Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Room of Their Own

Something I've been thinking about doing for a while, but was finally spurred on to do this week when an entire JH class, starting a writing unit on graphic narratives, came in to check out graphic novels.

Though it's quite possible to give Dewey or Library of Congress call numbers to every single item in a library and line them up consecutively on the shelves, there are all kinds of ways to organize library materials that make more sense: for example, by format (having different sections & call numbers for DVDs, audio books, and print books); by genre/subject (B for Biography, V for Videos, Dewey numbers for Non-Fiction); or by size (a special Oversize section for those pesky tall books). The danger lies in having so many separate sections that the library becomes too much like a bookstore, all higgledy-piggledy and hard to find things in.

Graphic novels are usually classified with the Dewey Decimal number 741.5 (Drawing and decorative arts->Cartoons, caricatures, comics), together with books on how to draw comics, analyze comics, the history of comics, and comic strip collections (like Snoopy and Garfield). Readers who love graphic novels are intrigued by the format and will read broadly across subject areas -- biography, fiction, fantasy, history. Since we have a pretty decent-sized collection that's growing in popularity, it was time to pull the graphic narratives into a separate and easy-to-find area.

This corner in the magazine/reading/coffee table area of the library is high visibility and gets a lot of browsing, so even more students may now be hooked by the allure of graphic novels.

Whether you're a fan of graphic novels, or just curious, come by to browse the collection, or check this list to see what we've got for you.

ps -- for the time being, I'm going to leave the call numbers as they are. Coming up with a new section designation and printing new spine labels is a project for later, when this new section is settled.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Kindles in the Library, Redux

Finally, a compelling reason (for me, at least) to have library-owned Kindles to loan.

Back in February, the Library got its first Kindle eReader. I played with it for a few days, and was underwhelmed (lots of thoughts, written up in this post). Since then, two teachers and one student have "test-read," with mixed reactions. I'm not sure what it says that none of the three actually finished the book that was requested and loaded on the Kindle for them.

For both teachers/adults -- one was reading a book to prep for class, the other was reading a novel for fun at the beach -- the biggest frustration with the electronic device was the inability to flip back and forth through the pages, or to create a visual memory of how far along in the book a certain scene takes place. Taking notes isn't really that easy either. The student said he got used to it and liked it a lot, but didn't have much time for pleasure reading during the semester. I'd pretty much come to the conclusion that eReaders really are best as "personal electronics," and that it still makes more sense for libraries to loan content rather than devices.

And then last week, a student asked for an audiobook of Makes Me Wanna' Holler, a non-fiction title he is reading in class. Sure! we have audiobooks, specifically for students who learn as well or better through their ears than eyes. Only not this one, and it's apparently not available on CD (or even, only on cassette, used. Even worse, the cassette edition is abridged. Even if I were to buy it, which I didn't want to do, it would be of limited value. The teacher came to ask how we can support this student. Think think, ponder ponder. The Kindle was sitting on my desk, just returned from its spring break checkout. Eureka!! (or, like DUH) What about the Kindle text-to-speech function I'd heard about? How good/awful is it? Could this be an option?

A quick check confirmed that the needed book was "text-to-speech enabled" (some copyright holders have demanded disabling of this function, concerned about potential impact to audiobook sales). Note sent to the next teacher on the Kindle test-drive list explaining the delay (gulp, it's the Headmaster.) Book purchased, downloaded and device ready to be checked out by break. The Kindle has a jack for headphones, and after class (the one reading the book), this student was already so enthusiastic he asked if we had his lit book on audio! Downloaded and ready by the end of the day. So now the one Kindle is helping this student in two classes, and providing something that the print editions of both books just can't do.

Having a computer read out loud to you is not the greatest aesthetic experience with a book. There's even inadvertent humor involved -- when it comes to tricky stuff (as in ALL the cuss words), I'm told the Kindle just spells them out! I bet that was a lively discussion at the product development meetings.

Still, text-to-speech is high-level value added in my opinion, making the Kindle more than just another way to read a book. (Paul B., the Library's second Kindle will be here later this week, and you're still first on the list.) I'm also going to participate in the Technology department's new iPad test program -- with a less expensive, refurbished 1st generation iPad (w/o cameras) -- to see if offers value to students in a library-relevant way. Brief research indicated that iBook can be set up as a text-to-speech device for Apple bookstore ebooks, though the Kindle reader app doesn't have the function. We'll see.