Monday, May 25, 2015

"Unfair" Bedtime Stories?

A philosopher and professor at University of Warwick in England has made a suggestion that should make every children's librarian sick to their stomach.  The professor, Adam Swift, suggests that reading to children before bedtimes gives an unfair advantage to children from supportive homes to achieve in their academic endeavors.  Children are not read to at night, don't fare as well.  This should be a celebration of family bonding.  Not only that but it should be encouraged world wide.  This is exactly what librarians have been advocating for decades.  Read to your child.  It is sincerely hoped that this professor is being misquoted and that there is not need to be alarmed.  However, there is a way of turning this thought around to be advantageous for all children.

Since Professor Swift correctly states that reading to children at bedtime is a good thing, the best response would be to promote this activity to every family.  PSA announcements, reminders to parents at schools, and perhaps even establishing a volunteer effort to read to children who don't have the luxury of someone at home to read to them.   These are just a few ideas but surely some of them could work to give every child an opportunity to be read to.

Additionally, librarians should continue advocating for reading to children (at any time of the day) so as to prove and persuade that this is a better alternative than not reading to children.  Which is what Professor Swift seems to be suggesting in his theory of "fairness".    It is true that it is almost impossible to be sure that every child is read to but librarians can continue to remind parents, and even neighbors, that reading to one child is better than not reaching out to any child.

Last but not least, here is a personal challenge to Professor Swift, should he really believe that reading to children is unfair.   Do your part in making things equal for all children.  Read to a child in your family, or your neighborhood or go to a local library in England and discover if there are programs just for the purpose of filling in the void for children who have no one to read to them.  If England's libraries do not have these programs then perhaps it is time that they begin.

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?