henryHi, folks. Because I’m no longer doing children’s work in libraries, and have felt myself drifting further away from children’s work, I’m ending this blog.

I have lots more to say, but I think I will be saying things about the future of libraries that are more general, and all-ages, in nature. Come back soon, and I hope to have some new stuff to share.

We’re in an interesting spot in public libraries now. Books are definitely not as important to American culture as they were when I began my career as a librarian in 1975. Electronic media now dominate most aspects of our intellectual and entertainment lives in the way printed matter once did, and the portion of our lives taken up by electronic media will only grow larger as the years pass. Is this wrong? Is this bad? No, I don’t think so, as long as each new generation learns how to be literate and make judgments about what they read, see, and hear.

What I see in many public libraries right now is a place in which people who can’t afford broadband Internet can get it for free, 30 minutes or 45 minutes or an hour at a time. While providing this service is a good thing, it leaves many of us librarians feeling a bit overtrained as we unclog a printer or demonstrate how to log into an e-mail account. Where are the old-fashioned reference questions we were educated to answer? I see them rarely now.

We need to unveil and be able to explain clearly to our users what it is that we do, and why it’s important. As I’ve said in these posts several times, I know why I do what I do for a living: I think literacy is crucial. Too many folks don’t have it, or don’t have enough of its multiple skills to use it well. Everyone needs to share literacy, to drink the word in deeply. I hope the library profession continues to believe that literacy is the reason we all have jobs.

Later, folks.


henrybooksHere’s a great story, “Play time helps boost child literacy,” from the online London (Ontario) Free Press, about the links between the play of babies and toddlers and pre-literacy skills. Most of us who’ve been involved in pre-literacy skills and young children have known this stuff for a while, but each generation of new parents doesn’t have a clue how literacy happens, needs to learn it, and we librarians need to take a major role in spreading those facts around. Here’s a quote:

“Play is important because right now they’re developing emergent literacy skills,” said Patti Prentice, a literacy specialist with the Ontario Early Years Centre. “Before (children) can read or write, they need to have skills.”

Community agencies in London are making literacy a priority, after a report found one in five Londoners lack literacy skills needed to understand a simple drug label.

Babies are born with a set number of brain cells. As they play, sing songs and have face time with a parent or caregiver, their brain cells make connections that set the foundation for early literacy.

Experts say those connections are made between birth and three years of age.

“They have to build them all and then it’s a case of use them or lose them,” said Prentice.

The article is accompanied by a sidebar, “Early Literacy Games,” listing simple activities parents and other adults can do to enhance babies’ and toddlers’ pre-literacy skills. For example, here’s how to build babies’ awareness of sounds, AKA phonological awareness, one of the basics of literacy:

Age: Up to three months

—Imitate the noises your baby makes with his or her mouth, including kissing sounds, tongue clicking, “raspberries,” suck in air quickly and blow it out quickly.

Age: Three to six months

—Fill small containers with different things, such as dry beans, rice, bells or marbles. Be sure the lid is on tightly. Give baby a shaker and say, “shake, shake, shake.” Then give the baby other containers. Try to imitate the sounds and respond when the baby does the same.

I wish they broadcast stuff like this as part of halftime at the Super Bowl, or in place of commercials during shows like 24. But I don’t think they ever will, so it’s up to folks like us to let adults know how children gain the skills they need to learn to read. Remember to get the pre-literacy message out to all the parents, grandparents, and others you encounter who work with kids under three, and build that link between literacy and the library.

cookiemonsterWell, I don’t believe (I can’t believe!) that the Cookie Monster is really a terrorist, but he certainly looks like one for us these days on the cover of the October 1976 Sesame Street magazine. As someone who was actually in Manhattan on 9/11 (in my case, trapped underground on an E train near Times Square for a couple of hours while trying to get to work), this cover looks pretty spooky.

It’s so, well, predictive of what happened 25 years later…  But to put it all in perspective, we should remember that in 1976 a remake of King Kong, in which Kong climbed the new World Trade Center, was out in movie theaters. But that version of Kong has been pretty much forgotten, and now, chomping the WTC has a very different meaning.

This picture can be found in full size on this Flickr page.

henrymusicDo you remember the post not too long ago about the MA library that loans out a ukulele? The “Unshelved” guys (one of whom is a uke player) did a comic strip about it. I’ve noted in the past that Americans tend to enjoy ukuleles, or they hate them in the way some folks hate glockenspiels or accordions, and the dichotomy between the two attitudes is pretty apparent in this strip.

Anyway, hooray! (As I always say when anyone recognizes, for better or worse, that ukes aren’t just toys, even when kids are playing them.)

bearI’m starting the new year with an old song, “The Bear Went Over the Mountain.” I looked in my copy of Tom Glazer’s Treasury of Songs for Children (Doubleday, 1988), as well as in Wikipedia, and it doesn’t appear to have any kind of story behind it. It’s just a silly song set to the tune of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” (which means of course that you can use the uke chords I offer here for that song, too).

I’ve often used this song for toddler and preschool storytime sessions in which I brought out the big box of rhythm instruments – the drums, tambourines, shakers, and sticks – and descended with the children into sonic chaos. But it’s a fun sonic chaos, since most young children don’t really get the idea of a beat, but they sure enjoy making noise. The trick, of course, is “Can you, as song leader, guide this noise, and have the children follow your directions?”

I would encourage the kids to beat, shake, or pound their instruments whenever I’d reach the spot indicated by “dramatic pause” in the lyric sheet. I’d pause in the song, strum the uke percussively (rest your fingers, lightly, over the strings and strum yourself a drum roll), and shout out, “Faster!” or “Slower!” or “Louder!” or “Softer!” and then…. “Stop!” And then I’d go right into “To see what he could see…”

It’s fun. Try it.

readius1A few days ago, The New York Times ran another story about big-time changes in book publishing, called “Bargain Hunting for Books, and Feeling Sheepish About It.” Its author, David Streitfeld, says that both publishers and bookstores – and among the bookstores, both independents and chains – are not doing well in the current shriveled-up economy:

Publishers have been cutting back and laying off. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced that it wouldn’t be acquiring any new manuscripts, a move akin to a butcher shop proclaiming it had stopped ordering fresh meat.

Bookstores, both new and secondhand, are faltering as well. Olsson’s, the leading independent chain in Washington, went bankrupt and shut down in September. Robin’s, which says it is the oldest bookstore in Philadelphia, will close next month. The once-mighty Borders chain is on the rocks. Powell’s, the huge store in Portland, Ore., said sales were so weak it was encouraging its staff to take unpaid sabbaticals.

Is this only a blip in bad economic times, or is it the beginning of the end for books as we’ve known them in the past? Streitfeld says that the economy has little to do with it; it’s the fault of all of us Internet-savvy buyers, who hunt for the best book deals online from places like Amazon and skip local bookstores. Then we resell the books or give them away as gifts when we’re through with them, further cutting into book sales. I’m not so sure this is the primary reason for the apparent “end of the paper book.” Many of us readers are simply spending way more time with our electronics.

And of course, people continue getting books, “free,” from libraries. ALA keeps telling people that the number of folks using libraries is higher than ever – although if what I see in the branch of the Austin Public Library where I work, which serves a middle-middle-class clientele is any indication, when you add together the number of DVDs in circulation to the number of books on CD that go through the door every day, they leave the building in about equal numbers compared to books with covers and pages. This goes for both adult and children’s materials. People working in branches that serve lower-income folks have told me that if they weren’t circulating DVDs and CDs, they’d barely circulate anything at all.

What does this mean for the future of books, and the future of libraries? It’s pretty clear that society at large continues spending more time with electronic media, which I guess makes me feel optimistic that the proportion of library budgets going to media – DVDs and books on CD especially – continues to grow.

But I wonder how libraries will deal with the growth of the all-purpose device that is coming to dominate the lives of more of us – the Internet phone. Here’s the Pew Internet and American Life project’s new study, “The Future of the Internet III.” As in its previous versions, the study focuses on several main possibilities as to what the Net will be like in 2020, soliciting votes from Internet experts on whether those possibilities will actually happen.

Here’s the first few lines of one such possibility, “The Evolution of Mobile Internet Communications”:

The mobile phone is the primary connection tool for most people in the world. In 2020, while “one laptop per child” and other initiatives to bring networked digital communications to everyone are successful on many levels, the mobile phone—now with significant computing power—is the primary Internet connection and the only one for a majority of the people across the world, providing information in a portable, well-connected form at a relatively low price.

Seventy-seven percent of the experts interviewed agreed this would probably be reality in 2020, and although I’m far from an expert, I agree, too. We’re much more likely to be reading books from a mobile phone than from specialized e-book-reader devices like the “Readius,” above. If Internet phones become the unquestioned kings of communication in a manner far beyond their role right now (which implies that laptops and other PCs will be well on their way to obsolescence by then), I’m wondering how libraries will deal.

Downloadable movies, audiobooks, and books? Yes, yes, and despite what I said at the beginning, yes. I don’t think books, whether for adults or kids, will die that easily.

librThe American Library Association’s Washington Office released to the library community this month a document it created for the Obama-Biden Transition Team: “Opening the ‘Window to a Larger World’: Libraries’ Role in Changing America.” (This link goes to a PDF of the report.) The document hits all the main points that concern us library folks: copyright, privacy, LSTA funding, and, of particular interest to me, literacy.

It begins by telling its readers, as ALA has been telling people in almost every communication with non-librarians that it publishes, and in bold type, too, “Americans are using libraries now more than ever.” I’m not certain how well it, or we library folks in general, are convincing the rest of the world that this claim is true, but it bears repeating. It also does its best to clearly state, below, in the broadest sense, what librarians do and why they’re important, and tie those things to some of the president-elect’s stated aims:

Librarians take very seriously their responsibility to serve as guardians for the public in assuring access to the most trusted, unbiased information. The ALA is ready to work with the new Administration to see President-elect Obama’s commitments to openness, transparency and equity fully realized. Libraries and librarians are critical resources for meeting these goals.

Getting into specific issues, the paper ticks off all those things on many librarians’ wish lists – things like:

* Get libraries/librarians involved in the expansion of broadband access to all parts of the country;

* Get federal agents off librarians’ backs by redoing the Patriot Act and similar laws when it comes to the privacy of library records;

* Include school libraries and school librarians in education mandates (as we all know, a major failure of George W’s “No Child Left Behind” law), and

* Enhance libraries’ abilities to participate in “e-government” – communicating with government agencies and doing government business through the Net, especially for lower-income folks without Net access.

There’s a section called “Safe computing and children,” which can be boiled down to the two first lines, and continues the ALA tradition of opposing filtering. But it’s pretty clear that filtering is here to stay in most libraries; the section’s gentler language, compared with the way these ideas were expressed during the filtering fights of earlier years, acknowledges that it’s a fight ALA has lost:

* Support legislation and fund programs that include Internet safety education, as opposed to Internet blocking and filtering;

* Emphasize the importance of parental involvement in Internet training and safety[…]

But the section of most interest to me, and the one I feel has the most chance of becoming reality, is called, “Literacy and Lifelong Learning.” You may be aware, as I mentioned a couple of posts ago, that Obama was early on converted to the need to support early childhood education and pre-literacy skills, particularly for lower-income children. These kids often don’t get the kind of language stimulation – in particular, print language stimulation and a wider vocabulary – that kids from families with middle or higher incomes do.

We still have a huge way to go in convincing the general public that libraries indeed have a role to play in helping children of all income levels gain a love and appreciation of print in all its forms. Here are a couple of the points from the document, which also emphasizes the role of libraries in aiding low-literacy adults:

* Promote partnerships between early childhood literacy programs and libraries; emphasize the contribution these literacy programs provide to aid in a child’s intellectual development;

* Promote and articulate the important role libraries serve in literacy efforts, including how libraries provide access to early learning activities for language acquisition and other learning and literacy skills for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and their families;

* Create a Presidential Early Learning Council, as envisioned by President-elect Obama, to encourage necessary dialogue among programs at the federal, state and local levels;

* Include librarians as full participants in this learning council and other literacy advisory groups [Here’s a major big deal, if there’s any way it could happen; typically, educators involved with these types of programs don’t even consider librarians worthy of joining such a team];

* Encourage private and nonprofit sectors to collect and disseminate the most valid and up-to-date research on early learning and highlight best practices and model programs at the state and local level [with the notion, I suppose, that programs involving libraries would be included];

* Review all types of federally supported literacy programs and assure appropriate planning and budgeting to support high school students and adult literacy;

* Require community partnerships between local literacy programs and local public libraries within adult literacy programs [see above, as libraries aren’t usually given consideration here, either];

* Broadly promote and emphasize the need for literacy programs and the “right to read”; through public awareness programs, encourage those needing literacy training to use every opportunity; promote literacy as an important tool to obtain employment, gain formal and informal education and to participate in the full breadth of life’s activities;

* Promote literacy programs as a tool for “hope.” [Hmm – is this different than regular hope, the kind without the quotation marks?]

I’m glad to see this document out there. But will it really make any difference? I dunno. With all the horrible pressures of the battered economy and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan getting most of the attention – and with most of the attention regarding education going to the schools and classroom teachers – will there be even a micron of space to squeeze libraries into the spotlight? I’m old and cynical enough to wonder.