Category Archives: Library

Things happening in and around the library.

Why libraries still need books on shelves

I grew up in libraries. Summer days were spent blissfully in the mobile library that came to my neighborhood every week. Every week I’d escape the blistering heat outdoors and enter an air conditioned magic castle. To me, it was magic. I would spend hours gazing at the shelves of books, taking out any one that caught my eye. I checked out at least 10 at a time, devouring them over and over until the next week’s visit. Thinking back on this time still makes me happy–I was a solitary kid, not many friends, but books filled in that gap and I made many, many friends among the intriguingly scented pages. I still love the smell of books in a library.

So when I heard about an article that advocated retaining the stacks in a campus library in lieu of moving them offsite, I was intrigued. In the article, Ann Michael, writing coordinator at DeSales University, recommends keeping the books onsite, even though as writing coordinator she would benefit from having the extra space. She wants instructors to push their students into the stacks, allowing them to get lost, allowing them to make serendipitous discoveries. As she puts it,

“The curious, inquisitive, emotional human mind — which is not an algorithm seeking one specific text or trained upon one set of parameters only — can find on those shelves a physical object that provides something unavailable through virtual technologies.”

A physical book can also be something beautiful in and of itself, with a tactile element lost in a world of electronic devices. And browsing in real time teaches students that finding good, reliable information sources takes time. Having a real, live librarian help with a search in a way that no software program can, and having a physical being there to share in a “Eureka” moment can enhance the whole library experience. As well, “books offer more chances for surprise and delight,” says Michael. The physical experience of interacting with book, the titles on the spine inviting deep thought and contemplation, may just offer a student a chance to find something that will change their life.

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Interactive screen time vs. TV

I have long been a proponent of kicking electronic devices out of the classroom, and I just found more evidence that interactive screen time (Internet surfing, social media use, texting, etc.) contributes to physical changes such as smaller brain size and cognitive malfunction. There are studies in respected medical journals that affirm those findings: they state that excessive screen time (or even just “regular” screen exposure) impairs brain structure and neurological function, with much of the damage occurring in the brain’s frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is where massive changes occur from puberty to young adulthood, and it “determines success in every area of life–from a sense of well-being to academic/career success to relationship skills.” (Psychology Today)

A study by Lin, Zhou, Lei, et al., summarizes it this way: “Taken together, [studies show] Internet addiction is associated with structural and functional changes in brain regions involving emotional processing, executive attention, decision making, and cognitive control.” Brain scan research findings include grey matter atrophy, compromised white matter integrity, reduced cortical thickness, impaired cognitive functioning, and cravings and impaired dopamine function. In other words, electronic device addiction is really bad for you, but especially so for those with young, developing brains. As a result, children are suffering from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyper-aroused nervous system: what is called electronic screen syndrome.

So, screen time is making kids moody, crazy and lazy, and it’s changing the physical structure of their brains. What else is new? I see the effects every day in the teens I work with. I see the fractured attention spans, the apathy, the poor focus, and the often explosive and aggressive behavior. I see it in the lack of respect, both for their peers and for authority. I see it as they walk along in the hallways with their heads buried in their phones. It would be funny if it weren’t so serious.

What can be done to mitigate the effects of screen addiction? Another study I found states that all young people can benefit from a tech fast (from gaming, smartphones, laptops, iPads). This means no interactive screen time for a solid three to four weeks. Refraining from tech use can help to restore sleep patterns, enhance mood and increase relaxation, contribute to better focus, and improve relations in school/work, home life, and social interactions. Reconnecting with nature and green spaces can also lead to increased physical activity, perhaps helping reduce the high amount of obesity running rampant across the country.

The problem, as I see it, is getting parents on board with the idea of eliminating technology for any period of time. They are often the worst offenders in texting their children during class, leading to the assertion, “Well, I had to respond, it’s my mom!” Bollocks. Parents shouldn’t be contacting their children during the school day; if it’s an emergency, call the front office to inform the student between classes, just like the good ol’ days. (It seems the parents need the break from technology as much as their kids do.) But if parents can be made to see the light, giving kids a sustained break from technology can lead to many rewards.

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Print books vs. digital — vindication!

I’ve long been a proponent of “real” books vis à vis digital editions, and I often feel like a dinosaur clinging to life as the earth crumbles around me. Print books are easy to hold, you can go back to a previous page easily, and they don’t require batteries, but e-books weigh less, take up less space in an airplane carry-on, and are easier to read at night without disturbing a partner. My husband bought me a Kindle Fire tablet, and while I have indeed read a book or two on it I mostly use it to access the Internet or play Angry Birds. (There’s a video on YouTube about how paper has a strong future, and it makes me laugh every time I watch it.) And in many of the journals I read (in print!) it’s all about one-to-one programs, more access to e-books, and increasing access to online sources. But now there comes a book that has found that young people, even those considered “digital natives,” prefer books over tablets. The book, by Naomi S. Baron, is titled “Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World,” which is profiled in an article by Cory Doctorow, on the website “Boing, boing.” The book is an analysis of how we read and how reading is affected both in print or onscreen. E-reading, Baron argues, does not encourage the kind of in-depth reading that a print book does. Furthermore, e-reading lends itself to distraction and skimming, and multi-tasking becomes rampant. Baron “reaches past the hype of both sides of the discussion” in presenting what can be gained from e-reading and what may be lost by no longer reaching for a printed book. (Amazon.com, 2015)

Another article reviewing the same book is written by a reporter from the Washington Post, Michael S. Rosenwald. The article, titled “Why Digital Natives Prefer Print – Yes, You Read That Right,” touches on some of Baron’s insights on the surveys she conducted for her research. Interestingly, “building a physical map in my mind of where things are,” a reason given by one student as to why he prefers print, squared with Baron’s findings. (Rosenwald, 2015) Others mentioned the fact that it’s easier to find your place in a print book, and print allows for greater absorption of material.

So, to my great delight, paper books aren’t going away anytime soon, and the evidence is mounting that paper and digital books can co-exist side-by-side. This mirrors what I see in my library, as students vastly prefer reading print books over digital. They may have e-readers on their phones and iPads, but not a single one has ever come up to me and asked to add an e-book to the collection. My personal preference will always be print, even though I have been known to reach for a “classic” novel on my Kindle; the major reason I prefer print is, however, the fact that I like to re-read certain passages from the beginning of a novel when I’m almost finished with it. I will continue to monitor my students’ preferences and I’m open to purchasing e-books in the future, but for now, the printed word vigorously survives.

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Effect of puzzle solving on student creativity

Apparently, kids really like solving puzzles. According to Istar Schweger, Ph.D., puzzles provide ways for students to build on emerging skills. And from Marcel Danesi, Ph.D. comes “The thinking involved in solving puzzles can be characterized as a blend of imaginative association and memory.” So I’ve started putting out jigsaw puzzles for my students to put together in the library. Some days I get big groups working on them, but most days it’s just a few that keep plugging away. Some days I get teachers drawn in to work on a particular section, or some of the admin staff will wander over to put in a piece or two. Solving jigsaw puzzles requires concentration, paying attention to patterns, and building on information stored in memory. Plus, there is something very satisfying about placing a piece next to its companion, watching a clear section emerge from the chaos of individual pieces. I like to think that I’m helping train students’ brains and helping them in ways of which they may not be aware. The biggest thing, though, is that I want them to have fun. There’s such pressure built in to every school day that a break now and again is nice.

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VAASL conference

Attending VAASL conference on libraries and collaborative learning. So far so good.

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Project Information Literacy interview

David Weinberger, senior researcher and co-director of the Harvard Law School Library Innovation Lab and the author of the book Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room  was interviewed recently by Project Information Literacy (PIL) regarding knowledge, education and the contradictory nature of the Internet. (Read the interview here.) He was questioned on how the way we used to think about knowledge has lost some of its gloss, utility, and meaning. His answer? “We have ratcheted up what we count as knowledge to the point where little beyond axiomatic truths have counted.” Knowledge used to be a firm foundation on which new “bricks” were laid, and without which it was impossible to formulate new thoughts. Now, however, knowledge is a series of inter-connected links in a wide network that is the world wide web. Not everything is as pat as it once was; in the past, books were vetted and knowledge imparted with the thought being that the printed word held weight and stability. The new web of knowledge, though, “has a very different shape than a book. It is vast, complexly ordered, non-sequential, un-curated, vetted after being made public, and intimately tied to its intellectual context. It has no boundaries, no stable shape, and no edges.” What this means, to me, is that libraries are more than ever an important resource in teaching its clientele how to sift through this new web, assessing and evaluating what purports to be knowledge from that which truly is reliable and verifiable. “Students need help in gaining the skill to discern what’s worth believing and what’s hucksterism and wish fulfillment.” And lastly, “given the human temptation to hang out with ideas that are familiar and unchallenging, librarians have a special role to play as guides to sources that also disturb us, challenge our hidden assumptions that celebrate difference and disagreement.” Some heavy food for thought, indeed.

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from the Pew Internet Project Report

“Millennials will benefit and suffer due to their hyperconnected lives.” This statement, from a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center, indicates that today’s teen and young adult  population, connected since childhood to each other and to information, will be affected by that connectivity in ways that remain to be seen. Survey respondents were about evenly split in thinking that this connectivity would have a net positive or negative result by 2020; one thought was that those who count on the Internet as their external brain will be “nimble, quick-acting multi-taskers who will do well in key respects.” Others predicted that the impact of networked living would lead to a desire for instant gratification, quick fixes, and a lack of patience and deep thinking.

What do you think? One respondent wrote, “My sense is that society is becoming conditioned into dependence on technology in ways that, if that technology suddenly disappears or breaks down, will render people functionally useless.” What does that mean for individual and social resiliency? Will this generation use technology or will technology use them, and what are the long-term consequences?

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Today is Digital Learning Day…

…and I can’t access any type of streaming or video online. My Tech department is as baffled as I am, with the supposition being that somewhere higher up blocking must be active due to some reason of which we are not aware. How ironic that I can’t access technology on a day that celebrates digital awareness.

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Google’s “Good to Know” Campaign

Google’s new “Good to Know” Campaign was launched on Tuesday, providing users with easy to use tips and advice on online security, help in understanding the data users share, and tools they can use to manage their data. Topics covered include phishing, malware, cookies and personal identity protection. Interestingly, Google also trys to explain how search results can be tailored more individually if it knows about past activity. Google also taylors online ads based on personal data the tech giant collects, to more closely target the people likely to buy the products and services offered.

Google’s own history of personal data collection and subsequent user privacy disclosures calls into question the reason behind the media ad blitz and website. Google was taken to task in 2010 by the Federal Trade Commission when it exposed users personal information when a new social service called Buzz debuted. According to Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, the ad campaign is “really just a PR offensive to help dim the increased scrutiny of Google’s privacy practices.” (Huffington Post online.) 

Is Google really concerned with educating the public regarding protection of personal information and online privacy? Or is it just covering the bases in regards to its own past lapses?

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Naps can make you smarter

According to Ian Yarett in the January 9th issue of Newsweek, a midday nap “not only can restore brain power to its fully awake best but can also raise it beyond what it would have been without some shut-eye.” (p. 33)  Google, Nike and other Silicon Valley companies provide nap rooms for employees, and the siesta has a long and favorable history in Spain. (I now have new ammunition in my ongoing battle with my husband over the benefits of napping.) Any kind of brain downtime, it turns out, can also have a positive effect on long-term memory retention and increased cognitive function, so sit back, relax, unhook yourself from your electronic devices, and let your thoughts flow spontaneously. Me? I’m going home for a quick 20-winks this afternoon.

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