Back in January, I wrote that 2014 would be the year of 1:1. Little did I know the extent to which this would become true in my rural region. Seven of the districts that I serve are implementing some level of 1:1 for 2014-15. The districts are all quite small—from just under 500 students to about 1,500—which can both help and hinder deployment.
The variety of models and hardware purchased will provide a real-world lab for exploring what works for school tech. Most of the districts are using Chromebooks, but two are going with Android tablets (LearnPads and Kenna tablets from TeacherTube), and one is considering either Microsoft Surface tablets or Windows netbooks. The smallest district is going full 1:1, while some others are looking to implement for grades 3–12.
My role is to facilitate a successful adoption throughout the region. One might think that as a former tech coordinator, I’d focus on professional development (PD). That will be a critical part of deployment, but the most important element is content.
Teaching teachers how to use technology works…but only for a while. If they don’t have material or killer apps that keep them using the technology, even the best PD won’t matter. Curricular content and related apps that meet instructional needs will make new technology stick.
The great news is that our libraries are well placed to deliver content. As I noted in an earlier column, we’ve been buying digital content and ebooks for classroom use for quite a while. For some, buying content without 1:1 devices seemed like putting the cart before the horse. But waiting around for a horse doesn’t get anything started. Build a cart, and you’re all set for a horse, a person, or a device to start pulling. The content and apps are the cart. Even if we can’t pull the cart quite yet, at least we’re making progress while getting up to speed on 1:1.
In our region, we’re also looking for more instructional resources that we can deliver through the library and library learning portals. Enough with the journal articles: we need real content designed for classroom teaching. I mean material such as Rosen’s PowerKnowledge and Core Concepts packages for science, ABC-CLIO resources for high school social studies, and Capstone’s expanding PebbleGo products for younger learners. Teachers can understand and implement these tools on new 1:1 hardware. These are sticky products that will ideally encourage daily use of Chromebooks and tablets.
The other key is to acquire quality apps. These tools have to both solve a problem and feel easy enough to use in order to allow for a smooth transition. For English teachers, that might mean a research support tool like NoodleTools or EasyBib. Or the new editing tool, Poetica, which integrates with Google Docs and makes beautiful use of standard correcting marks.
This is the time to share and build together. If 1:1 is coming to a third of my small, rural districts, it’s only a matter of time until it arrives in yours. Whether through BYOD or another hybrid adoption, we need to be ready to support the new hardware. Yes, we must be the source for PD as well, but the classroom content is what will make 1:1 truly work as the next big thing. What other apps would you recommend?
Cryogenically freezing the DNA of livestock animals might sound like a science fiction twist to Noah’s Ark, yet it’s the mission of a newly forged partnership called The Smithsonian and Swiss Village Farm (SVF) Foundation Biodiversity Project. The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the SVF Foundation announced in late July that they have joined forces to preserve rare and endangered heritage breeds of livestock, animals that our American forefathers raised for agriculture. Over the next several years, the SVF Foundation’s collection of frozen genetic materials will be incorporated into the Smithsonian’s vast genetic library of endangered animal species.
Founded in 1998, Newport, R.I.-based SVF conserves rare heritage livestock breeds using a method known as cryopreservation. This means the SVF freezes the genetic materials of specific breeds in the form of embryos, sperm, blood, and cells. In the last 15 years, the foundation, with support from Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, has amassed 86,000 frozen genetic samples from 26 heritage breeds. The foundation selects breeds based on the Livestock Conservancy’s Priority List, which include the Dutch Belted Cattle and the Tunis Sheep.
Although heritage breeds cannot produce as much as the breeds that now dominate the meat, poultry and dairy industries, they possess distinct qualities that contribute to biodiversity, according to Peter Borden, the executive director of the SVF Foundation.
“Our commercial breeds do a wonderful job of providing us what we need, but what those breeds don’t have are certain traits that the heritage breeds do have, like disease resistance, mothering ability or simply environmental adaptation,” says Borden. “We can’t afford to crossbreed those traits out of existence.”
Borden added that if something were to threaten a commercial breed, such as an infectious disease, their collection would be useful in ensuring food security. They could thaw out the frozen germplasm and implant them into surrogates, which the SVF Foundation first accomplished in 2004 with a Tennessee fainting goat.
Even before contacting the Smithsonian, the SVF Foundation had, for some time, planned to transfer their growing genetic library to a larger bank. One component of the partnership involves the construction of a facility at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s 3,200-acre campus in Front Royal, Va., which they project will be finished in five years. Meanwhile, this would be the Smithsonian Institution’s first venture with heritage breeds.
“What [the SVF Foundation] does with heritage breeds, we do with endangered species,” says Pierre Comizzoli, a research biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.
Comizzoli leads the Pan-Smithsonian Cryo-Initiative, which aims to oversee the Institution’s numerous collections of frozen samples from rare species, which in total consists of approximately one million frozen samples from 18,000 species. One major part of the initiative is a massive effort to create a catalog system between these collections.
For the SVF Foundation, the Smithsonian’s scientists would be able to provide their advanced expertise in preserving rare and endangered species. For example, according to Dr. Comizzoli, their skills would be helpful in improving success rates in artificial insemination to reawaken breeds as well as the quality of frozen genetic samples, a very delicate process.
“When you collect semen samples from any species, millions of sperm that are alive in the fresh sample will become lost in the freezing process,” says Comizzoli. “So you don’t just plunge a sample into liquid nitrogen. In order to make sure the maximum amount of sperm stay alive, we mix the samples with cryodiluents and freeze them at different rates, depending on the animal species, whether it’s a bull, giraffe or elephant.”
In other words, to make sure enough sperm survive, these scientists don’t cool the semen sample of a wolf at the same speed as they would cool a sample from a turtle. Additionally, to make things really tricky, Comizzoli says there’s also variation between individuals within a species, in terms of how much sperm die off in the cooling process.
As the partnership continues, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute plans to work with farmers to help the SVF Foundation acquire more genetic samples to reach the target of 140,000 samples from 35 breeds. Tracking down animals that belong to specific breeds, noted Borden, is a major challenge of preserving heritage livestock. Since the SVF Foundation requires 200 embryos and 3,000 straws of semen per breed, obtaining enough material for one breed can be slow and time-consuming.
Ultimately, Borden sees the partnership with the Smithsonian as a major turning point for the SVF Foundation and the preservation of heritage livestock breeds.
“It really validates all the effort we put in over the last fifteen years of going out and meeting with farmers, and acquiring all of these genetic samples of rare breeds,” says Borden. “Seeing the Smithsonian’s name next to ours—it doesn’t get any better than that.”
As scary as this statement is, I’m my own SysAdmin. This does not come from choice, mind you, but necessity. Sure, I could farm out server administration like many do, but I’ve never found the complete flexibility and power from such arrangements that having your very own server provides. So I make do.
And “making do” has so far meant that every now and then I need to wipe the thing clean and start from scratch. I’ve done this several times now, sometimes because the server was hacked and other times because I was an idiot and did something from which server wiping was the least painful of solutions. Or at least the most understandable to this accidental SysAdmin.
So recently (ok, like yesterday) I completed such a process yet again. Thankfully, this time I was able to take the time to do a full backup. And I mean full. Here are some of my “take-aways” from this project, which most real SysAdmins will laugh at for reasons ranging from “duh” to “you’ve got to be kidding”. But here goes, nonetheless:
- Backup everything unique. Everything. Perhaps you are thinking “duh” at this point, but allow me to elaborate. This item covers things that perhaps don’t immediately occur to you. Besides all of your data files there are essential configuration bits that would be difficult to build back from scratch. For example, your web configuration files that are in the directory “sites-enabled” if you are using Apache2. In backing up that directory, I was dismayed to discover that one of them was a sym-link to “sites-available”, so I had to rebuild that one from the default settings. Keep in mind that the directory “mods-enabled” is likely only sym-links to “mods-available”.
- Don’t forget database files. Typically you will backup your database files using the usual utilities, depending on whether you use MySQL, PostGres, or what have you. I cheated this time and simply copied the database files from where MySQL stored them and it worked fine, as far as I could tell, and was less work and more intuitive to me. YMMV.
- Document everything you do. I was not very good at this before and I keep paying the price. So this time I was determined to document every step so I didn’t have to figure it out each time. You will be glad you did too.
- Pay attention to dependencies. Most Unix software you install requires other bits to be installed first. Don’t gloss over these, as you will regret it if you don’t get them successfully installed first.
- Consider taking this opportunity to change or upgrade things. I flirted with the idea of installing the latest operating system but then decided I could do the upgrade after getting back up and I didn’t want to complicate anything by having to deal with potential problems from the upgrade. However, I did take the opportunity to fix a couple things that had been nagging problems in my last install.
- Focus on getting the most important sites/services up first. I had my most important sites back up within 24-hours, but my personal web site was down for over a week due to problems and intervening travel. I doubt my fans were too disappointed. It they were, they were very quiet about it.
- Don’t forget to “harden” the system after you install it. There are various security things you can change to make it harder to hack into your server. Don’t forget to do those or else you may be doing this entire process again soon.
As an accidental SysAdmin I’m sure there are other things that real SysAdmins can point out, which I invite anyone to do in the comments below. I’m being selfish, as I’m hoping to learn how to do this better for the next time. Because I’m absolutely sure of one thing — there will be a next time.
You stop by your neighbor’s classroom. The kids have spread out all over the place, each with a tablet computer in hand. Some tap furiously at their screens, dragging, dropping, and matching questions and answers. Others are typing. Some read. Here and there, a pair of students lean over a shared tablet, pointing out and manipulating parts of an art project or movie.
This is a scene out of both the present and future of public education, depending on where you are, and it’s one in which AWE Digital Learning Solutions wants to play a role as a provider of “all-in-one” solutions facilitating the spectrum of work going on.
Figuring out and planning what kids should learn with tablets—and how they should learn it—is a complex task that has engendered all sorts of debate among educators. When do we want kids to consume content, or produce something instead? How much time should we be spending on screens, as opposed to making something ‘real’ at the table or outside the classroom? What should we prescribe for kids—and what should they explore on their own? Is there a useful difference between work and play, as long as kids are learning?
The AWE tablet is one attempt to answer all those questions at once. How well it does so largely depends on how teachers use it in the classroom.
What is the AWE tablet?
The AWE tablet is a mobile, hand-held version of AWE’s “all-in-one” educational workstation. In pursuing its mission of creating lifelong learners, AWE sells devices that package a wide variety of discipline-area activities for three age groups: preK, grades K–3, and grades 4–6. Each Awe tablet ships with a very responsive stylus, as well as a thin, hard-case cover for the back of the device. AWE offers a purchase as well as a subscription pricing model, along with quantity discounts. External keyboards are available for an additional cost.
AWE’s approach to lifelong learning relies on pairing individual kids with the content-area work through personalized learning plans accessible via their workstations—and, now, the AWE tablet. This blended-learning approach depends on the quality of the plans prepared by the teachers, as well as the curation of content on each tablet.
The tablets themselves are lightning-quick Dell machines running AWE’s “browser” that presents and sorts the instructional package installed by AWE. These are not tablets for surfing the Internet or learning to code. They are solid, traditionally oriented learning tools that kids can take to their favorite classroom perches to access personalized curricula. This isn’t the only tool you’d need in an inquiry-focused or production-centered classroom, but it can anchor content-driven practice and meet classroom needs for a productivity suite through its included Libre Office package. Many other AWE tablet’s apps are also available.
What can educators do with it?
Teachers can use the AWE tablet for facilitating prescriptive, collaborative, or explorative work in the classroom. Using the AWE Customer Portal and admin tools on the tablet itself, teachers can write personalized education plans (PEP) for students. They can also sort, select, and assign specific apps, as well as lessons within those apps, to individual students. Tasks can be sorted, grouped, and sent to kids’ tablets by content, grade level, and skill. Furthermore, teachers can create and save whole-class, small-group, and individual “play lists” of work to broadcast to as many tablets as they’d like. Bundled apps include a number of popular literacy and numeracy aids (like JumpStart) and, to a lesser extent, content for the arts, history, and science. Teachers can control the session duration for each tablet in order to time kids’ responses to their assigned work or end a session to prevent eye-strain or overuse.
However, teachers cannot add apps to those put on the tablet by AWE. This tablet is not for Internet deep dives or cutting-edge coding or media production apps. It does include a number of kid-friendly art, movie, and music programs, but student work will be defined by what each app allows, rather than by what teachers and students can imagine making together.
That doesn’t mean that the AWE tablet couldn’t be useful in a very production-centered classroom. It just means that in such a classroom, this tablet might play more of a niche role in an independent-practice or skills-building station. It could support the development of foundational skills helpful in more in-depth research and production projects.
The AWE customer portal, which synchronizes PEPs and student-use statistics, also lets teachers monitor student use and progress.
Key Concepts For Technology-driven Classrooms
• “Blended Learning” (Wikipedia)
• “One-to-One Computing” (Wikipedia)
• Production-oriented learning (EduTechWiki)
• “The Best Device is a Good Teacher” (Edutopia)
How can kids best use the AWE tablet?
What students can do with the tablet is very much controlled by their teachers. They can use it to complete practice activities that you assign—or, in some cases, to explore, play, and learn through the apps that most appeal to them. If you’re looking to foster exploration and inquiry alongside compliance and safety, you’ll have to be very intentional about how you frame kids’ time with AWE’s tablet.
The AWE tablet is a fast, dependable device for delivering blended content-area practice to individual students. It’s a robust organizational tool for assigning and tracking blended work. Before purchasing, you should think about how such a device can play a meaningful role in your school or classroom, and how it can support kids in becoming those life-long learners—inside and outside blended environments—that AWE hopes to foster. This tablet works best as a launch pad or touchstone instead of an instructional end in and of itself.
The two “one button” simplified video recording studios at the Pennsylvania State University (PSU) Library’s Tombros and McWhirter Knowledge Commons have proven exceptionally popular, and are now used for about 4,500 recording sessions per year, according to Justin Miller, Media Commons project manager for Penn State Educational Technology Services.
“The student population at University Park [campus] is around 45,000 students. So we’re seeing, per year, a group the size of ten percent of our student body using two rooms on a campus that is probably a mile long,” Miller said. “It’s fantastic for us.”
The studios, which enable students to produce professional quality presentations and green screen recordings by simply plugging a flash drive into a USB port and pressing a single button, were initially launched in February 2012. Usage has grown rapidly ever since, and Penn State’s Media Commons team has continued to refine the studio model while rolling it out to the university’s other commonwealth locations across the state. In November 2013, the team released a free iOS app, enabling other libraries and universities to build their own one button studios. And, this summer, the studios were recognized at the American Library Association’s annual conference as a “Cutting Edge Technology” trend.
Penn State’s media commons has long offered professional equipment and in-person assistance to help students create multimedia and video recordings. Traditional studios outfitted with MiniDV high-definition cameras, lighting kits, and professional audio equipment were once a staple at more than 20 campuses throughout the state. Yet, “it was increasingly difficult to get students to use that space,” Miller said. “The cameras were complex, the workflow was complex, it was time consuming.”
A few years ago, the Media Commons department acquired several Flip Video recorders to loan out, and the simple handheld units soon demonstrated that there was significant demand on campus for an easy-to-use recording solution.
“Those were great, because they had one big red button on the back,” Miller said. Students and faculty could just press the button and start recording with no fuss. “Everybody started using those, and nobody was using the studios whatsoever.”
The problem, however, was that the Flip Video recorders produced poor quality recordings, comparable to what might be produced with a cell phone. When used in the field, many videos suffered from bad lighting and lots of background noise.
“The projects that students were turning out weren’t great or were difficult to hear, but they were doing them,” Miller said. “We thought, ‘what if we could achieve that same workflow, but have the controlled environment of the studio?’”
A proof of concept AppleScript was written in late 2010, and a new position was created to hire a developer, who then wrote the current iOS app using Objective-C. Whenever a user plugs in his or her USB drive, the app recognizes that a new volume has been mounted, and then sends out commands that turn on the lights and camera, as the One Button Studio Setup Guide explains. Video and audio streams are directed through an h.264 encoder, which compresses the recording. When the user presses the button, the app starts with a countdown, and then begins recording the compressed video onto a connected Mac Mini computer. When the user is finished recording, he or she stops the operation by pressing the button the second time, at which point the app takes the Mac Mini recording, flattens it into an MP4 file, copies it onto the plugged-in flash drive, and lets the user know their video is ready. When the flash drive is removed, the app then shuts down the lights.
“What the app does is it basically makes all of that work together, so that you have this single, streamlined solution,” Miller explained. “To the user, it seems like it’s one device, when in reality, it’s many devices that we’ve made talk together with this app.”
The iOS app is free, and a list of components needed to build a one-button studio is itemized in detail with current pricing in a guide published by PSU. A complete setup comparable to the studios at PSU—including a separate iMac set up as a media center where users can view their presentations—costs about $7,200.
“The studio is a little bit modular,” Miller said. “The equipment list includes everything that you can use. But maybe you don’t want a green screen so you don’t need an extra lighting kit. That reduces your cost by $700. You can customize the list to fit your specific needs or any institution’s specific needs, but typically, it costs us anywhere from $7000 to $10,000 to build a studio. One of the things that we are continually working on is bringing that price down.”
A year ago, Superintendent of the Weslaco Independent School District (WISD) Ruben Alejandro signed up his district for a pilot program with digital learning company myON—which provides access to e-libraries for schools—because he wanted students “to have access to reading 24/7, anytime, anywhere.” Alejandro had a vision to accelerate early learning across the community and empower every student within the district with the necessary technological tools for a competitive 21st–century education.
Signing up his district for unlimited access to myON, which enables anyone with an account to access the thousands of books on the digital library, is one of his “Zero to Three Weslaco Reads” initiatives that provides his school district with access through myON; for community outreach and to spread the news, Alejandro partnered with 21 daycares across his community, as well as three Head Start programs, the public library, and the community hospital.
“We wanted children to be exposed to the myON reading platform before birth,” said Alejandro, “so we told the [Welasco] community that expectant mothers should also be reading to their children.”
Alejandro’s focus on early learning (ages zero to three before children enter the school system) is indicative of a larger, nationwide trend toward early learning, starting with The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recent “announcement of a new policy that recommends parents to read to their children from birth, emphasizing the importance of literacy during early childhood development. It was also that topic at this week’s Preschool National Summit (on August 5) keynoted by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio that “reinforced the educational, social, and economic needs for expanding quality early learning to improve outcomes for children, families, and communities throughout the nation,” according to Scholastic’s press release.
By providing access to books and reading before a child enters the school system, Alejandro hopes to reach very young students in order to provide the opportunity to accelerate the student’s fluency, comprehension, and critical thinking skills.
The learning platform is free for students, parents, and community members to access. Provided with a user ID, anyone can log in to the Web-based platform. Todd Brekhus, president of myON, notes that myON can be accessed through its free app on “pretty much any platform you can think of so you can download books” on smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Though internet access is required to download books—up to 20 at a time—Brekhus says the books can be read offline.
The e-library includes approximately 7,000 titles from academic and non-academic publishers with a focus on K-8 readers. Brekhus goes on to explain that what sets myON apart from a regular e-library platform is that it “has a lot of built-in supports and built-in tracking. Teachers can go in there and create a playlist for their students’ assigned reading. [It also tracks] the amount of books that are opened and how much time students spend reading.” In addition, the system allows educators to track students’ reading comprehension. “There are quizzes and tests embedded at the end of chapters or the ends of the books.”
For English Language Learners (ELL), Brekhus says “a lot of the books they have in myON are in English and Spanish… [there is also a] text-to-speech [function] which will translate from English to Spanish and is one of several different multimedia supports that help the student read and learn English.”
One compelling reason why WISD teamed up with myON was the high population of ELLs in the school’s district. Alejandro praises the platform’s tracking features, because “it checks the reading level [of the child logged in] and ties it to a Lexile score,” an easy tracking metric for teachers and administrators.
Javier Salinas, executive director for WISD’s Elementary Curriculum, notes that since the introduction of the myON pilot in 2013, students have not only “read half a million books this [school year and summer], but our Lexile levels have been growing up to about 70 to 90 points for kids at certain grade levels.”
Higher Lexile metrics aren’t the only component of myON’s success in the school district. Alejandro explains part of myON’s appeal is its BYOD [Bring Your Own Device] approach.
“One of the things I found out is that kids usually have the latest and greatest [technology] themselves,” he says. “They always have a phone in their pocket so that’s why BYOD makes the most sense.”
Though, knowing a high percentage of the population is economically disadvantaged, Alejandro says WISD will “usually allocate about a million dollars every year to do computer replacement. We upgrade our system every few years, so we have [a limited number] of tablets available that kids can check out overnight or over the weekend for special projects.”
This year, WISD’s budget allowed the district to purchase myON on a district-wide basis for the cost of $300,000—versus purchasing the platform on a campus-by-campus basis. Seeing the potential to reach out to community members who already owned smartphones and tablets, Alejandro and myON came to an agreement—and myON provided a pilot program for the entire of community of Weslaco to use as well.
The district is at the end of the first year of a three-year program, but they are already thinking of expanding the program to high school students. Tracking metrics and Lexile scores will continue, but the e-library seems to be a success in terms of scores and usage .
“Just the fact that it’s on a digital device or tablet, that in itself promotes excitement in reading,” says Alejandro.
Mythili Sampathkumar is a UN reporter and freelance journalist based in NYC and loves visiting old libraries and used book stores in every city she travels. Follow her on Twitter @RestlessRani.
California School District’s Administrator Helps Students Access Books When School Librarians Disappear
Jay Greenlinger knew there was little he could do to restore the school librarian positions that had been cut from his district. So he tackled what he knew best—ebooks, devices, online subscriptions, and technology—to support students’ access to materials for their learning.
“Most schools do not have a functioning library,” says Greenlinger, director of instructional technology at the Pleasant Valley School District (PVSD) in Camarillo, California. “It’s a great place to hold meetings or display student work, but it’s no longer a center of learning, no longer a hub.”
PVSD’s budget went from $65 million in the 2007-2008 school year to $49 million for 2013-2014, while the district gained about 600 additional children, he says. Cuts over the past six years meant fewer hours for custodians, afterschool positions, and library media specialists. Greenlinger, a former principal, had a full-time media specialist at the time. He had to split her time the second year and completely lost the budget for the position by 2011-2012. He transitioned to his current position in 2013.
Noting that there was a shift in learning content toward digital materials, Greenlinger began to look at what was available online that could dovetail with school curriculum and allow students to, at least, find books and other resources. For the 2013-2014 school year, he launched a 1:1 iPad program in five elementary classrooms across the district at Title 1 schools, partnering with the public library and bringing 130 students to a local branch to learn how much they could get online through OverDrive on their devices.
“The kids were hooked, reading books on their iPads that morning,” he says. “One girl was distraught that Nancy Drew was not on OverDrive.”
That’s when Greenlinger knew he had a solution. With the school district allocating funds for Common Core implementation over the next two years, he drew from those resources, budgeting $65,000 for the 2014-2015 school year—and the same for the next—to build a high-interest library containing non-fiction, fiction, and professional reading for both students and teachers.
Students at Las Colinas Middle School in Camarillo are already putting the library to use, accessing the OverDrive library on the school’s 106 Chromebooks and on their own mobile devices. The school is looking to add five more sets of 36 Chromebooks for the 2014-2015 school year, and the PTSA is also raising funds for additional devices for the 1,000 6-8 grade students, says the school’s principal, Pam Gonzalez.
“I will not say that we have a vast majority of students bringing their own devices at this time, but I see that growing,” she says. “The goal is to get more devices into the hands of kids.”
Greenlinger is also transitioning two teachers to manage the new online library. This year, they worked one day a week growing the district’s online subscriptions, video content, and digital materials. Next year, they’ll be full-time, assigned as Teachers on Special Assignment on Digital Media Integration.
“Most of my time will be looking at what’s available to bring the best and most appropriate books into our library,” says Shirleen Oplustic, a sixth grade language arts and history teacher at Las Colinas. “I’ll also be promoting the library so students and teachers who aren’t aware now will know it’s there and know it’s able to be used.”
Already, every student in the district has an OverDrive account accessible from wherever they want to work. Greenlinger, concerned about ensuring kids having access from home (as 30 percent of the student body qualifies for free or reduced lunch), ran a technology survey in February 2014 within the community among grades 3 through 8. What he found reassured him. Ninty-five percent of students had wireless access from home, and therefore could connect to OverDrive from home even if that meant it would be through a parent’s tablet or e-reader. Now, his goal now is to find a way to fill that five percent gap.
“We don’t know what that means, but we recognize this is a solvable problem,” he says. “We’re going to see if there are any municipal partnerships we can form to solve it.”
What he’s also sure about is that while he’d love to see school librarians restored to his district—and across the state—he will at least focus on what he can do to ensure that the students he serves are not left completely without access. To him, that means staying on top of digital resources—so students can at least have the materials they need, when they need them.
“Everything is Web based,” he says. “This shift is content in classrooms is now going digital. You’re either all in with that, or left behind.”
Shortly after Simon & Schuster’s June 26 announcement that it had concluded a 15-month pilot test and would make its entire ebook catalog available to all U.S. libraries, Macmillan last week announced that it will make all frontlist ebook titles available to U.S. libraries as well. These moves mark a milestone in terms of the availability of popular ebooks, as Macmillan and Simon & Schuster became the final two of the “big five” publishers to allow U.S. libraries to license and loan all titles in their ebook collections, joining the merged Penguin Random House, Hachette, and HarperCollins. Nonetheless, several industry executives promised to maintain an ongoing dialog with publishers, addressing ongoing concerns regarding issues such as ebook pricing and licensing terms.
“Today represents an important step forward in ensuring that the public has access to the full range of digital content,” American Library Association (ALA) President Courtney Young wrote in a statement on July 29. “However, we must remember that the digital content marketplace is in the midst of a revolution, and thus many more issues remain to be addressed. ALA looks forward to continuing discussions with Macmillan, and more broadly with authors, authors’ representatives, publishers, distributors, and retailers to create new opportunities to support a healthy reading ecosystem for the digital age.”
An ally in libraries
During the headiest days of ebook growth in 2010 and 2011, several major publishers expressed misgivings about library ebook lending. If library users could conveniently download their titles for free, those patrons would have no reason to buy ebooks or print books, they argued. Several studies and, later, pilot tests helped ease these concerns. Now, those publishers are once again seeing libraries as an ally in their marketing efforts, rather than a threat to sales.
“I think that publishers are, on the digital side, now looking at libraries as a necessary partner in how they market and introduce writers—especially new writers—to the world,” Michael Bills, Baker & Taylor’s director of sales, digital products, told LJ. Publishers have begun to understand that once a library facilitates the discovery of a new author or series, a patron more often than not, will become a buyer of that material, he added.
OverDrive CEO Steve Potash agreed, noting that the pilot tests conducted by these major publishers had helped prove that ebook lending can play an important role in discovery without compromising retail sales.
“Historically, I had to use anecdotal arguments about exposure,” Potash told LJ. “What’s great about how things have evolved is that the sales numbers are in. In addition to the revenue that publishers and authors are enjoying from the library market, they’re not seeing their fears materialize. People who are discovering and borrowing ebooks from the library are, in many cases, buyers. And, it’s not eroding retail sales, either for print or ebooks.”
Yet for libraries, the situation remains far from ideal. Unlike physical materials such as print books, CDs, and DVDs, ebooks are not protected by first sale doctrine. A publisher that chooses to license titles to libraries can set any terms it wants, which has resulted in a proliferation of new pricing and lending models for ebooks. Macmillan, for example, now offers its titles under a one-user, one-ebook model with licenses expiring after two years or 52 loans. Penguin and Random House have maintained separate licensing terms since their merger. Simon & Schuster, like Penguin, does not impose loan caps, but their one-user, one-ebook licenses expire after one year. HarperCollins has a 26 loan cap with no expiration date. Only Random House and Hachette offer non-expiring, uncapped licenses to libraries, and both publishers charge libraries a 300 percent markup over retail on new ebooks.
3M Cloud Library marketing manager Tom Mercer said that he does not expect publishers to settle on a single licensing model anytime soon. However, on a positive note, he said that librarians are getting better at weighing the pros and cons of these different models, and adjusting their purchases accordingly.
“All of the big five have different licensing models, and that does incent different [buying] behaviors,” Mercer said. “But I think the library buyer is getting savvy, and figuring out how to get really great circulation out of their digital investment.”
Maintaining a collection while juggling all of these terms can be difficult, said Rochelle Logan, associate director of support services for Colorado’s Douglas County Library (DCL).
“It’s really wearing on my staff to have to keep track of all of these different models,” Logan said. With large collections, there is a constant flow of unrelated titles reaching loan caps or expiration dates, she explained. “You get reports: do you want to repurchase? It’s just a real bear to on the ground floor to keep it going.”
For this reason, Logan believes that the library-owned, library-managed ebook model pioneered by DCL and adopted by several other systems, including California’s Califa Library Group, will continue to grow, even as the availability of licensed ebooks improves.
“Our model is great on a number of levels,” she told LJ. “It doesn’t replace [OverDrive, 3M Cloud Library, or Axis 360], obviously, but it is still much easier to maintain, because once you have an ebook on your Adobe Content Server, you have it. It doesn’t expire.”
With all of the big five now active in the library channel, and with the Douglas County Model emerging as a viable option for many systems, library purchasing habits will, in turn, begin to shape how publishers approach the market.
“I think we’ll see more experimentation with business models,” Bills said. “Publishers will refine those models with market feedback to find what works best.”
Potash was also optimistic, predicting that competitive market forces “are going to start to create opportunities where publishers will want to consider price reductions or loosening of some of their [licensing] restrictions, because they want to enjoy broader adoption on the virtual shelves of libraries.”
“Each of these steps forward is part of an evolution where, I believe, public libraries are going to be on par—in terms of appreciation from authors and publishers—with the retail channel,” Potash added. “They’re going to realize that this is not only producing revenue and exposing their products to new buyers, but that they’re getting tremendous extra benefits in discovery.”
It wasn’t too long ago that people thought reading books on a computer could never replace the real, ink-and-paper feel of a good old-fashioned book. And while people continue to appreciate books in their traditional form, sales of Amazon’s Kindles topped $4.5 billion last year, according to research by Morgan Stanley. More telling, though, is how normal it seems to read a book on an electronic device. But scientists and developers haven’t stopped there. New technology continues to challenge our notions of what we read, how we read, and who has access to reading.
Researchers at Stony Brook University (SBU), NY, have developed a program that they say can predict future best-selling books, by tracking similarities in style, word choice, and sentence structure that have been shown to exist among books that are already best sellers. They say they’ve achieved an 84 percent success rate when applying their program to already published books.
Michael Santangelo, the electronic services coordinator for BookOps, which handles selection, acquisitions, management, and distribution for New York Public Library (NYPL) and Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), said he’d be excited to try another tool that helps make the selection process easier. A 2011 Library Journal Mover & Shaker, Santangelo is already been using the CollectionHQ service at NYPL and BPL for three years
“It uses evidence-based inventory management so you can see what’s going and not going in your collection, so you can remove what’s not moving,” Santangelo said of that service, though he also noted that “we love technology to move us further along in the process, but we don’t want to remove the person from the decision.”
While a best seller predictor may influence what we read, a new app is aiming to change how we read, by using an old method of speed-reading and reworking it for the technological age.
Spritz, an app available for mobile devices, shows a quick succession of single words, which developers say cuts the time your eyes spend searching for words on a page, can increase your reading speed, and is ideal for reading text on small screens.
Barbara Chaparro, a professor at Wichita State University, KS, has authored several studies about the rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) technology used by Spritz and said the app could be a good way to read on a mobile device. The app has already received criticism from experts who say reading comprehension suffers as the rate of words per minute increases, but Chaparro said speed wouldn’t necessarily be the goal for users of the app—the usefulness may lie in its ability to be employed on tiny screens, such as Google Glass monitors or smartwatches. Also, Spritz can be set to run at 250 words per minute, which is about the average reading speed. “That’s what RSVP was originally developed for, people who wanted to speed-read,” Chaparro said. “But they weren’t really thinking of these kind of applications at that time.”
Perhaps technology’s biggest impact on reading lies in the access for those who have traditionally struggled with gaining it—namely, blind people. Karen Keninger, the director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, said that technology has completely changed the reading experience for blind people.
“Before the internet and everything, you’d have hard-copy braille or human narrative recording,” Keninger said. “Now you have digital text, that you can use a device to read with braille or listen to it being read digitally,” something she says has given blind people the ability to read a much wider range of text.
A new device made by researchers at MIT hopes to take that even further—the Finger Reader, a device that’s worn like a ring, has the ability to scan words that you point to on the page and read them aloud to you. It uses optical character recognition, or OCR, which has been a mainstay of reading technology for the blind since the 1970s, but makes it smaller, wearable, and portable.
Keninger isn’t convinced the Finger Reader will be better for reading than a traditional OCR device, which scans a page at a time and reads it aloud digitally, particularly for longer material, like you’d often see at a library.
“I think you’d have to be, if you were a blind person, you’d need some training to use that,” Keninger said. “I could see it being useful for reading something short, like a label on a soup can.”
For libraries, the NLS has created an app that allows blind readers to download books onto their mobile devices. They currently have 12,000 braille titles, which can be read with a Bluetooth braille attachment, and 40,000 audio books available, and the number is growing daily.
“We tend to focus on what we can’t do sometimes,” Keninger said, “but the fact is there is a tremendously greater amount of information available that I have access to.”
Missouri library patrons can now rest assured that their library records for checkout of digital materials will remain private.
The Missouri State Legislature introduced two related bills aimed to update its existing privacy laws to include records for materials including ebooks, electronic documents, streaming video, music, and downloadable audiobooks, as well as the use of using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon approved one of the bills, which went into effect on August 28, while rejecting the other.
Though the privacy of patrons’ library records has traditionally been sacrosanct, digital technology has transformed library services, and many states’ privacy laws have been slow to address records for digital media.
Thanks in part to the lobbying efforts of librarians across the state, Governor Nixon signed HB 1085, the Missouri House of Representatives bill expanding the purview of privacy laws concerning library records to include digital items from third-party vendors.
The existing privacy laws cover patrons’ personal information when they check out paper books. But electronic media, though accessed from the library’s gateway, is often administered by a third party.
Missouri “already had very strong protection of library records, but our main concern was that the digital age be taken into account, that digital records be included in [data privacy legislation],” said Jim Schmidt, legislative committee chair of the Missouri Library Association (MLA). Consumer protection was MLA’s main talking point when taking the issue to their State Representatives, Schmidt added.
“In order for users to access these services, vendors must authenticate them as [our library] cardholders; this gives the vendors access to our user database,” said Pam Klipsch, director of Missouri’s Jefferson County Library.
At Klipsch’s request, Missouri Rep. John McCaherty of Jefferson and St. Louis counties sponsored the bill to “to insure that any personally identifiable information about [users] and any information about the resources they accessed remained equally protected and confidential on the vendor side as on the library side of that transaction,” she said.
The bill requires third-party vendors to tell libraries and individual patrons if the vendor’s data servers experience a security breach, Klipsch explained. It also empowers patrons to take their library record privacy matters into their own hands, allowing them to request thaat the third-party vendors be investigated if the patron feels their data has been compromised. Librarians across the state met with third-party vendors to discuss the law’s implementation earlier this month.
The second, rejected bill, Missouri Senate bill 523 (SB 523), concerned libraries in an indirect way. The bill would have allowed students to opt out of using RFID technology in their school identification cards, which often double as library cards.
RFID is used in items such as toll booth passes, credit cards, and animal collars, which contain RFID “locator chips” that store all manner of data. When placed in student ID/library cards, RFID chips can also store library record information. The bill was intended to protect students’ geographical locations from anyone with an RFID reader, and to prevent access to private data tied to their school IDs.
Governor Nixon vetoed SB 523 on the grounds that though the technology is not currently employed by any Missouri public schools, it has the potential to be used as a safety measure by schools. For instance, students could be located via their IDs during times of emergency or natural disaster. This also means that for now, any possible associated library records are also accessible via the chip.
As we all know, it’s never too early to encourage reading. I regularly Skype with my two young nieces, who live 1,200 miles away. The four-year-old shares her current bedtime book with me, and shows me the words she can recognize in it. While reading in person with a child is best, these apps and sites also help very young students get excited about learning to read and write.
Building Language for Literacy (Scholastic) offers three nice little language activities, designed for preK and kindergarten students. Leo Loves to Spell! asks students to help a lobster named Leo identify the first letter of a series of spelling words arranged in 12 categories. Reggie Loves to Rhyme! features a rhinoceros that needs help identifying the words that rhyme with objects, from places including a construction site, garden, and supermarket. Nina Loves to Name Things! presents a newt that needs a hand naming objects in places such as a farm, aquarium, and firehouse. All of these activities are suited to use on an individual basis or for projection onto an interactive whiteboard to use in group lessons.
Writing is more fun when you have an eager, friendly audience, and a nice way for young students to develop their writing skills these days is for them to send emails to grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Maily is a free iPad app that provides a safe, fun way to do so. After setting up the Maily account, parents select and add contacts, and children may send and receive emails only from those people. The user interface is kid-friendly, and children can choose to draw pictures, use templates to create emails, and/or upload pictures. To send their emails, users click the “send” button and select the image of the person they want to receive it.
The Collins Big Cat iPad apps (HarperCollins) are part short story and part story-creation tools. Each of these eight free tools contains a tale that kids can read or have someone narrate. Kids can manipulate interactive elements on each page. Then, after reading and or listening to a story, they can create their own tale by choosing settings and characters matching the theme of what they’ve just read.
Using the story creation aspect of these apps, students can select a background, drag design features into the background, drag characters into the story, add text, and record their own narrations. To get a sense of how the apps work, check out the It Was a Cold, Dark Night story creator, in which you’ll follow along with a hedgehog as he tries to find a warm place to sleep. There’s also a quiz designed to check for understanding.
Reading Bear is a free service with narrated lessons about recognizing and pronouncing letters and words, along with lessons on prefixes and suffixes. Students can control the pace of each lesson, and also take quizzes in which they match the correct word with a picture. Through a narrator, they receive instant feedback on each question. Reading Bear presents good independent activities as well as ones involving a parent or tutor.
None of these sites and apps are replacements for in-person reading and writing lessons. But they can make practicing these skills a lot more fun.
In a long-expected move, Amazon on July 18 announced the launch of Kindle Unlimited, a new subscription service that will give users unlimited access to a selection of 600,000 ebooks and more than 2,000 audiobooks on Amazon Kindle devices and any device with a Kindle app for $9.99 per month. Amazon is not first to market with an “all you can read” commercial ebook subscription platform—it follows last year’s launch of Scribd and Oyster. But the online retailer’s financial resources, marketing clout, and massive base of Kindle users will doubtless raise consumer awareness of ebook subscription services while altering the competitive landscape for all providers of ebooks, including libraries.
“I’m enough of a realist to assume that consumers will gravitate to the cheapest, most convenient source of content, whether that’s Amazon or the public library,” said Jimmy Thomas, executive director of Colorado’s Marmot Library Network. “Amazon continues to set a high standard of convenience libraries should attend to. And every time this huge corporation does something on a massive scale, libraries should be reminded to approach services differently. Competing with Amazon on its own terms is not a good direction for libraries. But thinking about how to complement Amazon is worthwhile.”
Describing the service as a potentially “disruptive challenge to libraries,” Jamie LaRue, principal of LaRue and Associates Consulting, told LJ that “even in rural areas now, a lot of folks have ereaders, and find that they prefer ebooks. This kind of service, at that price point, will probably result in another market shift. $9.99 is a pretty good deal. And let’s remember that the average monthly payment per household for libraries is only $2.68.”
Amazon’s appetite for market share remains voracious as ever, noted Eric Hellman, president of Gluejar and its unglue.it site, which helps make specific ebook titles free under a Creative Commons license. “It’s clear that Amazon sees ‘free’ as its competition in the ebook space. And yes, libraries occupy space in the ebook market that Amazon wants for itself.”
The reviews are in
At launch, there are chinks in the armor of this new 600,000 title behemoth. While Amazon has publicized the availability of popular series including “Harry Potter,” “The Lord of the Rings,” and “The Hunger Games,” as many as 500,000 of the titles currently available on Kindle Unlimited were self-published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select program, according to publishing industry newsletter Publisher’s Lunch. At least for now, the “big five” publishers—Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Macmillan, and Hachette Book Group—are not part of the Kindle Unlimited offering. So, despite the size of this initial collection, many libraries still have access to plenty of popular ebooks that are unavailable through the service.
“From a library perspective, Kindle Unlimited seems unlikely to affect demand for library materials at all,” said Sarah Houghton, director of California’s San Rafael Public Library (SRPL) and blogger at LibrarianInBlack.net. “Six hundred thousand titles is not a lot. Our library participates in Link+, a cooperative lending project that makes tens of millions of titles from libraries across California and Nevada available in print to our communities—at no charge to them.”
SRPL’s ebook catalog also offers about 50,000 ebook titles, Houghton added. In terms of raw numbers, that might seem insignificant by comparison, but Houghton contends that “our selection is also much better than what you’d find in Kindle Unlimited, including most bestselling titles from the Big Five publishers.”
Amazon’s announcement was initially greeted with mostly unvarnished praise on Twitter and other social media channels, but several major media outlets gave Kindle Unlimited somewhat tepid reviews once they had the opportunity to explore the service.
Washington Post consumer tech reporter Heather Tsukayama wrote, “if you want any of the top five current New York Times fiction bestsellers, for example, you’re not going to find them in the Unlimited catalog…. I recently did a rundown of other companies that are trying to be the ‘Netflix for books,’ before this announcement. What I found is that no book subscription service has everything you want to read.”
An Associated Press review also highlighted the lack of bestsellers, with technology editor Anick Jesdanun writing that “it turns out the library of 600,000 is bit like a small bookstore with a few current titles such as ‘The Hunger Games’ [series], attached to a block-sized bargain bin of obscure stuff mixed with Robinson Crusoe and other classics that are in the public domain and available for free online anyway.”
Jesdanun did go on to praise an audiobook feature that synchronizes ebooks with their corresponding audiobooks, so that users can stop reading an ebook, and then have the audiobook version pick up where they left off. However, the ultimate verdict was that users would need to read three or more books per month to get any value from the subscription, and “the limited selection makes it tougher to find those three books a month, especially for those who already get a book a month for free through [Amazon] Prime.”
Similarly, Victor Luckerson at Time magazine’s Techland blog estimated that users “would need to read more than 16 books per year to derive a greater value from Kindle Unlimited than buying the books individually.”
On The Economist’s Babbage blog, columnist Glenn Fleishman expressed skepticism about the possibility of Amazon negotiating subscription deals with any of the Big Five publishers in the near term, writing, “what people want to read should provide a strong market force. Publishers already wary of Amazon during its brutal Hachette negotiations may be disinclined to grant more power to the firm by allowing their catalogues to increase the volume of volumes on offer.”
Heather Teysko, director of innovation and development for the Califa Library Group, also noted the lack of goodwill that Amazon has with these publishers.
“I can’t see the Big Five going to [Kindle Unlimited] any time soon because of the contract disputes, like with Hachette,” she said. Teysko noted that that Califa’s enki ebook platform doesn’t offer Big Five titles, either, but questioned how a commercial subscription service could work without them.
“I’m not the biggest fan of the Big Five, and we’ve taken the strategic decision not to ‘go after’ them for enki, but I’d imagine that if a patron is paying $9.99/month for something, they’d want at least some of them. I would.”
Meanwhile, several independent publishing advocates expressed their own doubts about the new service.
Mark Coker, founder and CEO of indie ebook publisher and distributor Smashwords, wrote on his company’s official blog that while he was “pleased to report” that Scribd and Oyster were the fastest growing retail channels at Smashwords, “Indies would do well to avoid Kindle Unlimited for one simple reason: it requires KDP Select exclusivity.”
Authors enrolled in KDP Select give Amazon the exclusive rights to publish their ebooks in exchange for free marketing via Amazon’s Kindle Countdown Deals and free book promotions. So, an independent author could not make their work available via Smashwords or any other ebook distributor.
While stating that Amazon deserves “massive kudos for catalyzing the rise of ebooks,” Coker argued that “exclusivity starves competing retailers of books readers want to read, which motivates readers to move their reading to the Kindle platform. This is why Amazon has made exclusivity central to their ebook strategy. They’re playing a long-term game of attrition.”
On his blog, Hugh Howey, author of the sci-fi hit Wool—which was originally published via Amazon KDP—noted that the Kindle Unlimited service relies on a two-tiered payment system. “Traditionally published authors get the full price, because their publisher gets the full sales commission,” Howey explains. “Self-published authors get a flat fee, probably something around $2 per read. There have been howls over this bifurcation, with people claiming that Amazon, for the first time, is treating indies worse than traditionally published authors. But that’s not true. Amazon has often treated indies worse than traditionally published authors.”
Don’t mention it
Regardless of how the service and its available selection are ultimately viewed, Amazon’s sheer size and influence over retail and publishing ensured significant media coverage during the past week. And while Slate did syndicate an Inside Higher Ed reaction column written by Gustavus Aldolphus College librarian Barbara Fister, some librarians found it vexing that the vast majority of reviewers and reporters failed to mention libraries as part of the modern ebook lending landscape when comparing Kindle Unlimited to competitors such as Oyster and Scribd. Or, less frequently, writers used the announcement as an opportunity to pen op-eds about the death of libraries.
“This massive amount of press attention is not only discussing a new service—and who knows how it will turn out—but more importantly, they rarely mention libraries and what they offer,” said Gary Price, editor of LJ infoDOCKET. “So, it’s as much [a point of concern] about mindshare and relevance as it is about a new Amazon service.”
This low level of awareness regarding ebooks and other online resources available for free through public libraries remains troubling, Price added. Even in a best-case scenario—in which these subscription services have no direct impact on library circulation or library ebook book borrowing—their marketing efforts, combined with media coverage that regularly ignores libraries, does shape public perception regarding the relevance of libraries.
“I found that the mainstream media made a big deal immediately about comparing it to the other subscription programs out there, like Oyster and Scribd, but only recently through pop culture media, such as The Awl and Jimmy Kimmel) to get out there and say ‘Hey, libraries already do this too?’” said Kristi Chadwick, advisor, small libraries, for the Massachusetts Library System (MLS), emphasizing that she was expressing a personal opinion and not speaking on behalf of MLS.
It’s not that librarians aren’t trying to get this message out, she added, “but where Amazon is concerned, I feel we are shouting into the void at times.”
Linda Braun, youth services manager at the Seattle Public Library, noted that “what’s problematic is that it shows that other media don’t understand what the role of the library is—that we do have these resources and we do play an important role in the community.”
Noting that Netflix had grown from startup to 36 million subscribers—30 million now streaming—in 15 years, Price added that libraries ignore the growth of these services at their peril. Amazon, he reminded infoDOCKET readers, already has three years of data on library titles that were borrowed via OverDrive using a Kindle device or app, giving them an edge should they choose to target library users with this service. And arguments that libraries will always be unique in their offer of free content may no longer be accurate if one of these services decides to pursue an optional ad-supported model, akin to Spotify. The entrance of a major new competitor into a market often drives such innovations.
“The apparent entrance of Amazon into subscription market is exciting for the industry as a whole,” Scribd co-founder and CEO, Trip Adler, said in a statement to the press. “It’s validation that we’ve built something great here at Scribd. Publishers, authors and readers alike have all seen the benefit, so it’s no surprise they’d want to test the waters. Successful companies don’t fear competition, but rather embrace it, learn from it and use it to continue to fuel their own innovation which is exactly what we intend to continue doing.”
Room for everyone
More competitors may soon follow. On July 22, the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) released the results of an extensive survey of 4,000 industry professionals including publishers, libraries, book sellers, and aggregators, and 80 percent of respondents said they believe that ebook publishing was inevitably moving toward subscription-based models. Libraries may want to start considering the possibility of a world in which a retailer—such as Amazon—has managed to get all of the Big Five on board with an affordable subscription service, and how they might respond.
“It seems like everyone is seeing these subscriptions as an inevitable way that the business is going, and I think that, for libraries, it just means that differentiating your collection and focusing on what makes the library collection unique is even more important,” said Teysko. “Offering the bestsellers through vendors won’t necessarily be as appealing if the Big 5 come on board, and patrons can borrow them for $10/month, but at the same time, highlighting local authors, encouraging local authors, showcasing local history; these are all things that the library can do to differentiate themselves.”
As surveys by LJ and others has shown, regular library users tend to read many more books each year than the average U.S. consumer. They borrow more, buy more, and use e-readers more frequently. For now, Chadwick said she thinks that these new subscription services will likely fold into many users’ reading habits without an adverse effect on libraries.
“Honestly, I think that it has its place in the whole ecosystem of ebooks and readers, from a holistic viewpoint,” she said. “It gives access—as do we—and people are going to choose what they want to have access to based on their needs. We just need to ensure that libraries stay part of that need as new programs and models appear.”
Braun pointed out that as these subscription services emerge and become more popular, libraries will need to be prepared to provide access to content to users who cannot afford subscriptions, and to help other patrons learn how to use these services, much as libraries continue to do with e-readers, tablets, and more recently, streaming devices.
“The public library is part of the local community, which is something Amazon—and Google, for that matter—can never be,” Thomas noted. “Working on services in and with the community seems like an advantage public libraries will long have.”
LaRue agreed, noting that “even if it’s multiplatform, and authors approve, and they have all the best sellers, there will still be a place for the libraries—children’s services, sanctuary, meeting space, study space, maker space. But for most public libraries, circulation is the driver—and this is clearly a shot across the bow.”
They are the rising tablet generation: the young children entering early-learning programs at public libraries or in preschools. Some of these kids, like my four-year-old daughter, have had their hands on tablets for their whole lives.
Launched in April 2010, the iPad ushered in a new era of computing. The tablet was introduced by Apple CEO Steve Jobs as a “lean back” device built for casual use in a relaxed environment. In other words, a toy, not a tool. These “toys” have come to dominate the market, taking a huge bite out of traditional computer sales and creating a new app-driven market.
Four years in, I’m starting to think that maybe tablets aren’t so good. They’re wonderful devices, don’t get me wrong—providing unbelievable computing power in a simple-to-use package. But they aren’t good for developing technology problem-solvers.
Back when I had to back up my first computer onto 92 floppy disks—and walk uphill to school both ways, as I recall—computer users had to be creative. My friends and I played around with OS/2, a series of operating systems created by Microsoft and IBM, because we were too cool for Windows 3.1. We opened the boxes and learned how to work with the hardware that powered our software. Kids today have it too easy.
Our challenge as librarians supporting early learning is finding ways to develop creative and curious children—kids who explore and hack in physical and virtual worlds. The safe, easy, and lovable tablet doesn’t help with this problem.
We must find ways to employ technology as a tool, thoughtfully engaging our children. How about a chore chart? Encourage parents to create one on a tablet so that the device shines as a tool meeting a need beyond entertainment. Our four-year-old has her own Google account with a calendar for her activities. She can look at her color and see when things are happening.
Helping parents find ways to model technology use with children is important. It’s even more critical that we empower kids to use technology and technical thinking themselves to solve problems. Traditional building toys like blocks and Lincoln Logs get kids to think about the logical process of construction. They learn about the importance of a strong foundation and the need to support roof structures. More importantly, they learn about trial and error, perseverance in problem-solving, and the need to think creatively in order to find a solution.
Our challenge is to replicate this in the digital tablet world. We need to find (or build) apps that support constructivist learning, creative thinking, and problem-solving for young learners. To find tools that young kids can use to track data and manage their lives. To create a stuffed animal inventory database—or a weekly calendar with pictures for scheduled activities.
I envision early childhood education as a makerspace and programming boot camp that prepares our kids to use the tools of our digital world, not just the toys. Oh, and if they could help shore up our economy (and our retirements) as high-tech enabled workers, that wouldn’t be so bad either.
I knew that the typical “spin class” that many have found to be their groove simply wasn’t for me. But finally, after trying ice skating, roller skating, and goodness knows what else, I found it. It was hiking the Sonoma Overlook Trail. It is a loop trail that winds up into the hills overlooking the town of Sonoma, gaining about 300 feet in elevation as it does. The shortest loop takes 35 minutes non-stop, the longest is 45 minutes.
So for the last several years that has been what I’ve done for exercise. I hike it whenever I can, which is anywhere from 3-5 days a week. Over time, I became a volunteer who maintains the trail, called the Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards. It is our responsibility to keep the trail being the kind of experience we all wish to have — close to wildlife, true to the California landscape, and as free from as many human impacts — from trash to dogs — as we can.
As a part of this stewardship, we are trying to eradicate the invasive, non-native Yellow Star Thistle (see it above the California Kingsnake in the photo; believe me, I let the snake slither away before I pulled those). This is the second year that I’ve participated in pulling this weed from the Overlook Trail. It is also the first year that I’ve come to understand what we are up against. As someone I spoke to recently said, it can take at least four years of concerted effort to eradicate this weed from an area. After a season of deep commitment to eradicating it, I get it. I’ve spent a month, off-and-on, pulling it from the area, including pulling some today from areas that I’ve walked 3-4 times before. As a part of this, I’ve come to understand that we aren’t fighting a battle, but a war.
We are in a long game. And so are libraries.
So how do we best play the long game? Here are some ideas, based on both my experiences in libraries and in pulling Yellow Star Thistle:
- Be relentless.I count myself lucky that my father grew up working Indiana farmland with his father as a little boy. There was no such thing as a day off. Neither could you simply take a break when you felt like it. He passed on that relentless nature of work to me, such that now I climb mountains with as much of an intense focus as he likely spent driving a tractor when he was six. We need to be just as relentless in fulfilling our goals as institutions that serve and empower our communities. Anything less would be shirking our duty.
- Focus on the “now” as a brick in the wall of the future. If you are relentless, you understand that the long game is built one brick at a time.If you allow yourself to be discouraged by looking at the big picture, then you have already lost. But if you get that long journeys are accomplished one step at a time, you can push back the discouragement by focusing on the present. You will do this one task then you will do that one task again. Before you know it, you’ve accomplished something you had no idea you could.
- Understand that it will take years to reach your goal. Since the long game is, well, long, you know that it won’t come soon. But to get you past this, check out the next point. Also, focus on taking one step at a time rather than looking at how far you have to go.
- Understand that it is worth it. If you have set your goals appropriately, then the long game is totally worth it. In fact, some of the most important, game-changing events are only acquired through playing the long game.
- Enlist others to your cause. Not only misery loves company, but also delight. The more the merrier. Many hands make light work. You get the point.
Many of you are likely already playing the long game whether you realize it or not. I would be interested to hear your reports from the field in a comment below. Let me know about the good and the bad about playing the long game and how we can help ourselves and other libraries play it better. I’m all ears.
Using funding provided by a local chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), the Greenburgh Public Library, NY (GPL) this spring installed an audio frequency induction loop (AFIL) in its multipurpose room. AFILs enable public address systems and other AV equipment to send audio transmissions directly to hearing aids, eliminating background noise for hearing impaired visitors.
“It’s a pretty significant increase in fidelity for the end-user, because it gets rid of all the ambient noise,” said Leo Garrison, president and senior integration specialist for Washingtonville, NY-based Metro Sound Pros, the commercial AV company that installed Greenburgh’s loop.
During regular use, hearing aids are designed to amplify a specific frequency range in which an individual is experiencing hearing loss, Garrison said. But when a user is attending a public event, background noise can cause the sound to become muddled. AFILs bypass the hearing aid’s microphone/amplifier system, instead generating an electromagnetic field with a wire “loop” that encircles a room, transmitting audio information directly to the telecoil receiver installed in most hearing aids and cochlear implants. Although patrons may have to manually switch their hearing aids to “T-coil” mode to benefit from an AFIL system, no additional equipment is needed for users.
Garrison said he often draws a simple comparison to describe the enhancement in audio fidelity that the loops offer—it’s the difference between attending a concert with a loud, cheering crowd and listening to a recording of a song in a quiet room.
The new system “has worked well to serve everyone’s needs,” and cut down on issues in which attendees at meetings, film screenings, and other events either could not hear, or complained that the PA volume was too loud, said GPL Director John Sexton.
“We knew we had a need, because we have a growing population of seniors—as do most communities—and they are definitely a target audience for our programs,” he said.
The local HLAA chapter, which also holds its board meetings in GPL’s multipurpose room, first approached the library about installing the system about two years ago. Since then, it has been a matter of securing financing for the loop, which cost about $5,000 to install, Sexton said. The HLAA chapter ultimately donated the money using a portion of the proceeds from their annual Walk4Hearing fundraiser.
AFIL technology is not new. In fact the first patent for an induction loop hearing assistance system was issued in Great Britain in 1937. AFILs became more common in the 1970s, Garrison said, but early mishaps caused their popularity as a solution to wane in the United States.
“The problem was, manufacturers really didn’t have the knowledge and/or the equipment to successfully integrate with facilities,” Garrison said. “There were a lot of systems installed incorrectly, and looping got a really bad rep in the 70s. It was kind of forgotten about, until recently, with advocates and manufacturers pushing for it.”
The technology has since become mainstream in Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom, which requires the installation of AFILs in public buildings as a provision of the Equality Act 2010. Although the United States has been slower to adopt AFILs, HLAA is working to raise awareness, and Garrison said that Metro Sound Pros had been seeing renewed interest in loops. The company has been working with New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) for a few years to install loops at 24 hour subway system station booths and was contracted to install systems in New York’s Intrepid Air & Space Museum, several educational institutions, banks, and retail establishments, as well as two Broadway theatres—the Gershwin Theatre and the Richard Rogers Theatre—during the past year alone.
And in addition to GPL, several other libraries have adopted the technology in recent years, primarily with limited installations at service desks, enhancing one-on-one conversations with hearing impaired patrons and library staff. This spring, for example, the Southwest Wisconsin Library System installed information desk loops at nine of its libraries using a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). And last month, Louisiana’s Lafayette Public Library System debuted a full meeting room loop installation similar to GPLs, in its South Region Library, using funding donated by the Lafayette Breakfast Sertoma Club, the Lafayette Sertoma Club and the Friends of the Lafayette Public Library.
Garrison said that Metro Sound has seen a lot of interest in the systems from libraries, particularly since 2011, when the New York Times ran a feature on the technology. But recession-impacted budgets have meant that few potential clients have been able to proceed immediately with an installation. He estimates that less than one percent of U.S. facilities are currently “looped.”
Outfitting a multi-purpose room such as GPLs typically costs between $5,000 to $8,000, Garrison said, and it’s easiest—and least expensive—to install an AFIL when a room or building is having its carpeting replaced or undergoing a broader remodeling effort.
This July article is an expanded version of “Weaving Together Touch and Digital into Early Childhood Play” that ran on May 21, 2014.
Azadeh Jamalian has spent four years studying how three- and four-year-olds learn math—using adults as her lab rats. Videotaping adults as part of her PhD work at Columbia University, she found that as the subjects worked through problems, hand gestures were key. The harder the problems, the more they moved their hands. And the more they moved their hands, the more accurate their problem-solving.
Using our hands, Jamalian realized, is crucial to learning—and something slightly missing in the 2-D world of flatscreens, where kids primarily swipe and tap. So Jamalian, the co-founder and chief learning officer of interactive toy and app maker Tiggly, is working to incorporate more physical components into PreK apps.
“The whole premise of manipulating and playing with real objects is a big part of a child’s learning process,” says the New York–based Jamalian. “There is a lot of learning in this interaction that is missing from play on digital devices. At the same time, digital play can be beneficial by giving [kids] feedback and scaffolding. So we’re trying to combine them for the best possible experience.”
Touching is how many young children learn to count, and studies show that this touch interaction is mapped in the human brain. Although kids tend to grow out of counting on fingers, a part of the brain corresponding to finger movement fires when they count in their head later, according to a 2012 study, “You Can Count on the Motor Cortex,” by lead author Nadja Tschentscher, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, published in Neuroimage.
The rise of digital devices in the early childhood arena potentially limits children’s opportunities to learn about the world around them through touch. Members of the British Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) have found that three- and four-year-olds have trouble using toys and blocks because of their overuse of touch-screen devices, according to coverage of ATL’s annual conference in April 2014 published in The Telegraph.
Mindy Brooks, director of education and research at Sesame Workshop, has been assessing how digital screens used with blocks can educate while supporting more organic, physical play. The company already has games that children can play through Microsoft’s Kinect. A new research project, Grover’s Block Party, launched in fall 2013, asks parents to videotape kids playing with blocks while a digital Grover talks about the object, knowing which one the child has picked. Children aren’t directed—they choose how they want to play. The digital element, Grover, keeps up and interacts.
“It’s tricky designing for motor movement with an app on a screen,” says Brooks. “We don’t allow a child to shake or tilt a tablet. We don’t want them shattering. But children come with the expectation of play with an app on screen and off, and it’s challenging to do that right now.”
Tiggly recently launched Tiggly Shapes & Apps (pictured), where children ages eighteen months to four years play with a circle, square, star, and triangle along with an app. The goal is to have children manipulate and roll the shapes, things they can’t do as easily with shapes on a screen. This exercise would address some of the concerns reportedly expressed by ATL members about screen-savvy children who are all thumbs. Jamalian believes game and app developers should look more closely at weaving both online and offline elements into preschool products, as interactivity is core to the learning process.
“We think physical play is important for spatial learning,” she says. “Manipulation of objects plays a big role in how we imagine different things. Just dragging or tapping is not as effective as hand rotating or touching different textures—experiences you can’t have on a screen.” So “we’re trying to combine them for the best learning and growth experience possible.”
Anticipatory and contextual discovery, open hardware, one-click server installs, mobile-first design, institutional digital assets management, and even biohackerspaces were some of the topics discussed this year at the Library and Information Technology Association’s (LITA) Top Tech Trends panel, held June 29 at the American Library Association (ALA) 2014 Annual Conference.
Moderated by Nadaleen F. Tempelman-Kluit, head of user experience at New York University’s Bobst Library, the panel included Jason Griffey, former associate professor and librarian at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; Ranti Junus, systems librarian for electronic resources at Michigan State University Libraries; Bohyun Kim, associate director for library applications and knowledge systems at University of Maryland’s Health Sciences and Human Services Library in Baltimore; David Lee King, digital services director at Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library (TSCPL); Roger Schonfeld, program director for libraries, users, and scholarly practices at Ithaka S+R; Ken Varnum, web systems manager at the University of Michigan Library; and Mita Williams, user experience librarian at the Leddy Library at the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada.
Varnum kicked off the program with a discussion on how discovery has evolved, and how librarians might adapt. Electronic resources and the Internet offer patrons access to an ever-vaster collection of content every year. But, the end result is “oceans of information” that many patrons don’t know how to navigate.
“From the naïve user perspective—and I think a lot of our users fall into that category—[discovery systems] all feel the same, they all look the same. And they don’t see the difference between using your wonderful special resource, library discovery system, or Google, or whatever they happen to find that day while looking around the Internet.”
Librarians can play a role in helping patrons create more focused subsets of these “oceans” of information, Varnum added, particularly as discovery solutions offer increasingly sophisticated ways to tailor searches.
“I think what’s going to be happening is that discovery systems are going to become much more locally tuned, that the interfaces that we use to say who can search what and how to find things in this ocean…. We as librarians will be able to twiddle the knobs and say ‘I want the [information] stream that’s right for undergraduate students in, say, psychology, a different one for undergraduates from [a different major], and one for well-experienced, knowledgeable researchers in another area’…. With a little work on the librarians’ side, we’ll be able to pool the resources and actually focus what we search on very specific subsets of the giant ocean.”
On a related note, Schonfeld discussed the growth of anticipatory and contextual discovery tools, such as Google Now, an Android app which has the capacity to note that a user has an upcoming flight scheduled, automatically check current traffic and public transportation conditions, and suggest the best time to leave their current location using the optimal route to the airport. Once a user is at his or her destination, the app might suggest local restaurants or attractions, based on the user’s habits.
“It’s discovery that’s driven not by what I might search for, but what I might care about, which is a really, really different paradigm,” Schonfeld said. “And it’s also [information] delivered when it’s useful to me, and not just when it’s new.”
These types of tools work by collecting and retaining a lot of personal information on users, so there are privacy tradeoffs, Schonfeld acknowledged. But, librarians should be cognizant of this trend in the commercial sphere, and consider how libraries could better anticipate the needs of users.
“If we could think about what is already being developed in anticipatory and contextual search…and think about how that might be applied in terms of the kinds of current awareness services that library user want and need, I think we could come up with some really interesting service models,” he said.
For example, researchers want to keep up with new scholarship in their field, and one way of doing so is by subscribing to email alerts from journals, newsletters, and other relevant sources. Yet many oversubscribe to these alerts. Overwhelmed, they start tuning them out. Librarians might consider ways in which they could help filter this information and provide faculty with what they need, when they need it.
“There’s clearly a way in which the system is fragmented, it’s not the right level of granularity,” he said, later adding that “the question that I want to raise is whether libraries—perhaps collaboratively, perhaps working with vendors, perhaps individually—should be engaging more deeply with helping users keep up with the literature in their fields.”
Junus also discussed ways in which librarians could offer direct assistance to faculty, describing the management of faculty research data and other faculty-produced content as her trend to watch. Intellectual output assumes a variety of formats, including datasets, filesets, and multimedia. Building the infrastructure for an institutional repository and establishing the collection development policies for digital assets generated by an institution’s faculty is a job for which academic libraries are well suited. And, tools such as figshare have been launched recently to help facilitate this type of work, Junus noted.
When building a repository, however, libraries should keep in mind that preserving these research outputs is not the only goal.
“This is…from my perspective, more about the collection, and providing it back to the universities,” she said. Too often, databases are created for individual projects, and the content becomes siloed and undiscoverable as part of a library’s larger digital assets collection.
Public librarians are well aware of the Maker space trend and the ways in which a growing number of libraries have begun facilitating do-it-yourself projects, crafts, 3D-printing, and hands-on technology experiments. They may be less familiar with the Bio Hackerspace movement, which Kim described as a growing trend to watch for public and academic libraries alike.
Biohacking has been around since as early as 2005, with networks such as DIYbio.org nurturing the amateur biologist movement since 2008. And the bio hackerspaces are exactly what the terminology would imply—essentially, Maker spaces with a selection of lab equipment for biology experiments and tests. Biohackers have also developed inexpensive, DIY hardware and engineering blueprints for equipment that is significantly less expensive than commercially produced versions.
Specifically describing the founding of Genspace, a community biology lab and Biohackerspace launched in New York City in 2010 by the molecular biologist Ellen Jorgensen, Kim explained the goals of the movement.
“Everybody who wants to do science should be able to do it without having some sort of affiliation with a big institution,” Kim said. “Before we had Maker spaces, we weren’t able to manufacture things…unless we had access to certain hardware. Maker spaces made that possible. It democratized manufacturing, and the same thing is now happening in Biohackerspaces. Biology is being democratized.”
LibraryBox developer Jason Griffey discussed democratization of a different sort. Most librarians are familiar with open-source software, and many institutions now use open-source software such as WordPress and Drupal in their daily workflows. Griffey encouraged attendees to begin considering electronics and computer hardware in the same light.
“It took us decades to realize that the benefit of open software was that we could control it,” compared with proprietary, commercial software he said. “I think that there is some degree to which, over the next several years, we are going to start deciding that—at least at some level—open hardware is going to give us the ability to control certain aspects of the computing experience we put in front of people.”
One problem open hardware could potentially help address is privacy concerns related to data leakage, Griffey said. In corporate terms, leakage involves sensitive data getting into the wrong hands through accidents, poor security, or outright theft. But for individuals, leakage might simply involve the unwitting transmission of personal information to a business or other person. With closed commercial hardware, average users often have no way to understand what type of information they are sharing.
“The more data we leak, and the more that hardware is closed to us, to understand what data we are leaking, the more [this] slightly creepy use of our data I think is going to rise to the surface.”
Current open hardware products include Ethernut embedded Ethernet devices, the Arduino open microcontroller board, and hacker Bunnie Huang’s recently launched Novena Open Laptop project. Griffey’s LibraryBoxen use commercial hardware, but during installation, the portable router’s firmware is overwritten and replaced with Linux-based OpenWrt.
Setting up a personal server once required time, patience, and technical know-how. But lately, applications such as Minecraft Realms are enabling regular consumers to set up and get started with their own cloud-based servers in an instant, noted Mita Williams, describing one-click server installations as her trend to watch.
“I think it’s going to really lower the barriers of participation to all sorts of software, not just for individuals, but for libraries,” she said, pointing to the City University of New York’s (CUNY) DHbox project as an example. Founded by CUNY Hunter College reference librarian Stephen Zweibel, DHbox enables faculty or students within minutes to set up a cloud-based digital humanities lab with configurations of web-publishing platform Omeka, Natural Language Toolkit (NLTK), interactive computing command shell IPython, RStudio open-source enterprise software for the programming language R, and MALLET (MAchine Learning for LanguagE Toolkit).
With DHbox, “you don’t have to learn how to install all of that software,” Williams said. “They’re providing a service just to make it really easy for scholars…to just get their hands dirty and try the software itself.”
What software like Chef and Puppet does is remember all of the little steps [required during conventional server setup] and when you want to make another server, you just press a button” and the software completes all of those steps for you, Williams explained. Many server “recipes” are available on open source software collaboration sites such as GitHub.
Globally, one in five people now own a smartphone, one in 17 have a tablet, and 99 percent of device owners use their tablet or smartphone every day, King said. At TSCPL, 32 percent of the library’s website traffic originates on smartphones or tablets, and a local news station has reported that 75 percent of its website visitors are using mobile devices to access their site. The rapid growth of mobile devices has become an established trend that libraries must address in a number of ways, King said.
“When you’re building a website, make sure it works on the mobile device first,” he said, even when a library also offers a mobile app for patrons. Using responsive design techniques or other means, a library should have its “whole website, all of your content, easily accessible on a smartphone, on a tablet, or on a desktop,” King said.
This mobile-first philosophy could also be applied to library interiors. For example, places where patrons regularly sit on the floor to charge their devices in nearby electrical outlets could be outfitted with charging stations, or at least a chair. Also, inform the local community about the availability of free WiFi in branch libraries as a simple marketing tactic.
Library (ARL, ALA, COSLA) and Higher Education Organizations Release Joint Set of Net Neutrality Principles
Note: The complete set of principles is embedded at the bottom of this post.
From a Joint Statement (via ARL) (via ALA):
Today, higher education and library organizations representing thousands of colleges, universities, and libraries nationwide released a joint set of Net Neutrality Principles they recommend form the basis of an upcoming Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision to protect the openness of the Internet. The groups believe network neutrality protections are essential to protecting freedom of speech, educational achievement, and economic growth.
The organizations endorsing these principles are:American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU American Council on Education (ACE) American Library Association (ALA Association of American Universities (AAU) Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) Association of Research Libraries (ARL) Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) EDUCAUSE Modern Language Association (MLA) National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU)
Libraries and institutions of higher education are leaders in creating, fostering, using, extending, and maximizing the potential of the Internet for research, education, and the public good. These groups are extremely concerned that the recent court decision vacating two of the key “open Internet” rules creates an opportunity for Internet providers to block or degrade (e.g., arbitrarily slow) certain Internet traffic, or prioritize certain services, while relegating public interest services to the “slow lane.”
At its best, the Internet is a platform for learning, collaboration, and interaction among students, faculty, library patrons, local communities, and the world. Libraries and institutions of higher education make an enormous amount of Internet content available to the general public—from basic distance learning classes to multimedia instruction, cloud computing, digitized historical databases, research around “big data,” and many other educational and civic resources—all of which require an open Internet. Institutions of higher education and libraries do not object to paying for the high-capacity Internet connections that they need to support their students, faculty, administrators, and library patrons; but once connected, they should not have to pay additional fees to receive prioritized transmission of their content, services, or applications.
These groups support strong, enforceable rules to ensure that higher education and libraries can continue to deliver online educational and public interest content at a level of speed and quality on par with commercial providers. The proposed principles call upon the FCC to ban blocking, degradation, and “paid prioritization”; ensure that the same rules apply to fixed and mobile broadband providers; promote greater transparency of broadband services; and prevent providers from treating similar customers in significantly different ways.
“America’s libraries collect, create, and disseminate essential information to the public over the Internet, and enable our users to create and distribute their own digital content and applications,” said American Library Association President Courtney Young. “Network neutrality is essential to ensuring open and nondiscriminatory access to Internet content and services for all. The American Library Association is proud to stand with other education and learning organizations in outlining core principles for preserving the open Internet as a vital platform for free speech, innovation, and civic engagement.”
“The FCC should use the joint principles submitted by higher education and library groups as a framework for creating rules to protect an open Internet that has fostered equitable access to information and sparked new innovations, including distance learning such as MOOCs,” said Carol Pitts Diedrichs, President of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). “Without rules governing net neutrality to ensure that blocking and discrimination do not occur, the Internet could be available only to those with the greatest financial resources to pay to have their content prioritized.”
Higher Ed Libraries Net Neutrality Principles
Each year, teacher librarians who want to continue their professional learning throughout the summer, by attending a big, national conference, face a tough choice: ALA or ISTE? For the past several years, the dates of these two mega conferences have been so close together that many teacher librarians have had to embark on cross country, multi-city adventures in order to participate in both. This year, however, dual conferencing was not an option. The dates for ISTE (June 28 – July 1) and ALA (June 26 – July 1) overlapped, forcing those of us with competing loyalties to make a choice. For me the choice was ISTE. But even as I filled out the registration paperwork, I could not help by wonder if I’d be the only one of my colleagues to choose the ed tech conference over the one specifically for librarians.
As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. Not only were there thousands of teacher librarians from around the world at ISTE, but I simply could not have been prouder of the network of school librarians whose participation at the conference shined as an example of how technology tools are only as effective as the instruction they accompany. Nowhere was this more evident than at the Digital Age Library Playground, an “unconference” event organized by Tiffany Whitehead and Donna MacDonald, that took place June 29.
At conferences as large as ISTE or ALA, it can be difficult to model participatory pedagogical practices. Let’s face it: engaging adult learners in exploratory, collaborative activities that also allow for questions and reflection can be a tall order in any given faculty meeting, never mind in a room full of several hundred people. Which is why, when it comes to the big show, lecture-style instruction often rules the day. The Digital Age Library Playground, however, broke this rule and those who were able to attend were better for it.
Let me set the stage: In the gallery area adjacent to and overlooking several floors of concurrent sessions, eight interactive learning stations were set up. Each station setup had a different flavor ranging from tables that participants could gather around to mini-ampitheaters made up of movable white cubes that could be used for seating or a mobile workspace, depending on the need.
Regardless of the arrangement, however, there was one thing that each station had in common: a mission to provide participants with the opportunity to:
- Network and connect with other school library professionals.
- Explore new and innovative instructional strategies that incorporate the latest digital tools.
- Vote with their feet. That is to say, spend as much or as little time at a session as they wanted.
- Get their hands dirty by digging in, testing how things work, and learning by doing.
And that is exactly what went on. For three hours, teacher librarians excitedly milled from station to station, absorbing knowledge, connecting with colleagues, and exploring new strategies rather than just hearing about them. At any given time, hundreds of people could be found in the playground, not only taking in the presenters’ shared knowledge, but more significantly, building new knowledge by using the resources being discussed. Rather than just espousing the benefits of experiential learning, the Digital Age Library Playground modeled this instructional practice in an incredibly effective way.
What’s more, this modeling of participatory learning strikes at the heart of how school librarians are evolving as instructional and pedagogical leaders within their schools. The playground was a buzzing hive of activity that, not unlike any good school library, must have looked, from the outside, like well organized chaos. It only took one step inside, however, for the magic happening within all that activity to come into clear focus.
Here’s what was happening at some of the playgrounds.
- Elissa Malespina coached her colleagues in the use of the apps Layar, ColarAR, and Chromeville as resources for harnessing the power of “Augmented Reality in Your Library” as both an instructional and library marketing tool.
- Nikki Robertson shared the story of how making her instruction “rewindable” by flipping (or reinventing) her library changed the learning lives of her students and also engaged her colleagues in activities that put the power of that technology in their hands during “Flipping Your Library: Making Learning ‘Rewindable’ for Teachers and Students Using Google Hangouts On Air.”
- Tiffany Whitehead and participants explored the features of cloud-based photo editing software, like Pic Monkey, as part of a digital toolchest for engaging kids in maker-activities, wherein the library becomes a space for not just absorbing knowledge, but for creating it, too, in “Photo Editing with PicMonkey.”
- Matthew Winner and Sherry Gick helped their colleagues view the library’s “collection” as more than just an assemblage of print and digital materials, but as the communities they serve and grow through the story of “GeniusCon“—an event in which students from around the world shared their big ideas to affect social change.
Each station was so different, and yet united by the important goal of pushing our profession forward and helping evolveschool libraries from passive places, defined by the stuff they house, to living, changeable spaces synonymous with the learning that takes place there.
Through this event, and others like it, ISTE’s school librarians experienced a true “playground:” a place to connect, create, and try something new in a safe environment.The Digital Age Library Playground helped move the theory of active, participatory library spaces into reality by really showing ISTE attendees what such a space looks like in action.
During the second hour, I stepped outside all of the action to refill my water bottle and take a breath. I overheard some teacher librarians from Switzerland chatting. “This,” one of them said casting a wide wave across the scene, “this is what I want my library to look like.” In truth, don’t know if this is what the organizers of the Digital Age Library Playground had in mind when they conceived the idea, but I can’t think of a better outcome.
Jennifer LaGarde is the Librarian on Loan for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. She is a 2011 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and a 2011 winner of the ALA, NYT Carnegie Corporation’s “I Love My Librarian” Award. Jennifer is the co-host of the popular EdGeeks podcast and the author of the Adventures of Library Girl blog. On Twitter at @jenniferlagarde; also www.librarygirl.net.
Despite innovative technology integration, impressive tech tools, and more augmented reality demonstrations than you can shake a stick at, there was one thing decidedly lacking in the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) annual conference held in Atlanta, Georgia from date 24 to July 1: zombies. The Walking Dead, the hugely successful AMC television series based on the best-selling comic book by Robert Kirkman, takes place in the Atlanta airport, and it’s all this teacher librarian could think about as I walked the crowded halls of the Georgia World Congress Center. Thankfully, a fellow Library Journal Mover and Shaker, Jennifer LaGarde, also had zombies on the brain.
LaGarde, who blogs at “The Adventures of Library Girl,” was the keynote speaker at the ISTE Librarian Network annual breakfast. Her talk, entitled “How to Survive the Zombie Librarian Apocalypse!,” struck a chord among the teacher librarians who were fortunate enough to secure a ticket to the sold out breakfast.
Below is a video of LaGarde’s keynote speech:
Her keynote hinged on a quote captured from a colleague she spoke with at a previous library conference who’d told her, “There are only two types of librarians: zombies and zombie fighters.” This, LaGarde shared with us, was a pivotal moment for her for her over her profession and was the genesis of her presentation. It’s not that our profession is overcome with zombie librarians, but we all carry the zombie gene. Being able to spot and combat zombie librarian behavior is a critical skill in the survival of school librarianship and something none of us should be taking lightly.
At this point I’m sure you’re wondering: what exactly is a zombie librarian? LaGarde classifies these as librarians who perpetuate stereotypes, build barriers, and advocate for libraries rather than for students. Historically speaking, librarians are seldom portrayed in film or on television as anything beyond tight-laced, rigid, aged women who care little for nonsense and for whom order and structure is paramount. LaGarde argues that there’s a reason the stereotype pervades even today and challenged the audience to see these images not as cute or from a different time period, but rather to recognize that librarians preserving these stereotypes are the zombies we need to be fighting.
Can you picture that colleague in your district who appears almost giddy as she shushes patrons all day long? The one who boastfully points out that no buzzing smartphone, bleeping video game, or single noise-uttering device, be it electronic or organic, dare utter a peep in these hallowed library halls?
That’s not a word to take lightly. Picture the emaciated skin, loosely clinging to the bones. The mouth hungry for sustenance, yet dry from lack of nourishment. She moves as if each step is a struggle and a necessity. The children are in danger. The library is under threat. The library program has been compromised. Her zombie-like behaviors must be addressed immediately or else endanger the greater good.
LaGarde reminded us that, when given the choice between right and wrong, people do the wrong thing out of ignorance, apathy, and fear. Attendees were challenged to take up arms as zombie fighters in the battle for our libraries. This requires answering the call to defy expectations, to ask essential questions, and to embrace change.
LaGarde herself defies expectations by helping her students achieve in math through the use of video games. She also keeps a keen eye out, on Twitter and other social media, for fellow librarians who are innovating and inspiring. Then, she considers how this new knowledge could change her own library program.
This willingness to take on new challenges, to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, makes LaGarde a powerhouse zombie fighter.
She shared a comment she has heard numerous times over her two-year tenure as Librarian on Loan for the state of North Carolina. Teacher librarians, when asked about how much their administration supports their program, have responded, “My principal doesn’t even know what I do.” LaGarde counters with the deceptively simple question, “Why not?”
“Who or what is your library program serving?” She later asked. “Because if it’s not serving the kids, then we’ve got a problem.” And by the end of the 60-minute presentation, there was a room full of teacher librarian zombie fighters ready to take up the cause.
Jennifer LaGarde’s How to Survive the Zombie Librarian Apocalypse presentation can be viewed on Slideshare.
Matthew Winner is an elementary school teacher librarian in Elkridge, Md. He is a 2013 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and was also named a White House Champion of Change. Matthew is the host of the popular children’s literature podcast “Let’s Get Busy” and the author of the “Busy Librarian” blog. Find Matthew online at @MatthewWinner or by visiting BusyLibrarian.com.