Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The partially-sighted leading the blind - my first how to blog session for library members

Well, it's Library and Information Week and my professional colleagues and I (now officially numbering 3 altogether - for the first time meeting State Library of Qld's guidelines for ratio of qualified librarians to population!!) are ambitiously offering a series of workshops on:Blogging (that's mine); how to use the Web OPAC; and how to access the State Library's free databases (Newsbank, ANZ Ref Centre etc.) I kicked off with a guest lecture to about 50 people at the u3A last Friday on "Blogs, Pods and Wikis" which went over very well, and tonight 3 people from that group came along to join 2 others from the general library membership to "Learn How to Blog" in one hour! (Not a bad turnout for "State of Origin*" night).

The hour went like this:

1. Quick explanation of what blogs are, blog statistics etc. (very quick).
2. Here's one I prepared earlier - let's look at the library bookgroupblog and see what a blog looks like, check out general layout and features and leave a comment (navigate the word verification thingie).
3. Now let's find Blogger via Google. Let's randomly click on some of the blogs that scroll through the blogger homepage and practice a little voyeurism. Leave a comment if you're game.
4. Now let's proceed straight to creating your own blog. (General help with navigating the 3 steps)
5. Voila everyone has own blog, and feeling they have really achieved something. Now keen to find out heaps more about blogs. Luckily hour is over, as "teacher's" knowledge of blogs just about exhausted.

Comments were along the lines of "I knew nothing about blogs now I have a clue"; "Do you expect me to sleep after this?" and "Gee you packed alot into one hour".

Sometimes you can get away with being only a page ahead of the "students" to offer something of value...

Thanks to commenters to previous post - will follow up your leads with thanks.

*For the benefit of non-Queensland/New South Wales readers, the most anticipated and watched rugby league football match of the season - much bigger than the NRL grand finals.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Graphic Novels Made Easy

Our library service has been buying graphic novels seriously for about a year. But none of the library staff are familiar with graphic novels (not even the Youth Librarian - but she's set herself the task of getting to know them so that she can commune more effectively with our youth customers). Where to begin??? And how do you keep track of all those horrid series?
To the rescue, a very special library supplier that only deals in graphic novels. Apparently a couple of graphic novel nuts calling themselves Sealight Books (including a librarian) who decide to use their passion and set up a business where they can indulge their passion ad infinitum and probably make a living from home. Their site is a good source of graphic novel news and reviews, and they even have a blog.

How it works for us is: An initial order for a foundation collection. I just gave them a basic profile of our expected audience, any censorship provisions (I understand they themselves apply some self-censorship for really unsavoury items in terms of really gross violence or sex) which in our case are minimal, then a standing order to add new materials to our collection monthly, keeping track of where we are up to with all those pesky series. They may not give as big a discount as our regular suppliers, but as far as I'm concerned, that's far outweighed by the value they add through the service they offer. And they seem to know their stuff. In a review of articles in both the Britannica and Wikipedia under "Graphic Novel", (an interesting exercise in itself) , even I , a complete graphic novel neophyte, recognize the names and covers of many of the classic titles (eg by Neil Gaiman for instance) which have been supplied by Sealight. So our collection has creds with any self-respecting graphic novel buff, and we're exposing new readers to the "classics" of the genre, and also leaving it to the Sealight people's excellent judgement to discover what's hot and supply new stuff. And of course now we have our customers making recommendations too which we pass onto Sealight as specific orders.

I'll leave it to another post to analyse the borrowing/reading trends of our graphic novels...

Book Group Blog Experiment

As a possible application of blogging for libraries (as opposed to for librarians), I have started a library-based blog, primarily for members of our 3 book groups, but with the potential to morph into a general library/reader advisory book blog in the future. The blog at the moment is pretty much just a showpiece, as only the book group members have been told about it. As I guess many of the book group members are not particularly interested in blogging, or indeed, the Internet, there's not much traffic yet, however it's worth the time as a pilot just to see how much effort it takes to maintain a blog for the library. I am quite pleased with the look of it so far.

Tomorrow am giving a talk to the local U3A group (University of the Third Age) on "Blogs, Pods and Wikis" and will be giving the group the address of the bookblog as an example. Also conducting public sessions on "How to blog" for Library and Information Week next week (a couple of people have signed up so far!!). Just an intro to Blogger really as that's all I'm familiar with. Puts me in mind of my brother-in-law, a high school teacher, who arrived from the US and almost immediately was given the task of teaching Australian history. He was literally just a chapter ahead of his students. But it was enough. Let's hope I'm at least a page ahead of my students! If not, no worries, they can probably teach me (and each other) something!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Exploding Youth Services

I had an interesting discussion with my colleague, C., the Youth Librarian, today. C. is a new graduate who has made the brave decision to travel several thousand miles to take up this challenging position, even more so in that I am asking her to be the guinea pig in what is probably an almost unique youth library service in Australia if not the world (if you know of something similar please leave a comment as we could really use your experience...). But maybe being fresh is advantageous when you're working in a very innovative environment...

Anyhoo, back to the interesting conversation. (Just a quick re-cap - we have started a dedicated Youth Library in a shopfront on the main street of a small coastal town completely separate from the main library... see this post and others for more details. ) We were discussing the weekly dedicated session that C. has with the 20 or so students from the "alternative" campus of the High School - youth who in the main have been excluded from mainstream schooling due to behaviour problems. A significant number of these students have literacy problems or are actively hostile to reading because it is associated with "education". After a few weeks of just letting the kids "chill" in the very desirably cool space with quiet activities such as playing the Internet, flicking through magazines, sketching or watching videos (playing the game consoles is not allowed in this session as it is felt it would dominate and not leave room for other activities, however the literacy benefits of gaming are the subject of hot debate amongst librarians and educators), the teacher has asked C. to introduce some "literacy" activities. C. is acutely aware of the delicate state of these kids - anything that smacks of teaching, nerdiness or school will immediately break the bond she has been able to build up. So we discussed a few strategies. Are there any such thing as literacy games suitable for teenagers? a two hour search on Google failed to reveal any. Could we invent our own? Could we base something more structured on the magazines, which most of the kids seem to flick through? Could we base a quiz game on the contents of one of the most popular magazines? (Which happens to be a mag called "Explode". It's a barely legal combination of gross "Believe it or not" pictures (and I mean GROSS), girls in bikinis and game reviews which I actually ordered by mistake. But it has been such a bit hit we are thinking of congratulating the publishers on their contribution to teenage literacy!) .

Then I remembered an article I had read several months ago about a similar project in the UK called YouthBoox. The major difference was that the literacy program took place in youth centres but it was pretty revolutionary in that it involved librarians in settings that "at-risk" youth actually use rather than in libraries as such. A major finding of the project was that the combination of librarians and youth workers is a uniquely powerful one - and from the (admittedly limited) 5 month experience of our youth library operations, I can categorically state - guys, we can't do it alone. We are not social workers nor should we pretend we can somehow appropriate their skills and try to run youth programs with real bite without calling on their expertise. Youth work is not for amateurs, and neither is library work. It just makes sense to combine. (This is not to say libraries can't run any programs for youth on our own - but be realistic, we are running them for youth who have a natural tendency to be our customers anyway - still valuable, but different to capturing core non-users.)

In addition, the Youthboox experience pointed to the almost exruciatingly slow progress that one has to make with youth who have disengaged from education and reading. Just having young people glance at print after weeks/months of surly disdain should be counted as a significant triumph. And basically after reflection on the Youthboox experience, C. and I realized that we have been using exactly the right approach - almost sneakily leaving print around and surruptitiously getting kids to talks about what they're reading (even if it is Explode!). C. has had a minor win - a student at risk of exclusion from school who attends study group (another session that is run after school on Tuesdays) who has just read a book. It's hard to express the significance of this in print...

So forget the book talks if you're dealing with "non-traditional library clients". It really has to be softly softly, and only when they are ready. And success has to be measured differently too. It's very challenging, but very rewarding.