Monday, November 14, 2011

Libraries without books

Books are such a sensitive topic, especially to those who work with them on a daily basis. While I love the physical book, I understand the evolution of medium and concede that there is nothing wrong with ebooks. Well, most of the time. Let's explore this.

Pleasure Reading

I recently read my first novel on my iPhone. I still can't believe it. Yes, it is a small screen, but when you are truly captivated by the story, it doesn't matter. I read  Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand as part of a book club for work. It was a wonderful book and I highly recommend it. I liked the fact that I always had the book with me and could read a few minutes here or there since my schedule is a bit crazy right now. I thought it would be a little tough on the eyes, but I played with the settings until the page was more of a beige than bright white and a little dimmer. (I must confess that while I enjoyed the experience, I want an iPad even more so that I have a bigger screen!). I did have some trouble flipping back and forth between the story and hyperlinked notes. Overall, I can see the appeal and ease of using ebooks for pleasure reading. While I'm getting on the ebook bandwagon, I don't have an ereader yet, which always surprises people. But I'm a librarian - shouldn't I have one? When I was interviewing for my current position, one of the administrators asked which ereader I had and his look of surprise was priceless when I said I didn't have one. I clarified that I want an iPad since they are more versatile and can use the apps for the major vendors such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Once Adobe and Apple get the Flash issue straightened out (and I have a few dollars) I'll get the iPad.


I keep reading articles about how college students will choose a physical textbook over an ebook even if it is cheaper. While the thought of not carrying around textbooks is appealing, there are some concerns about e-textbooks that lead me to believe the technology just isn't quite there yet to eliminate all print textbooks. 
  • Staring a a screen all day is physically and mentally draining. 
  • The battery life of laptops and ereaders may not last through hours of classes and library time - there are only so many outlets in classrooms.
  • Some subjects (business, math, science) require the regular use of tables and other appendices in the back of the book. It may be difficult to read the charts depending the size of the ereader and it may be easier to flip back and forth with a physical book
I have purchased some ebooks to use with my graduate work, but I have mixed feelings at this point. The books I purchased weren't really textbooks, but books to assist with qualitative research so flipping around was not required. On the positive side, the books were a bit cheaper than the print versions and I was able to download them immediately, which was helpful since I was out of town for a week long course. I was also able to get a few items free or very cheaply that were primary sources (Adam Smith, John Dewey, Jean-Jacques Rousseau) on Amazon. However, there are a few problems with some ebooks. I did notice that I may have some problems citing quotes from the books since page numbers are missing. (Note to publishers - please include this! Make your ebook match the print book!). I also have to get used to the highlighting and note making tools. Overall, for subjects that don't require the flipping around to use the book ebooks may prove to be a viable alternative to print resources.

Elimination of libraries

 As the great "we don't need libraries anymore" debate rages on, I can't help wondering if the wording in the discussion is simply wrong. Libraries aren't going away; the format is simply changing. Every so often a university grabs headlines by claiming that they are eliminating the library and going completely online. Some applaud the advancement, while others lament the elimination of the cherished print collection. Ironically, the same people who protest the elimination of physical books celebrated the implementation of electronic journals. Oh, the access! they cried. Are these journals different now that they are accessed online? No, they are the same. And so are the books that are now ebooks. Do books make a library or is it something else?

Does this mean that we should get rid of all libraries in favor of servers and online reference help? No, but perhaps we need to re-evaluate what the definition of a library is. I also believe that there are two discussions happening simultaneously - what the library community believes the definition and future of libraries are and what the lay community believes. And that perspective differs greatly when it comes to print vs online materials. One of the toughest concepts I try to get across to my students is how to cite online sources. First, they need to determine what the source is - book, periodical article, original database article. Then they must determine how they accessed it - print, website, database. It is a two step process that genuinely confuses them because they perceive everything accessed via the Internet to fall under the general umbrella of "online" and don't see the distinctions in formats. The lay community tends makes the following assumption: libraries = books = outdated. That view needs to be changed to: libraries = information regardless of the format = necessary for a free intellectual society.

Education may be the key here. We, as librarians, need to educate our patrons (students, faculty, administrators, public, board) about these differences and what they mean.  Perhaps then, when we are all speaking the same e-language, we can begin to figure out (together) what libraries are and what the future holds.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Infolit & teachers

Is it too early to start making New Year's resolutions? I vow (really, this is one I will keep!) to write at least twice a week on this blog. Really. I mean it.

I can't believe I haven't posted anything since March. Although, in my defense, it has been the craziest year of my life - so far, anyway. I was told in January that I, along with many others, were being furloughed from our teaching positions. Although I had suspected it was coming, the reality of sudden unemployment while school districts across the state suddenly decide that they are cutting library positions is a scary thing to face. The spring was spent trying to locate another position, which I was very lucky to obtain. The summer included a Southern road trip and NYC trip that was planned pre-furlough, my last doctoral course, and moving. This fall has been spent trying to get settled in the new job, finally getting unpacked and cramming for my comprehensive exams. And now I'm trying to get back into professional social networking tools that have been neglected.

This fall I had the opportunity to begin teaching a Web-based Information Literacy graduate course which got me thinking about how little info lit is stressed in teacher preparation programs. As a librarian, I was overjoyed at the thought of getting my hands on classroom teachers and indoctrinating them with pro-web evaluation, anti-wikipedia research strategies. But at the same time, I thought it was sad that these concepts were first introduced to some teachers in graduate school. I have a feeling that if you ask any educational professional that he will emphatically reply that 'Yes! These skills are critical and must be taught!'. But does he incorporate them into his coursework? Hopefully, but I have an unsettling feeling that such steps go the way of the 'we are all teachers of reading and writing' mantra - outwardly 'YES!' while inwardly hoping someone else will take care of it. I only had three students in this course, but based on the responses they learned a lot of practical information about information literacy, web evaluation, social networking, filtering and censorship, search marketing and networking policies that will filter down into their classrooms and, even better, into faculty room discussions.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Twitter and Teens

As I was refreshing my browser today to see the myriad of Twitter comments on the HarperCollins e-book issue, I started thinking again about my students and their general disregard of the microblogging tool. In my freshman Information Literacy & Technology course I cover digital footprint and review many of the social networking tools available. We cover how to use them effectively, how not get yourself in trouble and how people use them for communication and to reinforce social norms. My students had all heard of Twitter but most had not looked at a profile or understood what it was all about. I set up a page for the library (@GSLMC) after I realized that I was following some co-workers who had protected their tweets and I was essentially violating their privacy by showing their tweets to the students when using my page (@liberrygurl) for demonstrations. A handful of the teens had their own accounts, but they were few and far between. They thought it was interesting and the videos on the Common Craft site did a fantastic job of explaining how the process works. At the end of the lessons I gave a "quiz" where they had to tell me one Web 2.0 tool that they hadn't used before but thought was interesting, one that they didn't see the need for and what they learned about the importance of maintaining a good digital footprint. Most of my students put Twitter as an interesting, but unnecessary tool. Facebook essentially does the same thing. I wonder if we had spent more time with it that they would see the value in it. I use it for professional development, but they don't have to worry about that yet. Their world, at least at this point in their lives, doesn't extend much further than the county lines. My constant reminders to consider anything online international and permanent was surprising to some of them. Perhaps I should have spent more time and picked a current events trend and showed them another use for it. When I see workshops at conferences espousing how to use Twitter and Facebook in classrooms I wonder if I'm not seeing the big picture or if the presenters don't really understand how teens use these tools - or which tools they really use. Teens, mine at least, don't seem interested in Twitter and I really don't want the legal liability of having to report things I accidentally come across on their Facebook page while trying to incorporate it into a project. I can see value for using Twitter in the classroom, especially with current events, but it isn't a tool that teens are gravitating toward on their own.

26 books

The library world is up in arms at HarperCollins, who announced recently that it's e-books would only be able to be checked out 26 times before the library would have to purchase another copy. This is an interesting dilemma in our digital world. On one hand, 26 seems like a rather low, arbitrary number. I have been reading the numerous blogs, articles and tweets on the issue since the announcement was made and haven't found the answer to that yet. Certainly most library books of decent quality can be circulated more than 26 times before they disintegrate in our hands. However, on the other hand, unless formats change radically in the next few years (which is not out of the realm of possibility), HC has a point that digital copies don't have the wear and tear of paper books and therefore they could lose money on replacement copies. If my memory serves me right from library school, I believe most books go out of print within 5 years, so finding replacement copies for some books may not even be possible anyway.

But to get back to the topic at hand, have we created this through current licensing practices? We basically rent most of our subscription databases on an annual basis. My library spends thousands of dollars a year for access to World Book, Historical Newspapers, all of Facts on File's products, Global Issues in Context and a number of other resources. My patrons don't have access to those resources if I don't get the bills paid every year. Have we already set the precedent of being willing to pay for some digital products and rent others? I'm not saying HC is correct in their actions, but this is yet another issue that needs to be sorted out in our digital world. Librarians have the right to choose who they purchase their materials from and, as long as publishers are upfront about the purchasing rules, this issue should sort itself out soon.

I don't know the solution, but with today's social networking tools it is amazing to follow how quickly the issue was taken up, blogs were written and boycott HarperCollins web pages were created.

Friday, February 25, 2011


For anyone who spends a lot of time in the car, or simply isn't interested in another formulaic sitcom in the evening, audiobooks and podcasts are a life saver. Between work, graduate school, and all of the other responsibilities that come with adulthood, little time has been left lately to read for pleasure. Rather than listen to the hit of the week for the 200th time on Top 40 radio, I have been listening to a great number of audiobooks and podcasts. The podcasts I download free from iTunes and cover everything from ESPN's Mike & Mike radio show to comedians like Kevin Pollack's Chat Show to various NPR and 60 Minutes episodes.

I haven't set foot in a public library building in several months (should I admit that as a librarian??), but I have been adding to the county library system's circulation statistics on a weekly basis. Right now I'm listening to Life, the autobiography of Keith Richards that is read by Johnny Depp. Even though I love biographies, I don't know if I would have had time to pick up the hardcover, but I can't turn off the audiobook. Many established and very talented actors are getting in on the audiobook game. Anne Hathaway's reading of The Princess Diaries, whose film she also starred in, is terrific. Maggie Gyllenhaal reading a very depressing The Bell Jar, The Rivalry performed by Paul Giamatti and David Strathairn about the Lincoln-Douglass debates, and Inkspell and Dragon Rider read in a plethera of voices by Brendan Fraser are all brilliant.The books I borrowed from the public library are downloaded through the OverDrive program onto my iPod right from home and others I borrowed on CD or Playaway from my school library. I love the fact that I can take them anywhere to listen to them - the doctor's office, rare quiet moments at work, long or short car rides, or through my television with a special cable while I do chores around the apartment. I never thought I would like audiobooks, but with a talented reader they can become quite an addiction - and life saver for those of us with little time to sit down :)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Such Tweet Sorrow

I stumbled across Such Tweet Sorrow in a journal article today. It was mentioned, along with several other Web 2.0 tools, as a creative way to engage students in lessons. Mudlark and the Royal Shakespeare Company have teamed up to create five weeks of tweets that will tell the story of Romeo and Juliet. For those who join the conversation late, there is a "story so far" section to catch the reader up. This is a daily update of the events that have transpired. The language used in the project is definitely "teen" not "Shakespeare" and could be used in well-crafted lessons to engage reluctant readers of the Bard's play.

The only problem I see with this program is that, based on my experience, many teens do not have Twitter accounts, nor do they intend on getting any. I'm guessing that most will view the tweets on the project homepage, rather than follow one or more of the six characters tweeting. The similarity of tweeting and texting, a main form of teen communication, may override this issue. However, overall it is another tool available to teachers to engage students and perhaps the organizations will do similar projects for other works of Shakespeare.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Google Art Project

I love museums of any kind. Ok, except for Modern Art. I have tried, but I just don't get it. I should not have been surprised when I heard about a new Google tool yesterday called the Art Project, especially when I have stumbled upon the ability to enter some musuems, such as the Louvre, in Google Earth. This new art site incorporates the technology that allows the ease of traveling in Google Earth and incredible imaging of the world's great masterpieces.

The beauty of the site is it's simplicity. Only half of the homepage is used for drop down menus, while the background is a constantly changing array of artwork. The focus is clearly on highlighting the museum holdings, not creating an elaborate website.

The site is very easy to use, with two initial choices of selecting a museum to explore and then deciding between exploring the museum or the artwork within it. Each piece of artwork is accompanied by physical details, artisti information, media, viewing notes, the history of ownership and other artworks by that artist. The museum exploration option includes an interactive floor plan, works in the museum, history, links to offical site and, of course, it's location on Google Maps.

For those desiring a little more instruction, there are two short video clips linked from YouTube. There is one that explains how to use the site and a behind the scenes video. Each video is only a few minutes long. The behind the scenes video is merely a montage of the museums included in the project and the photographing of the masterpieces, but it still makes one a bit jealous of those participating in such an endeavor.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Google Docs

Google has many exciting tools that I have only begun to explore. I used to be apprehensive of saving my documents online and felt more secure and more in control by keeping them on my computer and backing them up to an external hard drive. Then a friend of mine showed me a trick for sharing Google Docs without allowing others to edit and I was hooked. It always seems that just when I believe that I have a handout perfected for a class, I notice a mistake or a student asks a question that shows the document needs further revising. If you use a program like Moodle or a web page that requires constant uploading and downloading of revised documents, you know there is always the chance that you will forget to upload the correct one or simply lose time making the corrections. I learned that if you change the sharing options to "anyone with this link" can view (leaving the "edit" box unchecked), you can just post the link to the Google Doc to your site. You can easily make revisions to the document without having to upload and download new items and no one can edit your document, only view it. Since it is web-based, I don't have to be concerned about what program the kids have at home and feel that I have to save to a more universal PDF format. While Google Docs may not have as many bells and whistles as the full Microsoft Office program, it has saved me a lot of time when it comes to sharing curriculum materials and lesson plans with co-workers and students.