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Charged! From Atoms to Electricity | Touch and Go

To, 05/21/2015 - 14:50

At this point we’re playing catch-up with Kids Discover; the developer has produced more than two dozen apps based on single issues of the magazine by the same name. While we have reviewed many of their productions, we’re still working our way through their list. The two apps reviewed today are introductions to foundational science topics studied at one point or another during every student’s career.

For those living in the tri-state New York area, Ted Levine from Kids Discover will be presenting with author/illustrator Roxie Munro on “The Digital World of E-books, Apps, and Gamification” at the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference in NYC June 12-14, 2015, a full, three-day event that brings together publishers, authors, and educators.

Atoms (Marjorie Frank / Joe Zeff Design; iOS $3.99; Gr 4-8) is one of 26 assorted history, geography, and science apps offered by Kids Discover. The content is neatly divided into eleven sections; the first eight are informational with appealing titles such as “How Small Is Small?” “It’s Elemental,” and “Fission Fusion No Con-Fusion.” Information and facts are presented in small chunks and accompanied by impressive graphics (colorful photos or drawings) and a number of videos and animations. A short clip showing the effect of a nuclear blast on a wood-frame house, three-fifths of a mile from a 1950s Nevada test site, will fascinate viewers, as will the animated look at how nuclear power is converted into electricity used in the home.

The final sections are comprised of activities designed to reinforce concepts (mostly memory and matching games), and a quiz. “Resources” contains links to five websites including one of the  periodic table (one is also found in the app); however, the link to the “atomic timeline” leads to a timeline site and students will have to do some digging to find the related one. The further reading suggestions link to each title’s Amazon listing. Not all the resources are free of ads.

Navigation is fairly straightforward. From the intro page, viewers swipe to switch pages or tap the screen to bring up a scrubber bar with small page views they can choose from. In most apps, a tap to the arrow at the bottom right corner of the screen will turn the page; here it just indicates there is more to the chapter and readers must swipe or tap the screen to advance forward. (There is a quick tutorial at the app’s opening).

The Kids Discover site has additional resources including lesson plans, infographics, and activities to help make the best use of their apps.—Kelly Jo Lasher, Middle Township High School, Cape May Court House, NJ

Screen from Electricity (Kids Discover) Joe Zeff Design

Kids Discover magazine has created another dynamic science-based app for budding scientists to explore. Electricity’s (Sean Price/Joe Zeff Design; iOS, $3.99; Gr 4-8) visual index offers readers 11 chapters or sections to begin their journey. Each section provides clear, succinct basic facts about the topic, accompanied by eye-catching visuals. Offerings include interactive 3-D models, videos, photos, and pop-up captions that will capture users’ attention.

Lightning flashes across the screen as the difference between static and dynamic electricity is explained, and in another section students can follow a simplified view of the path of an electrical current from a power plant to the inside of a home. An additional enhancement within the app is the “Currents in Time” page where taps to a timeline consisting of 11 dates yield images and information on their significance including facts about Thomas Edison, Luigi Galvani, Georg Ohm, and other leading scientists. A word search; a matching game, “Who Did What?”; and a five-question quiz are offered in the last section. “Resources” recommends books and websites. This electrifying app is a winning choice for middle level students. Two related print downloads are available on the developer’s website.Stephanie Rivera, Naperville Public Library, IL 

For additional apps on science topics, see School Library Journal’s list of “Outstanding STEM Apps.”

Latinitas and DIY Girls: Paving the Way for Latina Makers

Ke, 05/20/2015 - 20:53

The rise of maker culture and new media focused initiatives has not gone unnoticed in the Latino community. Two nonprofit organizations, Latinitas and DIY Girls, are working with Latina teens and tweens to promote tech- and media-related skills.

Luz Rivas, founder of DIY (“Do-It-Yourself”) Girls, was inspired to start an organization aiming “to increase girls’ interest and success in technology, engineering, and making through innovative educational experiences and mentor relationships,” she says, when she revisited her elementary school in Los Angeles and noticed the lack of technology programs for girls.

“I became interested in technology when I was in elementary school,” she says. “It was hard to see that 30 years later, nothing has progressed. I thought, why don’t I combine aspects of the growing maker movement, activities, and equipment that is accessible to everybody and create a program for girls?”

DIY Girls develops and implements educational programs and events designed to encourage engagement with technology, promote self-confidence, and support aspiration to technical careers among tween girls in L.A.’s northeast San Fernando Valley, where the majority of students are Latino. Now in its fourth year, DIY Girls offers afterschool programs to fifth grade girls in five area schools, bringing equipment and materials for projects, such as coding and creating video games and a controller, and using the 3-D printer.

It has also branched out to middle school students, offering monthly programs and summer camps that have taken place at the Los Angeles Public Library. “Our goal is to keep connected with the girls as they grow older, offering a mentorship that we hope continues until they graduate high school,” Rivas adds.

Since its inception, DIY Girls has worked with 400 girls. Its staff is made up of Latina women with degrees in engineering, toy design, psychology, and an aspiring maker/STEM librarian, in addition to volunteers and mentors. The organization is currently is fund-raising for a two-week maker-themed summer camp on Indiegogo with the goal of reaching $8,000 within the next 15 days.

Photos courtesy of Latinitas.

Latinitas is another nonprofit organization that is focused on inspiring young Latinas to develop technology skills, with an added emphasis on media. Latinitas was founded by Laura Donnelly and Alicia Rascon in 2002. Originally conceived as a class project at the University of Texas Austin, where they first met as graduate students, as a way to address the misrepresentation and lack of positive portrayals of Latinas in media and technology, it began as a digital magazine made for and by young Latinas.

“Young women are always struggling with issues of identity and self-esteem, but most Latina girls don’t often find themselves in magazines. And so we started Latinitas, says Donnelly. “It became a space where teens could receive lessons in writing, photography, and then digital publishing as media evolved. Since Austin is tech-centered, coding was the next natural step.”

Latinitas has expanded to include a nonprofit that hosts programs, clubs, workshops, and summer camps in Austin and El Paso, TX. With an audience of 12–17-year-old girls, Latinitas aims to provide a creative outlet for expression, help participants learn about their culture, and foster career exploration in STEM fields.

The organization has served over 20,000 elementary, middle, and high school Latinas with afterschool enrichment programs focused on media, technology, and cultural literacy. As the participants grow older, they serve as models for their younger counterparts in the program. Ninety-two percent of Latinitas alumni reported that they had graduated from high school within four years. Latinitas has four full-time staff members and 20 volunteers.

The group has partnered with 12 libraries in Austin and El Paso to host events that are open to entire families, not just girls. A recent library workshop, Code Chica, which focused on video game design, took place at the Southeast Austin branch. Families came from as far as an hour away to attend. The projects and ideas are usually generated by the participants themselves, and they often tie it back to their culture. One girl created Piñata zombie video game. Another tied her game to the Llorona legend,” says Donnelly.

The family connection is a big part of what makes DIY Girls have a long-lasting impact on attendees, Rivas believes. “When they do things with electronics at our programs, they get to take [their creations] home and share [them] with their families. It creates a special bond with their dads, who [often] have always been tinkerers. The fathers are surprised that their daughters could make projects like that.”

Paola Ferate-Soto, a librarian at the Austin Public Library who has hosted several Latinitas programs at her branch, has a daughter who attended the summer workshops held by the group. “It’s a great opportunity to offer tech-related programs to girls. We have wonderful male librarians and they attract a lot of boys for computer-focused programs. But we noticed that there weren’t that many girls wanting to use the computers,” says Ferate-Soto. She has since seen less resistance to tech programs from young female patrons. “It’s a great away to expose them to tech in a non-threatening and exciting, accessible way,” she says.

DIY Girls and Latinitas have each received financial and in-kind sponsorships from companies and organizations as varied as Microsoft, the L.A. Lakers, the United Latino Fund, Evil Mad Scientist, Target, and IKEA.

They both aim to inspire at-risk young Latinas to pursue STEM-related fields—and to impart confidence and creativity in their mentees. “We are allowing them to create; we’re not giving them step-by-step instructions,” says Rivas. “We provide opportunities for them to learn by troubleshooting a project. Our goal is for them to be excited and enthusiastic about creating technology, rather than just using technology.”


U. Minnesota Press, CUNY Grad Center Develop Hybrid Publishing Platform

Ma, 05/18/2015 - 20:29

The University of Minnesota Press and the GC Digital Scholarship Lab at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY) in April were awarded a $732,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to launch Manifold Scholarship, a new platform that will enable the publication of iterative, networked, electronic versions of scholarly monographs alongside the print edition of the book.

These ebook editions will allow authors to link to or incorporate content such as audio, video, and interactive files, as well as primary research documents and datasets. Reader feedback—separate from peer review—will be incorporated via social media channels, and university presses will be able to release updated versions of the ebook titles while still offering access to the original text. Similarly, all of these features could be used to publish an ebook “that makes visible its own process of creation, culminating in a formal, peer-reviewed Release Version,” according to a PowerPoint document published on Project Muse Commons by Susan Doerr, operations manager of the University of Minnesota Press.

“We’re a very author-centric scholarly publisher, and we increasingly come into contact with authors who want to do the kinds of things that Manifold will enable,” Douglas Armato, director of the University of Minnesota Press, told LJ.

User-friendly features will enable authors and readers to engage with the electronic versions by adding comments and annotations, but Manifold Scholarship is intended to be a tool for presses, rather than a platform to facilitate self-publishing, Armato explained.

“The idea of Manifold is to do the same thing we do with [print] books—put the publisher in the middle, working with scholars to get these complex, networked works online,” Armato said. “It’s a chance for us to work with authors that have these complex projects…. There’s really no place for them to go, unless the scholar has the coding talent, or access to people that do.”

In a prepared statement, professor of history and University of Minnesota Press editorial board member Kevin Murphy said that “Manifold Scholarship has the potential to transform academic publishing by giving scholars who are innovating in digital humanities the opportunity to share their research in all of its complexity, rather than to conform to traditional modes of monograph publication. The iterative approach to digital publishing allows authors to give readers access to diverse source materials to engage directly with interlocutors on sources and interpretation, thereby opening the scholarly process to collaboration.”

The University of Minnesota Press and the CUNY Graduate Center will work with Portland, OR–based Cast Iron Coding to develop the platform. Cast Iron Coding has worked with the two institutions before, to build Debates in the Digital Humanities, an open-access, print/digital hybrid book that illustrates the potential of the Manifold Scholarship concept.

Conceived as a way to publish a snapshot of current conversations in the field, Debates in the Digital Humanities includes essays from more than 40 digital humanities scholars, all of which were accepted following a web-based, open peer review process. Published in January 2012, the title had progressed from idea to printed publication within a single calendar year. In January 2013, an open access version of Debates in the Digital Humanities was published online with “social reading platform” features enabling readers to highlight passages, make comments, view the comments of others, and add terms to a crowdsourced index. For example, readers have added 23 comments, highlighted passages 85 times, and indexed 20 sentences to the essay “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” by University of Maryland Associate Professor of English Matthew Kirschenbaum.

“We are in a rich moment of open experimentation as scholars and university presses attempt to broaden the reach and scope of academic research in networked environments,” Matthew K. Gold, director of the CUNY GC Digital Scholarship Lab and associate professor of English and digital humanities at the Graduate Center, CUNY, said in an announcement. “And with its ongoing projects like Forerunners [a digital series ‘bridging informal and formal scholarly output’] and Debates in the Digital Humanities, no university press is taking smarter or more aggressive risks than the University of Minnesota Press.”

Development of Manifold Scholarship will be open from the beginning, with the three collaborators publishing preliminary works, concepts, and progress updates on the project website, and making the source code repository public throughout its creation. The final product will be an open source, customizable platform available to other presses and the public, according to an announcement from the University of Minnesota Press.

“We hope to engage stakeholders in scholarly communications and perhaps even a larger community with this open and transparent approach,” said Zach Davis, principal and chief technologist of Cast Iron Coding.

Digital Content: hoopla Launches Ebooks and Shares List of All Content Providers

Pe, 05/15/2015 - 21:16

hoopla has announced that they’ve just added (as expected) ebooks and comics to their content library. Ebooks and hoopla resources are available via some public libraries.

hoopla first announced that ebooks would be available almost one year ago. The plan at that time was to launch ebook content by the end of 2014.

You can review available titles here. The complete announcement is also available.

hoopla did not share the total number of titles available. However, we’ve asked and will update this post if/when we here back.

Also available is this new list of hoopla’s content partners for ebooks, audiobooks, videos, music, and comics.

Ebook partners include RosettaBooks, IPG, Disney, and Lerner Publishing Group. None of the Big 5 publishers are currently listed.

LACUNY Conference Plans Privacy Protections

To, 05/14/2015 - 21:04

On May 8 the Library Association of the City University of New York (LACUNY) Institute held its annual one-day conference, “Privacy and Surveillance: Library Advocacy for the 21st Century,” at New York City’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice in honor of Choose Privacy Week 2015, May 1–7, sponsored by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (ALA OIF).

From the keynote speech by Rainey Reitman, activism director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and COO and cofounder of the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF), to the closing talk by Alison Macrina, founder of the Library Freedom Project and a 2015 LJ Mover & Shaker, the LACUNY Institute conference was enlightening, intriguing, and—appropriately enough—a bit scary. In his opening remarks Larry Sullivan, associate dean and chief librarian at John Jay, stated that while he was a strong advocate of privacy, he had no expectations of privacy. He then got straight to the point: “If you really want to be private in this world…one, use a payphone; and two, use cash.”


Reitman, who had flown in from San Francisco (“I will travel as far as necessary to speak with librarians”), offered up a hard look at privacy policies—the legal statements that disclose how a site may gather and disclose user data. She noted that these are not, in fact, promises of protection. Instead, “they explain how your privacy will be violated.” Many contain language that is purposefully vague, especially concerning how data will be shared with the government and law enforcement.

The ever-present threat of tracking is counterproductive, she explained, because users need free access to all content. “When we have a democracy that lets people access contentious information, that’s a society that thrives,” Reitman said, adding, “Possibly I am a deeply optimistic person, but we should always err on the side of letting people make up their own minds…. But when readers believe that accessing info could be tracked, stored, and handed over to the government, we undermine the promise of the Internet.”

In 2010, Reitman joined EFF’s staff of lawyers and technologists to build its activism team. In her first year she helped develop a report, “Who Has Your Back,” which analyzed transparency criteria in the privacy policies of various social networking sites, commerce sites, and ISPs. In 2011, she recalled, only one company was actively publishing data on how it handled government requests for users’ personal data. By 2014, 20 of the 26 companies surveyed were compliant. Accountability, noted Reitman, can make for an effective campaign.

From her First Amendment work as cofounder of the Chelsea Manning Support Network, Reitman went on to help found the nonprofit FPF to help support and protect journalistic operations such as WikiLeaks—whose methodology is particularly interesting, she said, for publishing original source material, unredacted and in full (“WikiLeaks is about showing your work”). FPF is notable for obscuring the records of online donors and refusing to hand over their data.

Reitman went on to discuss whistleblower Edward Snowden, the Patriot Act, and the EFF’s lawsuit against the National Security Agency (NSA) for its monitoring of telecommunications data. EFF’s action became part of a larger American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the NSA. On May 7, the day before the LACUNY conference, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled the tracking program unlawful. It’s “the beginning of the end of phone surveillance in the United States,” said Reitman, proclaiming it yet another victory for Choose Privacy Week; “I’m happy to say that librarians have been at the forefront of this battle.”


Much of the afternoon’s proceedings centered on various forms of librarian advocacy, especially teaching students about privacy. John Buschman, dean of libraries at Seton Hall University, noted that although librarians have been aware of privacy threats for years—his 1995 article, “Libraries and the Underside of the Information Age,” had been cited earlier for its prescience—the concept has been uncoupled from its political context over the past 40 years and is currently an everyday concern that requires a different kind of attention. The contest now, he explained, is not between what should and should not be known, but how it should be known.

Sarah Lamdan, associate law library professor at the City University of New York (CUNY) Law School, discussed the instructional role of librarians as advocates for social media privacy. “In the past, we were feisty protestors for privacy,” she said. “We should harness that feisty power and take it into the digital age.” Lamdan recommended using the seven foundational principles of Privacy by Design developed in the 1990s by Dr. Ann Cavoukian, information and privacy commissioner of Ontario, to get students past the prevailing thinking of “You have zero privacy; get over it.” John Jay emerging technologies and distance services librarian Robin Camille Davis also recommended teaching students to use Google ad settings, tracking blockers such as Ghostery or Privacy Badger, and the Inspect Element tool in their browsers to examine sites’ underlying code.

Finding the weak spots

The second panel, on “Surveillance and Its Discontents,” looked at end solutions to privacy problems. Seeta Peña Gangadharan, senior research fellow at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, and Bonnie Tijerina, fellow at the Data and Society Institute (and a 2010 LJ Mover & Shaker), mapped common library practices in an infographic to visualize which are controllable by library staff, in order to help define vulnerabilities.

Tony Doyle, associate professor at the Hunter College library, explained online anonymous web searching through obfuscation, suggesting digital solutions such as the Tor network, which masks a user’s identity via encryption and multiple routers; TrackMeNot, which generates a smokescreen of dummy requests to mask each query; and DuckDuckGo, a search engine that does not store or track user information. ASA College information literacy instructor Maria Bernhey shared her privacy lesson plan, noting the importance of explaining that seeking to limit the amount of information available about oneself does not imply having something nefarious to hide. “There’s nothing wrong with taking control of your privacy, and students don’t understand that.”

Defining the boundaries

The third panel, on legal boundaries, featured a discussion of library-specific privacy policies from Percy Wise, information services coordinator for the Multnomah County Library System, OR. As a former attorney, Wise was well-versed in the finer points of policy law, and cautioned, “Remember: privacy policies are not aspirational.”

Julia Frankosky, government information librarian at Michigan State University, talked about privacy as it pertains to academic discourse. In the past, she explained, for the most part classroom discussions began and ended there; now, anything said in class is fair game, and faculty or students who make controversial statements, indulge in political rants, or even send an email too hastily can find their careers impacted.

And CUNY Graduate Center associate librarian for collections Alycia Sellie took critical aim at how digital rights management (DRM) can compromise the privacy of library ebook borrowers, noting, “DRM makes surveillance of reading habits extremely simple.” In most cases, she said, customers have a choice as to whether they wish to comply with commercial features that limit privacy—“No one is forcing us to put on a Mickey Mouse bracelet if we would rather not,” she said, citing Disneyland’s most recent optional customer tracking innovation. However it is a much bigger sacrifice to forego library electronic content to avoid accepting DRM rules, especially now that some content is available only in electronic format. So, she said, libraries should be aware of their own options for providing DRM-free e-materials.


Macrina began with a friendly disclaimer: “I hope everybody’s OK with being on an FBI watch list after attending this event.” She went on to offer a brief history of library active resistance to privacy threats, including the FBI’s late–Cold War clandestine surveillance program that targeted librarians. (For a more in-depth look, see The Nation’s recent article in its May 25, 2015 edition, Librarians vs. the NSA.)

The NSA’s data retrieval system, Macrina explained, is sophisticated and can pull information from any Internet communication using a major commercial platform, including Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Skype. Section 215 of the Patriot Act, “Access to records and other items under [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978]” (commonly known as the “library records” provision), authorizes government collection of broadly defined “tangible things” to assist in a security investigation. “I don’t think any of us could have anticipated just how big this [NSA] problem would be,” she said.

And privacy is important in all its permutations, stressed Macrina. “I reject the idea that people have nothing to hide,” she said. “I have something to hide, and so do all of you. You’re all wearing clothes. You don’t post your medical records…. You’re human.” She also noted that according to statistics collected by PEN America, a global association of writers devoted to defending literary free speech, one in six writers has avoided writing or speaking on a topic that they thought would subject them to surveillance. Another one in six has seriously considered doing so. “That’s a huge existential threat to libraries as far as I’m concerned,” Macrina said.

However, she added, “We’re not doomed. I’m setting up this problem because I’m setting up a solution.”

The LFP, which earlier this year won a Knight Foundation News Challenge grant, is dedicated to educating librarians on intellectual freedom issues. To that end, Macrina stated, “Technology in the liberation of social good is our best defense.” She favors encryption tools and free open source software, which both fits with libraries’ ethical framework and provides “that level of transparency [where] it becomes incredibly difficult for a malicious actor to backdoor the software.”

On a small scale, Macrina suggested that every librarian make time to assess the library’s resources, think about who might compromise it, and imagine what could be done to protect it. In addition to the previously mentioned Tor and DuckDuckGo, she mentioned several solutions that can be easily implemented: the EFF’s HTTPS Everywhere extension, which automatically provides secure authentication for every site used in a system; Textsecure, which encrypts text messages; Signal, which encrypts phone calls on Android devices; the password management utility KeePassX; and Tails, a flash drive–based Linux browser that anonymizes all data.

However, Macrina also teaches simpler versions of her tech-heavy defense at LFP for those who might find it a barrier. That way, she said, “At least you know about the law. At least you know what some of those programs are,” adding that there’s no reason why an Introduction to the Internet library class can’t use DuckDuckGo. And she will be conducting a workshop on Digital Privacy and Security: Keeping You and Your Library Safe and Secure in a Post-Snowden World at ALA’s Annual Conference in June.

Macrina acknowledges that her paranoia levels have increased along with her involvement in privacy issues, but feels that her cause—and her chance to encourage a privacy-literate population—is worth the worry. As librarians, she said in summation, we have the ability to “make privacy protection tools ubiquitous and mainstream.”

Hilda Bewildered | Touch and Go

To, 05/14/2015 - 19:20

Few authors and developers create fictional stories for the iPad with the tween and teen audience in mind. Lynley Stace of Slap Happy Larry is an exception. A while back SLJ interviewed Stace about her haunting stories, beguiling artwork, and app development. Her latest production, Hilda Bewildered, is reviewed below. Its extensive teaching notes will be a boon to educators who want to introduce digital stories in the classroom.

Hilda is the name of a princess who is nervous about delivering her first public speech, and it’s also the name of a pickpocket who crashes the event and steals a royal ring. Lynley Stace’s Hilda Bewildered  (Dan Hare/Slap Happy Larry, iOS $2.99; Gr 6 Up), a somewhat surreal story, requires readers to decide for themselves which parts of this tale are real and which are fantastical. As with the other interactive fictional offerings from Stace (The Artifacts, Midnight Feast), Hilda encourages readers to experience the story in a flexible way, as they consider its themes of imagination and identity.

Screen from Hilda Bewildered (Slap Happy Larry) Stace

The app rewards exploration. The more time viewers spend on a screen, the more they will discover. “Rub-to-reveal” pages offer a second image under the first. Persistent tapping presents layers of dialogue. Words sometimes appear on the screen, then float up and away until they’re out of sight. Hands holding a cell phone rise from the bottom of one page and take photos (which change when tapped). The app is a feast for the senses—jewel-toned pages shimmer in and out view, static characters are given the illusion of movement, and color, music (Chris Hurn), and sound effects change to mirror the mood and tempo of a scene.

Tweens and teens are sure to appreciate Hilda, but don’t hesitate to share it with adults, who will also be enchanted by this atmospheric, imaginative story. A protected “more” icon on the menu page leads to page-by-page “Illustration/Teaching Notes” where Stace discusses her decisions about color, visual angles, language, setting, music, and weather, and commentary on advertising and wealth and poverty. Another icon leads to an offer to purchase Slap Happy Larry apps in a bundle.—Andrea Lipinski, New York Public Library

For additional app reviews, visit our dedicated app webpage.


3-D Printers: Understanding Copyright, Fair Use, and More

Ti, 05/12/2015 - 16:00

Libraries have been on the front lines of the digital revolution since its beginning. 3-D printing is the latest wave of this revolution, which continues to fundamentally change the way we access, process, and produce information. This technology brings digitization to the physical marketplace for the first time, by allowing people of all ages to use digital processes to create tangible items that can be used, traded, bought and sold. It promises progress across numerous industries and sectors. The burgeoning field of “bioprinting”—the printing of human organs—creates new opportunities for medical research; the use of 3-D printing in defense manufacturing enhances U.S. national security by allowing for the more efficient production and delivery of intricate items used by the military; and the successful deployment of 3-D printing technology to outer space heralds a day when thousands of miles and a lack of gravity no longer constrain the delivery of supplies to astronauts.

What does all of this have to do with school librarianship?

None of these exciting applications can continue to advance without new generations of people to advance them. Enter the school librarian. The school library community has always been known for connecting students of all ages to transformative information technologies. In keeping with this role and reputation, school librarians must now ensure that today’s students gain the skills they need to bring the full promise of 3-D printing technology to fruition. By fulfilling this role, the school library community will move us all toward a brighter future—and will position itself at the forefront of the emerging 3-D printing policy arena.

A student at the David C. Barrow Elementary School library with a 3-D printed creation. Students build their own jewelery as part of a geologic lesson on rocks and minerals.

School librarians have already begun to integrate 3-D printing into the learning process. Across the country, they are proving that, added to the vast arsenal of learning tools in their institutions, a 3-D printer can serve as a powerful weapon for hands-on instruction across multiple disciplines.

A couple of examples from the sciences: In Georgia, under the leadership of SLJ School Librarian of the Year Finalist Andy Plemmons, third graders at the David C. Barrow Elementary School used the library’s 3-D printer to build their own jewelry as part of a geologic lesson on rocks and minerals. In Wisconsin, a senior at the West De Pere High School used his library’s 3-D printer to create multicolor globes that brought geography to life.

The 3-D printer at the David C. Barrow Elementary School.

3-D printers in school libraries are also being used to broaden students’ cultural horizons and teach practical problem-solving skills. In Iowa, fifth graders at the Van Meter Elementary School used their library’s 3-D printer to create their own Olympic symbols as part of a research project on the Olympic Games; and in Illinois, students at Glen Grove Elementary School used 3D printing technology in their library to design and build models of devices that could solve problems facing residents of an imaginary city—issues related to excessive noise, water pollution, and more.

Additionally, students are learning cutting-edge digital skills through 3-D printing technology in school libraries. In Florida, fifth graders at the Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy became versed in computer aided design software by developing 3-D models of luggage tags in the school library.

The takeoff of 3-D printing in school libraries inspires hope for our digital future. To ensure this trend continues, it is important to address a few questions that librarians raise upon establishing a cutting-edge technology as a library service: “If my patron does ‘x’ with the technology, could I or the patron face legal consequences?” The school librarian’s typical query: “If a student builds ‘x’ with the printer, could the student or I be sued?”

Click to enlarge

Unease about the prospect of subjecting yourself, your institution, or your students to legal risks is certainly understandable, given the limitless creative capacity of 3-D printers and the prevailing attitude among younger generations that the sharing and reproduction of content should be seamless. However, as the historic on-ramp to the digital world, the library community must not be intimidated by the legal considerations of any new digital technology. In fact, library professionals have every reason to be optimistic about this undertaking. If we devise—and share—acceptable use policies that take the legal implications of 3-D printing into account, we can move the library community toward a set of best practices that guides the direction of the public policy frameworks that coalesce around the use of 3-D printers in the coming years.

Without question, exploring new frontiers in the intellectual property (IP) space must be a part of any effort to establish best practices for providing 3-D printing as a library service. Historically, the library community’s IP focus has not extended much beyond copyright. Copyright is still important in the context of 3-D printing, as the devices can be used to create works of authorship like sculptures and figurines, and the computer-aided design (CAD) files from which objects are printed may also be protected by copyright.

However, 3-D printing must also get librarians to think about other IP concepts. In addition to producing creative works, the devices can fashion a wide gamut of “functional” items, which may be protected by patent.

Patents come in two varieties—utility and design. A utility patent may cover a machine, article of manufacture, a composition of matter, or method or process. A design patent covers the ornamental and aesthetic shape of a manufactured item as opposed to its utilitarian function. An example to illustrate the difference: A company might hold a utility patent covering a method of printing a pair of sunglasses and also hold a design patent on the shape and design of the sunglasses.

Van Meter Elementary students used Tinkercad to designed (left) and 3-D print Olympic symbols.

An important point of clarification is the difference between patent and copyright. Unlike copyright, which protects items that represent the original expression of an idea, patent protects original items that serve a particular useful purpose. A new type of prosthetic hand that facilitates the ease with which an amputee can perform daily tasks may be eligible for patent protection. Similarly, a new kitchen item that can help you cook breakfast more efficiently may also be eligible. Two other concepts implicated by 3-D printing are trade dress, which protects distinctive product designs and packaging, as well as trade secret, which protects formulas, practices, processes, designs, instruments, patterns or compilations of information that derive economic value from not being widely known.

If that high-level overview of IP law has you ready to consign your Makerbot to the scrap heap, consider the following proposition. 3-D printing activity in libraries has steered clear of litigation so far, and the most important thing we librarians can do to ensure this stays the case is remain true to our established practices and values. Libraries have a rich history of serving as points of access to digital technology, and of providing people—especially students—with the skills they need to use digital technologies to bring ideas from conception to execution.

At the same time, library professionals have never made a practice of actively encouraging patrons to use the technologies we provide for infringing purposes. As long as we keep with this role and arm ourselves with the knowledge we need to develop acceptable use policies that take the legal concepts implicated by 3-D printing into account, we can minimize our own legal risks and those of our patrons—providing students with knowledge they will need to be successful in the digital age.

If you’re still feeling gun-shy, consider this: The reproduction and/or distribution of an item protected by IP law generally only becomes an issue if it has some discernible effect on the market for that item. So, if despite all of the precautions you take to ensure the use of your printer does not result in infringement, a student prints an action figure that’s protected by copyright, neither you, nor the student is inexorably headed for a legal battle. There’s a high probability that the student is simply going to take it home and place it on his or her bedside table—and such a personal, non-commercial use is not likely to draw the ire, or frankly, even the attention of a rights holder.

The bottom line is that in making 3-D printers available, school—and all—librarians should be smart, but fearless. In the 1990s, when digitization began to transform the music and book industries, rights holders worked with considerable success to set the tone and boundaries of public policy debates over digital content. As a result, the library community was dragooned into overly cautious practices related to the dissemination and reproduction of information. Now, thanks to 3D printing, digitization has—as many scholars suggest—begun to transform the physical economy in a similar way. As 3-D printing leaders, the library community can and should get out ahead of rights holders this time around; with a commitment to studying new areas of IP law, we can set the direction of 3-D printing policy in the coming years.

Charlie Wapner works on intellectual property, digital content and broadband issues as an information policy analyst in the American Library Association’s Office for Information Technology Policy.

New Technology to Borrow: North Carolina State University Libraries Begins Lending Apple Watches

Ma, 05/11/2015 - 22:50

Apple Watches are now available for members of the NC State community to borrow from NCSU Libraries and their Technology Lending service. Other items include cameras, tripods, cables, e-readers, makerspace materials, and gaming consoles.

From NCSU Library News:

When asked about the Libraries’ interest in lending Apple Watches, David Woodbury (Associate Head of User Experience) simply explained that “the students asked us to, and it is our goal to respond, in student-time, to their interests and research needs.” Woodbury also pointed out that the students and faculty at NC State are themselves creating the technologies of the future, and giving them access to the latest tools and devices inspires and facilitates their innovations.


“This is an extension of what libraries have always done,” Woodbury noted. “Libraries democratize access to technology, making tools that may otherwise be difficult to afford available to students. We want as many students as possible to experience what these various technologies have to offer, and we love hearing from them about the exciting and creative ways they put these tools to use.”

Read the Complete Post

See Also: North Carolina State University Libraries Now Lending Google Glass (February 20, 2014)

Coding Skills Empower Us All |The Maker Issue

Ma, 05/11/2015 - 16:00

Illustration by Marco Goran Romano

More on Coding

Ready to learn coding? Here are resources. Plus: Teaching with Scratch

We’ve all seen the hashtags: #code, #coding, #HourofCode, #LearnToCode, #programming. Code is trending in education. So is the pushback against it. For every proponent of computer progamming in schools, there’s a skeptic who asks whether or not we really need to teach everyone to code.

Some other questions from the skeptic: Where does code fit in the school day and a traditional curriculum? Will it be on the test? Who will teach it? Which ed school is graduating our first cadre of teacher-programmers? What about the kids who aren’t going into specialized tech fields—why do they need to know about it?

We’re not coding in schools to make sure every kid gets a job in technology; we’re doing so to give all kids the chance to understand and interact with the technologies—including the social ones—in their lives.

What is coding?

Coding describes a wide range of behaviors in which we solve a problem by writing procedural steps for a person, computer, or machine to follow. For example, we might code a program that helps us grade papers on a work day: five papers, stretch break, five papers, coffee break, five papers, lunch.

We might code a website that showcases our professional accomplishments with separate pages for teaching, writing, and extracurriculars. Or a robotic arm to measure and pour an exact amount of a liquid into a beaker in science class.

All code is about instructions, but the details of how it gets written change from platform to platform. Generally, people are great at giving one another instructions because we can infer what to do from several different ways of saying the same thing: Hand me that. Give me that. Toss that over here. Could you bring that to me?

Computer software is much more literal, requiring code to be a tangle of nested elements and punctuation we seldom see outside of textbooks. Computers need that structure to tell what goes where and each bit of code to be named precisely. Whereas I could ask you to hand me a “cup” or “mug” interchangeably, if you describe a cup to a computer, it will have no idea what you want later if you ask for a mug.

Coding is a lot like gaming, maker pedagogies, and project-based learning. The more we play games, the more we learn to draw from them for class. The more we make stuff in class, the more things we think of making for learning. The same is true for coding—the more we mess with code and read it, the more opportunities we’ll find for its meaningful use.

Why code?

The coded device is and will remain a part of kids’ lives and their future work. “Beyond helping young people in their career choices, coding knowledge gives them opportunities to be fully engaged in our democracy as we enter an era of big government data, available at the most local of levels,” says Paul Oh, senior program associate at the National Writing Project. “The converse—an inability to code—only widens the participation gap, with all that implies racially and socioeconomically.” If we don’t use code and other participatory ways to interact with technology in our classrooms, students will never own it as a learning tool—they will be owned by it.

Learning to code can be a blast. Writing it can give students a feeling of empowerment and control over their lives, digitally and offline. Moreover, coding is something we can do in low-fi, high-fi, and even no-fi environments. We can remix or write our own code—or code simple things, like toys, and more complex things, like calculators. We can code web portfolios and video games—and think things through step-by-step to solve larger, real-world problems.

A different type of learning

Coding and other forms of student-driven maker education in our classrooms serve as antidotes to the strictures of a test-based educational system. Coding gives us a way to write and build with students that requires close attention to detail, creativity, problem-solving, and an appreciation of failure as a constructive step forward. Rote repetition of content knowledge and ways of knowing—such as the three-to-five-page essay and flash cards—simply do not ask as much of us, nor do they help students develop the determination to puzzle through messy, novel, relevant problems typical of life outside of school.

“Students need to start trying their hand at coding and all kinds of online production in K–5,” says Melissa Techman, school librarian at Albemarle County (VA) Schools. It “allows them to acquire the habits of mind involved in being good communicators and information designers.”

“In the library, coding is both a hands-on maker opportunity and a perfect fit with new media literacy standards,” Techman adds. “We are no longer just talking about genre, format, purpose and audience with books; we’re analyzing methods and messages in webtoons, animations, websites, and videos. We’re assessing how things fit, and what usability is.”

Reading, writing, and coding

In fact, all of us already code every day. Whenever we follow directions or come up with our own way of doing something, we are running programs for life. However, we seldom take the time to unpack what we do, articulate it, test it for bugs, or improve it. If we can help all of our kids at least sample coding, we can allow them to see normative codes around them—the rules at work in their lives, schools, and communities.

Coding shouldn’t be a siloed discipline, any more than reading, math, or any area of study should be. Instead, coding, like all work in schools, should become more connected, productive, and generative than our work is now. After all, if we really aim to educate the next generation of “critical readers”—if we’re really all about the “rigor” and “grit”—and if we’re already willing to ask our kids to decode this:

y= ax2 + bx + c

or this:

2 C6H5COOH + 15 O2 = 14 CO2 + 6 H2O

or this:

Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

—from “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye

…then there’s no reason to fear this coding command:

print(‘Hello, World!’);

…or decline to think about how it fits into our work.

The more we code

Too often, we spend our days teaching kids to recognize things they rarely see outside of a school textbook or test. The more we code, the more code we’ll be able to see, own, and create in service of our children and ourselves. It should be something we do, rather than another thing done to us. Agency and ownership are the ultimate ends of coding—as they are in all education.

Ready to Learn Coding? Here are resources. Plus: Teaching with Scratch| The Maker Issue

Ma, 05/11/2015 - 15:59

In this article:

Teaching with Scratch

More on Coding

Coding Skills Empower Us All

There are several ways to start learning about code, and each offers something a little different. Not all coding sites are created equal, and not every site or initiative works for every teacher or learner. A playful, introductory experience might not satisfy a teacher looking for a civic-minded coding experience, while an in-depth tutorial on programming games might not be the best starting place for a kid interested in web design. For novices, there are many ways to enter the coding ecosystem.

Online coding lessons

Several sites offer free, online, self-paced lessons to help you learn text-based code—coding in the raw, so to speak. Sites like Codecademy and Khan Academy offer free instruction, while others, like Treehouse ( provide free trials and subscription plans. Typically, several “lessons” introduce related ideas in a “unit”—such as how to build a simple webpage—and then ask you to write code you can check against a lesson’s right answer. Never be afraid to look at a site’s forums for help or to search online for a solution that escapes you.

It’s very common to learn to code by looking at working code and figuring out how and why it works. Most professional programmers work this way. Sites such as the Mozilla Developer Network (, Stack Overflow (, and W3Schools ( offer different kinds of support, including crowdsourced answers to questions and reference information on standards in different languages and platforms.

Although the quality of lessons can be inconsistent, messing around on Codecademy or a similar site is an inexpensive way to learn the basics of programming, and how universal concepts transfer. Sites like CodePen ( offer more experienced learners a multi-window development environment in which they can program and see the results of their work as they code for the web.

Starting from Scratch

If coding with text seems too daunting at first, try Scratch, a visual drag-and-drop programming language from MIT’s Media Lab and Lifelong Kindergarten project. By assembling interlocking puzzle pieces of code, you can build animations, programs, and games that rival anything coded by hand.

Pencil Code is another online, visual programming app that lets learners move between Scratch-like coding blocks and text-based code. Incorporating tutorials, drawing, music, and interactive storytelling, Pencil Code is especially user-friendly.

Physical computing

Sometimes we need to see something happen in order to understand how it works. Physical computing is a great introduction to programming for beginners who may be confused about how cause-and-effect play out on a computer screen. It combines material objects with digital code to produce tangible projects that impact the “real world.”

Kim Wilkens, founder of Tech-Girls, a volunteer organization for girls and young women promoting gender equality in tech, says that physical computing helps “to get kids coding. Many students love the idea of building, but don’t have the same interest in coding until they experience writing the code that brings their creation to life.”

Popular DIY kits like Arduino (, Hummingbird (, and LEGO WeDo ( let builders create circuits, robots, and physical storytelling scenes that are controlled by code and exported to the “build” via USB cable.

The Arduino microprocessor powers a variety of projects, from blinking lights to WiFi-enabled servers. Hummingbird robots feature robust servos and motors that can be programmed using Scratch, its spin-off Snap! (, or other visual programming apps like Ardublock ( and CREATE Labs Visual Programmer (

LEGO WeDo sets let users build scenes from stories that become physically animated by code, and serve as an entry to more complex robotics construction sets from LEGO and other manufacturers, such as Vex (

Face-to-face coding workshops

© Black Girls Code (press photo)

If you prefer to learn coding face-to-face with mentors and peers, you can look for a “code club” near home.

Black Girls Code ( hosts workshops and development jams that teach participants how to make webpages, games, and other multimedia projects using code. You can find events in metropolitan areas like Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, New York City, and San Francisco (

MOUSE ( and Digital Harbor ( are youth development programs that help train student technologists to be human-centered designers who help people design solutions to real-world problems.

Coder Dojo (, started in Ireland, runs volunteer-led coding workshops around the world. Parents attend with children and learn with them or help out with administrative tasks. You can find dojos near you on the organization’s website (

Pursuitery (, recently updated, is an online community of organizers and mentors who facilitate connected learning workshops around users’ passions, such as Minecraft and Scratch. Pursuitery grows out of the HOMAGO (“hanging out, messing around, and geeking out”) movement and brings mentors and learners together online around common interests. While digitally mediated, workshops and hangouts are still face-to-face online and help to create real-world and real-time connections.

Professional learning networks on social media sites like Twitter are also great resources for learning opportunities.

Teaching with Scratch

Coding can teach traditional academic content in myriad ways. On a platform like Scratch, for instance, a teacher could have students code visual characters, called “sprites,” draw a triangle by deciding how far the sprite travels on each triangle side and the angle of its turns. They could demonstrate understanding of how triangles work—the ways in which their interior angles and sides relate to one another.

As a next step, kids could program user inputs so that another “player” could type in three angles and three lengths to form a triangle. Kids could share their Scratch programs with one another and then show their understandings of triangles by playing each other’s triangle-drawing games. As students learn to code more complex programs, they could add checking and scorekeeping mechanisms to award players for creating triangles in as few tries as possible.

Here are ideas for more advanced projects.

• Code a model of the solar system in which planet sprites travel in circular or ellipsoid orbits around the sun.

• Write a script that lets a player define a circular or elliptical orbit and then animate it on the screen. Create a chemical bonding game.

• Design a city for lowest possible traffic congestion and program to animate public transportation routes featuring different shapes from math class.

• Retell a story as an animation or decision-making game and add a scoring mechanic to represent your subjective view of characters’ actions, good and bad. Invite a teacher or another student to play and critique your analysis and evaluation of the characters through a game review.

Remixing, forking, and more

Scratch is currently web-native: you can create a free account and program online. You can also share your programs and remix other community members’ works. When you save a program, you can tag it to categorize it by content or even by the mechanics of your code. That makes it easy to find examples of others’ code to include in your animation or game. For example, if you wanted to learn how to keep score in a game or move a sprite around the screen, you could search other people’s Scratch programs for “keeping score” or “arrow-key movement” to remix into your own project.

Scratch users can also comment on one another’s work and “fork” it for remix. When you fork a program, you create a new version of it for your own use. Each project has a “remix tree” that grows more branches and leaves as more people fork your code. Kids working in your library or class can learn and draw inspiration from one another as they go.

Check out the “coding is for everybody” Scratch course on

The Thing About Bitcoin: It’s Not the Coin, It’s the Chain

La, 05/09/2015 - 01:27

I will admit to owning just over one bitcoin, largely as an experiment. It’s no more than I’m willing to lose outright, so you can say that I sleep soundly at night. But a while back I came across this piece at O’Reilly Radar and it changed my perspective on bitcoin entirely.

The author argues (persuasively in my opinion) that the real innovation isn’t bitcoin, but the blockchain which makes it possible. He describes five key concepts for understanding the blockchain, how it works, and how it can change how we do transactional activities on the web:

  1. “Decentralized consensus: …A decentralized scheme, on which the bitcoin protocol is based, transfers authority and trust to a decentralized virtual network and enables its nodes to continuously and sequentially record transactions on a public “block,” creating a unique “chain”: the blockchain…What’s important here is that with this degree of unbundling, the consensus logic is separate from the application itself; therefore, applications can be written to be organically decentralized, and that is the spark for a variety of system-changing innovations in the software architecture of applications, whether are money or non-money related.
  2. “The blockchain (and blockchain services): A blockchain is like a place where you store any data semi-publicly in a linear container space (the block). Anyone can verify that you’ve placed that information because the container has your signature on it, but only you (or a program) can unlock what’s inside the container because only you hold the private keys to that data, securely. So, the blockchain behaves almost like a database, except that part of the information stored — its “header” — is public…the blockchain acts as an alternative value transfer system that no central authority or potentially malicious third party can tamper with.
  3. “Smart contracts (and smart property): Smart contracts are the building blocks for decentralized applications.The basic idea behind smart contracts is that a transaction’s contractual governance between two or more parties can be verified programmatically via the blockchain, instead of via a central arbitrator, rule maker, or gatekeeper…The starting point that you assume when applying smart contracts is that third-party intermediaries are not needed in order to conduct transactions between two (or several) parties.
  4. “Trusted computing (or trustless transactions): When you combine the concepts behind the blockchain, decentralized consensus, and smart contracts, you start to realize they are enabling the spread of resources and transactions laterally in a flat, peer-to-peer manner, and in doing that, they are enabling computers to trust one another at a deep level…If you fast forward to a not-too-distant future, smart contracts and smart property will be created, dispensed, or executed routinely between consenting parties, without either of them even knowing that blockchain technology was the trusted intermediary.
  5. “Proof of work (and proof of stake):…The “proof of work” is a “right” to participate in the blockchain system. It is manifested as a “big enough hurdle” that prevents users from changing records on the blockchain without re-doing the proof of work. So, proof of work is a key building block because it cannot be “undone,” and it is secured via the strengths of cryptographic hashes that ensure its authenticity. But proof of work is expensive to maintain…and may run into future scalability and security issues because it depends solely on the miners’ incentives, which will be declining over time. An upgraded solution is “proof-of-stake,” which is cheaper to enforce but more expensive and more difficult to compromise. Proof of stake not only determines who gets to update the consensus, but it also prevents unwanted forking of the underlying blockchain.”

The author goes on to say “…we must see beyond the bitcoin promise to be the Internet of money, and into the blockchain’s promise to become a new development environment, just as web development was the new paradigm back in 1996.”

He identifies four emerging market segments for blockchain-based applications which you should see the original piece to find out more about. I’ll allow the author, William Mougayar, to have the last word:

“The reality is that the crypto-led computer science revolution is giving us concepts that go way beyond a one-currency type of scenario. Yes, bitcoin is programmable money, but the blockchain is also programmable value, programmable governance, programmable contracts, programmable ownership, programmable trust, programmable assets, etc. And we have barely scratched the surface on these applications.”

It’s All About the Birds | Touch and Go

To, 05/07/2015 - 17:19

As a city dweller, I might have wondered about the statistic on the number of birders in the United States cited below. But having worked side-by-side with a dedicated birder at School Library Journal (who has traveled far and wide in pursuit of the hobby) and witnessed how a perennial second-grade unit on these creatures brought those students (and their parents and siblings) back year after year looking for new titles on our winged friends, I have no doubt that the number is accurate. Here are a couple of the latest digital guides to share with the birders—armchair or otherwise—that come into your library.

Bird-watching is one of the fastest growing outdoor hobbies in the United States with well over 51.3 million Americans reporting that they participate. The activity has generated enthusiasm across all age groups and demographics. Many of us grew up with a tattered copy of one of the “Peterson Guides” in our home. Today, with family members pinching and swiping their way through books, it’s no surprise that digital references for these hobbyists are a growing category.

Indeed, there are a host of great apps to assist those who want to sharpen their observational skills. Quality resources include iBird in all its iterations, from the Ultimate (pricey) to the Lite (free) versions, both available for 0S and Android, as well as National Geographic Birds: Field Guide to North America (also available in a free, Birds Lite edition). And, of course, there’s Peterson’s Birds Pocket Edition: A Field Guide to Birds of North America. Is there room for additional competitors and improvements? Enter the species-specific app. Since warblers are one of the most confusing and difficult to identify of birds, it makes sense to offer a guide on them, and Princeton University Press and One Hundred Robots have obliged with The Warbler Guide (iOS $12.99; Gr 9 Up).

The app is based on the award-winning reference of the same title by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle (PUP, 2013). Brief descriptions of the creatures are offered, along with icons indicating typical behaviors and preferred habitats. Particularly noteworthy are the multiple views of the birds that allow users to see the creatures from many angles including below with pinch-zoom properties. Other welcome features are the exhaustive song and vocalization library for each warbler, and the array of images depicting differences for age, plumage, season, and activity. The app can be customized by view, season, location, and order. There’s even an opportunity to paint the bird bodies, which will aid in identification when in the field, filtering out some the many possibilities. A user guide is provided.

Highly sophisticated both in navigation and content, the app is designed for experienced, dedicated birder. Combining the depth of the print guide and the technology of digital, Warbler will make a good companion for those hoping to identify those beautiful but difficult-to-identify warblers on a walk or hike, or during window bird-watching session. Student researchers looking for images may also find it useful.—Elisabeth LeBris, Director Library Tech Center, Kenilworth SD 38, Kenilworth, IL

Similar in design and depth to the National Geographic Birds: Field Guide to North America, the Collins Bird Guide (Touch Press/Bonnier Fakta/William Collins, iOS $17.99; Gr 5 Up) focuses solely on the birds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. The app is based on the book by Lars Svensson and illustrated by Killian Mullarney and Dan Zetterstrom (Collins, 2008). Species can be searched by name and a variety of attributes including plumage, habitat, and size. Each animal is drawn in various poses with labels describing its physical features. The text is limited to short descriptions of the creatures’ appearance, and typical flight and characteristic voice patterns. For each, a small distribution map is provided; a bird atlas is available as an in-app purchase.

Enhancements include an audio of each bird’s call and a selection of videos (13 in all) of the some of the animals in their natural habitats. The videos are superb, both informative and appealing, and set this app apart from other guides. (Additional videos are available as three in-app purchases, totaling 794 video clips.) The app’s other noteworthy features include a comparison guide—helpful in the field for identification purposes—and a “share” button that alerts other birders to a special sighting. There’s also an option to create a “life list” of sightings.

Both navigation and image size changes are easy. Because of the range of the birds featured, the app may not be essential for North American birders, but for those wishing to see and hear some nonnative species up close, this will be a worthwhile purchase.—Elizabeth Kahn, Patrick F. Taylor Science & Technology Academy, Avondale, LA

For additional app reviews, visit our dedicated webpage.

Six Top Sources for Free Images, Video, and Audio | Cool Tools

Ma, 05/04/2015 - 14:00

I’ve written about a number of video, audio, and collage creation tools, with WeVideo, Audacity, and PicMonkey topping some of my lists. However, it can be a challenge for students to locate copyright-friendly media when using these tools for presentations or idea sharing. It’s always best for students to create materials or use ones that are in the public domain. Here are some of the best resources I’ve found for the latter.

Copyright-cleared video is challenging to track it down. Fortunately, there are some great places to locate it. The Moving Image Archive within the Internet Archive is an index of more than 1.7 million video clips. Most of what you’ll see can be downloaded in a variety of file formats. Search the archive by keyword or browse through the many categories and thematic collections.

The Public Domain Review website features collections of images, books, essays, audio recordings, and films that are in the public domain. Search any collection for materials according to date, style, genre, and rights. Directions for downloading and saving media are included in each collection.

Students creating podcasts often need a little bit of bumper music for the intro or wrap up of their recordings. They should check out the Free Music Archive (FMA). It provides free, high-quality music in a wide range of genres, and the content is under various creative commons licenses. Initially funded by the New York State Music Fund, the FMA seeks to sustain high-quality materials vetted by curators who approve or deny all submissions to the collection. Anyone can download FMA music for use in podcasts, videos, and other digital presentation formats. The music collections can be searched by genre or curator.

Should your students be seeking common sounds like doorbells ringing, dogs barking, or car horns honking, they could try to record them live—or turn to SoundGator for free, downloadable recordings. They can browse through 23 recording categories to find the perfect sound. You have to register on SoundGator to download recordings, but after that, they can be used over and over.

If your students are looking for public domain pictures, direct them to the Morgue File and Pixabay. The Morgue File photo collection contains thousands of images that anyone can use for free in academic or commercial presentations. The collection can be searched by subject category, image size, color, or rating. You’ll find a mix of images that don’t require attribution, along with some that do—so pay attention to the labels with each picture. The Morgue File also features a “classroom” where visitors can learn photography techniques and get tips about image editing.

Pixabay hosts thousands of high-resolution, public domain images. Search by using keywords, or simply browse through the library of images. When you find one you like, you can download it in the size that suits your needs. Users who don’t register with the site can still download, but they have to enter a CAPTCHA code first.

The next time your students embark on a multimedia creation project or presentation, steer them toward these sources—chances are, they’ll like knowing they’re in the clear.

ProQuest Acquires MyiLibrary and OASIS

To, 04/30/2015 - 21:05

ProQuest today announced that it has signed an agreement to acquire Coutts Information Services from Ingram Content Group, including the MyiLibrary platform and the Online Acquisitions and Selection Information System (OASIS). Coutts employees will be invited to join ProQuest, with leadership reporting to Kevin Sayar, SVP and general manager, ProQuest Ebooks. ProQuest will take over management and ownership of the company’s offices and facilities in Ringwood, UK and Nijhoff, Netherlands. Other terms of the acquisition, expected to close within weeks, were not disclosed.

In a blog post, ProQuest CEO Kurt Sanford described the acquisition as a continuation of the company’s efforts “to strengthen the ebook marketplace by assembling a rich mix of talent, technology and content,” which began with the company’s acquisition of ebrary in January 2011, and the acquisition of Ebook Library (EBL) in January 2013. Sayar, who co-founded ebrary, oversees the combined ebook division created by these acquisitions.

“Today, we’re announcing the next step,” Sanford wrote. “We’re expanding our solutions and expertise in ebooks to print, delivering improved productivity for our customers and a better research experience. We’ll assume ownership and management of Coutts and MyiLibrary, with its extraordinary catalog of print and e content, and form a strategic partnership with Ingram for print fulfillment,” including access to Ingram’s on-demand print capabilities and comprehensive delivery network in North America.

In addition to augmenting ProQuest’s selection of ebooks with MyiLibrary’s 250,000 titles, the larger plan involves leveraging Coutts’ collection-building expertise, approval support, and ordering tools to begin developing a fully integrated service that streamlines the acquisition and fulfillment of print and electronic content together.

“Librarians will have flexibility to build dynamic collections that meet the unique needs of their community of researchers with support from DDA, approval plans, subscriptions, as well as electronic ordering and invoicing,” Sanford wrote.

A ProQuest announcement emphasized that the acquisition will not impact the company’s other strategic partnerships or ebook initiatives already in place. The launch of ProQuest Ebook Central platform, which combines key elements of the ebrary and EBL platforms with new functionality, will continue on schedule for mid-2015. And Sanford wrote that ProQuest will also seek to maintain partnerships with companies including YBP, OCLC, Ex Libris, Google Scholar, and others.

“Since Ingram acquired Coutts in 2006, we’ve invested in the people, technology, and services to support and promote the advancement of academic and professional libraries. ProQuest is the perfect home for the ideas, tools, and talent of Coutts to continue growing and innovating to better serve this market,” John Ingram, chairman and CEO of Ingram Content Group, said in a statement. “ProQuest is very strong in digital services, and we’re excited to team up with them to create the best, full-service package for the academic library market.”

Innovative Debuts “Open Library Stack” | IUG 2015

To, 04/30/2015 - 19:21

Kicking off the 23rd annual Innovative Users Group (IUG) conference on April 14–16 in Minneapolis, officials from Innovative Interfaces announced that the company’s new Mobile Worklists app is now available in the Apple iOS app store. Version 1.0 of the new app enables librarians to use tablets and mobile devices to create and track lists of materials, scan barcodes with their device’s camera, and share lists in the Sierra Library Services Platform (LSP) for real-time updating and editing. More importantly, as the first product developed with Innovative’s multi-tenant, cloud-based “Open Library Stack” (OLS) infrastructure, Mobile Worklists marks a milestone for Innovative. The company last year acquired library automation solutions providers Polaris and VTLS, promising to build a suite of cloud-based solutions such as Mobile Worklists, which would work with Sierra, Polaris, or VTLS Virtua on the back end.

OLS “is our go-forward architecture that will bind together all of our current technologies and all of our future technologies,” Leif Pedersen, Innovative’s SVP of product management, R&D, and marketing explained during the IUG opening general session.

Pederson was joined by Innovative CEO Kim Massana, Jodi Bellinger, the company’s VP of customer support operations, and moderator William Schickling, SVP of global sales for Innovative and former CEO of Polaris.

Mobile Worklists is currently available only to Sierra libraries, and the company plans to continue selling the more comprehensive LEAP mobile client for Polaris libraries—both products were already in production or testing when Polaris was acquired a little more than one year ago. However, the company is promising rapid expansion of OLS with new services relevant to Sierra, Polaris, and Virtua.

“We believe in an evolutionary product approach, where we bring…current technologies and merge them with future technologies that make it possible for you to forward-migrate” without changing a library’s ILS or LSP, Pedersen said.

API Progress

Separately, Innovative’s ongoing efforts to make it easier for librarians, partners, and third-party developers to harvest data from Sierra via application programming interfaces (APIs) was a topic of discussion during the “APIs 101” session on Wednesday. Although presenter Milton Howard, product management leader for Innovative’s Sierra API and mobile services cloud platform, focused primarily on explaining the functionality of RESTful APIs to the standing-room only crowd (in preparation for a more in-depth session scheduled for April 16), he also offered the audience a brief look ahead. In addition to APIs launched last year that enabled third-party software to harvest data from bibliographic and item records in a Sierra catalog, Innovative will soon launch a branch API that will enable third party systems to extract a list of branches from a Sierra system, and an authority API, enabling catalogers to get a list of authority records from a Sierra system.

APIs with “get” or read-only functionality will be free, but the company is also developing APIs that will enable libraries to create, update, and delete records and other information on Innovative systems. Those APIs will likely be fee-based, which the company has previously described as a necessity to make ongoing API development and support a self-sustaining enterprise. Howard said that the company is also hoping to cultivate a community of Innovative users around the new APIs and the company’s new developer sandbox.

“We’ve got a good start, but we still have a long way to go in terms of what we’re doing in the RESTful API area,” Howard said during the Q&A portion of the session. “I think as we [at Innovative] train ourselves to move releases along at a faster pace, and release earlier and more often, that we will be able to cultivate the kind of community around our RESTful APIs that other companies have.”

IUG reported attendance of more than 1,000, which included representatives from libraries that use all of the company’s platforms. Although a contingent of Polaris users attended IUG 2014, which took place in last May in Detroit—one month after Innovative acquired the company—this was the first IUG conference planned from the beginning with content for Polaris and VTLS libraries.

Ex Libris Acquires oMbiel, Establishes Mobile Campus Solutions Division

To, 04/30/2015 - 17:07

Ex Libris today announced the acquisition of Wolverhampton, U.K.-based oMbiel, developer of the campusM and governmentM cloud-based mobile app solutions for universities and local government services, respectively. The company will be incorporated into Ex Libris as a new business unit, Ex Libris Mobile Campus Solutions, led by oMbiel founder and CEO Hugh Griffiths. Terms of the sale were not disclosed.

“Adding campusM to our portfolio is a natural step in the expansion of the cloud-based offerings of Ex Libris for higher education,” Matti Shem Tov, Ex Libris president and CEO, said in a statement. “In addition to helping libraries maximize their efficiency and empowering users to obtain the information they need, we will now support institutions in fostering campus-wide student engagement on mobile devices. This will also drive innovative services to libraries and library users.”

As oMbiel’s flagship product, campusM enables academic institutions to deliver a wide range of services and information to a user’s Android, Apple iOS, or BlackBerry smartphones and mobile devices, Olga Karanikos, director of marketing for Ex Libris North America, told LJ. These include a course app that enables students to view and download course materials and check grades; administrative services such as campus maps, directories, and push notifications; campus life and social services tools such as an app that displays upcoming sports events and makes it possible to order tickets; and a library app that enables students to search the university library’s catalog, reserve materials, renew loans, and check account information.

The platform’s security framework features one-step authentication, enabling users to access all services with a single sign on. An App Manager portal facilitates content management, branding, and other customizations, and the platform’s Insight Analytics tool offers detailed usage reporting. Separately, an HTML5-based App Extension Kit (AEK) enables a university’s in-house developers to integrate new services into the platform. campusM customers have used AEK to generate student surveys, live bus timetables, PC and room booking solutions, Blackboard and Sharepoint announcements, housing finders, and even a solution that reports real-time washing machine and dryer availability at campus laundry rooms.

The company’s apps are arguably best known among students in oMbiel’s native U.K., where campusM is used by more than a quarter of universities, including University College London, the London School of Economics and Political Science, Kingston University, King’s College London, and Imperial College London, the company reports. The platform is also used by a number of institutions in continental Europe, Australia, South Africa, and North America, including the City University of New York (CUNY)’s Queensborough Community College.

In a statement, Griffiths said that “campusM will benefit from Ex Libris Group’s international presence, the company’s extensive cloud operation, and synergies with other Ex Libris business units. This integration will fuel the growth of campusM in terms of both product development and market reach.”

This will include leveraging the technology across Ex Libris product lines to enhance library mobile services over time, and to expand the company’s range of higher education services beyond libraries Karanikos told LJ.

“The campusM technology addresses one of the most important focus areas and priorities for universities—which is also shared by many libraries—namely, increasing and substantiating student engagement,” she said. “This joining of Ex Libris and oMbiel—and the new products we will be offering—present interesting new opportunities.”

A Pourquoi Tale from Liberia: “Dentist Bird” | Touch and Go

To, 04/30/2015 - 15:41

A pourquoi tale from West Africa is the subject of an app from Literary Safari. On the website, the developer notes that 100 percent of the purchase price “will go to the We-Care Foundation’s efforts to keep children reading and learning amidst the Ebola outbreak.”

Screen from “Dentist Bird” (Literary Safari) illus. David Wolobah

Dentist Bird (Literary Safari Inc. iOS $1.99; Android $1.99; K–Gr 2) is a Liberian folktale based on Michael Richards’s How Plover Bird Came to Clean Crocodile’s Teeth. In this retelling, a crocodile suffers from an excruciating toothache and receives help from an unexpected ally. While the rainforest animals debate about whether to relieve the poor reptile’s pain, a plover bird volunteers its skills. What results is a mutually beneficial agreement between species, where plover birds will eat the fish stuck between the crocodiles’ teeth in exchange for a promise that they will not be harmed in the process.

In the “Read” option, the app’s interactive sounds, animations, and gameplay, are accessed by tapping or swiping the screen. However, in the narrated mode, users can’t trigger interactive elements until the text on the screen is read. For hints on where to tap or swipe for interactivity or animations, children must touch a help icon in the top left of the screen; no hotspots are visible. Vibrant, lush oil illustrations by David Wolobah largely capture the setting of Dentist Bird, but a couple of the animal illustrations—namely the snail and leopard—are poorly rendered.

Embedded gameplay is slightly clunky; at points readers are forced to unlock “achievements” before progressing to the next screen, which interferes with the story’s momentum. Users may bypass this dilemma by tapping the help icon, a tedious step. In contrast, the Mission of Mercy game in the “Play” section is better designed, fast-paced fun that will certainly keep children coming back for more. Strong suits of this app include a “Learning” page with additional interactive content to engage young readers on facts about Liberia and rainforest animals, as well as a “Grownups” folder with links to detailed lesson plans and printables. A trailer is available.– Lalitha Nataraj, Escondido Public Library, Escondido, CA

For additional app reviews, visit our dedicated webpage.

A Disturbance In The Force

Ke, 04/29/2015 - 19:46

I received some shocking, disturbing, unwelcome news yesterday. Apparently during a “routine” biopsy, Gail Schlachter passed away at the young age of 72. I will not recite the litany of her achievements here, which can be read in part on her biography web page. I prefer to provide a brief personal view of a life well-lived.

Gail was the kind of person who was always glad to see you. If she ever didn’t smile I don’t know about it.

She was giving to a fault. When my mentor Anne Lipow retired from UC Berkeley and started a consulting business, Gail was there with advice and assistance on how to start a successful publishing business. Anne credited Gail with providing essential guidance and support. They were steadfast friends until Anne’s untimely passing from cancer.

Later I came to know Gail’s daughter, Sandy Hirsh. Sandy is an accomplished librarian in her own right and now Dean of the library School at San Jose State. If you know Sandy you know that Gail clearly did something right.

Yesterday the Twitterverse and Facebooklandia were abuzz with anguished cries from librarians all over. There are good reasons for that. Gail was a giant in the profession, and active in so many areas, from professional publishing to ALA governance. To say that she will be missed is a serious understatement.

Rather, there has been a disturbance in The Force.

Image by Konrad Summers, Creative Commons License CC-BY-SA 2.0

Scholastic Sells Ed Tech Business to Focus on Publishing

Ti, 04/28/2015 - 21:00

With the sale of its ed tech arm to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) for $575 million in cash, Scholastic will shed its popular Read 180 reading intervention program, among other properties, to focus on its core publishing businesses, part of which delivered a 33 percent revenue surge in 2014.

Scholastic will also reinvest in library publishing, print and digital classroom magazines, classroom book collections, and other print and digital supplemental instructional resources for schools and teachers, according to company spokesperson Anne Sparkman.

The impact of the sale on the library field will be minimal, she says, “other than what may come from reinvestments in [Scholastic’s] book and reading programs, such as the Flix line of products.” Part of Scholastic’s Library Publishing division, Flix is a family of digital literacy resources for pre-K−12 students, which includes the popular TrueFlix and BookFlix products.

The sale to HMH has been positioned by Scholastic as a move to narrow the company’s focus and reinvest in its children’s book publishing arm, which distributes through book clubs, book fairs, and e-tailers, according to a prepared statement. The company intends on investing the cash proceeds of the sale in its core publishing business, in addition to expanding its classrooms and supplemental materials—which includes classroom book collections, magazines, guided reading, and other instructional programs—and international sales areas.

Talks for the deal had been underway for the past four months, and proceeds of the sale, after taxes and other costs, are expected to net the company approximately $360−$370 million.

Overall, the ed tech industry is booming—CB Insights says investment in the field grew 55 percent to $1.87 billion in 2014. And Scholastic was no exception to that expansion: sales in the company’s ed tech division rose nine percent in the fiscal year ending in May 2014. However, the more established children’s book publishing and distribution business—which covers book clubs and book fairs—far exceeded that success, delivering a 33 percent revenue surge in book clubs and reaching $490 million in book fairs, respectively, in the last four quarters.

Kyle Good, senior VP of Scholastic’s Corporate Communications, told SLJ in an email, that she was seeing a “renewed interest across all business—book clubs, book fairs, and classroom and supplemental materials publishing.” She especially credited “new marketing strategies” for producing significant results in book clubs this year.

Also part of the children’s book publishing division are top performers, including the “Harry Potter” and “Minecraft Handbook” series, and Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels Sisters (2014), Drama (2012), and Smile (2010). According to Reuters, these titles also helped chart profit gains of 7 percent last quarter.

These products—plus a lump sum of cash—may make it easier for Scholastic to wave farewell to popular ed tech services, such as READ 180, MATH 180, and System 44, intervention programs that target struggling students, as well as early childhood education product, iREAD. These services require greater investments in product development and have a longer sales cycle than Scholastic’s core print and digital publishing businesses, said Scholastic’s Richard Robinson, chairman, president, and CEO, in a press release.

The deal is expected to be completed by this summer.

Hack Your Notebook: Circuitry mixes with paper in a creative project for 21st century learners

Ti, 04/28/2015 - 14:00

Natalie Freed’s ocean-themed sketchbook.
Photo Courtesy of NEXMAP

The notebook is a critical tool in so many disciplines, from writing to art to engineering. It’s used to capture an inspiration, as with an artist’s sketchbook and a journal, or prototype a schematic, as with an engineer’s notebook.

In schools, however, notebooks have often been co-opted as vehicles for assignments, not necessarily—or even usually—powered by interest and imagination.

What if we were given the opportunity to reappropriate notebooks and the creativity they can foster? It might look something like “Hack Your Notebook,” an effort to add illumination—literally—to what you write or draw with a craft called paper circuitry. Picture tiny lights mounted beneath the page of a notebook that can light up the eyes of a dragon illustration or emphasize particular words of a written phrase.

Paper circuitry lives at the intersection of technical expertise and creative expression. It leverages newly developed artifacts, such as LED light stickers, along with commonly found materials such as watch batteries and conductive copper tape. Instead of making electric circuits the way I learned to—with ceramic bulb holders, clunky nine-volt batteries, and plastic-coated wires—you create them with sleek materials that stick to paper.

Pu Gong Ying Tu (Dandelion Painting) by Jie Qi.
Photo courtesy of Jie Qi

These notebooks become pages with illuminated circuits overlaid by drawings, narratives, or designs—or any combination of the three. Collectively, they leverage light and give new dimensionality to creative aspirations.

No longer are you making a circuit simply to make a circuit. You’re doing it to convey a message, to realize a self-directed purpose. To hack your notebook.

At a recent professional development event in North Carolina, educators at a “making” and literacy institute were asked to illuminate an “aha!” moment in their personal notebooks. Some added light to images—of a campfire or an infographic, for instance—while others lit up text, such as the phrase “Maybe I shouldn’t talk so often.” Their palettes of words, pictures, and light represented their thinking.

The epitome of the hacked notebook may be a creation by Natalie Freed, an educator at a San Francisco high school and MIT Media Lab graduate. Freed programmed lights in her ocean-themed sketchbook that match live tidal data she pulls from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

Her notebook also includes watercolors of driftwood and seashells, a poem, and tiny blue LEDs illuminating a shore. It’s a gorgeous testament to the power of creativity unleashed by curiosity and creative tools.

LED light stickers were invented by artist Jie Qi, Freed’s MIT Media Lab colleague and a leading light (pardon the pun) and pioneer in this movement. Jie’s interactive painting Pu Gong Ying Tu (Dandelion Painting) is an amazing example of paper circuitry. When viewers blow on the dandelions, their seeds, dots of light, disperse (see clip below).

Notebook hacking with students

Inspired by Jie Qi, Bay Area educator and program developer David Cole; NEXMAP, an organization dedicated to experimental art; and the National Writing Project (NWP), supporting teachers of writing (where I work), got together. We are bringing paper circuitry and notebook hacking to schools, libraries, and museums. With links to an open Google+ community, the NEXMAP site engages with Freed and others to explore their ideas further.

Through our efforts such as a “Hack Your Notebook Day” in July, educators and young people from across the country have made their own creations. Watching works by young people unfold, we’ve witnessed the intersection of literacy, learning, and making.

Molly Adams, a NWP high school English teacher outside of Dallas, used paper circuitry with her students during a unit on the symbolism of light in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Her students crafted light creations alongside reflective writing. They produced a 1920s-era car out of wood that lit up to represent death; an eerie, light-strewn wedding cake; and a broken Coney Island roller coaster, among other objects.

Along with such sculpture-like projects, students elsewhere developed cards that lit up and illuminated comic strips.

Interested in paper circuitry?

You’ll find the resources you need at NEXMAP

• Materials lists and places to purchase items like copper tape and LED stickers

• Step-by-step video demos

• Animated gif tutorials

• Downloadable PDF notebook templates that provide working spaces and context for the work, including connections to Common Core State Standards

For more support from notebook hacking colleagues (who are also helpful sounding boards), join the 21st Century Notebooking Google Group.

Instilling “grit”

Notebook hacking engenders persistence, or what these days has popularly been called “grit.” Without fail, at an event or professional development session, if someone hasn’t quite completed their circuit or resulting creation in the allotted time, they stay to finish. Never mind that the next session may be about to begin. They want to realize their vision.

As with writing, paper circuitry invariably involves failed attempts that lead to new iterations based on greater understanding of what might work—prototyping and revision. This, in turn, leads to shout-out-loud, “I did it!” moments.

Those engaged in notebook hacking tend to see the cross-disciplinary connections among science, technology (even engineering), language arts, and creativity. Many an English teacher from the NWP has admitted to “not being good” at science prior to completing a complex circuit work.

“I liked that it made me think bigger than the classroom,” one of Adams’s students wrote about her Gatsby project. “What I learned is a) cool and b) actually applicable. I feel like we get too wrapped up in one subject at school…so this was a nice change.”

When young people are asked to be designers and systems thinkers, they must understand the systemic nature of a circuit as well as their conceptual “system”: the interplay among text, art, and technology.

To learn more, check out our archive of Hack Your Notebook Day activities and take a look at the terrific educator resources, including video tutorials, downloadable templates, and places to buy needed materials at NEXMAP.

Start hacking your own notebook—and experience, as Cole calls it, your own lightbulb moment.

Paul Oh is a senior associate at the National Writing Project.