Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Bullying -- Helping Children Through Books

Is there anyone who has never, ever been bullied? Even just a tiny bit? It is safe to assume that everyone has experienced the "humiliation" of being bullied at one point in their lives. On the playground. In the classroom. By siblings or peers. Bullying has been around it seems since people have begun recording history. It's even in the Bible isn't it? The snake bullied Eve into eating the apple and in turn she bullied Adam. Okay, that might be a stretch but the point is every generation has witnessed bullying in their lifetime. However it seems that this generation is experiencing bullying in a whole new way then perhaps their own parents did as children. There are many ways that it is different and quite frankly thank goodness for authors who have provided librarians with resources to help children and their parents deal with this all too painful problem of childhood. Before any adult goes off and exclaims that we are pampering children when it comes to this topic, there are several thins to consider. Picture this scenario. A girl is walking home from school on a cold winter's day. There are a group of children walking behind her laughing and making comments about her hat. One girl whispers to another, they give each other a glance and it happens. One is ready with their smart phone to take a picture of the accomplice coming up from behind the inspecting girl and grabs her hat. This "surprise" causes the girl to lose her balance and she ends up falling on the sidewalk with her books flying everywhere. The picture is taken at the right moment and sent to a group of kids from their class. The picture goes semi-viral where almost the entire school has seen the picture and laughed at the girl's expense. The girl who was bullied is mortified. She doesn't want to go to school to face the laughter. Sounds like something that could happen in a made for tv movie? Yes, it could very well be but the reality is this is what bullying is like for today's children. One of the best way to help children deal with bullying is to talk about the problem. One step further, there are three wonderfully books that can help start the discussion. First, for the younger reader One by Kathryn Otoshi is reminiscent of Little Blue, Little Yellow by Leo Lionni. It is a book about quiet little blue who teaches all the other colors that differences among each other is good and it only takes one to say something to make a difference. Great story about acceptance without hitting the reader over the head without being preachy. Second, for the little older child who is in elementary school, Patricia Polacco's book Bully is a contemporary portraying the reality of how Facebook can be a tool to aid in bullying. Children will be able to relate to how two friends can be separated when one makes the cheerleading squad and the other does not. Lyla, the heroine of the story, demonstrates how true friends stand up against bullying by standing by their friends. It's a classic tale that helps the reader to see how it is possible to do the right thing even when peer pressure says differently. Third, perhaps the best book, is by Jerry Spinelli. Loser is also known as Zinkoff. However, Zinkoff does not know his other name nor does he pay attention to what all the other kids say. He is the typical character in a Spinelli's novels, quirky, fun and different. It's Spinelli's specialty. From the reader's point of view, Zinkoff is someone they can relate to. Either it's someone they know at school or they might even see themselves in this character. The best lesson from this book is that every Loser has the potential to change their name to Hero. There are many more wonderful books but these are the best of the best. If looking for a concise list of books about bullying drop an email to

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks for Libraries

This should be a quick but useful entry today. As today is a day of thanks here in the United States, it would seem very un-holiday like to not say anything about libraries and why there is much to give thanks for libraries, small or large. Before heading off to big family dinners or waiting for the clock to strike at midnight for the Black Friday shopping frenzy to begin, here is a the top ten reasons to be thankful for libraries. 10. Libraries offer a wonderful and safe place for children to visit after school, on weekends or on family program nights. Suffice it to say, it's a little bit safer than the mall and it's a little easier on mom and dad's pocket books too! 9. Libraries are places where everyone is welcomed and no one is excluded. Whatever the need, be it for education or entertainment, no one is denied access. 8. Librarians are great resources for helping in finding the exact information that is needed. Not quite sure where to find the famous quote written by Einstein about God and Science? Librarians know where to find it and verify if it's correct. 7. Without libraries, great works of literature might never have been discovered or preserved. Can you imagine a life without the great works of Shakespeare, Austen or Twain? Neither can we! 6. Libraries are the first place where toddlers can dissever the joy of reading together. Storytimes are excellent opportunities to introduce children to soil groups and wells reading. Sharing Stories is always a good thing. 5. Books are the records of civilization. Who better to preserve the stories of who we are and where we've been. Fiction or non-fiction every book holds the key to our past, present and future. Without libraries histories would be lost. 4. Libraries offer the tools and resources needed to rebuild a career or helping someone get back on their feet. In hard economic times libraries offer the "hope" that things can get better. 3. Librareis offer a unique opportunity for anyone to self-educate themselves. It is the first DIY institution. 2. Librarians often find themselves between wanting to give more and not having enough funds to get the job done. Yet, it is amazing that librarians have found ways to do more with less. 1. If it wren't for libraries, there wouldn't be a bright future for children who dare to dream. Every child that walks into the door of a library is one who aspires to do great things. Some wish to be doctors, some firemen and some even think it might be cool to be a librarian. Whatever their dreams, they find the means to make it possible by reading books, finding answers and exploring bookshelves loaded with books waiting to be discovered. If reading this seems a little over the top, we beg to differ. We know it's true at least for one little girl. She became Mrs. Nowc Librarian at large.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Library World vs. The Real World: Stopping the Insanity

The library world is sometimes a strange world indeed. If someone were to ask what drives a person into the library profession the answer is usually summed up in one word: insanity. Why? This is a world where the professionals who love their jobs day in and day out are almost always justifying the existence of the library, the education level requirements of the profession and always the budget/salaries for the libraries and librarians. It seems that the world outside the library does not fully understand or care about libraries. Why is that? Advocates of libraries are very passionate about their belief that knowledge is power and that power should be accessed by all. Thus, this is where the insanity comes to play. Every day, every season, every year, libraries promote themselves as the free resource for every community. The library is the place where the community learns and grows together. The library is a valued part of our world. Yet, every day, every season, every year it's the same response. Yes, libraries are wonderful but we can get everything we need from our electronic devices in just a couple of clicks. After all these years, the internet still gets the upper hand and libraries are struggling to keep up. If as a profession, librarians are still struggling with the same questions, perhaps its time to look at what drives the idea that everything is at one's finger tips via the internet. While internet access has become easier to come into daily living wherever one goes, the library profession still laments over the digital divide debate. The same debate that began when the internet was exploding is still with us twenty years later. Again, see the insanity? It's creepier than a science fiction novel of a warped home world that is stuck in the same time loop. If libraries don't get away from the their "world", it may be doomsday for libraries. However, it doesn't have to be. The printing press revolutionized the way people gained access to information. The only two obstacles to overcome was reading and affordability. With the advent of mass printing, newspapers, pamphlets and other similar materials could be distributed widely. Here we have the market places of ideas coming to fruition. Everyone can participate in the debate and share their own insights. Notice what were the barriers in the beginning. The ability to read and to afford the books. What was the answer to providing access to all? Libraries. All be it, they were privatized but it answered the need of accessibility. Today, access to information can be provided through digital devices. The obstacles are the same as they were hundreds of years ago. Seekers of information need to know how to read which includes retrieval skills and have the ability to pay for digital resources. Thus we have the problems of the digital divide. So if libraries are still trying to justify their existence than would it be reasonable to assume that if in the past twenty years the obstacle of digital divide has not been solved yet then has it brought on the demise of one of the greatest institution of a free, civilized society? This may come a day too late or just at the nick of time but perhaps the only way to prove libraries viability in society is to solve the digital divide riddle. The old saying that knowledge is power has become more important in this generations than in any other before. The vehicle to obtaining knowledge has become expensive, much like the first books were too expensive for the common folks. Computers are a plenty in our nation, but not everyone has the means to use their equipment in a productive way. For example, a student may go to a good high school in the suburbs, own a laptop and have a few cool video games but does not have access to the internet at home. One might argue that the solution is to provide everything that is needed to gain access to information to every household. That's like saying to make sure everyone has a nice lawn, drop off a lawn mower and gardening tools to every home and magically everyone will have great landscape. No that's not the answer. Maybe the answer is this, if libraries do not begin to teach information retrieval survival skills, not only will the community around them suffer but the library will as well. The jobs of tomorrow will require technical knowledge of using a computer (for example, turning it on and off or clicking on various icons to navigate between programs). Not only that, the high end earners will be the ones who can effectively retrieve information and apply the information to their work environment. If libraries are following the tired old rule of leading the patron to how to get information but not how analyze it then that is a grave mistake. As educators of the community at large, it is the libraries responsibility to provide the best resources for their community to thrive in an ever changing world. It is with great disappointment that the digital divide has been discussed at lengths with no measurable progress. If libraries are going to help the world deal with change, then it's time to step out of the library world and into the real world. It is not longer acceptable to be passionate about libraries and the profession Its time for action. What can librarians do to reach out to patrons who are stuck in between the digital divide? One solution, go where the people congregate. If patrons are not viewing the library as the place to get answers, then it's time for librarians to wear walking shoes and lead patrons back to the library. Now more than ever we need a Pied Piper who lures all children, young an old, back to the bookshelves Even if it's a virtual bookshelf access remotely with an iPad. Stopping the insanity of looking at the same debates without seeking real life solutions is going to take many steps to find a workable solution. The institution of the library is worth every step to preserve it for this generations and many more to come.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Celebrity & Children's Books: The Bad and The Ugly

This is the time when the bitter news must be given to the celebrities that their talents for writing children's books is less then stellar. Regardless of what their devoted fans and family say, their works deserve the "thumbs down" award. Most of these celebrities must already know this or at least their publishers do, because the fact is, they haven't written another children's book. Thank goodness for a little common sense that comes along once in a blue moon. However, there is a confession that needs to be addressed here. The theme of the past couple of entries was inspired by an author who recently wrote a children's book and, for the love of the written word, especially as it pertains to children, they shouldn't have gone down that road. Madonna's list of tomes is a questionable coffee table book about sex and children's books. A pretty odd mix but other to be sure. However, the one thing the Material Girl excels at is marketing herself as controversial. Which is probably why she decided to write for children Although she claims that her daughter was her inspiration, some readers don't buy that line. Madonna failed at her attempts because she did what so many other celebrities do, write for herself but not for her audience. In the case of, The Four English Roses basically comes off as shallow, preachy book about accepting others. It's The Title should have been "don't hate me because I'm beautiful." Young readers didn't find it appealing. Which shouldn't surpassing, writing pop songs is more her style. Fast, good beat and no substance. That's her trademark. It works well with music but not so much with books. The wonderfully talented Billy Crystal tried his hand at writing a children's book and failed. His inspiration? Becoming a grandfather. I Already Knew I Loved You could be appropriately re-titled I Already Knew This Would Be An Awful Children's Book. Children can relate to having a grandparent and love having them around. However, seeing things through the eyes of their grandparents is not what children understand. Their world revolves around them and how they see the world. Asking them to see the world through the lens of an old person, you might as well be asking them to know what it's like to experience life as a dog. They haven't got a clue. Crystal would have been a better success if he stepped out of his shoes and thought about writing from the perspective of his grandchild. Movie legend John Travolta was inspired at one point to pen a book on his son's first experience with planes. One Way Night Coach: A Tale For All Ages is really a tale that should have been shared with just Travolta and his son. The rest of the world should not have been burdened with a tale so bad. Travolta's love of planes and the joy he gets from his child's first experience does not translate well to readers of any age. All three of the books just listed had one thing in common: they had good intentions. Or at least it seemed like a good intention in the beginning. A couple of weeks ago, Rush Limbaugh's attempt at children's book hit the bookstores. Unlike the previous books, this book is written for tweens, children who are too old for picture books but not in high school yet. The tough years of being in between a kid and a teen. Which makes this market hard to make a connection. Mr. Limbaugh has good intentions for his book, Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims, however, it failed. It had such great potential only to let down the readers. The absolute sad fact about this endeavor is that Simon & Schuster, Rush and all of his devoted fans will probably see to it that a sequel is written. That is too bad because another book like this one is sure to turn children off from history and reading. Because this is a recent release, and the likely hood of a sequel to be published, it seems appropriate to give the review a little extra attention. There are three major problems with Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims. Actually more like five, but three of the worst offenses will be discussed. Dittoheads out there who may be reading this blog, a moment of your time to review the facts presented here before blowing up and labeling the blogger a liberal, over-educated Rush/Conservative talk show hater. (Actually, Limbaugh's show is good and entertaining. His talent shines through at the microphone.) First, time travel is very difficult to master without messing up key elements like continuity. This book misses the mark on so many occasions it's amazing the editors didn't catch it. One example of this is when Mr. Revere and his companion Tommy are on the Mayflower and decide to jump three months ahead to the tail end of the Mayflower's long, harsh journey. They are still smelling nice, their clothes are still fresh yet everyone else has been through the wear and tear of the journey. No one asks where these two have been? No one wonders why they don't look as worn as they everyone else? Really? There are other "holes" in his time traveling that run a list too long to post here but suffice it to say, there are easier ways of introducing history to children without using time travel. Second, the dialogue is so stiff and forced that it isn't natural. As a matter of fact, at points it is similar to reading an over the top and overly rated play. How does Rush Revere know that William Bradford was so confident about his journey to the New World and his success? Children reading this book will know that they are being talked down to and lectured. It is that blatantly obvious. It's beaten over the readers' heads so many times, it's better to put the book down and get a lecture from grandpa instead. Give credit where credit is due, Limbaugh gets the historical facts right. There is no disputing that. It's true that the Pilgrims were heroic in their journey to this great land. However, Mr. Limbaugh's desire to portray their bravery and struggles is lost because he tried too hard. Again just as time travel is hard to master so is writing a story to convey the depth of historical significance and sacrifice to give a lasting impression. It can be done but those who do it best are able to so by weaving the story around the reader's mind and heart. Third, the illustration of Rush Revere look like they have been photoshopped into the scenes. The character is more illuminated than the rest of the scene giving it an eerie feel. Which brings up the point of "cute" in jokes like being a spokes person for a ice tea company and substitute teaching on the side. Even going so far as to praise Rush Revere for the great advice he gives to William Bradford and suggesting he have a radio talk show. If the book actually did half of what Limbaugh had intended this could have easily been overlooked. Having said that, the gimmicks are cheap, not to mention forming the book around the icon of Mr. Limbaugh's Two If By Tea Brand is a terrible idea. Marketing to adults through their children is questionable judgment on Rush's part to say the least. He may not care that the general public believes he's arrogant but this latest endeavor magnifies his personality. So much so that it seems that his ego is bigger than life. That's okay, he's accomplished quite a bit in his lifetime. He deserves the accolades he has received. On top of that, he has overcome many obstacles as well. However, he certainly does not succeed at everything and this book proves it. This book definitely goes into the Bad and Ugly category of why celebrities should not write for children.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Celebrity Children's Book Authors: The Good

There are so few celebrities who understand and excel at writing books for children. Very few. As discussed in the last blog, celebrities all think that writing for a child is an easy endeavor. It really isn't for so many reasons that were already discussed and won't lament on them again now. The clues that were left last time of which celebrity's books are very good were dead give aways, weren't they? The actress who came from a famous family and did quite well in films herself is none other than Jamie Lee Curtis. The actor who has done so many genres, from drama to comedy and everything in between is John Lithgow. However there is one more that many may have forgotten his works but he can be seen in a classic TV show but that will be discovered later. One of the nicest surprise when Jamie Lee Curtis' first children's book hit the shelves was that publisher found the right illustrator to make her book come alive. Laura Cornell's use of warm soft colors gently lures readers to spend time with the chubby faced characters. Curtis gets the voice of a little girl's view of the world just right. For example in When I was Little, the narrator details all the ways ways that she changed from crying all the time as a baby to not knowing she was a girl to completing big girl tasks all by herself. Curtis and Cornell did it again in, Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born is a sweet tale of adoption, based on the author's own family experience. In both books, the readers celebrates the little moments in life that are simple yet big in the eyes of a child. John Lithgow is a complete joy to watch on the screen, be it the silver one or the tube. His talents extend into writing as well. What makes his books so captivating is that the joy he has for music, words, learning and his dogs is contagious. It coms bursting through the pages. With his first book The Remarkable Farkle McBride, Lithgow introduces readers to a lovable character who knows exactly what he likes and works to make the music just right. In Mahalia Mouse Goes to College, there is a point where every reader, even one with the hardest of heart, celebrates in Mahalia's achievement. In I've Got Two Dogs, there is no other way to describe this book but a love ballad to his Fanny and Blue. At the very last page, the reader realizes they love Fanny and Blue too! When a reader steps into Lithgow's world, whether it be with Farkle, Mihalia Mouse or his two dogs they are in for a treat. One never knows where he may lead the reader, but who cares! It's so worth it! Now to unveil the TV legend who wrote a clever children's book that should really be on every child's bookshelf or at the very least in every public library's children's area. Can you recall an old TV sitcom of an unlikely family living in the neighborhood? A kind of bumbling yet lovable gigantic creature that usually only made an appearance at Halloween? The King Who Rained is a remarkable book about how some words sound the same but don't have the same meaning. Fred Gwynne, who is also known as Herman Munster of The Munsters TV series, creatively captured what children must be thinking when they hear the homophones. The quirky and silly pictures not only drive home what the true meaning of the word in a delightfully silly fashion. These authors have mastered the art of storytelling to the young. Their works are fun, fill young minds with wonderful images and dares them to continue reading. Who could resist that combination of wit and charm? Only readers with the coldest of hearts and have no clue about children. Which leads to the next step in the review of celebrity books... the bad. That is for another discussion. For now, it's best to revel in the good books For they only come once in a great while.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Celebrity Authors and Children's Literautre

For the record, Children's Literature is a fine art. It looks easy. It reads easy. However it is rare that anyone can someone can come along and produce a masterpiece. At the very best, a fine piece of work that stands the test of time. Publishers like to promote well known celebrities as authors thinking that this is a goldmine of an opportunity to cash in on sales. While it's true in the first shout out of the book and publishing date, most consumers are curious and want to take a peek at what the book is like. They may even venture out to buy it if they are fans of the author. Which makes pre-sales rise pretty quickly. Okay, so the publisher makes a few extra bucks on the "fame" of the author but what is painfully obvious is the reader is left with a crappy book. Maybe "crappy" is too harsh a phrase. Perhaps a better phrase would be quickly read, quickly forgotten. This week the theme of this blog is exploring the good, bad and the ugly of celebrity children's authors. First it would be important to point out what makes a good children's book. Every children's book must have illustrations that flow with the text. This seems easy to do but ask any illustrator and writer it takes time to get it perfect. The ultimate magic comes when you can not have the words without the picture and vice versa. They become as it were mirror images to each other. Secondly, never take your audience for granted. Eric Carle, well-known children's author and illustrator, once stated that he never underestimated the mind of a child. He's right. A child's mind is complex and simple all at the same time. When trying to tap into their imagination to help them dream or learn, the author has to find the right words to convey the complex yet simple without "dumbing" it down for the child. Children know when they are being talked down to or treated as if they are simpleton. The result is that they will turn off to reading the book. Bad news for the author and for that matter the publisher. Third, the plot of the story has to be the right combination of fiction and reality. For example, Plots that take the child to another place or time must be consistent with that place and time. Plots that feature good and evil must make it clear who the hero is and who is the villain. Plots which talk about events that shape every child's life should touch the child's mind with a "Aha" moment and they see themselves in that situation. Finally, the magic of the book must bring the reader back again and again and again. How many times have you seen a child read Green Eggs and Ham, only to realize they have memorized the book forward and backwards? It's that magic that lets the child experience the fun one more time and they never grow tired of it. It's the same thing with books that become a series. The young reader has to connect with the character in order to want to visit with him or her in another book. That is not as easy as it seems. With the foundation set forth here for important criteria in Children's books, it will be easier to discuss why author's make the cut and why others do not. It may be quite a shocker for some of the authors to find out that their books do not stand up to the test of great or even good Children's literature. Avid fans of books for the young ones can't really fault them. Frankly, it should be the editors and publishers who should have stopped them in their tracks from writing the books in the beginning. However, there should be applause for those editors and publishers who have unveiled noteworthy works from celebrities that were wonderful surprises. These will be the treasures that will be explored first. Which author's work will be explored first? Here's a helpful hint: one came from a famous Hollywood family and the other has starred in some many genres it's hard to say which they are best at. However, both authors have made the good list for children's books for different reasons. Try guessing who it is until next time. As we all know, the author must keep a title suspense to keep the reader's coming back

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Calling all Professions: Support Your Library!

Neil Gaiman has some ideas of what the future holds for libraries. While it is wonderful to see authors coming to the defense of libraries, there is a question that begs to be answered. Why other professions have not gotten on the library bandwagon? Libraries have long had the image of a building loaded with books, newspapers, magazines and every type of reading material one could hope to find. It also has the image of librarians in stuffy hair buns and glasses "SSShhhIng"patrons while reading their own book of choice at the reference desk. Of course, the idea that the library is a place for nerds and geeks never has gone away. Take away all the stereotypes, what is left? A building that everyone is welcomed to enter to find their own path to the information they seek. That is not just the future of libraries, it is the past and the present as well. If this is what libraries do the best, what needs to be done to get more professions on board singing about how wonderful libraries are? From a purely political point of view, the first step should begin with local politicians. What political leader in their right mind would say "No' to the library? The library offers the perfect non-threatening place to look up political ideas. It is at the library where anyone of any economic condition can educate themselves on political parties, social issues of the day or find out how to form an effective protest rally. This is America after all and the freedom to learn more about our government and it's officials has never been taboo. Why do libraries wait until a mileage to gain political support of local officials. What libraries should always be doing, whether it's a public, school or private library, is to gain support before the library needs the votes cast for it's survival. It would be wonderful if every Mayor in large cities would publicly state that they not only support their libraries, they use it on a regular basis and they encourage all the citizens to do the same. For the libraries who have very supportive local officials who help celebrate libraries, the next step should be to going to the next step, which in many cases would be state legislature. There should be a Legislative Day at the Capital for Libraries. If the state your library resides in does not have one, it's time to team up with the State's library association and coordinate one. It is an effective tool to getting to know State lawmakers as well as getting the message out about the importance of libraries. Another natural partner to libraries are teachers and homeschoolers. Much of a librarian's time is used to help students of all ages and coming from different types of schools, from private, to public and homeschooling. It will never make a huge difference on how students acquire the information they need to complete a project, they all make their first stop at the library. Parents often lament that with Internet at home, why do they need a library? While students are savvy with computers they still need guidance on finding information and knowing what critical questions to ask when doing research. In addition to that, libraries are the best places for students to put into practice "independent" learning. What many fail to realize that even by logging in at home, students can and do use the library electronic resources. Wouldn't it be great if Teacher associations, homeschoolers and National Honor Society all came to the aid of libraries? Want an "A" student, get your child to a library! American Library Association were brilliant with READ posters promoting reading using celebrities. When ALA first came out with the ad campaign, it was applauded. Now it's starting to lose it's effectiveness. It would be interesting to do a survey of teen and adult readers to find out how much these posters influenced them to read. For example, did the poster of Tony Hawk excite them about reading or going to the library? It would be interesting to see what the answer would be, however it goes back to square one. Finding support on the local level from everyday folks and professionals who can't get enough of the library. Sure it's nice to see a beautiful actress promoting the library but does she provided the impact that is needed to motivate people to use the library. Maybe but it still wouldn't hurt to have professionals like lawyers, doctors, auto mechanic (yes even in the blue collar sector) to toot the horn for libraries. Wouldn't it be amazing to see the many ways libraries help all professions? It's got to be worth a shot to start reaching out and networking to gain the support.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Can We Talk About Privatizing Libraries Now?

This isn't an easy topic to approach. Especially since libraries and librarianship is the core of this blog. A hard examination of what is loved and treasured is can either be cathartic or devastating This attempt is meant to be healing and invite comments to inspire an exchange of ideas. Awhile ago, the idea of private libraries was put forth in this forum. It is understandable why many libraries avoid the idea of a private libraries. They may even consider it a dirty word. Heaven forbid that such a thing would happen to our beautiful public libraries. Why private would be intimidating, unwelcoming, and very elitists. That should not be the designation for the institutions that boasts the freedom to read, grow and think independently. Public libraries should always be free .... or should they? Would it be a bad thing to look at the idea with an open mind? One great example of why privatizing library is worth exploring is looking at the Mark Twain Library in Downtown Detroit. No seriously, don't look it will break every library lover's heart. Library Journal recently reposted pictures of the Mark Twain Library in Detroit. It is an abandoned library. Once it was a treasure of the city where neighborhood children went to after school and weekends to check out their favorite tomes. Now it's a shamble. The city of Detroit and the administration of the Detroit Public Library ought to be ashamed of what they allowed to happen to this library. There are so many questions that demand answers that it is hard to know where to begin. For example, why were the books allowed to say on the shelves and not brought to a safer place for storage? Or at the very least shared with the open Detroit Library Branches or surrounding libraries? Why was there a lack of security to prevent the destruction? At a time when libraries are in budget battles to prove their worth to the community, Detroit has proven to the nation that this is not the city that reads or cares for preserving literature for future generations. To be fair, this is a city that has declared bankrupt. Money is not only tight, apparently it's none existent. Which is precisely why looking into privatization of libraries should at least be considered. If taxpayers can not fund a library or library system, it's time to consider other sources of funding. Privatization of libraries can provide freedom for libraries in many ways. Freedom in how much they can charge for fines and fees. Freedom from having to worry about milages passing or not passing due to the "mood" of the voters in a particular election cycle. Freedom to be independent of local government budgets which at times become a scary predicament of waiting for the budget ax to come down on the library. It is time to think like a business. In other words it's time to be entrepreneurial and go for the gusto. It's time for small libraries like Mark Twain to be vibrant again, with children and adults using the resources available to them. Will the library be free. Of course not! Today's libraries are not free either. Taxpayers fund them whether they personally use the library or not. In no particular order, here are some reasons and ways libraries can make that big shift from public to private. First and foremost libraries can not exist without solid financial backing. For decades,the chosen method of funding libraries has been to use public funds, raise taxes and hope that city administrators would not raid the library's nest egg. With the option of private libraries set up user fees and service options. The patron will get to decide which services they want or even choose that they do not want any of the libraries services. The revenue collected is for the library's use only. It does not need to be shared with any of the other "community's" obligations. One might ask what would make this different than a book store? The difference, the user's support the shared collection of resources. In a bookstore, one has to buy the books for their own personal collection. There are many who do not have the resources nor the space in their homes to do this. The private libraries offer the ability for those in the community to have a shared stake in the collections. What the customer wants, the customer will receive. Private companies have the ability to go around red tape and bureaucratic nonsense that stunts the growth of any city government department. Privatization offers flexibility. Privatizing libraries provides freedom away from petty politics on local, state and national levels. No longer will library director's be a the mercy of one or two city council members who refuse to do what is right by the library and the patrons. Politics has the nasty ability to interfere when there is no need for them or desire for them to butt in. An example, would be if a mayor's wife does not like a certain library service but twelve other "customers" do, the winner will be the majority not the elite minority That goes along with the complaints of what books should or should not be on a library shelf. Along with that there is the freedom to build a collection without the fear of a PC police. Politically correct or non correct books or resources could be placed on the shelf without fanfare. All books are welcomed. Patrons can choose for themselves the books they wish to read. There would be no need for review boards or unnecessary paper work that documents what page was the most offensive to the reader. Frankly as most businessmen and women will tell you, money talks. If patrons are paying for their library services straight from their own pockets, they will demand services that will satisfy them. If the needs are not satisfied, the money will dry up and go somewhere else. A good business person always makes customer satisfaction the number one priority. . Private companies also do not have the burden of dealing with only one or two ways of making money. Let's face it in the government sector of the business world the means to make money is either raise taxes or grants. Neither one of these are particularly dependable for library administrators to count on. In the private sector, finding creative means to raise money is not only a requirement but also encouraged. As long as it is within the legal bounds of the law, business can raise money by teaming together to create a new idea or use other methods of fundraising like programs and events which solicit memberships to the organization. In any case the opportunities are a little more abundant on the private side then in government. The idea of total privatization of libraries may sound risky and foolish to some. Perhaps it might even be appropriate to take baby steps into the venture. Couldn't a public library form partnerships with a private company to ensure a smooth transition? Wouldn't it be worth the experiment to see if this is possible? Just an off the wall suggestion here, Why not try it with the Mark Twain Library in Detroit? After all a library is a terrible thing to waste! It's time to give privatization of libraries a chance.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Digging in For Reluctant Readers This Summer

The Summer Reading Program (SRP) 2013 is a wonderful theme this year. There are countless ways to get the librarian's mind thinking creatively on attracting all types of readers. The readers that is of most often spoken about but hardest to reach are the reluctant readers. They are the children that will say that reading is boring. Reading isn't interactive or exciting. These words might as well be a stake that drives through the librarian's heart. It really is a difficult task but one that is well worth striving to achieve. Not every child is the same, nor are every reader the same. With that in mind, here are some ideas that might help with finding the right touch to get reluctant readers to get excited this summer. First, let's get the idea packed away that all readers must read a certain number of books or pages for the summer. There are too many librarians and teachers who think this is a productive measure of reading and some even make it into a contest. Who can read the most. Let's face it, to some young readers you might as well tell them they are climbing Mount Everest for the very first time. By themselves. With no help from anyone. Game over, who care. They's rather be doing something else, like counting what level they've reached in Mario Cart or racking up points in another video game. Instead of counting the number of books or pages. Let's try for reading for fifteen minutes everyday. Let the young readers decide what they will read. It can be a book, magazine or even a website. Just as long as they are reading sometime during the summer. There are titles that are perfect for the reading is boring crowd. For example, The 39 Clues series has it all for reluctant readers who say that reading is boring. It is not only an action thriller that features two siblings on a chance for the family's treasure, it is also linked to a website that provides other outlets to finding out more about the characters, search for more clues and hopefully find the family treasure. It is a rip roaring romp around the world. Not to mention that fact that the Cahill family puts the fun in dysfunctional. Amy and Dan Cahill are determined to win their Grandmother's fortune but along the way of the fortune hunt they learn many things about their past and their parents. The masterful list of YA authors that write for the series keep the plots twisting and exciting. When the series first debuted the concept of bringing novels and a website seemed impractical. yet, it was just innovated enough to capture reluctant readers attention. What could be better than reading a book that is actually a game of searching for a treasure and solving riddles. This is definitely a must have on a list for summer reading program reader's advisory. When reaching out to the hardcore gammer, the one who will not put down the game controller or joy stick to take a few minutes to read, look for the opportunity to bring the games to the library. How? Consider a gaming day where young adults could compete for small prizes. Additionally, it would be a good idea to invest in "how to" books that provide information on the secret ways to move on to the next level and ultimately win a favorite video game like Halo. Be aware that these are often stolen from library collections. It is better to keep them at the reference/information desk. If the director or collection development librarian has a problem with adding these books to the collection, try "selling" the collection as another way to entice reader to come to the library. These types of books are excellent introductions to non-fiction reading as "pleasure reading". These books can be used as incentives/prizes during SRP which will be a good draw for the gamer to not only join SRP but to get a library card. On a side note, if a librarian has the time and talent, playing the games that the young patrons like can provide the icebreaker to getting to know the patron. If the library/librarian shows an interest in the young reader, chances are they will come back. However, not knowing how to play okay, so long as the librarian knows the games and the characters. Which can lead to reading gaming magazines as professional development. (Try that one with your library director!) Finally, if all else fails in getting the reluctant reader interested in digging further into reading, try graphic novels. Leonardo DiCaprio's recent work in The Great Gatsby is a wonderful way to introduce classic literature and graphic novels. Sure this sounds a little bit like school work, however, sell the idea to the patrons as a way to impress their English teacher next fall. Not only have they read the Great Gatsby, but other great novels such as Dracula and Hamlet. This is reading beyond what they would normally try. The format of the graphic novel works well because it is visual, quick and accessible. For too long, reluctant readers have felt they were not smart enough to understand such classic titles. With graphic novels, the complex has been made simple. As an added bonus, understanding the classics might help them on their ACT scores too. This summer should be loaded with fun for children of every age at the library. Don't worry, the digging for SRP ideas has just begun. There will be lots more ideas and fun coming in the next couple of entries. Hope you'll stay tuned.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Marketing the Library: A Few Things To Bear In Mind

If you are not marketing, you are not communicating. If you are not communicating, the community knows nothing about your library. Interesting thought to ponder for library administrators today. Library directors are not thought of as marketing scholars but then again I don't believe any director, or assistant director ever thought they would have to be the Human Resources chief either. It's all in the vain of going with the what you have versus complaining about what you don't have. Which leads to marketing. Without ever having to take a course in business most librarians can do what comes natural Think about the costumer. Pin point what they like or want. Then always and it is imperative to remember this point. Post it on the office door or on the desk. It is simply this: always communicate the positive. Whether your library is big, as in a major city's library or small as in rural libraries, all marketing concerns and hurdles are the same. Finding cost effective means to get the message out. Thanks to the digital era, marketing programs and news about the library can be as simple as tweeting about new bestsellers that have arrived to the registration date of Summer reading programs. However, printed library newsletters that are mailed to every resident can still add value when considering that there are still those without an electronic footprint. Or as one patron once said in a library surgery, "getting something in the mail has a personal touch. Its a sign that someone took the extra effort to reach out to the recipient." Communicating to someone is very personal. One can argue that the old fashioned mail to every address is expensive. This is not that case anymore. The United States Postal Service has made it very affordable to mail business promotions to every address for a rate that is almost too good to be true. (check out Every Door Direct Mail at As with any business, a library strives or dives by the image it has in the community If the image is negative, then the flow of patrons dwindles down. Which cab lead to losses in state aid. To keep the revenue flowing, all libraries become positive brand promoters. When enticing the taxpayers to visit the library often and offering positive value to the community, the library director has made the community a partner in the library's future. This is not an easy task to do because it is a very delicate balance to achieve. For example, situations can arise where libraries will remains "loyal" to a small portions of the community because this is the group that has always supported the library. This is costly to the library in the sense that they have risked the future of the library. It's good to reward the loyal diehards who always walk into the library. However, if the diehards are demanding that nothing changes, then communicating to entire community is a worthless task and the image of the library as being able to serve only a select few is ingrained in the community. The image of the public library should be that it is there to serve the community. All can agree that the best image of the library is that it is equipped to take on the challenges of the future and use public monies well. The difficulty of small libraries is that with limited funds sometimes it is hard to keep up with the changes. Larger libraries can project that image better. Even if that is the case, a positive image can make the challenges seem invisible. If a library director can create marketing and communications plans that focuses personal and positive messages. It is also important to remember to be persistent. This is another way of saying be polite when nagging. Consider the local dentists who sends out reminders every six months that it's time for a teeth cleaning. The persistence in getting the patient in doesn't stop there. It is often followed up with a friendly phone call to remind the patient of the need to get their teeth cleaned and how convenient is it that the receptionist can schedule that appointment right now? Libraries don't need to schedule appointments but they do need to get their patrons in the door. An email blast may not be enough to get patrons' attention. It may have to be a combination of methods to motivate them to come to the library. Whatever combination works, it is the libraries' best interest to do use it again and again. Marketing and communications is not a one size fits all deal. Every library will find a way to reach out in their own way. The key to being successful at this is to always being communicating with your community. Any opportunity to communicate to the public about what the library does and what it can do should not be wasted or overlook. Finally, don't be afraid to fail. Sometimes, failure is the best teacher.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Who Needs A MSLS anyway? Professional Librarians, That's Who

Michael Kelley, editor of Library Journal posed a very interesting question in his editorial (published May 1, 2013) about the education of a librarian. In particular, is a Master's Degree really necessary for the profession. Should we do away with the requirements? Is it time we had the discussion about why the degree is no longer needed. Gee, Mr. Kelley from your own arguments in the editorial it would seem apparent why the degree is needed The fact that your own experience in acquiring the degree was less then stellar or helpful does not negate the need for the Master's Degree. Quite the opposite, it may be that some MSLS programs are not quite as good as others. Perhaps what is needed is a review over which schools should get a more rigorous review in their accreditation process. For the sake of being open minded, let's review the reason's why Mr. Kelley feels the degree has out lived it's purpose. The profession would be better served if there were an apprenticeship process instead of going to a university to receive the degree. Well, sure on the job training is always a good thing but would people be comfortable going to a doctor whose background in surgery was only based on an apprenticeship? Would they wonder if the doctor he apprenticed with was one of the best or a quack? Before arguing that librarians are not doctors and this isn't a fair example. Consider this: as a society we are constantly looking for checks and balances to validate a person's expertise. If there is a job that does not require an specific degree, the assumption is that anyone can fill that job. The example of a doctor not obtaining a medical degree is a valid one. Not everyone can be a doctor. Which is why the medical profession requires that one not only complete a medical courses to earn a degree but also complete an internship, which is similar to an apprenticeship. Has Mr. kelley considered that maybe a library program should require an internship program to complete the requirements of librarianship education? For the record, there are accredited Library Science programs that make it a requirement for their students. The editorial blatantly looked past that consideration. Secondly, the excuse that currently, the profession's wages do not match the level of education, is poor. Across the board, many professions are feeling the effects of a lagging economy. Salaries and benefits were not what they once were ten years ago or twenty years for that matter. If that is the case, then perhaps a four year college education is not worth the time or money to invest. Perhaps, technical schools or community colleges would serve the purpose just as well, if not better. As a matter of fact, In a recent survey conducted by Gerogetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, nearly 30% of Americans with associate's degrees now earn more than those with bachelor's degrees. Should the conversation about the value of any advance degree be up for discussion? Mr. Kelley is quite right that many libraries are now hiring non-degreed librarians to run the library as in the rural areas and in bigger cities they are hiring non-degreed personal to cut costs in the budgets. Stating that the profession should not require a MSLS is conceding that it is not necessary to hire a professional librarian. Thus delivering a close to knock out blow of the value of the profession. If the degree were no longer a requirement what would be the consequences on librarians' salaries as a whole? An honest and educated guess would be that salaries would continue to decline. Finally, we are in the most exciting times of our profession. Librarians have opportunities that can extend outside of the boundaries of the traditional library. The digital era has brought about new ways of communicating, sharing and finding information. This isn't your grandmother's library. Far from it. If anything, the MSLS can help new librarians explore all the options of this brave new digital world. Yet, the editor of the trusted journal of the profession muses about how the value of MSLS. Pardon being so blunt, but this is not only damaging to the image of the librarian but also disheartening. If there are many others who believe as Mr. Kelley does, then there is little hope for the profession to survive. It will be a slow slide into mediocrity. Which eventually leads to the demise of the profession. That would be a very sad thing to have happen.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

That Moment When A Children's Librarian Knows...

The past couple of weeks have been filled with nostalgia. That happens when a librarian looks around and witness incredible changes in our library and technology. It is absolutely stunning at times to remember where we have been and where we are going. The technology that we have today will seem like child's play in fire years or so. Among all the changes some things will never change. The power of a story. The absolute pure joy and thrill to share that story with young ones. Story time programs are the first library doors that are opened to children. It's an amazing task for a good librarian to introduce children to the library world and help them grow to love everything about the library. There are moments in a story time when the children's librarians know that the half hour will be a good one or a bad one. The veterans in the field know the tell tale signs of a child who does not want anything to do with story time, the other children or the library. They cling to mom or dad. They cry. They will do anything possible to not participate. Those times can be difficult. Sometimes, the only option it seems is to have the child leave. That's the very last resort. The best thing to do is to cut the story time short a bit and allow the children time to explore the library with their parents. They may end up finding a favorite corner to hare books together. However, when the magical moment happens, and all eyes are glued to the book that is being shared, there is no amount of technology that can take the place of the one on one experience. From the moment the story begins to the very last page, its as if everything has stopped. the world outside the children's room keeps bustling about. The children and the librarian on the other hand have "virtually" left the building. Entering another world where words sweep them in and pictures absorbs the group into their world. It seems as if nothing can penetrate this shard world. Not even a video game, which seems almost impossible these days. Every children's librarian seeks and craves for this moment. It is an absolute joy. It's one the one joy that should never be taken out of the library. Not even for budget cuts. Why share this idea of the perfect moment in story time? Perhaps because this world is so filled with noise, distractions and static that it is good to reflect on what the library does best for the young ones. A quiet place to escape and visit another world with friends. The imagination is so much better than video games. Perhaps we should as library professionals continue to reinforce that in our every day encounters with patrons of all ages.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Things That Go Batty In the Library

It goes without saying that there is never a dull moment in a public library. A reference question can either cause a librarian to go on a wold goose chase or leave one scratching their heads wondering what really is going on in a patron's mind when they asked a particular question. Let's face it anyone who has spent anytime on a reference desk will have wonderful stories that they retell over and over again about their most memorable patron. Here's a few to get a few smiles on a Monday as we start the week. As a fresh out of grad school librarian working in a mid-sized public library on a Saturday the typical reference questions are expected. Like the homework assignments on the plants or the latest book by Dean Koontz. On this particular saturday a woman in her late fifties maybe early sixties comes up to the desk and inquires about books on medical surgeries. As a young librarian eager to help, the reference interview goes as follows: Young Librarian: "Is this pertaining to patient health information, to help you decide if you want to have the surgery done?" Patron responds, "No. I want to know how to perform the surgery." Young librarian: "I see. Books of those nature are not normally found in a public library but you may want to consult a medical library. I would be more than happy to direct you to the health information center or the area where books on the human body can be found." Patron looking perplexed, " You don't have books on how to do surgery?" Young librarian, smiles and answers politely, "No I'm sorry we do not." Patron responses, "Well, I just want to do the surgery myself. I don't trust the doctor to work on my husband." With that the patron walks away. As the patron walks away, the librarian can't help but wonder who to be more sorry for, the wife or the husband. Phone calls coming into the library are a cross between the super easy to the I'm not sure why you called category. Most of the times patrons calling in are asking non reference questions such as "What time do you close?" or "When is the teen program starting?" Simple. Direct. No brainer questions right. Then there are times when patrons call in with spelling questions. Again, no brainer for the most part. Unless the patron not only questions the librarian's ability to look up a word but also the authority of the author of the dictionary. This is too weird to even make up. A man called up his local library to inquire how to spell apprentice. As all well trained librarians know, the best source to use is a Webster's dictionary. After looking up the word, the librarian then proceeds to spell the word to the patron. Patron replies, "Are you sure? That doesn't look right." The librarian quotes her source that she is using the Webster's Dictionary copyright 2010. After a brief pause, "Is he an expert in English grammar and spelling?" The librarian not knowing if this is a prank or not, reassures the patron that Webster has been established as "the source" on spelling since the beginnings of American's history. The man then replies, "Well there must have been a typo in the printing of this dictionary that no one caught, because he got it wrong. You may want to find another dictionary to buy next time, He probably got other words wrong too." With that he hung up. Hmm. Poor Daniel Webster, he's been dissed and can't even defend his work! Last but certainly not least of the examples here, is a story of a child who loved her library so much that she didn't want to leave. After a story time, a little girl and her mother go to the children's room to browse through the stacks to find books to take home. After about twenty minutes, the mother informs her daughter that they have to leave. The little girl looks up and says, "but I'm reading a book." The mother responds that they can check out the book and the girl can continue reading it at home. "No." says the little girl and continues to read her book. The mother decides a couple of more minutes at the library will not hurt anything, so she informs her daughter that she is going to look for a book for herself. When she returns the little girl should be ready to leave. The girl does not even look up and acknowledges what her mother has just said. She continues to read and looks totally absorbed in the story. The mother than leaves the room and after fifteen minutes she returns to find her daughter right where she left her. Busy with her nose in the book. "Honey, it's time to go." she gently nudges her daughter, to which the daughter responds, "Nope. Not ready. I need to finish this book." Mother clearly getting a little upset, " Don't be impossible. You can check out that book and finnish it at home." To which the girl replies, "But I don't have a library at home and it's the best place for me to read." The mother pauses and says, "Well, you can pretend you have a library at home and read in your bedroom where it's nice and quiet." Without blinking an eye the daughter says, "In my bedroom I sleep. In the library I read. You just want me to nap instead of reading." The girl continues on with reading her book. The mother uses one last attempt to reason with her daughter before she is forced to close the book and pick up her daughter, forcing her to leave. "If you don't get up right now, I'm going to leave you here all alone." the girl with big blue eyes, finally takes her eyes off her book, and says "Go ahead. I'm safe here with plenty of books to read." With that last statement, the mother takes the book for the child, puts it in her library bag to check out and picks up a the girl who is now wailing and letting everyone within the library know, "I LOVE MY BOKKS! I WANT MY BOOKS" Aw, if only that could be captured in a PSA for libraries! Everyday there is something new to talk about in the library. What makes libraries wonderful are the patrons who visit them on a regular bases. Without them, the libraries' story would not be interesting or inviting. Perhaps, the American Library Association should promote a National Library Patron Appreciation Day. AFter all without them, libraries would have no reason to exist.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Library Funding Part One: The Road to Privitization?

In an anti-tax environment libraries across the United States are going to have to do some soul searching. Especially in states where the economy is not doing well due to high unemployment and soaring cost of living expenses. It seems that prices are going up on everything, which means that libraries are feeling the same pinch. Once again, many libraries are turning to the tried method of mileage proposals on the ballot to raise the revenues they need. In the past couple of election cycles, there have been many success stories of libraries passing their mileages. However, if the economy takes another downward turn, as many economic indicators predict, the mileages won't mean a thing if taxes can't be paid. It is very likely that the anti-tax voice will get stronger and louder. Libraries must be bolder than just going after the tried and true money box of mileages. It may be time to consider privatizing libraries for profit and secure a future. Before the naysayers raise their objections, consider the following points. Publishers are in no hurry to help out libraries as it relates to ebooks. Frankly, it is probably the moment they have been waiting for all their proverbial lives. The chance to squeeze out not only libraries but booksellers too. Why else would three out of the six major publishers refuse to sell ebooks to libraries? The other three that are willing to sell to libraries overprice the books to capitalize on profit. It's not "fair" that libraries lend out books to readers, who thus get to enjoy the book for free. Here's a crazy thought: avid readers love to share the books they read with others. Electronically or in print they will find a way to loan their friends a copy of their book. It's a fact of life. Publishers need to realize that libraries are as part of the society as apple pie and Chevrolet. Not matter what form the libraries take, there will always be libraries serving an important role in the community. Having said that, there needs to be an effort to encourage publishers to lower prices and sell to libraries. For once and for all, it has to be proven that it is a win win situation for both parties. Especially with indepent publishers pushing their way into the market and making an impact that could be comparable to when paperbacks made their breakthrough in reading habits. The problem with the publishers is only a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to library survival. The digitization of our culture is another battle that must be won. Libraries can talk about the digital divide and how it is important to bring everyone on board to the new digital reading world until they are blue in the face. The fact of the matter is, when push comes to shove the haves and the have nots in this world will not matter one iota when paychecks get smaller and everyone is grumbling about the cost of everything. Start asking for more tax revenue and it may make th4 ecommunity begin to question do they need a library. Forbes did a wonderful two part article on why libraries matter. The basic premise is that librries are needed as an insstitution where reading is promoted. The Library also acts as a gathering place for informtioan and meeting. Wonderful. What they fail to address is the promotion of librareis as a return of investment (ROI) for the community. If this can not be provem, a community will look a the library as a dinosaur and unable to change. If the discussion is going to turn to practical usage of taxpayer dollaars and community benefits it might be time to consider consolidating or communities sharing resources. For example, many cities have found ways to share police and fire resources to help the finacial bottom line of both communites. While it is always a nice idea that every community deserves a library, perhaps a better way to view it is that every community dsserves access to a library. With the digital age and downloading capabilities there is no reason why communities can not share one library building and serve multiple communities. Returning to the origianl idea of privitizing libraires. The question becomes is there a "product" that libraries offer. yes. It's called information in any form a patorn desires it and for any purpose be it educational or entertainment. Those agains selling or using information as a commodity fail to remember that the first public library in the United States was not free. It was supported on a subscription basis. think of it this way, if the population valued their libraries as much as they say do they do, they won't be mind paying for it like they do for cable or cell phones. It is a servcie that is wanted, therefore it is not rolled into a tax. Libraries have relied so heavily on the tax systme that it may very well be to their demise. Perhaps they are are afraid it will be harder to fund a private library becasue they do not see a commitment from their own communities to their libraries. If that is the case, then shame on librarians for going along with the status quo and not even trying to venture out to something new. Clinging on to old ways is a recipe for disaster. Time to look at new revenues, new challenges and finding the solutions to make it work for the future. Stay tuned this is a discussion that will be reviseted in the months to come.