Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Captain Underpants Craze

I was recently in charge of throwing our Captain Underpants party at the library. In preparation, I reread one of the books (admittedly I did not commit to reading all 10). After reading, I felt like reflecting. This should not be surprising.

For those who are unfamiliar, let's recap:

George and Harold are two fourth graders who frequently get in trouble and accidentally turn their nasty principal into Captain Underpants by hypnotizing him. The duo creates comic books which frequently become real through a series of mishaps. Adventures often include villains like toilets, Professor Poopypants, or evil lunch ladies. Parents and educators love to discuss how offensive the series is, for the following reasons:

-"Gross" language? 
-Rejection of authority
-Many comics and pictures are present even though they are chapter books

However. . .
Is it really any different than reading Archie comics? The Archie gang was overtly sexual and mature, but I still devoured any issue I could. The same goes for Gossip Girl, which also includes blatant alcohol/drug abuse. Captain Underpants may not be Jane Austen, but that's the point. Fourth grade boys aren't nearly as likely to be pulled in by tepid stories of animals or heartbreak. I'm willing to bet that, for the typical 8-12 year old boy (potentially older, too), burping, farting, and all other bodily functions are Funny with a capital "F." They eat this stuff up, and Dav Pilkey has tapped into a goldmine. 

As for rejecting authority, many heros and heroines in classic works have fought "the man." As Jessica Roake points out in this article from, even Huck Finn didn't follow directions. Let's face it, a book about boys who follow all the rules probably won't engage reluctant readers.

I firmly believe in the value of mindless activities at certain times. The way I see it, this can include reading as well as TV. I enjoy "beach reads," or books that allow my brain to relax. For those who wish to argue that Captain Underpants is not encouraging young readers to think critically, learn history, or analyze the foundation of society, are you always reading something so heavy? There needs to be time for lighthearted reading in addition to more scholarly publications. What's more, this series may engage young readers in related fields: perhaps a reader starts working on his own comic books, or tries creating a hypnotizing machine after reading about George and Harold. Before condemning the books, let's take a moment to consider how basic fourth grade humor can positively impact an audience. I'd argue that we should give Captain Underpants a fighting chance.

For the record, our attendees loved throwing bean bags in a toilet, and wearing men's underwear during a relay race. Pilkey has a strong following, and my latest run-in with Captain Underpants reminded me that it is with good reason.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Equal Access

My apologies for being a slacker or seeming disoriented. I've started a new job, moved to a new apartment, and found lots of fun things to do outside (can you blame me?).

Today's post is less scholarly and more muse-worthy.

At this stage in my life, equal access to information and services is something I find particularly relevant. My roommate/best friend and I have chosen not to pay for internet until our third roommate arrives. Don't get me wrong, we love surfing the web as much as the next person, but we're also poor. While I would love to have the capability to veg out online, it's also not a priority at this time. We've been met with many responses along the lines of, "What?! You don't have WiFI? What do you do?!" To which we typically reply, "Well, we cook. We bike. We go for walks. We talk to one another." Admittedly there is a part of me that wants to prove everyone wrong. I can live without the Internet, and so can you. It is possible. But what I really appreciate is the option to access it from my local library during this time.

I had to complete a job application online last week (I figure if I have two part-time jobs, it will be closer to the equivalent of one full-time position). While in theory I could apply using my smartphone, I would much rather use a computer. I biked to the local library, registered my card from a neighboring county, and felt the metaphorical doors opening for me. I logged into the computer, finished my application, and checked out materials that caught my eye. During my day, I was reminded of how similar my situation is to that of many patrons. It made me realize the following:
  • We cannot assume everyone has the Internet (or technology to access it).
  • In our internet-centered world, there are not many places for people to log on for free. Libraries remain steadfast!
  • Libraries are excellent as back up plans. For example, my printer jammed. I have no way to figure out what's wrong with it, nor do I have the time to research getting it repaired. In the meantime,  I can go to the library and print until my heart is content.
As a patron, librarian, and community member, the past month of my life has made me appreciate libraries more than usual (which is saying a lot). Here's hoping they continue to be crucial pillars in our ever-changing world.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Transparent Language Online

It's happened. I've fallen in love with yet another online resource. Here's what excites me about Transparent Language:

  • There are 100+ languages available, including multiple ESL options (e.g., English for German, English for Polish, etc).
  • Users select a default language that opens when they login, but may opt to learn multiple languages at the same time. Bonus: Transparent tracks your progress in all languages simultaneously.
  • Transparent strives to cover all aspects of learning a language: hear it, see it, say it, write it.
  • Transparent is not linear, meaning users have the option to bounce around from one activity to the next at their heart's desire. I like this approach because everyone learns differently, so having the autonomy to decide is exciting.
  • Byki (Before You Know It) is the flashcard component. Users can flip through cards at their own pace, or set cards to a slideshow mode. Bonus: you can print off vocabulary to use later. For the record, this prints on one page as a two-column table, not as individual flashcards.
  • Users can view a "transliterated" language. In layman's terms, this means patrons can read true symbols (e.g., Arabic) as well as the phonetic pronunciation of said symbols. Note of caution: the pronunciation does not appear side by side. 
  • There is an additional mobile component, but it has specific intended use(s). The mobile app will not update user progress, so it is not recommended for extended of periods of time. However, users can access the byki vocab cards and engage in repetitive studying at a moment's notice. I see this being used while waiting in line at the grocery store, riding the bus, or on a lunch break.
  • Users can record their own voice and match it to that of a native speaker. How cool! Even better? Users can speed up or slow down the native speaker's voice. Learning a new language can be daunting, so having the freedom to opt for a pace matching your needs appeals greatly to me.
  • Users can opt for a "word of the day." This is another beneficial option to hear it, see it, say it, and ruminate on it for the day, thus growing your vocabulary.
On the whole, this appeals to me as Rosetta Stone minus the cost. I know I sound like a spokesperson, but this is free knowledge at our fingertips, which excites me. I hope your library offers Transparent, or something similar. Go forth and be curious!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Great E-Book Debate

This post is in response to a recent YALSA article by Chanitra Bishop and Marijke Visser (Spring 2013 issue). Find more info by clicking here.

Why are e-books such a hot button issue? They're convenient, accessible, and appeal to patrons of many ages. However, they're also device dependent, manipulated by publishers, and selection varies greatly.

Bishop and Visser point out that, "Because of the rapid and sometimes surprising changes, librarians have found themselves in an uncomfortably reactive state rather than as a force that can help shape the e-book market - at least as it pertains to libraries." I could not agree more with this statement, and I think librarians must stay conscious of this fact. While it may seem tempting to duck out of the e-book debate all together, I personally believe that will help no one. I think it's better to be aware of trends and research how each library can strategically serve its community rather than wave a white flag. Relevancy is a constant goal for public libraries; addressing new trends and slowly integrating them will demonstrate to patrons that libraries are active.

A great difference in e-books is permissions. The YALSA article argues that publishers and/or distributors often prevent libraries from the following:

  • selling e-books that libraries do not wish to retain
  • receiving donations of e-books
  • ensuring patron privacy
  • making reasonable accommodations for e-books for people with disabilities
  • archiving and preserving content

Uh, hello?! If I'm not mistaken, these are staples of libraries. It's no wonder that libraries feel like they're attached to a master puppeteer. Unfortunately, this is probably a large reason why many libraries do not offer any e-books: they cannot afford the materials, time, or advocacy needed to fight for privileges. Despite my optimistic idea of embracing new trends, I can empathize easily with libraries that choose not to be manipulated by publishers. With multiple companies hungry to invade the e-market, publishers hiked their prices exponentially in 2012, which likely furthered angst and hesitation on the part of libraries. Random House doubled or tripled prices, and Blessings by Anna Quindlen went from $15.00 to $45.00 (Bishop). Ouch.

We're in a tricky time now, where publishers and libraries are not BFFs. I hope in my lifetime this becomes an amiable partnership that truly serves the needs and wants of both parties. Bishop suggests that as librarians, the onus is on us to tell patrons about available e-books through the library. This is sounding more and more like a never-ending battle, so I hope everyone has their game face on.

What I truly appreciate about Bishop's article is the last section of "What Can You Do?" Rather than leaving us hanging in a sense of doom and gloom, we're given specific goals and explanations as to why they're crucial. The main ways to stay active in this discourse are:
  1. Stay informed
  2. Negotiate
  3. Advocate
  4. Educate
I could not ask for a more succinct, logical conclusion. To avoid hair-ripping and severely agitated staff, we must attempt to follow the above guidelines. I highly recommend reading this article; Bishop may not solve our problems for us, but I feel much more knowledgeable having read it.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Last Craft Pic (for now)

I finished my internship today. Working at Minneapolis Central Library has been truly rewarding and exciting for me. I added a few things to the magnetic board in the storytime room today: sight words, a few alphabet letters, and easy mazes. I know it's hard to keep the magnetic letters on the board (they walk off with young patrons), but I hope this offers kids the chance to engage and learn. I'll miss doing these projects!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Passive Programming

I love my internship. I finished the big weeding project so now it's "play time," in the sense that I can get crafty and use the space for some passive programming. Here are two pictures: one using paint chips (the quality of the photo is not wonderful) and an interactive table with I Spy pages and games from Highlights magazine. A librarian pointed out to me that the Hidden Pictures from Highlights are engaging for kids, but easier than I Spy. I copied the pages and put them on the table using contact paper so kids can interact without damaging the pages. Additionally, it is my hope that the pages will be in use for at least a few weeks (I'm optimistic).

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Marvel of Zinio

Oh. My. Gosh. How did I not know about Zinio?! I'm amazed.

Zinio - "the world's largest newsstand" - has a partnership with many libraries, including Washington County.

I'm brand new to Zinio, so my apologies to those of you who know much more about it. I created an account yesterday, so I'm psyched to explore it and torture my friends and family with tutorials. Here's what I've learned thus far:

  • Zinio is free once you create two accounts (one WCL Library Zinio account, and one account). If this sounds confusing, don't panic! Your library should have instructions, either online or physical fliers to take home. The flier guides you through the entire process.
  • Once you download a magazine, you get to keep it forever! Am I the only one who finds this a) convenient b) amazing and c) the exception to the rule? However, there are a few details to keep in mind:
    • You cannot download past issues. If you're able to find time each month to download the newest issue, this shouldn't be a problem. Simply download the file, and read it whenever your heart desires.
    • You must download the file if you want to be reading offline. Tailor this to fit your needs - either you are surrounded by WiFi on a daily basis, or you'd rather download the file for the convenience of reading wherever, whenever, regardless of WiFi.
  • There's a corresponding mobile app! Not only can I read magazines on my laptop (or tablet, but I don't have one), but I can also read them on my phone. I haven't played around with this enough yet to determine if the small screen size will bother me - but I like having the option.
  • Of course not all magazine titles are available, but in my opinion, there's some great publications. So far, I've downloaded Consumer Reports, National Geographic, Yoga Journal, Saveur, Runner's World, and Food Network Magazine. And no, I haven't had a chance to read them all.
  • You can print articles if you are using a computer. Again, I haven't had time to try this quite yet.
I can tell that the more I explore this resource, the more I'll like it. Check with your local library to see if they have Zinio, or a similar option. If you live in Minnesota, come to any Washington County Library branch to learn more.