“New Adult” Revisited, Or, Where are all the books about college?

It’s easy to find books about characters in high school. And it’s easy to find books about adult characters anywhere, doing anything. But there is a sparsely populated area between these two: books about characters who are transitioning from childhood/teenagerhood to adulthood. A few years ago, in response to a post on the Young Adult Review Network (YARN), I struggled to come up with a handful of titles that fit this category. YARN responded with additional titles (November 2011), but I don’t think anyone was satisfied that there were enough “new adult” books at the time.

fangirlinfinitemomentofusThe topic came up again at ALA 2013. I didn’t attend in person, but followed the coverage on blogs and Twitter; Hannah Gomez’s piece for YALSA’s The Hub provides a great recap, as well as a link to a resource list, which has been updated – a pleasant surprise! – since the conference. (There’s another good piece on The Hub about adult books with teen appeal, from August 2012. I’d add Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt to this list, and I’m not alone – it’s a 2013 Alex Award winner.) I was glad to see that a few of my recent favorites that fit snugly into the “new adult” category are on the reader’s advisory resource list, including Bunheads by Sophie Flack, The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando, and Just One Day and Just One Year by Gayle Forman; I’d also add How to Love by Katie Cotugno.

howtolovejustoneyearThe years after high school, whether they include college or not, and the first few years in the working world are a transitional time of great change and (hopefully) growth. It is strange that authors haven’t mined this emotion-rich area more. Perhaps these books fell into that gray area that is neither YA nor adult, and publishers weren’t sure how to market them, but if that’s the case, it’s a weak one: so many adults are openly reading YA lit now that these”crossover” books should appeal to both audiences, rather than being lost between them.

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Lourdes at YARN made an important point about some of the books I suggested back in 2011: that they contained an element of nostalgia, and were told from an adult point of view in a present that looked back on the past, as opposed to being told from the point of view of a young adult in the present. The books I mentioned above fit this criteria much better, and I hope to discover and read more of these (suggestions are welcome in the comments).

However, as a reader, I like the adult-looking-back perspective; one example I can think of is Joshua Henkin’s Matrimony, which starts when its three main characters are in college. Maggie Shipstead’s forthcoming Astonish Me (April 2014) also begins when its main character is a young adult, and it follows her until her own son is a teenager. (I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who liked Bunheads.) Much of the action in Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves takes place when the narrator is in college, though in the present she is middle-aged. Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters also deals with three young women who have been out in the world for a few years, but who don’t yet feel like (or, sometimes, act like) adults. All the Light There Was by Nancy Kricorian is also adult fiction, but its main character, Maral, grows from fourteen to twenty during WWII in Paris – perfect for “new adults” who like historical fiction, as Maral makes several difficult and important choices as she comes of age.

The titles in the paragraph above were gleaned from my own reading over the past several months, so clearly “new adults” exist in literature – they can just be hard to find. I’d love to see more books like Fangirl and Roomies, though. Again, if you have suggestions, let me know in the comments!

Note: There are many definitions of the “new adult” category (and many disagreements about whether it’s a genre or a marketing ploy, exciting or a hassle), but no consensus. Therefore, I’m using my preferred definition of “new adult”: books about characters who are in the 18-25-year-old range, told from their perspective (not necessarily first person, present tense, but not from an adult perspective looking back). 

Censorship and Invisibility

Barbara Jones, the president of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), has written an excellent piece over at the Huffington Post. Here’s a short excerpt, but I encourage you to read the whole article:

“I am deeply concerned about the current deluge of removals of classic books from the American literary canon. I thought that, as a society, we had reached a consensus that the literary canon should represent diverse segments of U.S. society. Multicultural literary works are not being included because of some need for “political correctness.” They are included because they are excellent and have been acknowledged as such by countless awards for literary merit. Though books that deal with controversial topics may make some readers uncomfortable, such literature offers a vehicle for true learning and understanding.”

(Emphasis added.)

readbannedbooks2013As Rebecca points out in another great article on the Robbins Library blog (“Freedom to Choose”), “There’s great value in discussion, and books are, by far, the safest route into many of these discussions.” With a few exceptions, the books that get people up in arms are novels, not nonfiction. This only proves that fiction is powerful; that it engages readers’ imagination and empathy, allowing them to experience a time, place, culture, or situation that they might not otherwise be exposed to – or, if they are exposed to it, they may be unprepared.

A little over a year ago, I wrote about the power and importance of fiction (“The Gleam in the Dark”), citing “Your Brain on Fiction” by Annie Murphy Paul from The New York Times and “Why Fiction is Good for You” by Jonathan Gottschall from the Boston Globe. Those pieces are worth a re-read now, during Banned Books Week, to remind us all about the value of stepping into someone else’s shoes, and the magical power fiction has to let us do that.

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“Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes ‘appropriate content’”

There is lots of great Banned Books Week-related stuff on Twitter this week (#BannedBooksWeek), and today’s Library Link of the Day was an NPR segment from Tell Me More called “Could banning books actually encourage more readers?” (Answer: we hope so!) My favorite find via Twitter (so far, at least) is this post from Shoshana at the Brookline Booksmith. It was a good reminder that librarians aren’t the only ones fighting for intellectual freedom and defending everyone’s right to read; publishers and booksellers are in it with us. 

Shoshana wrote, “Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes ‘appropriate content.’ I’ve talked with a lot of parents about what’s right and what’s not right for their kids to read. Some parents want to avoid anything “scary.” Others ask about the The Hunger Games and relax as soon as they learn that although it’s about teenagers being forced to fight to the death, it doesn’t have any sexual content….What I love about the customers in our kids’ section, though, is that the question is pretty much always what’s appropriate for the particular kid in question, not what should be published or be on our shelves….People around here seem to get that what’s all wrong for one reader might be just right for another; even siblings have different levels of scariness tolerance or ability to understand difficult topics.”

She makes a great point: what is “appropriate” for one reader may not be appropriate for another (this is one of the reasons that putting ratings on books is a terrible idea). This is part of readers’ advisory, and it’s a great skill – as a bookseller or a librarian – to be able to talk with parents about what their kids are ready to read (or to talk directly with kids; I know an eight-year-old who didn’t feel ready to read Harry Potter when he was seven, but feels like he might be ready now).

Remember: Every reader his/her book, and every book its reader.

 

Banned Books Week 2013

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Banned Books Week is probably my favorite event on the calendar of library and literary events. It is a celebration of the freedom to read whatever you want, the freedom from censorship. It also provides encouragement to those who are still fighting for the right to read – those whose state Board of Education presidents want Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye out of the classroom, those who miss out on hearing Rainbow Rowell – author of the excellent Eleanor & Park – speak at their school or public library because a few parents in the community object to the swear words in the book. (Those are just two recent examples; read more about them in my Banned Books Week post on the Robbins Library blog.)

Last year for Banned Books Week, I wrote about which books were most commonly banned or challenged, and who did the challenging; I also shared a few of my favorite “better book titles for banned books.” Two years ago, less punctually, I shared a quote from Jenny Lawson, author of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir (which I am certain has been challenged many times since its publication). Also in 2011, I wrote about attending the panel “Whose Common Sense?” at the ALA Annual Conference, where the four panelists (including David Levithan!) discussed why books for teens should not be labeled or censored.

Even if you don’t pick up a book this week, take a moment to appreciate the fact that you could, if you wanted, and that no one would try to control your reading choices, or keep something out of reach because they thought it was inappropriate. We should all get to make our own reading choices.

To close, I’ll quote my co-worker Rebecca, who authored a column for the local paper about Banned Books Week. She wrote, “There’s great value in discussion, and books are, by far, the safest route into many of these discussions (i.e., reading and talking about that book the deals with teen pregnancy is preferable to your teen talking to you about what it’s like to be pregnant).  Books are safe spaces to experience new things.  New thoughts.  New ideas.  Different points of view.  They are a way to journey back in time and careen far into the future.  Books teach us how to empathize with each other, how to stand up for the little guy, and how to recognize the bad guys in our lives….We experience strong emotion alongside our favorite characters – joy, catharsis, loss, excitement.  Books are a safe way to learn about life, without all the painful bumps and bruises.”

When the opportunity arises, stand up for your own right to read, and help defend others’ right to read as well. Books change lives – almost always for the good. What’s one book you read that changed your life? A book you’re glad you didn’t miss out on? A book you’d recommend to others? Here are a few banned/challenged books that I wholeheartedly love and recommend:

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Open Letter: Authors for Library E-Books

Naturally the subject of e-books in libraries arose during the week at NELLS. For those who are unfamiliar with the issue, Maureen Sullivan’s open letter to publishers (9/28/2012) is a good place to begin. In it, she explains how libraries support publishers by improving literacy, instilling a lifelong love of reading, and aiding discovery of new authors and genres. E-books in libraries will no more cannibalize e-book sales to consumers than print books in libraries have (i.e., they won’t; research shows that most people who borrow from the library also buy books).

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The Authors for Library E-Books campaign (@Authors4LE on Twitter; #A4LE) is an effort to encourage authors to speak out on this issue. Libraries and authors are natural allies, and we all need to speak up to bring this change about. To this end, I contacted a few authors that I have met over the years – through publishing or through author events at bookstores and at the library. I’ve included a template of my letter here; if you know an author (or two, or five, or twelve) who supports libraries, feel free to tweak this and send it along. I personalized each one by mentioning a recent reading of theirs that I’d attended, a program they’d done at a library, or a new book of theirs coming out soon.

An Open Letter to Authors for Library E-Books

Dear [Author],

I hope you are having a good summer so far. I know you are a strong supporter of libraries, and I thought you might like to join ALA’s “Authors for Library E-Books” effort.

I’m sure you’re aware of the ongoing discourse between publishers and libraries on this topic. As it stands, each publisher has come up with a different solution: HarperCollins, for example, licenses e-books to libraries at a reasonable cost, but those licenses expire after 26 uses. Other publishers, such as Random House, charge libraries more than three times the consumer price for e-books and digital audiobooks.

Author and library advocate Cory Doctorow has made a short (four minutes) video about why he supports the Authors for Library E-Books campaign. He says, “Libraries have been so important to the careers of writers, and librarians are such fabulous advocates for authors….Libraries should be able to buy books and they should be able to buy them on fair terms.”

Join Cory Doctorow, Jodi Picoult, Ursula Le Guin, and many other authors who stand with libraries on this issue. You can sign onspeak out, and learn more at the A4LE site, or of course feel free to contact me with any questions or feedback.

Sincerely,
Jenny

ALA Chicago

I didn’t get to attend ALA’s Annual Conference in Chicago this year, but I followed along virtually on Twitter (#ala2013) and through others’ blog posts and articles.

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On June 27, Maureen Sullivan announced the launch of the “Authors for Library eBooks” initiative. A District Dispatch blog post, “Bestselling authors call for library ebook lending,” quotes Jodi Picoult: “Whether it’s a digital file or a paper copy, I want readers to find my books—and all books—in their libraries!” (As readers of this blog know, not all publishers make all their ebooks available for libraries to purchase.)

My friend Brita, who attended the conference through the Student-to-Staff program (the same way I did in 2011), wrote this great piece on Ann Patchett’s PLA President’s Program: “Ann Patchett, Readers’ Advisor Extraordinaire.” She also created a Bibliocommons list of Patchett’s top ten recommendations.

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YA Authors Decode Dystopia“: I would have loved to have been in the audience for this author panel on dystopian fiction, featuring Lois Lowry, Cory Doctorow, Veronica Roth, and Patrick Ness. The authors identified “an important component of dystopian fiction that makes it so appealing: the ability to place oneself intimately in the action. The ‘what if’ factor draws readers into dystopian fiction, making them imagine how they would react if faced with calamity.”

I would have loved to sit in on PLA’s “Long e-Overdue” panel as well, which featured Jamie LaRue of the Douglas Country (CO) Libraries, Mary Minow of Library Law, and Michael Porter of Library Renewal. The idea of “library-managed e-content platforms”  as an alternative to middleman-style vendors such as OverDrive and 3M is a great goal to aim for.

I also followed along with the “New Adult: What Is It & Is It Really Happening?” panel on July 1 via Twitter (#ala13na). The panelists provided a huge list of “new adult” resources, including articles, blog posts, and booklists. Depending on who you listen to, “new adult” is either a “hot new category” in publishing, or a useless and annoying marketing ploy; it’s either fiction that features main characters in the 18-25 (ish) age range, bridging the gap between YA and adult, or it’s typical YA but with sex scenes. It’s definitely an emerging niche, though, and there’s lots to discuss.

Finally, from American Libraries Magazine, there’s a list of “10 Steps to a Better Library Interior.” The first step (“fresh perspective”) even includes one of my favorite cleaning/de-cluttering tips, which is to take everything out, then only put back the things you really want to keep. (Or at least imagine you’re doing so: obviously it’s impractical to move computers, furniture, and tens of thousands of books out of the library and into the parking lot.)

Conferences are both exhausting (travel, long days, rushing from one room to another, meeting lots of new people) and energizing (meeting new people, encountering new ideas, thinking about how you can bring those ideas back to your own library or workplace). I’m glad I was able to follow along virtually this year, thanks to those who wrote, tweeted, and linked.

Edited to add: My friend and fellow Student-to-Staffer (2011) wrote a great recap of all the programs, panels, and roundtables she attended at ALA 2013, including sessions on young adult literature, graphic novels, ARCs, and the New Adult panel. It’s worth a read, especially if you’re a YA librarian and/or a school librarian.

Library Learning Goes Online

I wrote recently about MOOCs and online learning, so naturally I was interested in the new AL Live webcast, Library Learning Goes Online, and it did not disappoint. The moderator was Sarah Steiner, the Social Work and Virtual Services Librarian at Georgia State University Library, and the speakers were John Shank, Instructional Design Librarian and Associate Director of the Center for Learning and Teaching at Penn State University, and Lauren Pressley, Director for Learning & Outreach at Virginia Tech University Libraries.

Similarities and differences between online and face-to-face (F2F) teaching and learning

Online and F2F are “more similar than different,” said Pressley. In both cases, instructors must establish learning objectives and identify learning outcomes. There are more variables online than F2F, and more design options; Shank warned of “options overload,” noting that this may be more of a challenge for public libraries because they tend to have fewer resources and less expertise in this area. Pressley said that the “intentional stance” required for instructional design of online courses “bleeds over into F2F,” and Shank agreed that “technology starts a discussion.”

Costs and benefits of teaching and learning online

“Communication is on a different scale,” said Shank, meaning the instructor has more  reach, but can lose the intimacy from the F2F environment, as well as other forms of interaction, such as nonverbal communication. Pressley agreed, “Whatever you gain from the online environment, you lose something else.” Being online can provide a sense of isolation or connection; more people may be connected, but the connection is shallower.

Shank also noted that the time investment necessary in order to get deep meaningful engagement is a challenge. Pressley reminded instructors and students alike that “it is a real class! Block out time to do work, interactions, and planning.” She also added another benefit of online learning, which is that it can be a great option for distance learning, and for solving space issues (not enough classrooms, or not enough space in classrooms).

Mere convenience aside, there are real advantages to online learning. Shank observed that the online environment can draw out people who wouldn’t speak up in class, and it serves different styles of learners, especially those who prefer to have time to reflect before responding.

Time investment

Inarguably, there is an additional time investment required for teaching an online class: Pressley listed content creation, upfront prep time, and consideration of instructional design principles. Content can be reused in future classes, but communication is time intensive. Shank noted that transparency increases because students can tell exactly how responsive the instructor is. Likewise, depending on the tools being used, the instructor can see the exact degree of each student’s participation.

Student engagement with the material

Here too, there are similarities between online and F2F instruction. Pressley advised, “Present content in an interesting and useful way; let students interact with you and each other; tie the material to real-world need.” Shank added, “Increase conversations and dialogues” with tools such as chat, realtime polls, and built-in activities. Steiner added that students can be engaged with each other as well as the instructor.

Assessment and active learning

Pressley identified three categories of assessment: course evaluation, ongoing, qualitative assessment during the learning process (formative), and learning outcomes (summative). In her classes, she gets feedback “on the fly” using Google surveys or SurveyMonkey, scavenger hunts, and other methods; strategies will be different depending on whether the course is credit-based or a “one shot” class or workshop.

Shank suggested building feedback into any activity, online or F2F. He also does a learning analysis, examining how much students access course content and how that relates to performance. If students are disengaged and not doing well, he shows them a graph of time spent on class work vs. grade in course (“There is always a statistically significant correlation”).  He strips personal data out, of course, but the exercise also has the effect of showing students that instructors can track their engagement and performance.

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)

Shank identified the “big three” MOOC providers at the moment: Coursera, Udacity, and edX. MOOCs, he said, are “not new technology, but the timing wasn’t right till now.” Given the limited access to and high cost of higher education, MOOCs seem like a perfect solution in terms of the access and cost. Shank predicts, “[MOOCs] are going to evolve, not go away,” and that the interactivity element of them may increase.

Pressley took a MOOC herself, and said that she interacted with the content and her classmates, but not professor. “It’s a pretty good deal, for free,” she said, but asked, “When you pay for higher ed, what are you paying for?” Pressley said that there are things that instructors in higher ed can learn from the MOOC model, but that MOOCs would not replace higher ed institutions entirely; their impact on higher ed is “not the end of days.”

Shank agreed that MOOCs are “part of the landscape.” Technology, he said, has had its impact on other industries such as music and finance; now it is having an impact on education. He asked, “How can we use this platform to show people what we do as librarians?” Parents and incoming students are a prime audience for academic librarians. Shank stated, “Librarians are more important than ever because we live in the information age.” He also mentioned that public libraries could serve as meetup points for students taking MOOCs, so that they can meet in person as well as online, creating a hybrid/blended learning experience.

Troubleshooting new technology

Shank said, “Test it before you do it! Be prepared.” Pressley advised, “Get there early – give yourself a cushion.” When you have a large audience, she said, “Choose less experimental technology,” go for something more simple and reliable,  and have a backup way of communicating the information. Experiment with newer, more complex, or less reliable technology in small groups. Steiner suggested having a backup person available, as well as backup technology, as least while setting up.

Best practices for teaching online

Shank reminded instructors that “learners have little experience, it’s new technology.” There is a learning curve, and patience is required on both sides. Assessment is also crucial; Pressley said, “Ask strategy questions, not skill questions: ‘What was your approach to finding…’ [rather than] ‘What did you use?'” Technology, Shank said, “Gives us more ways to assess, understand, and communicate.” Analytics about students’ work habits and behavior can be useful to instructors.

Changes in the near future

“Consumers are becoming producers,” said Shank, giving the example of citizen journalists. Open educational resources are also growing, as is content curation. Pressley mentioned the competency-based educational movement, as well as personal learning networks, rich informal learning spaces, and MOOCs. Shank spoke about learner analytics, “bits and bytes instead of people with souls.”

Overall, this was an excellent presentation and I’m glad I watched it. Some of the material was familiar from the User Instruction class I took in grad school, and from my own experiences with online learning in that class and others; some of the content was familiar from reading recent articles on the topics of MOOCs and higher education. However, this presentation provides the unique perspective of librarians positioned within higher ed, which makes it especially worthwhile. Click to watch (opens in a new window):

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Choose Privacy Week

ALA_ChoosePrivacy_186x292-BThis week (May 1-7) is Choose Privacy Week. Today being the 7th, I’m a little late to the game, though I do read articles, blog posts, and infographics about privacy all year round. Two recent examples are Fight for the Future’s great infographic about CISPA, and the EFF’s annual “Who Has Your Back?” report about which companies protect user data from the government.

At ChoosePrivacyWeek.org, ALA has links to a curated collection of videos on the topic of privacy. Visit the Video Gallery to explore; so far I’ve only watched “Facebook Killed the Private Life” featuring Clay Shirky, which at just over four minutes is a good jumping-off point (“Social networks are profoundly changing the definition of what we consider private”). The Choose Privacy Week documentary (see below) is also a good place to start; at 23 minutes, it’s an excellent and thought-provoking overview of the topic, including commentary from Neil Gaiman and Cory Doctorow, as well as many librarians.

By the way, if you’re wondering what the orange shape on the poster is – lamb chop? Video game controller? – it is a birds-eye view of a person walking.

Privacy is such a huge topic, there are many different aspects to it. But watching the documentary, I was reminded of an article I read in the Guardian a while ago, “Why ebooks are a different genre from print.” I have heard enough rhapsodizing about the smell of books vs. soulless electronic devices, but this article puts that argument aside in favor of a few real and important differences between print books and e-books. Author Stuart Kelly writes, “There are two aspects to the ebook that seem to me profoundly to alter the relationship between the reader and the text. With the book, the reader’s relationship to the text is private, and the book is continuous over space, time and reader. Neither of these propositions is necessarily the case with the ebook.” If you’re reading on a Kindle, you’re telling Amazon what you’re buying, what you’re reading, how long you spend on each page, where you stop reading, what you highlight, and where you make notes. Amazon has also shown it has the capability to “disappear” legally purchased books from your device, and also the capability – though I don’t know if they’ve used it yet – to make changes to books you already “own,” like pushing publishers’ corrections to your first edition file.

ALA_ChoosePrivacy_186x292-AThat is only one small example of how our privacy is eroding, sometimes without our awareness, sometimes without our consent. In light of this erosion, the Choose Privacy Week documentary I mentioned above is definitely worth watching. As I watched, I couldn’t help scribbling down quotes:

“Facebook is a conditioning system to teach you to undervalue your privacy…[it] rewards you for foolish disclosure.” -Author Cory Doctorow

“It is not for us to judge why a person wants to know something.” -Librarian Sarah Pritchard, Northwestern University

“Do not put anything on the web, at all, ever, that you would not want anybody, be it your mother, your boss, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your girlfriend’s mother, to see.” -Author Neil Gaiman

“Privacy is one of the greatest privileges that we have. Privileges, rights – both.”

People who are “in the public eye all the time,” whose private lives are documented in magazines, tabloids, and the internet, who can’t go anywhere without being accosted by paparazzi, reporters, or fans. Fame often comes at the cost of privacy, and yet so many of us put personal information on the internet where it is available to anyone who cares to look. It’s not just “you and a screen,” it’s you and the whole world. So ask yourself: What is your privacy worth?

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Happy National Library Week

This week is National Library Week, the time of year that we “celebrate the contributions of our nation’s libraries and librarians and promote library use” (as opposed to the rest of the year…when we also do those things). Jessamyn West wrote a NLW post full of great links at the actual beginning of the week, which is well worth checking out. The Swiss Army Librarian posted a wonderful quote from the very pro-library author Neil Gaiman back in 2011, which is worth revisiting. And of course, the #nlw13 tag is also active on Twitter.

On Monday afternoon – Marathon Monday – I was sitting with a friend of a friend who is considering leaving academia (she’s a few years into a PhD in English Literature) and becoming a librarian. We had met up to talk, and she asked me what librarians were like. I told her one of the striking things I had noticed about librarians as compared to people in other professions: on the whole, they – we – are collaborative, not competitive. We are friendly and helpful and very willing to share our work, our discoveries, and of course our favorite books. “There may be asshole librarians out there,” I said, “but I haven’t met one yet.”

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