Monthly Archives: May 2013

National Day of Civic Hacking

Hackers have a bad rap.  Thanks to a handful of cyber criminals, the term “hack” has come to be associated in many circles with nefarious activities — at best, invasion of privacy, and at worst, theft of identities and classified information.
It’s a shame that these individuals have tainted the name of a skill that can be used for good just as easily as it can be abused or exploited.  The National Day of Civic Hacking on June 1-2 encourages hackers to use their skills to help better people’s lives by making publicly-available data more manageable.  Imagine an application that helps local food shelters redistribute resources by identifying shortages and excesses in different neighborhoods.  Or how about an app that will consolidate the best resources for local after-school child care options based on an individual’s location, schedule, and budget?
If you’re a programmer, software developer, or hacker by any other name, I highly encourage you to participate.  And don’t worry about getting a bad rap — the National Day of Civic Hacking has 19 government partners and the support of numerous corporate sponsors and contributors.  This is not a scheme to encourage criminal activity; it’s a collaboration of civic-minded and tech-savvy individuals trying to make Big Data more manageable for the little guy.  Even the Institute of Museum and Library Services will be participating; if librarians are involved, you know it’s legit.

Reading: It’s not just reading anymore

With increasing frequency, reading is becoming a multimedia activity.  Rapidly emerging enhanced books, magazines, and periodicals (both print and electronic) contain embedded videos, sound files, and other content that can be opened/viewed/listened to/interacted with by using free or inexpensive apps.  I recently read an article discussing the seemingly endless possibilities of enhanced magazines — a “buy it now” option in the Sears catalog?  The ability to pin a recipe on Pinterest that you found in a magazine in the checkout aisle?
And it’s not just periodicals.  Picture books with interactive games and videos are becoming more prevalent, and I wonder whether publishers a few years from now will even consider making a children’s book that does not have some kind of enhanced content.
And while children’s books may be the trailblazers, they’re by no means the only ones with enhanced content.  Novels for older readers have been published electronically with multiple reading options — for example, a book that begins in medias res with an option to read the story as the author initially wrote it, and one in which the events happen chronologically.  I see a world of possibilities with this kind of thinking — books where readers can choose their own adventure, choose which viewpoint character they’d prefer, or choose which plot-line to follow.  I see fantasy novels with interactive maps that let readers explore the author’s world, even embedded video games that allow them to go on adventures in that world.  I see movie tie-in editions which include trailers, deleted scenes, and interviews with actors and directors.  And let’s not forget enhanced textbooks containing interactive diagrams, adaptive self-tests at the ends of chapters, and educational games.
All of this is very exciting, but it also raises some very big questions.  First of all, what constitutes a book?  I don’t think we can define books simply as text and images anymore.  Books are becoming multimedia capsules.  Which begs the question, what does it mean to write a book?  Will writers someday be expected to write the same story from different viewpoints or with different endings?  Will they be expected to present multimedia tie-ins for their stories?  Or will it be the publisher’s job to come up with enhanced content?  Will being able to provide the enhanced material oneself make for a stronger pitch when seeking a publisher?
And how will libraries handle the collection of enhanced materials?  Should we provide eReaders or tablets with the necessary software to view enhanced content?  In order to truly provide equal access to our materials, I think we would have to.  But what would that mean for our budgets?  One could argue that, if we simply focused our collections on non-enhanced materials, we would be able offer a larger collection.  But quantity does not equal quality; if our patrons want books with embedded videos, they’re not going to care that we have three copies of the un-enhanced version.
I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I’m very curious to hear what others think.  I’ve read hundreds of articles on eBooks in libraries, and on publishing electronically, but I haven’t heard much about how either industry is handling enhanced materials.

Writing is Social

I’ve always viewed writing as a solitary activity.  It’s my “me” time, when I shut out the world and disappear into whatever story or character or setting my imagination has concocted.  I joined writing clubs; I even co-founded a writing club in college.  But for me the meetings weren’t about actually writing.  They were opportunities to gather with other writers; chances to talk with people who shared my passion, who understood how much it hurt to cut a scene or kill a character even though you knew you had to do it for the greater good of the story.  Meetings were chances to workshop my peers’ work, and to see my own work under the metaphorical knife.  But all of this was socializing, editing, critiquing; it didn’t feel like it was actually writing.
A recent In the Library with the Lead Pipe article made me question my views of writing as an individual project.  In it, the author reflects on her participation in two writing challenges: Academic Writing Month (AcWriMo) and Digital Writing Month (DigiWriMo).  Both of these are inspired by the more widely-known National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which challenges writers around the world to write a 50,000-word novel in one month.  NaNoWriMo and its related projects come complete with online forums, video pep talks, and even regional meet-ups to inspire writers and keep them on track to meet their goals.
I’ve never officially participated in NaNoWriMo.  The event takes place in November, always a busy month for me.  And the rules never seemed conducive to my writing style — I could write 50,000 words in a month, but it usually wasn’t a full novel.  My novels tend to be in the 75,000+ word range.  And I didn’t like being told that I couldn’t start working until November 1.  If I’d already been thinking about the project for a while, waiting until the first felt like I was procrastinating or making excuses.
So I said to heck with their rules and decided to do what worked for me.  In February 2008 I wrote 50,000 words and about half of a novel which I finished that summer.  This past April, I made it a goal to finish the book I’d started writing in January (a book which I’d written by hand) and reach the 50,000-word mark typing it up.  But as I read about the overwhelming amount of support found on AcroWriMo and DigiWriMo forums, and the testimonials to NaNoWriMo, I started wondering if I’ve been missing out on something.
Maybe writing didn’t used to be social for me.  But I started this blog to start conversations.  I joined Twitter so I could follow other writers and librarians, and share my own writer-ly and librarian-ly thoughts.  Social media is making everything more connected and interactive.  I feel like if I don’t participate, I won’t be riding the wave of change; I’ll be washed away by it.
So this year, my writing is going social.  I know there will be at least one sequel to the book that I’m working on now, and I’ve got plenty of work to do on the first one to tide me over until November 1.  Then, I’ll laugh, cry, binge on sugar and caffeine, and partake in general insanity along with hundreds of thousands of other writers.  Look for me on the forums; I’ll be the one with the perpetual sugar-high.

Get Caught Reading Program Ideas

Get Caught Reading raffle ticket.

In honor of Get Caught Reading Month, I’ve introduced a program this May in which the librarians in my department hand out raffle tickets to people we “catch” reading around the library.  It gives us another way to see what our patrons are interested in, and to show them a more human side to the library, even if that’s just a short conversation about what they’re reading or the raffle they’re entering.  Along with the raffle tickets, we’re also handing out bookmarks with information about Summer Reading, which starts on June 1.  So we’re encouraging reading, engaging patrons, and promoting other library programs.

The nice thing about this is that it’s relatively simple and inexpensive to implement.  I designed and printed the tickets and bookmarks myself, and we’re raffling off a gift certificate to the Friends of the Library book sale, so there were virtually no overhead costs.  (Side note: a huge thanks to the Friends for supporting my last-minute contest ideas!)

Since this is the first time we’re doing this, we’ve kept if fairly simple.  However, I’ve come up with a few ideas for more involved programs that could tie in with Get Caught Reading Month that I thought I’d share, in case any of you want to try a Get Caught Reading promotion at your library.

1. Have people submit pictures of themselves reading around town for a Get Caught Reading photo contest.  You could award prizes for the whackiest or most unique photo.  With the patrons’ permission, you could post some of the pictures on your library’s Facebook page or other social media site, and let people compare their favorite reading spots.

2. If your community is big on local history or has a lot of unique sites, you could have a Get Caught Reading scavenger hunt where people check in at various sites throughout town.  This could be as simple as snapping a photo with a book and the building/statue/monument in the background, or if you wanted (and if the necessary parties were receptive to the idea), you could partner with local businesses to have them stamp a scavenger’s “passport” proving they were reading there.  If you went the passport route, you could find yourself with a number of local partners grateful for your support (and who will hopefully return the favor if you ask them!).

Does your library do anything for Get Caught Reading Month?  Or have you tried anything similar to the ideas I’ve come up with?  If so, I’d love to hear how the program went!

Applause for Audiobooks

I admit, I used to think audiobooks were weird. Listening to someone read a book to me just didn’t have the same feel as curling up with an old-fashioned paperback and reading.  Then I changed jobs, and the twenty-minute bus ride during which I would read a book or newspaper turned into a thirty-minute drive each way to work.  And I became an audiophile.
Audiobooks are perfect for multi-taskers like me.  I can “read” a book while I drive to work, cook dinner, clean the apartment, or run on the elliptical.  This means that even when I’m busy with other things, like writing, catching the latest Northwestern game, or attempting to actually have a social life, I can still find time to fit some reading into my day — even if it’s just on the drive to the grocery store or said social event.  And if you’re serious about writing, I think reading every day is just as important as writing every day.
I’ll even go a step further.  I think that listening to audiobooks has improved my writing more than just reading print and eBooks has. Maybe it’s because I’m an auditory learner, or because hearing something out loud engages a different part of the brain than reading it on a page, but I’ve picked up more tricks from the books and authors I’ve listened to than the ones I’ve read.  I’ll make note of an interesting description or a character’s unique speech patterns more readily when I hear them than when I see them.  And, as I write or edit my own work, I sometimes find myself hearing it as if someone were reading it to me.  (Often in Neil Gaiman’s voice, which is an added bonus; as a colleague once put it, “I could listen to that man read the phone book.”)
Even if you’re not a writer or a multi-tasker (and I applaud anyone who can survive today’s fast-paced world without at least a little multi-tasking), audiobooks are great entertainment.  Hearing characters’ voices can make them come alive in ways that simply reading their words can’t.  And beyond entertainment, they can help children and ESL learners improve their reading comprehension.  Struggling readers can “listen up” to books that may be too difficult for them in print, and thus benefit from their content without the frustration of tricky material.
So, have I sold you on audiobooks yet?  The only caveat is that, if you end up with a bad narrator, even the best book can seem tedious.  (Remember that teacher with the monotone voice whose students sat with glazed eyes and vacant expressions for the entire class?  It didn’t matter what she was talking about; all you were interested in was getting out of there as soon as possible.)  If you’re looking for a good place to start, try an Audie or Odyssey award winner.  I have an entire Goodreads  shelf of audiobooks that I’d recommend.  And if you want more suggestions, ask a librarian!  We love connecting people with new material, and are thrilled when people ask about different formats.  I always welcome opportunities to talk up our access to digital audiobooks.
Happy listening!

Hello World!

When learning a new programming language, the first code a student writes is almost always a program that prints “Hello World!”  I thought it fitting to begin my foray into the blogosphere with this statement because it represents where I am and where I hope this blog will go in the future.
I’m not new to blogging — I kept a travel blog while I was studying abroad in college — but I am new to professional blogging.  A few librarians’ blogs — notably Mr. Library Dude and Librarian in Black — were extremely helpful to me during library school, especially as I sought advice on landing a library job.  Now that I have some professional experience to draw on, I’m ready to contribute to the conversation.
As the tagline suggests, this blog will be about more than just libraries and librarianship.  I work the reference desk in a large public library in Central Indiana, so a lot of my updates will probably be about public librarianship in Indiana.  However, when I’m not at the library, I write young adult novels, and I’m looking forward to attending my first writer’s conference in July.  So expect a lot of entries about writing and publishing, too.
I hope this blog will provide a forum to discuss ideas and trends in the library and publishing worlds.  If someday my thoughts and the conversations they spark help a new — or veteran — professional land a job or an agent or a book deal, I’ll be honored to count myself among the mentors of the blogosphere.