Thursday, July 18, 2013


When I first got my iPhone, I thought "I'll never be able to read on that tiny screen,", but that was then, and this is now.  As I spent more time with the phone (yes, perhaps too much time, my friends), I got more used to reading even pieces longer than a tweet or Facebook note on the screen.  I got better and better at the tiny keyboard, too, thanks in part to my totally nerdy subscription to the New York Times Crossword Puzzles. 

The New York Times, the New Yorker and Sports Illustrated provided copies of the electronic versions to their print subscribers, and I downloaded them, for those times when you need something to read and don't have a book with you.  I usually read them in  print, but I've read several articles and even whole special issues of the New Yorker on the phone.[And you get extra cartoons!  Don't tell the marketing people how easily I'm swayed]

McCormick Place Chicago
I downloaded all the library ebook software, so I could practice checking out a book and be able to describe the process to my online clients.  However, I had not read a whole book online until I was headed to Chicago for the ALA conference.  Yes, taking books along to ALA is a coals to Newcastle experience, since you will come home buried in ARCs and free books and sample books. . . but my thought was -- I'll be in Chicago, I'll be commuting on the El, and I won't want to carry a book, so I should download some library books.  I borrowed three and finished one -- when the others returned themselves [Bonus!  No fines]  I realized I should have prioritized my reading by due date, not that I do that with print books, either. [You can't renew them, per se, but you can borrow them again if there's not a waiting list;  I chose to let these two go.]

ALA Exhibit floor
While I didn't read a lot in the city -- too many people to see, things to do, ARCs to collect -- I did find that ebooks are perfect for camping.  The phone is lightweight and provides its own light, and I finished my first complete library ebook.  I was trying to read in different genres for my public library's adult summer reading game, so I read Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn.  I didn't like it as well as Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist, but parts of it were very funny.

Point Beach State Park

In addition, I have sent a Kindle book to a friend as a present (not without a lot of discussion with Amazon customer service, enough that I don't plan to try that again) which she did get a few months after the intended occasion.  Today, I gave in to the iTunes advertising and bought two books [for just $3.99!! see note above]  I did follow the rule that says "if you wouldn't buy it at full price, don't buy it on sale."  Maybe now I'll finally read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, which has been recommended to me by a surprisingly varied group of people. 

I still prefer print books.  I love the library new book shelf, from which I plucked seven books from two different libraries today. I like being surrounded by books, though I admit I'm in the public library today mostly to take advantage of the air conditioning.  I don't think beach or bathtub reading works as well with a screen.  [Though for your beach and ebook reader fans, try putting your reader in a self closing plastic bag].  I charge my phone at night, and I don't really want it in bed with me, if I'm not in a tent.  And I now know I should check ebooks out one at a time, because I forget they are there (less likely with the stack of print books from the library).  I'm only a partial convert, but I do see the appeal. 

Do you read ebooks?  Do you borrow them from the library?  What makes them more or less appealing than print?  Have you read any truly interactive books, like The 39 Steps

A selection of fascinating ebook innovations

Point Beach Driftwood

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Does our society value children and education?

Teachers and school supplies

This article reports survey results for how much teachers spend on supplies for their classrooms and students, on average, each year.

First Lady Laura Bush did champion a tax deduction for teachers, of $250.00, to help offset this cost;  most teachers have spent that much before the first week of school, but I do appreciate the effort.

Many communities have school supply drives to help with this problem as well, and there are many generous individual and corporate donors to those drives, which also helps.

However, as you will see from the article,  the cost to teachers is still enormous.  And as school district budgets are cut, the cost to teachers will increase -- or they, and their students, will go without supplies like pencils and crayons and facial tissue -- the latter is a real issue in flu and cold season, as I think you can imagine.

I worked with teachers who had to have their classrom supplies -- including furniture and cartons of books -- delivered each school year by friends or relatives with trucks.  Everyone has their own decorations -- bulletin board borders, inspirational posters, and educational sayings.  Elementary teachers have more things -- high school teachers have more books, maps, and sometimes their own technological equipment.  I knew an elementary teacher whose classroom was alive with "reading spaces" including a play house and a claw foot bathtub filled with cushions.  Every August, they unpack all this stuff, create their classroom environment, and, every June pack it up, take it home, and repeat the process the next school year.  

I've been asked what the right amount of money per child is to run an adequate school system.  It's a fair question, but it doesn't have an easy answer.  I tend to think in terms of what children need in their school environment.   The list is long, and expensive.  People and technology, and the costs of special education, drive the budget, but there are also a lot of expenses for infrastructure, facilities, and equipment.

A partial list for the ideal school.  (feel free to add to this, in your mind or the comments)

*  Caring, qualified teachers, paraprofessionals, and support staff.
*  A clean and safe environment with age appropriate furniture and equipment
*  Technology and equipment, including computers and tablets, as well as smart blackboards, projection equipment, lab equipment, athletic equipment, musical instruments. . . . 
*  A school library with up to date physical and electronic collections, and a qualified teacher/librarian teaching information literacy skills
* An outdoor play area, and a gym
* A space large enough for the whole school for performances and visiting lecturers
* A garden, and a commitment to healthy food in a well staffed cafeteria or lunchroom
* Safe transportation to and from school
* Adequate supplies
* A budget for field trips and equipment for experiential learning outside the classroom

Most teachers now have computers on their desks, though I had one that took 45 minutes to boot up at one school where I worked, and most teachers also have telephones in their classrooms -- these seemingly basic bits of technology, which also have safety implications, are fairly recent additions to some classrooms.

Some communities are able to go beyond my basic list -- some are not even meeting those standards.  The more social services the school is asked to provide, and the more needy or at risk the student population, the higher the cost.  Grant writing and fund raising take time and skill -- where there are inadequate physical resources, there are often also inadequate human resources -- no one has the time or the skill to work with the complex application processes for grant funding.  Most grants also require a plan to continue the program beyond the grant period, and that, too, may not be possible in the most needy environments.

The problem is a complex one, and it is influenced by many larger societal problems, so the solution also needs to be multi-faceted and complex.

I think the first step is making children and education a priority in our society -- recognizing that a 19th Century Calendar,  mid-20th Century buildings, and a curriculum that has been tweaked but not fundamentally re-thought is not going to prepare our children for competitive life in the 21st Century.
I would caution against looking only at test scores and rote learning --- that's not playing to our historic strengths of innovation and individualism, which need to be nurtured.

Does our society really value children and education?

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

I try to keep this blog focused on professional issues and idea, but sometimes the personal creeps in. .  .  I'm walking on an American Cancer Society Relay team, and I'd like to provide more opportunities for people to support our team.  Thanks for considering this, in a world where there are a lot of needs and opportunities of this sort.

What do you think about the overlap among the personal, political and professional in social media, especially considering the current controversary in the NFL?


Fortune Cookie

Information is not knowledge.
Knowledge is not wisdom.
Wisdom is not truth.
Truth is not beauty.
Beauty is not love.
Love is not music.
Music is the best.
Frank Zappa