Reader’s Response Journal: Biblioburro

BiblioburroCitation:

Winter, Jeanette. Biblioburro: A True Story from Colombia. New York: Beach Lane-Simon & Schuster, 2010. Print.

Plot:

Luis had so many books in his house that his wife, Diana, started to get frustrated. Luis had the idea bringing books to children who had none in remote Colombian villages. He got two donkeys named Alfa and Beto, strapped crates for the books to their backs and created the “biblioburro” (the burro library). He rode all over with his burros, sharing a love of reading and his books with people who began to look forward to his visits.

Setting:

Set in rural Colombia, contemporary time period.

Point of View:

3rd person

Theme:

Literacy promotion, serving others, creative problem solving

Literary Quality:

Two or three short, simple sentences are on each page, making this book appropriate for young children. Text and pictures complement each other nicely. The use of speech bubbles and thought bubbles (with words and pictures) also add to the richness of the story. This book was on the 2011 commended list for the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature.

Quality of Illustrations:

The illustrations were done with bright, jungle colors and have the appearance of folk art. Many birds, lizards, butterflies and other insects occupy the pages with Luis, the burros and the children. There are many details for readers to examine, including a tiny second appearance of the bandit who tried to rob him, now reading a book too!

Cultural Authenticity:

This book was based on the true story of Luis Soriano in Colombia who really does travel with his biblioburro. Jeanette Winter heard of Luis from an article in the New York Times and was inspired to share more. Because the story is brief, it is hard to accuse Winter of embellishing the details. The illustrations of the Colombian characters have dark skin and black hair, with simple, colorful clothing, also seemingly respectful to Luis and the people of Colombia he serves.

Audience:

This book is most likely appropriate for preschool- through early elementary-aged children. It will also appeal to librarians and teachers for the love of reading that it promotes.

Personal Reaction:

I really enjoyed this book because of how it recorded for posterity the ingenuity of Luis Soriano and his quest to share books with people. In fact, it made me go out searching for more information on Luis and I did find several pictures, videos and articles about what he is doing in Colombia. This is the kind of book that makes you feel good about humanity. I also love how Winter portrayed Luis as a perpetual teacher and a librarian at heart, notably in the scene where he brings masks for the children to wear as he reads The Three Little Pigs to them before they could choose their books. It made me feel a connection to him as a someone who just wants to bring books alive for kids.

The Beloved Children’s Books of My Past

My grandmother was a retired 7th grade English teacher and she LOVED reading to me when I was small. Also, when I was stuck in Colby, WI, for three weeks every summer with no friends to play with (because of a crap joint-custody deal and because I didn’t go to school/live there), my grandma’s friend at the public library let me check out as many books as I wanted without my own card. I think I read the entire children’s section at that library one summer. I used to walk down with my wagon and fill it up in the morning, read all day, and then walk back in the afternoon a half-hour before close and fill it up again. I was a reader from early on (and a library rat–but the good kind)!

I have memories of a few books being read to me over and over: Ferdinand the Bull, Harold and the Purple Crayon and some book about some preschoolers that have a parade with their tricycles (the female protagonist was named Martha… man, I loved that book. If anyone can solve the mystery for me, I would be forever grateful. However, through working at the CCBC and seeing the volumes and volumes of children’s books that come in and out of their, I think the odds are pretty slight, especially since it was probably not an award-winner).

At school, I loved Where the Wild Things Are and Stone Soup (Does anyone remember that Weekly Reader Book Club version that had pigs as the characters?–that one!), but probably because my teachers loved them and did fun activities with us. I also loved Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad, No Good Day. I think it was also read aloud to me, but I don’t know by whom. I still love it, especially now. Today, I adore reading it out loud to my ESL students because it’s so adorable and most of them have never read it before.

As a newly independent reader, I loved the Ramona books (all of them), but my favorite was Ramona and her Father, probably because my 2nd grade teacher read it with us. I also loved a little paperback book called A Kitten for Rosie that that same teacher gave me as a Christmas gift (I actually still have it). I was also a fan of the Garfield books back then too.

I gobbled up the A Wrinkle in Time books and for a long time, I said that Madeleine L’Engle was my favorite author, though I barely remember the storylines of any of them. I also read a ton of Roald Dahl before all the movie craze (and I don’t think I watched the movie version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory until I was an adult). My fave was Matilda. I think I got into both of these authors because we read James and the Giant Peach and excerpts of A Wrinkle in Time in reading class.

The common thread here for me was that adults who were important to me connected me with pretty much every book that was important to me. It’s powerful to think of how much adults matter in cultivating a love of books in our children, no matter the relationship.

As for multicultural elements, I don’t think there was any taste of that in my childhood faves. Maybe Ferdinand. From what I already know about multicultural lit, I don’t think this is surprising at all. Children of color are still very underrepresented in children’s books.

P.S. My current picture book faves are Cookie the Walker, Zander’s Panda Party, Niño Wrestles the World, Building Our House and Listen to My Trumpet (an Elephant and Piggy story that I can’t read without busting out laughing). Read them, you’ll love them! Share them with someone young, they will love them too!

Virtual Reference Interview Fail

I made a chat reference inquiry with a library worker from Florida’s Ask a Librarian statewide service. This was my question:

I’m looking for information on Richard III – was he healthy when he died, besides his humpback? It’s for a school project. Thanks!

I admit, I was a bit of a mole, since I already knew the answer I was looking for and part of the intent was to see if the reference staff followed current events/newspapers.

Overall, the experience was a bit of a let-down, especially given the very positive experience with chat reference I had with an academic librarian a month prior when I was searching for a reference cited in a book I was reading and needed digital inter-library loan to get it.

The Florida librarian did not conduct a reference interview beyond the fields in the form I had to fill out in order to log on to the chat. (My name and ZIP code were required. My email was optional. I had to choose from a drop down menu that I was a graduate student. This was also where I entered my question.) Once the librarian logged on, she proceeded to search for resources and send them to me. Her only questions were closed questions, such as confirming that I could open a link or that I got her emailed article.

I was actually surprised with how rushed the reference chat felt. There were several times during the interaction where the librarian tried to pawn me off on searching for books in my local library’s catalog because she wasn’t finding suitable results for me with her resources. Had this been a serious query, I would have left feeling like I was on my own and wondering why I had consulted a librarian in the first place, because she gave up on the search. I tried to give her feedback on the content of the articles, but she never did provide anything that actually answered the question. As she started to end the interaction, I was very tempted to give her a hint that maybe there would be forensic analysis somewhere, in light of the news of the discovery (since I had already found such an answer in a newspaper article). However, she ended the interaction quickly, without checking if she had met my needs or waiting for my final “thank you.”

I suspect that, toward the end, she was in a hurry to finish up because the chat service was closing in 30 minutes, even though she hadn’t completely helped me. It is also possible that she figured out that my ZIP was not a Florida ZIP code, and, therefore, she had little obligation to help me because the service is for Florida residents. Since I also had to list on the form that I was a graduate student, she may have been less willing to try as hard for me because graduate students are usually more competent at searching on their own.

If I had been the librarian in this situation, I think I would have tried to learn more about the assignment and asked me what I had already found, instead of throwing resources at me, hoping I’d go away. I think that her attempts at the search were not successful because she didn’t actually conduct any sort of reference interview. It seemed like she was more interested in the mechanics of doing the search and completing the task than actually meeting my needs. I was also very put off that she didn’t confirm with me that I was satisfied with the interaction and did not even give me a chance to say thank you—to me, a librarian should always focus on providing this kind of customer service.

E-books and E-wolves

E-book sales are rising: Amazon, the largest bookseller in the U.S. has been reporting since 2011 that it sells more e-books than print books. In fact, book readership is also rising, partially because of the spread of e-books. The Pew Research Center published a report in April 2012 that the average e-book reader reads more books a year than the average non-e-book reader.  In the U.K., The Guardian reported in August 2012 that Kindle users there were buying four times as many books as they were before becoming a Kindle-owner. In a more recent Pew study published October 2012, younger readers are actually reading even more than adults. E-books haven’t completely replaced print books in the lives of readers, but usage is growing and we may see them dominate someday soon, given the sale trends in the book market. Regardless, people are starting to agree that we are seeing a true “renaissance of reading.” With change and opportunity, however, come the wolves; in this case, the “digital” wolves.

Librarians, both public and school, have been wise to respond to the popularity of e-reading. Many libraries are experimenting with lending out e-readers pre-loaded with digital books. It is becoming more common for public libraries to subscribe to services like OverDrive, so that patrons can check out e-books from the library for free on their personal e-readers. Similarly, some schools are using Follett Shelf to provide e-book access to students and teachers.

Unfortunately, there is often a sticker-shock attached to the transition to e-books. These are definitely not cheap services—and the Digital Rights Management (DRM) policies of these e-book providers leave consumers at the mercy of the publishers’ whims. On the surface, it appears DRM policies are used to combat piracy so that e-book files will not be set loose to be copied and distributed freely on the Internet. However, DRM is much more powerful than that; it ties e-books to specific distributers and devices. That is, if you buy an Amazon e-book, their intention is that you can only read it on an Amazon device, likewise with Barnes and Noble Nook e-books, etc.

If a library decides to go with a service like OverDrive, they pay for an annual subscription to a finite number of copies. If they stop paying for the subscription, they lose the e-books. A base subscription might cost a school library $4000 a year, with $2000 of that available for selecting the actual e-books. An elementary school librarian that I know in the Madison Metropolitan School District told me that this would represent about 75% of his entire budget for library materials—for most school librarians, this would be a non-option. With Follett, a library purchases the e-books indefinitely for a higher cost than a print book, but with limitations on which books are available or how a book can be accessed. Price inflation and price setting among these publishers and suppliers has meant that the e-book purchasing power for a library is probably shrinking.

Is this simple supply-and-demand, where the publishers and suppliers know that consumers are willing to pay exorbitant prices because of the uniqueness or convenience of the product? Or are they simply taking advantage because no one has stepped in to stop them? Anti-trust laws were put into place at the turn of the century so as to protect consumers from unfair price controls and business practices. While there have been some minor challenges to content providers like Amazon and Apple, it seems that, as far as the law is concerned, digital content is still in its infancy and consumers are not the ones in control. The proverbial wolves are in the henhouse.

When you purchase a DRM e-book, the book is never truly yours. Unlike most purchases, once the money changes hands, the product is not totally in the consumer’s possession; publishers or distributors have control over where and if you can access it. Strings are always attached. Case in point: Media commentator Martin Bekkelund wrote a blog post in October 2012 about an Amazon customer, Linn Jordet Nygaard, whose Kindle was remotely wiped and her entire Kindle library deleted with no proper explanation from Amazon, other than that they reserve this right and that she is hereby black-listed. (Update: after a lot of bad press and general uproar from the web community, Linn’s Kindle library was mysteriously reactivated.) While this has not been my experience with Amazon Customer Service and my Kindle account—I have always found them to be exemplary, fair and honest—it is an important reminder not to take your rights as a consumer for granted. In this case, it’s probably best to think of e-books not as owned, but rented.

What are libraries to do if they want to be fiscally responsible while responding to their patrons’ demands? It seems pretty risky to go all-in and make an investment that could be negated at the whim of a content provider. Furthermore, vendors that provide viable options with a decent amount of content seem to have priced themselves at a level that is out-of-reach for many libraries.

A grassroots movement called ReadersFirst.org is encouraging libraries to band together and advocate for their e-book users. However, it’s high time that we as consumers and taxpayers also band together for our libraries to demand that e-book publishers and suppliers stop taking advantage of our public money and provide a fair service at a fair price. Perhaps the government needs to invoke anti-trust laws against the monopolistic, monopsonistic and oligopolistic behaviors that prey on our library and school budgets.

A collection for a growing Latino population

I received an assignment to develop a collection for a public library with a growing Latino population. The parameters:

Because there had only been a tiny number of Spanish-speaking patrons in your library to this point you have almost nothing in your collection appropriate for your new patrons. Likewise, because there had been almost no Hispanic patrons in your library, there was almost nothing in your collection representing Hispanic ethnicities or authored from an Hispanic perspective.

The new patrons are about half children and young adults, almost all of whom are in school. They are almost all bilingual, though Spanish is their first language. Working-age adults constitute most of the remainder. Some are bilingual, others speak only a little English. The rest are older adults, almost all of whom speak very little English. The adults have had some formal schooling, though only a tiny portion have a full secondary education or anything beyond. Literacy rates (in Spanish) among adults is quite high.

You have been authorized by your supervisor to use $500 of this year’s collection development budget and $250 in ongoing funds (i.e., yearly expenses extending indefinitely) to expand your collection to help meet the needs of your new patrons.

Here is my attempt to address the situation:

  1. a spreadsheet with my choices of materials
  2. pie and bar graphs showing the proportions and costs of the materials

And here is my explanation/rationale…

Strategy

In order to develop a collection of library materials that would meet the needs of a growing Latino community, I divided my search into several themes: materials that maintain a connection to the Latin American world, materials that support early-childhood reading activities, multicultural material for bilingual youth and materials that address specific adult educational needs. I wanted to be sure to provide services to the Latino community that they may not be able to afford on their own or that could be used for programming to draw these families in. I specifically thought about having the appropriate resources to begin a bilingual or Spanish story-hour. I also wanted to secure cable television access to channels like Univision and Telemundo, so that families could watch soccer matches, telenovelas (soap operas) and Latin American movies in a common, social place like the library.

Because this is a collection for a public library in a community that is still adjusting to the population shift, I wanted the materials I got in English to be useful for both Latino patrons and white patrons. I choose some books that could give Anglo patrons a better understanding of the Latino experience and culture and promote tolerance.

Resources

To decide on a focus for what types of resources to look for, I asked for input from my Latino high school students. I also discussed the topic with the librarian at my school who is always working to improve our Spanish-language and multicultural collection.

As a starting point for children’s literature, I used lists of awards such as the “Pura Belpré Award” and the “Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature.” I also accessed resources from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, like their Choices 2012 publication and their “50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know” and “30 Multicultural Books Every Teen Should Know” booklists. I used Follett’s Titlewave website to get information about reading and interest levels on some of the children’s books. Customer reviews and popularity rankings on Amazon.com sometimes were helpful as a starting point to find what Spanish-speakers are reading. This wasn’t a perfect solution though, just because the “sample size” of customers publishing reviews on Spanish language books tends to be smaller than on English books. Fortunately, I do speak Spanish pretty well; otherwise, some of the descriptions would have been a barrier for me trying to figure out what to select.

When I was looking for magazines, I looked for circulation information and “top 10 lists” of Latino magazines. Ratings by HispanicMagazineMonitor published on the Media Economics Group blog were helpful. AllYouCanRead.com pointed me to a few ideas for magazines as well. There weren’t a lot of choices for men’s magazines unfortunately (unless they involved scarcely-clothed women), so most of the magazine subscriptions were for women.

In order to get more information about Latino cable television packages, I called Charter Communications and talked to a representative in the Charter Business department. He helped me draw up the pricing for a cable package at the library that includes 25 channels, ranging from Disney to ESPN Deportes to CNN en Español.

Other Considerations and Values

For the younger children, I decided that it would be best to get children’s books mostly written in Spanish, so that parents could read with them. Young readers would have also access to beginning-level texts in their native language, thus promoting bilingual literacy. I focused on tween and young adult books written in English with Latino multicultural themes. In my experience, Latino teenagers prefer to read young adult literature in English, unless their English proficiency is weak—then they either won’t read or they prefer reading in Spanish. Not surprisingly, they identify more with characters from their own national background (as opposed to exploring the experiences of Latinos from other countries.) They like stories about immigrant experiences or Latino issues (e.g. racism, gangs, poverty, etc.) set in the United States.

For the adults, I mostly searched for Spanish language materials, but I tried to focus on lighter topics, like pop culture and family. I looked for popular magazine subscriptions that would appeal to both men and women. Even though the adults do read well in Spanish, I thought the money was better spent on enhancing their entertainment and family life. Factory shifts are often long and grueling and many of the Latino parents that I know work opposite shifts so that someone can be home for the children at all times. If they are trying to balance time between work and family, I would assume that they are less likely to want to sit down with a novel than to grab a magazine or check out the soccer game on Telemundo in the library lounge. Also, considering the education levels of many of the adults, I chose a GED prep book in Spanish that could be very useful for those who never completed high school.

I chose to use Amazon.com as my primary source for purchasing and pricing, mostly because they currently have the largest Spanish language collection of books, movies, music and magazines all in one spot and free shipping if you purchase in volume, which the library would do. I chose library binding and hardcover books whenever possible, in order to prolong the life of the collection. The prices listed in the spreadsheet are publisher list-price, so someone replicating my plan would not necessarily have to purchase through Amazon.com.

Because this is a budding collection in a library that essentially had not Spanish-language resources before, I thought it was most important to build a foundation of print materials, before seeking movies or music. Also, because children’s books are quick to read, it seemed important to have a ready supply. I had to sacrifice a few reference materials for the adults, such as picture dictionaries and ESL materials, in favor of a well-developed bilingual children’s collection. This children’s collection would be used by both the children and the parents, since the parents could read to their children as a family activity.

Unanswered Questions

It would have been useful for me to know more about the nationalities of these Latinos. Because I didn’t know if they are originally be from Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Columbia, Honduras, Cuba, Guatemala, etc., it was hard to target books that they would identify with.

I also assumed that most of the Latinos world be Christian and Catholic, but without knowing for sure, it may have been presumptuous of me to subscribe to the Magnificat religious publication or buy the Bible storybook.

I wasn’t sure what kind of technology resources this library had at its disposal either. I calculated the price of the Latino View cable package as an add-on and assumed that the library already maintained basic monthly cable access. I also assumed that the library had some kind of station that digital magazine issues could be accessed. Without knowing for sure though, these resources may have been wasted.