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 (www.scbwi.org) 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 Salon.com, 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.