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?

02 May 2009

Media Outcry

Ok, I’m going to say it. Sexting. Well before the great swine flu pandemic of 2009, there were media alarmists ringing the bell about teens and sexting. For those who are not in the know, sexting is sending or receiving nude or scantily clad photographs (generally of girls) of yourself or another teenager. Last month it seemed to be on several major, national news outlets, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and National Public Radio at about the same time. Then I saw it on the cover of Reader’s Digest while I was in line at the grocery story. I decided that I had to get a better understanding of this outcry.

Teens have always been experimenting with sex and flirtation. Why is sexting a big deal? For two primary reasons: the fact that pictures in the digital age can be permanent, and the fact that sending explicit photographs, even of yourself if you are underage, constitutes trafficking in child pornography. And teens are being prosecuted. Most of the news reports that I read included cases in four states. In Pennsylvania, 17 teens were offered classes in exchange for dropping charges. (In this particular case, it appears that the prosecutor is widening the scope of what is considered indecent, including photos taken of a girl in a swimsuit, as well as those who appeared in the photographs but never sent them. A group of parents are suing him in federal court with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union.) In New Jersey, a 14 year old girl was arrested and charged with distribution of child pornography for posting nude pictures of herself on MySpace. Charges were also made in Ohio, Vermont and Florida.

These teens do face very serious consequences and vey real dangers. Being branded a sex offender for life, having risqué pictures plastered across the internet for virtually anyone to see, including future employers, are all damaging to reputation and potential. To rectify the situation, Vermont and Nebraska are two states with bills to decriminalize sexting by excepting teens from child pornography charges in cases where they knowingly and voluntarily send photographs of themselves to other minors. These bills are good legal steps, but do we need to get teens to truly understand the consequences of their actions, beyond the legal ramifications? And, are the handful of cases that have garnered media attention representative of what is happening in the rest of the nation?

I wondered why the sudden outcry by the press that I mentioned above. Is there a new development or story to tell about sexting? Is the discussion being generated by anything in particular? Turns out, most of the articles and transcripts were based on the same story; a survey conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and Cosmogirl.com. Which got me thinking, what did this survey actually reveal? Anything?

The survey results, as quoted by various media outlets (Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, National Public Radio, and Reader’s Digest) all use the same statistic: 1 in 5 teens are involved in sexting. But what about this survey? It’s fun to use statistics to support or refute arguments, but does anyone bother looking at the background? Thankfully, Carl Bialik did in the April 18, 2009 edition of the Wall Street Journal. Entitled “Which is Epidemic – Sexting or Worrying About It?” Bialik investigates the poll itself. Interestingly he finds that the group conducting the online poll, Teenage Research Unlimited, used a sample of “653 teenagers and 627 young adults who had enrolled in an online panel maintained by a market-research firm…existing panel members…are rewarded for answering surveys and for finding new panelists [emphasis added].” The division of age groups skews the results, as 18 and 19 year olds were included in the teenage group and this age had twice the reported rate of sexting as did the 13 to 16 year olds (22% vs. 11%). Just how objective or representative is this research?

Bialik interviews several researchers and one, Terry Humphreys, assistant professor of psychology at Trent University in Ontario, notes that it’s not surprising that teens are sending such photos, after all ‘[m]ost of the mainstream media uses semi-nude models to sell us things… I would want to see the results separated for semi-nude and nude before I get too anxious about what our teens and young adults are doing with their cellphones.’ Do we hear this type of balanced coverage or more commonsense approach from other sources? Not that I could find. Bialik’s article provides a valuable reminder that we must not automatically think the worst of teens.

Is this all overblown media hype driven by skewed statistics and unreliable data? If not, what are our responsibilities as librarians? Do we have any? Is there a way to effectively address this topic? Should we be explicit in our approach, gear workshops toward educating teens/parents? Should we wrap it in more general privacy related topics? Is it any of our business unless it somehow involves the library? Do we provide the information through books, pamphlets, links on the library website, and hope that teens find their way to it? Altogether, another thorny issue to ponder as we prepare to work with young adults.

Updated 5/3 - take a look at this New York Times article on using texting as sex ed.

Read-Write or Read-Only?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Lessig video we watched, about his concepts in general. For the three years I’ve been at GSLIS, I’ve heard and read more about copyright than I ever wished to know. But finally, I felt like I could relate. Like someone finally understood why copyright makes me cringe and why I think information should be free. Lessig gets it – he sees (and saw it before me, no doubt) that our culture has been shifting between read-only and read-write, struggling on both ends between different populations. There is this view that information is sacred, that one’s thoughts once manifested become one’s own property and cannot, should not, be altered. This view is outdated. It’s self-seeking and contrary to our current culture, one where information is freely shared, borrowed, and “stolen”—though it can only be stolen if someone has real, or rather imaginary, claims to it. Read-write culture, on the other hand, encourages information consumers to be producers as well. Take what you saw/read/heard and put your own spin on it, remix it. And teens, in particular, have been doing this in many ways that I can’t begin to describe. But I do want to talk about the relationship that teens have with books/authors and media.

There are some young adult authors and their books that inevitably gain enormous popularity with their readers. They understand that teens don’t just read their books, end of story. Teens long to participate; they want to become a part of the story, or re-create the story, or add to the story. They have something to say too. Some young adult authors have embraced this aspect of their readers’ personalities while others have tried to squash it. Herein lays a concrete example of the battle between read-write and read-only culture, what authors encourage and what authors forbid to be done with their intellectual property.

Some time ago, I came across Anne McCaffrey’s (creator of Pern and the dozens of books set in that world) website and was appalled to find that she forbade her fans to write fan fiction. It’s her world and she wanted to keep it that way. While I am sympathetic to the fact that this is her life’s work, her ideas, and her dedication that she did not want others trifling with, I am confused as to why she published her books in the first place. If she did not think or hope that others would engage with her stories in vastly different ways, including the desire to write fan fiction about them, then what was her purpose? She just wanted others to like her stories? I feel like some authors don’t quite understand what’s at stake when they publish their ideas – they’re not their own anymore, as many copyrights stand in the way. Once those thoughts are unleashed to the public in a concrete form, a fierce little copyright symbol is not going to stop people (and should not!) from actively participating with the material. I share this story because I recently revisited McCaffrey’s website to find that instead of explicitly forbidding her fans to write fan fiction, she has decreed a set of “rules” concerning fan fiction, most of which are reasonable but all of which are still an attempt to keep her readers from making the jump from consumers to producers. She still feels like she should be able to control the creative outbursts from fans concerning her body of work. And I still think she is alienating fans and denying them the chance to honor her work by engaging with it personally on their own terms.

And then there are authors like Cassandra Clare (author of The Mortal Instruments trilogy) who seem to understand their fans better and don’t try to limit their creative expressions. In fact, before City of Glass (the final book in the trilogy) was released, Clare held a contest on her blog, giving away four Advanced Reading Copies of the book to winners of the four categories of the contest – She writes:
“each category requires you to do a fun or creative thing that’s somehow related to the Mortal Instruments books.”
The categories were: Art, Video, Fanworks, and Book Location. More on the contest rules here. How’s that for supporting readers’ creative aspirations? Clare knows that teens can’t help but to create, and she appreciates the fact that readers enjoy her books so much that they would invest the time, energy, and creativity it takes to put together a fanvid or write and illustrate an original poem inspired by the books. And the entries she received were truly fantastic. You can look through them here. (My personal favorite is below.)

I know that examples of this author-reader interaction abound, but I chose these two mostly because they were fresh in my mind and really seemed to capture the read-write, read-only contrast. It’s no surprise that I’m an advocate for read-write culture, and I wish more people were. Moreover, I wish that people could understand that this point of view does not necessitate the loss of intellectual property rights. Your copyrighted work is your own and will be for as long as that copyright lasts – but to limit the interpretation of your work by fans seems backwards to me. It’s done in the academic world all of the time! We just have the courtesy to cite people when we use and interpret their ideas. Also, it’s a way of building community and allowing fans to express their appreciation. Living in such a connected world, it’s now commonplace to look up your favorite author and find that they have a blog/MySpace/Facebook account that you can friend or follow. I love that some authors truly want to stay connected to their fans and are grateful for their fandom.

Before I get too far off track, I did want to end with some questions for us to consider as youth or teacher-librarians. I find myself stuck in between the worlds of copyright and Creative Commons – wanting information to be free and realizing that there are restrictions placed on nearly everything. How can we encourage youth to be critical consumers of information AND creative producers without laying down the strict copyright laws? It seems that if you are engaging in the activities as seen in Clare’s contest, you are breaking tons of copyright laws. Where did those images come from? Where did you get those sound bites? Frankly, I don’t want to be the one that says, “No, you can’t do that.” Because I don’t agree with the policies in the first place. So, how did I set my personal views aside and teach students to be legally responsible? Or do I?

I think the video below is genius … but is it legal (ethical?) to use Motel 6? Or Tinkerbell? Count Chocula? I don’t see anything wrong with it, but I suspect others would disagree…

The Lightwood Llama Song is a response to the Llama Song, below:

01 May 2009

Because Finding a Prom Date in One Life Isn't Enough Trouble...

Ah, spring. The lilacs bloom, the cars get washed, the baseballs get batted. And, if you believe Lord Tennyson—and who doesn’t?—it is in the spring that a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love. If that be so, to belabor a cliché, spring is when a young woman’s fancy turns to thoughts of prom.

One thing I’ve been growing increasingly interested in this semester is the way real-world cultural hierarchies replicate themselves online. We once had this idyllic notion that online, everyone’s beautiful. Virtual reality would allow us all to shed twenty pounds and five years. We could “fix” ungainly noses and weak chins; we could wear hair colors and styles that would never work in our real lives; we could be everything we want to be, but aren’t. We could bend gender and race and ability. And in doing so, we would gain greater empathy for others, or we would eliminate the privilege that some people are born to. Ah, the Internet, my old utopian home.

I wonder if that’s true in practice. Do people create avatars that look very different from themselves, or do they create realistic representations? Do the same looks that draw approval in real life gain favor in online circles as well? In being masters of our own creation, we have the eugenic potential to eliminate anything unpleasant, or simply unpreferred, about our physical appearances. (And, with limited options, we may be forced to omit some physical problems from our online selves. There are no wheelchairs in Wii world.) But more importantly, do we really interact and get along any differently online than in real life? Do virtual librarians have to attend to virtual homeless people? Is there a cool kids’ table at high schools in SecondLife?

Probably. And sitting there, no doubt, are the SecondLife prom king and queen.

Yes, friends, if attending prom once (or twice, or five times) wasn’t enough for you, you are welcome to relive the experience online. You, too, could be the belle of the ball—or several balls, really. You certainly have prom night options.

Second Life, for one, really is having a prom. Themed “An Experience Under the Sea,” the event, held at the creatively-named “Rocker Night Club” is open to all. At least, I think. I’m not really familiar with SL. (I’m having enough trouble with one life.) According to the invite, though, “Some of the best DJs in all SL will be streaming live from 3 until 2am!! Come see if you and your date are named King and Queen. This is a Relay for Life event and all tips will be given to The American Cancer Society. See you there!!” And if that’s not enough fun (I mean, FUN!!) for you, you can attend numerous pre- and post-parties, enter contests, and, of course, shop for all the attendant clothing, transportation, and various accoutrements.
[Ed.: It turns out that this prom was last week, but don't worry--that's not the only prom in SL. You can try Club Sky if that's more your thing.] I have to think that, just like real prom, it’s the buildup that’s exciting here. Planning, and figuring out who’s taking who, and what you’re going to wear. And then, once you get there, I imagine everyone ends up talking to the people they already know—but, like, two-dimensionally.

But if it’s the shopping you’re after, instead of the socializing, the virtual world has plenty of prom options. Gaia has an online prom that’s primarily just shopping for a dress, hairstyle, accessories, and peer approval. (At least it lets you show your new ball gown to other people. A large number of “dress up” sites let you create the perfect outfit, but have no interconnected social capacity; you can’t actually “attend” a prom. Literally all dressed up with no place to go.)
CosmoGirl, Zwinky, There.com-all host online proms. And, of course, online prom shopping.

Speaking of shopping,
Men’s Warehouse launched a site five weeks ago, aimed at young men, that allows them to set up their own virtual prom. In so doing they can also scout out tuxedo options; they get a discount if they then rent a tux in real life—and more if they get other people to join the online-prom/real-life-tuxedo-buying party. Nothing says “friends forever” like a sweet hookup on cummerbunds, bro. It’s been a massive success. Among the most popular features, apparently, is a “bust a move” option whereby you can force your two-dimensional tuxedoed posse to breakdance, cabbage patch, and (oh, no, NO!) YMCA.

According to BrandWeek, “Matt Schow, director of online marketing at Men’s Wearhouse, Houston, said the site has resulted in a 689 percent week-over week improvement compared to 2008 for registered prom rep sign ups.” Dang. I’m not sure what that means, exactly, but it sounds impressive. Girls are allowed to “attend,” but it’s primarily targeted at 15- to 18-year-old boys. Besides, with tuxedoes and cheesy eighties dance moves, who needs girls?

Well, not the men at the Rainbow Prom, I suppose. A truly super idea, the GLBT prom is hosted by the site City of Heroes—an online MMORPG where all the players are superheroes. Game sponsor NCsoft donated its ski lodge venue for the event. Nearly 200 attendees showed for the first Rainbow Prom in 2007. According to GameLife, “Attendees apparently partied so hard that the festivities forced "Heroes" owner NCsoft to reboot the virtual world several times.” (That is awesome. I picture the programmers in some fluorescent-lit office in Silicon Valley, while the party raging on the floor above bounces the acoustic tile around until the whole thing just overloads. Reboot!) I think this is definitely one example where virtual society was able to transcend the conventions of traditional, real-life society. Many of the Rainbow Prom attendees would not have been allowed to attend prom in their own high school days, or at least not with the date of their choice. The online space allows like-minded users to meet up for all the thrills (and subsequent disappointments) they might have missed. It’s worth noting that gay rights have made great strides in a number of virtual worlds; gay marriage is legal in “The Sims,” “Fable,” and “Fallout 2,” there’s a gay pirate on the make in “The Temple of Elemental Evil.” When “World of Warcraft” tried to shut down an LGBT players’ group in 2006, protests forced them to back down and issue an apology.

I have no idea whether these virtual worlds really bring people together in new ways; I suspect that, much as like finds like on the internet in general, these “proms” are attended by people with similar interests in the first place. Sci-fi fans still hang with sci-fi fans; there are just fewer non-sci fi fans around to hassle them. Maybe we should have a virtual GSLIS prom. You are cordially invited to grab your tiaras and bowties and meet me at the Moodle Night Club! We’ll crown the Head Librarian at midnight!! The hottest DJs in information science will spin remixes of chat archives, Ted talks and Mortenssen lectures!!

On second thought, maybe I’ll leave the party planning to Men’s Warehouse.

Using Tie-Ins to lure kids into reading – REALLY?

I was really intrigued by the NYT article “Using Video Games as Bait to Hook Readers”, because it’s an article that approaches a subject, that, as a ‘budding librarian’ (as one of my former undergrad professors now refers to me) I have always wondered about – the tie-in.

I was discussing my own children’s’ reading habits with that same professor, who has a 21-year-old son. I’m so proud of how my daughters love to read – they love not only being read to, but reading to me. (My younger daughter, who is 3, plays at it – but still…I figure its good practice.) I was insistent that these good reading practices will make them into readers as young adults and adults. They’re smart. They like to read. It seems as simple as 2 + 2 to me.

My professor informed me that his son, as a child, was the same way, but somewhere around the age of about 10-12, he just stopped reading. He had loved reading …and then he just stopped. My sister recently bemoaned a similar situation to me – my nephew, who is 10, and for whom I have bought books his entire life – who used to not be able to go to bed at night without a stack of books beside him – has inexplicably stopped reading. As soon as I started reading the NYT article, I was asking myself all kinds of questions.

The NYT article cites tie-ins as both a marketing boon for gaming systems, and a way to get teens into, or back into, reading. Large children’s publishing houses like Scholastic are producing series of ready-made book/game tie-in series. Many of the popular games on Gaming Systems, such as HALO, or online games like World of Warcraft have tie-in novels that extend the story and draw the reader further into the fictitious world of the game. According to the article, when “Brisingr”, the third book in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series came out, Random House commission an online game to go with it.

A science fiction “tie-in” author, PJ Haarsma, a former advertising consultant, is quoted in the article as saying that pairing a video game with a novel for young readers “brings the book into their world, as opposed to going the other way around.”

Herein lies somewhat of a problem for me. So much of what is offered to young people today, starting at a very early age, is pre-packaged. One of the great things about reading, or at least I think so, is being pulled into the world of the book. And, really, how much of the whole tie-in phenomenon is about the reader, and how much is about generating a revenue stream?

That being said, I keep thinking about my daughters and what they like to read. So far, there have been no appeals for the Hannah Montana tie-in books, the High School Musical tie-in books…but my daughter is only 6 (almost 7). When she asks for them, I will probably let her read them, because I want her to continue to hone her reading skills. So, can tie-ins be effectively used to continue to encourage kids and teens to continue to read during those years when it may not be as interesting to them? Probably. But only through their creative use and promotion by librarians, educators, and parents, I think.

I’ve always been intrigued by tie-ins, mostly because they just seem kind of dumb to me. (Of course, I do realize the value of them to other people, and would never judge someone for reading them – they just don’t happen to be my ‘thing’.) I got curious about the whole phenomenon. I found a couple of websites for writers that deal with media tie-ins, not specifically gaming, but also movies and TV shows. The first was the website of the international Association of Media Tie-In Writers (http://www.iamtw.org/) and the second was their blog, located at http://iamtw.blogspot.com/. I was a little amazed that there’s a writing group for tie-in writers, that they have their own blog, etc.

After reading this article, though, and doing that small amount of research, I still have these questions about gaming tie-ins – or any tie-ins for that matter.

1) Thriving in a visually oriented world may indeed be necessary at this stage in the technological development of society…but what are the ramifications of that? What is lost? By making everything so readily available, so pre-packaged – what is lost in the process?

2) What do tie-ins provide the reader that is any different than, say, a break-out sci-fi novel or series? And why do some people like tie-ins, while others do not?

3) With reading, and drawing the book into the kids’ world as opposed to drawing the kid into the world of the book – how are we depriving kids of the opportunity to use their own imaginations to visit other worlds? Or, ARE we depriving them of that?

Just a few thoughts.

So, I guess my ultimate question is this – are the companies that produce the games, manufacture them and sell them really interested in promoting literacy to the youth who play their games? Or are tie-ins a marketing tool masterfully adapted from the movie/tv genre to the gaming genre? I would vote for the latter, but also would like to hear others’ opinions.

30 April 2009

It's a Big Scary World...

Earlier this month, Jennifer posted about Sexting in Taylorville. At the time, I was unfamiliar with what exactly sexting was (and I wasn't quite sure if Carol was saying sexting or texting during class discussion), but it seems to be cropping up everywhere in the news now. Parents, educators, and others are concerned over the safety of teenagers who are taking provocative photos of themselves on camera phones and MMSing them to others. Ewwww...

This is an interesting take on the typical 'everyone in cyberspace is preying on kids' stance that gained popularity around the same time that IMing was the new best thing. Now, it seems, people are willing to accept that although there are those who prey on kids and young adults via cyberspace, there are also greater issues involving their safety. It appears that these youth may be putting themselves in danger, intentionally or not. While I am not trying to say it is the victims fault when something bad happens, in this instance I have to wonder what would possess a young person to think that this kind of behavior is acceptable in any way.

When the Internet, chatting, and the like were all new, parents and educators were at first uncertain of what risks there were and how to proceed to protect young people. Quickly, however, we learned, and we modified our strategies for allowing Internet access and for discussing the issues with our kids. 'Don't give out personal information', 'Never meet in person anyone you meet online', 'Tell an adult if something strange is going on'- those statements became a sort of mantra, and gave parents/educators a sense of security. With the additional bonus of Internet filtering, it seemed as though that media was safe for young people again (or at the very least, safer).

While the Internet became 'safer', other media did not keep up the pace. Ultimately, though, I don't think that the issue of sexting is media based- I think it is an issue of self-esteem and self-respect. I don't think that there has ever been a time or a place where taking nude photos of yourself at 13 and sharing them with others was considered acceptable, regardless of the platform used. Call me old-school, a prude, stodgy, or whatever, but I can't believe that this is an issue of media at all. It is much more fundamental than that. The lesson at the heart of this issue is one that we should have been teaching young people for the past 100 years- even before cellphones and digital cameras. You should respect yourself.

But, where do we go from here? How do we halt this sudden attack, and stop it from reaching epic proportions? How can we prevent more young adults from making this mistake, and how do we help those who already have?

First, we could stop sensationalizing it in the news. Like so many other issues in the past few years, media attention may not be a good thing. As more young people learn about it, it may gain in popularity. Instead, I think a stealth attack is a better approach. Parents and schools need to have a plan that involves both discussion and repercussion. A good old-fashioned dialogue about the risks associated with releasing images of yourself out into the wild blue yonder would be beneficial. We've already harped on this particular issue with MySpace and Facebook- what you put out there stays out there, indefinitely, for anyone to see. If you wouldn't want Grandma to see it, don't post it (or get photographed doing it!)

We could even go more extreme- perhaps we can start filtering the texts young people send and receive, or restrict phone usage altogether. We could also attempt to stop buying phones with built-in cameras, although that is becoming increasingly difficult. Maybe older people should start doing it. That always seems to stop the young 'uns in their tracks--Like when so many adults started using Facebook, its popularity among young people dropped- or at least it did in my family. Why not a similar approach to this issue? (tongue in cheek)

No matter the approach, I think that the bottom line is that if we address sexting like we did the other issues associated with the Internet, and if we address the self-esteem needs of young people, we might be able to protect more young people from making this bad decision. Open dialogue should always exist. And, for those teens who have made a bad choice, it is equally important to be available to help them deal with the aftermath, and to attempt to fix the problem. After all, everybody makes mistakes, and that is an equally important lesson to learn.

27 April 2009

(e-)books of the future

In the not-so-distant future, there will be a generation that grows up with e-books as the rule rather than the exception. No one can predict the future (weren’t we all suppose to have jetpacks by now? Or at least flying cars?), but that doesn’t mean we can’t try. What will that world look like?

In his article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write” author Steven Johnson speculates, “there is great promise and opportunity in the digital-books revolution. The question is: Will we recognize the book itself when that revolution has run its course?” He goes on to compare the possibilities of the e-book to the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press. Pre-Gutenberg, the Bible was handwritten in Latin, keeping the knowledge, and therefore the power, in the hands of the church. Gutenberg’s Bible, due to the mass production (yes, mass production means just over 180 copies...it's all relative) was cheaper and was also printed in the common language, making it much more accessible to the everyday person. Johnson writes, “think about what happened because of the printing press: The ability to duplicate, and make permanent, ideas that were contained in books created a surge in innovation that the world had never seen before.” With e-books there is not only the ability not only to search, but also to link. New ideas could be just a few clicks away, increasing the dissemination of knowledge. Johnson admits this can be trouble given the ease of having another option just a click away, playing to “the finite of 21st-century resources: attention.” He writes, “As a result, I fear that one of the great joys of book reading -- the total immersion in another world, or in the world of the author's ideas -- will be compromised. We all may read books the way we increasingly read magazines and newspapers: a little bit here, a little bit there.”

I think it all comes down to how you define a book, and more importantly, how you define an e-book. Are they the same thing, but in different formats? How much of a difference does format make if the content is the same? Is the content truly the same if it’s in a different format? Remember the episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” about Frank’s love of his jazz records? Ray’s gift of the same albums on CD just wasn’t the same. The format made a huge difference in this case. What do you think? Would "The works of Dickens" (only $4.79) be the same read on Kindle as opposed to flipping through the pages of a heavy hardbound book? What about a tattered and dog-eared mass market paperback copy of “Great Expectations” with notes in the margins? How would a classic compare to a newer title, like “Just Take My Heart” by Mary Higgins Clark, currently at the top of the New York Times Best Seller list?

Plus, It’s not like books these days are hand-scribed illuminated manuscripts painstakingly crafted by monks. Books are mass-produced, even in small runs. (Check out how things were done in 1947.) Yes, some thought goes into the layout of the book; the fonts, the pagination, the cover art, all are designed. But most of that design can translate to an e-book format. Fiction seems to come in three standard sizes depending on binding, hardback, trade paperback, and mass market paperback, so translating the design to an e-book reader with a similar rectangular proportion would not be an issue. However, look around a bookstore or a library and you’ll see all sorts of sizes of books. How would size, big or small, translate to an e-book format? As of right now, Kindle is limited “16 shades of gray” so children’s picture books are out, along with any other book where color is not optional (think art, photography, interior decorating…). And no e-book will ever be able to duplicate the tactile features of board books (think fuzzy, soft, built-in finger puppets…) for babies and toddlers. Plus, they’d be too expensive to be drooled and gummed on. What about textbooks? With Kindle, you can search and mark passages, and it’s so much lighter. Think of all the space you could save in your backpack! Cookbooks could be interesting. Are you neat enough to use a Kindle cookbook to prepare a meal?

It doesn’t seem like e-books in their current state are particularly child-friendly, but I can see the appeal to teen readers. (Tangent: there seems to be some argument if teens are actually reading, despite video games, TV, movies, the Internet and all the other options out there. And as pointed out by Liz Gunnison's WIRED review "...The Kindle is not going to make a reader out of a nonreader.") Today’s teens have grown up tech savvy, with computers, iPods, cell phones and other technology seen as a necessity instead of a luxury. (Don’t believe me? Go to wherever teens hang out and count how many do not have a cell phone. It will be much easier than counting those who do.) With their comfort level, teens are in the perfect place to be early adopters of technology such as an e-book reader, if only it wasn’t so expensive to be an early adopter. At $359, Amazon’s Kindle is a bit pricey, but it is on PC Magazine’s Top Techy Gifts for Teens…perhaps the perfect present for the grad that already has a car, laptop, Wii, iPhone or all of the above. Besides, after the one-time investment in the reader, the books are a cheaper than the print edition, and leave you more room on your shelves for your trophies and participation certificates.

As for the future, I hope books in their current physical format stick around, though I am intrigued by the e-book idea. But I’m still waiting for my jetpack.

26 April 2009

Why Jenny Can't Game*

* I know. She totally can.

I’m fascinated by this article about the sociology of kids’ video gaming. It challenges long-held notions—okay, like mine—that we play video games because we’re just looking for entertainment, or because playing soccer seems so energetic. In fact, it offers a number of really thoughtful, if unsurprising, reasons kids play games—like succeeding at games and progressing through levels makes them feel competent and masterful, or because if grown-ups hate gaming then it must be cool. But I hadn’t really thought about the communal, socializing aspects of video games for kids. The stereotype tends to pose of game players as wilted pale hunchbacks, alone, if not lonely. This research indicates quite the opposite is true; kids who play games play together, while those who don’t are left out in the cold. It’s like not having a TV; NOT playing games has become abnormal. If you don’t know Mario Kart, you’re going to be left out on the playground.

I recently blogged about an article that indicated that boys and girls use blogs the same way. This story got me wondering: Is that true for video games, too? I remember back when Mattel made Matchbox computers with math and science video games preinstalled, and Barbie computers with fashion studio and typing tutors loaded. Now that we’ve had some years to study it, are we finding strong gender differences in gaming pre-adulthood?

Well, left in my hands, we may never know. I needed to beef up this little blog post, so I thought I’d check out boys and girls and games. Taking the easy route, I started with a quick Google search. I didn’t get very far. I searched for “video games,” and at the last minute tacked on “girls”. At the top of the results page:


(In case uploading the screen shot didn't work for you, there's a row of image results: 1 buxom avatar in a uniform apparently constructed of a ribbon and FCC nightmares, and three women dressed in even less, before the search results for gamegirl blog and kidconnect.com.)

To clarify: This is not a Google images search. Just a regular web search. And it’s with “moderate safe search” on. (I’ll warn you now that searching Google Images gets even more racy.)

Now, I was just being a lazy researcher; I could just as easily have gone to the Online Research Resources start page and pulled up EBSCO and gone on my merry scholastic way. But what if I were, say, a 9-year-old girl looking for new games to play? Or a 13-year-old girl looking for other girl gamers online? I might be curious, I might be unfazed, but really I think I would have been put off by the aggressive breastiness of the results, and ashamed of searching for something that brought censored results.

Interestingly, if you reverse the order—girls video games—you get no images in the results. You do, however, get “Top 25 Sexiest Video Game Girls of All Time,” “Game Hotties—Pictures and bios of the hottest virtual girls in video gaming,” and “Playboy’s Annual Girls of Video Games” in your top results. (Eww. Not linking those.)

I didn’t start this post to get into gender politics and I’m not going to get all up on the misogyny of gaming culture merry-go-round here, but this brings up some questions for me:

a. Hmmm. If women and girls are not fully represented in the gaming community, could there be a reason? Or, say, a pair of reasons?
b. Why on earth don’t game manufacturers want my money?
c. If, as Kutner and Olsen suggest, not playing games means you’re left out of the club, why would gamers make the culture so antagonistic to women and . . . oh. Right.
d. Didn’t the “no girls allowed” sign go out with Calvin and Hobbes?

(Oh, look. I DID get all up on the misogyny of gaming culture merry-go-round. Oops. Whee!)

Seriously, though, this does make me wonder how girls are expected to make the conceptual jump from Princess Peach and Burger Time to Lara Croft and Grand Theft Auto. And it makes me wonder about Google’s inner workings—why does the one search bring up images, but not the other? What exactly is “moderate safe search”? The ad stream is tailored to my search history—what about the results?

I’ve been sitting on this for several weeks to collect my thoughts, but it still just makes me really crabby. I don’t think censoring games is any better than censoring books or art. But I’m also not okay with the sexism and violence I see in the so-called “mature” games, and I don’t see how we can thoughtfully foster video gaming among children without looking at what happens once they outgrow all-ages games. We need to find better options than cute, girlish cartoon games and cartoonish girly-magazine game design—for our boys as much as our girls. There’s a place for Halo and for Barbie Fashion Studio, but it seems like there’s a lot of uncovered ground in between. I guess we’ll always have the Sims and Wii Sports. But even the “family” games fall short an awful lot. I mean, I love me some Guitar Hero, but no matter how many gigs I play I can’t seem to buy clothes that would actually cover my guitar heroine. I know it mimics the real music world, sadly, but what does it tell kids when we show them a woman can’t rock the guitar and also wear a full-length shirt once in a while?

This is not at all the post I intended to put up here. When I originally sat down to write this, nearly two months ago now, I was writing a nice, happy little piece about how great it is that video games are bringing kids together. But I don’t feel nice or happy if this is where they’re bringing them. And Google? Please. Don’t be evil.

(edited for image problems)

PDA--the old school kind

As I'm sitting here at the reference desk, I recognize another reason libraries may institute "one person per computer" policies. I do not want to see this much canoodling while I'm trying to work. Hands on the keyboard, kids! I'm going to have to go tell these students to save some space for the holy ghost. New policy: if you're school-age or above, save the lap time for later. Ick.

25 April 2009

The War on Teens (and My Turn on the Front Line)

Remember a few weeks ago—well, most weeks of class, really—we talked about patrons who look at teens and say, you shouldn’t be in here, you’re just hanging out/playing video games/Facebooking? Well, friends, Tuesday I became That Guy.

Everything went down around 2:50, right around the end of the first half of class, when I started losing the audio feed. Actually, it started weeks ago with the new Firefox update, which changed something essential to getting chat and audio at the same time. It either hates Real Player, or hates our class. But I thought I’d got it all worked out and everything was fine for the first 45 minutes of class. Then everything fell apart. Unable to figure out what was wrong, and suddenly lost in class, I quickly unplugged my laptop, grabbed up my coat and backpack, laptop, power cord, coffee mug, earphones—everything I’d hauled into work that morning—and scooted over to the public computers. Amid the fresh-out-of-school middles schoolers, I plugged in the earphones, pulled up the moodle, connected to the live chat, clicked on the audio and…nothing. Nobody was chatting. No Tilley Talk. Eventually I was prodded into Room D, where I had no idea what the devil was going on, or why I couldn’t hear anything. I couldn’t figure out why I was supposed to be in Room D. Eventually everyone started chatting again, but I still had no audio. But the teen next to me did. She had audio, and I could hear it through her headphones, and yet I couldn’t hear my class, and I was melting down and nearly to tears with frustration and impotence, and the girl started laughing softly to herself at something on her screen and I immediately wanted to throttle her. Instantly, I thought That’s not fair, you’re not even DOING anything.

And I was immediately appalled with myself, and I took a few deep breaths. And I got my comeuppance when I figured got the audio working and it blared painfully through the earphones. No wonder I could hear her audio; the system volume controls are locked behind administrator-only access. I could adjust the audio on the media player, but anything system related—from the Windows start up jingle to the “boing boing” sound when I clicked something wrong rang out at maximum volume, and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. I suddenly see the brilliance of Work Like a Patron Day.

Anyway. I can see how those moments of frustration and irritability pop up now and again; I got there pretty easily, and I not only believe in teens’ equality of access, but I’ve actually had reason and occasion to really think about that notion. People who haven’t had to think it through—well, I can see how they get to the “let’s just keep the kids out” place, sort of. But even I’m sort of shocked by the extent of Britons’ creativity and dedication to keeping teens out of sight. I’m sure you’ve all heard by now about the mosquito, a high-pitched noise generally inaudible to those over 25 but audible—and annoying—to less hearing-damaged youth. I first heard about shopkeepers using the devise to keep adolescents from congregating in front of stores. Now there’s a story about a town that is re-doing a set of public steps to keep teens from sitting on them. The modifications would make them completely non-ADA-compliant in the U.S., but who cares if stairs are unusable as, you know, stairs?

And, lastly, my personal “favorite”: Pink lights to highlight acne, making teens feel insecure and unattractive, to keep them from congregating. Lovely! I’m well past my teen years, but I’m still not enthusiastic about hanging out in lighting designed to make everyone look worse. On the other hand, I think we can all agree that this casts a more unflattering light on the council than on the kids.

(For all their efforts, though, I think we can count on kids to get the last word on these issues. Take the Mosquito: after the high-pitch device debuted, teens recorded the frequency and made an adult-proof ringtone out of it, enabling them to text in class without raising the notice of their (over-25) teachers. Oh, you kids. Shine on, you crazy diamonds!


While browsing at my local public library, I came across Parenting, Inc.: How We Are Sold on $800 Strollers, Fetal Education, Baby Sign Language, Sleeping Coaches, Toddler Couture, and Diaper Wipe Warmers – and What It Means for Our Children by Pamela Paul. Her main argument is that parents are manipulated into making expensive purchases for their children thinking that it will benefit them developmentally, when in reality, many of these products create more harm than good. Paul backs her statements with numerous studies and interviews with various researchers, yet her book remains a fascinating, enjoyable read.

Chapter 4, “Let Us Edutain You” is particularly appropriate for our class. Paul discusses such products as Your Baby Can Read! from the Infant Learning Company, Inc., whose website claims “[n]ew scientific evidence suggests that learning language is actually easier during infancy than at any other time.” This plan calls for infants watching videos for one hour each day beginning at 3 months and claims that the child will be reading at 6 months. (The company also airs infomercials on television with video and testimonials to prove the children are reading.)

Paul takes on the Baby Einstein set of videos, a combination of real-life images of objects, people and animals set to classical music, with foreign language, nursery rhymes and counting thrown in. Paul notes that the idea that classical music can improve cognition is taken from a 1993 study of college students that proved a correlation between listening to 20 minutes of Mozart and improved performance on a paper cutting and folding task. The problem is that this study has never been independently replicated with college students, much less with children. The idea that a video can teach a foreign language is simply false, according to an experiment by Paula Kuhl, a researcher at the University of Washington. Paul reports that “in order to learn a foreign language an actual foreign-language-speaking human must be present” (p. 122).

Paul notes that the problem with these products is that parents see them as education, not television. They are sold on these products with emotion, the fear that without such a “head start” their child will be developmentally delayed and behind their peers. In fact there is no study that can back the claims of these products. The studies cited on The Infant Learning Company, Inc.’s website are all related to studies with older children, not babies or toddlers. Instead, as Paul makes clear, these products “great selling point is time off” (p. 128) and parents must be more willing to acknowledge the fact that they are used as babysitters allowing parents some needed free time.

There are studies to prove that these products can be harmful or at the very least, have no impact whatsoever. Paul points to a 2005 Kaiser Family Foundation study that found that “baby media companies do essentially no research on their products” (p. 124) and further states that “it does not (italics original) follow that because children’s brains develop quickly during the first few years, there needs to be extra learning stuffed into those years. Nor should that learning come via a TV screen” (Paul p. 126). A number of articles in Pediatrics link early television viewing with increased obesity, sleep irregularity, aggression, attention problems, less creative play and bullying. Paul introduces the term video deficit to describe the fact that children viewing an activity on video took 6 times as long to learn a task as with a single live demonstration (p. 131). She summarizes her argument with “overstimulation is damaging to the developing mind…Rapidly changing colors, sounds, and motions force a baby’s brain to stay at attention” (p. 130).

Reading Paul with my librarian hat on, I kept thinking about the role of the public library in child development. I realized that this chapter could almost be taken as an implicit endorsement of the techniques of infant lapsits and toddler storytimes at the library. When librarians perform storytimes, they are interacting with the children and modeling some ways that the accompanying adult can interact with that child. Storytime is usually conducted at a slow pace with plenty of time for children to absorb the activity. Attention spans are allowed to wander, but a new activity will usually pull it back toward the librarian. The child learns to interact socially and with everyday objects. Librarians model skills and the child sets about acquiring that skill, as through finger plays. And so, I was disappointed that Paul does not mention the possible role of the library in encouraging healthy, positive development through interactions with actual humans.

I’m left with several questions that revolve around our responsibilities as librarians. Given what we know about the recommendations of The American Academy of Pediatrics against allowing children under 2 to watch television, and Paul’s arguments that I’ve summarized here, do we have an obligation to pass along this information to parents? Do we add multimedia (movies, software, etc.) that caters to very young children to our collection? What if parents repeatedly request such multimedia? Is it any of our business, even if it is in the best interest of children? If it is our obligation or duty, then how do we go about sharing these facts in a way that won’t be offensive to parents? Any thoughts?

Works Cited
Paul, Pamela. Parenting, Inc.: How We Are Sold on $800 Strollers, Fetal Education, Baby Sign Language, Sleeping Coaches, Toddler Couture, and Diaper Wipe Warmers – and What It Means for Our Children. New York: Time Books, 2008. Print.

Your Baby Can Read! 2007. The Infant Learning Company, Inc. 25 April 2009. http://infantlearning.com/

Pediatrics. 2009. The American Academy of Pediatrics. 25 April 2009. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/search?sendit=Search&pubdate_year=&volume=&firstpage=&author1=&author2=&title=&andorexacttitle=and&titleabstract=&andorexacttitleabs=and&fulltext=television+under+2&andorexactfulltext=and&fmonth=Jan&fyear=1995&tmonth=Apr&tyear=2009&fdatedef=1+January+1948&tdatedef=20+April+2009&flag=&RESULTFORMAT=1&hits=10&hitsbrief=25&sortspec=relevance&sortspecbrief=relevance