Saturday, January 28, 2012

Who knows about the awards?

The highlight of the American Library Association’s Midwinter meeting for children’s librarians every year is the annual awards ceremonies. The ceremony is always held early in the morning in front of a packed room full of conference-weary attendees,who wait hopefully for the announcements. Many libraries hold mock-Newbery events prior to the conference in which staff and patrons can vote on the books they think should be awarded the Newbery Medal, so everyone has a stake in the outcome. The ALA awards are the most prestigious award childrens books can get in America. This year’s event happened this week in Dallas, Texas.

News of the winners of the award spreads quickly throughout libraryland. If you haven’t heard, then check these books out. Jack Gantos won the Newbery Medal for his novel Dead End in Norvelt and Chris Raschka won the Caldecott award for the best children’s book illustrations for his wordless picture book A Ball for Daisy.

Normally publicity about the award would spread quickly in print and on TV. The New York Times and other mainstream papers carried stories about the winners. As the Publishers Weekly pointed out however, the usually reliable Today show on NBC did not interview the winners. PW sounds a bitter note about how children’s literature is undervalued and many of us will agree. Parents are often the last people to learn about the medal winners, yet many of them like to buy good books for children’s birthdays or take them out of the library for children. Lots more parents watch TV than read the print newspapers. It is a shame that important new children’s books are not being publicized on the shows that people watch.

Perhaps it’s time for librarians, teachers, and others who care about books for children to write to NBC and the other networks and tell them what they are missing. If we are going to keep children reading and writers and illustrators producing great books for them, we have to urge the media to publicize the best that is being produced. In the meantime we can publicize the books in our libraries and on our Facebook pages and Tweets. Let's make our voices heard in support of children's books and reading!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Will teachers write their own textbooks?

The online world has been full of discussion these past few days over the release of Apple’s new authoring tool for e-textbooks. If you want to see the sunny, Apple version of what is being offered, go to their website and watch the video. I’ve downloaded the software and tried using it myself and it’s one of those programs that’s a pleasure to use. Input is easy for images, links, videos and presumably other media. I would advise any librarian who has a Mac and an iPad to download it and try it out. But, of course, there is a catch.

Despite Apple’s claim that the software will revolutionize textbooks in classrooms, there are many difficulties in its way. The most important is the expense of providing iPads for all students in a school. What are librarians and teachers going to do about the proliferation of valuable material that can only be accessed through expensive devices? Some schools and many libraries have a BYOD policy of “Bring Your Own Device” and that may work in some situations. It’s not likely to be accepted in many communities where almost none of the families can afford to buy an iPad, much less providing one for each child in the family. And school districts, struggling to pay for paper and pencils, are unlikely to be able to supply and maintain enough of these devices to satisfy classroom needs.

There is another problem, and that is the authors’ and publishers’ rights to sell their materials through any outlet they choose. Anyone who develops content in ibooks/author program has to agree to sell only through Apple. Several commentators have pointed out the ramifications of this, including the Huffington Post.

Does this mean that public institutions like schools and libraries should avoid supplying these products? It’s seems to me there is a useful place for this program right now while we are still waiting for possible legal challenges to the restrictions Apple is placing on it.

The exception to Apple’s tight hold on the materials produced is for anything that is given free to users. Wouldn’t an ibooks/authors presentation of lessons or instructions be useful for many purposes? A teacher could put her lesson about California Missions into a small package including text, illustrations, perhaps a video and provide it on the school library webpage. Or a librarian could format a lesson of library instruction and make it available on the same webpage. These are materials that are routinely offered free to library patrons and students. Because Apple exempts the free distributions of materials developed in its author program, there would be no conflict in developing these. And think how you would impress the tweens and teens who come to the library and use it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

More video in the library

One of the websites most often blocked in school libraries is YouTube, yet this is one of the most popular sites for both children and adults. It offers videos that can be great resources for school projects and class presentations. And YouTube is working hard to tailor the site for specific audiences. A recent article in School Library Journal reports on the YouTube school site that offers a collection of educational videos for elementary and high school students. The site offers a wide range of videos that can easily be incorporated into classroom lessons. They can also be used by individual students either in the school library or public libraries. Yet still the fear of school authorities for allowing students free access continues to block this asset from many schools. As SLJ reports, many school librarians have been told they may not use this resource in their school. Instead of being allowed to see these videos from a safe site at school, they will have to go home and look them up on the general YouTube site where they may discover exactly the content some parents and teachers don't want them to see. When will we learn that we cannot restrict children today to the narrow confines of information they had access to in years past? Librarians should work hard to make appropriate sites like YouTube/Schools available to all children in school and public libraries. An access policy based on fear does not serve our children well.

In an age of streaming visual content, YouTube has carved a niche for itself which grows bigger year by year. To understand this phenomenon, take a look at John Seabrook's article in the New Yorker which details the way YouTube was started, how it has grown and where it is heading. The future may not be exactly as planned, but it looks certain that YouTube has a future and parents, teachers and librarians had better prepare to make the most of it instead of futilely trying to keep it away from children.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Libraries save us from piracy?

One of Publisher Weekly's most dynamic blogs, the PWxyz blog has called attention to something that often gets lost in the discussion about SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and other discussions about the right of individuals to access content. Besides being technically unwieldly and probably unworkable, SOPA deprives people of the right to find out about digital content they might otherwise not encounter. For more than a century public libraries have served to let people find books, magazines, and other content they either never heard about or cannot afford to purchase. Most people learn to love a book or an author by reading material borrowed from a library--or sometimes from a friend. Reading it once, or listening to music once, isn't always enough, so library borrowers turn into buyers. That's been happening with books all these years and it can happen to ebooks too. Most people are willing to pay a reasonable amount of money to purchase material they want to keep as long as buying it is made convenient. Instead of helping libraries by allowing them to lend ebooks to their cardholders, many publishers have worked to restrict lending. Somehow they believe the model that has worked for a century and more in developing devoted readers won't work any more. Instead of trying to restrict use, publishers ought to work with libraries to enable more people access to both print and digital content. Readers, authors, and publishers all benefit from having a community invested in producing and consuming artistic content. Let's call for sanity instead of SOPA.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New twelve-step program for children's librarians

If you or your colleagues are suffering a bit of post-holiday letdown and back-to-work blahs, you may want to consider some changes that can energize the way you work. Instead of the same-old, same-old routine of familiar picture books for storytimes and lackluster class visits, resolve to try a few new tricks in 2012. Here are twelve suggestions for ways to make your services more interactive and exciting for children and librarians alike. Take advantage of all the new gadgets many children found under the Christmas tree this year. Welcome apps into your library; let children write blog posts on their smartphones and laptops; start using Facebook to tell the world about your library as well as your friends and causes. Here are twelve ideas—one for every month of the new year. Try them and see how you can chase away the doldrums.

Twelve Resolutions for 2012

1. Evaluate one new children’s app every week. Encourage others in your department to do the same.

2. Plan to attend one new conference, workshop or webinar this year—get your request for funding and time off in early to avoid disappointment.

3. Set up an advisory group of tweens or teens who are frequent library users. Take their suggestions seriously.

4. Start a work journal—at the end of every day (or the beginning of the next one) jot down what tasks you worked on, what you accomplished, a new idea that came to you. Keep the notes to use for annual reports or grant proposals.

5. Feature at least one graphic novel in every book display you mount in your library or on your website

6. Contribute an item about children’s services to the library’s Facebook page at least once a month

7. Volunteer for a committee of your state or national library association

8. Practice taking pictures with your smartphone or camera so you can document your programs or materials (Don’t forget to get parental permission before posting kid’s photos online.)

9. Contact your local PTA and try to speak to a group of parents at least once each semester—preferably at the beginning of the school term.

10. Exchange visits with other libraries in your region—once a month or once a season see what other children’s librarians in your area are doing.

11. Make your summer reading program an interactive experience by setting up a blog for middle-grade participants.

12. Open a twitter account and tweet about what your library is doing. Follow as many other children’s librarians as you can find.