Friday, December 30, 2011

My library wishes for 2012

Here's to another year of...


...cosplay... devices at school...

...high cotton...

...incredible authors...

...recreational reading...

 ...and crafting electronic products for authentic audiences.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

2011...My Year in Review

January: The year kicked off with ALA Midwinter in San Diego, which included a fabulous walk on the beach on Coronado Island. I back flew into unprecedented winter weather -- four consecutive snow days! The month wrapped with Educon, which was absolutely mind-blowing, especially the student life panel. I want our students to feel as "at home" as those at SLA.

Student activities at SLA

February: I sent in my petition to run for ALA Council. We went to New Orleans for a long weekend for my husband's birthday, where we saw an incredible Birney Imes exhibit. More snow days. I spoke to the Huntsville Public Library employees on their annual staff day about today's school libraries.

March: I presented with a stellar ebook panel at Internet @ Schools East, making some predictions about the impending Kindle crackdown, print as luxury objects, and the need for better enrichment in digital products. Also saw incredible Gaughin exhibit at the National Gallery.

April: Awesome students rocked the regional technology fair. Spring break getaway to London and Colwyn Bay in Wales, then off to the Redneck Riviera for the Alabama Library Association.  The month came to an abrupt end with the spate of tornadoes which eliminated electricity to north Alabama for almost an entire week (and prevented our participation in the state technology fair).

At Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea PL after hours

Alabama Gulf Coast

Shopping Day 5 after tornados

Shopping Day 5 after tornados

Gas after the tornados

School after the tornados

May: Was elected to ALA Council! Book club stalwart performs as very wicked stepsister in local children's theater production of Cinderella. We are all still recovering from the natural disasters, and the state allows us to end school as scheduled instead of making up those days.

June: Providing PD, and more PD. I gave the Alabama School Library Association keynote, spoke in a series of technology-related state conferences before ALA New Orleans, which might be the best ALA ever. I again presented on ebook topics, won a crown at Pecha Kucha, convened a stellar distance panel for YALSA, and just generally enjoyed all the fascinating conversation about cross-platform publishing opportunities. Start getting some really positive feedback re my dissertation, which is especially exciting.

July: Reprised some of the f2f ALA stuff for a Virtual ALA, presented a YALSA webinar on ebooks, and facilitated some local educational technology PD. I re-started my educational leadership coursework, after some state-level hiccups. We also went to Hemingway Days in Key West.

Hemingway Days
August: School starts back later than usual, after a full week of teacher work days. Did my comps for educational leadership M. Sci., and began the first of two internships at a K-6 campus. Kicked off our Nook pilot project at school.

September: Did the second internship at a K-8 school. Saw traveling performance of Cirque du Soleil with students. Headed to suburban Virginia to speak at the SLJ Summit, saw the incomparable Toni Morrison at the National Book festival.

Toni Morrison at National Book Festival

Galt House, Lexington -- Goldfish bar
October: September ended and this month kicked off with the Kentucky School Media Association keynote. Terrific hospitality, and I am now an Honorary Kentucky Colonel. Spoke at the LJ/SLJ Virtual ebook summit, and to a group of local types at BEST. Spent an amazingly relaxing week lolling on the beach on Maui, before heading up to Minneapolis for AASL. The full-day preconference went amazingly smoothly, as did the leadership panel, and my snarky little Uncommons video is still making the rounds in the biblioblogosphere. Yes, I believe you should read a book a day.

Walker Center de Suvero

Minneapolis shared bicycles
YALSA Teens Top Ten books
November:  Saw the Secret Sisters, one of my new favorite groups, at the Princess Theater. Took students to see authors Myra McEntire and Rachel Hawkins at a local branch library. Went to Chicago for ALAN and finally got to Oak Park to see all the Wright houses.

Princess Theater

Walnut Room at old Marshall Field's, Chicago

December: Our principal retired (sob!), so we sent him off in grand style. Went to the Blue Ribbon Schools conference to present our school's "best practices" with regard to materials to support adolescent literacy and technology integration, saw more Cirque du Soleil and enough Disney to last me forever.

It was a wonderful year, but I have a feeling 2012 may just be the best yet...

Friday, December 16, 2011

A really lovely Kindle ebook

I was reading the gem that is Peter Akroyd's London Under when I started wondering about the ebook incarnation. And it was surprisingly terrific.

Contrast: ebook illustrations
with print illustrations

The e illustrations are ALMOST legible on my iOS devices.  Wondering about the Fire display of images...

Contrast ebook chapter break

with print chapter breaks

I do wish the chapter heading was set off on its own, but it's not the worst.

Very elegant little translation into a ebook, in my opinion. We weren't seeing products like this last year, that's for sure. We live in interesting times!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Best books of 2011

Another year, another couple of hundred books. These were the best of my year.

Fiction, realistic and historical

Some of the better voices I encountered this year, in short pieces as well as novels, intended for grown-ups.

You Know When the Men Are Gone (2011) by Siobhan Fallon
I found this collection of realistic contemporary stories set at Fort Hood through my library’s ebook interface, and I was immediately transported into the lives of Army wives. The scene where the wives watch their husband shipping out, and count the dangerous number of women among them, is still chilling even upon many recollections.

Salvage the Bones (2011) by Jesmyn West
I read some buzz about this one coming out of a preview and preordered this as well as West’s first novel, Where the Line Bleeds. She captures the American gulf coast in all its strangeness, and the Hurricane Katrina setting which is the linchpin to the plot point is dizzingly evocative. But I was surprised as anyone when it took the National Book Award, frankly.

Rules of Civility (2011) by Amor Towles
Another book I couldn’t wait to get my hands on. Set in the very late 1930s, among a milieu shifting from boarding houses to the upper crust, it’s giddy and surprisingly resonant for contemporary American historical fiction.

Aga plus sagas

You know I love my British authors, and feel I should be able to buy anything, in this digital age. The good news is that many more U.S. editions DO seem to be appearing…

Comfort and Joy (2010) by India Knight
A Christmas story which revisits the characters from My Life on a Plate and exposes all of our worst anxieties about the Christmas season. Well worth the international postage (though it was more of a New Year’s read for me…)

The London Train (2011) by Tessa Hadley
Intersecting stories from London and Cardiff explore the lonlieness and disconnection of modern life. I said it before, I think Hadley is almost up to the caliber of Margaret Drabble with the left-leaning social realism.

Homecoming (2011) by Cathy Kelly
This book, about a famous actress who resorts to coming back to Dublin after acting as “the other woman” in another actor’s long-standing marriage, is so terrifically warm and fuzzy, I knew Kelly was channeling Maeve Binchy. I enjoy her long and absorbing novels, but this one, set in appealing Georgian square peopled by warm eccentrics, was a particular treat.

Dystopian YA

Sometimes, it seems like the world can’t get any worse. And then you read a dystopian novel…

Awaken (2011) by Katie Kacvinsky
A world where there are no schools and all interaction is done via computers seems like a frighteningly possible, if not inevitable, outcome of the shift to online learning.

Bumped (2011) by Megan McCafferty
When a virus renders adults infertile, the pressure to conceive makes demi-celebrities of fecund teens who “preg” for profit. McCafferty should win some sort of prize for the inventive slang alone.

Realistic YA

Sometimes, the dystopian is a bit dark…

Small Town Sinners (2011) by Melissa Walker
A realistic story about a small town girl realizing that things aren’t quite as black and white as her preacher father’s fundamentalist doctrines would have her believe. The fascinating backdrop of church theatrics makes this one a go-to title for teens looking for relatable characters grappling with burgeoning issues of identity.

Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have) (2011) by Sarah Mlynowski
A hysterical book for older teens about misadventures of two best friends when they are left “home alone” for their senior year.

A Shore Thing (2011) by Nicole Polizzi / Valerie Frankel
Don’t hate on Snooki – she was smart enough to snag the brilliant Frankel as her ghostwriter, so the book is actually rather adorable. We’ll call it realistic, even it is about a rather limited milieu.

Versatility plus

I have to give it to Marcus Sedgewick, the guy can cross genres handily, and it's all awesome.

Revolver (2010) by Marcus Sedgewick
A breakneck historical drama set in an Alaskan mining camp that will keep any reader on the edge of their seat, with not one but two clever twists. I will be recommending this to boys FOREVER.

White Crow (2011) by Marcus Sedgewick
An amazingly menacing story about an English town tumbling into the sea, two girls who might be friends or enemies, and a legacy of evil surrounding a very dark place. Incredibly atmospheric.

Hip hop hurray

A couple of splendid books from some heavy hitters.

Decoded (2010) by Jay-Z
It’s not biography as much as exploded liner notes. If you can’t get enough, there’s a standalone book app in addition to the really nice enhanced ebook version. And Sean Carter, forever the entrepreneur, has added three tracks to the “paperback release.” You’ll be humming, it’s inevitable.

Playground (2011) by 50 Cent, Laura Moser, Lizzi Akana
Curtis Jackson writes about contemporary middle schoolers with some real understanding of what it is to be bullied, and to bully in turn. The language is strong, but otherwise quite diverting.

On the digital realm

Not technical, more sociological.

How to Leave Twitter (2011) by Grace Dent
I agree one hundred percent: without twitter, life is like slogging through molasses. Dent captures perfectly all there is to love and hate about the microblogging platform in her typically hysterical, but deadpan, way.

The Filter Bubble (2011) by Eli Pariser
Explores how customized display filters are actually creating very local and personal version of online experiences, as well as the ramifications for media consumption where we have become accustomed to our own niche.

I re-read a lot of Agatha Christie, plenty of recent YA, and all of JoJo Moyes. Here's to another year with lots of time with books.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Anyone out there?

I have had a number of conversations recently about blogs. All surrounding ongoing viability, something which has already been broached by many smart people (NY Observer, Wired). Is amateur journalism too time-consuming to be viable? I spend a good amount of professional energy writing for (and even more energy trying to coerce other people to write for) the AASL blog, and know it isn't the kind of thing people are likely to take on without branding themselves, or some sort of renumeration.

Turning it over in my mind, it seems these his "no one reads blogs anymore" thing is predicated on some lazy assumptions:
  • That blogs are all one thing. I seem them as a disparate array of rich content. It is a format, not a genre, in other words.
  • That readers aren't using aggregators. One person's "magazine" or "website" might be another person's "blog."
  • That everyone can read the web at work. I don't have a lot of the browser plug-ins to make many sites "work," but can read rss feeds without incident.
  • That reliance on "pointers" from twitter and other places obviate the need to "follow" a blog. What about vacations, and weekends? One can't watch twitter all the time, not if following more than a handful of people and without using lists (a topic for another day).

I know not very many people read this, which is fine with me. It is my professional journal more than anything else, and who wants a lot of people poking around there? But it does make me wonder, is it all for naught?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Giving thanks for readers and reading

Last year, I posted some thoughts about libraries that had come up over the holidays. Though I spend so much of my time surrounded by books and reading, I always enjoy some covert and slapdash ethnography amongst middle Americans who are not quite as obsessed with those topics as I happen to be.
This year, there were lots of things surrounding ebooks, particularly given the $79 nook which brought many relatives out to Barnes & Noble early Black Friday. The local library "doesn't have its ebooks ready yet," said one cousin, but she is aware of the Nook's compatibility with "the library" and personally owns both eink and color Nooks. She travels with both, to read inside and out. Interestingly, she said she did not plan to renew her B&N "membership," since the associated discounts don't apply to ebooks.

Another avid reader asked me what I thought about "ibooks," which I took to mean any electronic reader. She is incredibly clued in to print -- mentioned the new Peter Ackroyd, Under London -- but resistant to e. I told her I had a variety of hardware, but still read 80% of my stuff on paper.

I spoke at length with two nieces, 6th and 9th graders, about the libraries in their suburban public schools. They seemed to be really keying on a few things:
  • First graders did not use the library but read from leveled readers from the textbook series. They mentioned how unappealing those books happened to be.
  • Students in the high school are less likely to get to the library during the school day. The ninth grader had been only once, with a class. I suggested she asked her teacher's permission to go. This had not occured to her.
  • Middle schoolers had strictures about the types of materials they could take. One had to be nonfiction, and one had to be a "chapter book on our level." They mentioned the scarcity of the required nonfiction materials on particular topics of interest to them, like hamsters.
I know no one working in their school system, but their version of policies smack of some arbitrary, not very literacy- or student-centered educational mandates. The very sort of thinking has been countered with yesterday's very exciting announcement from the AASL Board approving the Intellectual Freedom Committee statement about the "chilling effect" of labeling books. I have heard from some elementary librarians that their entire collections were arranged by AR Level, which I can imagine would make it neigh on useless for developing any real love of reading. I feel lucky to have gone to school before the fad for reading "on level." See Venn Librarian for more on that.

The most interesting conversation regarding librarians was an image-related one. A sister of an in-law had died suddenly, and she was described as a librarian and a lesbian. My husband mentioned that the rate of homosexuality was perhaps higher in the profession, which caused some really interesting comments. Relatives speculated it was because librarians tended to be "neat," "quiet," or "lost in books." I said perhaps it was because librarianship attracted tolerant, progressive people. This seemed to be news to them. Again, our perception of (or knowledge about) ourselves diverges from that of the public.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

ALAN Workshop

I'm just back from the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents workshop (ALAN), held after the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference. It's an interesting setup. Tables (accomodating 500 this year) are arranged length-wise in one large room, with speakers on a dias and a real minimum of multimedia distraction. I enjoyed having the time to relax and reflect among other readers.

Chicago is always fun, and this trip was no exception. I saw Murder for Two, a two-man murder-mystery spoof, at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. On Saturday, I visited Frank Lloyd Wright's home (as well as other structures he designed in Oak Park) with a friend and her adorable first grader, who is reading Harry Potter. Then Sunday I went to the Palmer House Hilton, co-headquarters hotel, where I was disgorged into a crowd of school teachers. As I have observed before, NCTE seems even more female than AASL.

The ALAN workshop was all day Monday and Tuesday. ALAN is a strange event. There is a compulsive energy in the room, almost an obsession with YA lit that I only catch a whiff of at YALSA events. It is an interesting mix of English teachers, librarians, university professors, and authors. There were tales of larceny (people stealing signed copies) and collapse, as Laurie Halse Anderson passed out, but went on to deliver her speech from a prone position just before being taken off to the hospital. How incredible!

ALAN has an award, named for writer Amelia Elizabeth Walden, for books that should "possess a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit." Francisco Stork won for The Last Summer of the Death Warriors this year, the third time it was awarded. There was also a new award for best paper in the ALAN Journal.

One of the real highlights came in the half-dozen breakout sessions are held for an hour during one time slot each day. Even the most illustrious authors will still not have so many teachers crowded in at breakouts, and you are able to interact with most of them. I went to a particularly good on on Chicago as a setting Monday, and on Tuesday I asked Heather Brewer to inscribe a Vlad Todd book for a student, and she was terribly sweet about it. In contrast, the signings held in the ballroom are famously "silent," and I saw a woman ejected for using packing tape too loudly.

Even with the ensuing relentless queueing for signatures, hearing from the authors in quick succession was rather thrilling. I didn't take a laptop with me, but got by with my iPad and iPhone. I paid $18 for Internet access for one day, and used cell data the rest of the time, quite distracted with the contents of my cardboard box of books. I was thrilled with some I hadn't read (Lola and the Boy Next Door, Every You, Every Me) and some I had (Bitter Melon, Revolution), I was also jealous (of the boxes with Divergent and The Lover's Dictionary, both of which I read but would have liked for school). I began reading Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler's The Future of Us at lunch Tuesday, and I finished it on the flight home.

Next year, both NCTE and ALAN are in Las Vegas. I have marked my calendar.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Budding digital librarians

I skyped in to Marc Aronson's class at Rutgers Wednesday night while he was away at the National Book Awards. David Rothrock from Follett was there to pinch-hit for Marc, and I talked a little bit about my experience with ebooks and ereaders in a school setting.

I was a little jealous all the students there had the luxury of thinking deeply about digital resources. I know that expertise will come in handy immediately, since this seems to be the flashpoint of the day. And it actually made me think of the Digital Libraries class I took in 2000 with Professor Malinconico, where I did a final presentation on Project Gutenberg, which I love more deeply now than ever and now use almost daily.  It was tremendously heartening to see all these young professionals asking really intelligent questions about a very murky and confusing topic.

One student asked specifically about current awareness mechanisms. I promised to send this list of blogs, events, and review sites:


Digital Shift, especially content by Josh Hadro there and in Library Journal

App reviews


SLJ Summit (face-to-face)

Thinking about it now, I would have added some more general interest library blogs, like Bobbi Newman's Librarian by Day and Sarah Houghton-Jan's Librarian in Black, which almost necessarily bump into ebook issues these days. I find I tend to get "too narrow" in my thinking in the first iteration these days. But I love the idea of helping young librarians cultivate their own professional learning ecosystems.

Monday, October 31, 2011


More stuff from around the web related to things I did at AASL this past week:

AASL Day One: E-ink and Collection Development from American Libraries

Preparing Tomorrow's School Library Leaders from School Library Journal

Buffy's YouTube Video from my Talk on Librarian Image in the Learning Commons

Sunday, October 30, 2011

50 Cent and school libraries

I just got off the plane from the AASL National Conference. Every little bit of it was terrific, most especially the F. Scott Fitzgerald Walking Tour and the Closing Celebration at the Nicollet Island Pavillion. I also had great visits to the Walker Art Center and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. Minneapolis (and St. Paul!) are way cool and I never knew it...

In the learning commons, the preconference, and the convention center, I managed to catch up with too many colleagues to list, but my favorite sessions by far were Lisa Perez's wonderful but unintimidating discussion of the important role librarians serve in integrating technology in schools, and Mimi Ito's closing keynote on harnessing student's digital energy for the good.

Ito's positive examples of media production were on my mind when I started reading 50 Cents' forthcoming book, Playground, on the way home. The protagonist is Butterball, an eighth grader with a passionate interest in film and manga and comics. The plot centers around an incident stemming what he believes to be a deep betrayal on the part of one of his few friends at his Long Island junior high school. But I keyed on two passages in particular:

"...when I was at the library at school, I looked up Batman and ended up finding out a bunch of shit about the guy who'd made the latest adaptation. Christopher Nolan, that's his name. I was interested, you know? He was like my opposite in every way -- from England, and rich and snooty and all the shit you'd expect, the kind of guy who'd cross to the side of the street if he saw me coming. But one thing really stood out for me, and that was that this cat made his first movie when he was seven years old. Isn't that crazy? I mean it was the same age I was then, and that brother had already made a movie? Man." (p.111)
Butterball began saving for his own camera, and edits video on it until he eventually gets a computer from an unlikely ally to craft a film, "The Superhero of Suburbia," for application to an arts magnet.

"I bought a Kryptonite lock for my locker and spent every free period and lunch holed up in the library, reviewing the footage Malik and I had shot the afternoon before" (p.227).
The language is a little strong, but it was otherwise a rather inoffensive read for middle grades, and very entertaining. As with last year's Val Frankel-ghosted Snookie book A Shore Thing, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and what an important representation of the potential role of school libraries in both young people's everyday life information seeking and multimedia production!

Thanks, Curtis. And thanks to the great conference committee -- it was my very favorite AASL (so far!).

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Gearing up for #AASL11

The every-other-year experience that is the AASL National Conference really IS the ultimate professional experience for school librarians. I've added more sessions than I could ever attend to my conference planner -- oh! the conflicts... -- but I'm very excited to see old friends and meet new ones in Minneapolis.

You can catch me ---
I am also going on the F. Scott Fitzgerald walking tour and will be blogging for the AASL blog throughout. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Reading, on the beach

I should be on my way across the Pacific Ocean right now, but American Airlines (who robbed me of the first days of my last two vacations, incidentally -- you'd think I'd learn) had other plans...

Anyway, I spent the last week on fall break in Maui. It was a rather atypical vacation for us, being resort-based, but I did get to observe the reading and working habits of many middle class individuals in Wailea, so that was something. My ethnographic notes:

• Dedicated ereaders abounded. And on the beach, and by the pool. I saw all varieties of Kindles and nooks, but also a bunch of Kobo readers.

• I was a little flabbergasted with the number of people contending with with iPads and MacBooks while sopping wet. And iPhones, Blackberrys, and SLRs. I am loathe to bring an iPod on the beach, but I seem alone in that reluctance.

• European visitors to the Fairmont Kea Lani were more likely than American counterparts to stick to print.

• Roughly one in four female visitors reading books were reading one book. The Help. I think that book is deeply offensive on so many levels, but that's an entry for another day. But the irony of reading something so self-congratulatory in such a context of privilege smacks on confirmation bias of some sort.

I read a stack of vintage Agatha Christies (all Poirot) instead of anything e. And I've caught up on 1200 entries in my RSS reader while stranded in Honolulu. Which was entirely depressing.

And I saw the Lahaina Public Library.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

1:1 versus 1:100

Since my trip to Kentucky, I have been fretting over how far behind we've fallen over the last few years. I am thrilled that we have maintained our staffing. With the exception of the increased divisor which left us with five fewer faculty members this year, our schools are more intact than many. But there are still problems.

The area I am most concerned about is technology. The district technology coordinator came by my school two weeks ago to help set up a mobile IVC lab for a virtual field trip, and he told me the number of computers in this year's budget -- about five per school, for 27 schools -- with the caveat that he was asked not to buy those until later in the fiscal year, suggesting he really might not be able to order them at all. Meanwhile, in many of the schools of the Kentucky media specialists who I met over there, there are laptops for each child. How can our students catch up in a 1:1 world, given the 1:100 ratio in my library and little open lab time? I have been working around it by bringing computers from my home, but I don't have an unlimited number of those, and they can't go on the school networks, which limits their utility to offline multimedia production.

Our library's student machines are limping along. I've paid from my scant funds to max out the RAM, but the newest are more than six years old. When I contrast them with those in the labs, they are positively zippy. Though I'm down more than $45,000 over the three years of zeroed materials funding, I can scrounge books, between conferences and publisher's samples and my own pocket. But computers are a larger proposition, especially given the ridiculous bid list pricing. I am afraid it will be a bloodbath to jockey for position when we open a new high school, given the increasing contest for scarce available resources. New schools get three years of library materials funding...and new computers.

I said this summer that their hadn't been palpable anxiety about the state cutting librarian and media specialists from the schools, but doesn't it feel like that might be an inevitable long-term outcome when those resource-based professionals are not given sufficient funding to carry out their job properly, year after year? Doesn't that increase the likelihood they won't be able to satisfy the needs of our students and teachers?

The young faculty don't know how their teaching lives could be different, with money for technology and professional development and common purchases. A member of our English department asked if I would get the $140 in classroom supply money that the teachers were allotted. When I told her about my prior budgets, literally more than a hundred time that amount, she expressed sheer surprise. I hope she is a teacher long enough that she will experience the luxury of those funds returning.