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Wednesday
Apr112018

Why aren't we reading more?

The infographic above makes the rounds on Facebook now and then. It's been debunked and the author has created a second version that documents the new sources of his selected data. I expect such clickbait rarely garners much scrutiny from many Facebook users, especially those looking for confirmation bias related to poor public education.

So I was grateful to read the following:

The Pew Research Center conducted a recent poll on the reading habits of Americans and their preferred vehicles. The results might surprise you. The Digital Reader brought this interesting information to our attention in their article, “One in Five Americans Have Listened to an Audiobook, One in Four Have Read an eBook.”

Let’s start with the basics. About three-quarters of Americans have read a book in the past 12 months in any format. This percentage has remained largely unchanged since 2012. Print books also remain the most popular format for reading and e-book readers stay steady at 26%. Both of these are similar to those from a survey conducted in 2016. However, there has been a modest but statistically significant increase in the share of Americans who read audiobooks, going from 14% to 18%. Melody K. Smith, Trends in Readership, TaxoDiary, March 26, 2018

I hope the Pew study referenced by Smith helps reduce the general perception that Americans are reading less. That schools are turning out graduates who can read, but don't read. That we are so enamored of Instagram, YouTube, Netflix, etc. that reading complex and lengthy narratives is becoming less and less common, with the dark prediction that Google actually is making us stupid

So that's the positive interpretation - we as a nation are still reading books despite the pull of our devices and the junk we access with them. 

The curmudgeon in me, however asks, shouldn't we seeing a higher percentage of our population reading? Damn near everyone has a smart phone and damn near every library now has free downloadable e-books and audio books. Amazon and Gutenberg and a host of other places have free books. Access problems to a physcial library or the abilty to purchase books should no longer be an issue for an ever higher percentage of the population.

Getting more of our citizens to read more starts with our school libraries. We must be actively teaching our students to use their devices to access digital reading/listening materials in both our school and public library collections (which makes partnering with our public libraries more important than ever), as well as having the ability to find free books online.

School librarians, are we seriously accepting this responsibility? Next Pew study, let's work to see readership percentages go up.

Monday
Apr092018

Slow learners and technology

 

I'll bet that you've attended a meeting, presentation, or training within the last month that used text-only (or text heavy) slides that the person at the front of the room read aloud to you. Bad slideshow use is still the rule rather than the exception, despite PowerPoint having been available for over 30 years. Yet a recent Seth Godin post, Words on Slides, shares tips on, guess what, good PowerPoint use. 

Despite much being written about good use and design of slideshows (including my own Slideshow Safety, March 1999 and Is PowerPoint Evil?, Sept 2005), there ain't much zen in presentations except by those given by professional speakers.

What is it in human nature that makes us such slow learners when it comes to technology? Is it because we emulate our own teachers who may demonstrate poor slide construction? Is it laziness or lack of time in learning good graphic design? Or are we at heart, creatures who prefer to communicate in words and text rather than images and design - despite the research telling us how much more powerful visuals can be in messaging?

Our ability to learn best practices quickly extends to other areas of technology use, of course. Too many of us still text and drive, share personal data carelessly online, use computers to babysit, and rely on software to try to teach children to read and do math. 

As an educator at heart, I believe all people can learn given enough time and instruction. As a technology person, I just want to know why it's taking so damn long!

Saturday
Apr072018

BFTP: 7 ways to promote online resources

How do you persuade kids (and teachers) to use authoritative online sources and not just “Google” the information they need? How do you teach your users to see the library as a portal to trusted sources?

Online resources do not jump out at students and staff and scream “use me” any more than our library books jumped off the shelves. Digital resources also need to be promoted and displayed. The Indispensable Librarian, 2nd ed, 2013

The librarians I know are masters of promoting books to kids. Displays, contests, book talks, author visits, posters, and other far more creative tactics move books off the shelves and into kids hands and hearts. We've had about 500 years experience in getting people to read, so we should be good at it.

But lately I have heard a different frustration expressed. After investing significant amounts of our library resource dollars in commercial online products, they too often go unused or underutilized.

Wouldn't you think that today's "digital native" [insert cynical snort here] would just automatically find and use full-text magazine services, online encyclopedias, subject specific databases, e-books, video content providers, and other digital sources of information that are vetted and reliable? 

"Oh, you mean there are other places than Google, Wikipedia and YouTube to find information?"

Can we apply some of the same techniques for promoting print resources to digital resources? And what new techniques do we need to use? Here are a few starter ideas...

  1. Library orientation programs must of course demonstrate online resources as well as the physical ones.
  2. Introductions to online resources are best done during research units themselves—when students actually need the information they contain.
  3. Any bibliography or webquest prepared for a unit should reference electronic tools as well as those in print.
  4. During inservices, at teacher meetings and in newsletters, teachers need to be informed about and trained in using these digital resources.
  5. Library webpages should clearly mark links to their digital resources, either on the homepage or on a separate page that has a clear link from the home page. A note by the link that tells the user any special instructions for accessing the resource not only helps the user but also cuts down on questions. The library’s webpage with links to its digital resources should be the default page when any web browser is launched on every library computer. If you are a Chromebook district, set bookmarks to library resources using the management system on all devices - student and staff.
  6. Students and teachers can be subtly reminded of the schools’ online resources if guides in the form of posters are visible near workstations. Bookmarks with this information may yet have a few years of viability left. Your screen savers on library computers can be an "ad" for online resources.
  7. Contests, including scavenger hunts, can raise the visibility of commercial online resources. Tie your contests to a single database at a time, doing smaller contests, more often. We have Battle of the Books. How about Battle of the 'Bases?

Just because it doesn’t fit in a display case, doesn’t mean you can’t make it visible.

I am very interested in effective methods librarians have found to lead students to good online resources.

Original post 3-16-13 This blog post from 2013 was reinacarnated as the column "10 Ways to Promote Online Resources" as well.Image source