Thursday, December 26, 2013

My Response to Average is Over: Threats and Opportunities for School Librarians

After several months of number one on my To Read list, I finally finished Average is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of Great Stagnation by Tyler Cowan. It’s a fantastically thought-provoking and challenging read.  After speeding through many fiction books as part of my Lariat Committee duties, it was nice to ponder some well-written and lucid non-fiction. I found myself pausing and reflecting every few pages and had lots of thoughts worth sharing, about raising my own daughter and also regarding the library profession. Here I will concentrate on those related to the library profession.

The first fact worth mentioning is that Cowan doesn’t even mention libraries or librarians once in the entire book. However, he addresses many issues regarding the future of learning, education, and science that have deep implications for those of us that work in school or academic libraries.
Cowan describes himself as a libertarian and conservative and criticizes institutionalized education on grounds of ineffectiveness and inefficiency. At the same time he questions the value of formal education, he exalts individual learners that have discipline and passion for learning. These learners who capitalize on freely available education opportunities on the Internet and understand how to use powerful computing resources to amplify their power, will be the high earners of the future. 

High achievers will need to function in an environment that his fast evolving, where the speed of data gathering and analysis will outpace the rate at which findings can be published and disseminated. Conventional fields of knowledge will not have experts. Rather, there will be a need for those that understand how to interpret and explain findings of supercomputer data output.
Let’s dissect this from a library point of view from three angles: Resources/Access, Instruction and 

  • According to Cowan, Information and Knowledge will be mostly free. If he is correct, a traditional function of libraries, providing information resources would be not as important, certainly not important enough to provide justification for the existence of library. This means at least one of several things, namely:
  • ·         Libraries will need to add value and context to their electronic resources. This is not usually a function of school libraries. However, local communities desire information of value to the population and this is something a library provide. Subscription resources would not be important. Indeed the entire business model of subscription databases may become obsolete.
  • ·         Cowan’s vision of free and cheap entertainment for the 85 percent of the population suffering from lower incomes seems like an obvious opportunity for libraries. Viewing book as one of many entertainment options, and assuming that writers and publishers continue to hold to the pay per book model (as opposed to the free/donation model musicians are now experimenting with), providing books online and in print will continue to be a vital function for libraries. There is no guarantee that is the case however.
  • ·         Mobile internet access will be available to nearly the entire population via low cost devices and telecommunications. The library won’t be able to justify itself on grounds of equitable access to Internet resources.

So, with little to cling to on access to information issues, libraries will need to evolve and focus on an Instructional role.

  • ·       Cowan believes that some of the best quality education resources will soon be available for free on the Internet. The non-elite colleges and expensive for profit online universities are under threat from this trend toward free education.
  • ·       With the proliferation of free education options, the public will need help figuring out the best options for them. Young people will need plenty of guidance and coaching to take full advantage of online options and librarians can play a vital function in matching students to learning opportunities. This is a function librarians can play today. It’s a simple matter of participating in the free online education revolution, developing an expertise and sharing with others.
  • ·         Skills such as discipline, focus and discerning good information from bad will be even more critical now and in the future and it is obvious we must explicitly teach and promote these skills in novel ways including….
  • ·         Gamification. Cowan is a proponent of learning via games and libraries simply must get into the game by hosting and promoting games that develop vital skills


Since the future of school libraries is presently under threat, and many trends are not in our favor, advocacy is super-critical. Advocacy at State Legislatures is not as important as at the local level and national level.  Advocacy within our schools and Districts is most important, but becoming more involved in Education Reform efforts at the National level is also very important, but that’s a whole other discussion!

Local level advocacy must be connected to our instructional efforts or educational programs. Our advocacy must address the challenges of “Average is Over” by simply being part of the discussion. Even though we are not mentioned in the first Edition of Cowan’s book, librarians can be a part of the national discussion of this book and make it into the 2nd edition or sequel!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Lariat Adult Fiction-YA Recommendations

This year I began a two-year appointment on the Lariat Adult Fiction Committee of the Texas Library Association. It's a great, albeit challenging assignment. While the free books (much needed for my library) are an incentive, it's also intellectually rewarding to read and process so many diverse literary works. While not all my votes for selections, positive or negative were on the winning side, I nevertheless believe that the book list we generated is very good.

Since I serve a Young Adult population, I thought it would be helpful to create a list of Lariat books from this year's list that would also be suitable and interesting for teen readers. The full Lariat Fiction list for the Winter 2013 will soon be published on the TLA Website.

My list of recommendation for teens appears below:

Blood Song by Anthony Ryan
This coming-of-age Fantasy saga has enough action to engage fans of the Hunger Games. Sure to appeal to fans of Tamora Pierce and other YA fantasy writers.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Based on a true story of a condemned woman, Agnes, sentence to death and sent to live her last days on an isolated farm. Young readers will be moved by the plight of Agnes who must pay the ultimate price for a youthful mistake.

Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
This madcap detective caper written by J K Rowling under a male pen name has the same playful prose that made Harry Potter a smashing success. Set in present-day London with host of colorful and dysfunctional celebrity characters, savvy teens are sure to recognize parallels to our own media-saturated reality.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Also a TAYSHAS selection for teen readers, this story of a first-year college student is guaranteed to appeal to teens who read and write fan fiction.  It’s also a story full of warmth and humor with enough wisdom to recommend it to any college-bound high school girl.

Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh
An epic historical romance set in early colonial South Africa. Ambitious female readers will find the adventures of main character Frances compelling. The gritty and morally complicated landscape of the S. African Diamond mines provides a vivid backdrop for the story.

House Girl by Tara Conklin
A dual-period story set in the present day and Antebellum Virginia. It’s a story of slavery and prospects for intergenerational justice. Idealistic teens that are interested in legal careers will find this story especially compelling and those interested in African-American history via stories such as The Help and The Butler will surely enjoy this one.

Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neal Gaiman
Neal Gaiaman’s work is popular with teens and this fantastic fable will not disappoint his fans.

Murder as Fine Art by David Morrell
Reminiscent of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, this book has many shocking and sensational plot elements that will appeal to teens. Thomas De Qunicey, author of Confessions of an Opium Eater appears as a compelling drug-addicted anti-hero and the plot is sufficiently fast-paced and suspenseful to keep even reluctant teen readers turning the pages.

Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
An unreliable narrator working as a typist for the interrogation unit of the New York Police Department of the prohibition era provides a fascinating look at a time period of interest to many teens. The story is one of many plot twists and mystery to keep readers hooked.

Taken by Michael Totten
A slender volume with plenty of plot-twists and suspense, this story will appeal to even reluctant teen-readers. The scenario of the author imagining his own kidnapping and escape also explores historical topics that will interest teens, including the abduction of Patty Hearst and the September 11th attacks.

Me Before You by Jo Jo Moyes

Teen fans of Nicholas Sparks and Lurlene McDaniel and other stories of love laced with tragedy and loss ill enjoy this story of romance between Will, once a passionately athletic young man, but now severely paralyzed and his nurse Louisa.