if others are not clamoring to take out the same book. Do we publicize this flexibility enough? Perhaps a renewal notice in each book that goes out would help some families. Most of all, the problem seems to be that many families that are trying hard to encourage their children to read do not know about library services available to them. Librarians often look around the busy library and notice the children who are there reading, sharing books, enjoying programs. They don’t see the children who rarely enter the building. Just because we work there every day doesn’t mean that all members of the community understand how many books and other materials are available. Mia Wenjen is right; the loss of so many bookstores is affecting the reading habits of many children in our communities. Now is a great time for librarians to step up their PR efforts and try harder than ever to remind people that despite financial cutbacks and hard times, the public and school libraries are still the best reading support in the community. We need to push that message out more than ever before.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thinking about poetry

Libraries are probably the most poetry-friendly institutions in the country. For generations, youth librarians have introduced children to the pleasures of Mother Goose and the fun of Shel Silverstein by reading, performing, and encouraging children to react to the magic of words and rhythms. For the past decade and more librarians have organized poetry slams for teens, poetry clubs for tweens, and poetry week celebrations for the family. But we are seldom given credit for helping to keep the art alive. The New York Times in a recent article about poetry performances in New York City introduces us to a number of other venues where poetry is celebrated and not only read aloud but performed. It is a good reminder of the importance of oral performance for most poetry. New York isn't the only city with a number of of performance places for poets--San Francisco is a good example of a poetry-friendly city that offers public poetry in bars and restaurants. Why are bars such a popular place for poetry performances? No doubt it is the legendary ability of alcohol to loosen the tongue and inhibitions. Libraries have never been famous for that, and of course we don't recommend wine and cheese in the children's room, but the idea of food and informality might be something we could borrow. Why not have a popcorn and cider poetry performance for Halloween? Don't stick to the routine of having the librarian read from poetry books in the library, invite young readers and authors to perform their own poetry or read their favorites from the collection. Give young patrons a chance to practice their pieces beforehand. Record their offerings on video that can be linked to the library website and shared with the community. Let kids make their own poetry videos in other venues if they like--sports poetry on the football field or tennis courts, perhaps--and show them in the library. Link them to your Facebook page. Libraries have been keeping poetry vital and alive for a century, now that we have so many ways of sharing it, don't let that tradition die.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

How social should libraries be?

Social media has been hotly debated by parents and other adults ever since youngsters started flocking to it and spending (it seems) hours posting silly and sometimes disturbing messages and photos on it. At first some school districts and public libraries assumed that Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were time-wasters and students should not be allowed to use them in schools and libraries. But social media crept into our lives and gradually made it difficult to separate personal fooling around from serious learning. Now there is a movement to reverse the trend to ban websites from schools and children’s libraries. The American Association of School Librarians this year inaugurated a Banned Website Awareness Day designed to call attention to the problem. In a report on the growing trend toward freer access for young people to social media and other websites and the New York Times published an article this week describing some of the ways teachers use social media to advance studies. For example, in one Advanced Placement Biology class, lab groups created a Facebook thread to share data and collaborate on projects. Many educators believe that today’s young people will work in environments where shared projects are the norm and they will have to learn to use the tools of collaboration. By exposing young people to social media and to websites that might be considered offensive in schools and libraries, teachers can help students learn how to use the Internet safely and where to draw the line on offensive material. As generations of adults have learned over time it is almost impossible to shield young people from questionable information; it is far better to help them learn how to evaluate it. Librarians have been in the front lines of the fight against book censorship for many years; now is the time for us to extend our concern for books to other materials. As digital material in many formats becomes more and more a part of the life of young people, we should help them to decide how to handle it rather than try to build walls around our libraries. We are all interconnected now, so we might as well get used to it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Will Amazon take over libraries?

The big news in the tech world today is the unveiling of not just a new Kindle tablet, but of four new Kindles. Libraries have been watching all the new ebook readers coming out because so many patrons prefer digital books to their paper counterparts. One of the major factors in limiting the use of a library's ebook collection has been the fact that they were not available for Kindles, the most popular format for ebook readers. Recent announcements that Kindle books can be used and lent by libraries have made many librarians and teachers happy, but this new influx of brand new products changes the outlook again. Not only will lighter, less expensive Kindles be available for reading ebooks in the familiar e-paper version, but a new Kindle tablet with color and touchscreen will attract many parents and children who want all the illustrations and design of picture books onscreen for younger children. What will librarians and teachers do with these new products? The first thing we have to do is study what the new Kindles will provide. The high-end Fire tablet that Kindle offers is an entirely different object from the plain vanilla Kindles owned by individuals, and some schools and libraries, today. These tablets will do far more than screen books--they also will stream movies--Amazon has announced a deal by which it will be able to provide a wide range of movies for people to download. Besides that, the reader can surf the Internet through the new Amazon cloud service. Every teacher and librarian should take a look at some of the new features being offered. Although the news reports coming out today focus on the variety of experiences available to users, teachers, librarians, and parents will also want to consider the new distractions for the young people using the tablet. Will a library reading group use the new Kindle to anchor a lively discussion about the new Rick Riordan tale, or will half the group wander onto other screens to look at the latest movie? There is always a trade-off between having wonderful new content available and having more offered than most kids can deal with. The new Kindles with their many offerings will excite many adults who work with kids. We are always looking for new ways to lead kids into reading and learning. The trick is to integrate the products into a school or library setting. We need to find out what kind of borrowing privileges we can offer, how expensive the books and other content will be, and how the the kids are going to react. Whatever the final decisions made about purchasing, teachers and librarians have plenty of homework to do in preparation.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Another way to borrow ebooks

As borrowing ebooks from libraries becomes easier and easier, publishers are growing nervous and librarians are raising questions about what is best for their users. Now that has made books for Kindle available for library borrowing, youth librarians have to make choices about the best formats to offer their patrons. Kindle (at least in its present incarnation) is obviously not going to take over the picture book market the way that i-Pad apps are doing. Kindle offers straightforward editions of stories and nonfiction books with limited graphics and photos. Will teens and tweens want to read their books this way? The N.Y. Times reports that many publishers are afraid adults will stop buying ebooks and start borrowing them instead. Young people are much less inclined to buy their books than adults are, of course, but with price not a factor will they learn to love borrowed ebooks or will they stick to paper products? Portability is always an issue with kids, which is why paperbacks are so much more popular than hardcover books, but do they consider ebook readers as portable as paperbacks? There is a durability to a paperback that inspires people to tuck them into the back pockets of jeans or stuff them into backpacks. Is the hard metal casing of a Kindle equally inviting? To many of us adults, the cost of a Kindle would make it impossible to treat casually, but teens are notoriously blase about costs they don't have to pay. Publishers and libraries are rushing to embrace new technology and offer the latest formats available in our libraries, but how much do we know about what we are doing? Perhaps its time for librarians to start reporting to their colleagues, through blogs and professional meetings about what is actually happening in libraries. We've done a great job of informing one another about the new titles and how kids are reacting to them. What about the new formats? Why isnt it just as important to report on that? Anyone who has tried lending Kindles to young people in school or public libraries is invited to respond and let us know what's going on. It's time to look beyond the stories to the packaging and to become a force in shaping how publishers offer their wares.

Monday, September 12, 2011

View from Europe

I am spending a week in London and it's surprising what a change of view can do to your opinions. One of the first things I noticed here was the number of bookstores, small, independent bookstores still carrying on. That is very unlike the scene in San Francisco, where scarcely any independent bookstores are left in the city and the few that do exist are downtown in the business/tourist area. The city's children, who tend to live further out in the neighborhoods, scarcely ever get a chance to see a bookstore now that Border's has closed. It is lucky that the San Francisco Public Library still have many vibrant branches being updated and serving more people every day. Changes are coming to British bookstores too. The first Waterstone's bookstore I walked into was featuring a large book describing how self-publishing is changing the book world. Traditional book publishers are finding many inroads made by self-publishers with print or ebooks made available at low prices to the public. Speaking of digital books, the news today that is launching a digital library system, similar to Netflix lending of DVDs, has sparked interest. A lending library of digital books would meet the needs of many readers who balk at paying for every ebook that attracts them. Of course, libraries, with free digital book lending services have an advantage over amazon for many people, but the competition will be keen among those who are willing to pay a small fee to have access to the latest book. This is something all librarians should keep an eye on. Publishing is changing dramatically and libraries will have to be nimble to keep up with global changes and maintain relevance. Fortunately, that's just what we are in the habit of doing.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sing your enthusiasm

Listening to the news becomes more discouraging every day as cutbacks in hours, staff, and resources are announced for both public and school libraries. Privatizing library services is becoming more popular and many librarians worry about what will happen to the services we love to provide for children and young people. It's hard to monetize the results of library services. We know that using the library tends to make students better prepared for school and helps them to earn better grades. But does library use increase your salary over a lifetime? Are library users happier than non-users? Do they provide more service to their communities? Who knows? And who will ever be able to take the time and spend the money to research these questions? Those of us who have grown up with libraries and have spent much of our lives providing library service to young people know in our hearts that libraries do enrich our lives and the lives of our children. How can we get this point across to the public at large? How can we explain the way a book can lead us into thinking more about other people and understanding ourselves? It doesn't matter whether it is a print book or an ebook. It doesn't matter whether we revel in the glossy illustrations of Arthur Rackham or the graphic novels of today. There is still something about the private experience of reading a book, welcoming it into our minds and mulling over the story and ideas that makes life better. Most of us in the library world were as youngsters and still are "A Child of the Library" and here's a song that expresses our feelings. We should play it in story hours. Show it at the PTA. Maybe take a copy down to City Hall and show the video to the mayor and city council. It's time to pulicize our enthusiasm and let others know how important the library is for people. Don't let budget fears rob us of one of the greatest public services ever devised!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Where is the action going?

As graphic novel collections in libraries continue to grow, more libraries are also serving up the old comic books familiar to the grandparents of our current patrons. Some of these are popular with today's youth, but to many they are basically tie-ins to familiar movie and video game heroes. Now, according to the NY Times, D.C. Comics is trying to "reboot" its comic books by renumbering new issues starting with #1. Will this entice young readers to begin picking up comic books again? Optimists in the comic book publishing field clearly believe it might. Others say that superheroes have found new outlets in movies and video games and the old familiar print comics are inevitably going to disappear. Has anyone looked closely at the relationship between the traditional American comics and the manga and other graphic novels which were originally an Asian format? Do kids switch between one and the other or do they become fans of a particular genre and/or a particular set of characters? How many librarians can answer that question? I'm afraid many of us look at all graphic formats as a kind of substitute for "real books" and don't pay much attention to what it is about them that is so attractive to children. Whether or not this new move by DC Comics is successful in attracting a new audience, perhaps the flurry of news around it will inspire librarians to pay more attention to the media.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Where are the digital natives?

Sometimes it's useful to look at the way our former students and library users behave after they move out of the children's room and high school. A recent study of university students in Illinois shows that many of them have very little idea of how to search for information and a very limited view of how librarians can help them. Of course, we'd like to think the students who participated in this study were the ones who never bothered to visit the library during their elementary and high school years, but we know that most of the university-bound students do use the library. Why don't they understand more about what goes on there? According to this study most of them are still dependent on Google as their source of information, but they don't know how to do a good search of Google, much less use other databases and search engines. Have youth librarians been spending too much time demonstrating print information sources? Have we relied too much on giving out lists of resources and not helping them to ask questions about their search topic? Many teachers are unfamiliar with the sources, especially online sources, that are now available and they often don't guide students in asking the right questions. And the children, for all their glib familiarity with digital tools, are not the digital natives we've been told about. Just because they can text messages faster than the eye can see doesn't mean they can find what they need to know. We should respect their familiarity with the tools, but also respect our own knowledge of how to find information and what information is worth finding. Take a look at the Illinois study and then think about how you can ensure that the students in your library today won't be as clueless as the ones in the report.

Monday, August 22, 2011

What will boys read?

One of the questions that has troubled librarians, teachers, and parents for years is why boys give up reading fiction at an early age and turn to nonfiction (if they read at all) or to video games. Two pieces in the Sunday New York Times Book Review address this question from different viewpoints. One is Robert Lipsyte’s take on “Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope?” in which he discusses his experience speaking at ALA. As he points out, librarians are overwhelmingly female as are young adult editors and an increasing number of authors (although there certainly are many male YA authors who are popular and prolific). Lipsyte’s thesis is that we (those professionally interested in books) are appealing to the lowest common denominators of boys’ interests and not encouraging them to question their feelings and actions. He cites several older YA books including Robert Cormier’s Chocolate Wars as examples of books dealing with complex moral questions and encouraging introspection. Lipsyte also claims that earlier writers wrote more often about both boys and girls, but now girls are almost absent from YA books aimed at boys. Now, it’s easy for librarians to come up with counter-examples, but the basic question deserves pondering. Do we spend too much time encouraging boys to read violent fantasies or science-fiction books where the emphasis is on defeating enemies no matter what the cost? Have we gone too far in pushing books that are quickly popular and ignoring some which ask their readers to questions what’s going on in today’s world? Lipsyte mentions his own book Raiders Night, which talks about the difficult subject of coaches encouraging drug-taking and ignoring injuries among high school athletes. Yet this book has been challenged and dropped from several high schools as unsuitable for its audience. The column raises many questions we ought to think about at selection time. One of the most basic is—how important is fiction as part of a reader’s diet? Is reading only nonfiction such a bad choice for boys? Is reading a novel always better than reading a thoughtful biography of a national leader or outstanding athlete or artist? But even if nonfiction offers a lot to readers, we surely want to encourage some fiction readers. Should we return to some of the older classics? This raises the eternal question of literary value as contrasted to popularity—a question librarians can never completely decide—so perhaps we should turn to the view from the female reader.

That brings us to Caitlen Flanagan’s review “Shakespeare and Austen Updated” in which she asks whether girls are being shortchanged by the YA novels published these days. Flanagan claims that girls are being denied their natural interest in romance and its relation to sexuality because books (as well as other media) focus so much on sexuality including much that is sexually explicit. Only books, she suggests, give girls a chance to imagine and think through the meaning of emotions and ponder the way they want to live their lives. Only novelists, she claims, can make us think so much about the meaning of sex and how it relates to the rest of our lives. Her thesis is perhaps more difficult to uphold than Lipsyte’s, because if we have so many female authors, editors, teachers, and librarians, why aren’t they seeing that girls are well-served? Nonetheless, if we look across the media landscape today, I think it is easy to say that girls are still being portrayed mainly as sexual objects and that feelings and relationships between the sexes are almost never dealt with in a realistic, sensitive way. It’s so much easier to take the path of showing lots of action and not much thinking or feeling. Perhaps we are shortchanging all of our teenagers by not encouraging them to slow down and examine their feelings and beliefs more often. As a start, I urge all children’s librarians to read these two articles and talk about them with colleagues. They both offer ideas worth pondering.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Who's at home on your homepage?

Now that summer is ending and children are headed back to school, it's a good time to look at your webpage and ask yourself whether it is up-to-date and ready for the busy season ahead. Kids and their parents often size up a library by looking at the homepage and noticing how user-friendly it is. If the school library or children's department has a welcoming homepage, this sets the tone for the service people will find when they enter the building. Brian Matthews, writing in Library Journal gives ten suggestions for looking at your page and assessing its impact on viewers. He doesn't talk specifically about children, but the advice he gives is useful to anyone who uses a webpage as a marketing tool for an institutional service. Look at your library's page--is it attractive? clean and easy to read? constantly changing and offering new information and pictures? We can't spend all of our time these days arranging book displays and posters around the library. What is on our digital portal is just as important as what is on the physical entrance to the library. As new students come into your school library, or new patrons into your department, watch them to see whether they can easily find what they are looking for. Try out your page on friends and the children of friends and relatives. We are often surprised at how other people see the sites we find so useful and convenient. Don't take anything for granted. In this fast-moving world your homepage is the front door to your library for many people Make sure it has a welcome sign on it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Constantly changing

One of the words sweeping the online world these days is “perpetual beta” a state defined in Wikipedia as the keeping of software or a system at the beta development stage for an extended or indefinite period of time. Perpetual beta is sometimes used as a complaint when software changes so quickly that it confuses or intimidates the user, but more often these days it’s identified as a desirable trait for software, individuals and institutions. But how often have children’s librarians considered their departments as being in a state of perpetual beta?

In an invaluable post on August 10, 2011, in The 21st Century Library blog, Steve Matthews discusses how the concept applies to libraries in general. He writes, Considering that the various external social factors that influence the environment of a 21st Century Library are in perpetual evolution, it seems reasonable to think that the appropriate response would be a ‘perpetual beta’ model of the 21st Century Library. Although librarians often write about change and how we must prepare for it, perhaps we haven’t pondered the continuing change we’ll have to cope with. Whenever a change is made—whether in the way we deliver storytimes, the way we arrange books on the shelves or the way we respond to reference questions—we tend to breathe a sigh of relief and feel a sense of completion. At last we have it right! But the truth is, nothing is ever finally right these days. No sooner is one change made than another one appears on the horizon. We’ve integrated the books with the DVDs on our shelves, but suddenly DVDs are obsolete and we need to find a way of integrating streaming videos with our print collection. How can anyone cope? Well, one thing is sure—we can’t do it alone. We have to let our users or potential users (and their parents) help us. Perpetual beta means groups of people working together to make our services as responsive and valuable as possible.

How should children’s librarians respond to the challenge of being in perpetual beta? Dr. Matthews offers helpful advice: "Remember futurist Alvin Toffler’s Forward to Rethinking the Future, 1999, “The illiterate of the 21st Century are not those that cannot read or write, but those that can not learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Librarians should be the VERY LAST profession who might be considered illiterate because they are incapable of unlearning those conventional principals and practices and relearning the unconventional ideas and innovations that are necessary to keep the 21st Century Library relevant, thriving and providing 21st Century Library services". We children's librarians have an advantage in learning, unlearning and making changes because our patrons are young and do not come with fixed ideas about what a library should be like. We can build a valuable 21st century library service by harnessing their flexibility, listening to their voices, and constantly experimenting with new approaches. Listening and responding is our greatest tool—listening to our patrons, to their parents, and to our colleagues—paying attention to how our services are actually being used. If kids don’t come to the library is it because we don’t have the materials they want? Because we don’t give them the services they need? Because we come across as rigid sticklers for rules? Being in beta is an exciting but difficult experience and we won’t always get it right. But it is the only way we will keep our libraries functioning as a vital service in coming years.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Finally some good news for librarians

The major media hasn't picked up the story yet, but the ever-reliable Publisher's Weekly has reported an important legal change that affects many libraries.Some of us remember that when the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) was passed in 2008, books were not exempted from the requirement for health and environmental dangers. The law was written to ensure that toys (especially imported toys) did not pose a threat to American children, but the language included children's books. Luckily the requirement for expensive testing was temporarily put on hold, but now at last books have been formally exempted. There will be some exceptions for books that include toys as part of their package, but the overwhelming majority of books bought for libraries and schools are straightforward books that pose no problems. It's great to see government acting with sensible common sense and coming to the aid of publishers, libraries and schools and especially children! Three cheers all around!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

What happened to last year's programs?

As summer begins to merge into fall, librarians start gearing up for a new school year. You may breath a sigh of relief that the summer reading program you spent so much time designing has been a huge success, but next summer will you remember what you did? One of the problems with putting so much of our work online is that digital materials often get erased, pictures of programs are scattered and lost, outlines of storytimes are passed around by email and eventually deleted and forgotten. Do we really want all of this history to disappear? Librarians are experts at preserving information, and the digital materials in our libraries are essential parts of our information. Let's make an effort to preserve the best of what we do.

At least twice a year, someone in the library should go through the materials that have accumulated--pictures, program plans, videos--and assess them for preservation. You'll find a wealth of information on how to do that at the Library of Congress's digital preservation site. LC has prepared a short video outlining the steps to take to preserve your digital files:
1. identify the files you have created
2. decide which ones you want to save
3. organize an Archive folder perhaps with sub-folders for different types of material
4. and then backup your files

Probably the best place to backup your archive files is on an external hard drive which can be stored in a location outside of the library. LC suggests making two or possibly three copies of the hard drive and storing them in various locations.

All this is extra work on top of your already busy days, but it will pay off when you find you have a record of the highlights of what your department has been doing. You can retrieve materials that can be used again. You can find pictures from years ago that form the basis of an exhibit of how the library has grown and changed. And individual librarians can find records of the professional work they have done. These are all valuable results. We don't want our work to disappear leaving no trace. Try setting up a system now so that future librarians can appreciate the past they are building on. It's well worth the effort!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fewer books for more children

The closing of Borders bookstores across the country will affect not only adults, who are the major purchasers of books, but also many children who have been introduced to the world of books in the big box bookstores. Many communities, even large cities, will now have very few bookstores accessible to most people. It’s time for libraries to step up their publicity about the books and other materials available in children’s departments. Although public libraries try to present themselves as a family-friendly destination for weekends, very few of them are able to attract the large numbers that mall-based bookstores have done.

In the mall that housed my now-dying Borders store, I used to see many family groups browsing through the children’s books, sipping drinks in the café, and crowding the aisles of the graphic novel section. Will libraries be able to attract these people to the library? What is it that makes big box bookstores so popular?
• Proximity to other shopping facilities
• Presence of an in-store café
• Large, colorful stock of books arranged for comfortable browsing
• Chairs and tables to sit and browse
• Noise and movement and a feeling of freedom of action

The biggest advantage that a library has over a bookstore, of course, is that it offers free materials and services, but many residents don’t even know about these. Can a library seize the opportunity presented by the disappearance of Borders? One way would be to advertise the library in space close to where the bookstore was located. Nearby stores might be willing to post flyers about the library in their windows. The mall website might post a notice as a public service.

A few libraries might be able to establish a presence in the mall where Borders used to be. A kiosk or small storefront operation might be set up. If the mall has a meeting area, library storytime programs could be presented on weekends. Library staff or Friends-of-the-Library volunteers might be recruited to pass out flyers about library collections and services.

The important thing to remember is that children and families are being deprived of one of their important sources of books and information. Public libraries should do their best to step in and fill a need so that the next generation of children will learn to know and love the books and other resources we are pledged to provide to them.

Friday, July 22, 2011

My book is out at last!

It's a great day when the mail includes a package as exciting as the author copies of my new book From Boardbook to Facebook: Children's Services in an Interactive Age, published by Libraries Unlimited-ABC-Clio. Just turning the pages and seeing how it looks in print is exciting, and it's out as an ebook too, although I haven't seen that yet. If you want to order it you can go to the website or of course, try

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Do you follow the golden rules?

Librarians were among the first to embrace the usefulness of technology in helping our patrons find the information they need. Still, it's useful to remind ourselves every once in a while that it's easy to be complacent about the computers and databases that we have offered the children in our libraries and schools. Technology has gone far beyond the computer lab and shelf of DVDs in the corner of the library. The interactive Web is here and it is important to let our children use it. Read this important article from Media Shift about the 7 Golden Rules of Technology in Schools. It is important to allow children access to the social media they will be using in the real world outside the school and library. Perhaps the most important rule of all is the one about the "F--- Word" That word is FEAR--fear of offending some teacher or parent by allowing a child to stray off the tried and true tools of print. Some of the reason for this fear is the exaggerated sense that the Internet is filled with evil sites designed to hurt children. The truth is that this fear is overblown. Occasionally a child may stray into a site that shows some nudity or uses some inappropriate language, but almost all children react by giggling and pointing it out to their friends. They are not injured or offended by it and young children are usually not terribly interested. Of course, we have to keep an eye on what the kids are up to in the library, but we don't want to repeat the errors of librarians in mid-20th century who tore pages out of the "National Geographic" or worse still banned the magazine so that children would be protected from seeing an occasional indigenous woman wearing less clothing than would be seen on Main Street. Children are resilient, we need to trust them and to help them find their way through the new digital media, because this is the world we all live in now. The more we embrace change, including changes in technology, the more we help our children grow into the strong citizens who can face the new world fearlessly.

Monday, July 11, 2011

What about textbooks?

One of the many blogs that librarians in both public and school libraries will find useful is the one posted by David Warlick in which he covers new trends and ideas in education. Recently he has posted two takes on what textbooks will be like in the future. He proposes that they will be far more interactive than current textbooks. No longer will they strive to be "Centrally-Authoritative" and error free but will accept the fact that errors occur and will be self-correcting through social interaction. It's worth looking at the posting for June 26, which lists the characteristics of old and new textbooks. Now, some librarians may be shrugging off the idea of changes in textbooks as having any relevance to library books for children, but I think they are wrong. As the idea of interactivity--the importance of looking at books and other media as joint productions of writers and readers--grows, the changes will affect trade books as well as textbooks. And they will especially affect librarians who are the mediators between trade books and children just as teachers are the mediators between textbooks and children. As children become used to sharing ideas and giving input into their digital (surely these new textbooks will have to be digital) textbooks, they will want to have the same input into the books they read for pleasure. The importance of forums where children can react to their reading, post their responses, share opinions, and ask questions should not be underestimated. More and more libraries are moving into the 21st century as hubs of interaction rather than collections of static materials. Instead of seeing ourselves as offering objects to children, we will see ourselves as sharing with children the imaginative offerings of authors and illustrators. It's an exciting prospect and both adults and children will change and grow in the exchange.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Will they tweet to the President?

President Obama startled many pundits today by holding a twitter forum on TV. He answered some of the more than 50,000 questions that were tweeted for him. The content was similar to press conferences and other political commentary that we've heard for the past few years, but the method and media should make librarians think about process. The children who are in our libraries and schools these days are learning to communicate through social media as much as through traditional writing and talking. The time for arguing about what has been won and lost in the changing, whirling media world is over. It doesn't matter whether the skills of handwriting and public debating are being lost because most of the children of today will rarely or never need to use those. Librarians are naturally conservative when it comes to culture. We know the value of preserving literary and other intellectual content in book form, but we are living in today's world. We should help children to react to older artifacts like books through every technique of the digital world. We should help them feel at home with tweets and blogs; ebooks and vbooks. Today's children almost certainly will not be tweeting to whoever is president in 2024, but they will have been able to use the skills they develop today to adapt to new media in whatever form it takes. As librarians and teachers we will help them get there.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A busy time was had by all

New Orleans was crowded with librarians this past weekend as the American Library Association held its annual conference. 20,000 people descending on a city have quite an impact. New Orleans had welcoming weather—hot, but only a few major rain showers and one real thunderstorm during the conference. For that we can all be grateful.

Children’s librarians had plenty of programs to attend, from the book-oriented sessions to discussions of the future of the book and digital resources. One noticeable trend among the attendees was that every session that dealt with digital materials or technology trends was filled to overflowing with standees at the back of the room and others hovering around the doorway. What is the future of ebooks and what are libraries going to do to cope with the inevitable changes? That was the challenge heard on every side. One speaker from the Internet Archive project told the audience that over 700,000 self-published books came out during the past year. What are librarians going to do to make these books available to their patrons?

And what about transliteracy? That’s an important word to know. It means the ability to read, write and interact across a range of tools and media. Sounds as though that’s what our children need these days, doesn’t it? As one speaker flashed up on the screen—The 21st century is when everything changes—and the patrons we serve in our schools and libraries are 21st century natives. We need to keep up with the growing importance of digital access. A good website to know about is which gives information about how the U.S. government is trying to extend Broadband throughout society, eliminating the digital barriers in some communities. But Broadband access is not enough; many technologies are not intuitive and libraries should be places where children (and adults) can learn the skills they will need for the coming changes.

Just as valuable as the programs, perhaps, were the exhibits that stretched out for acres in the huge, mile-long convention center. Children’s book publishers offered tables full of brilliantly colored picture books and attention-demanding series books. What were not on display were the interactive books that are coming out for children. Trade publishers are lagging in making available the apps that bring children’s books to their i-pads, i-phones, and other devices. The slow start in this area is partly due to the difficulty of pricing children’s ebooks. Publishers haven’t quite decided whether to make them available in series on a subscription basis or to sell them outright as individual digital products. The educational publishers have intriguing offerings for schools, designed for both classrooms and school libraries, but the type of books bought by most public libraries were nowhere to be seen. Publishers certainly had not brought examples to the conference. Every publisher I spoke to told me that next year they would have ebooks on display in the conference—but that’s what they were saying at the last conference too.

What are librarians to do? Well, for one thing keep after the publishers to produce the kinds of materials we need. Keep asking when they are going to bring their titles out as apps that kids can read at home. Remind them how important it is for librarians to be able to purchase the exact titles they want, not a package of books shoved together to increase the price. We owe it to our child patrons!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Required reading

This year's report from American Libraries digital supplement about the state of technology in public libraries has more bad news than good. Of course it's great to read that more than 99% of public libraries offer Internet access, and 86% of them have wireless access. This is important, not only for the kids in the children's room trying to do their homework, but for adults searching for jobs or looking for information about starting their own business. Despite the heavy coverage, many libraries are facing cutbacks in hours, which means less open time for those job-hunters who count on them. With increasing demand in libraries, many are finding their equipment slow and inadequate for many users, but the cost of upgrading Broadband is prohibitive for many libraries. Children's librarians sometimes think that budget concerns and technology access are the business of administration, but this is no time to hide in the children's room and concentrate on Harry Potter. The children listening to our storytimes today will be asking for wireless access for their laptops tomorrow. Funding for public libraries and increasing their ability to serve the community are important issues for all librarians--for all Americans. Take a look at the report and think about how you might influence your friends or patrons to offer more support to local libraries.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Are you ready for the future?

Everyone is talking about the future of the book, although no one knows for sure what it will be. Clearly the digital format is growing exponentially, while print production thrives at a lower pace. Sometimes it's helpful to step back and look at the overall picture of what this means rather than just pour on more information about the percentage of books being purchased or borrowed from libraries in digital formats. A good place to go for thoughtful, long form ruminations on the underlying changes in the concept of books is the @craigmod blog. For an indepth look at what the change in formats may mean to writers and readers, take a look at his post about the stages of book production from pre-artifact to post-artifact. Writing a book has always been a slow and usually solitary pursuit. Someone gets an idea and struggles to find the words to explain it to others. After writing, revising, re-revising, showing it to a few friends, the writer sends it to an agent or an editor at a publishing house. Then if the powers of publishing agree to take it on, the writer sits back (or more likely writes another book updating that one) for two years or so until the final product--a book--is eventually produced. Not until then do readers get a chance to look at the book, share the writers ideas, and possibly comment and argue about them. Much of that long, slow process is being swept away in the digital age. New publishing processes make it possible for the writer to share ideas with an audience during the writing process. Arguments and questions can be raised even before the "publishing" process begins. More and more books are growing out of blogs on which readers and potential readers have already commented and showed interest. Once the book is finalized and published in a digital format, the interactivity continues. In fact "finalized" is becoming an obsolete term. The librarian's beloved format of the "stable text" is disappearing. Corrections can be made in mid-flight from typos to major revisions and the book that existed last week has given way to a new text. Craig Mod uses the example of Wikipedia as a post-artifact encyclopedia compared with Encarta, trapped in a shining, rigid CD format.

What do these changes mean to those of us who have dedicated our careers to having the perfect package for a book--an artifact carefully written, illustrated, and printed in exactly the format envisioned by its creator? Children are perhaps the greatest fans of the stable text. Try changing a word of "Peter Rabbit" to a storyhour group of literate children and you will be shouted down. Already we have Peter Rabbit apps that make the pictures move, shrink, and expand. Do we want to ask children to change the words too? Don't answer "No" too quickly. It's a reasonable question. Certainly interactivity and flexibility are important in today's world. Librarians along with everyone else have to consider the advantages gained by having a community of writers and readers. We shouldn't blindly worship the artifacts of our childhood or of our children's childhood. The world seems to spin faster every year and the only way to keep up is to welcome new ideas, to adopt the strengths and always to question the received wisdom of our collective past.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Something to think about

In some communities around America, blue recycling bins for books are showing up. Booklovers are encouraged to donate books they no longer want with the promise that the books will be given to people who need them more--in third world countries or high poverty areas. Now the state of Oregon is investigating whether these recycling organizations are making money from donations and whether they are business opportunities rather than nonprofits interested in literacy development. The literary blog Book Patrol posted an item a day or two ago that indicates that half of the books donated are pulped, others are sold to for-profit distributors, and only a small proportion are given to charity. Now, that's not necessarily wrong. There are books that should be pulped because they are outdated and contain misleading information or stories no one wants to read; and the organizations have to make some money to pay for all those boxes, but it's a little troubling to try to disentangle the question of whether these people are truly out to do good or whether they are seizing an opportunity to profit. As far as libraries are concerned, one of the downsides is that fewer people appear to be donating to libraries, many of which depend on donations for book sales that raise money to build new collections. When books are given to libraries, we can be pretty sure that they are not making a profit for anyone but are giving back to the community in which they are collected. If you see blue book recycling bins showing up in your neighborhood, you might want to ask some questions about the operation and let your patrons know what's going on. In these difficult economic times, we want to encourage enterprise, but as librarians, our first duty is to keep our libraries strong.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Everything old is new again

Have adults ever approved of the books written for young adults? And how many parents and other adults railed at librarians who insist on making edgy books available to kids? The latest furor was a column written in the Wall Street Journal which led to a storm of tweets on Take a look at this account of the storm which appeared in the UK's Guardian.The original column deplored the books covering topics like vampires, incest, cutting, drugs, homophobia, and other those that include profane language. Many YA authors and their supporters started a twitter storm using the hashtag #yasaves. Take a look at the stream of comments, most of which defend books and stress the importance of allowing young people to read books that let them see how misunderstood and tormented many teens are. This scenario has played out year after year in discussions of fiction for teens. There's no question that the subject matter and language have grown more extreme over the years. Is that because teens are more frequently encountering bizarre situations or is it because the growing violence in movies and TV have spilled over into literature. It's hard to catch the attention of young people who have been raised on a diet of crime shows and violent fantasy games. No wonder books try to use some of the same elements to make the point that people can overcome obstacles and face dangers without giving up. Perhaps the key to deciding whether the books are good or bad for young people is to listen to the teens. Maybe if we made our libraries and classrooms more interactive and encouraged kids to write blogs, make videos, review books, and comment about them on social media, we might have a better idea of what they think of the subject matter. Perhaps it's time we adults stopped writing opinion pieces about what kids ought to read and listened more to kids telling us what they want--and need--to read.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Will your patrons write their own books?

Even though children's book publishing appears to be flourishing and attendees at the Book Expo this year had plenty of new titles, librarians may be finding even newer titles from the kids who come to the library. A website called www.figment allows teenagers (minimum age 13) to post stories they have written and to share them with others. According to a report in Publisher's Weekly posting a story does not involve a payment, but gives young people a chance to try out their writing.The site was launched in December and has 35,000 registered users. Stories are divided into categories, so readers can seek out fantasy or animal stories, just as they do in the library. Not only can the kids read the story, they can also comment on it and make suggestions for changes. Authors frequently accept suggestions and edit their works as the comments come in. Sounds like a great way for young people to try out their talents and hone them, so that by the time they reach college age, they'll be ready to try for the best-seller lists. Librarians as well as creative writing teachers can give young authors a chance to find an audience beyond the local school or library. Sounds like a win for everyone.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The apps they are a'coming

By this time almost every librarian and teacher has seen children's apps on i-Pads, i-phones, and other mobile devices. Will we have them in our libraries soon? Children clamor for them and parents approve, so it looks as though we will. We might as well get ready to examine them and think about standards that will help us to judge them. To work toward that end, School Library Journal sponsored a panel discussion last week, "The Children's App Landscape" during which editors, app producers, and librarians discussed what made a good app.Lisa Von Drasek, a children's librarian at the Bank Street College of Education, defined what librarians want from apps: "We want story. We want art. We want developmental appropriateness." Sounds pretty much the same as what we want from books, doesn't it? Can apps meet the test? Well, some of the best apps are certainly passing with flying colors. Virginia Duncan, an editor at Greenwillow, pointed out reasons for the success of the app made from Freight Train by Donald Crews, noting that the art is clean, the type fits the image, the font is legible even on a small screen, and the story is linear. Probably everyone who is familiar with the book Freight Train (and what librarian isn't?) can visualize how well it would adapt to the digital format. Not all children's picture books appear to be such a good match for a different format, but with the help of committed artists, producers, and editors, many of them will undoubtedly be successfully transformed. It's up to librarians and teachers to figure out how best to integrate these apps into our collections and make them available to children. Probably ALSC will soon come up with a new committee to award a medal for the best app of the year. It is an exciting prospect. Don't miss the fun!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Another group heard from

Librarians across North America, especially school librarians know that they are an endangered profession. Libraries are being closed and librarians fired, or, in the case of school librarians, sometimes being taken out of the library and transferred to classrooms. The library associations have taken on the challenge of fighting to preserve libraries and librarians. Those of us in the profession know that a library cannot be replaced by a kiosk nor a librarian by a volunteer without diminishing the experience children have with books and library services. Another group that supports libraries is the people who write and illustrate children's books and their organization the Society for Children's Writers and Illustrators ( In an eloquent statement about the importance of librarians, their reprentative, Lin Oliver, writes about the importance of libraries and librarians. Be sure to read her piece, not only for its arguments, but also for the list of supporting links she suggests. On a local level, children's librarians don't always appreciate the support they can get from children's authors and illustrators. Many cities and some smaller communities have groups of writers and illustrators who are often willing to visit the library and give programs for children and their parents. There's nothing like a real, live author or illustrator to rouse childen's enthusiasm for books and reading. And when that spirit is aroused, their parents and other adults in the community will be more eager to fight to support libraries. One reason why librarians are sometimes considered nonessential is that they work quietly and often invisibly within schools and libraries. It's time to rally supporters to become more visible and to let community leaders know that supporting libraries is a way of supporting the growth and prosperity of communities as they move into the future. We need well-educated and well-read citizens to make our communities strong.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Another multicultural book list?

Librarians are always searching for books that feature diverse children and teen, whether racial or ethnic minorities, children with disabilities or other groups underrepresented in most current writing for young people. Once the books are found and purchased, it’s sometimes hard to see them to kids, especially mainstream readers who are looking for entertainment and shy away from anything that seems goody-goody or adult approved. It’s good to know that Elizabeth Bluemle, a blogger at Publisher’s Weekly has come up with a refreshing list of multicultural books that should please both librarians and their patrons. As she describes it, “This is a list of books a great list of multicultural books published in 2011 featuring main characters of color in stories that are not driven primarily by racial issues”. The books, suggested by readers of Ms. Bluemle’s blog, include titles for the picture-book crowd as well as for teenagers. What they have in common is the unselfconscious use of characters from varied backgrounds who are coping with the joys and worries of childhood or the anxieties and pleasures of adolescence. What better way to let children realize that the thoughts and feelings of the people around them are not so different from their own no matter how different their skin color, weight, or language may be? Too many old standards from the early days of multicultural sensitivity make a great point about overcoming racial differences, sometimes exemplifying the worst of 1960s self-consciousness that makes today’s teens snicker. Let’s keep it cool. Let’s not talk so much about differences but demonstrate what is the same (and what is different) about the lives of different people living in our society. The blog post also makes a point about the importance of covers that do not blur the fact that the protagonists of the book are not white Barbie-doll types. Publishers love to use covers that don’t exactly misrepresent, but certainly try to hide who the characters are. It’s time that librarians and teachers stand up and say that children and teens can and will read books about other races and groups if we give them a chance to meet fascinating characters in intriguing situations. Let’s trust the kids and be honest with them!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Does Facebook Make Teens Sad?

Parents, librarians and teachers are all charged with maintaining the health and safety of children and teens under our care, so it's no wonder we worry so much about what they are doing. One of the latest concerns is the effect of social media--online predators, sexting, and the latest threat "Facebook depression". In March the American Academy of Pediatrics released a report about children and teens' use of social media which revealed that indeed a great many younsters are online much of the time and that it's an important part of their lives. You can read the report online--it's quite short and strikes a sensible balance between showing concern for the cases of cyberbullying and depression that are linked to online use and the benefits teens gain by using these media. Relatively few children and teens are solicited or harrassed online by adults; most of their interactions are with their peers; online bullying seems to be no more common than face-to-face bullying. While parents and other adults should be alert and aware of what is going on, the solution isn't blocking the use of social media but encouraging discussion of the issues. As a follow-up to this report, Dr. Rahul Parikh, writing in, describes what he calls "Our overblown paranoia about the Internet" and urges adults to accept the importance of online socialization for teens and tweens without panicking about possible misuse. Technology is constantly changing, young people have to learn to live with changes and to learn how to handle them, so adults who want to help children grow should accept the world they live in and not give way to unreasonable fears or try to place unnecessary walls around youngster's experience. After all, Rapunzel's guardian couldn't keep her locked up forever--and neither can we. We should help children learn how to live in the world not hide from it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

More changes coming to children's libraries

Every children’s librarian should read the report in the May issue of School Library Journal about the changes that are coming to school libraries. We all know that ebooks, iPads, and other e-readers are available, but SLJ has documented how many libraries now incorporate these new media and how school librarians feel about them.

More than a third of school libraries (36%) have ebooks in their collection and, as might be expected, fewer elementary schools (29%) than high schools (64%) have them. This situation may not continue long, however, because 84% of all schools expect to have ebooks five years from now and elementary schools (82%) are catching up with high schools (92%) in their expectations. The future looks bright for ebooks, although there are obstacles along the way. One of the major factors limiting purchase is the lack of funds, but lack of support from administrators is also a strong influence.

Also not particularly surprising is the finding that libraries under age 35 are more likely than older colleagues to welcome changes in collections and the use of technology in schools. This younger group is also more likely to worry about Digital Rights Management (DRM) as a factor in limiting the growth of electronic collections. But the majority of librarians at any age are seen as leaders in technology in their schools, so they will no doubt have a strong influence on how technology is integrated into school libraries and what kinds of service are provided.

I could go on and on about the findings in this survey, which offers a lot of food for thought; for example, why have more private schools than public ones adopted iPads? Is cost the basic factor in determining the availability of technology for children? One of the most important functions of the public schools and public libraries is to level the playing field for children—to make sure that children who cannot afford private school nonetheless receive the best education available. That’s something to keep in mind.

Public librarians may feel left out in this survey, and certainly they aren’t directly included, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t important reading. As the schools go, so the public library children’s service must go. Children who become used to having ebooks, databases, and video materials in school will also expect it in the public library, and so will their parents. This is an important article for everyone to read and to use as support when asking for additional resources to bring the best services to their patrons.

Friday, May 6, 2011

One app too good to miss

Many of the children's book apps available for iPhones and iPads have been picture books, but now a real information book that older children will love has appeared. We can thank former Vice President Al Gore for this new app based on his longstanding interest in Climate Change. For a brief introduction to the app, take a look at David Pogue's column in the NY Times, which describes how the app works. Formatted like a real book, with a table of contents so the reader can head for the section wanted, whether it's forests, wind turbines, or population, the app is easy to navigate. Once in the chapter you want, it's easy to tap on a picture to get a brief video presentation narrated by a reporter or a chart of statistics such as the countries in which deforestation is happening most quickly. Even on the tiny iPhone screen, the pictures are vivid and the text clear and legible. This is not a children's book, and the language is aimed at high school level, but even younger children who are good readers could handle it and learn a great deal. The big issue, of course, is how the library is going to deal with handling this kind of app and offering it to our patrons. As more and more producers migrate their information resources to the versitle app format, librarians and teachers will be challenged to make sure that all children can access and use them. We have seen the future and it is exciting.

I am also pleased to announce that my new book dealing with some of the issues of children's library service will be coming from Libraries Unlimited this summer. It's exciting to see the cover and know that the book will be available before very long.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Authors need libraries too

Stories about the importance writers place on publicity are everywhere these days. Thousands of author blogs, writing self-help groups, and print sources discuss the great lengths writers must go to in the search for readers and buyers. It's easy to forget that this search for publicity is not new. According to this story in the NY Times, even the Greek historian Herodotus declaimed his work in public trying to alert listeners to the importance of his ideas. Ernest Hemingway posed for beer ads to show off his brand of fiction; and Georges Simeon offered to write a novel while suspended in a glass cage. What does this have to do with children's librarians? Well, we are at a time when our best authors understand they must help to build an audience for their books. What better allies than librarians? People who write for children and young adults know that the schools and libraries are where they can find their potential readers. Of course, we librarians owe it to our readers to invite authors who are producing works of genuine interest and strength, but we are now seen as part of the process of publishing. If a library's blog features new books and authors' talks at the library, the blog will get more views and the author will find more readers. Don't be shy about inviting local authors to visit the library and read from their works. Let them give out bookmarks and publicity toys. Try to find ways for more distant writers to interact with young people in your library--through video talks or blog posts, or Facebook comments. For years librarians have been salespeople for books now, more than ever, authors are joining in the work. It is a win/win situation for all adults who care about children's reading.

Monday, April 25, 2011

But they know it's an ad.

Parents, teachers and librarians often worry about how the commercials on TV and the internet are affecting their children, but many companies contend that children recognize ads and know what they do. Obviously the age of the child has a lot to do with how much they understand about advertising, but even middle-grade children are still confused according to research reported in the NY Times Fourth grade children were invited to play a game called "Be a Popstar" on a site sponsored by a cereal manufacturer. Even though a disclaimed appeared at the top of the screen telling kids that the screen was advertising, the majority of children did not notice or pay attention. Children who played the game on a site with the banner or one without it appeared equally oblivious to the sponsor of the site or the intention of selling cereal rather than offering a chance to become a pop star. What does this have to do with libraries? Well, it suggests that a lot more media education is needed--at home, in classrooms and in libraries. We should try to explain to children that games and TV shows and even some books are designed to sell products rather than provide information.It's not that the games or the products are necessarily bad, but everyone ought to be clear about what the inspiration for sites and shows may be. Only by providing the truth to children can we really fulfil our roles as guides to information.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Some days bring despair

For many of us who have spent years trying to bring books and reading to children our calling has become almost a religion. We encourage each other with stories about how children's lives are enriched by the books we introduce them to and the stories they enjoy in our libraries. Now along comes the scandal of Three Cups of Tea the "true story" of a man who devoted years of his life to raising money for schools in Afghanistan. A "60 Minutes" broadcase recently revealed this as not quite the story we thought it was. The schools were not enriched by all the money spent on the book--the author was. A dedicated blogger in Publishers Weekly has expressed the feeling that many of us had when hearing this story. As Barbaara Vey points out, not only were adults fooled by this book, but they bought numerous copies of it for children's collections and school libraries. Many teachers assigned it to their classes (many of whom, according to Vey, found it boring) and now all this pushing of the book only reveals the naivete of adults. Children forced to read it are learning not compassion for third world peoples, but scorn for the adults who can't distinguish between truth and fiction. That's a sure way to turn young readers away from books. We stand revealed as false guides in the world of truth and education. It's enough to make us weep. Let's hope it is also enough to make publishing companies push a little harder to determine the accuracy of what they are publishing, and reviewers to be a little more sceptical of do-gooders who write "memorirs" of their good deeds. We owe it to our children and to the future.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New futures for nonfiction

Ebooks have made a dramatic entrance into the picture book field now they are becoming more important in the nonfiction arena. This month School Library Journal has an excellent roundup called "Pick me! Pick me!" of new nonfiction series available for public and school libraries. Choosing ebooks to be read on computers or mobile devices poses new challenges for librarians used to dealing with print. It's important to know the kind of equipment available in the library, in the school, and in children's homes. SLJ makes some excellent points about the importance of testing these products before purchase and, if possible, having children of the appropriate age try them out. The books are exciting--offering opportunities for vivid graphics, sometimes speech, translation and note taking. We are entering a new era of making information attractive and intereting to children.