Monday, May 11, 2015

President Obama's Library Initiative : So Close Yet So Far

There is always cause for applause when a Presdient, or political leader takes an interest in promoting reading.   Reading is the most basic of all skills that every person should be capable of doing.  If they don't know how to read,  the opportunities that could be open to them are almost non-existent.  Think about it :  jobs, health,  and legal issues all are effective by education and reading levels.  When President Obama announced a couple of weeks of ago about library initiative tied with ConnectEd,   first reactions were positive.  Until, like many of his other programs, one begins to look closely at it and sees gaps that should have been addressed before rolling out the idea/programs.

The President calls for encouraging reading though ebooks for urban children.  These ebooks would be available through an app that will be developed by the many publishers that have agreed to be a part of this project.  Wonderful!  One problem with this, how will the children access the app if they do not have a smart phone or tablet?  The research  out there which measures such things as television, computer usage and availability, all point to the fact that access to the Internet is limited or next to non existent in urban areas.  One could argue that schools have been providing tablets for their students to take home.  Again in most urban areas if the neighborhoods are failing so are the schools.  In most cases, these urban school districts lack the funds to upgrade their computer labs much less be able to afford a tablet for each student.   Sad but true reality.   Snag (and a huge one) number one for this program.

One of the biggest questions to come to mind is why President Obama seek the consultation of librarians, both in schools and public libraries.  Yes,  the American Librarian Association is working alongside the President's staff in making this initiative a success.  However, the real "war" stories are from the school librarians and children's librarians working in these urban cities who on a daily basis know the frustrations that the children and parents face.  Why isn't the ALA bringing to the President's attention that many of these urban schools have school librarians that are dismal and a staff that is next to non-existent.  Why not come out with the statistics that demonstrate the strong connection of academic achievement and access to a quality school library?  That doesn't seem to enter the big picture of this initiative at all.

Finally,  children will learn the love of reading when they are encouraged to read on a daily basis.   Let's face it,  technology is not the "answer" to every problem.  It's a tool but not ultimate answers.    An app on its own will not make a child a better reader.  A book will not do that either.  What helps a child to be a reader is a caring adult, (be it a parent, teacher, librarian or neighbor) who takes the time to share a book.  This means reading to the child, or encouraging a child to read the book and share insights on the story.  It is amazing how books can be wonderful conversations starers and the doorway to learning more about people who read the books.   Seriously, parents if you want to know what your kid is thinking,  share a book with them and discover how your child views their world.

President Obama is correct in the assessment that children in urban cities need help in gaining access to books.  However,  his method is flawed.  Librarians have been fighting the battle to bridge the digital divide and improve reading skills for years.   Just like any fight worth fighting,  it's a slow process of winning one battle at a time.  As Librarian At Large promotes:  Helping Children discover their world one story at a time.    Shouldn't that story should be averrable in any format that helps a child the most?  

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

MakerSpace in the Library

In Chicago there is a library that is experimenting with the idea of a "makerspace".  What exactly is this?  It is a space within the library that is specifically for library patrons to come in and "make" or create something.  Now this idea is intriguing because it's almost as if they took  the concept of story time crafts for children  and put it on steroids.   This space is multigenerational and is breaking the rules of what libraries are suppose to do.  Which is exactly what is needed right now.  New ideas that promote libraries in a positive new light.

A library such as the one is Chicago, is just the beginning of what the future can hold for libraries.  For the past decade, librarians have been the leaders in helping their community thrive in the midst of change.   In the days of Andrew Carnegie, the purpose of the public library was to be the center of learning and growth. That ideal has survived the test of time.  This is evident in how the libbers become the place to go to when the world became increasingly digital.   If this decade has taught our society anything it is this:  learning is a life long process of discover and each library user learns in their own unique way.  This creates the need for new, bolder ideas such as the library in Chicago demonstrates.

The possibilities are endless to what libraries and their communities can do together.  At the risk of being accused of hanging on to the good "vibes" of National Library Week,  it can not be denied that communities are starting to rediscover their libraries.  The digital age may have changed the landscape of the library but it has not changed the heart.   Libraries can serve their communities in traditional or unique ways.   It's all possible when libraries and their communities work together.   It is truly another reason to love your library.

Monday, April 13, 2015

National Library Week 2015: Libraries Unlimited Possibility!

"To Infinity ... and Beyond!" What's not to love about Buzz Lightyear's catch phrase?  It is full of promise of adventure, discovery and excitement.   This week's celebration of  National Library Week,   draws upon that same enthusiasm with the theme Unlimited Possibilities.   It has been said before, the library of today is not your grandmother's library.  On second thought, maybe that should be adjusted just a bit.  The library of today is your grandmother's library but with a few more tools that  add  a lot more umph to experience of adventure, discovery and excitement.  Add to that, today's librarian is trained to help patrons explore the unlimited possibilities.

Is it silly to say that there is adventure, discovery and excitement in the library?  A bit corny?  Not at all!  As a matter of fact,   the internet has done more to help libraries and librarians in the past twenty years then most people realize.  Before the internet,  patrons came to the library feeling a bit overwhelmed in their search.  The rows of indexes, card catalogs and more indexes seemed a bit daunting.  The best course of action:  get the librarian.  Then the Internet came along to change the library landscape drastically.   Contrary to popular belief, the library didn't fold and disappear.  It thrived.     One of the good things that the Internet has done for searching information is that it gives the searcher the encouragement to seek information on their own. In the minds of library patrons', there's nothing difficult about research.  As long as there is a keyboard, screen and wifi, everything works out fine.  Well, most of the times.    There are still times when the independent searcher is in need of a little assistance.  For the record, librarians love the independent learner,  but even Christopher Columbus, one of the best explorers, never left  home without a map or a guide.  There comes a time when human interaction is needed in the search.  That is where the unlimited possibilities lies.

Libraries have adapted to the changes in information gathering not only because it was important for survival of libraries  but it is important for the survival of the community in which they serve.  Without libraries the possibilities of growth,  are seriously compromised.   Where do children go to do homework?   Where do the unemployed go to find resources to help them find new jobs?   Where does anyone go for leisure reading ?  The library offers this and so much more that to list all the possibilities it would take  more time and space then this blog can provide.  A library is only a building.   A librarian is the "keeper" of the  information.

In the age of countless technology changes and adaptations it is no wonder that patrons expect unlimited possibilities.   Everything seems to be at our fingertips.  Twenty years ago in the library,  it would have been inconceivable that  a cell phone would become an information tool.  Twenty years from now, it's anyone's guess as to how technology will change the way information is retrieved.  However,  it is safe to say that when the technology kicks it up a notch, librarians will be there to help the community use the technology to it's fullest potential.  Quite honestly,  what has been accomplished through the internet in the past twenty years is just the tip of the iceberg.  There is so much more and librarians are prepared now more than ever to help patrons realize the unlimited possibilities at the library.   In the spirit of Buzz Lightyear... "The the Library .... and beyond!"  (Okay, that was corny but it's the excitement of National Library Week that sparked it!")

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Helping Autistic Children Fit In During Story Time

Every child wants to fit in.  That was a statement that was recently posted on a Facebook page for children who were bullied.  The message was clear, simple and too the point.  It also speaks to the purpose of this post for today.    Story time in libraries are a perfect way to begin socializing young children   Every Tuesday morning,  a child goes to see his or her friends at the library to hear wonderful stories, sing cute songs, maybe a finger play or two and a craft to complete to complete the hour.  This is routine and believe it or not all children love routine.  It's a sense of security and safety.  This is what Autistic children crave too.  They are no different.   Including the Autistic child to a Story time program may mean  adding a few things to help the program go smoother for everyone but it doesn't mean that it's impossible. 

There are three things that a good children's librarian should never go without when planning a story time to include Autistic children.  One, a checklist of what will happen during the program.  This can either be printed or on a board where children can see it.  What can this checklist do?  It helps the child know that things are moving as planned and it helps keep track of time.   This not only helps the child but the librarian as well.  It's a great reminder that activities should not last longer than three minutes.  (Unless of course, the children are having so much fun that another round of "If you're happy and you know it" is needed before the children are ready to move on.)  

The second thing to never go without is a sensory bowl.  Set up this bowl in a place that is away from the librarian but in easy view of the children.  In the bowl place things like  a toy,  stress reliever balls,  or toy cars.  During the program if a child feels that he or she needs to move during the story, allow them to go up to a bowl  to pick out an object such as a stress ball that they can take back to their seats.  This allows them to fidget a little but still be able to pay attention to the story.  It also calms them so that they are able to still be part of the program.  

Third and most important of all.  A  safe place to go to when things get a little too much to handle for them.  It doesn't happen often but when a child has a meltdown there needs to be a place with the child and caregiver can go to ease the tensions and "refocus" the child's attention on the program.  This simply means setting up an area  a little away from the rest of the children that gives privacy, protection and play for the autistic child.  One of the best ways of doing this is by draping a blanket over two chairs, as if to make a quick fort, and place small toy or crayons and coloring books that can help the child calm down.  When the child is ready to rejoin the group,  he or she can without disturbing the rest of the children's attention. 

Every child really does fit into story time at the library.  The children librarian just has to do a little extra planning to make it happen.  This by the way, can be done at schools or home too.  Librarians aren't the only ones who can read to a child.  Everyone should take advantage of this opportunity.  Life is too short not to share a book.  That sounds like another  Facebook message to share! In the meantime to find out more about Autism, go to 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Malala's Fight To Read... To Learn

As reading month is about to come to a close, there are things to consider about this wonderful month of March.  Not only was Dr. Seuss's birthday celebrated early on in the month but the pure enjoyment of reading was celebrated as well.  How appropriate, right?  In the mix National Mystery Book month is thrown in for good measure as if readers, librarians and other types of book lovers need another excuse to celebrate this pastime called reading. 

  In just about every library around the country, there have been programs upon programs promoting reading for every age group.  To be perfectly honest, every month should be reading month but can't get greedy and claim all twelve months out the year.  Well, in this one instance it's not so much as greed as it is a passion for sharing books, stories and poetry.   With each word, sentence or  page of a book, t here is a possibility of finding a gem of knowledge or tale that will be with the reader for the rest of their lives.  Sounds pretty corny and hokey to say?  Probably,  but then again being a book lover brings that out naturally for any avid reader.

Wonder what would happen if parents started telling their children "You better read that book because there is some child in Africa who doesn't have a book to read!"  Almost every child has heard in one form or another that they should eat their vegetables because there is a starving child somewhere in the world who is going to bed without vegetables. It's the universal tug of war between parent and child to get healthy food into a child.  Parent tries every tactic, including guilt, to get the child to eat.  Child resists at every attempt.  Eventually, one of them wins and most often than not it's the parent.  Should parent use this same tactic to lure kids into reading?  After all reading feeds the brain, and children need a strong IQ in order to attain success in school.  Isn't this just as important as eating vegetables?

Consider this, there  are children who are starving (intellectually that is) for a book.  Or at the very least a chance to read and learn.  I Am Malala is a shining example of a young girl who wanted to read and learn and almost lost her life for it.   This ten year old  student, not only wrote a book about her experience, she also has become the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. The Young Reader edition is complete with exclusive photographs and materials.  Like the first release, the book demands that readers think about certain questions.  For example,  what would children in our country do if they were told they couldn't read or couldn't go to school?  Would they fight for their rights to read?

Malala's story is compelling for one simple fact:  she is young, intelligent and determined to find her place in this world.   It is not often that a young child comes along and reminds us all that the simple pleasures in life are worth fighting for, like the freedom to pick up a book and read.  That 's what is  being celebrated this month:   the reading enjoyment for all kids of all ages.  Pick up the book, either versions will be efficient to inspire readers for years to come. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Quite Amazing ... Books Outselling Digital

For avid readers this may not come as a surprise but to the general public, including techie geeks,  it may come as a shock that books in print are making a strong comeback.  Publishers Weekly reported in September of 2014 that print outsold digital media by a very health margin.  It appears that print is not dead.    Who knew, right?   Librarians may not see the statistics daily from publishers, but judging from what is checked out  of the library on a daily basis, print seems to be winning the race there as well.  Let's face it, books have been around so long it almost makes one wonder if this was one wheel that did not need to be re-invented.

Patrons will often ask the question  of librarians,  about the future of libraries with digital formats?  Texas has begun the experiment of BiblioTech,  the first public library that is fully digital.  Rows of iMacs, alongside iPads  greet patrons as they walk in to sit and browse the internet or download material to read on an iPad.  Is this library of the future busy?  Yes, but there is still the complaints that the screen hurts the eyes. It's not a very welcoming, cozy place and yes print books need to be in a library.  Computers are wonderful but there is something to be said about holding a physical book.

Bill Gates once noted that the generation that would be most comfortable with the digital age were the ones who grew up with computers all around them.  The cell phones.  The computers.  The video games.  At one point it did seem as if this made sense.  However,  it is very difficult to predict human nature.   Did anyone believe that vinyl records would make a comeback?  Surprisingly, there is a surge in young college kids who want to experience the scratching tunes from a roundtable.  Goodness, to think old folks were complaining about the skips on record as if they were a bad thing!   This generation that grew up with the techie environment may be teaching the older generation a thing or two.  Maybe some things are best left untouched. 

Libraries have been trying to be the peace brokers, if you will, between print and digital formats.  Perhaps, what is really going is that the dust is finally settling and the verdict is in.  It's okay to have both formats in a library side by side.  Both have their uses and both have disadvantages.  Will there be more libraries like BiblioTech in the future?  No one can say for certain.  After all by this time,  books in print  have died many deaths and been resurrected so many times it's hard to keep count.  Let's not forget, we also have the resurgent of  vinyl record.  Could the rotary phone be too far behind?  

Monday, March 16, 2015

Heart and Soul of Ireland --- The Stories They Weave.

What is so wonderful about the Irish folks is their love for a good story.  The type of stories that take  a person to another place, another time and it's totally magical.   Frank Delaney penned the tome Ireland which features a storyteller who tells three tales and is soon  banished because the audience is not enthralled and amused with his tales.  However, young lad Ronan is not only enthralled and amused, he finds that this is his calling. Ronan follows in the footsteps of the storyteller and carries on the time honored Irish tradition of spinning a good yarn.  It is without a doubt that Irish authors have honed their skills through the very tradition that Delaney writes about.  Which brings about the observation that the folklore of  Ireland gives a glimpse into the heart and soul of the country and its people.

For starters,  the tales always take place a time long ago, in some faraway countryside where it's always greener than green and breathtakingly beautiful.  Who are these storytellers kidding?   It may have been long ago but the countryside they speak of has to be Ireland.  Where else could it be?  To be fair, there could be one small corner of Ireland that has not yet been explored and deep down in the lush green grass there may live tiny creatures that are magical and marvelous.  But the keen reader knows this magical placed could be nowhere else in the world but Ireland. 

It seems that every Irish Folklore has wonderful yet pesky little creatures called Leprechauns.  Every St. Patrick's day, these characters re-emerge with sneaky grins, green hats and black shoes. Always bright red hair is seen peeking out of the hats .   Legend has it is very lucky to run into these Leprechauns but they also warn that they can be quite deceiving as well.  Why shouldn't they be?  After all, every time  a mere mortal finds them they must turn over their pot of gold.  To be honest, that's not a fair deal for the leprechaun, is it?  

An Irish folktale is hardly ever  complete without a hero or heroine who is down on their luck,  poor as poor can be and more often than not, laziest person in the village.  They may even be the outcast of the village.  This is not to say they are bad folks.  They just don't have food on the table or a fiddle to play for the King.  In other words, they may be outcasts because they can't get their act together.   Regardless of their state in life, the reader can not help but root for the beloved impoverished hero/heroine and   hopes that things turn out for the best.  Of course, they always do and there is a happily ever after for all involved.

Three is the magic number.  In all folktales,  not just in Irish tales,  turn of events evolve around three attempts to complete a task or test.   If these hero or heroine's are going to change their luck it's going to take them a little sweat equity to earn their pot of gold.  Once the tasks has been completed the tale comes to it's ultimate completion.  Lessons have been learned.  Rewards have been earned.  Everyone, mortals and magical creatures alike, are very happy.  

This leads us back to what the folktales tell us about the people of Ireland.  They are proud, and rightly so, of their beautiful lush green land which has earned them  the moniker, The Emerald Isle.   Their tales are always  filled with warmth, humor and a poke at human nature. Yet, when all is said and done it is understood that one might be poor, lazy or unlucky,  one still has to do something to earn their keep.   The storytelling spirit is alive and well in Ireland today and may it remain to be that way for a thousand more years.   On St. Patty Day. always remember this :  Be they Kings, or poets or farmers,  They're people of great worth, they keep company with the angels and bring a bit of heaven here to earth."  Ah yes, the Irish good folks with their lively tales can usher in a bit of heaven for those who dream of  a paradise where there is no end in stories or books.    Happy St. Patty's Day to one and all.