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

24 April 2009

Teen Pregnancy & The Media

The fear of white, middle-class* teenage girls becoming pregnant is nothing new. What I perceive as new is the openness and the alarmist tones in which it is being discussed by the media. Teenagers are obviously exposed to these images and this discussion. Thus, we, as educators (I’m using that term to apply to librarians in both school and public libraries), must examine how teen pregnancy is currently being portrayed by the media. We must question what this depiction means for, and to, teenagers and ourselves in our role as teacher-guides. I’ve chosen to look at a recent movie, a television show, and three real-life examples. For me, all raise more questions than answers.

The award winning movie Juno, released in 2007 to critical and popular acclaim, is the story of a teenager who becomes pregnant the first time she has sex with her best friend. While waiting in an abortion clinic, Juno decides that adoption is a better choice. Juno is a smart, quirky character who talks a mile a minute and the movie unfolds along with Juno’s pregnancy. We do see the harsh way that Juno is treated in school by her peers, but for the most part, her choices and pregnancy unfold in an easy, uncomplicated manner. There is no discussion of contraception, though Juno and Bleeker (the baby’s father) are both depicted as smart, even nerdy.

Juno’s decision to give up her child for adoption is treated as a lark and there is little time devoted to how exactly she made this choice or why. The characters in the movie can’t even utter the word “abortion.” The choice of adoptive parents seems made on a whim, as she flips through ads in the Pennysaver. (This probably isn’t terribly unrealistic, as developmentally, teenagers are not fully capable of understanding all of the consequences of their actions.) Now, I really enjoyed this movie, but, do we want to present such a movie to our children? Should the portrayal of teen pregnancy be more about the difficulties? Should such a movie also address the topic of birth control? In short, should it be more preachy?

The Secret Life of the American Teenager on ABC’s Family Channel focuses on pregnant teenage Amy and her family. Amy is keeping her child to raise herself. While I haven’t watched much of the show, as I don’t have this cable channel, I find the very active message boards on the website fascinating. People, they seem to be of all ages, comment on specific clips of scenes from the show, often relating what’s happening on the show to what’s happening in their own lives. There is an Advice section, where a lot of questions about pregnancy are posed, but also about sex, dating, and contraception. Stayteen.org, by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, is one of the advice givers. It appears that this website functions as a `clearinghouse for questions, and serves to promote dialogue about teen sex and pregnancy. A few posts describe using this show to talk about these very issues. Can a drama like The Secret Life of the American Teenager really serve this function? Should it? Can educators use it to the same effect? Would educators even be allowed to show this in a school/library setting?

The pregnancies of Nickelodean star, 16 year old Jamie Lynn Spears (in late 2007), and Vice Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin’s 17 year old daughter Bristol (in 2008) created a great deal of controversy. The mainstream media followed both events in great detail from the announcement of the pregnancy to the birth of the child. Both Spears and Palin decided to keep their babies and were, for a while, engaged to the baby’s father. Both managed to spark a national debate over birth control, abstinence programs, abortion and teen marriage. Interestingly enough, it was Spears who drew the most ire. (I wonder if that is because, as an actress/singer, she is perceived as seeking the spotlight and thus has given up all notions of privacy.) Palin, whose mother is a very conservative politician who advocates abstinence as the only form of sexual education for teens in Alaska, was treated much more gently. (As opposed to Spears, this is likely because Bristol Palin was only in the spotlight because of her mother, not because she had somehow chosen it.) What can we learn from these two stories? What can we extrapolate to help guide our teens to make good choices? Are Spears and Palin even viewed as relevant to teenagers, or is the outrage expressed by the media schadenfreude, enjoying the misfortune of others?

Last year’s story of a Gloucester, Massachusetts teen pregnancy pact was an overnight news sensation. Before it was eventually proven false, the major news outlets provided extensive coverage. There were calls to blame Juno, Jamie Lynn Spears and other young pregnant Hollywood stars. Eventually, the principal who started the media blitz, was forced to admit that it was a coincidence that 17 girls at the local high school were pregnant. The sheer number of teens at one school is sad. Again, though, what can it teach us and our teenagers? How can we use this as a tool, not to pillory these particular girls, which is what the media coverage tended toward, but to open a dialogue with teens, parents and educators?

So, is the openness with which teen pregnancy is being discussed such a bad thing? Are girls now seeing images that they want to emulate, as some media outlets have claimed? All the focus is on the pregnancy, less on contraception, or what led them to become pregnant, and little attention is paid to the difficulties of coping with a newborn or the aftermath of adoption. How can we help teenagers and/or their parents to have open and honest discussions about these topics? Can we use these stories, the movies or television shows to open a dialogue? Or, is it, once again, simply about the media’s desire to put before the audience the most scandalous or sensational stories to get the most attention and garner higher ratings?

*The way that minority and low-income teenage girls and pregnancy is portrayed by the media is worthy of its own examination. Also worthy of examining is the fact that the boys or men who fathered these children are often overlooked in these sorts of discussions, though it bears repeating that they play an equal part at conception but rarely after that.

When Your Shoesting Budget's Cut, Wear Slippers

I spent a few days of spring break driving southward (and then back northward, as it happens). I saw live music in Memphis and ate fantastic southern cookin’ in Oxford, Mississippi, but the thing that I’ve been thinking about ever since was the drive home. Getting off the interstate, I drove the back roads through Mississippi and Arkansas and very Southern Illinois. There were some very pretty river valleys and trees in bloom, and a whole, whole lot of run-down, underfunded, overwhelmed rural communities.

I stopped by a public library in Mississippi, in a town that had been described in a guidebook as so beautiful that Ulysses S. Grant ordered it not to be burnt. It was a pretty little example of an old deep south town—tulip and magnolia trees, giant Georgian houses, a town square that featured two drugstores with real soda fountains and a hardware store with an old proprietor sitting on the porch.

(One side of the square had a memorial to the town’s first African American sheriff, killed in the line of duty nearly 20 years ago; the other side had six memorials and historical markers honoring the Confederacy. The library was on the Confederate, giant-beautiful-homes side of the square.)

The library was dark, heavy, and small, featuring a circulating collection heavy on paperback romances, an extensive local and southern history collection, and a prominent and heavily used job hunting section. Five behemoth computers hulked on the only available desks; three were designated specifically for job hunters. All the patrons were young and African American; the two visible staff members were older white ladies, who did not say a word to the patrons or to me during the half hour I spent browsing, entirely within arm’s length of their service desk. I finally introduced myself and asked a few questions about the building, the town population (around 8,000), and the services. Youth services? “We’ve got some games and toys over there,” one of the ladies said. They’d also had an Easter coloring contest. What about teens? Basically, she said, we let them use the computers, as long as nobody else is waiting. Otherwise, the school handles it. “We don’t have the budget,” she said. Yep, I agreed. It’s hard to fit programming in a shoestring budget.

But it was on the way back north that I saw truly grinding poverty. The January 31 ice storm that left parts of Kentucky without power for three weeks destroyed trees for hundreds of miles. Nearly two months later, broken trees littered the entire route from Memphis to Carbondale; in some places, limbs still protruded through broken ceilings and walls of clearly inhabited homes and trailers. My brother, who works in the forest in Southern Illinois, took me on a tour of the area; he pointed out caves and birds and way more trees than I want to know about, but also showed me the courthouse in Thebes where Dred Scott was once held. It is now boarded up, neglected, crumbling, and condemned on the hillside, overlooking the municipal “park”—a weedy patch of floodplain with a couple of motorhomes parked in continuous broken-down residence. The lone swingset had been knocked over and lay, rusting, on its side. My brother talked about the crime and drug problems they’d had down here, the things they’d found dumped or burned or abandoned in the forest. It was heartbreaking. And it went on and on and on, in homes and courthouses and schools and gas stations. “Do they even have a library here?,” I asked. My brother just laughed. I looked it up when I got back home; the closest library is 21 miles away. And it’s only open three and a half days a week.

That got me thinking. You hear a lot of libraries say “we don’t have money,” but that can mean very different things. There’s a big difference between “we can’t buy a Wii system for the library” and “we only turn on the lights in the stacks if somebody needs something.” As the recession grinds on, it’s certainly possible that more libraries will have to turn to desperation measures to stay open at all; in these cases, how do you maintain media literacy programming? How do you operate when you can’t even afford shoestrings?

I started brainstorming truly cheap media literacy ideas. Some things I came up with:

  • Board games, as we know, can be great group activities. Library doesn’t have games? Games with missing pieces are easy to find in libraries (and in our homes, garage sales, thrift shops…). Use the boards to create new games, or—better yet—have the kids invent games for younger kids. Find out what the local HeadStart or school is working on and get to work. Got a Candyland board but no dice? Make cards with words like “ice,” “cat,” and “on.” Each player takes a card on her turn and gets to move one space for each rhyming word they can think of. Got dice but no board? Multiplication, probabilities, secret codes, hangman—numbers make good games, too.
  • The most ubiquitous of the new media is probably the cell phone; even in poor communities, many families have one. The cheapest options come with few extras, though, and things like texting may cost users a comparative fortune in fees. Hold a financial literacy session to teach teens how to read cell phone packages, how to compare options, and how services work. They might even find a better option than they have now.
  • Got an outdated globe or atlas? Teach geographic information by getting GPS coordinates for places that exist now, but aren’t on the old map. Give students the latitude and longitude of, say, Rangoon, Burma; leave it to them to figure out that Burma is now Myanmar. Ask users to annotate the atlas. What teen wouldn’t relish writing in a library book?
  • Recycle. Is there a city or better-off town nearby who might be better able to buy new resources? If so, what happens to the old ones? Even seriously outdated materials could be useful; imagine the zines students could make from old magazines or World Book encyclopedias. Use the characters from newspaper comics to pastiche new comics. “Publish” teen comics by posting them in the library or, if possible, on the library’s web site.
  • Network. Maybe the police department would be willing to co-host a teen night. Maybe the schools would collaborate. Cultivate the talents of local residents. Reach out to universities within a day’s drive and suggest community engagement programs. And by all means, contact the librarians in all the nearby towns. They may have great ideas or resources; they may help collaborate on grant applications. Most of all, though, they’ll understand the situation and may be in need of support themselves.

It feels ridiculous for me, a fortunate student, to advise working librarians who are dealing with problems way beyond my ken. My hat’s off to you, underserved rural librarians of America; you deserve support and encouragement, and I do hope you are praised and appreciated—and that you keep finding creative ways to keep kids engaged in their lives and their libraries.

Now come on, 590MLL. Anybody got fantastic cheap, cheaparific programming ideas? Let’s have ‘em in the comments!

23 April 2009

Twitter Wars Update

Ashton may have topped CNN, but now the Army wants to take him on...
"If Ashton Kutcher can do it, the U.S. Army can do it."
-Lindy Kyzer, the Army's official tweeter (twitterer? person who tweets?)

Twitter 1MM: Ashton vs. CNN

In last weeks news, in case you missed it...

The race was on to 1,000,000 followers on Twitter...Ashton, vs. CNN, and Ashton won.

Step into my time machine and see the original challenge, Larry King trash talking Ashton, Ashton talking Twitter and journalism with Larry King (and check out Larry's twitter feed), as Ashton's followers near 1,000,000 (my favorite quote for so many reasons: "We are the media"), and the winning moment and celebration.

It was everywhere. But what does that mean? Twitter may allow us to "be the media" but no one could possibly believe that some average guy (with the exception of Joe the Plumber, who is no longer "average" because he was singled out for his "averageness") could even get close to a million followers. Yes, he did take on a huge network and win. That is impressive. I'd love to see the demographics of the followers for both Ashton and CNN.

But was this whole thing anything more than self-marketing, like Simon Dumenco, The Media Guy columnsit for Advertising Age seems to believe? He wrote:

Using a new-media tool, Kutcher is leveraging his fame to make himself more famous by declaring his intention to become, well, even more famous -- this time in the statusphere. That's gotta be good for something, right? That basic self-marketing function works too, of course, for other public figures (politicians, authors, etc.) who have thousands of "followers" -- or "friends" on Facebook. They get to build personal-brand mind share, and sometimes actually push product. Yay. Good for them.

At least all of this craziness benefits a good cause: fighting malaria in Africa.

21 April 2009

Newspapers Go Paperless

About a year ago I began receiving the Chicago Tribune home delivery.  At first, I was so excited to get my paper in the morning, drink my coffee and start my day with a leisurely read.  Well, that lasted a couple of weeks and soon my papers were piling up day after day.  I would read parts of them here and there, but almost felt like it was one more stress I had to try to fit in to an already busy schedule.  More often than not, I would find myself reading the paper online while doing homework or waiting for class to start or while watching TV.  When it came time to renew my paper, I thought about cancelling my subscription.  And then I got really depressed.  I began my college career as a journalism major after having worked on my high school's newspaper.  I began a newspaper at the last school I taught at.  I love the newspaper.  I love seeing stories printed with photos and captions.  I love seeing kids reading it in the hallways or classrooms.  

So, despite the fact that I found myself neglecting the paper, I renewed my subscription with the hope that some newspapers will remain in print.  

With the explosion of the web many people are getting their news and information online than anywhere else.  Many print-based newspapers are feeling the crunch.  The Seattle Post-Intelligencer Newspaper delivered it's last print edition in March and the San Francisco Chronicle continues to struggle.  The Chicago Tribune has seen its share of woes as well.  As the world of journalism begins to change, what does that say for young journalists.  Will newspapers eventually fade away?  Will journalism classes be completely online?  It's already starting to happen.

Antioch Community High School in Antioch, IL is trying to figure out how to deal with budget constraints.  In a Chicago Tribune article, the newspaper team said that the school currently prints a 12 page paper, half the size of their previous 24 page paper.  This is one way to deal with ever-shrinking budgets.  Many other schools are starting to go completely print free.  Jamesville-Dewitt High School will print it's last hard copy in May.

This kind of change in media is what we need to consider in schools and libraries as we continue to create programming.  Journalism means so many things beyond interviews and word processors.  Video blogs and wikis can take the place of interviews and editorials.  Forums can take the place of advice columns.  And these things are already happening.  As technology continues to change we need to make sure we keep up on it.  It's hard, at least for me, to embrace this change at times.  Is this how my parents felt when records became non-existent?  Or when telephones became cordless?  I think the internet is an amazing thing and for the most part I'm a digital native, or at least close enough to one.  But, it saddens me to think that books, magazines and newspapers will eventually see an untimely death.  

Forbes Magazine on Video Games

So, the other day, I was searching for something on Forbes online (no idea what, or why, since I'm not a regular Forbes reader) and I stumbled upon this: an article on the most anticipated video games of 2009. I must admit I thought it was a little odd...video games? In Forbes magazine? I didn't think it fit their demographic. When I think Forbes, I think business suits, briefcases and Solitaire, or if you really want to go wild, Minesweeper.

Of course, Forbes puts a business twist on the article, about how "gaming industry types expect growth of between 5% and 10% this year and are looking forward to another strong year in 2010." But what I'm curious about is who is excited about these games? Is their list tailored to the demographic that makes up a typical Forbes readers? Are teens hungry for these titles, too?

Take for example "Leaf Trombone," (demonstrated by providing accompaniment for "Movin' on Up"...yes, the Jeffersons theme.) for the iPhone. Who would be the target demographic? And many on the list are "2" or "3" of a title. Perhaps the suits grew up playing Diablo, and just can't wait for Diablo 3. Oh, and Sims 3 is on the list as well as an update of Wolfenstein which was created in 1981 (Apple II, baby!). For the whole list, check out the slideshow.

We are well aware that video games aren't just for teens, but I have to wonder how a list geared specifically towards teen would compare to the Forbes list. Any thoughts? What are the teens in your life excited about?

Youth Make the Media (and So Can You)

Citizen journalism, such as we read about in the task portion of this week’s reading, is an amazing opportunity for communities to engage—and for librarians to engage their communities.

The term “citizen journalism” is commonly used when referencing works of news reporting generated and distributed by non-professional journalists. Some citizen journalists are exceptionally talented and produce accurate, objective works; others are not. Some examples of citizen journalists are bloggers and contributors to community newspapers. The line is blurry; is a widely read blogger covering the Republican National Convention a reporter, or a layperson? Is I-Witness video, whose purpose is explicitly stated as using video to watchdog police activities (rather than journalism), acting as a reporting agency if they then broadcast those videos? Is an adolescent reporting for a video Web site any less credible than a reporter with a notepad?

And that’s where I think we come in. Children and teens are often put under journalists’ lenses, particularly when such hot-button topics as sexting and online predators pop up. But, aside from scattered quotes, we often don’t here the true voices of young people speaking for themselves.

I’m delighted to see new outlets like Youth Radio taking advantage of the shifting media paradigm. This might very well be the most exciting time in the history of public journalism. With inexpensive and easily accessible opportunities for any citizen to participate, more people are producing more reporting in more formats than ever before. And youth are readily positioned to take this and run with it.

Why this is important to librarians: More people are producing more reporting in more formats than ever before, for one thing. That means there’s a lot of chaff to sort through before people can find the particular nugget of truth they might be looking for. All that reportage—the videos, the blogposts, the news articles—has to be organized for access and preservation. It’ll take an army of librarians and skilled information-minded people to get this all into shape. And libraries are perfectly situated to encourage public journalists, through information, utilities like public computers, programming activities, and broad-minded collection policies that allow local productions entry into the catalog.

Taylor Willingham wrote an ALA blog post (reposted on her own blog) in response to Knight Citizen News Network, a sort of “you be the reporter” function of the gargantuan Knight-Ridder news corp. In it, she points out that the language used to tout the program echoed the text from library workshop fliers, encouraging citizens to learn to use digital media to improve their communities. “Wouldn’t that be a great thing to learn at your local library? Use technology to increase your ability to participate in your community and learn it at the library?” she asks. Why, yes. It would. And wouldn’t it be a great thing to start that for others?

Youth media specialists are even MORE perfectly situated to launch this kind of event—and they do, I think, in blogging workshops and web-design workshops. Imagine if we could join forces with school media programs to teach journalism AND production AND literacy AND preservation AND making media public, with all the responsibilities and pressures that accompany that!

One fabulous example of youth public journalism is the example of Y-Press. Y-Press is an American news service run by children, and does a really amazing job of getting children's issues and perspectives covered. Begun in Indianapolis in 1990, Y-Press produces a column that appears in The Indianapolis Star (324,000 circulation) bimonthly in editorial's Sunday Voices section and radio pieces that air on WFYI-FM (90.1). Stories and other media are researched, reported and written by reporters (ages 10-13) and editors (ages 14-18) for audiences of all ages. They've done some really incredible work, and have survived when such major newspapers as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain Post haven’t. That’s amazing. And here’s a kicker: at the 1976 Democratic National Convention they scooped all other news outlets in announcing Mondale as Carter's running mate--a story broken by a 13-year-old reporter. Pretty cool! (www.ypress.org)

Another program I’m awed by is Blunt Radio. Based in Portland, Blunt Youth Radio Project puts out a weekly call-in talk show on the Portland community radio station. “High school age youth from the Portland area, both free and incarcerated, staff the show,” the shows site says. I can’t even imagine how much of an impact an activity like this might have on a teen held in detention; if youth voices in general are overlooked, how often do we hear from teens who are literally hidden from sight? (http://www.bluntradio.org/).

Locally, you’ve probably heard about WILL’s Youth Media Workshop. This university-affiliated program gives African American youth in the Champaign and Urbana public schools a chance to learn radio production, research topics of interest to the community, and highlight voices that might not otherwise be aired. In addition to learning basic radio production techniques, the group has done some powerful in-depth interviews with members of the C-U community who experienced firsthand the desegregation of local schools. A little rough around the edges, but a local gem.
**Oh—and, if you’re interested in community engagement, or want to know more about assessment (as featured in this week’s tasks), WILL is currently tallying the data on the YMV program evaluation. Contact the Community Informatics Initiative office if you are local and want to know more.

20 April 2009

Kids these days

Have you heard about the worm that hurt Twitter recently? Evidently a 17 year old kid is taking credit for the attack. He claimed that he hoped to get some job offers from it, but why would a young person risk serious prosecution for something like this? Should he even get in trouble, when he was just exposing a serious flaw in Twitter that could have caused much more damage than it did?

This reminds me of some local guys who attended the same university I did. One of them decided to download this program that would show openings in a network. Well, when he ran it and discovered some pretty significant amounts of personal data that were open for anyone with the know-how to find. This information included names, addresses, phone number, and other highly sensitive data. Of course, he was caught and he and his roommates had their computers confiscated by the FBI for a full year while the FBI tried to decide what the intent was behind his 'hack'. What is laughable is that he was not mining for information, and, in my opinion, he should have been rewarded for exposing this very serious problem to the university. Instead of someone malicious using the information, the problem was quickly fixed. And he was investigated. I am not sure if he was ever charged with anything, because apparently the only illegal thing he did was the illegally download the program. Everything else was within his rights, and he didn't save any of the information he found. But, of course it was pretty big news locally, and even on the national level.

So, should Michael Mooney be charged with anything? While I do not condone the manner in which he proceeded, he did demonstrate to Twitter how lax their security is. Although his methods were unscrupulous, were his intentions much more altruistic? Who knows. In any case, it is one of the most interesting cases of media literacy in the extreme.

Juvenile Detention Centers

I have been working on a group project for another class that involves storytelling and juveniles in correctional institutions. As I did research for the project, I found an appallingly short supply of information for providing library services to incarcerated youth; most articles and studies focus on adults.
While on the surface this doesn't seem like an issue, it is. Adult library users have very different needs than those of children and young adults. There isn't a one size fits all model in public libraries, so why should it be different for correctional libraries? Do we not care to provide for this segment of the population who are already marginalized? It is really upsetting to consider the opportunities lost by not providing adequate library services to these youth.
As part of the project, we created a mock storytelling program for juvenile inmates. As I did some research, I learned about the many challenges that face librarians in detention centers and other juvenile correctional facilities. Lack of belief in the necessity of a library, lack of funding, and misunderstanding the population are issues that cannot be changed quickly. What is most distressing is to learn how much disservice is being done to these youth. It is common for inmates to have learning disabilities. They are often illiterate in print media or barely functioning literates. So what does that have to do with media literacy?
I know it's a bit of a jump to go from illiterate to wholly (including media) literate, but at the same time, I feel that most of the individuals in detention centers probably had some interactions with media, and maybe more interaction with media (TVs, computers, radios, etc.) than with printed materials such as books. I also feel that if we are truly going to help these children and young adults, we need to teach them new skills that will allow them to find a productive place within society, and perhaps remove themselves from old patterns. And, teaching media literacy can coincide with teaching inmates reading, writing, and comprehension.
I would really encourage others to learn about library services to the incarcerated. While the focus of this class is on media literacy and young adults, many incarcerated adults also lack the skills necessary to be considered media literate. Often, and especially for those who have been incarcerated for many years, the world is a completely different place than it was when they went into prison. Even for people on the outside, the world of media is constantly changing. You Tube, social networking sites, texting, IMing- all of these concepts are pretty new and often times intimidating to those being released. It is our duty as librarians and as citizens to be aware of the needs of this unique population, and to be proactive in helping them.

Sources that provide some basic information:
Chesseman, Margaret. “Library Services to Young People and Children in Correctional Facilities.” Library Trends. 26.1 (summer 1977): 125-139.
(A bit dated, I know, but still an interesting read)

Rubin, Rhea Joyce & Daniel Suvak, eds. Libraries Inside: A Practical Guide for Prison Librarians. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co. 1995.

15 April 2009

Sexting in Taylorville

Last night I learned by watching MyCFN News and WANDTV (NBC-17), and by reading the Taylorville Daily News this morning, that Taylorville schools have had three instances this year and at least one last year of 'sexting' (snapping nude or provocative photographs of themselves or others with use of their cellphone). To combat this they now have a policy expressly against sexting in order to show students that it is not acceptable. The new policy will include "language prohibiting pornographic materials or images through magazines, photographs, movies, cell phone pictures and other electronic images" ("'Sexing' Prompts Discipline Code Change in Taylorville Schools"). They will be found to be using cellphones inappropriately and having pornographic material. The principal now can expell students or, in extreme cases, call the police to handle the matter. Obviously they can only expell students if they catch them in the act of sexting.

What kinds of steps can be taken to prevent 'sexing' from a librarian's perspective? We have been talking about this. How can we create programing and a general atmosphere to encourage students know the dangers of 'sexting' beyond getting caught. Of course students may not sext because they will know that if they get caught they have severe penalties, but many kids still will (some will do it for the further thrill of possibly getting caught). How can we create a culture where students understand how much these actions could hurt them, not only today, but in the future? Springfield has a policy of no cellphones at all. Which policy do you think is better, Taylorville's or Springfield's? Those of us in schools may have this as an issue, but what should those of us in public libraries do? We can't bar cellphones since it isn't just kids in the library and there isn't the same context.

The WANDTV Newscast on 'Sexting' from April 14, 2009

If you want to discuss this further you can visit:

For audio from the School Board Meeting you can visit:

14 April 2009

Eisner Award Nominations 2009

The Eisner Awards are presented annually by Comic-Con International in San Diego, a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to creating awareness of and appreciation for comics and related popular art forms. This year's judging panel consists of Amanda Emmert (owner of Muse Comics & Games in Missoula, MT), Mike Pawuk (teen services public librarian for the Cuyahoga, Ohio County Public Library), John Shableski (Diamond Book Distributors sales manager), Ben Towle (graphic novelist and comics arts educator), and Andrew Wheeler (comics and manga reviewer at ComixMix.com). They have recently announced the award nominations for 2009. Two categories are of particular interest to us, so I've included them here:

Best Publication for Kids

* Amulet, Book 1: The Stonekeeper, by Kazu Kabuishi (Scholastic Graphix)
* Cowa! by Akira Toriyama (Viz)
* Princess at Midnight, by Andi Watson (Image)
* Stinky, by Eleanor Davis (RAW Junior)
* Tiny Titans, by Art Baltazar and Franco (DC)

Best Publication for Teens/Tweens

* Coraline, by Neil Gaiman, adapted by P. Craig Russell (HarperCollins Children's Books)
* Crogan's Vengeance, by Chris Schweizer (Oni)
* The Good Neighbors, Book 1: Kin, by Holly Black and Ted Naifeh (Scholastic Graphix)
* Rapunzel's Revenge, by Shannon and Dean Hale and Nathan Hale (Bloomsbury Children's Books)
* Skim, by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (Groundwood Books)

Have any of you read those titles? I must admit I've not heard of or read any of the Best Publications for Kids nominees. As for the Teen category, I was unaware that Holly Black had been working on something new, but am very interested in Good Neighbors now that I know about it. I really enjoyed her urban fairytales for the YA crowd (Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside) quite a bit, as well as The Spiderwick Chronicles for younger readers. I am also a fan of P. Craig Russell's graphic novel adaptation of Coraline, as well as Mariko and Jillian Tamaki's debut work Skim. If you haven't picked up Skim, I'd certainly recommend it. It's the coming-of-age story of a goth girl attending an all-girl school in the early 90s. While the story itself is fairly understated, the pen and ink artwork is incredibly expressive. I'm pleased to see Jillian Tamaki has also been nominated in the Best Penciller/Inker category.

Also noteworthy in the Best Penciller/Inker category is Gabriel Bá's nomination for his work on The Umbrella Academy, published by Dark Horse. Bá has also been nominated as Best Cover Artist. This comic series is written by Gerard Way (frontman of pop-punk/emo band My Chemical Romance) and chronicles the reunion of a disbanded group of superheroes after the death of their father. The first six issues of the comic won a 2008 Eisner Award for Best Finite Series/Limited Series and their popularity among fans of the band and comic fans alike prompted a second series, The Umbrella Academy: Dallas to begin the same year. I've never read The Umbrella Academy, but the basic premise sounds like it could be interesting. It's nice to see something celebrated by the industry that appears to have been largely supported by music fans, many of whom are teens who may or may not have been comic book readers previously. Clearly many people have been captivated by it; Urbana Free Library's copy is always checked out!

Another treat for music fans that has appears on the 2009 nominations list is Comic Book Tattoo, which has been nominated for Best Anthology and Best Publication Design. This is an anthology I've spent time reading and have really enjoyed so far. The 480 page tome, edited by Rantz Hoseley and published by Image Comics, brought together over eighty artists and writers from the field and resulted in fifty-one individual stories, each inspired by a song from the repertoire of pianist and songwriter Tori Amos. (The anthology's title came from a lyric in her early song "Flying Dutchman.") Amos has long been connected with comics, having been friends with Sandman creator Neil Gaiman for many years, whom she often references in her music and who wrote the introduction to this collection. The collection isn't composed of literal interpretations of her songs in visual format; the artists were called upon to create a story based upon how a piece of music made them feel -- the moods and visuals it evoked. Artists self-selected the song with which they wanted to work, and the songs they chose spanned eight studio albums as well as b-sides. I've been a fan of Tori's music since I was a teenager myself and it's been fascinating to see the similarities and vast differences between the visuals conjured in my head while listening to these songs and those of the people who were part of this collaboration. To hear Tori's perspective on the project and her thoughts about comics, you can check out this video interview. It took place before the book's debut at last year's Comic-Con. I honestly would love to see more of this collaborative activity between musicians and comics creators, as music of all types has an uncanny ability to evoke visuals in the listener.

Teenagers Reach Out Via Weblogs

There’s so much in this short article that I find fascinating. The basic premise of the study discussed in the article is that teenagers are blogging like crazy, that boys and girls use blogs in similar ways, and that they use it to forge social connection, rather than broadcasting.

First, I don’t think it’s news that teenagers are blogging, and in that regard the article smacks of this spacy, curmudgeonly, maiden-auntly aspect of “have you heard of this ‘blogging’ thing that’s all the rage with the kids these days?” But it’s the BBC and it’s from five years ago, so I’m willing to let that slide. A number of other articles followed in progressively alarmist fashion about the kids and their “weblogs,” and I'm sure they've all moved on to freaking out about sexting and pirates and whatnot.

I do find the statement that boys and girls use blogs the same way to be interesting, for two reasons: first, it’s odd that there might be multiple ways to “use” blogs, and second, it presupposes that this lack of gender difference is surprising. Do we expect boys and girls to use spreadsheets differently? Or calculators?* Is it because blogs are written, or because they are personal, that we expect girls to use them differently? Are we surprised that boys and girls are both interested in self expression, forming interpersonal bonds, communicating with others? How does this revelatory lack of difference compare with other ICTs? And how might all the studies on how boys and girls use cell phones and Facebook and IM and toothbrushes and toasters affected by this presupposition?

Second, I’m pleased and impressed that the kids are using new social technologies to form connections, rather than to harass and embarrass one another. (IF that’s still true. Which I doubt.) But even so, I’m impressed that teens are so willing to open themselves. Even now, as a reasonably well adjusted adult posting to a space where I’m pretty sure nobody’s going to post a comment about my attractiveness, intelligence, or worth as a human being, I’m having a difficult time with this whole blogging thing. I’ve got the drafts of a half dozen posts in a folder on my desktop, but every time I wrote one, I decided the post lacked insight or was too obvious or too boring to post. Maybe it’s because it’s for an assignment, which automatically means judgment and assessment. But I don’t think so. I had a blog some time ago, and the only reason I could keep it was that I had verifiable statistics proving that no one was reading it. As soon as I got one subscriber, I got freaked out and never posted again. So this whole “reaching out for connection through public diary” thing? I don’t quite get it personally, but I’m glad that it’s working for other people. Anything that minimizes the alienation and isolation of grumpy adolescents is good by me.

Other observations: “On average, males used more emoticons, like smiley faces. Previous studies in computer communication, explained Mr Huffaker, have suggested that females are more likely to use them.” I am not surprised that males use more emoticons. I AM surprised that there have been multiple studies about this.

"The average blog post is over 2,000 words (per page), which is really interesting when you are trying to get kids to write essays."

This, I think, is the most interesting statement in the article. Two thousand words is a LOT. And I wonder how much this is colored by the era (at least in as much as you can call 2004 a different era). Have texting and Twitter and Facebook status updates replaced the 2,000-word blog post with 200-character messages? Did the rise of blogging culture show verifiable changes in students’ writing for class? If you give teenagers a computer and free, unregulated, un-judged speech, do they get wordier? The researcher says he wants to use blogs in the classroom. Will the free, open, verbose self expression hold up when you add adult supervision?

* I would guess that girls type “58008” less frequently on calculators than boys do. (If that’s a puzzle to you, look at it upside down in square type. Or ask a middle-schooler to explain it.)

Do you XOXO Gossip Girl?

News outlets everywhere are applauding the fact that an abridged audiobook was included with the first season of Gossip Girl on DVD. (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/18/business/media/18gossip.html). Now, I’m all for promoting reading, and I do believe that listening to an audio book is a “worthy” literacy experience, but I’m scratching my head over how an abridged version of the first GG novel, read by Christina Ricci, is going to get girls reading.

The GG novels are really well written. They had an enormous fan base before the CW adapted it into an hour-long series. To date, GG has sold 5.6 million copies (http://www.suite101.com/blog/dansgirl0605/gossip_girl_dvd_promotes_reading). That’s pretty impressive, and one might attribute that popularity to the show, or an audiobook tie-in. I’m sure the show was responsible for some new readership, but season one averaged 2.6 million viewers per episode and season 2 featured 2-3.1 million viewers per episode . Granted, the first season got hit with the writer’s strike, but viewership in the flawless second season is half of the number of copies sold of the first book in the GG series alone. There are several books in the series, too, and these books are like potato chips. You can’t have just one. I’m sorry, but I can’t credit Blake Lively or Christina Ricci for getting girls to read. Girls were reading on their own, sans CW! (I should note that I do know some boys who read the GG series; I don’t mean to be sexist).

If any of you are diehard GG readers out there, I want to know how you feel about the adaptation. Several sites, blogs, and message boards dissect the show compared to the book, and many fans weren’t happy. Were you? I liked the book better, and I was irritated at how Hollywood they made things: the book’s Jenny Humphrey was short, top-heavy, and she had curly brown hair. In the show, Taylor Momsen plays Jenny as a tall blonde waif (She played Cindy Loo Who in the Grinch movie--she’s classic adorable blonde Hollywood child actor). Vanessa is an alternative chick with a shaved head in the book. On the show, she’s a normal looking girl whose only “unique” feature is that she’s from Brooklyn. Okay, so I was a tad dismayed to see how things had changed on the show, but I still watch it every week.

Do you all remember the feeling of loving a book, looking forward to the movie, and then being disappointed with the adaptation? Do you remember feeling upset when others (as in, the rest of the world, or a television network, or the popular girl at school) discovered the same piece of media you were in love with? Did you ever feel betrayed or territorial about it? That’s how I feel about The Time Traveler’s Wife. In terms of teen/tween lit, I felt that way about GG, The Wizard of Oz, Bridge to Terabithia, The Handmaid’s Tale, and even the illustrations in the Babysitter’s Club. Have you guys had experience as a saddened reader, a pleasantly surprised viewer, or a fervent fan of one or the other? What about as a teen? Has this happened with teens you know?

This is why I’m skeptical of crossover fan bases: If you start off watching GG and then read the book, chances are, you won’t be a fan in equal measures TV and book. I hope that TV encourages reading. I just have not had personal experience with it. Has anyone liked a show or movie better than a book? I can honestly say I like Ghost Whisperer better as a show than a GN.
How do we encourage teens to try out different media forms without alienating them as fans? Is it me, or does this transition always work out better in Sci-fi? I’ve never met a fan of LOTR books who didn’t love the movie. Most people I know like at least one of the Harry Potter movies. Is this because Sci-fi adaptations are done better? Is it a more accepting fan base? Sometimes when you’re a fan of a subject, the medium is secondary to the content: I love anything Beatrix Potter, regardless of the form it comes in. Is this a twisted form of brand loyalty? I’ve noticed that the transition from book to TV happens much more often than TV to book. Thoughts? Experiences?

As librarians, readers, parents of teens, and teachers, what strategies do you guys have for encouraging TV watchers to read, and novel-readers to read graphic novels, and movie lovers to try music? How do we perform effective cross-medium materials advisory? Do we ignore the movies? Do we recommend the corresponding book title for someone’s favorite TV show? Or do we find something similar but different? I’m sorry I don’t have any answers. My mode of blogging seems to be hurling a bunch of questions at you guys, revealing a chunk of my nerdiness/completely shallow taste in TV, and then failing to write a compelling conclusion. In the TV adaptation of my life, this will be fixed.