March 2008


PLA logoI have attended fifteen or so years’ worth of ALA conferences. both midwinter and annual. Though I’ve mostly enjoyed them, I’m always slightly put out by the fact that it always appears that academic librarians far outweigh every other group in attendance. If I start a conversation with someone on a shuttle bus, it’s almost always an academic librarian. If I sit next to another table of librarians in the hotel coffee shop, all their badges say guess what? I always feel that if you throw an egg into a crowd at an ALA conference, you’ll hit an academic librarian.

Not that I have anything against academic librarians, of course. They just don’t do what I do, and I like to go to conferences to gripe with my peers and get new solutions for my issues.

Thus I’m starting to look longingly at PLA conferences. The Public Library Association conference was held in Minneapolis March 25 -29, and I’ve been reading the PLA blog over the last few days to see what kinds of presentations I missed.

And it looks as if I missed some good stuff. It appears that there were several presentations on library design, several more on services to teens, and a couple on readers’ advisory. Kathryn Foley, who calls herself “the Cannuk,” posted a couple of good things about teen services that are worth a look, as well as a link to the online handouts of “Where’s a YA Librarian When You Need One?”. (Reminding us of things most of us have heard before, but that’s why we go to conferences – to be reminded of things we forget during the every-day-at-work.)

If you weren’t there, take a look. Maybe next PLA.

A boy, a car, a DVDThis past Wednesday in our local paper, the Austin American-Statesman, columnist Ashley Sanchez wrote about how children and parents wander around under the spell of technology everywhere they go, and how this just cannot be a good thing.

She begins with an example that I think we can all nod our heads over. Some local preschools have banned cell phones in the building because parents dropping their children off and picking them up grow so involved with their phones that their conversations have “precluded kissing their children goodbye, greeting them after school and hearing about their day from their teacher.”

(How many of you start your storytimes, as I did in my last job, with “Please silence your cellphones during storytime”?)

Staff members at another preschool in an affluent Austin neighborhood see that when children watch DVDs in the car on their way to school instead of talking with Mom or Dad, they can become hypnotized and arrive at the school in a daze, not ready to listen to the teacher.

I should have known this, but hadn’t realized that DVD players had become close to ubiquitous in the back seats of all those SUVs carrying kids around. Sanchez writes:

More than 80 percent of 2008 model year cars had DVD players included as either a standard or optional feature, up from about 64 percent the previous year.

But she makes a suggestion that every library staffer watching parents cart all those piles of DVDs to the circ desk should take to heart – and hey, we’re the folks on the front line who have all those books on CD at hand:

Two years ago, I obliquely suggested that listening to unabridged audiobooks is preferable to the children watching DVDs on long road trips. It’s like a traveling book club that the whole family, including the driver, can participate in.

Just something to think about. I know that lots of parents check out books on CD for the car already. But plenty of others don’t.

The Little Green FrogHere’s another ukulele song I’ve used in storytimes that I’m a little hesitant to post, because after searching for it online this morning, I’m wondering whether it’s as well known as I originally thought it was. I’ve always known this song – and I mean known it since I was a kid going to camp – as “Ba-ROOMP,” said the Little Green Frog”. But when I searched for it on Google, I found lots of variations of the sound the Little Green Frog makes, including sounds like “Mm-ah” and “Mm-mm.”

(Huh? I’ve never heard a frog make a noise with a “mm” sound in it. But, oh, well. I continue to sing what I know, and that’s “Ba-ROOMP.”)

I also found a video on YouTube of a bunch of young teens on a bus singing the “Mm-ah” version to a tune completely different than the one I’ve always sung (which I won’t link to, since I don’t want it messing you up if you want to sing my version). I think I may have to finally bite the bullet and record myself so you can hear my version – otherwise the chords I’m giving here will make no sense.

If the tune you know doesn’t work with my uke chords, please let me know & I will break down & add an MP3 file of me singing it, so you can hear what I think it’s supposed to sound like.

Ah, camp songs – they can be like amoebas that change their form or split into two. It’s the folklore tradition at work. Anyway, this song can be sung to kids of any age, but I find it works best with grades K-5, because older kids pick up the silliness of the “la-de-da-de-dah” verse the best.

From Slave Ship to Freedom RoadIf you haven’t seen it yet, don’t miss this story from Monday’s Washington Post called “Question for the Ages: What Books When?” The story deals with controversies over whether certain books are appropriate for certain ages of children – particularly when the books are assigned or read aloud by the children’s teachers.

Two examples: parents objected when a third-grade teacher read aloud From Slave Ship to Freedom Road (Puffin, 1999) by Julius Lester and Rod Brown, which the parents thought too graphic and violent when describing the deaths of slaves traveling from Africa to the Americas. Other parents thought Treasure Island was too easy to be on their seventh-graders’ reading list.

It’s great to see Jon Scieszka quoted here. He tells us the real problem with books assigned to students in 2008, and I agree – it’s the unrealistic pressure and expectations of many parents and educators at the same time that we’re undergoing a cultural shift in which reading “hard books” seems less and less relevant to many bright kids (not that they’ve ever seemed all that relevant to plenty of reluctant kids):

Some educators and authors say they believe the emphasis on standardized tests in the No Child Left Behind education law has made teachers less willing to experiment with new or unusual books. “Kids are getting less and less choice, and it’s sad,” said author Jon Scieszka, the U.S. National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, adding that his son once saw reading as only a school activity.

“He thought every book comes with a test,” he said. “There is nothing sadder than making books only a school project. Reluctant readers don’t want to be quizzed at the end of every chapter. They don’t want to feel like they are stupid.”

But it’s not just the reluctant kids who have problems with the books and the quizzes that seem designed to drive kids to their video game machines forever. It’s also the kids whose parents are certain are “gifted” who are pushed to read harder and harder, and more and more sophisticated, works they aren’t emotionally mature enough to grasp. Why read Gary Paulsen when you can read Fyodor Dostoyevski?

Librarians dealing with school reading lists, who are trying to match a book to the right child, don’t have an easy time. But this article will give anyone struggling with the issue some spare comfort.

“Escape from Horrorland”I’m sure all readers who ever entered the children’s departments of libraries any time over the last 20 years remember Goosebumps, and how popular that series by R.L. Stine was in the late 80s and early 90s. I certainly remember how popular they were with kids in those pre-Harry Potter days.

The books have a special value for me because they, more than any other book or series, turned my daughter – who, believe me, was read to every night for many years from the time she was an infant, but whose pre-Goosebumps interest in reading books herself might be best described as “ambivalent” – into a reader.

So it’s good to hear that Stine, now 64, is getting back into the game with a new Goosebumps series called “Goosebumps Horrorland,” according to this New York Times article. Stine described to reporter Brian Stelter how the booming series finally petered out. Note the important role of the series’ “packager” in Goosebumps’ temporary demise.

(Has anyone ever written an article about who these packagers are, and exactly what they do? They seem to be everywhere in the publishing news these days. You can be sure that almost every big commercial paperback series you see these days has a packager behind it.)

Along the wall of Mr. Stine’s home office are testaments to the brand’s glory: a “Goosebumps” chocolate Advent calendar, a toothbrush holder, a box of Count Chocula cereal with a “Goosebumps” logo. At the height of “Goosebumps,” there was also a television series and talk of a possible movie.

But then the relationship between Scholastic and Parachute, the books’ packager, became strained. Ownership of licensing rights was disputed as early as 1996, and by the end of 1997 Scholastic had stopped paying advances to Parachute, and Parachute had filed suit. Around the same time, sales figures started weakening.

“The kids got tired of them,” Mr. Stine said simply. “There were too many of them out there.”

But there are still plenty of kids out there reading the old series – there are certainly lots of copies out there in lots of libraries – and writing Stine fan letters and e-mails. Both Stine and Scholastic are hoping that Horrorland will become a 21st-century hit.

Henry and booksI read a great quote on the PUBYAC discussion group this morning, and after all the depressing news and discussion around the Web over the value of libraries and librarians in these Googly times, I felt compelled to pass it along.

It’s from Pat Downs, youth services manager at San Diego County (CA) Library. They’ve been holding a similar discussion on PUBYAC, so Pat knew just what to share – something overheard at SDCL’s new Encinitas branch:

I just have to weigh in here with a wonderful quote from a young boy, upon entering our newest branch:

“This place is great! It’s like the Internet, but it’s real!”

I smiled for about an hour after reading that. (And thanks for the permission to share it here, Pat.)

Generic (actually proposed HP) e-book reader deviceOver the weekend I found this story on e-books on the Gizmodo blog (please ignore the crude graphic) that reminds us that the e-book files we download don’t really belong to us the way a 3-D book does. If we buy an Amazon Kindle or Sony Reader device, for example, and “purchase” the electronic book files from the online bookstore, we can’t sell them to someone else. We can’t even move them to other electronic devices we own.

The non-portability of electronic books is the publishing industry’s response to music piracy. While music has long been available without digital rights management (DRM) protections, publishers made certain early on that all bestsellers – or even books that might by some remote chance become bestsellers – are so heavily locked down that they can’t be printed or moved between devices. J.K. Rowling’s attorneys have refused to allow her publishers to release any of the Harry Potter books as e-books.

The only e-book files without this kind of DRM protection are public domain e-book files – the kind found through the Project Gutenberg Web site – and those voluntarily released by their creators through the Creative Commons strategy.

The Gizmodo post discusses what you get when you “buy” an e-book:

In the fine print that you “agree” to, Amazon and Sony say you just get a license to the e-books—you’re not paying to own ’em, in spite of the use of the term “buy.” Digital retailers say that the first sale doctrine—which would let you hawk your old Harry Potter hardcovers on eBay—no longer applies. Your license to read the book is unlimited, though—so even if Amazon or Sony changed technologies, dropped the biz or just got mad at you, they legally couldn’t take away your purchases. Still, it’s a license you can’t sell.

But is the license truly legal? Here we’re on the cutting edge of the legal system. When you buy a 3-D book you can turn around and sell it. The legal consultants Gizmodo checked with say that it’s very possible for “buyers” of e-books to resell them or (attention, library folks) lend them. I think we have a way to go before the legal rights of e-book “owners” have been fully determined.

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