Readicide (a review)

After reading Kelly Gallagher's Readicide,  I have to say that I had a bit of a pain in my neck because I was nodding in agreement so much.  My current "real-life" job is a public school teacher and one thing I can personally attest to in Gallagher's argument is that schools are, quite literally, killing a love of reading.

The constant push for improved scores on standardized tests has made it so that most students believe that reading is merely to prove that they can, and herein lies the problem.  Most people in the United States can read, but do they enjoy it?  Does it make their life better? Does it increase their sense of empathy?  Do they feel a connection to what they read?  Do they understand the world better because of what they read?  In their darkest moments, have they had the experience of a piece of literature helping them to get through that time?  I think that this is what Gallagher is arguing for and I see librarians are the first people that can help "resurrect" reading for pleasure and personal edification.  Through booktalks, programming, and being an approachable, hip, lover of reading, we can lead young people back to a love of the book. 

The larger piece here, is that I see, on a daily basis, that the companies who make the large profits off of standardized tests are killing young people's love of learning on a massive scale.  Librarians need to work with teachers, administrators, school boards and parents to change the tidal wave of numbers that seems to be swallowing their children up and making  their lives less enjoyable.  I want my students to want to learn, and I hope that as a Librarian I will be able to work more earnestly towards such a goal.


Who are the cyberpeople in your neighborhood?

Before I begin this post in earnest, I would like to pre-emptively apologize to the Children's Television Workshop.  I am going to use their classic song "Who are the people in your neighborhood?" and "repurpose" it as I talk about what I think is a great idea for teaching kids about evaluating web sources in the information age.  Here is the librarian version of this wonderful song (can you tell I am a die-hard Sesame Street fan?)

This very catchy song is meant to teach the very young that there are dozens of people in your neighborhood that can meet your information needs.  If you know your question, you should also learn what type of person or institution to go to for the answer or for help.  I would guess that most young people don't randomly ask anyone any question that they have, yet they "ask" google everything, and assume that the first item listed in the search return is right, accurate, reliable, etc...

In an article I read for my class this week, I learned about Stony Brook Universities program that promotes news literacy.  They have come up with the idea of "information neighborhoods" and they use this idea to promote the idea of getting young people to think about context and purpose before using the information they find.  For Stony Brook's entire program, click here.  I couldn't help but think that this is an awesome opportunity for programming and education in the school and public library setting.  You could come up with your own neighborhoods (suggested "neighborhoods" from Stony Brook are news, propaganda, advertising, publicity, entertainment, and raw information.)  You could also do this based on your user's needs.  What about neighborhoods like .org, .edu, .gov, .com?  Or sites for encyclopedic information vs. peer reviewed journals?  You could even have older kids think about all the types of websites they use in a day and they could create their own neighborhoods (homework questions, entertainment, social networking, sports, school activities.) Then, and perhaps most importantly, they need to be encouraged to think about whether or not the information in that "neighborhood" is appropriate to their purpose.

I feel like this is real and useful source analysis rather than the standard worksheets that are often given to help kids "evaluate web sources."  In a way, this covertly teaches them to be data curators, what more could we ask for?  Is the song stuck in our head now?  Sorry!

Articles that inspired this post:
Harris, Frances Jacobson. "Ch. 6: The Deep End: Content." I Found It On the Internet: Coming of Age Online. ALA, 2010. 123-149.

Harris, Frances Jacobson. "Ch. 7: Fishing Poles, Not Fish: Damage Control." I Found It On the Internet: Coming of Age Online. ALA, 2010. 153-177.


Academic Footprint(s)

I am sure that almost everyone out there has heard the story "foot prints."  You know the one, where a man is walking down the beach and he sees that there are 2 sets of footprints in the sand that represent every aspect of his life. However, the man notices that in "bad times," only one set of footprints appear in the sand.  The man yells at God and asks why he abandoned him in his times of need, to which God replies, "it was then that I carried you."  Some people find this story incredibly inspirational, some find it sappy, some may even be offended that I would liken the work of a Youth Services Librarian to that of God...but work with me.

This past weekend I attended the conference of the Illinois School Library Media Association (ISLMA.) I was fortunate to hear the key note address given by Joyce Provenza, who is a guru of all things 21st Century in the school library world AND she is a currently practicing school librarian.  In her presentation she talked about the important role of youth services librarians in helping young people build their "academic footprint" online.  Just as we are encouraged as adult professionals to build our online presence and portfolio, we should also be aiding young people in this endeavor.

She said a way to start is to have students "google" themselves.  What most find is there Facebook page, a few images, and maybe some mention in local newspapers for athletic or academic achievements.  Much of what comes up from social media sites might not be flattering (to say the least! think "partying" photos.)  Young people must first understand that most of what they post on the internet is public information, and that it can be used in things like the college admissions process or by potential employers.  Next, we can empower them, teach them, and help them to make their online presence more reflective of their academic and extracurricular achievements.  The list of possibilities seems to be endless, blogs, wikis, live binders, Twitter feeds (yes, there's more on there than following the next Charlie Sheen tirade) even appropriate YouTube videos (this links to the YouTube Education site)!

I see this as an important and innovative arena for librarians to be the driving force behind. We have to make ourselves relevant, we have to "carry" those kids through the quick sands of life lived online.

(please see my links section for some great ones that will link you to Joyce Provenza's work, her own academic footprint!)


Tough Sell, Big Payoff

I was very intrigued this week by a research study we had to read for class. It is the report of a research study conducted by Denise E. Agosto and Sandra Hughes-Hassell concerning the information seeking behaviors of Urban Teens.  This is an issue near and dear to my heart because I am very interested in serving in an area that serves traditionally underserved groups (do I get a point for using served so many times in a sentence?)

The researchers came to many conclusions based on a qualitative study they did of inner-city teens in Philadelphia. The conclusion that struck me that most was "that services for teens need to support the entire person--the physical, cognitive, affective, and social being--yet many libraries still support primarily homework and pleasure reading needs" (Agosto and Hughes-Hassell 1401.)

This conclusion is more like a call to action.  Libraries need to provide services for teens beyond the realm of school assignments and reader's advisory.  I see so many stories about libraries holding "off-site" programming for adults (everything from reader's advisory at their local Starbucks, to speed dating!) but I rarely, if ever, see such programs for tweens or teens.  Libraries need to bring in people from healthcare organizations to banks with the idea of presenting information to tweens and teens in fun and non-school based platform.  The early and late stages of adolescents are a time when young people want to at least feel like the adults and institutions around them are supportive of the fact that they are doing all they can to learn how to function and have fulfilling lives outside the realm of parents and teachers.  Libraries are in an excellent place, they offer a safe location in which to provide services that tweens and teens not only need, but want.  When they continue to patronize libraries as adults--and support library funding as full-grown taxpayers--we will know that our efforts were worth it!


Programming for Purpose

After our on-campus weekend, I thought a lot about what it means to have a meaningful program at your school or library.  While we need lots of programs that are high interest, timely, and "cool" to draw the young it, I also think we should think about programming that helps develop the idea of civic participation amongst our young users.

The public library in Oak Park, IL has launched a community service program for elementary aged students.  They have partnered with a local aid organization and created events that only take about an hour to complete, the young patrons learn about a community need and do some type of project to help with that need.  Here is a link to read about the program and see a calendar of events:

I believe whole-heartedly that a library is a "public good."  In the age of budget cuts and seemingly endless attacks on "public" institutions, I think that this is an excellent opportunity to show the worth of a public library.  If libraries serve as a center of community services, no one can deny how essential it is to the betterment and survival of a community--not matter how "in need" or "un-needy" that community is.  I don't know if I said that very eloquently, but I hope it makes sense.

Do you have ideas about how to have community service events in conjunction with library programming? I'd love to hear about them!


The Two R's

Reading and wRiting---two-thirds of the "3 R's," which many of us worry are increasingly neglected by teenagers.  However, there are many studies and websites that show both scientifically and anecdotally that this assumption is not true.  I was inspired to do a post on this based on Paulette Rothbauer's writings in Becoming a Reader (chapter 3.)

One way that libraries can increase their relevance to teens is to promote writing clubs.  Many schools have literary magazines that are produced in-house, and the library should be a partner in this endeavor.  Many schools also have "poetry" clubs where students prepare to go to poetry slams and other venues where they can share and perfect their craft.

I think that libraries should sponsor, advertise, and offer online access to as many writing programs as possible.  Since "writing is an extension of reading (Rothbauer) it is only proper that we as youth services librarians support this interes and need through the library.

One such site that I am aware of that does an amazing job of promoting the reading-writing connection is Figment (the newer, way-sleeker version of Inkpop.)  This site has everything from book reviews to fan-fiction to personalized recommendations.  Its visually appealing and easy to use--plus it doesn't attempt to be too "cool" or seem forced, it looks like teens really made it.  I know the director of the Figment project received a huge grant within the past year to continue to improve the site.

Libraries should use these tools to help empower kids to share their experiences and increase their literacy through writing.

Link for Figment: http://figment.com/

"40 of the Best Websites for Young Writers" (fully linked!) http://education-portal.com/articles/40_of_the_Best_Websites_for_Young_Writers.html


Canned Reading is probably not the best thing since sliced bread

I often refer to the many reading programs out there as "canned."  These programs come in very neat and attractive packaging, they are linked to every standard you can think of, and have "compendiums" of research attached to prove their effectiveness (some examples are Scholastic's Read 180 program and Renaissance Learning's Accelerated Reader Enterprise.) Some teachers do like them, and I know that over the years these programs have seen many positive improvements.  In many cases the days of "leveled" and color coded books are gone and they now use both classic and modern fiction and non-fiction as their base.

I think the problem with many of these programs is that the kids see it as a task, something to get done rather than to enjoy.  Stephen Krashen argues against this idea when he asserts the claim that "free voluntary reading" is one of the best (if not the best) way to help students with vocabulary acquisition and retention.  The larger question for classroom educators and youth services librarians is how do we blend the two ideas?  School districts have spent thousands of dollars investing in these "canned reading" programss, so its not a good idea to suggest that we can them all together, however I think librarians can help teachers advocate for a more balanced approach.

Furthermore, we need to make sure that the research provided to support such programs is done by independent groups.  It is far to easy to make the numbers look good if you are trying to turn a profit, and we forget that most of these programs come from for-profit, mega-publishing companies.

One idea I have to fix this problem is to separate the ideas in the students minds of reading as a skill and reading for pleasure.  Schools that promote and put time aside for sustained silent reading, (or reading with your ipod in your ears!) might be able to help in this battle.  Teachers need to model this, show enthusiasm for the reading of all types of literature-from fiction to popular magazines.  If we can show young people that "fun" reading will help them with the "skill" of reading, perhaps things would change for the better.

What do you think?  Other ideas?  Creating lifelong readers should be one of the most fulfilling parts of our job, how do we do it?


Once upon a time, children were empathetic...

...but then they stopped reading fiction.  In our culture of testing, something that the general public might not know is that on a standardized test such as the ACT, the reading portion contains only non-fiction passages.  Why am I telling you about standardized test reading sections?  Because this has led to many schools focusing on the teaching of non-fiction almost exclusively, rather than exposing students to all types of writing and reading.  In Maryann Wolf's book, Proust and the Squid,  Wolf speaks to the importance of reading when it comes to developing a sense of empathy:

"This period of childhood [3.5-5 years old] provides the foundation for one of the most important social, emotional, and cognitive skills a human being can learn: the ability to take on someone else's perspective...Through stories in books we can learn what it feels like. In this process we step outside ourselves for ever-lengthening moments and begin to understand the 'other,' which Marcel Proust wrote lies at the heart of communication through written language" (Wolf, pages 85-86.)

So, if young people don't read both real and not-so-real stories from an early age, they are less able to empathize with their peers, their elders, people who they see on TV that live thousands of miles away.  I find this to be a fascinating idea.  I know that I personally love to read fiction because it allows me to see in to other people's world's (both real and imagined,) but I certainly never thought that it might actually be helping my moral character.

I found a number of articles and other blogs that have compiled serious scientific studies, and some more casual experiments that seem to prove this.  Here are the links, with my annotations in parentheses.  This is certainly not exhaustive, a simple google search for "empathy deficit teens fiction" yields too many articles to list here!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/sep/07/reading-fiction-empathy-study (very recent experiment that used excerpts of JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer novels, short read from a UK newspaper.)

http://cogscilibrarian.blogspot.com/2008/07/reading-fiction-improves-empathy.html (Cognitive Science Librarian's blog, with a good overview that speaks to how reading fiction improves empathy, she also has a brief bibliography that would be great to help with further reading on the subject.)

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=what-me-care (focuses on empathy deficit in teens and where in comes from.)


Popularity Contest

"...hey, don't take away all my printed books either, or make it harder to locate them."  So says a "composite" 7th grader in Dresang and Kotrla's School Libraries and the Transformation of Readers and Reading (2010.)  After reading that line, I sighed an "amen."  The library at the high school where I teach has, as of this school year, transformed itself in to a "learning commons" format.  Books and magazines have been weeded and moved without a lot of input from the librarian.  And in the most horrifying move of all (do I sound like a dramatic teenager?,) the fiction collection has been moved across the hall from the main library room.  The space in to which said fiction was moved is not large enough to accomodate our entire collection, so only books that were checked out last school year made the cut to be placed in the new fiction stacks.  The rest are in the high school's archives room.  Students can still check them out, but no one has figured out yet how we are going to indicate which room the book is in (900 tag anyone?)  By librarian-to-be heart is broken.

First, let's think about the symbolic nature of this decision.  Only the most "popular" titles are in the new fiction room.  Popular by who's standards?  The non-checked out books are with all the old, dusty, ephemera of a 100+ year old suburban high school.  Does this relegate them to the past, and also, label them as out-of-date, irrelevant, something to be marveled at like a museum piece rather than revered as part of the literary canon of mankind?  I know that the "popular" fiction was inspired by the fiction now sitting in the archives;  there's an awful lot of The Bible in the Harry Potter Series, Orwell and Rand in Collins, and Dickens in-well anything about children and young adults struggling for their place in the world. And you can guess where those books are now shelved?

Next, instead of bemoaning this, what are some solutions?  Dresang and Kotrla also inpired me to think about the role of a librarian to motivate readers ("School librarians...might use youth literature to teach a concept, but their pirmary concern is to movitvate the child to read the book presented and to link that reading to a wide array of related literature available in the library.") So how can we work around this new situation in our library?  Some ideas I have suggested:

1. Have Read-Alike "tabs" in the stacks with the "popular" books, for example, by Lois Lowry's The Giver, a "tab" that says, "If you like The Giver, you might like Ayn Rand's Anthem, its in the Archives, ask your librarian to help you find it!"  Novelist would be invaluable for this.

2. Rotating displays or spinning racks or books that say something like "hidden books, discovered in the York Archives, and only available for a limited time!"

3. Have students create an "in the archives" book trailer series to highlight books that haven't made it to the main fiction stacks, yet.

4. "Free a Book" campaign; once a book is checked out from the archives room, the school has agreed to then put it in the fully accessible fiction stacks, students could be credited for "rescuing" a book from the archives and get to do a little write-up, put it on a bulletin board, etc...as to why they read the book and why it is worthy of "rescue" from the archives.

5. School History connection; have a themed book talk along the lines of, "what was York like in the 1920s?, items from the school archives could be used (show students yearbooks from the 20s, school newspapers, etc...) then tie it in, "what were York students READING in the 20s?"

Non-library professionals making library decisions, at least where I work, is turning much of what makes libraries grand-exposure to ALL literature at ALL times-a thing of the past, but I know I will do everything to stop this from happening!  I'll be the nerd, who saves the classics.