Monday, August 18, 2014

Back To School ... Seven Ways The Library Can Make The Year Suceessful.

This is the time of year that students face with mixed emotions.  First emotion, dread.  The lazy hazy days of summer are quickly passing and by all accounts, there is still so much fun to be had! (So many new books to read too! )  The second emotions, excitement.  School days are great for catching up with friends that have been gone for summer months and the routine of seeing each other again is back in full swing.   The first day of school offers so much promise for the year ahead.  One way to be sure that the school year is kicked off right is by starting with the library.  It doesn't matter if it is the school library, the public library or both.  Libraries, small or large, can be the keys to a successful school year.   Here are seven ways a library can help students of all ages.

1. Libraries are mobile.    Libraries are mobile in the same way every person is in this modern life.  When going to your library's website, look for an app that can be downloaded on to a smart phone.  Most major libraries are investing in up to date technology to keep up with the demands of patrons who want convenience and accessibility.  Most library apps will allow patrons to place materials on hold, view patron records and even see what is new a the library.  Very handy for students who need to manage time wisely.

2. Volunteer opportunities  Many school districts are requiring students to complete community service hours in order to graduate.  Check with the Youth Services or School librarian to find ways to complete the requirement by volunteering to work at the library. 

3.  Get To Know Your Librarian  It is amazing that most students don't know or are afraid to ask from the librarian.  Think of it this way, when you are sick and not sure what is wrong or what to do to stop a pain, a doctor is called.  When you don't know where to go next when trying to find answers for a geography assignment or research paper, who would know best on where to search for the best answers?  The librarian.   Don't be shy ...ask.

4. Take Time to Read For Pleasure  Every once in awhile it's good to kick back and take a break from the grind. Most libraries have an area where new books are featured.  This    Reading for pleasure is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get away from it all and let the mind wander to the places in between the pages of a book.  As a side note,  an extra benefit to libraries supporting readers is that readers become better writers.  

5. Libraries are Practical Tools  Libraries are the places where experiments begin.  Not the type in the Chemistry lab but in the research way.  Students learn the best methods of searching through databases, websites and books by using the resources at the library.  Think of it as a hands on training for finding information in the "real" world.  These skills will be used long after students leave schools.   It's skill building for a lifetime.

6.  Group Studies Are Better At The Library   Computers are wonderful tools for many activities but they can't replace true interactions with others.  As the library space begins to shift to more computers,  less book shelves and larger open spaces, it is only citing that these open spaces be filled with students,  adults, and educators collaborating on projects.  Many public libraries have invited High School Seniors to "exam week" or "SAT" prep programs.   This is a great opportunity to demonstrate support for the school district and students in providing a day just for them to study of the all important exams that could determine the directions of their college careers.

7. Preparing Little Ones For Preschool   Storytime for Toddlers and preschoolers offers a unique opportunity for children to not only develop reading skills but to get use to sitting still and taking directions from another adult other than mom or dad.  More importantly children develop social skills that will help them make the transition from home to school much  smoother.

There it is in a seven seemingly little ways that students can be supported in their studies with access to libraries.   These may seem like little things that can be overlooked but the impact is huge.  Students learn, communicate and do more when library resources are available to them.  When taking that stroll through the school's open house it should become obvious to all visitors.  Libraries are not just another gathering place for the students, it's actually the heart of the school.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Story To Inspire Readers To Dream Big and Do More.

Every once in awhile there is a story that stirs up hope in humanity.  Society sometimes is so busy blaming the younger generations for not caring about the world that they miss out on learning about the ones who are making a mark.  Nonprofits are not easy to build or run.  Especially in an economic environment where everyone is basically either trying to find a job, trying to make ends meet or all of the above.  It's been a rough couple of years.  However, some may see this as a dismal time to ask folks for money to contribute to a worthwhile cause while others see a golden opportunity in any situation.  It's the age old debate of if the glass is half empty or half full.

Adam Braun's The Promise of A Pencil is just the type of book that makes a reader think, "if  he could do it why can't I? "   The title in itself is enough to catch a reader's attention.  What promise can a pencil hold?   A pencil by itself, obviously it has no value of it's own until someone,  a child picks it up and uses it to learn about their world.   The story begins with Mr. Braun's own background growing up in a stable middle class home where he was given the opportunity  to succeed at every turn.    Every young adult would die to have the opportunities that this man had.  He Attended Brown University, was on the fast track in building a career in hedge funds,  and a future so bright shades wouldn't  have been enough to keep the glare from getting to the eyes.  However, Mr. Braun let go of the traditional path of success to forge a different one into the nonprofit.  After traveling in underdeveloped  countries like Laos and Myanmar,  the desire to build schools for the children grew.  Mr. Braun observed that in every culture there is a  universal theme which  every parent wants an education for their child in hopes that the child will have a better life than they had.   With that observation and the desire to make a difference,  Promise of a Pencil (PoP) grew into a strong thriving nonprofit corporation that has since opened several schools in impoverished countries.

One of the hints that the reader is given that this is not the ordinary how to book, is given in the first chapter, "Why be Normal?"    This is one of the first lessons Mr. Braun learns from his parents.  One an have everything that the Jones' have but why be normal.  Why not do something different and explore the possibilities.  The writing is simple and precise. Without even realizing it, the  reader is reading a step by step process of starting a nonprofit.      Granted not every nonprofit begins the same as PoP but the struggles, the luck of running into the right people, and the volunteers who share a vision are the common threads shared by the author.  The book comes short of demanding actions from it's readers.  Its not asking for donations to PoP but it is asking what's holding a person back from pursuing their passion.

Braun's book debuted at number 2 on the New York Times Bestsellers list and is listed as one of the must read titles for CEOs.  However, in all honesty,  this book  can  easily be placed on a library's bookshelf and be forgotten about.   Not because the story is boring, it's not.  Not because the writer comes off as a snotty know it all, he doesn't.  However, it is precisely that this book is being labeled as a go to book or how to guide to building a nonprofit.  Not everyone is in that frame of mind or ambition level to go out on that limb.  This story is compelling because it introduces the readers to a world where children want to learn but have not had the opportunity.  If this book is placed on the shelf as another business how to book it gets lost.  This book is really about reminding each reader that the  path chosen doesn't need to go straight in order to find the success.  It can zig zag into a journey that is unexpected, amazing and worth the bumps along the way.  This book should be highlighted on every library's bookshelf in September when school begins and every May when school lets out.  In addition to that,  every month in between.  In other words,  don't just sit there. Go read the book!

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Best Tales of Friendship

Before getting into the serious matter of going back to school there is just one last "fun" to be had. Yesterday was a minor holiday that is unnoticed year after year.  That celebration would be called National Friendship Day.  Yes, it is curious that Hallmark, or other greeting card companies for that matter, has not seized upon this and declared that it is unfair that we go about our day on August 3rd as if National Friendship day was just an ordinary summer day.  Well, it may be to some people but not to librarians who look for new ways to get readers to get into a good story.  What better story can there be than about friendship.   Throughout literature there are many tales of friendship that no matter how old readers, the friendships among their favorite characters remain in the memory.  From Children's literature to comics to Classic literature, here are a few of the favorite "friends".

In the category of forever friends which is defined as  characters that when readers think or read about them, they are never separated.  For example,  A. A. Milne's  Winnie the Pooh and his delightful friends, Rabbit, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore and Christopher Robin .  If readers come across anyone of these names, the other friends are sure to come to mind as well.  You just can't have Pooh without Piglet and vice versa.   Another iconic friendship that come to mind are The Peanuts.  Charlie Brown is always surrounded by his good friends who give him grief and comfort all at the same time.  Charles Schultz's gang has remained timeless.    Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes are a pair that will never be separated.  Calvin's imagination is inspiring and readers are delighted to be able to join him and his beloved Hobbes on the adventure.

In the category of Classic Children's literature, readers will have to agree that E.B. White's Charlotte's Web portrays the truest form of friendship.   Wilbur finds in Charlotte an unlikely friend who turns out to be his hero.  What are true friends for if they can't save you every once in awhile?   Louisa May Alcott's Little Women portrays the very first friend children have, their siblings.  All four girls have dreams, hopes and fears yet when they lose Jo the reader realizes that each of the sisters will never be the same.    Mark Twain's children's classic makes this list a complete with Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.  No matter what era this book is read in, everyone can relate to the two boys who are wholesome,  clever and always getting into trouble.  It doesn't matter if they are together or apart, mayhem is a part of their day.  They could very well be the next door neighbors who always made life a bit more interesting.    Which makes it a delight to visit with them over and over again.

Finally in the Classic literature category,  there are so many to choose but lets begin in Camelot.   King Arthur and Sir Lancelot's friendship was based on trust and respect.  However, when the trust is betrayed all that King Arthur had ever hoped for diminishes before his eyes.   Cervantes, Don Quiote and Sancho were a team that could not be beaten.  Of course,  the windmills,  the fights, and the beautiful Dolcena were all a figment of Quiote's imagination but Sancho is a true friend.  He follows his friend to the end and even begins believing that dreams are not just for dreamers.   If  one is going to be facing unspeakable horrors,  a best friend is in order.    Stoker realized this when he wrote the classic horror novel of his day.  Facing evil is not something one can not do alone.  There needs to be someone to confide in and face the fear together.  Mina and Lucy do just that in Dracula.

There are tons of friendships of other new friendships that will not be forgotten anytime soon.  Some that come to mind are Harry Potter and Ron Weasley,  or  Katniss and Peeta.  As Mark Twain once wittingly observed, "Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience is the ideal life."  Yes indeed. Who could possibly disagree with that statement?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer Reading Best Boom & Spark!

It's hard to believe that summer is starting to wind down.  It seems like just yesterday, that students and parents alike were getting all excited for summer and the activities that would fill up their blissful warm days.  For libraries, big or small,  it has been a busy summer.  All the planning, the promoting and preaching about summer reading is now starting to dwindle down to quiet, lazy days of August.   There are so many good books, and stories to share for Fizz, Boom, Read!  and  Spark a Reaction that it hardly seems fair to break it down to featuring a few of the all time favorites (at least on this blog) that will be used over and over again.

For the young readers it is a delight to share an almost wordless book called Nest by Jorey Hurley.  The pictures are simple which is a perfect compliment to the simple story of a young baby Robin's life.   The simplicity of the story lent itself to a wonderful program that had each child make their own bird's nest.  Once the nest was made, they each were given the opportunity to pick out a plastic egg (similar to eggs used at Easter egg hunts) and they decorated the outside with stickers.  Except for the nest making, which had librarians bring in branches, leaves and other nature items,  this was a pretty easy and quick clean up craft.

There is a tie for the best picture book for this year's theme.  First, is Andrea Beaty's Rosie Revere,  Engineer.  This book is more than just about girl power, it's about never giving up on a dream.  Rosie is not your typical girl.  She dreams of gadgets that can do all sorts of wonderful things. That is,  until she finds that people have laughed at her inventions.  In their eyes the inventions were "flops".   It isn't until Great Aunt Rosie's visit that little Rosie engineer learns that failures are just stepping stones to success.  Chris Van Dusen presents another great story of a little scientist who scores a big hit by saving the day with his inventions.   Randy Riley's Really Big Hit  was written for the nerdy little kid in everyone.  Randy loves baseball but isn't so great at sports.  He also loves science which, as luck would have it, is where his talents lie.  When a fireball is on it's way to hit his small town,  it's up to him to save the day!  A delightful trip into sports, solar system and silliness that makes this book wonderful.  

The craft that combined the two themes of these two picture books invited children to create their own robot costumes.  Equipped with paper grocery bag and lots of different craft items, the imaginations went wild.  Fun for everyone, even grandparents enjoyed the madness.

For teens the theme of "Spark A Reaction" caused many of them to be a little more serious than their younger counterparts.  The books that were among the best, were not necessarily new titles but older ones that should always be available for readers.  The top three favorites for this year, were Lois Lowry's The Giver (or any of the books in the series) Scott Westerfeld's Uglies and Malcom Ross's Framed.  Each title gives the reader something to think about.   In the Giver series, readers contemplated the role of "government" or ruling body having total control over one's life.  In the Uglies, readers  considered what is the definition of beauty and who has the right to define it.  Finally in Framed, the reader is treated to thinking about solving a series of murders alongside Luke Hardwig and his robot.  All three of these books spark some type of reaction from the readers.  Teens were given the opportunity if they chose to share what reaction was sparked in them using only one word.  On a bulletin board, the words were displayed  along with the cover of the books.   At the top of the bulletin board the question was posed to those who passed by, "Which of these books do you think Sparked One of these Reaction?"  The responses were interesting.  Some were correct and others were far off the mark.  However, it did spur the conversation for teens on what books to read next.  Which is always a good thing.

Next year's Collaborative Reading Program should be a blast.  The general theme is Heroes.  There is so much that can be done with this theme that it seems silly not to start planning now!  Let's see where is that cape and mask?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Amazon's Kindle Unlimited vs The Public Library -- Libraries Still Win

The big techie news last Friday (7/18/2014) was Amazon's announcement of Kindle Unlimited.  The reviews of this new product has been mixed reviews.  The response ranged from Bezo has done it again to it's too early to tell if this will be a hit.  What is Kindle Unlimited?  A subscription service through Kindle that allows readers to download up to ten titles per month for the amazing low price of $9.99 or $120 a year.   Sounds wonderful, right?  On the surface it does seem like a dream come true.  However, as parents have always warned their children for ages, "If it sounds too good to be true,   it is too good to be true."   Before plopping down that money, think of these questions.

Question One,  does this duplicate something that is already provided?  Nine out of ten people should say yes.  The reason being is that almost all communities have libraries.  These days, all libraries, public or private, small or large, have access to downloading books.  If a customer pays $120 per year to Amazon for the subscription, how much does she pay her local library for the same service?  Most people would say $0 but that's not true.   Property taxes pay for the majority of public libraries in America.  Having said that,   most communities pay roughly about $80 to $155 per household per year to support the library.   Not a bad price for being able to check out just about anything, including digital materials.

Question Two,  how many titles are in the selection?  Amazon boosts that it has over 600,000 titles to choose from in this package.  However the five major have stepped away from this wonderful venture and their titles are not included in the service (Harper Collins,  Simon & Schuster are just two of the publishers who opted out.)  What books are included?   On a first glance,  many of the  titles from independent publishers  that need an audience.  Now one may say that this is just a step for Amazon to take to try out the market for an idea like this and publishers are just stepping back to see if it's a hit.   True, but when the bigger publishers join the "party" of book subscriptions what happens to the year fee?   Prices rarely go further down one a low, low fee has been set.  With no rocket science degree, it would be a safe bet to say the fee would increase.

Question Three:  How many books would need to be read to make this program a good deal to the avid reader?  If a reader read three to four books a month, it would be worthwhile.  Quite frankly a really good deal.  However, see question two.  Do they have the titles of interest?

Question Four: If the subscription is terminated does the consumer keep the books?  According to Amazon's website the answer is no.  This might be a non factor since checking out books at a library (ebook or paper) the borrower does not keep the book.

After all these questions have been thoughtfully answered there can only be one question left.  For a reorder where is the first place to turn to when looking for the perfect book, article, or movie.  The Library.     It is probably not Amazon's intent to do away with libraries as one  author  may have suggested. (Forbes, T. Worstall Close All the Libraries and Buy Everyone An Amazon Kindle,  7-18-14)   Amazon is merely trying to do what Netflix has done for movies.  Lots of choices, one low price which will probably increase just as every other service fee from Amazon has.   Which brings another important to mind.  Would  a Kindle subscription stop avid readers  from using a library. Not any more going to Barnes and Noble to purchase a book. Readers just love to read and finding that perfect book or books can lead them to the library, the bookstore or online.

To say the least, it will be interesting to see how and if  Amazon Unlimited grows in demand.   As for libraries, well they have been around long before Amazon and quite frankly, they will be around long after Amazon too.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Why Net Neutrality is Important to Everyone.

The reason why the internet has gained such a wide appeal across every age, social economic status and cultural boundaries is that it is open and free.  In the early Internet days it was called the Information/Internet superhighway.  The idea came from the image of getting onto the express lane to gaining access to all types of information paving the way for a digital era was knowledge truly was power.  As time passed, it became apparent that some were digitally aware of the new path to information while others struggled behind. This was  either because they did not have computer access or were accustomed to finding information the old tried and true method, such as paper versions of books, magazines and other traditional formats that were deemed "old" fashioned.  Thus came the term "digital divide" which changed the image to a divided highway.  In one direction, those who were computer savvy would benefit from the Information highway, while those who were not went down another path that was lacking in timely information.  In some cases, they received no information at all.  With these two images consider the following picture.  The information highway is no longer free, flowing and allowing anyone able to get on or off where they choose.  Instead,  there are lanes that ISP directs and controls.  In essence a toll booth that will allow the highest payers (website developer and consumers alike) premium speed and selection to go through one lane, and  the lowest payers are in the lane for  slower access and less selection of information sources.  In other words, ISP ( Internet Service Providers) will determine what will be seen, who will see it and how much it will cost to be seen and accessed.  Nothing free and open about this, is there?

The FCC is being pressured by US web companies (Facebook, Google, and Twitter) to keep the Internet an open playing field for everyone involved.  If Internet Service Providers are able to regulate who will be winners and losers on the web then the consumer loses out big time. The cost of information retrieval goes up for everyone.  The extent to how much it hits the wallets of the consumers can not be seen immediately, but the effects will be felt across the board.   More importantly,  the flow of information will be halted along with it the  freedom of expression.  Too dramatic of a picture?  Consider the following questions. What would happen if ATT did not like a webpage that was designed to filter complaints about their services and products?  Would they shut it down?  Or perhaps there are political ideas that big companies would like to promote like Green Energy which would also increase their bottom line because it is tied in with their sales.  Would ISP make  deals with certain companies that only their products and services will be viewed on the net?  The answer to that is if the price is right, of course they will.  

Libraries have always been advocates of free flow of ideas since the very first library.  For anyone who wished to learn more, read more and do more the library became the first "do-it-yourself" institution.  With the internet this bolstered this idea even more so, given that anyone could access information at any given time or place.  Now that the genie is out of the bottle and most of the world's population has had a taste of the free flow of communication and ideas, there are those who want to control it to the point of choking it to death.  This can not and should not happen.   Anyone who uses the internet whether at home, at the library, at work or all of the above is affected.  If the price for information goes up it will reflect in increased property taxes which support libraries and  increased prices for online services.  Not only that, this will develop a new digital divide.  However, this time it won't be because of lack of computer skills or computer equipment.  The evidence that this will be tied to economic status will be difficult to ignore.  Quite frankly, this would be the beginning of the shutdown of a free society. 

While the FCC has to come up with new rules on how the Internet will be regulated, with tomorrow as being the last day to have your voice be  heard.  To be honest, in Washington D.C. money normally speaks the loudest, especially when companies like Time Warner, Verizon, and ATT have lobbyist who on Capital Hill everyday.   Today should be the day that you the consumer get to speak louder then money.  Let FCC chairman Tom Wheeler know through tweets, through Facebook, through email that Net neutrality is important to you.  Why?  As a citizen and consumer you have the right to not only free speech but also reliable access to information.   

Monday, July 7, 2014

Social Media Maze .. Which Should Libraries Use?

Social media has changed so much of how we think, react and interact with each other.  If we were to begin a list of all the habit that have changed, it would be a little disconcerting.  For example, shopping habits have changed dramatically.  Commerce online has made it easier for a fast paced culture to shop in the wee hours of the morning if they so choose.   Going to the mall is not a pastime any longer, it's more of a chore.  Banking has changed as well as renting out a favorite flick.  Everything for music to books to films are able to be downloaded in what seems like seconds.  With so many choices to not interact with another human being, one has to wonder what will happen next.?

Libraries have had to adapt to this social phenomenon as much as any other industry.  However, it seems that libraries still have an edge.  Librarians have instinctively known that with all the changers in technology one constant had to remain the same.   Human interactions.  A society can not function without feeling a connection to those they see as similar to themselves.  It must be the reason why every culture craves to read something that they can relate to or hear a song that speaks to them.  This is what the library has always held within it's wall: the tools to connect to others.  Sounds a little too far out there? Perhaps.  Why else would there be  a need for community meeting rooms?  Storytime programs that promote literacy skills for little ones?  An online help desk for struggling school aged kids doing homework?  A library brings people together.

So with all the sappiness aside, where does social media fit in all the puzzle of information gathering? It seems odd to say but it hasn't quite  found the perfect niche... yet.   Twitter is the perfect tool to blast out reminder of programs.  The key to success here is measured by how many tweets are retweeted. Hopefully the library "followers" will see the tweet, retweet and get their friends to retweet.  Which sounds a bit boorish.  Pinterest is wonderful for posting pictures, recipes and all sort of nifty things but it is a bit like Twitter in that if you posted, tweeted in the middle of the woods will someone still have seen your post?  Facebook seems to be the ideal place to connect, as long as the friends who like your page see the post on their timeline.  This is all so exhausting yet one has to believe there's got to be a better way to communicate in this era that is digital. Yet just like the hardcover printed book, which is the true standby method of getting information, the live human to human interaction will always be the best tool.

As stated before, it is going to be the patrons who will need to help libraries figure out how to effectively use the social media tools.  Will libraries need to use them all?  Will it be much better use of time to go without them? Will it alienate the die hard users of the library?  The one true test of it's worth will be if it draws in new or returning patrons who believe that  libraries are like dinosaurs.   It will be interesting to see how the social media evolves.  One guess , and it's only a guess,  is that it's going to come around full circle and patrons will just want to be able to sit across the table from their neighbor and discuss a really good book.   However rest assured, in the meantime, the library will help put a friendly face on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and welcome all those who want to check out what's new at the local library, online or in person.  Either way, the doors of the library are always open.