404 Day: Action Against Censorship

Join EFF!

Today is 4/04, “a nation-wide day of action to call attention to the long-standing problem of Internet censorship in public libraries and public schools.” Read the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) piece about Internet filtering in libraries and the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Though CIPA requires some Internet filtering in libraries that accept federal funding, libraries often go further than is required. (Also, no filter is perfect: some “bad” content will always get through, and plenty of legitimate content will be blocked.)

Barbara Fister at Inside Higher Ed is also eloquent, as always, in her piece “404 Day: Protecting Kids From…What?” She mentions Gretchen Casserotti, a public library director in Meridian, Idaho, who live-tweeted a school board meeting in which Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was, ultimately, removed from the school curriculum. (Book Riot collected these tweets in order.)

Kids don’t need to be protected from literature. They need to engage with it, think about it, and discuss it; if adults can help with that, all the better. But as Fister points out, it would be better to protect kids from, say, hunger, than from “dangerous” books.

Characters, Gender, and Likability

Yesterday I followed a couple of links from Twitter and read these two pieces: “Why Talking About Girl Reading Matters” from Kelly Jensen at Stacked and “On Liking Characters” by Liz Burns at School Library Journal (SLJ). The Stacked post linked to Laurel Snyder’s post “Boys Will Be Boys, And Girls Will Be Accommodating.” Together, these pieces make the point that in focusing on “books for boys” (boys are generally more reluctant readers than girls) we do everyone an injustice.

If boys only ever read “books for boys,” they may never discover that they like other kinds of books as well. Those of us putting books into the hands of growing readers can’t underestimate them; we ought to encourage them to stretch and try something new. At the same time, “girl books” tend to be pushed to the sides, sending the message that they are less important. “The best solution,” writes Snyder, “would require us to push against the gender bias in the world, and in ourselves.”

If there’s one thing The Hunger GamesDivergent, and The Fault in Our Stars have proved, it’s that boys will read books that have girls as the main character. (As for the author’s gender, it’s not something I remember ever paying attention to much as I was growing up, and I don’t pay much attention now, either; this is borne out in my reading stats. But in the above examples, those incredibly successful trilogies are written by women.)

A character’s gender also affects their likability, as Burns points out in her piece. Some readers are quick to label girl characters unlikable if the character acts in a nontraditional way. But a likable character isn’t the same as a good one (i.e., a well-written, realistic one). Here’s my response to Burns’ piece:

The most important thing about character is believability. Are the character’s actions believable? Is there an internal consistency? Does the reader understand the character’s motivation? If the answer to these questions is yes, then the author has probably created a good character: recognizably human, with some flaws and some talents.

Likability is a different issue entirely. Personally, I would be bored reading about likable characters all the time, or if all characters were binary, either likable or unlikable – protagonist/antagonist, hero/villain. Real people are more complicated than that.

As Claire Messud has pointed out, the likability issue does affect female characters (and female authors) disproportionately; it’s more common for readers to criticize female characters for being unlikable than male characters.

My friend Anna has also written about the “books for boys/books for girls” issue, both at YALSA’s The Hub and on her own blog. On The Hub, she wrote, “…it doesn’t matter if a book is ‘for’ a guy or a girl; the gender of the intended audience tends to get all mixed up when you factor in the power of a good story. Boys like stories; girls like stories. Readers in general like stories” (emphasis added). Anna added to this thought a few days later on her blog, asking, “What About Books for Girls?” She wrote,

“Readers are readers. If we could just take off the gendered lenses entirely, I think we could serve our readers better. Let’s focus on writing, reading, and recommending stories that are true (in the manner of Truth, not necessarily a nonfiction story), that matter, that touch the soul, that are real, that show the varieties of human emotion and experience, that are maybe even an inspiration. Let’s do that instead of focusing on the gender we think might like the book the best. Books for girls are books for boys, and books for boys are books for girls. It’s all just stories.”

A skilled author, male or female, can write excellent, believable, well-rounded characters of any gender. Let’s try to focus on getting great stories into the hands of all readers.

The Pleasure of Picture Books (and Reading Magic by Mem Fox)

readingmagicI’ve been on a picture book kick recently, starting with the indescribably adorable Oliver and His Alligator by Paul Schmid, which I read about in a review from Kirkus. The children’s librarians at my library were happy to provide me with more contemporary picture books, and then I started revisiting old favorites.

Along the way, I read Australian author Mem Fox’s book Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Children Will Change Their Lives Forever. As a librarian, and as someone whose parents read her stories every night, I’m already sold on the reading-to-kids idea, but Fox emphasizes how important it truly is.

Among all the anecdotes and tips for reading aloud, I came across this quote on page 142, which struck me as perfect for Banned Books week. But Banned Books Week is in September, and I didn’t want to wait to share:

“The whole point of books is to allow us to experience troubled realities that are different from our own, to feel the appropriate emotions, to empathize, to make judgments, and to have our interest held. If we sanitize everything children read, how much more shocking and confusing will the real world be when they finally have to face it?”

Books are a safe place to encounter new ideas and situations, and think (or talk) through them. Experiencing something vicariously or hypothetically is often safer than having that experience oneself. Though “difficult topics” may be uncomfortable for some, books are an excellent “vehicle for true learning and understanding.” (For more on this topic, see “Censorship and Invisibility,” one of my Banned Book Week blog posts from last fall.)

Picture books naturally lend themselves to discussion. For those of us who tend to focus on the text, they are also a good reminder that reading an image requires another type of literacy. In a good picture book, the text and the image complement each other; the pictures aren’t just a representation of the text, they can contain more information – and often jokes. It’s worth taking a bit of extra time to look at the pictures on each page closely, not just because they are colorful or cute, but because there is more going on. (Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann is an excellent example of this.)

oliveralligatorcoverHere are a few of my favorite picture books, old and new. I keep a current list, tagged “children’s” in LibraryThing.

Sometimes I Forget You’re A Robot by Sam Brown, 2013

Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner, 2013

Oliver and His Alligator by Paul Schmid (also, A Pet for Petunia), 2011, 2013

A Kiss Like This by Mary Murphy, 2012

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (also, This Is Not My Hat), 2011, 2012

13 Words by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Maira Kalman, 2010

Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett, 2007

Martha Speaks by Susan Meddaugh, 1992

Julius, the Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes, 1990

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz, 1972

Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion, illustrations by Margaret Bloy Graham (also, Harry by the Sea and No Roses for Harry), 1956-1965

What are your favorite picture books from childhood? When was the last time you read a picture book, quietly to yourself or out loud?

First Sale doctrine in the age of licenses

One of the ways I keep up to date with news pertaining to the library world is through Library Link of the Day, which is exactly what it sounds like. The link is usually to an article or blog post, sometimes a video or a longer document. On February 5, the link was to an article from the February 2014 edition of College & Research Libraries News, “Last sale? Libraries’ rights in the digital age,” by Jennifer Jenkins.

For those who aren’t clear on what “first sale” means, or those who are familiar with it but haven’t kept up with some of the more recent cases (Capitol Records v. ReDigi, for example), this article gives an excellent explanation of the history of first sale, the problems with applying it to the digital realm (where much content is licensed rather than sold/owned), and the possibilities for the future.

Jenkins covers all the points I’ve seen in other articles and blog posts thus far (Copyfight is one good source to follow, if this is an issue that interests you, and it should). The only piece I have to add is a response to the Copyright Office’s statement that “[p]hysical copies degrade with time and use; digital information does not…” While this is true in some sense, it’s false in another: digital formats change so quickly that it takes a significant investment to keep digital information accessible. (Word Perfect, anyone? Floppy disks?)

Technology changes quickly; content creators (e.g. publishers, the music industry, etc.) will adopt new formats and abandon* old ones, and those who “own” (or license) information in those formats will be up a creek unless they have the ability (and time, and money) to upgrade or migrate old formats to new ones.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) throws an additional monkey wrench into the mix. DRM, Jenkins writes, “adds a layer of technological controls that further restrain libraries’ freedoms.” Currently, the first sale doctrine applies only to physical items; digital items aren’t covered by first sale (yet). Libraries, like consumers, pay to license these items (e-books, digital audiobooks) instead of buying and owning them. Jenkins explains, “These licenses restrict libraries’ uses of e-books. If a library has a physical book, it can loan it out as many times as it is requested. It can send the book to another institution via interlibrary loan. Licenses often limit these activities.”

Digital first sale is important to libraries. Demand for e-books is growing, yet restrictive licenses mean that libraries are not always allowed to purchase e-books and lend them out in the same way as physical books. Publishers are experimenting with different models: higher prices for libraries, or prices comparable to consumer prices but with some kind of catch (a 26-loan limit, or a one-year expiration date), or simultaneous use (in rare cases). Right now, the publishers have more power than the libraries (or the consumers, who click “I Agree” to any Terms of Service to get content). Jenkins writes, “Many librarians are concerned that digital technology has upset the balance between users’ and owners’ rights.”

In writing about the ReDigi case, Jenkins stated, “Studies have shown that the effective way to drive down rates of illicit copying is to provide cheap and legal alternatives. Digital first sale could lead would-be downloaders to turn to a legal second-hand market.” Libraries, too, should be able to offer a legal alternative. Jenkins suggests that Congress could grant libraries specific rights “allowing them to lend, preserve, and archive electronic materials.” Makes sense to me.

*As Adobe is about to do by introducing new EPUB DRM this summer.

Yearly wrap-up, 2013 edition

In the spirit of those sites that do a weekly wrap-up (like Dooce’s “Stuff I found while looking around” and The Bloggess’ “Sh*t I did when I wasn’t here”), here are a few odds and ends I found while going through my work e-mail inbox and my drafts folder.

How to Search: “How to Use Google Search More Effectively” is a fantastic infographic that will teach you at least one new trick, if not several. It was developed for college students, but most of the content applies to everyday Google-users. Google has its own Tips & Tricks section as well, which is probably updated to reflect changes and new features.

How to Take Care of Your Books: “Dos and Don’ts for Taking Care of Your Personal Books at Home” is a great article by Shelly Smith, the New York Public Library’s Head of Conservation Treatment. Smith recommends shelving your books upright, keeping them out of direct sunlight and extreme temperatures, and dusting. (Sigh. Yes, dusting.)

The ARPANET Dialogues: “In the period between 1975 and 1979, the Agency convened a rare series of conversations between an eccentric cast of characters representing a wide range of perspectives within the contemporary social, political and cultural milieu. The ARPANET Dialogues is a serial document which archives these conversations.” The “eccentric cast of characters” includes Ronald Reagan, Edward Said, Jane Fonda, Jim Henson, Ayn Rand, and Yoko Ono, among others. A gem of Internet history.

All About ARCs: Some librarians over at Stacked developed a survey about how librarians, bloggers, teachers, and booksellers use Advance Reader Copies (ARCs). There were 474 responses to the survey, and the authors summarized and analyzed the results beautifully. I read a lot of ARCs, both in print and through NetGalley or Edelweiss, and I was surprised to learn the extent of the changes between the ARC stage and the finished book; I had assumed changes were copy-level ones, not substantial content-level ones, but sometimes they are. (I also miss the dedication and acknowledgements.)

E-books vs. Print books: There were, at a conservative estimate, approximately a zillion articles and blog posts this year about e-books, but I especially liked this one from The Guardian, “Why ebooks are a different genre from print.” Stuart Kelly wrote, “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.” He continued, “The printed book…is astonishingly stable over time, place and reader….The book, seen this way, is a radically egalitarian proposition compared to the ebook. The book treats every reader the same way.”

On (used) bookselling: This has been languishing in my drafts folder for nearly two years now. A somewhat tongue-in-cheek but not overly snarky list, “25 Things I Learned From Opening a Bookstore” includes such amusing lessons as “If someone comes in and asks for a recommendation and you ask for the name of a book that they liked and they can’t think of one, the person is not really a reader.  Recommend Nicholas Sparks.” Good for librarians as well as booksellers (though I’d hesitate to recommend Sparks).

The-Library-Book-154x250_largeOn Libraries: Along the same lines, I really enjoyed Lucy Mangan’s essay “The Rules” in The Library Book. Mangan’s “rules” are those she would enforce in her own personal library, and they include: (2) Silence is to be maintained at all times. For younger patrons, “silence” is an ancient tradition, dating from pre-digital times. It means “the absence of sound.” Sound includes talking. (3) I will provide tea and coffee at cost price, the descriptive terms for which will be limited to “black,” “white,” “no/one/two/three sugars” and “cup.” Anyone who asks for a latte, cappuccino or anything herbal anything will be taken outside and killed. Silently.

On Weeding: It’s a truth often unacknowledged that libraries possessed of many books must be in want of space to put them – or must decide to get rid of some. Julie Goldberg wrote an excellent essay on this topic, “I Can’t Believe You’re Throwing Out Books!” I also wrote a piece for the local paper, in which I explain the “culling” of our collection (not my choice of headline).

“What We Talk About When We Talk About Public Libraries”: In an essay for In the Library with the Lead Pipe, Australian Hugh Rundle wrote about the lack of incentives for public librarians to do research to test whether public libraries are achieving their desired outcomes.

Public Journalism, Private Platforms: Dan Gillmor questions how much journalists know about security, and how much control they have over their content once it’s published online. (Article by Caroline O’Donovan at Nieman Journalism Lab)

David Levithan and Rainbow Rowell at Brookline Booksmith

The Monday before Thanksgiving, I trekked across the river to Brookline to see David LevithanRainbow Rowell, Bill Konigsburg, and Paul Rudnick at the Booksmith. Each author read from one of their books: Rudnick read from Gorgeous, Konigsburg from Openly Straight, Rowell and Levithan from Fangirl (hers) and Two Boys Kissing (his). This might be the first time I’ve seen a pair of authors do a joint reading like this – Levithan made a very funny Levi – and they seemed like they were really having fun (though maybe YA authors just have more fun, in general).

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After the readings, they opened up Q&A right away. Here are some snippets:

Levithan, on the 10th anniversary of Boy Meets Boy: “Boy Meets Boy was about creating reality. With Two Boys Kissing I wanted to write something that reflected reality.”

On a reaction to Rowell’s decision to write a novel about college-age characters: “‘College students don’t read.’ I know, be offended, write a letter! ‘Nobody wants to read about college students.’ But I don’t think of writing for one specific audience.” And, she added, readers often want to read about characters a little bit older than themselves (e.g. high school students would be interested in reading about college students).

On the extra pressure Levithan felt for his novel Love is the Higher Law: “You write a bad book, that’s okay. You write a bad book about 9/11, that’s bad.”

Levithan, on writing the character A in Every Day: It was less difficult than he expected; “[When you] take gender out of the equation, sexual orientation doesn’t exist.”

Rowell, on humor in writing: “Funny is subjective.” If a joke she wrote made her laugh, she fought to keep it in the manuscript, even if her agent or editor wasn’t sure about it.

Rowell, on why she chose the physical appearances for Eleanor and Park that she did (chubby and red-headed, and half-Korean, respectively): “You make the decision and you don’t always know where it came from, but it comes from somewhere.” And on attractiveness and attraction: “Attraction happens between two people. That’s it. Two people become attractive to each other.”

Levithan, on making stuff up: “If you’re a writer you make up everything. You’re always being presumptuous.”

On Rowell’s jealousy of the Harry Potter/Internet generation: “Fanfic writers have different rules than published authors.”

Rowell, on writing: “The more you do it, the better you get.”

Levithan, on writing: It’s like the cello. No one expects you to pick up a cello and play a concerto your second time playing. It’s like a muscle you have to develop and strengthen with practice. “Allow yourself to fuck up a lot…Don’t put an expiration date [on your writing], just keep going.”

Someone asked, “What happens when The Lover’s Dictionary Twitter account (@loversdiction) reaches the letter Z?” Levithan said he’s going to wait and see how Sue Grafton (A is for Alibi) handles it, because she’s going to get to the end of the alphabet first. The Twitter account, which he started as a promotion for the book’s release, is now longer than the actual book. He’s currently on the letter G (“Good, adj.: You should choose this so much that it no longer feels like a choice”), and expects to be done in a decade or so. (On losing track of time: “Isn’t 2013 like twelve years from now? No, it’s not.”)

After the Q&A, the authors signed copies of their books. Here’s my new paperback copy of Every Day:

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And here’s my new hardcover of Eleanor & Park. The first time I “read” it was the audiobook - and Rebecca Lowman is superb – but I’m looking forward to reading it again in print.

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Of course, I already do love them.

The dog, however, is less impressed. Here she is in the background of the title page of Every Day:

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She’d be more impressed if she could read, though. (Or if paper tasted more like chicken. But I’m very glad it doesn’t, or none of the books in my house would be safe.)

Anyway…YA books! Read them! Especially these ones.

 

LibraryThing vs Goodreads, redux

Back in April I wrote about transitioning from Goodreads to LibraryThing after Amazon bought Goodreads. The transition was a bit halting, but I have now more or less stopped updating my Goodreads account (though I still contribute to my library’s account for readers’ advisory purposes) and shifted all my activity over to LibraryThing.

Though both Goodreads and LT are social reading sites, they are different in a number of ways. For example, let’s look at the messages on their home pages, before sign-in. Here’s Goodreads:

goodreads_home_logo

And here’s LibraryThing:

LT_home_logo

Goodreads (“Meet your next favorite book”) is encouraging readers to find new books to read, through lists (“shelves”), ads, and other users’ reviews. LibraryThing, on the other hand (“A home for your books…A community of book lovers”) emphasizes its cataloging quality and its user community.

There are a variety of uses for social reading sites (and by no means are Goodreads and LibraryThing the only choices), but my primary uses are (in descending order of importance):

  1. Keep track of what I’ve read and what I want to read.

  2. Write and store reviews and notes on the books I’ve read.

  3. See what my friends are reading and read their reviews.

I also appreciate the chance to get the occasional early review copy (I’ve gotten one or two from Goodreads over the past six years, and at least four from LT over the past year), and the serendipity of connecting with authors (more than once, authors on Goodreads have contacted me after I’ve written a review of their book: one ended up attending a book club meeting, and another gave a presentation at the library).

So, how do the two sites compare? Let’s go point by point.

Keep track of what I’ve read and what I want to read. I’m certainly able to do this on both sites. Goodreads has “read,” “currently reading,” and “to-read” shelves, whereas LibraryThing has “to-read” and “currently reading” collections (everything else is, by default, “read”). I like Goodreads’ “date added” sorting option, but I like that LibraryThing offers different display styles.

LY_styleoptions

Write and store reviews and notes on the books I’ve read. One of LT’s aforementioned display styles includes reviews – so you can see all your reviews at a glance, rather than having to click into each book’s record. You can also click directly into the review to make any edits. There is no way to skim all your reviews in Goodreads.

See what my friends are reading and read their reviews. Goodreads has a clear advantage here, because most of the people I know who are on a social reading site are on Goodreads. I’m not that interested in reading strangers’ reviews, but I do like seeing what my friends are reading. Fortunately, I still get e-mails from Goodreads with updates that include friends’ reviews.

goodreads_greenbuttonIn terms of function, then, the sites aren’t all that different. Though I’m committed to LT now, I still don’t find it as intuitive or user-friendly as Goodreads (though, like most LT users, I’m not a fan of Goodreads’ dreaded green button).

LibraryThing organization

Even after a few months of using LibraryThing, I still don’t navigate it effortlessly. The font is absolutely tiny, which leads to a cluttered appearance. Searching within your library takes a second or two longer than I’d like to return results (yes, I’m impatient). The organization also takes some getting used to – the Home tab shows your most recent books, but if you click into a book’s record from there, it just shows metadata and other users’ reviews, not your review or when you started or finished the book; that information is under the Your Books tab (this is where you can choose your own display style).

There’s a separate tab to Add Books, and when you search, there’s usually only one edition of the book, whereas Goodreads lists all of them (hardcover, paperback, mass market, audiobook, various publishers, etc). However, if you put in the ISBN of the specific edition you’re looking for, it will show up.

The other tabs – Groups, Talk, Local, More, and the mysteriously named Zeitgeist (“more information than you require,” indeed, though it’s probably useful/interesting for some) – I don’t use often, though I probably should look at the Local tab more often to see what’s going on. It’s customizable too, so you can choose your favorite bookstores, libraries, or other literary venues to see what authors might be in town. The More tab includes the link to Early Reviewer books.

Stats are accessed from the Home tab; I don’t look at stats that often, just a few times a year, but LT presents them pretty creatively. For instance, my library (which, to be fair, includes books on my “to-read” shelf as well as those I’ve read and am currently reading), if stacked book upon book, would be slightly taller than the Great Pyramid, slightly shorter than the Washington Monument. The value of its weight in gold would be $22,173,471. Goodreads data, on the other hand, is a bit more straightforward – number of books read in a calendar year, number of pages read, etc. I wish LT had these types of numbers as well.

Overall, I’m not thrilled with LibraryThing, but I’m going to stick with it because it isn’t owned by Amazon, which means my personal data isn’t being harvested (at least not so rapaciously and overtly). Perhaps some of the things that irk me about it will change, and more of my friends will join over time. Till then, it does what I need it to do.

Recaptains to the rescue

allegiantAllegiant, Veronica Roth’s third and final installment of the trilogy that began with Divergent, has finally hit the shelves (and promptly been snatched up by eager readers). I’m still waiting for a library copy, but in the meantime I needed to refresh my memory of the first two books. I’m in the habit of writing reviews of nearly everything I read, and indeed I wrote about Divergent and Insurgent, but with series there are always details that fade, and I try not to give away the ending in my reviews. However, I also don’t want to re-read all the preceding books in a series every time a new one comes out, so what to do? (Hannah Gomez at The Hub has one solution, but I don’t have the willpower for that.)

Recaptains to the rescue! I forget where I originally heard about the Recaptains. (If it was you who told me about them, please let me know. I have a feeling it may have been via Maggie Stiefvater, who wrote the recap for her own book, The Raven Boys.) The Recaptains, as the name suggests, write recaps – not reviews – of series books, including spoilers to help those who read the first book(s) but want a refresher before starting the next in the series.

If you, too, are waiting for a copy of Allegiant, here are the recaps of Divergent and InsurgentThey aren’t perfect, but they serve their purpose. And if you’ve read them both but still aren’t sure about continuing on with the final book, the FYA review of Allegiant is pretty safe (no major spoilers).

NELA 2013, Part 4: Information literacy

In addition to all of the great material on the NELA conference blog recapping various sessions, my colleague Linda posted a rundown of the sessions she attended, and of course the Swiss Army Librarian wrote a recap as well (he also contributed to the conference blog). Both Linda and Brian’s posts are concise and informative.

In my previous three posts about NELA, I neglected to list the sessions I attended (normally I post more chronologically!), so here’s the belated list:

Sunday
1pm Keynote address: Rich Harwood
2pm The Art of the Ebook Deal: Jo Budler, sponsored by the Information Technology Section (ITS)
3:45 Table Talk: Engaging the Library in Long-Range Planning, with Mary White (formerly of Robbins Library!)

Monday
8:30am BYOD: Supporting Patrons’ Devices in the Library, sponsored by the ITS (unfortunately, this conflicted with Library Trends: Pew Research, and I heard Lee Rainie was an amazing speaker; there were also some great tweets coming out of the Rating Library Materials: Censorship or Guidance? session at the same time)
10:45 Not Your Average Book Group
12:30pm Culture and Collaboration: Speaking the Language of Faculty, with Laura Saunders
2pm Censorship on the ‘Net 2013, with Melora Ranney Norman, sponsored by the Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC)
4:30pm Outreach to Queer Communities: Successes and Challenges
6pm Visit to Portland Public Library

The links above mostly go to one of my or Brian’s recaps on the conference blog, or to the description of the session on the official conference site (which in many cases include links to the presenters’ materials, such as slides or handouts). I noticed no one had written about Laura Saunders’ presentation, so my recap of that is below (also cross-posted to the conference blog). No one had covered Melora Norman’s session either, so I wrote a brief post about that on the conference blog as well (see link above).

I think that will be all for my NELA posts, but I can’t guarantee it…I may need to write about ebooks some more, because Jo Budler was awesome.

Laura Saunders, Culture and Collaboration

The ACRL defines information literacy as “a set of abilities requiring individuals to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” Though the term “information literacy” itself is somewhat problematic and can be off-putting to some, most faculty recognize its importance. Despite the agreement about the importance of IL, many college students are not as prepared as faculty would like. The library fits into the larger mission of the university, providing an opportunity for collaboration in this area. However, the reality is that most IL instruction is covered in “one-shot” classes or within General Education (GE) requirements; there is a lack of assessment, a lack of time devoted to it, and a lack of faculty buy-in (they agree that students should have the skills, but aren’t so sure it’s their responsibility to teach them).

Who is responsible for doing what? Where does the library fit into curricular support? Though IL instruction is often covered in GEs, Saunders suggested it might be more useful to move it into the individual academic disciplines. There are “cultures within cultures,” she found when she surveyed faculty, asking, “Do you think information literacy is different in your discipline?” Common concerns include searching for and evaluating information sources, but different kinds of information are preferred in each field (primary vs. secondary sources, for example).

Most IL instruction sessions, however, are structured the same way: most of the time is spent on finding sources, not evaluating them. In an oft-retweeted phrase, “The role of the librarian is to turn students into skeptics.” Often, though, students aren’t skeptical enough. In the words of one faculty member from Saunders’ survey, “The idea of digital natives is such a lie.” Indeed, Project Information Literacy (PIL) has found that students value convenience over quality.

How, then, can librarians improve information literacy instruction? Talking to faculty is the most important step, Saunders said. Anticipate the needs of the faculty, know their concerns, talk to them about what they’re interested in, target your message to their discipline. Students must realize that finding information is only the first step, and just because something is peer-reviewed does not mean it’s 100% reliable; evaluation (“thinking”) is still necessary.

Saunders had excellent slides to accompany her presentation; I didn’t get a chance to write down the details of her data, and the material isn’t up on the conference site (yet). Meanwhile, PIL has lots of great data, and Saunders also recommended Rubric Assessment of Information Literacy Skills (RAILS) on track, which is a neat resource. Although this presentation was aimed largely at academic librarians, information literacy is important to everyone, and public librarians ought to be looking for opportunities to help our patrons improve their information literacy skills. (For a start, see my post for the Robbins Library blog, “Can You Trust It?: Evaluating Information Sources.“)

NELA 2013, Part 3: Robbins Library librarians represent

its-kind-of-a-funny-story-posterRobbins Library was well represented on Monday, with two of our librarians presenting on panels during the day. Though the panels themselves were on different topics, both librarians talked about book groups they had started at the library. Linda Dyndiuk started off the “Not Your Average Book Group” session at 10:45 by talking about the “Not So Young Adult” (NSYA) book group she started in February 2012. As the name suggests, this is a group for adults who like to read young adult literature. Though it has thus far attracted mostly women, the age range is dramatic (30s-70s).  The group has been successful, with 20+ people on the mailing list and a core group of attendees; a reporter from the Arlington Advocate interviewed Linda for a story (“Arlington adults share love of young adult literature“). Other presenters included Theresa Maturevitch from Bedford (MA) Free Public Library, who runs a cookbook book club complete with cooking demonstrations; Sophie Smith, from Nashua (NH) Public Library, who runs an adult summer reading program; and Sean Thibodeau from Pollard (MA) Memorial Library, who leads a nonfiction book group. You can read Theresa’s notes on the whole session from the first link above.

Check out all of the Arlington Book Groups

qbg-game-night_scrabbleLater in the day, Rebecca Meehan spoke about the Queer Book Group she started at Robbins on the “Outreach to Queer Communities: Successes and Challenges” session at 4:30. Rebecca facilitates the QBG, but it is member-directed; every other month, they have a book discussion, and in the months in between they have a social night with games. Fourteen people of all ages showed up at the first meeting in February 2013, and a core group attends each monthly event. Even if attendance was lower, having flyers for the programs all over the library raises awareness – “now people are really paying attention.” Arlington is a pretty liberal community, but flyers are still torn down from time to time. However, Rebecca pointed out, “We have an unlimited* printing budget,” so she just makes extra flyers. (*Probably not unlimited, but it does stretch to extra flyers.)

Rebecca also talked about the difficulty of finding books by and about the LGBTQIQ community (and about the difficulty of the acronym, which is why she chose “QBG” for her group). She encouraged librarians involved in collection development to order these books and make sure they are on the shelves. Good resources for books include Lambda Literary, and for books, movies, and TV shows, Towleroad, Autostraddle, and AfterEllen.

During the same outreach panel, Lydia Willoughby from Vermont Technical College talked about her work with the Vermont Queer Archives, and Amber Billey from the University of Vermont talked about outreach through dance parties in Brooklyn, San Francisco, and Chicago (see links below).

The Desk Set: “A Hipper Crowd of Shushers,The New York Times, July 8, 2007.

The Desk Set’s Biblioball (to benefit literacy for incarcerated teens)

Inspired by the Desk Set: Que(e)ry Party, to bring attention and support to queer collections and to provide a fun social space for queer information professionals & friends