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.