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!