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2013 April



In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

New Adult

On 29, Apr 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

I’ve been following the recent chatter over the newish fiction designation of New Adult and thought as someone in the targeted demographic I would like to weigh in. I know Liz Burns and a few other librarians are going to be having a roundtable discussion about it at the ALA annual conference and I would love to be a part of that, but it’s just not practical or financially feasible for me (and my family) to go. I’ve read all of the articles Liz wrote on her blog and one from YALSA too. You can check them out here and here. Liz has links to a lot of other good content about New Adult, not all of which I have had a chance to read because I am busy being a New Adult.

It has taken me quite some time to really pin down what it is I like to read for pleasure. I read a fair amount of Young Adult fiction to keep up on trends and I enjoy a lot of it, but really I enjoy it because I can see myself recommending it to a patron or student, not because I find it to be what I would want with me on a desert island. Of course, I have stumbled across a few titles that I absolutely love, but they are the outliers.

I am, however, a huge fan of nonfiction. It’s much slower going (especially now that I have a baby) and it can be dry. But I am fascinated by history and science and enjoy reading about them. I also feel driven toward nonfiction because I have had a really difficult time getting into Adult fiction. I briefly went through science fiction, fantasy, and mystery phases, but ultimately I wasn’t interested in the formulaic plots and many of the taudry details of mass market paperbacks. There are of course shining examples in all these genres and I read many of those and loved them. They are like the YA outliers I love. Ultimately though, those genres just weren’t for me.

So, what did that leave me with? Realistic fiction and magical realism. (And historical fiction, which aside from the historical setting, I tend to lump in with realistic fiction.) The problem, to me [GROSS GENERALIZATION ALERT!] was that the vast majority of it that I encountered seemed to be about midlife crises and people either cheating on their spouses or getting divorces, or both. Also, depressed women. None of those things was, or is, me. And in pleasure reading you want to identify with the characters, right? I just don’t. I’m not into torrid love affairs. Or divorces. Or depression. Or longing. Or feeling like I just realized 20 years of my life was gone in a blink.

Add to this that, despite the fact that I am married with a baby, a career, a house and mortgage, pets, and the whole shebang, I don’t feel like an adult. I still identify more with the teens I served than with my parents. Even though, in reality I’m probably more like my parents and those teens probably felt that way too.

New Adult, to me, seems to fill a gap. It’s fiction for those of us who aren’t quite at that point in our life where we feel like grown-ups and can relate to middle life. It also seems to me that it may contain a bit of nostalgia for those of us about to exit our 20s. I remember and am still trying to make sense of my last decade. A lot happened. Reading about others in the throes of it or reflecting back on it helps me put my own experiences in perspective. It also make me fondly remember that weird transition time when I was not quite prepared to be on my own, but essentially was. The YALSA article on New Adult mentioned the television show Girls. I’m not that young or free anymore, but I still find their situations completely relatable and oftentimes funny. It also makes me glad I’m not in that weird transition period anymore.

Sure, New Adult has it’s flaws. For starters it’s really just an arbitrary label publishing companies are giving their books. I don’t really think it’s necessary for there to be a New Adult section in the book store. But a label on Amazon that I could click on or marketing campaign, why not? I’m not the target demographic of YA, but I still look for that label to use as a gauge of what I might enjoy reading. There’s a lot of stuff published every year and I need to start somewhere.

New Adult is also pretty narrow. But it’s new! I would bet YA was also narrow when publishers first started labeling books that way. I happen to be part of the demographic that it’s marketed towards now (white, female, middle class, educated). But again, I bet YA was also that way to begin with. New Adult could be difficult because there is a vast range of experiences that can happen in the decade of your 20s, but there are still universal experiences within it. And there is a vast range of experiences in the teen years, but that doesn’t stop us from thinking that a YA label can’t represent a variety of experiences or that YA literature can’t tackle the universal experiences.

There also seems to be an emphasis on sex in these books, at least according to several definitions of New Adult. I don’t think  New Adult needs to or should go down the romance, chick-lit path. That’s why there is a romance and chick-lit label out there. But I find myself rolling my eyes when I read younger YA and middle grade novels where the characters are blushing about a quick kiss. I don’t think sex should dominate the plot or that it needs to be in there, but it can be there so long as it’s natural to the situations and characters and doesn’t devolve into erotica or romance.

A couple of comments I read on Liz B’s discussion of the definition of New Adult implied that adults shamefully peruse the teen section looking for reading material. If that is the reason New Adult is being coined and marketed, then that’s potentially a problem. But it’s also not a problem. So what if it gives adults “permission” to read novels written for a younger set? And by that token won’t there suddenly be a stigma of people in their 40s reading material marketed to 20-somethings? Personally, I don’t really care if I’m reading books marketed for teens or adults so long as I am enjoying them. Because, if I’m enjoying it, it was meant for me; age, class, gender, etc. be damned. But, I know I may be in a minority in that feeling.

However, I think that the “permission” sentiment implies that YA is intended and appropriate for 20-somethings and I think that isn’t correct. As a 20-something, there is YA that I like, but it’s not written for someone in my time of life. Neither are all those midlife-crisis books. So while YA is often relatable and enjoyable because I lived through that time in my life and remember it, YA does not accurately reflect where I am now and who I am now.

I think, too, as librarians we worry a bit too much about categorization and how it might limit what people read. We love ALL the books! And we want everyone else to, too. Even if that isn’t possible. Yes, New Adult might limit some people by making them think it’s what they are allowed to read, but I think those people would be few and far between. I also think, while we should be wary of the effect of labels, the bigger issue is getting people reading. I don’t care if they read graphic novels, romance novels, science fiction novels or new adult novels. As a librarian I want them reading!

Ultimately I believe New Adult could be a useful tag or classification. Just because you aren’t the target demographic doens’t mean you can’t read it. Also it doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself. I’m a new adult, but I’m also newly married, a new mom, a librarian, a world traveler…the list goes on. When looking for another good book to pick up I use a lot information based on my experience as a reader and part of that can include labels like New Adult.

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In Reading Round Up

By Elizabeth Wroten

Reading Round Up: Rights Edition

On 26, Apr 2013 | In Reading Round Up | By Elizabeth Wroten

Over the past couple months I’ve come across several blog posts that deal with the rights of the patron and of learners. I thought aggregated they made for interesting reading.

  • This is a post from Designing Better Libraries about the rights of a patron as pertains to quality of service and experience. They seem obvious, but aren’t. I would add to it this post from Agnostic, Maybe in which Andy talks about there truly not being a stupid question. I think this is important to remember, especially in school libraries, as discouraging students and patrons from asking questions, or simply instilling a fear of asking questions, can be incredibly detrimental to the purpose or mission of the library (or classroom).
  • This isn’t exactly a list of rights, but it is something students should expect to get from their education/library. From Blue Skunk Blog, a list of six skills, broken down into what they entail, that all students should have by the time they graduate EIGHTH grade. Doug Johnson broke them down into separate posts so here are links to them:


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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

On 24, Apr 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

This is Not a TestFrom GoodReads:

It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually wantto live. But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside. When everything is gone, what doyou hold on to?

I am really not much of a zombie person, but I am not above enjoying a good creepy zombie read from time to time. This Is Not a Test was well worth the read. A few of the characters were pretty irritating, but I never felt like it was unrealistic (aside from the whole zombie aspect, of course). I think maybe I liked this particular zombie story was because it wasn’t actually about zombies. It was really about the characters and the baggage they brought with them to the situation. Especially Sloane. And because she has survived some pretty horrific trauma and a recent collapse of life-as-she-knew-it long before the zombie apocalypse, it made the perspective on the whole catastrophe and the pettiness of some of the other characters an interesting one.

I will say the writing style took me some time to get into, but after I got past it, I was pretty hooked. The telling sign for me was that scenes have replayed in my head since putting it down several weeks ago.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Call a Spade, a Spade: Cyberbullying As Misnomer

On 22, Apr 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

Almost a year ago now I went with my husband to Common Sense Media to help them create a toolkit for implementing a 1:1 computer program for schools. One of the other educators said something that was completely unrelated, but stuck with me. He said that he wished people would stop using the term “cyberbullying”. I didn’t think much of it at the time, except that you could wish that for any number of terms that become buzzwords. Then the other day my husband came home and told me about a bullying issue that the school where he works was having. This is, of course, just one incident in a long list of bullying incidents that go on at schools across the nation, but it rankled me because the school was attaching the term “cyberbullying” to it and were wanting my husband, the technology director, to respond. Suddenly Ed’s comment came screaming back to me and I couldn’t help invoking his name and wish as my husband and I discussed the issue.

Now, sometimes I like terms like this because they help articulate what it is you are thinking or doing. Things like “transliteracy” or “digital literacy”. Sure, they may not actually be new ideas or new concepts. It is possible and probable that these things have been around for ages, we’re just suddenly naming them and talking about them more. But when it comes time to explain what you  do or want to do, especially with someone who is not a librarian, having a succinct and clear way of labeling something can be really helpful. On the other hand, I don’t like labels because they get over used or become buzzwords. And when that happens I think it can detract from their importance and make people take the concept less seriously or treat it like a fad. For a good articulation of why using terms as buzzwords is a bad idea see here.

But “cyberbullying” is a totally different problem. It’s a misnomer. I am a huge proponent of calling spades, spades. Cyberbullying is bullying. By adding “cyber” onto bullying it lulls people into thinking it’s a problem with the technology and not the people involved with it. Social media and the Internet DO NOT make anyone bully someone else. Let me repeat, social media is NOT the problem. It does make bullying easier and maybe even more tempting because discovery is so much more difficult. But Facebook is not twisting people’s arms and forcing them to post mean or inappropriate comments.

Parents are already scared of technology. They don’t need the added fear that the computer (or Internet or Facebook or Twitter) is also making their child into a monster. Bullying, on- and offline, is a parenting issue. Which is not to say that the parent is making their child into a monster. Kids, even adults, are prone to teasing and picking on others. Some of this stuff is going to happen.

I think by calling it cyberbullying, you also relinquish some measure of control. Parents (and educators, too!) are already frightened  and feel powerless when it comes to their children and technology. By blaming social media you just affirm their impotence. By calling it cyberbullying you also relinquish some degree of culpability.  Not only do they feel like they have no control, parents and educators give themselves a pass on dealing with the issue head on. They just block the website and hope it takes awhile before their kids find another one. Or worse, naively assume that they won’t find another site. And that’s why we need to stop calling it anything but bullying, plain and simple.

In terms of the incident that happened the other day at school, the school handled it very well. They spoke to the kids about making good choices both on and offline. They also informed the parents that it was an ongoing, team effort between the parents and school to raise respectable people.

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In Reading Round Up

By Elizabeth Wroten

Reading Round Up: Gadgets

On 19, Apr 2013 | In Reading Round Up | By Elizabeth Wroten

I recently came across a few things that I thought would be pretty cool integrations of technology. The first was this projector app for your smartphone. It projects an image into a storybook that actually interacts with whatever is on the page. Watch the video, it’s short and very neat. Just one more thing you could keep up your sleeve to enliven storytime from time to time.

The second isn’t really a gadget per se, but it sounds interesting. From Turnitin, a rubric that helps students evaluate online resources. “Turnitin worked closely with educators to design The Source Educational Evaluation Rubric (SEER), which is built on five criteria: Authority, Educational Value, Intent, Originality, and Quality.” I haven’t had a chance to see how it works, but I am all for anything that will help students evaluate their sources. They are terrible at doing that.

Finally, via Walking Paper, the Escondido Library is offering Pop Up Podcast which is a space that: “…provide[s] a fun, creative environment for teens to engage with audio recording technology and explore their own self-expression and presentation skills.” I thought this was a very clever idea. Although they have a more elaborate set up I think that a lot of libraries could do something similar with some very simple equipment.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

On 17, Apr 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

From GoodReads:

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

This one took my by surprise. I really, really enjoyed it. So much that I didn’t really want to start another book after it, actually. And I’m hoping there will be a sequel.

Normally I am not a huge fantasy reader. At least not high fantasy and I would probably shy away from anything with dragons. I can’t really say why. Maybe because the world building gets a bit complex or intricate? Maybe because I start thinking of people who dress up to play Dungeons and Dragons? But Seraphina was so effortless to read and the characters are all so engaging. It’s just a well written story with well-fleshed-out characters and a world that is easy to slip into. Plus the mystery and intrigue is very captivating. I appreciated that the ending didn’t come abruptly and didn’t work out exactly how I would have expected. It definitely left me wanting more.

As a side note, this book made me think a bit of the Patricia Wrede series Dealing With Dragons which I read in middle school and absolutely loved. This was a bit darker and quite a bit more complex, but satisfied me in the same kind of way.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Something about forests and trees

On 15, Apr 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

In my reading lately I’ve come across a few blog posts (and articles) about The Future of Libraries. I know I have eluded, subtly and not so subtly, to my opinion about that future, mostly in regards to education and ebooks, but I’ve tried to stay out of the fracas for the most part. However because of some of these articles, I feel compeled to synthesize my thinking on this issue and my reactions to these posts.

The first post was from David Lankes. You can read it here, and really should, but the gist of it was that we need to ignore minutia and have bigger conversations about librarianship (i.e. fixing a broken education system or using books to make a difference). Because right now in librarianship and libraries, it’s those big questions that are going to “save” us. (Update: I am only now becoming aware that there was a controversy over this post. When I read it, I did not read that controversy into it and took away something completely different that was related to other things I was thinking about in libraries.)

The second was a guest post from the author Cory Doctrow, you can read it here, which was not strictly about the future of libraries. It was really about makerspaces in libraries, which not only serve as great community building spaces, but also as places to encourage learning and creativity (things that are sadly lacking in our schools!). The beginning of his piece really nicely puts how I have felt about libraries for years now, but didn’t say everything I wanted to say.

The final blog post was from Jenica Rogers over at Attempting Elegance, a librarian I much admire despite the fact that I have zero interest in being either a library director or a college librarian. She gave a keynote at a conference titled Moving Beyond Book Museums. I HIGHLY recommend you read this post. It’s brilliant. And so true. Just the title alone sums up a good portion of how I feel about the Future of Libraries. She tackles some pieces that I agree with, but don’t have much experience with.

I actually think to call “The Future of Libraries” an issue is incorrect. There was never a question in my mind that libraries would continue to be both relevant and vibrant. So where does this argument come from and why are we having it?

People who tend to argue that libraries will be obsolete think of them as “book depositories”, as Doctrow called them, or “book museums”, as Rogers named them. I would hope that as librarians we see our institutions as more than that, but I think when we argue about the Future of Libraries we fall into their rhetoric and believe that we are only about books. We need to look at what the underlying mission of libraries is to get out of that habit. Maybe I’m wrong or overly idealistic, but I always thought it was to be a bastion of learning and education (in all their forms) and to be a center of the community. Sure we’ve specialized into academic, public, school, special libraries, and many others. But don’t they all essentially have the same mission when you strip away all the superficial differences?

Personally I think libraries have never simply been about books, so we need to stop discussing something that isn’t true to begin with. Libraries are about education and community. Education can be a lot of things depending on what type of library you are in, but I am referring to teaching and learning in a broad sense. Teaching and learning through reading, through other people (the community), through books and periodicals, through the Internet and visual media, through listening and through experience. Teaching and learning through more traditional pathways such as professors and school teachers and classes. Community can also vary depending on the institution. Academic libraries strive to provide a community for their students and faculty through the scholarship and materials they provide.Public libraries with their 3-D printers encourage people to interact with other creators in their community or bring book lovers together in book clubs. School libraries provide professional development classes to the teachers and spark discussion. They also frequently house after school activities and meetings- a literal hub of community activity. Education and community.

Lankes, in his blog post, noted that librarianship at its most fundamental level is not about how we integrate Common Core or how we suggest a book or catalog. It’s about the questions we ask and the thinking we do. There will always be the day-to-day programming and tasks to deal with. But broad questions guide us, make us think, make us question everything we do and why we do it. They make us change and adapt and continue to meet the needs of our patrons and even predict those needs before they even know they have them. They create our philosophy and ensure we are sustaining our mission.

I say being a librarian of any kind isn’t about teaching reading or simply putting a book (or article) in a patron’s hand or even about giving them access to the Internet. It’s a lot broader because it’s about education and community and we need to be asking big questions that make sure librarians are ensuring these principles are being upheld. What is the purpose of having a librarian? What does the library and what do librarians offer that the classroom teacher or professor or home environment doesn’t? I think the answers lie in the fact that libraries are a lot of things-community hubs, print collections, Internet access, staffed by people who are a mile wide and a mile deep- not one thing: a book museum.

If you can answer the big questions, I think you can begin to break the philosophical stuff into more manageable and doable parts. If libraries are about education, then I think libraries are about providing access to knowledge and encouraging its creation.  We need to ask ourselves: how can I help my patrons, be they professors, students, or blue collar workers, be successful in a 21st century environment? Education is never going to go out of style and so how you go about answering that question is going to propel you and librarianship forward into a secure future.

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