April 2008


Cicada magazineI saw on PUBYAC, the children’s and YA library services newsgroup, that the children’s author Anastasia Suen has posted a page on her site to connect kids and teens who want to be published writers with magazines that publish young people’s work. While it seems that it gets tougher every year for those who want to be published to find places to be taken seriously (hey, how seriously are bloggers taken in an era when everyone can blog – and no one edits them?), these publications have been set up to give young writers a break – with real editors accepting them.

I’ve only heard of a couple of these publications, notably New Moon (Girls only? Hey, no fair!) and Stone Soup – and my experience is that not too many libraries even subscribe to them – so kids who get published here are not exactly breaking into the big time. And here’s Cicada, which mixes adult authors with teen writers. Some of these magazines accept author submissions from ages 12 and under; others are for teens only; one, What If?, accepts Canadians only. But whoever or wherever you are, it’s always good to see your work in print.

Information Literacy diagram from Ontario Library AssnJust about all librarians who work with youth agree that young people have been fairly lazy about doing research since Google got so good at finding pretty exactly whatever they need for an assignment. Kids and teens no longer need to go through the multi-step process of 1) traveling to the library; 2) looking in the catalog for the correct item; 3) going to the shelf, hoping that someone else didn’t get there before you and have checked it out already; and 4) skimming through the book/magazine article and making sure it contains what you need. Young people learned a lot from making those judgments.

Today one can do all this stuff from any spot with a device that connects to the Net, and one never needs to worry that someone got to the book you wanted first. Google piles mounds of everything with even a vague relationship to what you’re looking for in front of you with almost no effort on your part. Not that any of this is bad, but the Google-i-zation of research encourages bad habits.

Thus, young people aren’t working hard – some educators feel they’re barely working at all – to discriminate between good, useful information they find online and flaky, undocumented information. For years, school librarians have made a major effort to train young people in those skills, which are usually defined as “information literacy.”

Middle schoolers I’ve spoken to about the importance of information literacy often roll their eyes. When I spot eye-rolling, I tell them that one day soon they’ll be buying a car and insurance for it. They’ll be choosing a school or a career. They’ll be given documents with gobbeldygook to sign that might deliver big bills to their mailbox. They will need to know how to evaluate information.

But unfortunately many school districts, focused intently on one goal – getting good scores on the statewide standardized math and reading tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind law – have given information literacy about as high a priority as most of us do about being good banjo players.

And thus, we have situations like that in Mesa, AZ, School District where all the certified librarians will be eliminated, because of budget cuts. Why? Because – even though no one from the district will admit it – they can, because certified librarians are not required by No Child Left Behind the way high-quality classroom teachers are.

Here’s a quote from the story in American Libraries:

The decision came as a surprise to many librarians, who were notified of the change the second week in April. “They are just reeling,” Ann Ewbank, education liaison librarian at Arizona State University in Phoenix, told AL. “This school district has done this under the radar.” She added that since librarians are considered instructional support staff, cutting their positions is not perceived as cutting classroom dollars. “They will turn libraries and media centers into warehouses. There will be no collaborative lesson planning, no information-literacy standards, and no library media programming at these schools.”

The sad news is that because No Child Left Behind doesn’t require certified librarians and the things certified librarians do for the kids, they’re ripe for the cutting. It’s very difficult to convince anyone – teachers, principals, parents, average taxpayers – in most places that librarians really can make a difference in the age of Google.

If folks need more convincing, here’s an unsettling study from the UK – from the Centre for Information Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research, at University College London’s centre for publishing. It’s a higher education-level study, but you can be sure that those who reach a university with poor information literacy skills – which is exactly what this study demonstrates – learned those poor skills as kids and teens. Here’s a quote:

The report, Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future, found users [i.e. students] “power-browsing” or skimming material, using “horizontal” (shallow) research. Most spent only a few minutes looking at academic journal articles and few returned to them. “It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense,” said the report authors.

Doesn’t that last quote – going “online to avoid reading in the traditional sense” – sound just like what you see from the average child or teen in the average library these days? Let’s get that boring homework done, so we can go play video games.

Iron Man, a typical protagonist of guys\' fictionHere’s a great Philadelphia Inquirer story I found through LISNews.org – it’s called “Men – in general – are not ones for the books.” The female author, Jen A. Miller, bemoans the fact that the most of the guys she’s known just aren’t book readers, and wonders why that is. She writes:

According to Publishers Weekly, 68 percent of book purchases are made by women (and we suspect they are buying for themselves, not the men in their lives).

And the National Center for Education Studies reported that 71 percent of women, vs. 57 percent of men, have read a book in the last six months.

“If I had to make a huge, sweeping, overgeneralized statement, guys probably read less – and less fiction – than women,” says Jeff Garigliano, a senior editor at Portfolio magazine and the author of Dogface, a “guy” book about a punishing summer camp for kids who’ve been bad.

Well, duh, Jeff. Those of us who make our living trying to get kids (which include boys) and books together have known this for, well, decades maybe?

Garigliano has an interesting – and totally wrong – notion of why guys don’t read as much fiction as girls. He speculates that males “think they should have outgrown the notion of make-believe, so they can’t find as much enjoyment in fiction.”

Large percentages of the boys and men I know love guy fiction, which is almost entirely make-believe. It’s just that very little guy fiction is in novel-style books. It’s in TV shows, movies, and comics. It’s Star Wars, Sandman, Batman, Lost, the Terminator and Predator films, and all the other stuff guys (and more than a few girls, too) look at for fun. How many guys will be going to see the new comics flick Iron Man, and then the new Indiana Jones movie, between now and Memorial Day? You betcha; see you there.

But it is true, as we all know, that guys prefer their books to be nonfiction. And Miller quotes – guess who? – our pal Jon Scieszka, who it’s great to see popping up in so many of these Net and newspaper stories. He tells the truth, so I give him a cheer.

Henry and booksThose of us in public libraries need to talk the language of teachers and school librarians. We need to be paying attention to what’s happening with kids in the schools, and we need to be checking in with school folks regularly. It may not seem fair – they don’t need to check in on us at all, but hey, they have the kids most of the day and tell the kids what to do.

Evidently there was a program about public library/school communication at the PLA Conference in Minneapolis, as Angela Reynolds reports in a posting on the ALSC Blog. The (nameless) presenter said (and I agree) that we should talk to the school folks whenever we can – in particular to reading coordinators and reading specialists who can help us massage our own programming and PR in ways that make them more comfortable to the kids and parents we serve. She met with her local reading coordinator and now says:

As a result of my 90-minute meeting, I’ve already made changes. I’ve tweaked some of the wording on our Summer Reading booklet to reflect the terms that teachers are using at the schools. For example—they encourage kids to find books that are “just right” for them—meaning they can read them without too much struggle, but are also encountering new words or ideas. I’ve included this sentence on my SRP booklet: “Have fun, and read lots of books that are just right for you!”. The school also encourages reading aloud—parent to child, child to parent, etc. So I’ve included that on the SRP booklet as well—“Audio books and reading aloud, or listening to someone read to you, counts as well.”

She also encourages us to label our nonfiction in ways that will help kids who have trouble with Dewey to find what they want. Some school librarians teach kids Dewey, but in lots of elementary school libraries there isn’t a trained school librarian and very little in the way of instructions. Even if the kids (or parents) aren’t asking for help, offer it anyway.

Espresso \While Amazon continues to act as if its Kindle e-book reader is a wonderful, best-selling thing, all of the other blog posts and articles I’ve seen about it seem to feel otherwise – that it, and e-book readers in general, are just not cutting the mustard.

Here’s “What If You Ran Your Bookstore Like a Library,” a Library Journal piece by librarian and mystery author Barbara Fister that I think expresses the quandary the book industry faces over e-books (and over its own future, really) very well.

Fister looks back on the days 10 years ago in which the library press was filled with articles encouraging library directors to take some tips from bookstore managers and package and sell books the way bookstore owners did. (You’ve heard it all, I’m sure – display those books covers out, and use easy-to-grasp subjects, such as “Cookbooks” and “History,” instead of Dewey Decimal numbers.)

But now, she says, things have turned 180 degrees; bookstores have closed all over the country in huge numbers over the past decade, while library visits and library circulation numbers continue to be healthy (even if the role of librarians has grown a bit iffier).

Fister feels that the publishing industry has become its own worst enemy, and points at the restrictions placed on e-books as one reason why. Here’s what she says about the Kindle (which at one point she describes as “clunky”):

I read the reviews and commentary and realized why I’d never buy one: it’s an expensive if lightweight box to carry a bunch of books that are rented at only a small savings over the cost of discounted print books. I say “rented” because the buyer can’t share them and can’t sell them. They can only shop at one bookstore, and it works only if the buyer happens to be in the parts of the United States that have the right sort of Sprint coverage. (Amazon to Montana: drop dead.)

I agree, and I would add that if you want to get young people – who are used to unrestricted access to music and video – interested in books, devices with all the Kindle’s restrictions are not the way to do it.

Fister points to Print on Demand (POD) technology as something that will make a difference in both bookstores and libraries. If we can get publishers to agree to give us the right to print out copies of midlist or backlist books with inexpensive paperback bindings and sell them at a reasonable cost at a local bookstore (or a local big-box store, for that matter), or – ahem – at a library, demand for books just might pick up again.

The POD device pictured here is called the Espresso, and it spent part of this past summer at the Science, Industry, & Business Library of New York Public Library. I heard a lot about it, but I never made it over to see it at work. I was told that it was “extremely cool,” and a few of the people who went to see it could definitely picture it in the library of the future. Instead of Interlibrary Loans, how about the opportunity to have Espresso-ready files of books that could be downloaded and printed, so that anyone who wanted a long-out-of-print book (ahem; such as these if you’re answering a demand for children’s books) could buy a copy for $10 or so?

The technology’s there and ready, folks. It’s only the publishers and copyright holders who aren’t.

Gaming & Libraries UpdateThe joke’s on me, and I admit it. I wasn’t displeased (despite my crusty remarks earlier) to hear from a lot of people who have done research into gaming in libraries, and it appears that gaming does do good things to attract teens into the building – and that they will use and check out library materials. In fact, there’s a new ALA TechSource report by Jenny Levine called “Gaming and Libraries Update.”

I have to admit I am amused by the quote they use from Levine, though.

“In an uncharacteristically (for our profession) viral and rapid way, videogame services in libraries broke through the niche, cult-like status that had relegated them to something only geeky nerds did at home in the basement,” she says.

Huh? I know this is a promotional quote, and I know Levine knows the real score, but the thing we should actually be asking is, “Why the heck did libraries wait more than ten years before promoting video games in the library?” I’ve watched kids and teens playing games on library public-access Web terminals since the very first day there were public-access terminals. Kids seemed to know what sites had games, and zipped right to them.

We all know that libraries are really slow to adapt to new technologies. Often it’s a good thing to be a little slow on the uptake – if public libraries had grabbed on to 8-track tapes or CD-ROMs when they first appeared, we’d have huge collections of stuff in those formats we’d probably still be slowly discarding. But it is pretty funny to see ALA trumpeting how groundbreaking it is having gaming in the libraries – ten years late.

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China has been showing off its technological wonders as it gears up for the Beijing Olympics this summer. Among those wonders is an “automated librarian machine” that issues library cards and lets citizens of the booming factory city of Shenzhen check out books and other media without entering an actual library building. In other words, the machines are teeny automated branches.

Evidently once these machines are installed throughout the city, cardholders will be able to place a book or DVD on reserve and it will be delivered to that machine in a matter of days. The article says:

“It’s really convenient. It only took 16 seconds to issue a book card [library card?], and half a minute to eject books,” a local library patron surnamed La told the newspaper after testing the machine near the library.

Readers can also reserve books through the library Web site or the machine. Once the book is available, the reader will receive a text message, and the book will be delivered to the self-service machines closest to the reader.

These machines hold 400 books or other materials, and users can search the catalog to place things on hold, or borrow one of the high-demand items (at least I assume that if you ran a 400-volume library, you’d have only high-demand items) in the machine for anyone to borrow. I also assume a delivery truck would reload the machine daily.

I’m amused by the fact that it’s called a “librarian machine.” The only librarians involved here are probably doing the planning in the Shenzhen Library. As far as services to children, sure – this machine can deliver materials needed for school assignments (if kids or parents know exactly what material they need), or easy readers, or Thomas the Tank Engine videos. But it can’t do a storytime or make recommendations as to what to read next.

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