Sunday, May 13, 2012

Not a monster but a giant in the book world

There is little left to say about Maurice Sendak now because almost everyone in the library world and the children's book world have been talking about him since his recent death. The news shocked readers who had grown up with Where the Wild Things Are and Sendak's other books. The tweets started pouring out about childhood memories of those remarkable monsters which were scary but somehow not threatening. Now the NY Times has published a particularly charming tribute from many of the illustrators and writers of children's books who have been influenced by Maurice Sendak's work. If you haven't read it yet, be sure not to miss it--and don't miss the slideshow. Sendak has influenced generations of writings, publishers and librarians who have come to expect some of his honesty and quirky vision in children's books. He can truly be called a revolutionary figure.

Would Maurice Sendak be part of the current revolution in children's books? It's hard to say. He expressed his opinion of ebooks very tartly on the Stephen Colbert show not long ago. He dismissed them out of hand as not being real books at all and his scornful words have been flashed around the Internet on YouTube. Is he right? Does his status as a pioneer make his opinion of the future, or the present, believable? In the long run it will be the children who decide. Change is inevitable and perhaps future generations will feel just as nostalgic and sentimental about their apps as today's adults are about the picture books they grew up with.

The value of librarians is that we welcome all sorts of innovations and accept the best of the new while preserving the treasures of the past. We certainly have a responsibility to keep alive the seminal works of Maurice Sendak, but we don't have to accept his opinions as gospel. There will undoubtedly be great ebooks coming along and the future belongs to the children growing up in it, not to those of us who grew up in the past.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Another player in the ebook field?

Just when it seems that the tug-of-war between publishers, bookstores and libraries is stalled with each side locked into a position unacceptable to others, a jolt has come to ebook publishing. As reported in the NY Times, Microsoft has agreed to invest millions of dollars in Barnes & Noble's Nook publishing. This sudden influx of money should make B&N a real contender against Amazon's Kindle. The partnership of bookstores and ebooks should be a natural one, although it doesn't exist in the Amazon-Apple world. Many readers (or borrowers in a library) would likely enjoy browsing through the print edition of a book before deciding to choose it to read on their e-reader. The all-online world of Amazon offers enticing pictures of book covers and snippets of reviews by journalists and other readers, but seeing the actual book offers an even stronger incentive to read.

Although this move may complicate librarian's choices in deciding what formats to choose for their ebook collections, any competition in the field is actually an advantage for libraries. Competition between producers of ebooks is likely to encourage all sides to enter into negotiations to make their products available through libraries as well as bookstores. Let's hope this business move will open up choices for all of us.