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.

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