Sunday, February 26, 2012

Glass half full or half empty?

There has been a lot of talk recently in library circles about ebrary's "2011 Global Student E-book Survey". News of the results have been coming out in bits and pieces for several months now. You can find a good summary at the No Shelf Required blog. Reactions to the results vary from--"kids don't like ebooks" to "Why bother with social media when kids don't use it for research?"--but the results don't seem to justify the reactions. O.K., so 41% of the students in the survey are currently using social media for research or study, while 59% are not. Before we start pointing out the almost 20-point difference between the two groups, we might pause to marvel that 2 out of 5 students are already using it.

For some reason many adults, including librarians and teachers, want to downplay the changes being made by ebooks and new forms of information searching. You can almost hear the sigh of relief from the media when they are able to report that teenagers aren't really crazy about new media. Surveys that give us a snapshot of a specific point in time will never give a complete picture of how people are moving. The important thing to watch is the trend over time. Reading on digital devices hasn't swept the country quite as quickly as is often predicted in Silicon Valley, but it is slowly and surely creeping into public consciousness. Considering how much bad publicity social media has received in recent months over privacy issues and lurid stories of bullying, it is surprising that so many students are intereted in using it intensely. Instead of bouncing back and forth between hailing innovations as saviors of education and denouncing them as dangers and frauds, librarians and other adults ought to concentrate on helping students learn to use all these new tools to share information and insights. They are terrific ways to collaborate with students all over the world and learn more than past generations ever could about what life is really like out there. Percentages don't matter nearly as much as the people behind them who are quietly going about their business of investigating the world they live in.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pointing the Way for Parents

With picture book apps multiplying like the kittens in Wanda Gag's "Millions of Cats" parents, as well as librarians, are wondering how to choose the best of them. There are reviews in some of the journals including School Library Journal, which are helpful but many reviews are appearing in blogs. Helping parents to find reviews that can help them is not always easy. Recently I came across a useful blog that suggests ways of using apps with children as well as linking to reviews. The Digital Media Diet is an active blog that offers articles on using blogs as well as purchasing them. A recent blog post for parents describes how volunteering in your child's school can be enriched through the use of apps for early literacy. The blog also links to many review sources for children's apps such as Great Kid Books and many others. Why not introduce the parents in your library to some of these useful and convenient guides in the confusing world of children's apps. You'll be doing a favor to them and to their children.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Is this the school of the future?

Providing computers to elementary and high school students is not a new idea. It’s been discussed and experimented with for ten years or more, but now we have a chance to look at some of the results. The school district in East Mooresville, North Carolina, issued a laptop to each of their students three years ago. Since they the district has worked out a model of teaching allowing students to progress at their own rate with the help and supervision of teachers. Some of the kids, according to a N.Y. Times article on the schools describe this as “like having a personal tutor”. Scores for students have moved upward and so have graduation rates for high school students. The schools are almost overwhelmed by educators from around the country who want to observe this success in action.

What does this have to do with librarians? Well, it strikes me that this school is educating students in a way that is a lot like the way a library works. Children’s libraries, whether in schools or public libraries, operate on an individualized learning model. Libraries make resources available, help children to choose appropriate ones, and provide the guidance to use resources effectively (although budget cuts have made it difficult for many librarians to interact individually with patrons, but that’s another story). The model provided in libraries has proven to be effective in schools. The laptops aren’t the real story—the provision of individualized attention and support are what matter. Even if the results at the Mooresville schools prove not quite as great as they now seem to be, their success during these years is a vindication of the idea of libraries.

Public libraries, ever since their beginnings, have been an ideal setting for individuals educating themselves with the help of public resources. Now schools too are discovering that in a world where people can be overwhelmed by a deluge of information, children need to learn how to steer a path toward educating themselves. It is a great time for libraries to partner with schools to discover the best ways to help in this endeavor.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Bring on the e-readers

There’s been a lot of hype lately about how ebooks are being used in schools and libraries for children and adults. Ebooks are popular, and some children as well as adults say they prefer reading ebooks to reading print. Librarians, always eager for anything that increases the love of reading, would like to increase their collections. But what can we do for children who don’t have e-readers? Even though these devices have become more and more popular, they are by no means universal. Some libraries manage with a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) but that penalizes parents who cannot or prefer not to buy e-readers, and the policy opens the possibility of teasing and competition among the children.

The preferred solution for most libraries is to buy devices and make them available to children either in the library or to borrow. A report in School Library Journal gives a round-up of the possibilities and problems in buying Kindles, iPads, and other reading devices in children’s libraries. Even setting aside the expense, which can sometimes be covered by donations or grant money, there are complications. The companies that produce e-readers have aimed their devices at consumers not libraries. Books are designed to be used on only one device at a time. Vendors are not always prepared to handle agreements for purchasing multiple copies of ebooks. For classroom use, the devices have to be synched so each child is looking at the same book and this is a problem.

There are far more questions than answers to the many problems in providing ebook collections and e-readers in children’s libraries, but patrons want them and librarians are going to have to work with publishers and vendors to figure out ways of providing access. Libraries and schools are large purchasers of books and should have some leverage in getting publishers to move more quickly to move to digital books. The purchase of the devices, administration of collections, availability of titles wanted, integration of catalogs, and the high costs involved are barriers. This is the kind of problem that professional associations are designed to work out. It’s time for librarians, individually and in groups, to pressure publishers and others in the business to confront these issues and provide answers. The children can’t do it by themselves, so this is a time to step up our advocacy and speak out for the young people in our schools and libraries.