28 February 2009

Texting, teens and libraries

A few weeks ago, I sat in on a demonstration for a texting application that allows patrons to text questions from their phones to reference librarians. It seemed like an interesting application to me, and as I was listening to the presentation, I thought it would be a great application to encourage teens to use the reference area of the library (and reference librarians) more.

So, I'm sitting there listening to and watching the on-line presentation, and a colleague sitting next to me says, "This is interesting and everything - but who would really use this? Do people really text that much?"

I replied that I thought it would be most useful for, and most used by, teens. My supervisor agreed...his daughter (in her early twenties) texts more than she emails or IM's. Most of the shelvers at the branch I used to work at (all kids under 25 and all in college) are constantly texting...even the recently enacted no-Facebook-at-work-policy hasn't put a dent in their at-work texting (as indicated by the number of texts I still receive from one of them).

All of this is a preface to a blog entry I read from the YALSA blog - at ALA Midwinter, a teen services librarian asked for recommendations for online free texting services because teens who visit her library want to recieve notifications of programs, etc. via text.

Here's the link to the blog post. I find it interesting that YAs are texting so much, that they're demanding it from the library, and that technology seems to be following suit...or, rather, the providers of technology are following suit. Here is the product that our library is looking into: it is called, appropriately enough, Text-a-Librarian.

26 February 2009

Print Media Still Relevant!

Here's proof that high tech media isn't all that; good old print media can still cause trouble!


This concerns the young adult historical novel My Brother Sam is Dead, apparently "the 12th most frequently “challenged” book from 1990 to 2000", according to the article.

The parent complainant said that "her 9-year-old daughter told her, 'Mama, this book’s got cussing all in it'", so the kid had obviously already read the book. Damage done! The mom further stated that her complaint wasn't "about the book itself" and she thought "the story is fine". Her issue was "that books like that can get into my daughter's hands".

Well, what does that mean? That the book would be okay, as long as no one could read it? Or that it should be limited to certain age groups? Or carry a "parental advisory notice" on its cover? Who knows?

What amazes me about these kind of complaints is their meticulousness. The complainant in this case listed 19 objectionable terms from the book, which means she must have read it too!

Where I work, we recently had a book challenge about The Boy Who Drew Cats, a Japanese folk tale. Here's a link to a version on IPL: http://www.ipl.org/div/kidspace/storyhour/boycats/boycatcover.html

Our complainant thought the book (which was actually a kit with a CD included) was inappropriate for the children's section of the library, and in fact should be read by "no one" due to the violence in the story. But what the story is really about is an outcast child, viewed as useless by his family, who discovers that his one talent--drawing cats--is in fact a gift. It's a gift so great that it actually saves his life in the story. But our patron didn't see it that way, so we had a 3 person committee meeting to discuss her complaint and our response. We ended up doing nothing; the kit is still on the shelf, classified under folklore.

I just wish "book challengers" would read books for MEANING, rather than making a laundry list of swear words or picking out scary illustrations. The story exists as a totality, a complete and complex work of art, and should be analyzed as such, not dissected. Potentially objectionable elements need to be viewed in context. Why are they present? To advance the plot? To reveal a character? There's a reason the writer put them there.

Or am I asking too much? Probably!

25 February 2009

Society's Overreliance on Technology


I'm not sure who this guy is, but his thoughts about society and technology are very thought provoking, but told in a humorous way. He's being interviewed by Conan O'Brien on his thoughts about how people take technology for granted and feel entitled to it and how we are at a loss when something doesn't work.

(i.e. whenever I forget my cell phone at home, I get anxiety about needing to call someone or having an emergency until I am able to get back home. I totally take it for granted that 5 years ago I didn't have a cell phone and never had one with me in my car.)

Is Facebook rotting our brains?

There was an article in today's Chicago Tribune about how a British study is finding that social networking sites are creating brains similar to those of infants.  It discusses how social networking sites and informal communication affect attention spans and give people a weak sense of identity.  Obviously, as with any study, it is just one perspective, but I thought it was interesting to think about.


Also, today is Ash Wednesday...which means that the little bit of Catholic still in me is supposed to give up something for Lent.  As I was thinking about what it should be, I briefly thought about giving up Facebook.  Then I went into premature withdrawal symptoms and decided that was a little extreme.  So, I laughed when I saw this link at the beginning of the article!  My favorite was the one about poking people.

10 Tips for Giving Up Facebook for Lent

Fair Use and The Mouse Company

A Fair(y) Use Tale

This is a funny video on the topic of "fair use", composed entirely of clips from Disney films. It's of particular interest because Disney is one of the fiercest defenders (and prosecutors) of its intellectual property rights, as is described in this article:


With all the mash-ups and remixes out there, I expect we will see more arguments in the future about the difference between "fair use" and copyright infringement.

18 February 2009

Parental/Sensitive Listener Advisory Notice ---Multiple F-Bombs Ahead

Here's an interesting article written by Steve Johnson that ran in the Chicago Tribune last week.

The article is about a “supercut” created by film director Victor Solomon of all the many, many MANY curse words included in the Sopranos television series. You can view and hear the piece itself at http://www.vimeo.com/2998698 It does have a certain rhythmic, almost musical feel after awhile. My 14 year old son said it sounded like chickens clucking, and I cannot disagree with that.

I remembered this article when reading the Jourdain piece for class this past week. I was particularly struck (and amused) by Jourdain's assertion that musicians in past centuries had no qualms about "borrowing" libretti and/or changing music for their own needs and/or audience preference. In other words, "sampling" isn't new or original, nor is reworking another’s work to please oneself and then passing it off as new.

While this Sopranos—what? Remix? Mashup?—isn’t strictly sampling, it’s certainly a form of expression by one creator based on another creator’s original. It seems like the digital age is moving us into a whole new realm of “appropriation”. Visual artists have used “appropriated imagery” for ages—Duchamp’s urinal, Warhol’s soup cans, and many others—for various reasons. Was their intent to make art less precious, to make art a commodity (which it certainly is among collectors), to expose the art market as a factory, or to democratize art for the masses? Or were they, to quote the Sopranos (and ex- Illinois Governor Blagojevich), “just f***ing around”?

Frankly, I’m not sure. Does art made from other people’s work have validity? Or is it just copyright infringement? Does its status depend upon its quality or its market value? That is, if someone’s willing to buy it, does it automatically have value, like Damien Hirst's shark in formaldehyde? I’m interested in this issue because we “borrow” images and words in the library world all the time. We use Google images and snippets from online book reviews, spliced-up bibliographies, etc. We’re not selling it, and of course it’s by no means “art”, but we are labeling it with our library's name and putting it out there for public consumption. “There is nothing new under the sun”, according to the Christian Bible (Ecclesiastes 1:9), so why bother to create something new?

I’d like to know what other people think about this idea of remaking/remodeling media works, whether visual, musical, print, or otherwise. And also: how far did you make it through the “supercut” before your head exploded? (Me: about 15 minutes).

17 February 2009

Reading Online aka Screening?

New entry into the Urbandictionary.com:


To read text on a computer screen, cellphone screen, Kindle screen or PDA screen or BlackBerry screen; replaces the term "reading" which now only refers to reading print text on paper

"I hate reading print newspapers now. I do all my screening online."

-- http://www.urbandictionary.com

There now apparently is a term to for reading online. No longer is “reading” applicable when you are reading, I mean screening, content online or on Blackberry. I first saw this discussion on the ChildLit listserv discussing this today. Why do we need a new term is what first popped into my head? To me, it seems to be downgrading reading that is conducted online. Professionals across many disciplines are a part of the argument on whether reading online should count. To me this adds to the critics’ fire—let’s change reading to screening when applying to online content. Why are people thinking?

I would be interested in knowing what all you think about this—do we need a new term for reading online?

15 February 2009

A Second Look at Street Lit

Normally I don’t give Curts “Fitty Cent” Jackson too much credit. I mean, he DID survive being shot like eight times, and he grew up on the streets…

That’s actually what my post is about. Fitty Cent writes thug lit, or street lit, and people read it. And Fitty Cent has street cred, so I don’t question what he and his ghostwriter write. But if I wrote street lit? I’d be criticized, and I probably wouldn’t gain much respect from my readers.
In the same vein, is teen lit better, more effective, or better received when a teen writes it? Or does “Write What you Know” only extend so far in this case? Stephen King has never woken up paralyzed on an autopsy table. Jodi Picoult couldn’t possibly have as much tragedy in her life as her characters do. But their writing is still legitimate and well-received.

Picoult and King are writers of “adult” books, though. Taking a look at authors of teen books, I’m wondering if age or life experience contributes to the popularity or effectiveness of the book. Feed is written by M.T. Anderson, an adult. The teen slang used in his novel is so over-the-top I felt like I needed a glossary, and I’m not that far removed from my teen years. Ann M. Martin was once a babysitter, but she was not in any sort of club at the time the series was written. Tolkien was not a hobbit. Why do some adult authors “work” as teen authors, while some do not? I think one strategy is to write about something that is foreign to everyone, like the Lord of the Rings books. It’s hard for critics to say, “But that’s not the way middle earth really is,” because as the author, you get to make up the rules. It gets messy when you try to imitate rules you didn’t live by: Anderson’s slang, me writing street lit; it just doesn’t jive.

Teen readers are so sensitive to authenticity. I’m thankful for street lit. If it gets kids reading, teaches them about an environment unfamiliar to them, or reaffirms a way of life they already know, then it’s an effective piece of media, in my opinion.

Has anyone had any experience with writer’s groups and teens? Or book clubs and teens? I think teen writing is so interesting, because they very rarely try to write “above” themselves: a fourteen year old doesn’t normally write from the point of view of a middle aged person, for example. They haven’t lived it, they aren’t living it, it’s not in their immediate interest to do so, and so they don’t. often when they do, it’s inauthentic, much like an out-of-touch adult writer trying to write in a false modern teenaged vernacular. Maybe teens know something we don’t, in that respect.

I think showcasing examples of street lit is especially important in teen writing groups: it’s such a good example of how writing can still be “good” even without perfect grammar, or a sunny blonde protagonist, etc. it encourages freedom of writing, freedom of speech, and freedom of reading selection. I also love pairing street lit, literature heavy on the slang, or non-traditional forms of writing with “the classics”. I hated Sons and Lovers until I read it side-by-side with Junot Diaz. It makes the classic important in a way we’d never thought of, and it makes them more relatable to teens today.

As librarians, how do we judge the good from the bad in terms of collection development? As a Midwestern white girl, who am I to select which street lit is best? How do I know what’s authentic? Seriously, any advice would be much appreciated. I’m just feeling my way towards an answer here, but here’s what I’m thinking: Say I’m looking to purchase some street lit for my library. I have no idea what’s good, aside from reviews. I don’t know what’s authentic. But half of my readers won’t have lived the street life, either. If it’s well written (tells a full story, has good character development), then who cares if it’s exactly like how Fitty lived? I never read street lit growing up, but I loved books about cancer, teenaged pregnancies, drug problems, and eating disorders. None of these issues afflicted me or my immediate family or friends. I had no idea whether or not the way chemo was described in the Lurlene McDaniel books was really how it happened. But I didn’t care. I took it at face value and moved on, because at the time I thought the story rocked. I paged through a little something from Lurlene the other day and groaned--it was terrible! But something about it really spoke to me as a teen reader. I can’t remember what it was, but it was there. I’m hoping I’ll remember that as I order books at my own library some day. There are all sort of good books and genres out there; it just depends on who you ask.

So now, I’m asking: Are there any books, series, movies, music, games, etc that you dismissed at first glance, only to learn the true value of them later? Are there any series or media you used to love, but now you can’t find the appeal? Are there any examples of contemporary fads in the last few years that you find especially groan-worthy? What makes them valuable to teens? As you ponder by ramblings, I’m going to go get rich or die tryin’.

09 February 2009

2009 Fabulous Films for Young Adults

Here's a link to an article I came across in the American Libraries Direct newsletter, about YALSA's 2009 choices for great coming-of-age films for young adults.


I'd like to conduct an informal class poll & see how many of us have seen these films & agree with the committee's assessment of them as "fabulous"! I'll reproduce the basic list here, along with my critical 2 cents on the ones I've seen. I hope other class members will weigh in!

10 Things I Hate About You--Julia Stiles is a spirited "shrew" and the late Heath Ledger her nemesis/love interest. Were I still in high school, I'd find this updated (and somewhat less sexist) version of the Bard's tale infinitely preferable to the original play.

Bend It Like Beckham--Funny, inspiring and thoughtful. Though nominally about a teen girl's desire to play soccer against the wishes of her strict Indian family, I thought the film was also keenly observant on sexual politics, female rivalry and issues of race and class.

Juno--Did anyone NOT see this? I saw it multiple times with my then-18 year old daughter. Sometimes the dialogue was just too wittily arch for me, but the underlying sweetness of the story won me over. I especially like the fact that Juno's dad and stepmom are not made out to be ogres, and that the prospective adoptive couple isn't as yuppily perfect as they seem.

Love*Com--I have not seen it, but now I want to!

Miyazaki’s Spirited Away--Wonderful, as are all of Miyazaki's films (Howl's Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, Porco Rosso--among others). A humane underlying spirit with interesting heroines/heroes and fanciful storylines. The images are gorgeous as well!

Osama--I have not seen this.

Superbad--Okay, I admit to being one of those parents who lets her teens watch pretty much anything; in my defense, they are 19 and 14, though! They loved this movie; I thought it was pretty dumb, though I could see the appeal. Beyond the idiotic subplot with McLovin and the moronic police officers (talk about arrested development) and the tortuous attempts of the boys to obtain both booze and sex, the "bromance" between the main characters was actually interesting and quite touching. Transitioning from high school to college is huge, and things will never be the same. On that note, the film succeeded. For the rest, in my opinion, it was Porky's revisited.

Whale Rider--I thought this was another wonderful film, with an absolutely luminous female lead (who since seems to have disappeared completely). Another film, like Bend It Like Beckham, with strong female characters and thoughtful explorations of race, class and tradition.

As Real as Your Life; The Boys of Baraka; Devil’s Playground; Dogtown and Z-Boys; The Heart of the Game; Invisible Children: Rough Cut; Persepolis; Shadya

Well, I'm embarrassed to say the only non-fiction film I've seen on this list is Persepolis; but it was excellent. The film was a faithful rendering of Satrapi's original drawings with her graphic style used to great effect. I also thought the voice acting was wonderful; one of my favorite moments is a punked-out Marjane squawking out "The Eye of the Tiger". The graphic novels are also excellent & taught me much that I didn't know about the Iranian Revolution and its horrendous effects on the citizenry.

More Design Ideas

Adding to Natalie's post...

I can recommend The Art Institute of Chicago as an online resource for lesson plans for young people. Please see: http://www.artic.edu/aic/education/trc/lessonplans.html
These resources obviously are targeted to promote the museum's collection, rather than being basic design information, but they are pretty good.

I've come across a series by Dorling Kindersley called The DK Art School, which has introductory titles on art technique, perspective, figure, drawing, oils, water color, pastels and various other media, with alot of information on technique & copious examples and illustrations. I'd say this series is appropriate for upper elementary students on up.

DK also has an Eyewitness Art series that has titles on composition, perspective, color, looking at paintings, as well as titles on art movements like post-impressionism and also on individual artists. I think these books would also be good for 5th-6th graders and older.

Finally the Usborne Book of Art by Rosie Dickens is a great general overview book, with an introductory section on how to look at art, followed by chapters on various historical periods in art, and ending up with a chapter on artists' materials, tricks of the trade, and even forgery! There's a great timeline on art history and some brief biographical blurbs on various artists, plus a glossary of art terms. Throughout the book are sprinkled internet links that take readers to Usborne sites with even more information and activities.

Here's the full list of links to Usborne sites: http://www.usborne-quicklinks.com/usa/usa_full_book_list.asp

While the book is targeted to upper elementary and older students, the internet links offer activities for multiple ages.

08 February 2009

Design essentials for students

After looking at the lesson plan "Analyzing Photographs: From Theory to Practice," I thought about what, if any, books were out there that attempt to teach basic design principles to young people. While the lesson plan is very thorough and well-planned, the "Formal Visual Analysis" section (http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/content/3902/) was completely text-based and, well, boring. Is this to be read by the students? Or lectured by the teacher? Hands-on activity works great when there is a photograph at hand, but the principles of analysis are still not made visually apparent. So, I set out to find more visually-oriented books that would serve the same purpose.

A Book About Design: Complicated Doesn't Make it Good by Mark Gonyea (2005)

This brightly-colored, seemingly simple picture book explains the very basics of design elements, from shapes to object placement and balance of composition. It would serve as a great book for students (middle to high school) to read in small groups as a primer for the more advanced text of the website cited above. Pair this with the sequel, Another Book About Design: Complicated Doesn't Make it Bad.

Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang (2000)

This classic in analyzing picture books can also be used with students who are learning how to analyze visual elements. While more text heavy than the two books above, Bang shows how to analyze a picture, with bold visuals and easy to follow explanations. Individual sections of the book can be used to compare with a photograph in this lesson plan and to visually walk through the process of analyzing.

These two (well, three) books about design were actually all that I could find. I can imagine that there are more out there, hopefully more for the middle school student, so if any of you have one to add, please go ahead! I can also imagine that there are websites that do the very same thing, so if you have any of those to share, I'd be interested in seeing those as well.

Miley Mania vs. Math

How young is too young for celebrity worship?

As per assignment instructions, I was perusing Radio Disney’s wiki page when I came across something disturbing: several of the educational segments had been cut over the years (News for Kids, Aptitude Dude, The State Game, Thinkenstein 2000), only to be replaced by tabloid-style useless stuff like Celebrity Take with Jake, Next Big Thing (news of up-and-coming bands, movies, and celebs), and 60 Seconds With…, which features celebrity interviews.

Up until I decided to spend my money on groceries, I used to spend $100 a month on tabloids. But I’m twenty-one. I didn’t start this nasty habit until college. In fact, I remember my mom refusing to buy me tabloids, and the day I got my first Weekly World News was so exciting that I framed the front page. But as a kid, I never took an interest in Tiger Beat or anything celebrity related. I was not a part of Miley Mania. I was pretty in to the Spice Girls, but I was a bit older by then. Maybe I was just in a bubble, listening to Weird Al Yankovic and ignoring the good pop culture. Or maybe it was just different back in the old days.

Why are kids so obsessed with celebrities? Is it because there are kid celebrities out there? Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, Drake and Josh…when I was younger, the only kid-celebrities were the Olsen Twins. Half of these tween celebs are terrible role models. All of them are wonderful cash cows. Which came first, the Hannah Montana sleeping bag, or the little girl who wanted the Hannah Montana sleeping bag?

Is it our duty to provide tokens for kids’ and tweens’ celebrity shrines? Should we push the Disney readers and display the Nickelodeon Cds above other media? When I was a story time reader for little kids, I was told not to use licensed character books. The reasoning was that those are the characters and materials kids are most often exposed to at home, and that I should take this opportunity to introduce kids to new materials. I totally agree with this reasoning, but that’s a lot easier to do when the kid is trapped in a story time room with no other alternatives. If we push Ramona books, or Gary Paulsen books over licensed books, will kids take notice, or will they give up and stop reading?

I’m not advocating removing licensed books and celebrity tween stuff entirely. I’m just wondering where our focus should lie. Do we have any control over the demand for materials? If we supply quality and not-so-quality media, will kids respond positively? Denying them Miley Cyrus stuff will only send them running for the book store. And reading mass-market paperbacks published by TV stations still counts as reading. But they’re usually abridged textual versions of already-aired TV episodes.

Disney, which I always thought of as fairly wholesome, is the worst offender. They’re making it uncool to read anything that doesn’t come with a coordinating backpack and sticker set. What are strategies you employ as an information professional to combat this marketing blitz? Do you totally embrace it? Stock it but highlight the qualities of other fine books? Include it in programming (and what about the rights to certain characters in terms of programming and advertising?) Is this just the latest fad? We have about a hundred Nancy Drew books at my library, but no Nancy Drew magazines. How did libraries display Nancy Drew and the other new, popular books when they first came out? Was there resistance?

I’m hoping that Disney’s radio lineup is just a phase. I don’t mind a little bit of celebrity worship (Any thoughts on Jessica Simpson’s weight gain J ?), but bombarding kids with that sort of behavior at such an early age can’t be helping the nation’s future. I suppose a happy medium would be things like Dora the Explorer, which is a marketing goldmine in addition to being educational. Look at Sesame Street. It’s the best of both worlds. I just wish there was something equally balanced for the older set. Although honestly, I don’t know if I could handle the High School Musical gang dealing with cancer, eating disorders, unplanned pregnancies, and drugs (outside of the tabloids, that is).