Miriam Tuohy

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Homepage: https://extracurly.wordpress.com

More thoughts about teens and reading

What a very interesting discussion this is turning out to be! If you haven’t seen the earlier bits yet, you’ll need to read here and here. It’s a complex thing, this ‘getting teens to read’ business.

As I read the article on the Sapling site, there were several things that just didn’t sit quite right with me, from my experiences as a school librarian, and as a parent of two teens. Several times the voice in my head was saying “OK, but…

My words here are fuelled by a genuine desire to see more teens reading more and enjoying it more, including more NZ writing. I also love the chance to talk about this stuff with other people, and although blog posts and comments in themselves maybe aren’t that productive, it’s a place to start a conversation. Here we go 🙂

“…peer recommendation is by far the most powerful driver when teenagers are choosing their next book, so it makes sense to provide a platform for reviews by young readers, for young readers.”

OK, but is the right platform for that teen-reader-to-teen-reader review and recommendation, a website where the input from teens is mostly limited to quite formal, 500+ word reviews? Contrast that with something Insta-friendly or Snapchat compatible such as #booksnaps, as Steph points out. Or the type of YA reader hub that’s exemplified by Inside a Dog or #LoveOZYA? A huge part of what we are all trying to do is to get young people reading, sharing, and recommending books with each other. So shouldn’t we be doing more to try and meet them where they are? To respect what they want, and how they do things?

“…how is it possible that, in many secondary schools, a student can study English for five years without meeting a single New Zealand book on the curriculum?”

OK, yes, good point. And Bridget’s comment about text responses that do well in assessments is spot on. Neither teachers nor students want to risk getting fewer credits, or missing out on endorsements, by choosing something new and untested in that way. Especially when every NCEA credit in English (reading or writing) is hard-earned. I also think that there is a lack of local OER material to support teachers who might want to introduce contemporary/local texts but baulk at how much work that means for them. Especially if they’re not reading much (or any!) contemporary YA of any origin and just don’t know what’s available and awesome right now. How can we address that? Some teachers do share resources they’ve created (via the Secondary English list on TKI for instance) but I reckon there’s still a huge gap. Particularly for contemporary and local texts. Definitely something where the YA lit community – library people, publishers, and authors, and the Hooked On Books people and the Sapling etc – might be able to help. I’m talking about this sort of thing for a start.

“…there is little awareness of New Zealand children’s and Young Adult fiction by undergraduates…”

This is a “yes, and…” for me. What about pre-service teachers? How are they introduced to C&YA lit so that they begin their careers with an understanding and a love of stories and reading, and knowledge of what’s out there, and what’s local, and… and… and…? Again, how do we respond to that need? What about ongoing professional development for teachers, and for children’s and youth librarians in public libraries and schools? What about programmes for developing parents as readers — for themselves, and with their children? There are pockets of awesomeness to be found, but it needs to be a bigger movement.

“None of them had read any of Mahy’s extraordinary young adult novels.”

Yes, but surely that’s because the three books mentioned are 30+ old?! I guess they’re the right age for people who might be youngish teachers now, for example, so maybe they might have been expected to have read them as teenagers. For me though, their publication fell into the gap where I was too old to read them as a young adult myself, too young to have kids who might read them at the time, and too busy having a different career to know about it from a professional perspective. Publishers, please do reprint them with great new covers though, if they still stand on their own merits, that’d be awesome (and that is not sarcasm!)

“… teens choose their own books without an adult steering them to old favourites.”

OMG yes. Take it from someone who once tried to introduce her tween daughter to Anne of Green Gables. Big mistake. But isn’t that the way it should be, actually? We want young readers to choose books independently, right? I agree that reviews have a part to play in that. But: see everything above. Readers Advisory is so NOT about steering other people towards your old favourites. It’s about using all sorts of strategies – maybe reviews, but so much more than that too – to find the best match for each reader, right now. Today I read a blog post from YA writer Annie Barrows. Go ahead and read it here. I swear she could have been writing about my own kids. Or any number of their friends. And teenagers you no doubt know as well. What do they actually want to read? Pretty sure it (mostly) isn’t novels written 30 years ago that older people think are classics (but see above about reprints! 🙂

“Everyone staying up to read the new YA books being released a chapter each night.”

Yes! But this is already, literally, what loads of teens actually are doing, only it’s in places like Wattpad’s teen fiction or Archive of our own (AO3) where very few parents and teachers — us older folks 🙂 — venture to tread. We could celebrate it already, and support it if we wanted to. Instead, it’s banned in silent reading classes throughout the country, or blocked by school networks. But just because it goes on ‘under the radar’ as it were, that doesn’t mean it’s any less beneficial or important to kids than the reading we think they should be doing. Perhaps it’s actually a place best left to them, where they can read whatever the hell they want without having to justify or explain it to anyone.

“…special funding for New Zealand books in every classroom…”

Mmm. Well as a school library person my immediate reaction to this is, “how about more funding for NZ books in every school library, where everyone in the school can access them? How about targeted non-ops grant funding for school library staff so that schools can have a C&YA lit reader/enthusiast/specialist to help teachers, students, parents and whānau get to know and love stories from everywhere, including New Zealand stories, written here, about here, with us at the heart of them. Just for the love of it.

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Library Reports as Infographics

Librarian Design Share is a really useful blog where library peeps from all over (including here, now!) share their ideas and designs and even files for all manner of library materials – posters, pamphlets, event flyers etc. If you don’t follow their blog, jump over there and do it now.

Librarian Design Share

For those of us in school and academic libraries, the end of the semester and school year is a time for reflection and…reporting (womp womp). Rather than send out the same old charts, graphs, and narrative reports, why not turn a chore into an exercise in graphic design? It’s a great opportunity to learn a new graphic design tool like Canva, Publisher, or Illustrator, and may even give you a chance to think about what numbers and data mean the most to you and your library.

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I see books… everywhere

You know you’re a librarian when you see book covers everywhere. Case in point:

Exhibit A: Dark Chocolate & Raspberry Buttercream Cake with Ganache Drizzlechocrasp

Exhibit B: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (on Goodreads.com)

RedQueen

And now I want them both #LibrarianProblems

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Favourite reads of 2015 (so far!)

These are the books that have made it to my 5-star shelf on Goodreads this year.

Frances Hardinge – I am late discovering her, the first book of hers I read is the recently published “The Lie Tree“. Now I need to seek them ALL out! The two I’ve read (Lie Tree and Cuckoo Song) are a mix of historical/fantasy. Perfect for avid Year 9-10 readers who don’t mind things a bit weird. The main characters are girls deeply affected by what’s fair and right, they behave realistically (setting aside the fantasy elements of the stories!) so they’re not always 100% likeable. They are both stories that feature death and grief, so they have some dark and (slightly) scary moments. Both also have an interesting slant on matters of faith/belief and religion. Absolutely beautiful writing, in my opinion.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel – Winner of this year’s Arthur C Clarke award. I am recommending this to seniors particularly who are into Dystopian fiction. Nice alternative end-of-days sort of story for those (perhaps like me!?) who aren’t huge fans of The Road. It’s a short book, that weaves together the stories of several characters, after a global flu-like pandemic wipes out most of the population. Interestingly, there was an article in the NYT recently discussing how/whether the author’s gender makes a difference to elements of story/writing in this genre.

All the light we cannot see by Anthony Doerr – Pulitzer winner. I had been avoiding this for a while, thinking it might be one of those ‘worthy’ sort of titles – this is the problem with judging a book by it’s cover! Possibly my favourite read of the year. Mainly young (teen) characters, short chapters, it feels sort of compact in it’s settings and time-frame (for the most part, at least). Much more accessible text than what I was expecting. Am recommending it to everyone, will appeal to anyone who loved The Book Thief.

The Truth Commission by Susan Juby – hipster/arty/fandom types will love it. The kids in this story are all WAY cool, you sort of love and hate them at the same time for that. The family relationships in this story are so whacked out, you just want to get them all into therapy. Sad and funny sometimes too. Interesting themes about reality/perception, self image vs what other people see/think.

Vivian vs the apocalypse by Katie Coyle – another YA dystopian series, really looking forward to reading the next book in the series. Set during/after the (supposed) Rapture. It’s got betrayals, an awesome road trip, truth/religion stuff going on. Really good. Probably best suited to Y11 upwards.

The cure for dreaming by Cat Winters – published late 2014. Historical/fantasy again. Horrible father tries to hypnotize the bolshiness out of his headstrong daughter, but things go weird and instead she has visions of how things/people really are as opposed to how they purport to be. Bonus beautiful photographs from the time (pics of suffragists, ads etc).

What books have you loved this year?

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Thoughts about National Library’s Curriculum Service transformation

Late in 2014, the National Library announced a transformation of their Services to Schools Curriculum Service. At first, reaction following the announcement came mainly from school librarians – those whose Principal had passed along the news from National Library, or those subscribers to the NZ School Libraries listserv. In the days and weeks following the announcement, there has been much opposition voiced from all over – the SLANZA website has a good roundup of links for those who want to get up to speed.

I’m posting today with the letter I wrote to Peter Dunne on 13 February, to which I have not yet received a reply (other than an automated “we’ll get back to you” email).

Kia ora Mr Dunne

I am writing to address some of the points you made in your beehive.govt.nz release of 5 February 2015 regarding changes to the National Library’s Curriculum Service.

Far from being 3 tragi-comic voices in the wilderness as you imply, Ms Ardern and Messrs Hipkins and Robertson are speaking out as a result of concerns expressed to them by parents, teachers and librarians on behalf of the many students who stand to lose from these changes.

You write that the transformation will see more schools receiving an increased number of books from the National Library. At this stage, I can’t see that as anything more than conjecture. For many secondary schools, receiving an annual loan of 200 books comprising “high-interest” fiction and some non-fiction which will be aimed primarily at Year 9 & 10 students, represents a complete change to the way their teachers and librarians have used Curriculum Services to date i.e. to request, as and when needed, subject-specific books to support the research needs of senior students in particular, as they undertake specific topics of study throughout the year. Consequently, I believe many schools will decide not to opt in to the scheme. The result of the changes will be, in my opinion, that while some schools will receive an increased number of books, at the same time many schools will receive a smaller number of books from the National Library. It is naive and overly optimistic of the National Library to think that every school will embrace these changes. I will be interested to see the actual statistics on uptake and use of the transformed service when National Library next report on these.

I am not surprised to hear that the Ministry of Education supports the changes to National Library’s Curriculum Service. I hope you – and they – are now aware that many professional organisations whose members are stakeholders in the services National Library provides to schools (particularly the School Library Association, but also the PPTA, NZEI, and the NZ Principal’s Federation) have spoken out against the changes on behalf of their members, and the students they in turn represent.

So National Library will support topic requests by providing information delivered digitally rather than in print, as it is “up-to-date and in formats the current generation of New Zealand students need”. Unfortunately, only meeting these specific requests with digital content does not in fact match the needs of many of our most vulnerable students, who do not have the wherewithal to access digital content at home and at school, as they might with print materials. I am relieved to hear that the National Library will operate targeted programmes to assist these students, presumably where their school profile suggests extra support is needed. When and how will more detailed information be made available on these targeted programmes so that those affected can begin as soon as possible to manage the change process within their school?

Further to your comments about sharing materials between schools and teachers, can you advise how much of the digital content that National Library plans to provide (through curated web links presumably) is in fact freely available via the internet and therefore accessible by teachers, librarians and students already, and how much of it will be subscription (licensed) material purchased by the National Library for the purpose of further electronic distribution to schools? This raises the question of how National Library and schools will manage the DRM implications of sharing licensed or subscription material, and furthermore what delivery mechanisms will need to be put in place for making this content readily accessible by students? How quickly will Curriculum Services be able to provide this curated digital information? Because a good deal of our students’ learning happens through what is often a quite fluid process of research and inquiry, much of the work that teachers and school librarians do to help students locate and use digital resources happens “on the spot” at the moment a student finds they have a particular information need. Curriculum Service requests are of no use to them in that case.

You have written about the “wide consultation” undertaken as part of National Library’s 2012 review of Services to Schools. Teachers and librarians who were involved in the focus group meetings listed in the review document were explicit in their recommendation that National Library continue to provide topic-specific print resources, particularly to support rural and low decile schools, and other schools whose library budget does not otherwise allow their school to provide either print or eResources sufficient to meet the information needs of their teachers and students. I was shocked and baffled to find that the interview subjects of that 2012 review did not include a single currently practicing teacher or school librarian. Reaction from school librarians and teachers since the Services to Schools Transformation announcement has been overwhelmingly critical of the decision to cease supplying specific print materials on request from National Library’s large and very valuable collection, to meet the specific needs of learners. I am certain that if those in attendance at the 2012 focus group meetings had any inkling of the likelihood of losing this valuable service, they would have vociferously expressed their disapproval at that time, as they are now.

You imply in your release that opponents of these changes must be opponents of progress. Of course this is not such a simple black-and-white issue, and Labour are not at all attempting to keep Curriculum Services out of the 21st Century as you facetiously suggest. Rather, they recognise, as do teachers, parents and school library staff, that resourcing the curriculum should mean providing information in a range of formats, and at the time it is needed. There has never been any suggestion that National Library are expected “to purchase in advance hard copy books on all possible subjects”. National Library have in fact been doing an excellent job of purchasing books to meet the specific curriculum needs of teachers and their students up until now, and providing an excellent service of distributing those books to schools. This is not to say that some improvement to distribution processes and promotion of Curriculum Service’s print resources isn’t required – as it surely will be for the digital content they plan to provide, too – especially if, as it appears, one of their aims is to increase the numbers of teachers who access the collection.

Can you confirm whether the suggested savings of $.392m p.a. associated with the transformation include consideration of any new or increased costs of providing the ‘enhanced’ service e.g. staffing allocations for skilled reference librarians who will be locating and curating digital collections on a wide range of topics, suitable for a wide range of curriculum levels, accessible in a wide range of formats? Will these costs, and subscription and/or licencing costs of digital content simply replace the cost of print materials?

I remain unconvinced that the transformation of Curriculum Services will enhance what National Library provides schools, and I look forward to hearing your reply to the questions I have raised.

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Get it while it’s hot, people!

#YABooksWithALetterMissing

I came across this on Twitter today, via author Jonathan Maberry (Rot & Ruin is the book I’m currently foisting upon any students who come in asking for World War Z ahead of the movie – it is SO GOOD!)

As is the way with these Twitter memes, they don’t hang around long so if you want to be part of the fun, be in now!

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This is *so* me – is it you, too?

You may already be a fan of the blog/Facebook page “Librarian Problems”, the brainchild of library director William Ottens. Hilarious. Case in point: I see teens making out in the stacks.

Like it? Well if you’re a school librarian like me, then you might love this one just as much:

Hey, Book Teacher!

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