Saturday, January 15, 2011

High-tech retro

New - that's the theme requested by Challenging the Bookworm Blog, the host of this month's Carnival of Children's Literature.  So, I started thinking, what's new?

A new year, a new decade - everything is new. Color e-readers, computing in the cloud, smarter phones, 4G networks - the list is endless; and I am a fan of “new” and “high-tech.” In fact, this post was written “in the cloud” that most of my documents call home. However, as I ponder the new year, I have a nagging feeling that for librarians, it is the old that may matter most. Despite the wondrous new advances in technology, librarians (particularly children’s librarians) must remember that many people don’t live in the shiny new world - they live in the old one, and perhaps our greatest challenge is to ensure that we use the latest technology to do our ages-old job.

As a public librarian, I see firsthand, the large number of people who do not have home access to the Internet, printing capabilities, or telephone service. We bloggers and other denizens of the Internet are so familiar with technology that we may take it for granted that others have the same knowledge base. Imagine my surprise when my son received a new touch screen, video music player with the capability to receive RSS feeds. “Oh,” I thought, “how excited he’ll be to find that he can receive ESPN updates!” Oh, how surprised I was to learn that he had no idea what an RSS feed is or why he might want to use one! In some cases, the ubiquitous social networking sites have made the internet so easy, that people no longer understand how it works. And this is good that they don’t have to, but it’s also bad, because it’s limiting. Voice over Internet (VOI) protocol, free cloud computing applications, RSS feeds - all of these have the potential to aid librarians in assisting customers, particularly students, teachers, and those with limited resources; but only if customers know how to use them.

It’s also wonderful that new tablets and color e-readers make picture books accessible in digital format. The small size and portability of new e-readers makes them uniquely personal, but also uniquely solitary. I love my e-reader, but I still want to see children with loved ones, cozying up with beautiful, full-sized picture books. Yes, there may be a cool phone app for a beloved children’s book, but we have to make the physical book available as well - especially for the child who will never have an e-reader.

Smart phones are also a boon, however, a growing portion of society relies solely on wireless phone service for Internet access - for reasons of convenience, cost, or availability. But is the same information available to mobile users? Will they be shut out from some content, or forced to pay more for service because of the deregulated nature of wireless access? I just turned on the new “mobile template” for my blog, making it easier to read on a smart phone, but I wonder if it matters. Do most people access RSS feeds? Do they know how to access them from a phone? Do content providers know how to make them accessible? Again, another opportunity for us to ensure that we use high-tech capabilities to fulfill an older, low-tech obligation - leveling the playing field, offering equal access to information.

So to sum up my rather lengthy post, I love the new technology, but I think, especially in this era of great economic uncertainty, that our primary job is still old - old in the classic sense - to ensure that information is available to people, that the people with the least means are not left behind, that children are encouraged to read, share, and explore great books (and not so great books if they choose), and that we, as a group, do our best to make use of the new to do the classic job of old.

So, in with the old and in with the new, let’s go high-tech retro!

Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on


  1. I couldn't agree with you more about this. When I go to the NYPL, whether a branch or a research library, I see so many people, kids as well as adults, working there because the don't have access to technology at home. Sometimes the librarians do such a wonderful job of helping them navigate the libraries resources, sometimes not so good. But for the most part, it is libraries and librarians are great.
    I used to teach 4th grade in the Bronx and was amazed at how many kids had to latest game boxes, but didn't own or know how to use a computer.
    And there is a state of the art library in a public school in Brooklyn that couldn't open for the kids to use because they didn't have the funds to hire a librarian. Amazing!
    I am done with my rant, but thank you for your post. A good reminder for us all.

  2. Interesting. There's such huge disparity based on income on this issue. I remember last year there was quite a stir when one of the ritzier private schools in the country went with an entirely bookless library.