Friday, February 26, 2010

Common Sense Media Integrated into Barnes and Noble's Interface

This is one of those topics that raises my blood pressure to the point where I can't ever write about it....but I was raised pretty much without restrictions on my behavior, and certainly none on my reading, so I am more than a little perturbed by our current nanny-state.

I read about this as Sarah Dessen first discovered it, Linda Braun reported on the YALSA blog,  as Sassymonkey described and Liz Burns explored at Tea Cozy, the Barnes and Noble website has started integrating recommended reading ages and green/yellow/red "warnings" in a "For Parents" box, well above the synopsis and editorial reviews.

But I started noticing many books didn't offer that content, even books reviewed at the Common Sense Media site. Witness Forever:

I also noticed "For Parents" section didn't appear in the only book which has ever inspired a student complaint about explicit content at my school, Jenny Downham's Before I Die. Granted, it's not in the Common Sense database, but note that B&N's states age range starts with 12. I'm guessing that was specified by the publishers, which seems like an infinitely better system than leaving that up to the parent and child barometer constituting CommonSense Media.

So, is B&N picking and choosing which reviews to integrate? I'm guessing by the Forever ommision that it's an ISBN match rather than an author/title one....but this kind of reckless and selective linking to user-generated content designed to limit access are enough to put me off B&N. Too bad they have run all the independent booksellers out of my town. I guess I will be heading to Booksamillion (or Booksahundred, as we called it in library school) for my bricks-and-mortar fix in the meantime.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Yes, School Libraries Need Books

Yesterday's New York Times piece has some interesting and balanced takes on the relevance of print in schools, including news about an upcoming book-length version of William Powers' 2006 piece "Hamlet's Blackberry". But I think they define school libraries too narrowly. While my colleagues in school libraries across the country argue about which professional titles best positions school librarians as part of the pedagogical fabric of the school, I wholeheartedly believe promoting reading for pleasure is every bit as important as information literacy instruction or curricular support. This is especially school in a rural school like mine, where many students don't come from print-rich homes. Three-quarters of my circulation is fiction, and the fraction of that is curricular in nature is so small as to be imperceptible.

In my library, I frequently suggest eBook versions of public domain works when the print editions are checked out. For every student I have who is thrilled to be able to access Alice's Adventures in Wonderland on her cell phone, I have another tell me they don't like to read things in electronic formats. As more and more course content is being pushed online, I think students will experience even more screen-time fatigue. Not to mention the fact that bits and books have very different ownership models. At the YALSA 3.0 Institute at ALA Midwinter, Cory Doctorow used "sharecropping" to describe our relationships with eBooks, which I think is apt.

I LOVE computing, it has made my life richer in myriad ways. I'm creating tags for my students to scan with their smartphones in my library to launch webpages and instructional videos, so I am no technophobe. But I think we forget that technology is not always there. Almost a month ago, a tornado went through the town where I live. Bad weather hadn't been predicted, and the moment emergency sirens went off, so did the power. I did not realize how dependent I had been on computer technology until I literally had no mechanism to monitor the weather, which damaged houses and uprooted trees throughout my neighborhood. I happen to live very close to a hospital, so our section of the power grid almost never goes out. That afternoon, I instinctively turned on my laptop, forgetting that my wireless router (and all those in the neighborhood to which I might connect) would be down. The phone networks was overloaded, so my iPhone was pretty worthless. I did remember that the iPod nano has a built-in radio, but it took some scrambling to change the tuner to a station covering the event. Though on a daily basis I had moved away from radio in favor of more network-dependent forms of music and information, it took a crisis to reveal how short-sighted that happened to be.

And I do keep thinking about the chorus of upcountry librarians from Vermont and New Hampshire at that same YALSA preconference challenging the ubiquity of cell phone data and Internet access presented there. I went to stay with friends just after Midwinter, who told me they live on the only street in central Vermont with broadband access. You cannot get a cell signal there, either. Until the government is willing to see online connectivity as a fundamental civil right, I really lament the ideological isolation of pundits who think print is irrelevant and everything is digital.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Lucky magazine experiments with video integration

I often think that women's magazines are underestimated. Can't the quality of the writing be justified upon examination of the many talented writers who contributed to them? Anyway, I was impressed with the March issue of Lucky in particular, which had gliphs next to some of the features that, when scanned with software like the Microsoft Tag reader application, opened a linked multimedia file. On my 1st gen iPhone over my home wifi, it was an absolutely seamless way to link print and video.

Microsoft documentation says you can make your own scan-able tags in seconds "using Microsoft Powerpoint, or other graphic program to overlay a Tag graphic file over existing artwork". This could be an incredibly powerful tool for delivering on-demand bibliographic instruction or reader's advisory.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

If Obama doesn't like school libraries, why does he visit them so often?

By now, you've no doubt heard about the elimination of federal funding for the Improving Litracy Through School Libraries program from the proposed FY 2011 budget, and read passionate responses from Buffy Hamilton and Cathy Jo Nelson. I keep coming back to those myriad pictures of him mugging in school libraries while simultaneously undermining them.