Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer Reading Best Boom & Spark!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 14, 2014

Why Net Neutrality is Important to Everyone.

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 7, 2014

Social Media Maze .. Which Should Libraries Use?

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 4, 2014

Red, White & Read! Books for the Fourth

When thinking about the Fourth of July, one normally does not ponder on which books they will want to read to children.  Unless, of course one's profession is librarianship. To be honest,  the thought of which books to read to kids for any occasion often comes to mind.   So to get into the spirit of the holiday, here are three quick books to read to children that are enjoyable for every age.

We the Kids: The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States written and illustrated by David Catrow.  A delightful book that explains the preamble in simple language and whimsical illustrations. It is a very quick read.  Quick enough to read before or during a picnic.  Remember, there's always time to read and learn something.

Those Rebels, John And Tom by Barbara Kerley  Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham
This book is a little longer but perfect for a read the night before the big holiday or just before bedtime after the excitement of the fireworks show.  Ms. Kerley has written an accurate account of the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson by contrasting their personalities and what they both contributed to the Declaration of Independence.  This is perfect for teaching history to children without becoming a stuffy or boring.  Storytelling at its best.

America The Beautiful : Together We Stand By Katherine Lee Bates  Another quick book to read that is based on the patriotic song America the Beautiful.  It is a wonderful book for several reasons.  One, each page is illustrated by a different illustrator, making it a unique collection of artwork. Secondly,  each page has one line from the first stanza alongside a quote from one of Presidents of the United States, such as  Abraham Lincoln,  Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.  Thirdly, and not least, at the back of the book there is a two page spread which has the pictures of American symbols and the explanation of their meanings, for example, the Liberty Bell.  It is a treasure and could be used as holiday tradition to read it every year.  It could even inspire an impromptu singing of the song.  Anything can happy when you read.

Happy Fourth of July Reading to one and all.

 A full list of Patriotic Books for Patriotic Families is available for the asking.  Send an email to and in the subject line use Patriotic Books for Patriotic Families.