Libraries in the Digital Age

In a time of rapid change for print media, libraries are finding a variety of ways to continue to connect with their patrons.  Though much has been written on the move away from print resources toward digital media, library visits and circulation have actually climbed nearly 20 percent from 1999 to 2008.  Tough economic times have brought users to the library for free computer access and to take advantage of free movie and music rentals. And now libraries are finding even more ways to meet customer expectations by increasing Wi-Fi availability, lending Kindles to patrons, and offering music-downloading for personal digital devices.  Education Week  recently wrote about a number of libraries which have begun developing iPod applications for an iPod-friendly generation.  Some libraries are now even managing Twitter accounts to inform patrons of library services:

Now, the digital sphere is expanding: 82 percent of the nation’s more than 16,000 public libraries have Wi-Fi—up from 37 percent four years ago, according to the American Library Association.

…A growing number of libraries are launching mobile websites and smart-phone applications, says Jason Griffey, author of “Mobile Technology and Libraries.” No one keeps tabs of exactly how many, but a recent iPhone app search showed more than a dozen public libraries.

Here at MetaMetrics, we know the importance of accessing content through multiple mediums.  Our own Engaging English offers a personal and interactive learning platform for users wanting to strengthen their English speaking skills.  Users read targeted, online content across a wide spectrum of interest areas as a way to improve their English  and prepare for the reading demands likely to be found throughout their professional lives.   Because Engaging English is entirely online and self-guided, users have maximum convenience and flexibility in establishing responsibility for their own reading growth.   Best of all, Engaging English is accessible on mobile devices, offering the users the ability to access content in a way that is most convenient and applicable to them.

The ability to access content across a variety of mediums – online, e-readers, smart phones, notebooks, etc… – has become vital to many student users.  Many have an expectation that content should be readily available through whatever format they choose to access it.  That’s why it’s good to see so many libraries taking steps to remain relevant and indispensable in a digital age.

Banned Book Week: Think for Yourself

“Think for Yourself and Let Others Do the Same” is the theme of this year’s Banned Books Week.  Sponsored by the American Library Association, this celebration of intellectual freedom takes place September 25 – October 2, 2010.

The American Library Association tracks reported challenges to books in schools and libraries across the country.  Over 400 were documented for 2009-2010; however, the ALA estimates that fewer than 70% of challenges are ever reported. Many cases, however, do make the news and the blogosphere and remind us that the threat to our freedom to read continues.  Here’s a statement from the ALA website:

Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week.  BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.

While it’s true that parents need to supervise what their children are reading and let their concerns be known to the school board, it creates a dangerous precedent when books are banned from the library or classroom, effectively preventing any child from choosing that selection.  One parent’s right to help his child select books should not interfere with any other parent’s right to do the same.

The possibility of facing a book challenge is real, and teachers and librarians should be prepared for it. Organizations like the American Library Association and the National Council of Teachers of English  offer resources and support to libraries and teachers facing censorship issues.  You may have seen lists like this before, but be sure to click here to see a list of books that are commonly challenged

The Stacks: The New Library

Although almost certainly meant tongue-in-cheek, Linda Holmes argument that libraries and librarians may be the next big, pop culture fad, may just be onto something.  We’ve written before on the trends taking shape in libraries across the country.  Holmes’ argument that librarians ‘know stuff’ accords with the increasingly diverse skill set demanded of today’s librarians.  And Holmes’ observation that ‘libraries will give you stuff for free’ captures an essential characteristic of today’s library: today’s library is becoming the place to go to access free content – all content – in a variety of formats, even digital resources. 

Holmes’ prediction of a reality television program (she suggests it be called ‘The Stacks’) which follows the trials and tribulations of a library notwithstanding, she’s very likely right: libraries are in the middle of a process of transformation, a process that will change the way we think of libraries, but will make them that much more essential to the populace.

The New Library

Reading through College & Research Libraries News latest survey on the top 10 trends found across academic libraries brought to mind this quote from FutureShock author, Alvin Toffler:

“The illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

-Alvin Toffler

A number of library trends worth noting:

1. “Academic library collection growth is driven by patron demand and will include new resource types.” While traditional libraries have opted for a centralized approach to resource acquisition, technology – including virtual access and print-on-demand services – allows for a much more patron-centered, or market-based, approach.  Technology upgrades and the wide availability of content allow for more of, what the survey labels, the ‘just-in-time’ approach to resource acquisition.  In other words, in some instances, librarians no longer have to guess what their patrons want, but can allow patrons to customize the catalog offerings to fit their needs.

2. “Changes in higher education will require that librarians possess diverse skill sets.” Much has been written on the changing skill set required from today’s librarian.  From a sophisticated understanding of technology and service to the ability to access diverse content from a variety of sources (and through multiple mediums), today’s librarian must marshal a wide catalog of skills to meet the demands of the modern library patron. (more…)

Casper College & Lexile Measures

It’s always good to hear about public libraries that have made the Lexile Framework for Reading another tool in their arsenal for matching books to readers.  Here’s Betsy O’Neil , from the Natrona County Public Library, explaining the Lexile Framework:

…Well, now adults in the Casper College ABE/GED program can use it, too.

…Students receive a reader measure from a reading test, the Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE) assessments for adults attending the ABE/GED center..

Once you know your student’s Lexile level, how do you find books that match?  The ABE Center can help and so can your library…The website has a searchable database of thousands of books with Lexile levels.

O’Neil does a great job offering an overview of the Lexile Framework and nicely draws the connection between a student’s measure and the ability to match themselves to text at an appropriate level.  Read the whole thing.

Taking My Library with Me

Given the ubiquity of mobile devices, it’s refreshing to see that many libraries are finally adapting to the way their patrons consume media.    In ‘A Library in Your Pocket ‘, Meredith Farkas reports on the slow pace many libraries have taken in developing mobile resources:

While mobile device ownership is a major trend in American society, few libraries and educational institutions have developed resources and services for mobile users.  According to Educause, over 50% of schools had done nothing as of 2009 to adapt their web-based services for handheld devices.

But as Farkas reports, this is starting to change.  Libraries around the country are now responding to the emergence of e-readers and mobile devices.  And for good reason: (more…)

Every Reader a Book, Every Book Its Reader

A recent article in Library , Publisher & Librarians: Two Cultures, One Goa l , by Barbara Fister, offers a useful look at the distinct cultures of the publishing market and the world of the librarian:

For two professions so committed to meeting the needs of the readers, publishers and librarians have distinct cultures.  Put simply,one culture is about developing and selling books; the other is about sharing them and fostering a culture of reading.  But there’s another basic difference, too.  Publishers work closely with authors and use sales figures to tell them what readers want, interpreting those figures like tea leaves.  Librarians work closely with readers, using them as informants to help them select books that will satisfy the diverse tastes of a community. (more…)

Are School Libraries Still Relevant?

The mainstreaming of e-readers and the wide availability of digitized and interactive content has sparked fierce debate on the future of reading and, in particular, the printed book. A corollary of this uncertainty can be seen in the anxious discussions on the future role of libraries and media specialists. In particular, many worry about the appropriate role for the media specialist or the appropriate structure for the school library. In an age where an increasing amount of information is digital and students are routinely required to access and present information within multiple mediums, what is the most useful structure for traditional libraries? And what sort of spaces do we envision these institutions becoming?

While the debate has certainly revealed a range of opinions, most of those positions share more commonality than not. Despite the occasional rhetorical flourish, most participants find general consensus with one another and differ only on the particulars. There are not many that advocate for libraries completely devoid of printed books, and fewer still believe that libraries should cling to the past and banish all digital content. Between the bookless library and the musty anachronism there lies much common ground. (more…)

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