Thursday, January 27, 2011

Where are children's apps going?

Children's publishing is changing so quickly that even the publishers can't keep up with it. At the Digital Book World conference recently, some of the leading producers of children's apps talked about their works. As reported by Calvin Reid in Publishers Weekly, their work will greatly impact libraries, although there is no mention of this in the story. Children's books are moving off the printed page and into a world of apps where the stories will be told in a combination of video, animation, audio and text. These stories, which are available on many mobile media, are already attracting many parents and children will certainly grow in appeal. From the readers' point-of-view the sound and movement that augment the text are the most important aspects of the new form. From the producers' point-of-view, the ability to update the apps and to track usage are equally attractive. Why is this so important for librarians? One reason is that libraries had better learn to compete with this competition by offering attractive books as well as apps for young children. Another, equally important reason, is that in this fast-growing field, librarians have important expertise to share. We are the specialists in what children enjoy listening to and sharing. For generations librarians have turned static books into lively experiences through storyhours. In the early 1920s when the children's book industry was gathering strength in the book world, children's librarians like Anne Carroll Moore influenced publishing trends by reviewing books and calling on publishers to meet children's needs. Where are the Anne Carroll Moores of today? Now is the time for library journals to take apps seriously and offer full reviews of the best of them. Rick Richter, one of the producers quoted in the article maintains that of the approximately 30,000 children's apps now available "about 27,000 of them are horrible". It's time for the industry to take into account the expertise of teachers and librarians as well as book publishers to develop standards for excellence in children's apps. Perhaps it is time for ALA to set up a new prize category.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How do I choose the format?

Librarians all over the country are trying to decide which ebook formats they should try to serve with their collections. Ebooks are fast becoming a standard service in libraries, but it's hard not to be confused with the proliferation of formats from which to choose. Here's a clever chart of formats to help you visualize the choices to be made. Many books and periodicals are available for a variety of formats, but it's helpful if the librarian can help a patron decide what he/she needs. There is a lot of information packed into this chart and most of it will help us make choices.Whether you personally prefer a Kindle or a nook or really want to stick to ink on paper is irrelevant. We need the expertise to explain to patrons, both parents and children, what the choices are and then show them how to use the resources available in the library.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The future of textbooks?

January has been a busy month for librarians. Not only were a lot of new books unveiled at ALA's Midwinter meetings, but tech news kept coming out too. One of the products that's causing the most buzz is a tablet e-reader designed to replace textbooks. Take a look at the story in the LA Times and also take a look at the video of how a textbook appears on the Kno. Although the designers appear to be looking at the college market right now, it's also clear that textbooks for high school and elementary school could easily appear on this format. In fact Jon Bard of Write 4 Children predicts that the future of children's publishing is likely to lie in the use of a tablet like Kno. The double screen allows it to be opened like a book, a feature that is comforting to book readers and protects the screen. The full-color illustrations rival anything that can be produced on paper and for textbooks, information can be quickly updated. Many textbook producers are planning to make some of their content available for testing on the Kno. Libraries should keep watching this trend.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Are publishers keeping up?

The exhibits floor at ALA's Midwinter Meeting in San Diego were crowded last weekend with librarians looking for the latest offerings. Everything from library furniture to databases, publicity materials, and of course books were on display. Children's librarians could look at demos of a dazzling database that could help a high school student choose a career, and an amazingly flexible version of the OED for research-minded teachers. But children's publishers were sticking to tried-and-true paper formats. There were many graphic novels, but no sign of the apps that are changing children's experiences of books. Those of us who flew to the conference city were able to see children in the airport and on the plane looking at small screens that showed familiar children's stories, but these were nowhere to be seen at the exhibits. Have the mainstream publishers we have relied on for years let us down? No one wants to give up books and it is still a delight to see the many beautifully written, illustrated and designed books, but it is not enough. We have to go where the children and their parents are heading--toward small screens that can carry a dozen picture books on a pocket-sized screen. Librarians, especially those who work in large library systems or school districts, should use their clout to tell publisher that we want to see the best of children's books made available on many platforms. Sure it will be difficult to work out the details--the rights, the royalties, the new skills that must be developed--but publishers should be looking toward the future. If John Newbery were around today he wouldn't be looking at hornbooks, he'd be designing for the i-Pad. Let's get our modern day publishers to catch up with the 21st century world.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Prizes worth considering

The major event of Monday's award ceremony at the ALA conference was the awarding of the Caldecott and Newbery medals, but librarians are not content with two prizes. There are too many good books published each year for us to limit ourselves. One of the most important awards is the Coretta Scott King award and this year the author award went to "One Crazy Summer" by Rita Williams-Garcia published by Armistad. It was a crowd favorite and cheers erupted when the award was announced. If you don't have it in your library yet, be sure to order soon. The Coretta Scott King illustrator's award went to "Dave the Potter: Artist,Poet, Slave" written by Laban Carrick Hill and illustrated by Bryan Collier (Little Brown). The unusual glimpse of a 19th century African American who put his talent to good use will make many children dream of possibilities for themselves. Teachers as well as children will love this one. And speaking of teachers, we mustn't forget one of the newest of the ALSC awards--the Theodor Seuss Geisel award for an easy reading book. This year it went to "Bink and Gollie" by Kate DiCamillo, published by Candlewick. Even the title will bring a smile to the face of a young child struggling with reading, and the story will win over the most reluctant learner. Almost all libraries have standing orders for the Newbery and Caldecott winners, but these aren't the only ones that should be automatically bought when the awards come out. This year's crop of winners presents a strong field of varied books--something for every child who comes to your library. Don't forget to promote them them at storyhours and during school visits. These are books that adults should see to understand the face of children's publishing today.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Today is Medal Day

As many children's librarians already know, today is the day when the winners of the ALA Children's literature awards are announced. The Association of Library Services to Children has responsibility for choosing the award winners through a complex committee system. Each award has its own committee, elected by AlSC members--these committee appointments are among the most cherished assignments in the organization's mandate. Most of the members are children's librarians with several (sometimes many) years of professional experience with a few other professionals such as instructors in LIS schools sometimes included. All year long members read and think about a long list of books recommended by publishers, librarians, and others. It's a joke at ALA conferences that you can pick out the Newbery committee members because they are constantly reading a book, even on the bus shuttles between hotels. At conferences, the committee members meet for long sessions of discussion and voting. Unlike most ALA committees, these meetings are closed. Finally the whole process culminates in the announcements of the awards on the Monday morning of ALA's Midwinter Conference. Today this event occurred in San Diego.

I was lucky enough to attend the award announcements this morning at the Convention Center. In a large, dimly lit ballroom, hundreds of people gathered at 7:00 AM for the announcements. A variety of awards were announced (you can see the complete list at but the culminating announcement came with the Caldecott and the Newbery Medal winners.

Caldecott Award for the best in illustration went to A SICK DAY FOR AMOS MCGEE illlustrated by Erin E. Stead and published by Roaring Brook Press. The Newbery Medal went to MOON OVER MANIFEST by Clare Vanderpool, published by Delacorte Press. Shouts and cheers arouse from librarians and from the winning publishers' reps in the auditorium. The large TV screens at the front showed the jackets of each winner, and everyone departed to celebrate with coffee and muffins for a good morning's work.

Later this week I'll talk about some of the other award winners.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Exciting year ahead

For children's librarians, 2011 opened with a buzz of news about new books, new ebooks, apps for libraries, and endless stories about how publishing is changing. At the same time that libraries around the country are running Mock Newbery contests to vote on which book will win the coveted medal next week, librarians, authors and publishers are wondering whether children's books have a future. Over the past few months we have seen stories in the New York Times about the death, or near-death, of picture books as a staple part of young children's lives, we have heard about and probably sampled the iPad app of Alice in Wonderland that has set new standards for pictorial beauty and interactive innovation, and most of us have listened to complaints from grandparents and others about how children don't read the old books any more. What does all of this mean for children's library services? Will library collections change drastically as children read ebooks on iPads or one of the other ubiquitous tablet ereaders? Should we shift our print budget to ebooks? What about the youngsters who still prefer print on paper? And more important, what about the parents and other taxpayers who see no need for a library when their children seem totally uninterested in traditional books? In these bad economic times we don't want to make big mistakes with the money entrusted to us, but can anyone tell us what the future holds?

Probably no one knows what actually will happen, and predictions are notoriously bad, but the American Library Association conference starting tomorrow in San Diego, CA, will at least address some of the questions from a library point of view. I am eager to get there to attend some of the meetings and listen to the opinions of other librarians. Equally important, I'll be spending a lot of time going around the exhibits to see what publishers are offering. These are the people who are already making guesses about the future. How do they read the tealeaves? I hope to find out as much as I can and will report some of my findings here during the next week or so.