Large Print Books Are Crucial for Striving Readers

By Ann Wilson, MLS, MA

As educators and librarians struggle to combat the dire reality of illiteracy and its impact on low graduation rates, meager job prospects, low income, and even crime, many remedies have been tried, with little success. Thankfully, one rather old-fashioned tool is gaining traction and showing promising results: using large print books with young, striving readers.

Large print is defined as text formatted in roughly 16 point type, compared to the usual 11-13 point type found in most hardcover books and on computer screens. A clear, clean font is used, and there is increased space (leading) between the lines. The dark, high-density ink stands out clearly from the high-opacity paper, creating a higher contrast, which is easier to read (see this article about helping reluctant readers for more). These characteristics have long been understood to benefit older folks with visual impairments, and for years, most books published in large print have been geared toward this audience. Unfortunately, children and teens with visual impairments have been largely ignored by the publishing industry.

Boy tired from reading _1100944319

Not only does a large print format assist those with visual impairments, but large print helps reduce eye strain for everyone, a factor which has become even more important as our population — especially teens — is spending more time on small-screen digital media.

In their quest to make reading an enjoyable experience for students, educators have noticed that too much text, information density, and visual clutter on a page can make reading a daunting task for many students. Large print books have fewer words and more white space, presenting a more inviting visual cue that increases reading performance and builds confidence. Students young and old, who are learning English as a second language, also seem to respond well to large print.

While research is important and can help us understand what’s going on, it’s also important to hear from teachers and librarians on the front lines. In a recent Booklist webinar titled “Large Print, Big Advantages: Strategies for Increasing Youth Literacy,” Camille Freund, ENL teacher at Urban Assembly Media Studies HS in New York, explained how incorporating large print books into her classroom collection has improved student literacy. Freund says that these books have motivated striving readers to keep trying, and that these students quickly make progress with reading and feel successful. In fact, Freund says, students often seek large print titles, refusing to read anything else.

Also during the webinar, Don Giacomini and Shelly Schwerzler from Gwinnett County Public Library System (GA) addressed the “why” and “how” of their large print title program, geared to middle grade students and teens. They explained that the large print titles are interfiled throughout their collections, allowing patrons to browse these books alongside books with normal-sized print. The library staff has worked closely with reading specialists and other education professionals in schools near each branch library to help promote the large print collection. Circulation statistics show that this collection is very heavily used.

Girls reading_470554472According to the presenters, adults’ concerns that the stigma of reading large print books will deter striving readers are almost entirely unfounded, especially for younger teens. If allowed to choose any book they wanted, many students automatically gravitate toward “books with big words.” When teachers and librarians extolled the virtues of “good books” while passing around large print versions, many kids responded favorably. Some students were quite receptive to large print titles, stating that their eyes were tired.

With a wide range of titles to choose from, supported by research and endorsed by the kids who read them, large print books are finding new uses and enthusiastic acceptance in today’s libraries. They’re not just for the visually impaired anymore. Why not consider expanding your selection of large print titles to help reluctant readers?

 

AnnWilson

Ann

Ann Wilson started working for Brodart, where she is affectionately known as The Sourceress, in 2000. Ann draws from her high school/public library career experience to feed sources and choose key titles for our selection lists. Click here for more.

The Caldecott Committee – A View from the Inside

By Gwen Vanderhage, MLIS

Me?  On the Caldecott Committee?! What a dream come true! Throughout 2018, I had the honor of serving on the American Library Association’s Caldecott Medal selection committee. While teachers, librarians, aunts, and the pharmacist all have said to me, “I always wanted to do that!” few know very much about the nuts and bolts of how the Caldecott Committee chooses a winner.

hello-lighthouse2

Hello Lighthouse, illustrated and written by Sophie Blackall

Let’s start at the beginning. The Caldecott Award honors the illustrator of the most distinguished American picture book for children of any given year. The winner of the 2019 Caldecott Medal is “Hello Lighthouse,” which Sophie Blackall both wrote and illustrated. That’s a quick summary of a year-long effort, but there’s much more to tell. What follows is an insider’s perspective on the experience, which for me was nothing short of transformative.

Serving on one of the ALA’s book award committees is usually a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, if even that. “What is it like?” People ask. “I’ll bet you get a lot of books!” To start, yes, I did get a lot of books. By the fall, the busiest time in the publishing year, my doorbell was ringing every single day with deliveries of picture books. The publishers send out what they want the committee to see, which this year was close to 1,000 picture books. It is also up to committee members to be aware of other picture books that are receiving positive reviews, word of mouth recommendations, or books that may not have been sent out by publishers, and then track those down and look at them, too. It is a LOT of books!

How does the committee read and evaluate the books? What are we looking for? Page 12 of the Caldecott Manual (available in its entirety here), lists many criteria and definitions. I don’t have room today for all of those, but will say the illustrator must be an American citizen or resident of the United States and the book must be published by an American publisher. The following are the major criteria, as cited by the manual:

In identifying a “distinguished American picture book for children,” defined as illustration, committee members need to consider:

  • Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed;
  • Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept;
  • Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept;
  • Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures;
  • Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.

With these criteria in mind, the 15 committee members carefully read, re-read, and take notes on the books. During the year, members send around suggestions of titles to examine more closely. The formal suggestion process helps build support for stronger titles and helps members identify strengths and weaknesses in books they liked or did not appreciate as much.

Figuring out how to identify strengths and weakness and articulate them early on is one of the most valuable parts of being part of this kind of group. As readers, we are practiced at talking about language and storytelling.  Learning artistic terms and techniques and expressing how art works in storytelling was a new, challenging skill to develop.  Saying “I like the colors” isn’t enough. Why? How do the colors assist in conveying emotion or telling the story? “I don’t like this style.” Why? What about it is weak to me? To build a strong case for a book I loved, I needed to be able to articulate the way the art affects the reading experience.

In the fall, each committee member nominates seven titles total: three titles in October, two in November, and two titles in December for the ALA Midwinter conference meeting, where these books are discussed and voted upon until a winner emerges. Out in Libraryland this year, people have been asking the question, “Why don’t the Newbery and Caldecott committees release a short list of considered titles, the way the National Book Award or some YALSA prizes do?” While there are a variety of answers to this complicated question, one is because the current process allows each of the 15 committee members to nominate seven books. While some titles could receive multiple nominations from within the committee, it is also possible there could be no crossover and 105 titles could, theoretically, be nominated. That is not a short list!

When I arrived at the Midwinter conference in Seattle, I came ready to discuss, celebrate, defend, and have an open mind about all the titles committee members deemed distinguished this year. There were so many wonderful books! My favorite part of discussion is the moment when someone else’s argument for a book completely wins me over when it had not been one I appreciated before. That is why 15 different people, voices, experiences, and viewpoints come together to evaluate great books, and why we sometimes come to surprising conclusions. Working with this group created a new family; one that has had disagreements, shared appreciation and emotion, and has come together with mutual respect. One of my committee members lamented, “If only every problem in the world could be tackled by sitting down for two solid days of respectful and open communication!”

The committee has the freedom to choose as few or many honor books as it pleases; the criteria for that are not set in stone, though the process is outlined in the manual. Our committee chose four honor books, shown below.

alma2

Alma and How She Got Her Name, illustrated and written by Juana Martinez-Neal

A Big Mooncake

A Big Mooncake for Little Star, illustrated and written by Grace Lin

Rough Patch2

The Rough Patch, illustrated and written by Brian Lies

thank_you_omu.2

Thank you, Omu!, illustrated and written by Oge Mora

The actual discussion details are completely confidential. That is a really hard thing. Of course I, and the other members, would love to tell you all about how we chose our winner and four honor books. We would love to tell you about the books we loved that did not make that list, or the books you loved and whether we discussed them. But we can’t. As individuals, we are now allowed to say, “Oh! I love that book!” about any book we please, as long as we don’t discuss the committee process. Just like me, you are free to continue to champion your favorite books to the readers you see every day. That is the wonderful thing about books, Caldecott medal or no.

lighthouse hatsFinally, “What do you do on announcement day?” Our committee met at 5:50 a.m., to call the winners. We gathered as a big group in a tiny cubicle around one speakerphone. We called Sophie Blackall, traveling in Burma; Juana Martinez Neal, traveling in the Amazon; Grace Lin and Oge Mora, at home; and Brian Lies, who was at the gym and did not get the call. While we would have loved to talk to Brian, reading about his reaction to his surprise honor when he saw it on the live stream with the rest of the world makes for a pretty good story. Then we all trooped together to the announcement ceremony and cheered on the other ALA Youth Media award winners and applauded our wonderful books. One of our members made very silly lighthouse hats, which we wore with glee.

This year, following my service on the Caldecott committee, I will likely scour the internet for fun interviews with the illustrators who have become my favorites. I will look forward to meeting them at the ALA Annual conference, where the medals are given out at a big banquet. I will read fewer, and longer, books. I will be looking back this year, and every year, on this amazing experience and the things I learned from the books I read and the committee members who changed my viewpoint. What a gift!

Gwen Vanderhage - 2.5 x 3

Gwen

After spending many years as a children’s librarian and collection development specialist at Denver Public Library, Gwen joined Brodart to share her passion for children’s literature with as many different libraries as possible. Click here for more.

 

Shreddings of the Heart: Who Was V. C. Andrews?

By Paul Duckworth, MLS

As a young, impressionable librarian, recently graduated with my MLS degree, I went to work in a public library in a medium-sized Midwestern city, where I did the usual reference tasks common in the 1970s. I was fascinated by the rich variety of interests and passions that motivated patrons to not only visit the library but actually come to the desk and ask for help (how often does that happen these days?). Among the subjects and authors that people were looking for, two names often popped up in requests: “Where’s Barbara Cartland?” and “Why aren’t there any V. C. Andrews books on the shelf?”

I gracefully step aside from discussion of Cartland’s bodice rippers and ask you to focus your attention on today’s topic: shreddings of the heart, which is what Andrews penned. Stir together themes of vulnerable children tormented by neglect, rape, incest, greed, death, or betrayal by a family member, sprinkle in ghastly gothic overtones, skillfully fold in some personal tragedy, and top it all off with the workings of a vivid imagination, and it is no wonder that readers of V. C. Andrews’ five-book “Dollanganger” series identified with the characters and felt as if their hearts had been ripped apart with each new installment.

V._C._Andrews Source Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Who was this V. C. Andrews who attracted so much interest from readers, especially teenage girls? And whatever became of her? Yes, I know — in simple terms, she died. “What!?” you say, “Dead? But she has a new book coming out this month!” Indeed. That’s part of the story. There is much more to tell, both before and after her passing.

Cleo Virginia Andrews was born on June 6, 1923 to William and Lillian Andrews of Portsmouth, Virginia. After high school, she enrolled in art correspondence courses and then began a successful career as a commercial artist and fashion illustrator. All the while, she felt completely compelled to write, and did so every night after work, at home, where she continued to live with her mother, Lillian, for Cleo’s entire life (for Lillian outlived her).

Silent Pain

Unbeknownst to most people, Virginia was crippled and confined to a wheelchair much of her adult life. Two conflicting stories exist about the cause of her condition. One claims she fell down the stairs at school, which caused back injuries. The other, vouched by relatives, says she suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis. Family members describe her as being in a full-body cast for a time, and having little or no neck movement. Her editor, Ann Patty, said, “Her spine was fused – it didn’t move. From her butt bone to her head, the spine did not move.” Her cousin describes Andrews as standing up at a high desk and typing out her first few novels. Whatever the cause, Andrews lived her life in great, unremitting pain. She suffered in silence, but the pain poured out through pen and paper. Fans of her fiction can be thankful that her hands and mind did not object to constant use.

Andrews was bored by her artistic daytime job. All her imagination and energy went into writing. Several stories and novels were rejected. Then, a magic moment: her pitch letter to a literary agent resulted in “Flowers in The Attic” being bought by Pocket Books with a $7,500 advance. Two weeks after its 1979 paperback publication, it was on the bestseller list. And the rest, as they say, is history.

So how did Cleo Virginia Andrews become V. C.? As one story goes, a printer at Pocket Books reversed her name on the cover and shortened it to initials. Another explanation is that the publisher wanted readers to wonder if the author was a man or a woman. Just think—we could be talking about the famous Cleo Virginia Andrews today! A happy accident, or publisher’s strategy, indeed.

Fame and Inspiration

When fame (and fortune) landed in her lap, Andrews avoided publicity. She was quite private and gave few interviews. Indeed, her physical condition was not well known. She kept her focus, day and night, on writing, never caring about health or other matters. According to a relative, Joan Andrews, “She knew she had a lump on her breast, but would not take care of the situation until she finished the current novel she was working on and also the sequel. By then the cancer had begun to spread.” She died of breast cancer on December 19, 1986, just seven years after “Flowers'” first publication and is buried in Olive Branch Cemetery, Portsmouth, Virginia. In a rare interview with Contemporary Authors, she said, “There is no beauty without ugliness, and no enjoyment without suffering; we have to have the shade in order to see the light, and that is all I do in a story, put my characters in the shade–and try before the ending, to have them in the sunlight…. My novels are based on dreams, and situations taken from my own life, in which I change the pattern so that what might have happened actually does happen–and therein lies the tale.”

Andrew Neiderman

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Source: IMDB

V.C.’s two brothers and her mother took charge of her estate, and along with their publisher, secretly selected an author to continue the ideas and storylines of her books. It seems that a tax case in the early 1990s between the estate and the IRS resulted in the ghostwriter’s name being publicly revealed. Andrew Neiderman has been the voice of V.C. Andrews’ many bestsellers since finishing up her fifth book, “Garden of Shadows.” His story is fascinating in itself. He was hired by the estate, never met V.C. Andrews, and is a popular fiction writer in his own right, with several novels published. When he began writing as V.C. Andrews, he used two different computers, one for his own work, and one for Andrews’. He has done quite well in imitating her voice, types of characters, and nuances. Contemporary readers maintain the popularity of her novels, with no end in sight. Many seem not to know that Andrews has been gone for more than 30 years.

Continuing a Legacy

Neiderman recently signed another contract with Simon & Schuster for an additional four V.C. Andrews titles, after already having done about twenty. “Silhouette Girl” was just released on January 2. “Beneath the Attic,” a prequel to “Flowers in the Attic,” comes out at the end of August, 2019. For those with a fondness for statistics, her 75+ novels have sold more than 100 million copies in 95 countries and have been translated into 25 languages. Not bad, eh?

 

Paul Duckworth New - 2.5 x 3
Paul

Nothing brings a smile to Paul Duckworth’s face quite like a good book, a long walk, and the unmatched beauty of country life. Click here for more.

Turn Your Book Club into a Blockbuster

By Stephanie Campbell, MLIS

book club_482961064There can be a lot of pressure on libraries to host book clubs. But many don’t want the hassle of putting one together or the attendant problems that can arise: drama over what books to read; who will facilitate; what to discuss; plus the stress attendees may feel over not liking the book or knowing how to contribute to the conversation.

Here’s my formula for keeping the anxiety-producing aspects of book clubs to a minimum.

In my book club days, I led a group of about 10-15 people through 11 selections per year. Considering how busy many people are over the holidays, I found it more realistic to have a combined November/December meeting. Book Club was held the same day every month — the third Tuesday, for example — so that the meeting could be easily remembered. Attendees were encouraged to drop in (or out) as their schedule and tastes dictated.

I found it best to choose all of the books a year in advance to help everyone be prepared, including myself. This allowed plenty of time to acquire a copy of the book and read it. Members were encouraged to email me their reading suggestions for the coming year. I distilled those into a list of the most accessible titles within my consortium. I only considered titles with 10 copies or more, as I never wanted anyone to feel they needed to buy the books, though many chose to.

At the last meeting of the year, the group chose the January book and voted on the books for the rest of that year. We aspired to include a nice mix of fiction, nonfiction, new, and classic titles, while covering as many genres as possible: historical fiction, dystopian novels, etc. Reviews, awards, and synopses guided our choices. But it certainly wasn’t easy, as we often had upwards of 40 suggestions.

Once we settled on the books, I arranged the sequence with many things in mind: overall demand for a particular title (to make sure we weren’t reading any hard-to-obtain titles at the height of their popularity), length of the book, and more. I found it best to keep things relatively light and frothy in the summer months, with meatier tomes slated for spring and fall.

We met for approximately two hours. Reading Group Guides and the author/publisher websites were favorite sources for questions, but I was blessed with a fantastic group who found plenty to talk about without being prompted. Our icebreaker involved introducing ourselves and stating whether or not we liked the month’s selection. I rarely liked what we read, so that was always a source of levity.

I found the running of a book club to be very rewarding, as it forced me to read outside of my comfort zone. I always got something out of the discussion that I never would have had I merely read the book on my own. And sometimes I even changed my mind about my initial thumbs-down!

Here are some other tips/alternate book club ideas.

Books into Movies

Members read the book, gather to watch the movie adaptation, and compare/contrast the two.

Cookbooks

Pick a cookbook, try recipes, and bring samples to share. If you’re super concerned about food safety, you may want to stick to baked goods.

Genres

Limiting the choices to only mysteries or science fiction can take the stress out of choosing what to read — and the odds of your attendees having a good time are better, since they are reading the types of books they already like. Another idea is to focus on travelogues or biographies, with each attendee choosing whatever title they want and telling the group about what they learned.

Reading Marathons

Not necessarily book clubs, but gatherings for book enthusiasts who love listening to spoken word. Individuals take turns reading from the same book.

Short Reading

Rather than a full-length book, focus on an article, essay, short story, or poem that can be read in less than an hour. Similarly, you could stretch a single book out over several sessions, covering just a chapter at a time. This works well with nonfiction self-help-type topics such as mindfulness.

reading coffee shop_1131016739Silent Book Club

Silent Book Club, also dubbed Introvert Happy Hour, is generally held in bars or restaurants. Individuals briefly share what they are reading, read independently, then perhaps socialize a bit more within a two-hour timeframe. There are opportunities to form new chapters.

This is akin to a book conversation group where attendees all read different books, but gather to talk about them. Many libraries do this either in-house or gather offsite.

Teen (or Children’s) Reads for Adults

An outlet for those who gravitate toward books geared toward younger audiences. This could easily double as an intergenerational program.

Walking Book Clubs

Perfect for people who love to walk and also love to read! Attendees find their own pace and the group naturally breaks into smaller chunks, thereby reducing any stress about group discourse.

Online Book Clubs

These are online groups, such as Goodreads, that follow a blog-like format.

What ideas have worked for you? We would love to hear them!

 

stephaniecampbell

Stephanie

Stephanie Campbell has worked for more than 20 years in public, academic, and special libraries. She is an avid gardener, bicyclist, and kayaker. Click here for more.

Trends in Readers’ Advisory Services

By Gwen Vanderhage

library conversation_1231292743Readers’ advisory — the art of recommending the right book to the right patron — is arguably one of the most important parts of a public librarian’s job. In an age when libraries are using their time and space for makerspaces, information literacy, gaming, job skills training, and computer use, the books still claim the largest share of real estate. Reading is not dead. Readers are still hungry to talk about books they love and seek help to find the next great thing. (See my colleague Paul Duckworth’s piece on reading here.)

Many libraries have experimented with and embraced readers’ advisory on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram. Over the last few years, librarians have jumped on hashtags like #fridayreads or #tuesdaytitles to offer custom recommendations in a new way. Setting up an hour a week with a few librarians to dish out customized reading suggestions has been one popular idea. Some large metropolitan library systems have enjoyed enduring success using an attractive, short form questionnaire to email customized reading lists. Seattle Public Library’s “Your Next 5 Books” and Multnomah County’s “My Librarian” advertise these services and even provide links to the lists in Bibliocommons.

tattoo_1132435790A few intrepid libraries have taken a unique approach: Tattoo readers’ advisory. Multnomah County (Oregon), Denver Public (Colorado), and Durango Public (Colorado) libraries are among those that have pioneered this type of program. The libraries invite patrons to send in photos of their tattoos and the stories behind them; librarians then recommend titles that match the sentiment or “personality” of the tattoo. At first, these campaigns were largely conducted via social media, but Durango and Denver have since hosted live events where librarians and patrons can meet face-to-face to share their tattoos, stories, and recommendations. Denver has had so much success with this program that it recently hosted a fundraising evening featuring local tattoo artists who performed their art on patrons in the library.

During their last round of strategic planning, the Whatcom County Library System (WCLS), outside of Bellingham, Washington, chose to build a culture of reading in each location. To this end, all staff, not just librarians, were encouraged and trained in the art of “Reading Conversations.” Staff members have meaningful conversations with patrons about books while shelving in the stacks and working at the desk. Several WCLS librarians have a bookselling background and taught staff the quick method of “hand-selling,” which is used in the retail setting.

Hand-selling involves getting to the kernel of a recommendation. How do you compellingly describe a book in just three sentences? It takes practice! How do you avoid putting undue pressure on your patron to accept your recommendation, while giving them confidence to trust you? Give them three great titles and walk away. You want to understand the appeal factors in a plot, look for clues in the way publishers market and design a book, listen for cues in what patrons are really saying when they talk about books, and get comfortable talking about books you have not had a chance to read, yourself.readers_ advisory _1096210103

Whatcom County staff were encouraged to read broadly and try new genres. Internally, they were given a year-long game to lead the way, make it fun, and stretch their wings. Not all staff were naturals or comfortable with the idea of talking about books with strangers. Over the last two years, however, the culture inside the libraries has changed noticeably. Librarian Mary Kinser said:

“There’s a renewed energy and excitement around reading that is infectious – I hear it when I’m in the branches as a patron and I hear from staff all the time how much they enjoy the freedom we’ve granted them in spending time with patrons. I love being a fly on the wall and hearing staff talking about books, which we did not hear before Reading Conversations started. And the takeaway in all that conversation is more picks that we can share with patrons, of course.”

Excitement around books and reading—that’s what we’re all about!

For more Information:

“Inked RA: Libraries recommend books based on patron tattoos” (American Libraries March, 2018)

“Notes from the Field: Reading Conversations with Mary Kinser” (Booklist Online, February 9, 2017)

Gwen Vanderhage - 2.5 x 3

Gwen

After spending many years as a children’s librarian and collection development specialist at Denver Public Library, Gwen joined Brodart to share her passion for children’s literature with as many different libraries as possible. Click here for more.

Why Children’s Nonfiction?

By Ann Wilson, MLS, MAGirl wGlasses Reading_69332863

Though Common Core has largely been placed on the back burner, one of the standards that still resonates in the education and library worlds is children’s nonfiction. The CCSS developers noticed that far more fiction was used or encouraged in the classroom, at the expense of nonfiction. As educators scrambled to align curriculum to CCSS guidelines and “correct” this imbalance, publishers rushed to produce more “common core compliant” nonfiction. This prompted the question, “Why nonfiction?” Why indeed…

In an article titled “The Five Kinds of Nonfiction” in School Library Journal (May, 2018), Melissa Stewart notes that many people who become children’s librarians or literacy educators favor stories and storytelling, want to promote this literature, and assume that children naturally gravitate toward stories as well. This may not be true, however, as research shows that children love to learn about the world around them. Many prefer ideas and information over making an emotional connection to a text. These children would prefer books about dinosaurs, firefighters, arts and crafts, outer space, sports, pets—anything that interests them. Satisfying their needs with quality nonfiction books increases their love of reading, motivation, curiosity, and confidence to handle progressively complicated texts.

young girl success_338482142Another benefit to nonfiction reading is the acquisition of background information to build on later in life. As students read more and more content-specific texts through their educational years and into college, they are able to build upon this knowledge and apply more critical thinking skills. Ironically, a 2016 ACT study on college and career readiness found that less than half of the graduating class met the ACT Reading Benchmark. The increasing emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education to meet the demand for well-trained employees in these fields demonstrates the need for classroom teachers to teach students how to handle complex texts. Librarians assist by providing high-quality, inviting, motivating, and challenging nonfiction.

On a practical level, consider your own reading habits. To unwind after your workday, you might kick back and enjoy a light romance or mystery novel. But where do you turn when your dog comes home from an unfortunate tangle with a skunk, you want to plan a vacation to an exotic location, or you need financial advice on sound retirement investments? You turn to informational texts for the answers you need for your personal daily living. You probably even have a small collection of nonfiction materials: newspapers and magazines (Consumer Reports annual buying guides, perhaps?), even cookbooks or an owner’s manual for that new appliance. Consider how much informational reading many of us do at our jobs. How many emails, memos, or instruction manuals do we read daily? Sometimes we are required to stay current in our profession by studying new ideas, trends, or techniques. As citizens of a global community, how do we grapple with complex ideas like global warming, mass shootings, immigration, human trafficking, or tax reform?

Consider this: without the ability to comprehend complex informational texts, our children don’t stand a chance as adults. As librarians, let’s point them in the direction of the quality children’s nonfiction they need.

Resources:

ACT National Curriculum Survey 2016

ASCD: Research Says / Nonfiction Reading Promotes Student Success

ASCD: The Case for Informational Text

ASCD: Too Dumb for Complex Texts?

GreatSchools.org: The Nonfiction Revolution

Smart Tutor: Why Nonfiction Reading is Important

AnnWilson

Ann

Ann Wilson started working for Brodart, where she is affectionately known as The Sourceress, in 2000. Ann draws from her high school/public library career experience to feed sources and choose key titles for our selection lists. Click here for more.

Where Have All the Readers Gone?

By Paul Duckworth, MLS

“I’m going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do.” —Neil Gaiman

Recently, I wrote here about print versus shutterstock_548101636digital and raised the question as to whether the physical book is dying. My question today may seem very similar but it’s really more broad and speculative. In fact, it’s a series of questions.

Is reading on the decline? Are we in a “post-literate era?” Is the act of reading itself on the way out, to be replaced by video, the spoken word, game apps, data implants to the brain, knowledge pills, or what have you?

If the answer is yes, it is in decline, then who or what do we pin the blame on? What can we, as librarians, do to combat it? And why do we want to push back against the trend, other than to save our own profession?

To begin, while it may be trite, we Americans have become multi-taskers, switching from e-mail to social media to news to game apps, then back to our latest ebook. Coupled with this, our attention spans have shrunk. We have increasingly shifted from print to moving images. This trend is not necessarily “bad.” It simply describes the direction in which contemporary culture is moving.

So, what’s happened to reading? We librarians have witnessed the rise of “short reads,” or, to use James Patterson’s term, BookShots. But “James Patterson, Inc.” isn’t the only provider offering something to readers with limited time and short attention spans. The Libraries Transform Campaign recently wrote about short reading on their website, giving many examples of other short reads that are being delivered in print and digital formats.

How else does this “time-attention-focus” shortage affect our reading? Are fewer of us reading, period? Happily, it would seem not. The 2016 Pew Research Center survey on book reading provides a richly detailed series of answers. Among many interesting statistics, 73% of Americans say they have read at least one book in the last year. For 18 to 29 year-olds, that number is higher: 80%. Along with this, a 2014 article from The Atlantic reports:

Last year, the NEA found that 52 percent of 18-24 year-olds had read a book outside of work or school, the same as in the pre-Facebook days of 2002. If book culture were in terminal decline, this is the demographic where you’d expect it to be fading fastest.

So much for the misconception that young people don’t read.

In 2012, Pew conducted a survey to identify why people like to read. The theme of “quiet entertainment” was popular among respondents. Here are some individual quotes:

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What are some factors that tend to be a positive catalyst for reading? Nothing beats the age-old practice of a parent reading to their child. Adults who were read to as children tend to continue the practice of reading throughout their lives. Along with this, according to a Pew Research Center Study, education level and income both seem to influence reading. Those with college degrees read more than those without. Those in middle to upper-middle income brackets tend to read more than those with lower incomes.

We Americans pride ourselves on being highly educated and literate, but when we compare ourselves to the rest of the world, how do we as a country stack up in regard to reading? According to the NOP World Culture Score Index on hours of reading per week per person, India is #1, at 10 hours, 42 minutes per week. China is at eight hours, Russia and Sweden are at seven, and Canada, Germany, and the U.S. are about five hours,45 minutes each. Mexico is slightly below America, at five hours, 30 minutes. This suggests there is not a correlation in other countries between standard of living or education and reading.

shutterstock_450545746What librarians can do to foster reading is exactly what we have been doing: promoting reading through storytimes, publicizing summer reading programs, fostering book discussion groups, and promoting literacy by partnering with literacy organizations. Beyond that, we know every book a child is given makes him or her more likely to become a lifelong reader. We know that families who are well educated will be more enthusiastic readers, as well as users of libraries. We know that fostering efforts to raise families out of poverty will tend to move them more into the camp of those who love and find value in reading.

In our present hyped-up, frenetic world of doing, working, chatting, and surfing, perhaps our best stance as librarians is to take every opportunity to water the seeds of imagination in individuals. To be a catalyst for discovery, and to offer not so much a reflection of the culture, but rather a pathway to a life of the mind that offers rich rewards for personal and social development.

Is the librarian’s push to promote reading a kind of self-serving insurance policy to protect our livelihood? Perhaps, to some degree, it is. But more importantly, we understand the secret of reading. And this is what we seek to share.

Ultimately, we as librarians work not to save the institution, not to maintain the status quo, not to save “the book,” and not to act as luddites. The crux of the issue revolves around fostering “the good life.” We believe with all our hearts that reading is a magic elixir that takes us out of ourselves, broadens our perspectives, leads us to ask questions, and brings us into connection with the world around us.

Perhaps Neil Gaiman said it best:

“You’re also finding out something as you read [that is] vitally important for making your way in the world. And it’s this: the world doesn’t have to be like this. Things can be different.”

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Paul

Nothing brings a smile to Paul Duckworth’s face quite like a good book, a long walk, and the unmatched beauty of country life. Click here for more.

Just a Librarian

By Lauren K. Lee, M.Ln.

18867960_lSometimes I get to be “just a librarian,” not a librarian/bookseller/trainer/salesperson. Attending Library Journal’s Day of Dialog last week was one of those times. I’m pretty sure that I attended the first one in the late 1990s. I spoke on a panel about opening day collections in 2005. I don’t believe I attended in the last eight years or so. It felt good to be back. I saw the familiar faces of Barbara Hoffert, and Francine Fialkoff, and Nancy Pearl, and Marci Purcell.

I came away from the author and editor panels with a very long list of books to read and a tote bag full of advance reading copies. More importantly, I came away feeling more like a librarian—even a reader’s advisor (“Oh, Amber would love that book!”). When I hear an author tell a good story about why they wrote a particular book, I am immediately intrigued. The same is true for hearing about a mystery set near my home, or for an editor explaining why a title becomes a “lead read.”

As one who loves selecting adult nonfiction, I am not surprised that the nonfiction panel was my favorite. I find the storylines and the way they unfold to be every bit as captivating as fiction. For instance: A woman tries to solve the mystery of why her cousin became a victim of the juvenile justice system. A director has to learn more about the story behind the play she is directing. A contemporary single woman is fascinated by the Vogue editor who talked about “extra women” and the advantages of the “live-aloners.”

On to fiction. How can you resist the “first sentient sourdough starter” as a main character? Or the story of a drug that addicts the user to work? (Has someone been slipping me that one?) The author of this last one had the best quote of the whole day: “I went into fiction to tell the truth.”

The word of the day at Day of Dialog was “trope.” Guess I had better learn to use it in a sentence soon.

Don’t we work in a wonderful profession? We get people’s thoughts brewing, just like that sourdough starter (or the first batch of kombucha I just made).

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Lauren

Lauren Lee is approaching her 40th year as a librarian, with more than half of that spent at Brodart.  Although she rarely gets to select now, she loves life on the road, visiting as many public libraries as possible. Click here for more.