At Least They’re Reading Something – Pt. 2

I’ve written before about some of these ideas when I was thinking about multitasking. Multitasking and Internet skimming seem to be two facets of the same problem. In some ways they both combine to reduce our ability to sustain focused concentration over time. I don’t mean to say that they’re all bad. Multitasking and skimming both have their place, and – like it or not – they’re both part of 21st century worklife. I worry though, that that we are rapidly becoming a society of skimmers, and the youngest readers are the ones who are most at risk

So what is the solution to this problem? Libraries have always sponsored reading programs, and that includes some built-in know-how. Combine that with some of the new information literacy programs, and I think a lot of people are on the right track. Teaching people to evaluate information is increasingly important. I think that libraries have a great opportunity to develop solid information literacy skills with the upcoming generation. Adding an Internet component to this is a logical extension. I’m trying to envision a good elementary or jr. high school reading program that combines Internet reading (not skimming) with thoughtful consideration of the content as well as careful questioning of the content’s authority and accuracy. What would that look like? Maybe someone has already built the ideal program and I just haven’t seen it yet.

The New York Times article I referenced in the previous post mentioned one thing that I found to be very encouraging. Many of the teens who are heavy Internet users are also writing a lot. They’re posting on message boards. They’re contributing to fan fiction sites. And if they’re writing on any level, hopefully they’re thinking about their content and how to present it. There is good writing and there is bad writing, but all writing can benefit from practice.

I would even venture to suggest that many of today’s teens are doing more writing than I did at that age. I wrote the papers that were required in classes, but that’s just about all I wrote. The nature of the Internet and particularly Web 2.0 applications drives participation. It demands putting something in – not just taking something out. I do have my concerns about teens’ Internet reading/skimming habits, but more writing is definitely a good thing!

Well duh!

A recent CNET headline proclaimed, “For teens, the future is mobile.” DUH! A quick look around confirms that for teens, the NOW is mobile. Anyone who watches and talks to cell phone-wielding teens knows that they love their cell phones. Many prefer texting over actually talking to someone. The story also reports a prediction that mobile phones will surpass the popularity of desktop computers for U.S. teens. Again, no big surprise. In fact, we may already be there.

The story did bring out one point that is well worth noting. Bill Carter of the marketing agency, Fuse, predicts, ” . . . mobile phone providers likely won’t succeed as the entertainment leaders for the phone, despite their efforts to sell ringtones, games, and music. Other companies like Apple, Google, and Yahoo will be more effective at ‘side-loading’ the cell phone with services.” I think this is an important trend to follow, both for consumers and libraries.

(Olsen, Stefanie. “For teens, the future is mobile.” CNET News. July 15, 2008. Available at http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-9991979-93.html.)

As I’ve noted elsewhere, my current phone is a Palm Treo. I’ve customized my phone with a number of applications that meet my needs. In contrast, one of my biggest gripes with the original iPhone was that Apple intentionally blocked users from truly making the device their own with specialized applications. Happily Apple has remedied this unfortunate situation with the introduction of the app store.

But what does this trend hold in store for libraries? What custom applications might library users need? When I started thinking about this, the first thing that came to mind was not an application at all. I started thinking about the library website. Just how well does your website play with mobile phones? If you’re not sure, just try browsing your website and searching your library catalog on your cell phone. If you think your website and catalog pass the test, start trying some of your databases. It really gets ugly there! Libraries need websites and catalogs that load quickly and work well with mobile devices. Handheld users don’t exactly have the fastest connection after all! But how about those databases on a mobile device? Ugly, ugly, ugly! So . . . perhaps a nice, clean, elegant widget for searching various library databases.

Beyond that, what else might a library user want to do with a cell phone? Bibliographic citation manager perhaps? How about a way to deliver due dates for checked-out items directly to the cell phone calendar? Stream audio and video content from the library’s media collection? Easily store e-books on the phone for reading later? Or let’s just get basic. How about texting with a reference librarian? Yes, I know that some libraries already do this, but maybe not enough of us are. If that is the preferred communication medium for our users, maybe we should explore it a little more.

Ultra-cool Library Programs

In LITA‘s Top Tech Trends program a couple of weeks ago, Meredith Farkas talked about the educational and technical roles that libraries can play in their communities. As an example, she cited the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. I took a look at the list of programs available in their Technology and Computers section, and they have a fascinating array of offerings. Here is a partial list of classes they offer:

Photo Share with Flickr
Wii Bowling for Active Older Adults
Video Game Design
Digital Photo Albums
Digital Media and Animation Workshop Series
3D Choreographer
Photoshop Summer Camp
Music Composition with Doug Snyder
Digital Scrapbooking
Machinima Camp
Open Source: GIMP
Scanning at the Library
Animation with Corefx
Digital Photography 101.

How cool is that? Digital photography, computer animation, songwriting . . . even playing games with the Wii! If this won’t get people into the library, what will? You really have to hand it to these folks. These programs cover a lot of territory and undoubtedly represent significant investments in hardware, software, physical lab space, and personnel.

This dovetails in an interesting way with comments John Blyberg made during the LITA panel discussion. John raised the issue of the library as content creator, not just content provider. In his comments he was specifically talking about the highly produced, professional presentation of most media our patrons encounter and how libraries’ presentation may or may not compete with that. However, these PLCMC offerings put a new spin on this idea by helping users create their content. Major coolness factor here.