Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I Love Librarians!

I’ve just come back from two conferences with librarians. The first was the SLJ Summit in Hollywood, Florida. It was a small but mighty conference, with only about 250 attendees. Many of the participants were in charge of whole school districts. Their mission: to find the most powerful ways to promote literacy. Naturally, they love books. They get it that books give the most coherent and lucid explanations of complicated issues. But they are also on the cutting edge of technology. Most school librarians are also their district “techies” and are responsible for spending portions of their budget for computers, software, and digital materials. They must also keep up with the internet sites kids are accessing as well as the games they are playing. This was reflected in the panel discussions: “Creating and Managing Digital Video Content,” “Can You Hear Me Now? Exploring the Audio/Ebook Experience,” “Reference in the Digital Age, ” “Digital Books for Children: Blessing, Bane or Both?” and the panel I was invited to speak on, “Opening the Book: Matchmaking Nonfiction Books and Educational Technology in the Digital Age.” Marc Aronson, the moderator of my panel, wanted us to show how other media enhanced the power of a book. It is clear that the book is not dead, but it is also clear that the future involves lots of integration between the printed word and other technologies.

The second conference, four days later, was the Mississippi Library Commission, in Jackson Mississippi. These were public librarians (mostly in children’s services) whose whole mission in life is to get patrons into the library and to get kids into books. To do this, they put on programs: story times, read alouds, movies, craft activities, even science (hence my invitation). My job was to empower them to bring in kids using science. Instead of using high tech, public librarians rely on their own personalities and interests to “sell” kids on books. So I gave them lots of hands-on activities, which they enthusiastically threw themselves into. In fact, I’ve never seen a group have so much fun. They were an extraordinarily extroverted bunch, with no shyness about volunteering, sharing or speaking up. I stayed for story-teller
Dianne de las Casas’ session. She uses her dynamic presentation to create a participating audience, which was not a stretch for this group. These women (there don’t seem to be many men in this profession) were particularly uninhibited about acting out parts of a story or singing aloud. And this was well before happy hour!

Both authors and librarians are thinking seriously about the future of the book. There is no question that other media compete for time in the busy lives of today’s kids. How do you introduce kids to unfamiliar subjects and kindle further interest in a topic? How do you get kids to apply themselves to something that requires discipline and effort as opposed to the enticing path of least resistance (video games, for example)? The answer is: revealed humanity through the single passionate voice. This is something that librarians seem to have in abundance. Each individual librarian has her own idiosyncratic way of revealing her passion to connect children and books. It is also what creates literature out of the best authors’ endeavors. Revealed humanity, whether through print or personal connection, is the subtext of all authentic communication. It is behind librarians’ recognition of our voices as authors. And it is behind their courageous and fervent fight for literacy. This is a profession that is often below the radar of public recognition. But obviously not in my book.


Linda Zajac said...

Vicki, I've thought for a while now that online videos are a great tool to educate kids. CNN and other other online news sites use them to convey stories. I'd love to see the National Education Association or other teaching organization head up a video website that has controlled content - no profanity, advertisemnts, or inappropriate stuff that Youtube might let slip by. For what it's worth, I've emailed Google (who now owns Youtube) and also the Obama administration. I envision it to work like an online encyclopedia filled with sound and movement. I actually look at videos when I write about places I've never been to get a better feel for the place. Its great to know that librarians embrace new ideas. Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

History speaks to this issue: when television first came into people's homes, there was concern that movie theaters were a thing of the past. No way, no how. A few inventive folks, probably moved more by economic goals than by artistic ones, figured ways for each medium to compliment the other.

In my view, this is precisely what’s happening now. As a nonfiction author, I believe “more is better.” Books, libraries, videos, and on line services make research so much stronger. Three cheers to librarians, true artists, who once again, are coming up with creative ways to ignite the imaginations of children. Thank you, Vicki, for this terrific post.

Linda Zajac said...

I don't own a kindle, so pardon me if my understanding is incorrect. I thought the downloaded content looked exactly like the book. Today, I read a little blurb that they want to enhance the Kindle with a facility to handle audio. Last night I was thinking that an e-book be a more powerful tool if it worked like online content where you can click on a word to go to a page where you could get a glossary definition, hear audio, find associated activities, play games, or see video. I guess this technology exists, but not cheaply, it's called a laptop. But if a Kindle could be enhanced to be an inexpensive hand-held device that schools could use to download a package that includes the book and its associated media it would be so powerful for research and education.