Saturday, January 4, 2014

Going Bookless: Does it Have to be All or Nothing?

School libraries have very different missions from public libraries, and thank goodness our public library colleagues are innovating and launching new service models. The San Antonio BiblioTech Library   offers glimpse of bookless future  which is certainly doing wonders for developing a new user base.

As we were in the planning stages of building a new high school with a state-of-the-art learning commons I was asked how much space we would need for shelving. It was an interesting question because space was at a premium. The state of Massachusetts has set guidelines on space allocation for new school projects, and we needed to decide how much of our space would be for books, and how much for collaborative activities and student workspaces. I remember clearly saying "I don't want to prioritize books over student activities." And I didn't, because two years ago I was all about going bookless. Since then there has been a shift in my thinking.

The biggest shift came from my students, specifically those voracious and brilliant readers who chew through books and bang their fists on the table, and show up in school wearing black because a beloved character was killed. These students read digitally when on vacation because otherwise their suitcases would be filled with books and no clothes. Their fervent preference was to read physical books. Despite all my arguments their firm preference for deep reading was print. (Abigail Reyes in the BiblioTech article states the same preference.)

There were two articles that particularly resonated with me and contributed to my shift.  How Reading Makes Us More Human (The Atlantic, 2013) clearly reinforced the attitudes and behaviors of my students. However, it was The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens (Scientific American, 2013) that really fueled the change in my thinking. The short version is that the mapping/navigation function of the brain occurs in the same area as reading, and contributes to comprehension, specifically in deep reading experiences.

Our new school is scheduled to open in spring of 2015 and our learning commons will embrace a bookless philosophy, but there will still be a place for books on the shelves. Our print collection will focus on high interest print fiction and narrative nonfiction, with room for high interest classics and core reference. We will continue to develop our ebook collection reference holdings and expand the audio collection to reflect high interest fiction and narrative nonfiction.

In the meantime, I have to chuckle and wonder as I reflect on my own preference for reading digitally. The Kindle is light which makes it easier on my wrist, and enlarging the font makes it easier on my eyes. I learned to read print and wonder if this early navigation/mapping contributed to making me the reader I am today? My preference would be to get all my reading material for free digitally, but because of the chaotic state of the industry and limits on availability of titles/licenses to public libraries, this isn't going to occur anytime soon.

Hopefully our learning commons collection will support our developing high school readers across all platforms, and help them build the skills to become passionate readers in the future. Just as long as they continue to read with passion, bang tables, and weep and rejoice over books.

Photo credit: Robin's iPhone, Creative Commons Attribution License

Monday, April 22, 2013

Betwixt and Between

Is anyone else as betwixt and between as I am about e-Books? It is hard to know which way to jump. The figure on the left was just installed in our LC this morning (Thanks, Christopher & Kevin!) and sums up my feelings as I contemplate my summer order. How much will I spend on print, on databases, and on eBooks?

The short version is our print purchases will be for high interest fiction and narrative nonfiction. Everything else will be digital. Two recent articles have helped me clarify my plans for our future.

Joyce Valenza's post about her eBook journey was incredibly helpful, because it reinforced many of the discussions and experiences we are having in our school. Like many, we have been building our e-book collection focusing on reference and nonfiction. (Honestly, the only titles being used are the ones we are embedding into our research LibGuides.) Moving forward we will be prioritizing titles with multi-user licenses, and on-demand options.

The other article that had me thinking was The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens. This is a great read, and provides the science behind the issues between print and digital reading. The human brain is wired to process real-life images, and evolved to adapt to print. Reading occurs in the same region as image processing, and is also tied to mapping, that helps orient the brain. Reading off the print page also involves a mapping that orients the reader, and facilitates building context and retention. When recalling text, this mapping is tied to our progress in the book, which section it was in, what part of the page. There really is a connection between retention and the tactile experience of reading. I am dropping my digital evangelism, and recognize that there remains a vital role for print in deep reading experiences. 
This summer my orders will have high interest print, but for research and inquiry, we are continuing with our book-less philosophy.
Here are a few additional figures in the installation. Aren't they great!

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Line in the Sand

Weeding books is never fun, but it sure is interesting. Pulling book after book after book off the shelf there are lots of check out stamps from the 1980's to 90's, and then they dwindle to nothing after 1998. It was the line in the information sand that marked a tipping point. Internet access to databases and academic web searches became more relevant than book-based resources. This isn't news to librarians, but for me the stark reality confirmed that we are doing the right thing. We are going book-less.

The check out slip in the back of a book tells a story almost as interesting as that contained between the covers. Some books remain virginal, their bindings never cracked. Others have check out slips almost black with due date stamps. And then there are runs of books that have current due date stamps. These are the topics of regular research assignments. I know the teachers and the papers, and that the print resources play a small role in the research activity.

Going book-less does not mean there will be no print and the shelves will be thrown away. It is a philosophy. Until the terrain around publishing e-book contracts and technology devices settles and industry standards emerge, there will still be print versions of high interest fiction and non-fiction. Meanwhile, the bulk of the research and reference collections will go digital.

This is the line in our sand. My goal is to get the nonfiction collection age up from 1986 to the 2000's. Six years ago it was 1936 (!), so we have already made a lot of progress.  Last year we got fiction up to 2001, and this included a lot of replacement of battered but relevant classics.

No hand wringing. Out they go.

(For those interested, we are using the MUSTY protocol for weeding. SUNY Fredonia Reed Library has a very nice MUSTY resource page.)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Just for Fun

I have 115 blogs in my RSS feed. (I try very hard to keep the count under 125.) It is filled with blogs from the smartest and most generous colleagues in the world, and it informs my practice each day. It isn't all work, though! There are a couple I love just because they are fun, and because they make my brain fire off different neurons.

Librarian Wardrobe - Not always buns and sensible shoes, librarians at various types of libraries have different styles (and dress codes).

I love this site because every day I get to "meet" funky librarians from all over the country. They are breaking the librarian stereotypes not only in the cutting edge work they do, but also in their sassy, funky sartorial choices. They are inspirational, and I have "upped" my wardrobe game because of this site. (Unfortunately, I am keeping my clogs. The disco era was a lot of fun, but I danced my feet off and ruined them for heels.)

The Library as Incubator Project - Highlights ways libraries and artists can work together.

Every post shows amazing collaboration between all sorts of artists and their libraries. I am always pushed to consider new ways to reach out to groups, clubs and departments for ways to share the learning commons and infuse it with creativity and continue to build our community.

My Daguerreotype Boyfriend - Where early photography meets extreme hotness.
This blog is fun because occassionally they get look-alikes. Take a look at Jake Gyllenhaall past and present! Also a great blog for primary source inspiration.

South Pole Librarian - A year at the bottom of the world.
How cool is this? I mean, seriously?

@shelserkin - This is a webstagram feed from a photographer living in New York. I like this because every day I get a couple of funky, hipster images from an amazing city. The use of hash tags is always interesting, too.  I don't have to read or tag, I just skim over them and enjoy the view.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Art Among the Stacks

Back in September, 2008, when I moved to my current job at the high school level, I was doing a lot of reading about library programs. Then the November issue of School library Journal arrived, and I read David Loertscher's Flip This Library: School Libraries Need a Revolution. That was it, we were making the transition to a learning commons. We haven't looked back.

Loertscher's article mentioned an aspect of the learning commons that resonated deeply with me; that  it should reflect our school population and culture.  

"Finally, the library will become the hub of teaching and learning—a place that everyone owns and contributes to—one giant conversation that’s both a social and a learning network."

I wanted our students to see reflections of themselves in the space. With repeated invitations to the various departments, we began to receive and display student work. It has grown into regular, rotating  installations of all sorts.

We have had books of Latin translations, created by students with meticulous attention to detail and craft, on display for other students to handle and read. Displays of 3D art from our digital art class, and hand crafted instruments from a class studying the physics of sound and music. We have hosted live performances of our Jazz Band and a poetry flash mob. We also host the weekly meetings of the Taiko Japanese Drum Club. They are even louder than the Jazz Band!

New art is going in right now, and it refreshes the energy of the space after the whirl and exhaustion of mid-terms.

•    We just installed a gift of four student-made, manga style panels from our sister school in Japan.
•    One of our  students is working on a mural promoting a new program in school.
•    We just cleared an art installation of structures created with natural objects, and will soon be receiving another student exhibit of ceramics.
•    We have some items from the Urban Art Club that seem to have become permanent, but they sometimes surprise us with new pieces.

We branched out this year and actually hosted the full staging of the theater department production of "The Lion in Winter." Students moved the book stacks and they built a full stage with heavy duty scenery, hung lights and and ran sound. Students spent weeks painting our windows to look like an ancient stone castle. It was fantastic! The best part was the ownership they felt for the space. They made it their own. We got to meet and interact with many of the theater crowd we wouldn't ordinarily see on a day-to-day basis. We won't do a full-scale production like that again, because it was pretty disruptive. A huge amount of fun, though.

Our criteria in accepting art and performances is that the works must be created within the program of the school, meaning art courses, theater courses and school clubs. Murals need to be cleared with the Principal first, and have a sponsoring teacher who provides oversight.

Our administration is very, very supportive of student art being on display. In fact, school committee meets in our space and they have been known to comment on the changing student art during their televised meetings. We are lucky enough to be getting a new building, and the new learning commons is being designed with display space for student art in mind.

Students we had never seen before have come to help a friend with a mural, or to check out a new display. And guess what? They keep coming back. Treating our space as a community gallery was one of the best decisions we ever made.