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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Side Note

I'm attempting (and failing) to make my little blog here look less like it was created by a caveman with an Internet connection powered by a hamster on a wheel. As you can probably tell by the way I can barely keep the font consistent in posts, I know nothing about "web design" other than the fact that people seem to get upset when a "falling snow" effect is added to a blog. (I'll try to avoid this, although it's tempting for this post.) I don't know if anyone will even notice or care anyway, but I apologize in advance for any weird/ugly/boring changes that may occur. Thank you for reading! 

I <3 LeVar Burton 4EVA. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

'Library of the Future' Poster

This is why I love the Internet (besides the fact that you can use words to link to things in blog posts, as I have done to excess in the next sentence): a very friendly and talented author/illustrator named Jonathan Auxier sent me an email and told me that he had, as part of some Photoshopping practice, created a digital painting based on the quotes in my last blog post about the "Library of the Future" kid's essay contest

Jonathan gave me permission to share the picture here, and I'm so glad, because it's awesome:

He even included plane parking, the purple chairs, the 90,000 computers, and my personal favorite, those darn robot librarians. Amazing! Thank you, Jonathan!

(Side note: my last blog post also got a mention on AL Direct, which made me very proud. And that's all the blatant self-promotion I'll do today, I promise.)

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Library of the Future

Recently, I was asked to be a judge for a children's essay contest sponsored by a local Councilman, who is a big champion for libraries. The topic of the essay contest was "The Library of the Future," and kids ranging from elementary school to high school were asked to describe how they envision libraries changing, evolving, and improving in the years to come.

This topic is particularly relevant these days, with ebook controversy and the talk of libraries becoming "obsolete" and having our budgets slashed to oblivion despite the fact that our usage is steadily increasing. It seems that when it comes to change, people think librarians feel like this:

It's my hope that this is more false than it is true. Librarians, I feel, actually EMBRACE change. I know so many smart, motivated librarians who are always looking to improve library services by adapting to technological advances and listening to the needs of their patrons. These are the librarians who will help carry libraries into the future.

And we all know who the future belongs to! Yes, as the great Whitney Houston once said, "Crack is whack."

Wait, no. Let me try that again. As the great Whitney Houston once said, "I believe the children are the future." This saccharine line is completely true: kids are future workers, future voters, and future library patrons. The Councilman's essay contest provided me with an opportunity to see how kids view libraries and their role in the community - but more importantly, it let me see that kids see libraries sticking around for a while - they just might look a little different, as you'll see below.

I wish I could share every essay I read, because they were all hilariously brilliant, but here are a few of the quotes I enjoyed. (I couldn't even include all the quotes I wanted to in this post, but trust me, there are some reaaalllly interesting ideas out there.)

What will the library of the future look like?

1) "The future library will be located in a spaceship. The spaceship will have blue tables and purple chairs. The walls of the future library will be green and magenta. Also, the future library will have many skylights."

2) "Libraries will have flying desks and iPads for each person." (Is this in the budget?)

3) "The future library will be open twenty four hours." (I'm not sure, but I THINK this goes against union bylaws.)

4) "The library will have ninety thousand computers. The library will also have a café."

5) "If you have a book that is out of date, it will warp back to the library. It also allows you to warp to other libraries."

6) "Libraries will be floating in the sky. People will have their own planes to get there." 

 7) "As much as I love the library, I’m 100% sure future libraries would be even more awesome. Just think how amazing the library will be in the future, with robots and electronics."

8) "I also believe that there will be robot librarians. But then again a lot of people know that someday robots will take over the world. Also people think that there will be a war of good robots vs bad robots but here is the good part about all this is that the good robots will be teamed up with all of humanity. But earth is a very strong place and can fight with or without human help." (This kid's going to be a sci-fi writer, you wait and see.)

9) (This quote also refers to using robots as librarians): "They will be very cost effective because we will not have to pay them." Thanks, kid!

10) And finally, some sweetness: "The librarians are so friendly, even the shyest person in the world won't be shy anymore." Awww.
At the awards ceremony the other day, each winner got to read his or her essay out loud at one of our library branches (which had just re-opened after three years of being closed for repairs. The community was very happy about that). After hearing what the kids had to say, and seeing the response from the community, I came away from the ceremony feeling optimistic about the future of libraries. (Okay, so, SOME kids want to replace librarians with unpaid robots. Let's try not to let that concern us too much. Most of the kids featured librarians in a positive light in their essays.)

I think the most poignant essay quote I heard that morning was from a third grade girl: 

"What does the future of the library look like? It depends on you." 

She's right. I couldn't have said it better myself. It doesn't matter if she's talking to kids, adults, patrons, politicians, or librarians. We all need to keep working, keep advocating, keep changing, keep growing. We need to work together to bring libraries into the future.

And perhaps most importantly, we need to be ready to fight all these robots who will try to take our jobs.

Okay, maybe I just really kinda want to be Linda Hamilton in T2.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

What Do Kids Want to Read?

I often ask the kids at the library what kinds of books they are currently reading and enjoying - or not enjoying. The other day, I was struck by the urge to ask one of the kids, who is a voracious reader, to come up with what she considers to be an ideal book premise. (I think I wanted some ideas for the children's novel I plan to write soon. And by "soon," I mean "never.") 

Initially, I asked the girl (who I will call "C"): "If someone were going to write a book just for you, what would YOU want to read?" Without a moment’s hesitation, she replied: “Realistic fiction about life.”  Well, okay then! That was easy enough. I then asked C to describe the hypothetical plot. Here is the as-accurate-as-possible transcript of the conversation, which I found very enlightening:

C: “There’s a little girl. Her parents just died in a car accident. Only the little girl survived, so she goes to live with an unknown cousin in France.”

R: “France?”

C: “Yes.”

R: “Why France?”

C: “I don’t know. It can be closer. Like Iowa.

Huh. Iowa. Okay. In the interest of cultural simplicity, C changed the premise. The little girl goes to stay with her grandparents in Iowa. She originally lived in a city, so she now must adjust to her new surroundings. She has trouble making friends in school because she’s so different from the other kids, and she often feels sad and lonely. (I couldn't help but wonder how much of this is autobiographical. It certainly describes parts of my childhood.)

Then things take an even darker turn:

C: “Her grandparents also die.”

R: “Oh no! How do they die?”

C: (thoughtful pause) “Stroke.”

R: “That's sad."
C: "Yeah, but it’s not a bad thing that they died. It’s a good thing because they are now resting in peace.”

R: "Okay, I can understand that. Then what happens?”

C: “The girl starts getting mental problems.”

R : “Okaaay...what kind of mental problems?”

C (rolling her eyes): “I don’t know, I’m not a psychiatrist!” (Ha!)

R: “Okay, okay. Sorry.”

C: “So, then the girl grows up and starts to feel better and goes to live with a friend in college. But she still has problems.”

R: “That's how it ends?”

C: “Yup.”  

R: "So, it doesn't have a happy ending."

C: “My brother told me not all stories have to end good.”

R: “Yes, that’s true. Some don’t.”

C: “I get too used to it when it ends good.”

So do I, actually. Wise words from a 10-year-old. Then C went on to describe a book that would be better suited for younger kids, since the one we just discussed was obviously too sad. Here's a quick plot summary:

There's a kid who is seven years old and she wants to buy a dog, but her parents are allergic, so she can't. BUT, because she works hard selling lemonade at a lemonade stand, the girl is able to buy a dog in secret and keep it in the garage. (Her parents don't know it's there because it's allergy season.) Once autumn rolls around, her parents discover the dog and make the girl get a lot of pets that don't have fur. Eventually, she has to give up all the pets and get a goldfish.

I'm not quite sure how this plot isn't sad, but there you have it! These are the kinds of thing that kids want to read these days. Maybe I will try my hand at children's book writing after all. I think there's a lot to work with here. (Can anyone out there draw goldfish really well??)