20 July 2009

Librarians Are Weird

Check it out! I'm starting a new blog!

07 June 2009

New reading blog

Hi all!

I recently began a reading blog. It's something I've been itching to do for a while now -- and what better time to get started than summer? *smile* Most of what's there right now is YA fiction of the fantasy/horror variety, but I intend to blog about whatever stuff I've recently read across age levels. Feel free to read and comment if you'd like.

/end gratuitous self-promotion

12 May 2009

Ideas for a future class project

Just to get inspiration for future class projects, we can pay attention to students from University College in Dublin.

When Dublin university student Shane Fitzgerald posted a poetic but phony quote on Wikipedia, he said he was testing how our globalized, increasingly Internet-dependent media was upholding accuracy and accountability in an age of instant news.

His report card: Wikipedia passed. Journalism flunked.

(Irish student hoaxes world's media with fake quote)

07 May 2009

Copyright on Student Course Work

A federal appeals court ruled that online plagiarism-screening site TurnItIn.com is not violating students' copyright claims by storing digital copies of their papers in repository. Read about it here.

I think this is fascinating for a number of reasons. First, this ruling effectively says that—although any work permanently affixed is considered copyrighted—students do not have the right to convey or withhold those rights. This is a contradiction of the usual interpretation of copyright in US courts, but it indicates a shift in the thinking on intellectual copyright. The issue here isn’t the re-publication of the students’ works, but rather the permanent collection of digital files without the students’ permission. (This is, in principle, the same issue at the heart of the Google settlement; the authors guild and association of publishers argued that Google didn’t have the right to create and hold copies of copyrighted works, much as libraries can’t just photocopy popular books and circulate the photocopies. You have to wonder how the Google suit would have turned out if they'd gone to court, too.)

Second, I wonder why the courts ruled this way. Are they arguing that school work is effectively a work for hire, wherein the school effectively acts as an employer who contracts created works? That’s kind of a shift in our whole notion of schools, isn’t it? But even that doesn’t make sense to me—if that were the case, then the school district would hold the copyright. But the material would still be under copyright.

And, lastly, I wonder if this suit would have been handled differently if the rights holders in this case were not students (read: youth). If this ruling is upheld, wouldn’t it logically follow that all scholarly works are fair game? Faculty, doctoral students, university presidents—is all of their creative work devoid of digital copyright protection now? Can I just start digitizing and storing anything that comes from an educational institution? That should make electronic course reserves a whole new ballgame...

05 May 2009

New Blog About Books


PBS has a new blog called Booklights. It might be worth checking out since hopefully it will be updated more often than many other kid's book blogs out there.

PBS -- Cool with Teens???

When approaching a blog about some of the great things PBS does for youth and media literacy it is hard to even know where to start. For any of you that don't know, I have a strong connection to PBS and so I try to stay on top of new developments. That said, even someone like myself that is very familiar with PBS is still blown away by the magnitude of resources available and the potential PBS has to make our lives better not only as citizens, but as information professionals (no matter what kind of library or information environment we end up in). The fine people at PBS are well-deserving of praise they get and obviously I am preaching to the choir, but is PBS seen as being cool or is there still the notion that PBS is old-school? PBS consistently is ranked by Americans as being worth tax-dollars (only beat out by national defense) so clearly people think it is well work their buck (it averages out to be $1 per citizen in tax dollars, not including of course public and private sponsorship funding). How would teens view this though? Is PBS doing enough online for teenagers?

What prompts this post is the new look of PBS online and a comment by AP Entertainment Writer Jake Coyle that "PBS may be cooler than you think" (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090423/ap_en_tv/us_on_the_net_pbs_online). Is this a backhanded complement or what? Do people really not percieve PBS as being a mover and shaker in media? PBS recently has made some changes with the look and layout of the website and is making huge moves to make material even more accessible online, but the media non-profit has been offering video online for many years. With the popularity of Hulu and YouTube, you would think these are the only names out there or that they were the first providers. So now that PBS is even more user friendly with the launch of the new video portal it is easier than ever to access even more content (this summer there will be even more national and local content) and to share it. So if there is a perception that PBS isn't 'with it,' does this change with the new website? Specifically kid-focused programing has been available at a kid's video portal (http://pbskids.org/go/video) since September and now (as of a few weeks ago) the grown-ups are joining with a new video portal for PBS videos (http://www.pbs.org/video). You can watch video for free, share it (including through Facebook), or download it (buy it on DVD or through iTunes). The website is slick and easy to use for the even mildly website savvy (if you use YouTube or Hulu it is a breeze).

Being so heavily influenced and engrained within PBS it makes it hard for me to see, but isn't PBS considered cool? Also, the area where I have spent most of my adult life seemed to value PBS. Surely there are things for every age on PBS, but is this really translating to cool-factor nationwide (specifically with teens)? I'm curious to know what my fellow bloggers think. Also, the one thing that I'd like to see more of online is more focus on teens specifically (even though I hardly think that PBS doesn't already do this in programming). The popularity of Road Trip Nation being just one example of how programming is aimed towards young adults and music shows like Austin City Limits and Soundstage are far from Lawrence Welk. Another YA show is In The Mix, even though I as a teen never would have watched something like that. I don't think anything much needs to be done to convince parents and educators to how great PBS is, but does PBS need to do more to be something for teenagers to value? From my experience, which is unique, I remember PBS not being thought as being cool until people discovered more as a later teen in college. Cool people listened to NPR in the car and talked about what was on PBS the night before when at the coffee shop. However, is this true in your experience (especially for the YA set too old for Kid's Club, but not the target audience for Frontline)?

Does PBS need to do more to make a section of their amazing website a place for teens or are they already doing this enough with what they currently offer? Personally, I do think PBS needs to make a more teen friendly website and if there is a perception of un-cool this would help. After looking at all that is out there I think PBS online is showing great support for kids and for adults, but even though there is material about or for teens online, it is tucked away in one section or the other. What I'm trying to say is, I don't know if PBS is missing young adults in programming, but there certainly is more they could do online.





E-Books and Youth -- Creative Media Online

I was in Borders last week, investigating for another class assignment (one where we looked at bookstores and compared them to libraries as a physical space). I couldn’t help but overhear a young mother with her child (or so I assumed it was her daughter). The little girl was probably 6 years old and she was telling her mom that she reads books online all the time. Her mom said that she doesn’t like books online since she can’t read them in the bath. While clearly this is just one example and I don’t think that physical books are going away anytime soon, it did make me wonder if the new trend of picture books online is influencing the newest generation in becoming online readers.

Sites like TumbleBooks.com provide kids with picture books online. Reading a picture book is very different from reading full-length novels online, so I wonder if this really is going to make an impact on how kids read online or otherwise, but more than that I wonder how this trend or perceived trend may help youth create media that will translate well online.

I know I enjoy reading books online if they are short or are picture books. When thinking about media literacy I think about not just kids using the Internet to look at what is out there, but also to be part of the creative process. PBSKids features the Reading Rainbow winners’ books online. Beyond that, I wonder if it would be possible to teach kids how to put their books online and if the library could have a collection of picture books online. These books would created by children in the community.

I think it is really fun to think of all the ways that the Internet makes it easier for kids to publish their work and share it with their friends and family. I think looking at different kids and age groups of kids, it would be fun to see how creating e-books would be possible.

This opens up to ideas about what teenagers could do as well with creating online publications. Zines tend to be very image centered with text, multimedia creations. They can be expensive to print and distribute, but if kids were able to create a zine online they could limit the number of print copies. Also, they would be able to reach more people and it could help make the library both a place to make the zines together, but also an online destination.

I wonder, what other ideas (besides picture books and zines) do you think would be good projects for youth to work on at the library? Self-publishing online is done a lot these days, but how could the library use this trend to help teens and children make books or zines or other creations online? Do you think that more text-centered projects would work, or work as well? Could the library have a zine club? Or could children create a picture book gallery online? Perhaps younger children could cre

The Media isn't Making Us Fat? Wha??

I have been watching one of my favorite television programs – “The Biggest Loser Couples.” It got me to thinking that media is often treated as the reason why kids are overweight. However, the media is a scapegoat and more than ever people are actually learning what to do to be healthy and the media can be a great way to show people what is possible. This season, one of the contestants was Mike, an 18 year-old kid who was morbidly obese and now he is in the top four contenders and very well may take home the prize. It is amazing and without the television program he may never have saved his own life, let alone all the people that will be inspired to make changes in their lives. With this show there is hilariously obvious product placement, but that said, it is a great way for adults and kids like to find hope and help. While it is important to teach kids about body image and the advertising industry, I feel like there can be a disconnect between information literacy and physical education.

In addition to “The Biggest Loser” and “The Biggest Loser Couples,” “The Doctors,” and Dr. Oz’s appearances on “Oprah,” there are other sources of support for weight loss and management in a healthy way. Of course, when it comes down to it, people have to make healthy choices themselves, but media today vs. even a decade ago is hugely different. In older shows you would never see people working out. One of my favorite shows is “Smallville” and it occurred to me that I felt empowered that they show Louise Lane running instead of her curves being unexplained natural beauty. It may be a small blip in the universe of unhealthy body images, but it made me happy not only for me, but also for the future kids that will grow up seeing that. I hope that this is a trend that will continue on in other programs.

As people become more interested in being green I feel there is a movement towards making a new balance between technology and a fitness of body and soul. I think this is exemplified in the popularity of Dance Dance Revolution and of course the Wii. This also is shown in the marketing of technologies like iPods. With iPhones and Blackberry devices there are applications that can help give advice and track progress. It is cool to be fit and part of this cool is supported by media and so a media literate youth will have a chance to deepen their knowledge of fitness.

Online websites like RealAge.com (from Dr. Oz and Dr. Rosen) have forums and tools. A great part of this particular site is that it gives advice based on a user survey. You only need to go on Myspace, Facebook, or Livejournal to see that surveys are hugely popular. With answering the questions on Real Age, results are analyzed and personalized. From this account people can find out what their “real age” is vs. their actual calendar age. There are suggestions on how to improve oneself based on the answers provided. Websites for health magazines and for shows like The Biggest Loser provide tools and communities. Earlier this year we talked about horrible body image websites that teens with eating disorders could visit, but there also are healthy websites where teens can share healthy information and support each other in being active.

Certainly there are a lot of negative influences, but there are so many ways that technologies can help people be active and take control of their lives (including youth). For example, many treadmills even have ways to track progress. When it comes down to it, clearly people have to work hard and take care of themselves, but technology doesn’t need to stand in the way. Technologies can actually help people, including youth, realize their potential. Of course you do not need to understand media to be healthy, but there is so much potential for technologies to help support an active lifestyle that instead of focusing on what is wrong and simply blaming the media perhaps we should also focus on how recent developments in video gaming, television programming, telephone applications, and the Internet are actually promoting an active lifestyle. There will always be the kids that thrive under competition, but for those that shy way from this, now there are ways for them to see being active as a fun and stress-relieving way to live.

Quality Educational Material??

I am writing in response to Kate's post about tie-ins. I would have to agree that tie-ins are usually just another marketing ploy, and have little to do with their proposed benefits for kids. Those 'benefits' just allow them to get away with nearly anything in the name of turning a profit. It seems like big corporations are always out to make a buck, and in these tough economic times, they will exhaust all options to do so.
On a related note, I found out that Hasbro and Discovery Kids are teaming up to create a “television network and website, dedicated to high-quality children’s and family entertainment and educational programming”. In 2010, the network will debut. But what will this new venture look like? If I had to guess, it will continue to have the educational content of Discovery Kids, but will now features more ads for Hasbro and it's subsidiary companies. Other companies have merged or partnered together for similar purposes throughout the years, all in the name of providing quality educational materials for children. Who cares if these materials are branded and carefully crafted to encourage children to become brand loyal? Or if they feature a well-liked character to draw them in? Or if they are made with toxic materials just so the companies can keep costs down? What really matters is that these companies are thinking in the best interests of children everywhere.
There is a Simpson's episode (how ironic, huh?) that features an evil corporation exploiting children for marketing research to create a new toy in time for Christmas. When I first saw that episode, it was humorous because it didn't seem that realistic (like many Simpson's plots over the years). But, I was disgusted when I was skimming through our textbook for this class and I learned about the company that used it's claim of being an educational, safe internet site for kids to gather information from large numbers of kids, which it then turned around and sold. It was a marketing research ploy. Agh! Where are our children safe? Either they are being exploited by perverts on the Internet, or by corporate America? Why has there not been more parental outrage over the second kind of exploitation? Have we as a culture just accepted it as a part of life- we have TVs, computers, etc., so we deserve to be deceived by mega- corporations?
As parents, librarians, and educators, how do we protect kids from this threat? I know my niece adores Hannah Montana, an imaginary character created by a corporate entity to hock cheap wares, and make them oodles of money. But, how do you explain to a 6 year old what is happening? She knows Hannah Montana is not real, that she is just a character on TV, but how can I help her understand that every item she buys with H.M's face gives more money to bad people? Do I even want to tell her that since I am sure that many people profit from the sales of H.M. merchandise, and that some good may come out of that money? It seems like a catch-22; I don't want to scare her, but it is very important that she understand the issue if she is to become an educated citizen/consumer. And, where do I turn for assistance, when the 'good' guys turn out to have as many bad intentions as the 'bad' guys? I suppose the most we can hope for is to remain educated on the issue and attempt to find a solution that is the lesser of two evils. If anyone knows of any great places to get information, or of any companies that are actually working for the greater good and attempting to provide quality educational materials/sites, please let me know!

Leadership for Web 2.0 in Education – Are We Doing Enough?

The Consortium for School Networking just released the results of a study on the use of Web 2.0 in American schools, and whether or not schools are, or plan to take advantage of the opportunities provided by Web 2.0.

According to the study, which was funded by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the nation’s school district administrators are overwhelmingly positive in their overall view of the possible impact that Web 2.0 might have on students’ lives and their education. Educators saw Web 2.0 as a potentially positive influence on student skills in the following areas:

· Communications Skills
· Quality of Schoolwork
· Outside interests
· Interest in School
· Self-direction and regulation
· Sense of community and culture
· Peer relationships
· Relationships with parents and family
· Homework habits
· Behavior in school

As a matter of fact, educators saw only one glaring negative in the potential influence of Web 2.0 on students – in the area of exercise and physical activity.

The top priority of educators, according to the study, is to keep students interested and engaged. Most educators agree that limiting participation to “approved educational websites” is key to applying Web 2.0 to possibilities in student learning.

The study highlighted nine major findings about the use of Web 2.0 in public schools:

1. The nation’s district administrators are positive about the impact of Web 2.0 on students’ lives and their education;
2. Keeping students interested and engaged in school is the top priority for Web 2.0 in American schools;
3. The majority of administrative educators think student use of Web 2.0 should be limited to approved educational websites;
4. Most school districts ban social networking sites and chat rooms but all prescribed educational use for most other Web 2.0 tools;
5. Curriculum directors see significant opportunities to improve education through the use of Web 2.0;
6. Curriculum directors report that Web 2.0 can be used most effectively in social studies, writing, science and reading at all grade levels;
7. The use of Web 2.0 at this point is only in pioneering classrooms;
8. Web 2.0 is outpacing the innovative capacity of K-12 educators.
9. Adminsitrative educators are passive, not active users of Web 2.0[1]

A few of the interesting highlights from the study:

· 70% of all technology directors in public schools block social networking sites on school computers.
· 55% of Internet filtering on school computers (nearly all use Internet filtering) is more restrictive than the Children’s Internet Protectio Act (CIPA) requires.
· 75% of superintendents and curriculum directors addres Web 2.0 holds potential value for teaching and learning.
· Most educators are more positive about the potential for Web 2.0 in high school and middle school classrooms than elementary classrooms.
· 56% of educators reported that Web 2.0 applications have not yet been integrated into the curriculum.
· Most school districts are more focused on dealing with the problems of Web 2.0 than on challenges to leverage Web 2.0 for learning.
· Many district administrators saiud that educators in their districts were not sufficiently familiar with Web 2.0 to understand it fully, much less use it to redesign educational initiatives.[2]

As a student in the LEEP program, I feel like I may take technology a little for granted. I guess I just assume that educators are taking advantage of all that is available for use on the Internet, because if I’m being educated about it at the graduate level, surely there is professional development for educators that is addressing the potential for Web 2.0 in schools.

What I learned from glancing at the report, and at the accompanying slideshow (from which most of the highpoints for this post were taken), is that educators are unfamiliar with Web 2.0, and while they may see the potential in it as an educational tool, a general lack of active engagement with Web 2.0 on the part of most educators is resulting in a serious lag between what educators can provide students through technological advances and what students are actually getting.

I see this a lot in my work at the reference desk, with kids in middle school and high school, who are advised by their teachers not to use the Internet as a source for research projects. The problem with this is a basic lack of understanding about a) what the Internet is, and b) what resources qualify as “useful” internet resources and just Internet resources (subscription databases and peer-reviewed online journals versus Wikipedia, etc.) There’s a basic lack of computer literacy across the board – because of a lack of general knowledge about the usefulness of available resources on the Internet – on the part of teachers. Children are remarkably receptive to using the Internet as a research tool, and, when taught, pick up on the mechanics of it very quickly. It seems to me that teachers are the ones who need to be taught. Again – this brings up the question of professional development.

Why aren’t the majority today’s educators – new and experienced – more versed in computer literacy? Why aren’t they at least imparting information to their students on acceptable Internet resources? Why aren’t schools and public libraries partnering to instruct teachers and students on the availability of resources through Web 2.0 and on the Internet in general?

This is also a problem in public libraries, with more experienced librarians who seem to be biding their time to retirement (for better or worse – I’m not judging). A lot of really good resources exist out there for librarians and teachers that aren’t been taken advantage of and integrated into school and library experiences because of a general malaise in the area of professional development for these individuals. Just because today’s students are born digital doesn’t mean they’re born knowing how to effectively use this material. Isn’t it up to the adults in their lives – the parents, the teachers, the librarians – to continue to learn and instruct so that today’s young people will grow up to do the same?

Ok, off my soapbox, but this is an interesting report – the full version and the slide show can be downloaded at http://www.cosn.org/Default.aspx?TabId=4198

[1] Leadership for Web 2.0 in Education: Promise in Reality Slide Show, retrieved from http://www.cosn.org/Default.aspx?TabId=4198 on 4 May 2009.
[2] Leadership for Web 2.0 in Education: Promise in Reality Slide Show, retrieved from http://www.cosn.org/Default.aspx?TabId=4198 on 4 May 2009.

The New Professionalism?

I was watching "Attack of the Show" on G4 the other day - it's a sort of news show focusing on video-game-related stories. While one of the anchors presented a story, another anchor jumped out from the side and sort of tackled him. I thought it was hilarious, but it got me thinking about how you would never see something like that on Dateline or 60 Minutes. That made me think about the kind of places people in my generation get their news - things like "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" - and how they were presented. Most of these kind of shows tend to have a heavy emphasis on entertainment, and old ideas of professionalism are either downplayed or completely done away with. The anchors on "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" still wear suits and sit at desks, but their shows are performed in front of a studio audience that reacts audibly. Guests may be asked serious questions, but they are also asked things that are designed to either ridicule the guest or their work, or simply make light of the situation at hand.

Not that I think any of this is a bad thing, necessarily. Does news have to be stuffy to be informative? I don't think so. But it did make me wonder what happened to cause this shift. Could the internet, where the uber-casual and the prim and proper live side-by-side, have influenced the change? Or is it simply the prevailing attitude of our age that serious equals old and fun and frivolity are the domains of the young?

Personally, I believe that the internet has played a large role. Between YouTube, blogs, and podcasts, there are plenty of avenues for do-it-yourself "newscasts", which can range anywhere from actual reporting on current events to a rundown of what you ate for breakfast. Then, there's the merging of the professional with the casual. Twitter and Facebook, which seem to have started as purely casual affairs, have mutated into a way to keep up with your favorite celebrities, politicians, and yes, even current events, as well as your friends, family, and people you've never even heard of.

Then there comes the question of who decides what "professionalism" means. Does it just mean high-quality? There are certainly plenty of amateur videos on YouTube and podcasts to subscribe to that are of the same or better quality as that of those being paid to do similar jobs. Is it a matter of content? If so, what makes the 5 o'clock news's "household item that could kill you" feature any more professional than a podcast like "This Week in Technology" or, indeed, a cable show like "Attack of the Show"?

Then, I came across this article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/apr/29/exclamation-mark-punctuation. It raised some new questions for me. Are exclamation marks unprofessional? Formal communication may not need the punching-up that might be required to communicate a point in casual online conversations, but the exclamation mark sure can be a handy tool for adding urgency! Are there other punctuation marks that could convey a sense of professionalism or unprofessionalism? In online media, whether casual or formal, I have noticed that the dash has become increasingly popular. I have a tendency to overuse it myself. I have heard that the dash is also a more casual mark than, say, a comma or semi-colon, where appropriate. So, why it's online popularity? Could it be that the dash is more easily read than the smaller comma, making for a more prominent pause in an environment where many things are hastily skimmed? Or is it just another example of the shift in what is considered professional?

I do think that age has some merit in the discussion, though. New technologies are most frequently, by definition, owned by the younger generations. Although their parents and grandparents may use these tools, young people are the ones creating most of the content and therefore, driving the standards for appearance, format, and content. Wittiness and humor are highly prized and rewarded - almost every new meme that comes down the pipes has some kind of ingrained humor to it.

Obviously, some of this comes down to the ability of media consumers to process and separate out information from entertainment. Issues of literacy could also come into play. How do we judge an authentic, credible news source? If professionalism is to be used as a criterion in determining these things, we need to have some yardstick for measuring professionalism against.

04 May 2009

Confessions of a Gamer Girl

I'm frequently asked how I became a gamer. Usually, this question is asked by guys who want to figure out how to get their girlfriend, wife, or other female in their lives into gaming, or at the very least, make them understand why their guys enjoy it so much. I thought it also might be useful, on the other hand, as an example of a girl's experience in this largely male-dominated hobby.

My dad has been a gamer for as long as I can remember. When I was little, he hosted and DMed (translation - he was the Dungeon Master, or the one in charge of the game) a 1st edition Dungeons and Dragons group at our house. The one guy I remember most vividly was also the most stereotypical of the group - a short, round guy with a long beard and long, thinning hair. When we were good, Dad would let us kids play with his dice - a collection of shapes far beyond those of the basic six-sider used in most of our games, in a variety of pretty colors, which Dad kept in a tan courduroy bag.

We played a lot of games at our house. With four kids, there were always plenty of people to fill out the table, and Dad was almost always up for a game. We played a lot of the traditional kids' games - Hungry, Hungry Hippos, Candy Land, Monopoly, Clue, and Life were standards on our living room floor or dining room table. I also frequently played checkers and chess with my dad - he taught me how to play both around age 6, although he let me win at chess for a few years until I got the hang of the strategy. We also played some more intense and difficult games like Risk and Acquire.

We also played quite a few video games. I remember going over to my friends' houses to play Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt on their Nintendos, and at home, we had an Atari that we had picked up at a garage sale for $5. Later, my siblings and I all chipped in to buy a Super Nintendo, on which we regularly played Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, and other platformer games. We all got the original, big grey brick Game Boys one year for Christmas, and later Christmas presents included a Nintendo 64 and a Game Cube.

In 2000, Wizards of the Coast released the third edition of Dungeons and Dragons. I was away at college at the time, but my brother started up a group with my dad as DM. The players included both my brothers, my sister, and a collection of my brothers' friends. My dad ran them through some of his old 1st edition adventures, while I tried to learn the rules on my own by picking random monsters and throwing them up against basic characters my friends at school and I put together. When I came home a year later, I joined my family's group. This was my first big step toward becoming a "hobby" gamer, as opposed to the casual gamers who stick to the kind of games I played growing up.

2 years later, my siblings and I decided to venture out to our first convention. We'd been reading about GenCon in the D&D magazine, Dragon, and a comic book about gamers, Knights of the Dinner Table, both of which we'd started reading about the same time we started playing D&D. We had been playing a lot in the Kalamar setting, a world produced by the same company that put out Knights of the Dinner Table, and they were going to launch a new organized play campaign under the banner of the Role-Playing Gamers Association (RPGA) that year at the con in Milwaukee.

At GenCon, I was surrounded by gamer culture. We played our Kalamar games on the floor of a basketball stadium, divided up by poles and curtains to try to keep the noise from leaking over to other tables. In other areas of the convention, I learned how to paint miniatures, played games I had never heard of before, and shopped a dealer hall packed with gamer paraphenalia - dice in every conceivable color and pattern, t-shirts with gamer jokes (my personal favorite, and one I still own - "Obey Me! I have an 18 Charisma), more games than would ever fit in your typical toy section at Wal-Mart, and all manner of costumes, jewelry, and accessories. I was hooked.

Now, I try new games on a regular basis. I have my own little collection of board games, including things like Settlers of Catan, Fury of Dracula, Ticket to Ride, and more, many of which come from Europe. I still love a good game of Trivial Pursuit or Clue, too. I own two video game consoles, a Nintendo Wii and an Xbox 360, as well as a pink DS Lite. I have my own dice for role-playing, too - a collection of blue and green ones in a sparkly, blue bag - even as a gamer I'm a girly-girl. While I still play D&D, I'm more likely to be found playing something like Hollow Earth Expedition or Savage Worlds - rules-light role-playing systems that encourage story and character development.

There are so many avenues into gaming, beyond video games. A good board game program, particularly one that introduces new kinds of board games, could be a great way to get families, teens, and adults together at the same time. Who knows, you might just see more people showing up for your Guitar Hero nights as well, as you turn players into gamers.

03 May 2009

Open Books

I wanted to take a moment to piggyback a little bit off of Clair's last post about volunteering.  It reminded me of how important it is to instill in children and young adults the idea of service and giving early in their school lives.  I think so often children and teens are over-scheduled with sports and programs and homework and other activities that we forget to teach them about taking time to help others.  My sister is working for AmeriCorps this year.  She works at an inner city high school where she is in charge of school service projects and teen support groups.  The service that they have done this year alone has been amazing.  One of my favorite events is when they work in the city gardens.  All over Chicago there are neighborhood gardens where people can work together as a community to plant and garden.  The teens that my sister works with help maintain these gardens.  They also do a lot of service work at camps in other parts of the state, cleaning, clearing brush and helping get the camps ready for visitors.  Giving these city kids opportunities to see another way of living, a place beyond the projects and concrete will give them a better sense of the world.  

Teaching teens at a young age to partake in volunteer and service activities will foster a love of it as they become adults.  While this may not be a completely teen oriented program, the organization Open Books Ltd is an incredible literacy initiative started by a college classmate of mine.  Open Books is a non-profit that operates a bookstore, provides literacy programs to Chicago schools and offers incredible volunteer opportunities for teens and adults.  With so many inner-city children falling behind in literacy, it is so important to have opportunities to help in any way possible.  Open Books offers writing programs, literacy programs and reading buddy programs to children all over the city.  In addition, it is a great opportunity for volunteers who want to work with children.  Volunteers can visit children during their lunch hour and work with fluency, comprehension and reading accuracy.  Volunteers can become a part of the writing field trip program.  These volunteers visit classrooms and help coach students in writing.  One of the most intriguing volunteer opportunities to me is the Virtual Mentoring for High School students.  Adult volunteers can mentor students through email, instant messaging, or phone conferences.  How nice would it be for students to be able to IM a mentor during their computer lab time at school?  Or what if a student doesn't have transportation to meet a mentor in person?  They can conference over the phone.  Teens can volunteer at Open Books events.

So, my point here is that if volunteerism is fostered at an early age, the same teens who helped others as young adults, will continue to do so as adults.  The kids who helped pull weeds from a community garden could be the same adult who helps a 5th grader write a poem.  And in addition, maybe that 5th grader will become a volunteer when he's an adult.  It's a circle that we must keep going.  


Effectively Using Multimedia Tools

Students at the Village Academy High School in Pomona, California harnessed technology to get their message out to the country. The students, and teacher, made sure that their voices were heard by using a multimedia presentation effectively, incorporating it into their school curriculum. And President Obama responded, directly addressing the students during a speech and visiting with the class when he was in California in March.

The students’ video is entitled “Is Anybody Listening?” and is posted on YouTube. It all started in Michael Steinman’s English class, where they were reading The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and discussing the American dream. Steinman asked the students about the American dream, expecting to hear about material possessions. Instead, he heard his students talk about the economic difficulties their families were facing, about how they felt that the American dream was slipping away from them. He asked them to write essays, anonymously. Steinman read about the students not having basic necessities, enough to eat or a stable place to live. He decided to ask the students if they wanted their voices heard, if they wanted to get this message out, something that no one was talking about: the economic downturn’s impact on teenagers.

The students responded with a resounding yes. They sit in front of a blue backdrop, directly facing the video camera, talking about their life experiences and the hardships that they and their parents are facing. The video is compelling and emotional. The simple fact of hearing, in their own voices, and seeing, with no stylist’s intervention, teenagers speak so frankly about the increasing economic difficulties makes it all the more stirring.

Teenagers can look at the video and realize that this is not happening to someone else, it is happening to people who look like themselves. Adults can see this as a plea for help, for people to acknowledge that these events are happening, that the American dream is not a reality for many in our society, and that society must do something about it. Librarians can become inspired by this simple, but astonishingly effective use of technology in the classroom.

“Is Anybody Listening” is the perfect example of multimedia learning. It is not using a multimedia tool just because it is available, it is using a tool because it is the best medium for the message. Generally, we like to think that learning (and listening) is all about the message and not the medium. But, would this message have been as effective if the students had simply written letters to leaders? Would anyone have paid attention? I don’t think so.

I think that the medium does matter. It matters, not in the sense of trying out the next big thing, not in the sense of being flashy, but in the sense that we are constantly bombarded with information. Though often unfortunate, it does take novelty to grab the attention of most people. It takes novelty to engage teens in learning. One great, and increasingly easy, way to exploit this requirement is to utilize multimedia tools. Teenagers instinctively understand this fact. Librarians and other educators must take a good look at Steinman’s lesson and learn how to match the message to the appropriate medium.


I was thrilled to hear about President Obama signing the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (a bill that had bipartisan support) to increase funding for national service programs like AmeriCorps, Peace Corps or VISTA. This follows in the footsteps of what Obama managed to do with his campaign, galvanize scores of young adults to believe that change is possible. What better way to manifest change than by getting your hands dirty (sometimes literally) and working for it with your total energy?

A large number of teens and young adults are idealistic, wanting to make a difference, but not knowing how. Don’t forget that we, youth services librarians, want to encourage our teens to become fully invested in their community, even after they outgrow the need for our services. Plus, we want them to continue to use the public library as adults. How better can we get them to understand the vital role the library plays then to get them directly involved in community service? We can help to engage them, by encouraging them to consider service as a legitimate option through displays, like alternatives to college/gap year possibilities, or outreach programs, like having AmeriCorps or other volunteers speak to teen groups about volunteering.

Teens and young adults want to serve. In March 2009, AmeriCorps received 17,038 applications, nearly triple the number received in March 2008! As a former AmeriCorps volunteer myself, I recommend the program to virtually all the young adults that I know. It was a fantastic opportunity for me, one that I enjoyed immensely. It gave me a little breathing room after college, money toward paying down student loan debt and I got to serve the community. AmeriCorps is a great fit for those, like me, who want to become involved in the community in an in-depth, meaningful way but must also pay bills, particularly student loans. (Service usually entitles you to defer paying student loans.)

I worked for about a year for Habitat for Humanity, in rural Georgia, building houses for, and alongside of, families in need of decent housing. I have countless fond memories of working with other volunteers and of being inspired by the families that we were impacting. I have one friend who maintained trails on Mount Rainer. One preformed outreach to homeless addicts. Another worked with students in schools. There are countless opportunities that can fit just about every personality.

As librarians we can help teens to channel their desire to see change into constructive and worthwhile opportunities for themselves and the community. It is a way to work in your own community or travel to a new community. Traveling to a new site can broaden your very definition of what a community is and means, taking your understanding of community from a local to a national construct.

And what about the younger teens, who are not eligible for this type of service? How can we engage them? A few of my ideas include: create a teen volunteer program at the library. Ask teens to help with programs for younger children. Ask teens to help with Summer Reading Programs. Or ask teens to come up with ideas for community outreach that they could perform at the public library.

Any other ideas on how we can encourage teen and young adults to become involved in their community? How about the younger teens?