Amazon's Kindle e-book reader

Amazon's Kindle e-book reader

I’m still skeptical about their long-term prospects. But Sony and Amazon, makers of the Reader and Kindle e-book devices, claim that their sales are booming. It appears, at least if you believe Sony and Amazon, that e-books are finally (finally! after nearly 10 years of waiting) taking off. Here’s a quote from the New York Times article, “More Readers Are Picking Up Electronic Books,” that gives a nice overview of the state of e-book readers at the end of 2008:

For a decade, consumers mostly ignored electronic book devices, which were often hard to use and offered few popular items to read. But this year, in part because of the popularity of’s wireless Kindle device, the e-book has started to take hold.

The $359 Kindle, which is slim, white and about the size of a trade paperback, was introduced a year ago. Although Amazon will not disclose sales figures, the Kindle has at least lived up to its name by creating broad interest in electronic books. Now it is out of stock and unavailable until February. Analysts credit Oprah Winfrey, who praised the Kindle on her talk show in October.

Sony claims that it has sold about 300,000 of its $400 Reader devices. And publishers are claiming that sales of their e-titles have grown from 1 percent to 2 or 3 percent in the past year. Woo-hoo. But, seriously, does this mean that e-books are actually on the brink of success?

I’m still not convinced that e-book readers will hit the big time until costs of the devices come way down. Why pay $350 or more for a device that holds books you have to buy for $20 or so? These are books with all kinds of protections plastered on them, ones that you could buy in 3-D paper format, at a discount, for $20 or less, and then give to friends or resell? You can’t do anything with a Kindle or Reader book after you’ve finished it. I don’t think that the devices offer $350 or $400 worth of extra features.

The article also says that the Kindle is “most popular among 55- to 64-year-olds.” If we boomers are the ones who find it most appealing (of course, we’re also the ones most likely to have the cash to buy an e-book reader device), that doesn’t bode well for their future, I think. It’s younger users that power a technological fad.

But maybe all will change when the prices for the readers come down. Hey, Amazon and Sony, where are the e-book reader devices that cost under $300 and have more cool features that appeal to the gaming generation?


obamaThere’s a great article in the New York Times, “Obama Pledge Stirs Hope in Early Childhood Education,” about what we can look forward to in the new Administration when it comes to the education of preschool kids. I listened closely to what Barack Obama said about education all through the Presidential campaign, and he almost always, in his speeches and debates, singled out preschoolers for special mention.

George W’s “No Child Left Behind” law basically acted as if preschoolers weren’t there. But that, I hope, is about to change. And will libraries have a role to play? Geez, I hope so – but probably not unless we library folks are out there with cymbals and kazoos, making a racket.

Obama wants to get programs such as Early Head Start, which Bill Clinton started up in 1994, better funded and taking a more critical role. But early childhood education in the U.S. is a nationwide mishmash. The article describes it:

“It’s a patchwork quilt, a tossed salad, a nonsystem,” said Libby Doggett, executive director of Pre-K Now, a group that presses for universal, publicly financed prekindergarten.

There are federal and state, public and private, for-profit and nonprofit programs. Some unfold in public school classrooms, others in storefront day care centers, churches or Y.M.C.A.’s, and still others in tiny centers run out of private homes.

“California has 22 different funding streams for child care and preschool, and that mirrors the crazy labyrinth of funding sources coming out of Washington,” said Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who is the author of “Standardized Childhood: The Political and Cultural Struggle Over Early Education.”

ALA, ALSC, and PLA (the American Library Association, the Association for Library Services for Children, and the Public Library Association) began their big “Every Child Ready to Read” program in public libraries partly because early childhood programs were fragmented and disorganized, and someone needed to step up and offer parents everywhere a great pre-literacy resource in every community’s library.

There are tons more baby times, toddler times, and other pre-literacy-oriented programs going on in libraries nationwide than there were ten years ago – and I say, hooray!

But do you see the national press recognizing what public libraries do for young children? Um, no; not really. Do you see any mention of libraries in this NY Times article? I don’t.

What does this mean? It means that we have to make certain that people (parents, teachers, program directors, just plain folks) know more about how public library programs and materials can help prepare young children for school, for the working world, and for their lives.

Obama cited in his platform a famous study (at least famous among early childhood education advocates) about the value of spending government funds to support education (including pre-literacy education) for young lower-income kids, who need it the most:

One much-cited study is of a preschool program that offered high-quality services to a few dozen black children in Ypsilanti, Mich., in the early 1960s at a two-year cost per child of about $15,000. The study found that the investment, 40 years later, had rendered economic returns to society of some $244,000 per child, much of that in savings from reduced criminal activity. Critics have challenged the findings, in part because of the small number of children involved.

Mr. Obama’s platform accepts the broad logic of the Ypsilanti study. “For every one dollar invested in high-quality, comprehensive programs supporting children and families from birth,” the platform says, “there is a $7-$10 return to society in decreased need for special education services, higher graduation and employment rates, less crime, less use of the public welfare system and better health.”

I hope this will be an exciting time for those who work with young children in libraries, but it won’t be unless we make noise. We librarians need to insist on expanding our role. So offer people in early childhood programs the library’s assistance. Pay visits to preschools, Head Starts, and child care centers. Put up signs in the library. We can grab a big opportunity if we work hard for it.

henryGet back to it and just do it – know what I mean? Hey folks – I know I went AWOL for a while. I needed a break, plus there’s been plenty happening in my 3-D life. But it was time, I realized, to either fold up this blog or to get busy and post, and I’m not ready to quit yet. I’m going to do my best to post stuff on a more regular basis, and I’ve been working hard on my ukulele playing, so I hope to have more uke materials to share soon.

Thanks, W (the Monkey)

henrymusicHere’s a great idea that I never thought would work well, but obviously seems to – at least it does at the Forbes Library of Northampton, MA. They’re circulating a ukulele. Read about it in this article.

The inexpensive uke was donated by a local music store. Here are the details:

Any library card holder in 6th grade or older can check out the ukulele for three weeks and then renew it once. “If someone loses or damages it, or the instructional DVD, we will charge for replacement the same as with other circulating materials,” [the FPL’s Art & Music Dept. head Faith] Kaufmann told LJ. It is worth about $50, on a par with many audiobooks, for example. So far patrons have taken excellent care of it.”

There’s a waiting list of 24, which I find pretty amazing.

I don’t know if I would like to see what would happen in a bigger city library, but I think circulating a uke is an extremely cool idea, especially if several of of them could be provided for kids and a community volunteer would be willing to hold, say 30 – 60min programs each week to teach kids and adults to accompany themselves on simple songs. With so many kids unable to have music lessons through school any more, it could be a really appropriate service. More libraries should be taking chances like these.

A boy readingIt’s kind of funny how writers keep sounding amazed that boys have such problems motivating themselves to read, and wondering, gosh, how to motivate them. Here’s an article from Library Administrator’s Digest, called, “Why aren’t little boys reading?” There’s not a whole lot of substance to the skimpy advice given here, which is a shame.

The article focuses on the findings of some focus groups of elementary-aged boys conducted by the Toledo-Lucas County (OH) Library, but they don’t reveal much of anything useful. The article says:

Early in the process, the library hosted two focus groups with local boys between the ages of 7 and 10. There were few surprises from these honest energetic youngsters. Boys tend to like nonfiction, action, adventures, graphic novels and stories about sports. The information gained at these sessions will help guide the library.

Um, well, duh. Any of us who have worked with boys knows these things. Wow – boys, in general, need brief, punchy, fact- or fantasy-oriented stuff. (As opposed to “real-life fiction” kinds of books, which many girls love, but boys not so much.) No surprise.

Then, as you can see if you read the article, they give several recommendations, such as “Construct library displays that will be of interest to boys,” without saying specifically what those displays might involve. C’mon – Superheroes? Inventions? Wild animals? It isn’t hard to come up with ideas, so why don’t they offer any? Is there a bias against nonfiction, and against comic-book-style fantasy, and another bias favoring “real-life” fiction, on the part of many librarians? I won’t say, but I’ll leave it to anyone reading this post to decide.

I think that there must be a lot of librarians who are still uncomfortable that lots of boys don’t want the same “easy” things that lots of girls want, and aren’t happy that boys need to be lured into things that are “bookish.” It really isn’t that difficult, though, to make the right kinds of books appealing.

Back when PCs first became really popular in the pre-Web days of the late 80s and early 90s, I kept reading (in paper books, magazines, and newspapers, of course) about how “paperless” society was going to become. If you were working in a library then, you probably remember how the coming of e-mail actually generated more paper than ever. Since digital files were prone to crash and disappear, if something was important, you’d print it out. We printed out everything, it seemed.

But in 2008, things are really changing. The pile of paper seems to be growing smaller. One of the biggest changes appears to be that newspapers and many magazines (especially news magazines) are shrinking, and that so many more of the things we read are on screens. This article from the New York Times, “Mourning Old Media’s Decline,” pretty much tells the story. The Christian Science Monitor, which every library I’ve ever worked in has carried, will no longer publish on paper. Time, Inc., and several newspaper publishers, are laying off lots of their staffs.

And you no doubt also saw that Google has settled with the authors and publishers who sued the company over its plans to make the content of the thousands of books they scanned from collections of big research libraries available to everyone… who’s willing to pay for the privilege. (Of course, Google plans to make access to the database available to schools and libraries as a subscription.)

I guess these changes are a good thing – we’ll be using a lot less paper. But what will a move away from reading things on paper mean for libraries? My thoughts:

We’re heading toward not owning the materials that people will read, watch, or listen to. Libraries will probably subscribe to media services that allow users to log in and read articles, watch films on their laptops or their big screen TVs, and listen to audio books and music just about anywhere. I still believe that lots of adults and children will continue reading paper fiction books for entertainment, but I think that “useful” books – textbooks, DIY guides, and most other nonfiction – will slowly vanish behind the digital sun, particularly as my own generation, the boomers, passes on. Newspapers and magazines will definitely move on to digital-land as soon as most people take up Internet phones and/or e-paper devices that let those publications be beamed to their readers.

What will be the place of libraries in this kind of publishing environment? I’m willing to bet that most people won’t want to pay for digital subscriptions any more than they do now, and that they’ll still be willing to visit libraries, whether 3-D or digital. But I think that if we keep working hard at stressing the importance of literacy, and our role in promoting it, that we can remain strong as… well… “literacy & fun” centers (I’m trying to think of a better term, but I haven’t yet).

I mean storytimes; storytelling; puppetry; read-alouds. You know.

Young children, especially, will always want someone to read, and, sing, and tell, and perform for them, and so will their families. Who else but us library folk will do this stuff without charging for it, and help make the printed word exciting?

This New York Times article, “Using Video Games as Bait to Hook Readers,” by Motoko Rich, intimates, at least to me, that media companies are now headed down that road that leads to a largely bookless future.

Here’s the kernel of its message:

Increasingly, authors, teachers, librarians and publishers are embracing this fast-paced, image-laden world in the hope that the games will draw children to reading.

Spurred by arguments that video games also may teach a kind of digital literacy that is becoming as important as proficiency in print, libraries are hosting gaming tournaments, while schools are exploring how to incorporate video games in the classroom. In New York, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is supporting efforts to create a proposed public school that will use principles of game design like instant feedback and graphic imagery to promote learning.

It tells about several about-to-be-published, or just-published, books that tie in with video games, such as Scholastic’s “Maze of Bones” series.

Rich touches on the core question that has not yet been answered, namely, do video games, even if they include print, promote the kind of literacy that encourages young people to read printed books? While there are plenty of tech folks who promote computer literacy as a skill that fits right into print literacy, others say that the two have little to do with each other and that while a young person may spend hours or weeks trying to master a game’s minutiae, almost none of a video game’s skills carry over into the very different experience of getting lost in a book.

Reading this article, I could picture it all in my mind: Wait until we baby-boomers all kick the bucket (in 2058? or 2060?), and books will have been well along the way to dying. By 2020, they’ll all have been replaced for younger people by videogame/film/holographic worlds (and if you don’t think holographic TV is coming, read this) that folks can control and manipulate. A few retro folks of the upcoming generations will gravitate to books, but they’ll be seen in, say, 2068, as we see 78-rpm record collectors now – quaint. And maybe e-book readers will finally be cheap and truly functional by then. So, by the 2050s, or earlier, enjoying reading a printed book may be no longer relevant, since everyone will get their entertainment and information electronically.

Am I wrong? I hope I am. Should I care? As a booklover, it’ll be hard to watch. I wish I could be around to see what’s going to happen in 2068. Will there still be libraries by then?