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Delectable Delights for Teen Read Week

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By Megan P. Fink

"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few are to be chewed and digested" Francis Bacon once said. The "monsterific" theme of 2008's Teen Read Week celebration as "Books with Bite," agrees with Mr. Bacon's suggestions as to how to devour books. Likewise, Teen Read Week offers libraries the opportunity to give teens a taste of reading delights that will have them chomping at the bit for the next book. Whether "Books with Bite" elicits images of the vampire we all love to read about Edward Cullen of the Twilight series, or graphic novels of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Teen read Week is the library marketing extravaganza to strut their stuff for teenagers.

Libraries have the challenge to market their reading abodes as exciting teen gathering places and highlighting their diverse collections. With all the digital delights that compete for a teen's free time, why not combine them for a make-your-own soundtrack to your favorite party.  Book clubs and teen advisory groups can be an asset in promoting Teen Read Week celebrations at your library. Utilize the frequent readers and recruit new ones with a publicity campaign that gives testimony about reading for pleasure. Making a wall of students' book recommendations is like a real-life MySpace or Facebook page with their name and their favorite books to recommend.

Librarians cannot accept the doom and gloom reading forecast that predicts the end of reading as a cultural past time. However, we cannot ignore studies such as the "To Read or Not to Read" report by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2007 that discovered 15-24 year olds spend 7-10 minutes a day on voluntary reading versus the two hours a day they spend watching television ( These statistics are a contrast to the legions of fans across the country that attended the final Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows book parties last summer and the fanatical following of the Twilight series this year and its upcoming book to movie fandom. Such a publishing phenomenon will bring new readers into the fold and Teen Read Week can highlight read-alikes to those new converts to the reading past time.

As the song by Rascal Flatts goes, "Life's like a novel, with the end ripped out...", and while life goes on in ways we never expect, books give teens and their readers the consistent and secure feeling of escaping into another persona or adventure. During Teen Read Week, libraries showcase the endless opportunities for teens to read for the fun of it. There are a multitude of books to sink your teeth into for a delectable reading experience. Lure new readers to your library with contests, prizes and opportunities to encounter other memorable characters.    


National Friends of Libraries Week

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Friends of Libraries groups now have their very own national week of celebration! FOLUSA is coordinating the third annual National Friends of Libraries Week October 19 - 25, 2008. The celebration offers a two-fold opportunity to celebrate Friends. Use the time to creatively promote your group in the community, to raise awareness, and to promote membership. This is also an excellent opportunity for your library and Board of Trustees to recognize the Friends for their help and support of the library.

"We Treasure Our Friends" was the theme of the Hunterdon County (NJ) Library's celebration of their Friends. Staff created a treasure chest with gold medallions illustrating the various ways the Friends support the library.  



Teens' Top Ten

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The votes are in... and Stephenie Meyer again rises to the top of the Teens' Top Ten! More than 8,000 teens voiced their choice for their favorite books in the annual Teens' Top ten poll during Teen Read Week, Oct. 12 - 18, with "Eclipse," the third book in Meyer's vampire series easily taking  first place. This is Meyer's second time atop the Teens' Top Ten list, as "new Moon" took the top slot last year.

Teens' Top Ten is a "Teen choice" list, where teens nominate and choose their favorite books of the previous year! Nominators are members of teen books groups in fifteen school and public libraries around the country. Nominations are posted in April during Nation Library Week, and teens across the country vote on their favorite titles each year during Teen Read Week. Readers ages twelve to eighteen can vote right here, online, anytime that week.

The 2008 Teens' Top Ten is:

  1. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
  3. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
  4. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
  5. Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports by James Patterson
  6. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
  7. The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray
  8. Extras by Scott Westerfeld
  9. Before I Die by Jenny Downham
  10. Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson  

Congratulations to the winners and thanks to everyone who voted!




New Orleans Public Library Nearly Three Years After Hurricane Katrina

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By Ronald Gauthier, branch manager for the Gwinnett County Library System in Atlanta, Georgia.

Originally published in the May/June 2008 BCALA Newsletter, a publication of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association

The severity of Hurricane Katrina’s impact reverberated throughout the city of New Orleans. Submerged property and toppled trees and automobiles are a testament to its ferocity. Very few buildings or homes were spared its devastation and one institution, the once vibrant New Orleans Public Library System (NOPL), underwent the most horrid destruction. The twelve-branch system experienced damage to all of its buildings, some of them, particularly the Martin Luther King Branch in the Lower Ninth Ward and the Smith Regional Branch in the Lakefront area, sustained overwhelming torrents that completely destroyed the entrails of the buildings. Others suffered water and mold damage and a few were salvageable, but nothing really emerged physically intact.

As the world watched beleaguered New Orleanians slowly trekking back into the city weeks after Hurricane Katrina, television cameras caught peripheral shots of library buildings besotted by putrid water, debris-laden and disconsolate. It would be painstaking weeks, months, and years before many of them reopened. The Main Branch at 219 Loyola Street was the first to reopen to a critically decreased staff as massive city layoffs decimated its workforce. Rica Trigs, Coordinator of Administration, and Valencia Hawkins, Head of the African American Resource Center, both at NOPL, were two of the earliest to return to work and face the monumental task of restructuring and redefining in a system in disarray, while confronting rebuilding challenges in their own lives at the same time. A representative from the BCALA Newsletter interviewed them for this story.

Valencia Hawkins was employed at NOPL for nearly twenty years when she became part of a massive layoff of city employees. This was especially painful for a professional who had begun her career at NOPL in 1985 at the Latter Branch Library, before moving up to branch manager of the Napoleon and Alvar Branch, respectively. She later attended graduate school and returned to create the library’s African American Resource Center (AARC). She was recalled in January of 2006 and began supervising a four-person staff that serviced three divisions on the second floor of the Main Library in downtown New Orleans. She is now one of only two African American librarians employed at NOPL, and again heads the African American Resource Center.

Gauthier: What was it like to return after a layoff to a system that had buildings in ruins and a severely reduced staff size?

Hawkins: We barely had staff to cover the divisions and worked from a centralized location. At this time the library was serving as a FEMA disaster recovery center and we were bombarded with faxing requests and computer needs. By the summer, I became heavily involved with working with the Martin Luther King School staff to have that facility reopened in the Lower Ninth Ward. Our own King Branch Library is housed in that facility. Additionally, I served as a liaison between the Y Learning Center and the library when it found a home in the Main Library in order to provide its adult literacy program to New Orleans residents needing the service. This proved to be fruitful for the library in more ways than one. I recognized the assistance being given by Americorps volunteers to the Learning Center and sought the assistance of the Americorps volunteers for other areas of the library, including my own. I also worked with First Book to plan the national celebration of its millionth donation to the Gulf State Library Project. I was responsible for placing First Book donations in the library system.

Gauthier: When did you see an increase in manpower at NOPL? When did the other African American library professionals return?

Hawkins: NOPL was able to have some staff return under Louisiana’s Job 1 program. This did not return staff to their same salaries but did provide them with a job during the crisis. Presently, the only other African American librarian in the system besides me is Lavon Phillips. She came back to NOPL in March of 2006 under the Job 1 Program of Louisiana. In May of 2006, she was rehired by NOPL as a staff person in our Automated Service Division. It was not until August of 2006 that the divisions in the Main Library were able to be decentralized as more staff was hired back. Library Associate JoAnn Allen returned to the AARC at this time. Currently, we have one African American working in administration, Rica Trigs, and she is an unclassified worker serving as the liaison between library administration, city government, and the Library Board. She was recently named Chief Operating Officer of NOPL. Geraldine Harris continued to serve as the Assistant City Librarian in the months following Katrina. She became the Interim Director of the library in July of 2006 when City Librarian Bill Johnson resigned. Geraldine Harris resigned in November of 2006.

Gauthier: What are some of the programs you were able to revitalize and offer to the community after your return?

Hawkins: We established an after-school program for middle school students. We were able to coordinate our efforts with several local health agencies and were able to focus our 2007 Black history programming on health issues related to African Americans. We provided a number of summer programs and our annual Tom Dent Literary Festival in November of 2007. It was through this program that we were able to have you return to the library to promote your latest work alongside veteran actor and Sesame Street Dad, Roscoe Orman, who also had ties to this city through his work in the Free Southern Theatre during the 1960s. Throughout this time we also ordered over 500 titles for the King Branch Library, which reopened in October of 2007. More than ten years earlier, retired librarian Henrietta Kinney and I had the responsibility of doing collection development for the branch when it originally opened in January of 2006.

Gauthier: Can you tell us about the current state of other NOPL branches? How are some of the other library systems doing in the city?

Hawkins: We currently have twelve library branches open. Two are inside school buildings, namely the Martin Luther King Branch and the Einstein Branch. The three regional libraries of the New Orleans Public Library are either closed or functioning from trailers or bookmobiles. Throughout the city, there is a shortage of librarians within the school system, whether the school is a charter school, public or private institution. The AARC has worked with library staff members at Joseph Craig and Albert Wicker elementary schools as well as Sarah T Reed High School. On the university level, Southern University at New Orleans has not returned to its library building, yet has managed to provide library service on its temporary campus and maintain its Center for African and African American Studies. The libraries of Dillard and Xavier Universities are operating fully. Delgado Community College had substantial damage to its library and had to store an overflow of their materials in a building on another part of their campus. The Amistad Research Center, like the New Orleans Public Library, is also short-staffed and in need of trained archivists or librarians.

Rica Trigs was appointed Chief Operating Officer of NOPL in 2008. She has been with NOPL for ten years, starting as Executive Assistant to the Board/Board Liaison, Coordinator of Administration, and then her current position. She was also interviewed about her experiences returning to NOPL after the Katrina disaster.

Gauthier: What was it like when you returned to NOPL after Hurricane Katrina?

Trigs: It was a very different experience, much like that of the city itself. Just as I missed family and friends in my personal life, I missed co-workers in my professional life. We returned with 19 staff members of whom we called “NOPL Recovery”. Each day presented new challenges and we responded with creative – some may say survival techniques. Our administrative team would work a portion of the day in their assigned capacity and the other half would be spent in public service. In the midst of all the challenges, I did see opportunity for NOPL to recover to its full potential.

Gauthier: How did your role evolve as the redevelopment of the library unfolded?

Trigs: The role of the NOPL has changed tremendously in the economy of the city. As community-based plans and developers’ projects took shape, they all included libraries. The citizens of New Orleans and outside interests all realized the true value of libraries in the redevelopment of our city. Every plan had a library. In our new role as economic drivers, we had leverage and opportunity. The Library Board was committed to moving away from a piecemeal system in order to establish a system that was purposed and operationally functional. This vision initiated the master planning process. Through this process, I became the primary contact between governmental entities and community groups. This allowed me to use a skill set in governmental relations and public administration from my education and previous work experience. I was truly loving my new responsibilities to strategically place NOPL in a position to become a model urban library system and an example of institutional recovery.

Gauthier: Can you briefly tell us about the library master plan? How was it conceived?

Trigs: The master plan actually has two key components: service models for the various areas of the city and the library’s new identity. The plan completely spells out the configuration of library sizes and services as well as the phasing of these facilities over 25 years. It was deliberate to be economic drivers in some areas. The identity is equally as important. It clearly articulates who NOPL is. We are different from any other library system in the country because New Orleans is different from any other city in the world. We celebrate this uniqueness in the plan. We will have branches dedicated to music, food, and architecture and as always we have a little lagniappe – a health and wellness branch. Each branch will celebrate New Orleans culture and literature with a core New Orleans collection at every NOPL location. Our libraries will be a place where locals and tourist can go to learn and celebrate our culture. The process evolved out of a need to be better. There were surveys (staff and public), creative brainstorming, board retreats, information sessions with planners and supervisors, and public input sessions citywide. We used nationally recognized library planners and local architects to craft our vision.

Gauthier: In your current role of Chief Operating Officer for NOPL, what do you hope to accomplish?

Trigs: My explanation to this new appointment is that I have been charged with the task of insuring that this master plan lives and takes shape. This is not a shelf document. We have already planned the work; now I have to work the plan. In a position that is new to library systems because NOPL has been faced with a situation that is new to libraries, I am asked how does this affect the library director/head librarian position. The head librarian is responsible for the day to day operations of the library system and to ensure the library’s collection and services are meeting the public need. My role is very much outside of the walls of the library. NOPL’s Rebuild is a $650,000,000 endeavor with community, political, and economic interest. A week in the life of NOPL’s CEO is meetings with elected officials, the office of recovery management, two development groups, a partner organization, the public relations team, editorial board meetings, etc. There are two very separate directives. Overall, I want every one in New Orleans to love their libraries and not from a distance. I hope to establish inviting, comfortable, and esthetically appealing spaces with programs and services that touch every segment of our community and beyond.

Gauthier: Can you offer any advice to libraries starting a rebuilding project after a disaster?

Trigs: My advice is not to be reactive but proactive. There will be no shortage of ideas and short term solutions. Do not take the easy path of least resistance, but do what is best for the long-term growth and development of your community. Do not be afraid to be different or think “outside of the box”. Get outside experts advice but own your destiny.

Ronald Gauthier, author of Prey for Me: A New Orleans Mystery and Hard Time on the Bayou, was Branch Manager for the New Orleans Public Library system. He is now a Branch Manager for the Gwinnett County Library System in Atlanta Georgia.


Wisconsin student selected as grand-prize winner of Step Up to the Plate @ your library

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Last weekend, 11-year-old Oscar Youngquist of Racine, Wis. received a personalized tour of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. It was a once in a lifetime moment, and it was all made possible by a trip to the Racine Public Library.

On October 3, Step Up to the Plate spokesperson and Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, drew Youngquist’s name as the grand-prize winner.

The Youngquists at the Baseball Hall of Fame

Youngquist was one of thousands of baseball fans across the country to participate in the third season of Step Up to the Plate @ your library. Developed by the American Library Association (ALA) and the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Step Up to the Plate teamed up two American pastimes - baseball and libraries - to encourage fans of all ages to use the print and electronic resources at their library to answer a series of trivia questions.

As the grand-prize winner, Youngquist, who is a Chicago Cubs fan, traveled with his father, Grant, to Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame’s World Series Gala on Saturday, Oct. 25. He also received a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum and archives, which houses such iconic baseball artifacts such as Bath Ruth’s bat.

Grant had begun to use the Racine Public Library for home schooling resources for Oscar and his younger brother. When they saw a display for Step Up to the Plate, it really hit home.

“We make tremendous use of the library,” said Grant. “All Oscar talks about is baseball. He couldn’t be more excited about going to the Hall of Fame.”

This year’s national program celebrated the 100th anniversary of the song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Contestants who answered four questions from Step Up to the Plate @ your library playbooks correctly were entered into the national drawing. Questions were divided into four “playbooks” corresponding to different age levels. Oscar’s questions included:

  • In what year was the first baseball song written? (1858, “The Baseball Polka”)
  • For what major league team was Wrigley Field (then called Weeghman Park) built? (The Chicago Whales of the Federal League)
  • In what year was the first major league baseball game shown on television? (1939)
  • Who was the fist woman elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame? (Effa Manley, former owner of the Negro Leagues’ Newark Eagles)

“Step Up to the Plate was a great way for us to bring the community together,” said Becky Spika, program coordinator at the Racine Public Library. “It was wonderful seeing grandparents, parents and children working together to locate the answers."

Step Up to the Plate @ your library is part of the Campaign for America’s Libraries, ALA’s public awareness campaign about the role of libraries and librarians.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is a not-for-profit educational institution dedicated to fostering an appreciation of the historical development of the game and its impact on our culture by collecting, preserving, exhibiting and interpreting its collections for a global audience, as well as honoring those who have made outstanding contributions to our National Pastime.

For more information, including a list of first-place runners up go to


Rethinking the E-Rate

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The pros and cons of why libraries should be tapping the largest available pot of federal dollars
By Carrie Lowe, ALA Office for Information Technology Policy Program on Networks director. From American Libraries, October 2008

What is the largest source of potential federal funding for public libraries? Your first thought may naturally be the Library Services and Technology Act , a program that provided around $220 million for libraries in FY2008. But the correct answer is the Education-Rate Program, commonly known as the “e-rate,” with at least $2.25 billion per year—one of the four programs that comprise the federal Universal Services Fund (USF) that was established in the Communications Act of 1934 to equalize the cost of telephone services to underserved areas of the country. The 1996 Telecommunications Act took it a step further by adding support for advanced telecommunications and information services, extending the USF’s priorities to include K–12 schools and public libraries. Thus, the birth of the e-rate.

If you have ever examined your telephone bill and noticed a charge called universal service fee, you may already have a sense of how the e-rate works. Phone companies pay into the USF, creating a pool of money administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), a not-for-profit entity established and overseen by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The money collected is then used to provide discounts based on need to schools and libraries. These discounts are for specific goods and services broken into two priorities—priority one includes telecommunications and internet access and priority two encompasses internal connections within a library building and basic maintenance on those connections.

It’s been five years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against the American Library Association on filtering internet access on public library terminals. The fight over the Children’s Internet Protection Act, which tied e-rate eligibility and other federal money for some services to a filtering mandate, had an negative impact on e-rate participation.

Four years ago, e-rate disbursements ground to a halt as the FCC was suddenly faced with a mandate forcing the program to comply with the Anti-Deficiency Act (ADA), which requires that the money related to any funding commitment, such as those made after applications are reviewed, must be in the agency’s account at the time the commitment is made rather than at the point the funds are received and invoiced. Since e-rate money is received from service providers on a rolling basis, this law immediately placed a moratorium on disbursement of funds. The quick action of supporters compelled Congress to create an 11th-hour temporary ADA exemption for the e-rate and for all of the universal service support mechanisms.

Is the e-rate worth it?
While there might be a great deal of money available to e-rate applicants, there are also a lot of challenges. Libraries have historically faced a number of challenges when dealing with the program. One issue is the complicated application process. Filing for reimbursements of monthly telecommunications and internet services can involve over a dozen steps in the application and disbursement processes—all tied to a specific timeline that may not be consistent with local purchasing and decision-making timelines. Also, the necessary e-rate recordkeeping can overwhelm even the most meticulous librarian. Many of the forms associated with the application process are long and complicated, and once the application is filed other parts of the process start, which may demand more time and attention.

The discount that e-rate applicants receive is based on poverty levels determined by eligibility for the National School Lunch Program as well as the library’s urban or rural location. The percentage of students at a given school who qualify to receive a free or reduced lunch establishes a school’s poverty level and determines the e-rate discount received. However, libraries must use an average of the school lunch numbers from across the local school district. This means that a library branch near a high-poverty school—for example, one that receives an 80% discount—but is in the same district as a fairly wealthy school, perhaps at a 20% discount—ends up with a much lower discount rate. In comments submitted to the FCC, ALA has advocated to change this discount methodology.

Shattering myths
Beliefs that the e-rate program is unstable, overly complicated, returns little for the amount of time that must be invested, and that to participate one must filter represent some of the common understanding about the program in the library community.

Thousands of libraries across the country depend on the e-rate program and they receive millions of dollars—more than $609 million went to libraries in the first 10 years—to help meet the need for internet access and to provide other technology-driven solutions. Applications are submitted in a myriad of ways—from large consortium or statewide applications to single applications from rural one-room libraries. In fact, the only thing these library applicants have in common is that they have figured out how to crack the program code to obtain the needed dollars to support connectivity in this noncompetitive program.

So what is the truth about the e-rate? Let’s consider the first myth, and perhaps the biggest one: A library that doesn’t filter internet access cannot receive the e-rate. While it is true that libraries who apply for e-rate discounts on internet access or internal connections must filter, libraries that apply for e-rate discounts on any telecommunications services are not required to filter under CIPA. Keep in mind that there are many big-ticket items in this category of service, including telecommunication circuits that can help a library achieve true broadband connectivity.

Next, let’s probe the idea that the e-rate is politically unstable to a point where participation could represent a significant risk. There was a moment in the program’s history where this might have been true, but no longer. Soon after the program was established in 1997, it served as a stalking horse in congressional debates. Opponents dubbed it the “Gore tax” (after Vice President Al Gore, who was instrumental in its creation) and pointed to it as an example of unnecessary government spending—a point that millions of schoolchildren and library patrons would probably dispute. Many feel that the e-rate narrowly escaped elimination during these early years.

Once the dust from these debates began to settle, distressing stories about misuse of e-rate funds began to emerge. Several high-profile congressional hearings brought to light incidences of egregious fraud and abuse of funds. It is important to note that most of these problems occurred early in the program and years before the hearings took place. Regardless of the timing of the problems themselves, the hearings once again threw the program into turmoil. The result of this political upheaval was increased scrutiny of applications, more audits, and the adoption of several new program rules.

Benefits abound
Though reports of political instability, bad press, and increased scrutiny have created a poor public impression of the e-rate program, what these reports fail to capture is the fact that thousands of applicants play by the rules and millions of library patrons and students benefit every year as they connect to the internet at their local library or school.

So what is the truth about the political environment of the e-rate? The fact is that the program, now in its 11th year, is strong and stable. Thanks in large part to the commitment of many applicants, members of Congress have gotten the message that the e-rate is a key program that provides much-needed funding to schools and libraries.

What about the myths that the e-rate is overly complicated and that the return on investment is too low to bother applying? It is true that some e-rate applications are enormously long and complicated to the point where they may require full-time work. However, these applications tend to be for large statewide or consortium programs and may return millions of dollars annually. There are thousands of small libraries that file very simple applications, such as ones to receive discounts on basic telephone services. While they may not lead to big-ticket items and broadband connectivity, the resulting funds are a steady and dependable source of money that allow these libraries some budgetary freedom to purchase other needed items.

In 2005, ALA and its E-Rate Task Force filed a proposal with the FCC to simplify the program making the argument that its complexity excludes many smaller library applicants. It also pointed out that the many steps involved with the application and fund-disbursement processes can actually obscure places where fraud and abuse can take place.

Get involved
Although the ALA filing took place three years ago and the FCC has not yet acted on the suggestions, the Association continues to advocate for simplification and the FCC has indicated increased interest in taking a fresh look at the entire USF in the coming months. Although this inquiry would not be focused specifically on the e-rate, many experts feel that the USF’s high-cost fund that supports telephone companies in rural and remote areas is badly in need of reform. Addressing this issue will likely reopen all of the programs within USF to scrutiny, including the e-rate.

The simplest and most important way to get involved with the e-rate is to apply for discounts on telecommunications and internet services. The good news is that in the 11-year life of the program, every correctly submitted application for priority-one services has been funded. In fact, millions of dollars that could be going to priority-one library applicants roll over each year into priority-two funding.

While there are good reasons why a local public library should participate in the e-rate at some level, it can be intimidating to get started. One good source for advice is your state library’s e-rate coordinator. For the past two years, ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy has been working closely with state e-rate coordinators in a project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The goal is to create a nationwide network of experts who can share ideas and support local applicants. The state coordinators meet biannually for three days of training on the e-rate application and disbursement processes and to review any program changes.

The training has made a real difference for state coordinators, according to Bob Bocher, technology consultant with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s Division for Libraries, Technology, and Community Learning. “We’ve observed a high turnover rate among e-rate coordinators across the country,” noted Bocher, a former chair of ALA’s E-Rate Task Force. “This, combined with the steep learning curve that e-rate presents, means that traditional learning opportunities may not be enough.“

If you are not at a public library or otherwise eligible for the e-rate, it is still important to be aware of the program and be ready to advocate for it when necessary. Stay abreast of the latest on the e-rate and make your voice heard when necessary, through the ALA Washington Office’s District Dispatch blog.

One thing that supporters and detractors agree upon is that while it is far from a perfect program, library applicants depend on the e-rate.

“Without e-rate, we wouldn’t be able to keep pace with the broadband needs of our patrons, particularly in poor rural communities,” said Linda Lord, deputy state librarian for the Maine State Library and chair of ALA’s OITP E-Rate Task Force. “While the e-rate is not yet perfect, it is absolutely necessary to help libraries and schools afford the telecommunications and related services to serve their patrons and students.”


Benefits of Early Literacy: Waukegan, Illinois, Libraries Make a Difference

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By Ellyn Ruhlmann

"Eat with the spoon. Eat with the spoon."

Four-year-old Katalyna Padilla forms the words slowly, straining to pronounce each syllable clearly. She and twin sister Katrina attend one of six EPIC preschools sponsored by Waukegan Public School District 60. EPIC stands for Early Childhood Partners In Collaboration, an organization that provides no-cost preschool to Waukegan kids ages 3-5. Last year, Katalyna, who speaks English as a second language, was diagnosed with a speech disability during her preschool screening. She immediately began speech therapy with specialists at EPIC.

“Now we can understand her,” says Rita Padilla, Katalyna’s mother. “Before I had to go to one twin to ask what the other said.” Mother of eight, Padilla is an outspoken advocate for early childhood education. To her, the most important aspect is intervention. “If there’s a deficiency, it’s best to catch it early, so you can address it,” says Padilla.

Unfortunately, the majority of Waukegan kids slip under that radar. A 2006 United Way survey showed only 43% of children in Waukegan ever attend preschool. More often than not, they start public school having little or no exposure to books of any kind. That’s a handicap that can hobble these kids- not just in kindergarten- but up through high school and beyond, studies show.

Ripple Effect of Preschool
High/Scope Perry, one of the most comprehensive preschool studies, tracked a group of 123 participants from age 3 through age 40. Half attended a high-quality preschool; the other half received no preschool at all. The preschool group showed higher literacy scores and a higher high school graduation rate, especially for females. As adults, participants who attended preschool were more likely to be employed, earning a higher wage and requiring fewer social services than their no-preschool counterparts. The preschool group also had fewer arrests, and considerably less drug abuse.

Researchers at the University of Chicago have also determined that early education pays off for the community at a higher rate than later education, such as youth programs, adult education and job training. Skill begets skill; learning begets learning. Early disadvantage, if left untreated, leads to academic and social difficulties in later years, according to James J. Heckman and Dimitriy V. Masterov

This concept, that early education benefits (and deficiencies) tend to compound, is the cornerstone of programs like EPIC, United Ways Success by 6 and Head Start- all geared toward fostering school readiness. “I’m a true advocate for front-loading our kids with educational resources,” says Verna Wilson, principal of two EPIC preschools in Waukegan. “Nurture the kids, build their self confidence, and allow their leadership qualities to develop early for a big ROI [return on investment],” Wilson says.

Why Don’t Kids Go?
It doesn’t add up: If preschool is so important, and it’s available free in Waukegan, how come more than half the children never attend? Padilla thinks many parents don’t know about it, or feel their children are just too young for school. Other factors that play a role in the preschool decision are the mothers’ education level, family income and the language spoken at home. In the United Way study, 25% of the mothers had an eighth grade education or less, and 71% of the households earned under $32,000 a year.

Some say it’s a cultural barrier. Fully 77% of Waukegan kids surveyed spoke Spanish as their primary language, and Latinos are among the most underrepresented groups in preschool. According to Elena Shore from New America Media, that’s because Latino parents feel reluctant to leave their kids in the care of strangers. If they need childcare, Latinos usually leave their little ones with family members.

“Whichever the reason, the upshot is: Too many Waukegan kids start school unprepared. I was astounded by the percentages [from the United Way Survey],” says Richard Lee, Executive Director of the Waukegan Public Library. “Looking at those deficiencies, we decided to set some measurable goals.” Lee and the library Board of Directors decided to offer an alternative to preschool, something less formalized that would appeal to all residents- especially Latinos- to help fill Waukegan’s early literacy chasm.

Public Library Takes a Lead
In July 2007, the Waukegan Public Library broke ground on its Early Learning Center (ELC), a $300,000 cutting-edge facility featuring interactive, bilingual displays and programs for Waukegan’s youngest learners. School District 60 helped the library design Story Camps that Early Learning Specialists will offer at no cost, in both English and Spanish, Monday through Thursday

Like the state-funded preschools, these camps will follow the curriculum issued by the Illinois State Board of Education, using stories, songs, and a learning activity such as rhyming. Unlike the state-funded preschools, ELC camps will welcome parents as participators in the learning activities. In this way, the library hopes to appeal to those families, particularly Latinos, who avoid preschool because they feel their kids are too young to leave with strangers.

And camps are only part of the appeal. Sprawling 2,200 square feet, the ELC is filled with bells and whistles, colorful displays and whirling mobiles- the kind of sensory buffet you’d expect from a children’s museum. Kids can become painters and sculptors in the art center, or mad scientists concocting potions in a lab; they can take up drumming and strumming in the sound studio, or work as paleontologists on a big dig in the nature area. Or, they might climb on the pretend play stage and pull from a whole trunk load of disguises, morphing into anyone they choose: queen, cop, dog catcher, maybe a librarian.

Value of Imaginative Play
New research shows this kind of freewheeling, make-believe play helps build a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function is an essential skill for kids to master because it enables them to self-regulate- to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert discipline. In short, kids with good executive function focus better. And when you focus better, learning is easier. That’s why a child’s executive function is actually a better predictor of school success than her IQ, says researcher Laura Berk.

Activities like video games and TV, even guitar and karate lessons, all inhibit imaginative play (and executive function) because they don’t give kids a chance to police themselves. That doesn’t mean they have to hang up the karate belt. What child development specialists recommend is, like so many things, finding a balance. Give kids structured time like lessons or preschool, but temper it with plenty of free play, with space to roam and variety of props to set imaginations rambling about, too.

Can a facility like the ELC help solve Waukegan’s kindergarten readiness problem? Certainly not on its own. The library will not offer preschool screenings, which can help flag speech and learning disabilities that require early intervention. Left unchecked until kindergarten, a speech disability like Katalyna’s grows much more difficult to overcome. The ELC can serve as a link, however, between prospective families and area preschools that perform screenings. Each spring, the library plans to host a preschool fair to help promote Waukegan’s easy access to a free, high-quality pre-K education.

There’s only so much a parent can do at home,” says Padilla. Now, she and other Waukegan parents have other thresholds to cross- places to go to nourish young minds, and eventually, help sway the statistics.

United Way Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, September 2006 Findings in Waukegan
Verna Wilson, Principal, EPIC
High/Scope Perry Preschool Study
Making Cities Stronger (2007), Urban Libraries Council
Are Latino Children Missing Out on Preschool? by Elena Shore
Richard Lee, Executive Director, Waukegan Public Library
Early Learning Center, Waukegan Public Library
Creative Play Makes for Kids in Control, Morning Edition, NPR (2/28/08)
Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills, Morning Edition, NPR (2/21/08)
Brain Play: Why Preschoolers Need to Pretend, by Jan Faull, (2008)


7 Ways Your Public Library Can Help You During a Bad Economy

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Originally appeared in The Consumerist on July 22, 2008

By MG Farrelly

MG Farrelly is a public librarian and has written a list of seven ways that your library can help you during a bad economy. Libraries are an excellent resource and they're pretty easy to use. Don't worry if you're not a big reader, there's lots more stuff to do at the library besides just checking out books.

  1. You can get pretty much any book at the library: A book habit can be expensive. Even second hand books can add up if you read a lot. Even the smallest library can access inter-library loan, Worldcat, OCLC and other library loan services to get you even the most obscure and out of print material.
  2. Yes, we have movies: Many libraries charge a nominal (1-2 dollar) fee for renting recent or "popular" titles. It's something of a controversy in the profession, one side arguing all library services should be free, the other saying "We're not a video store!" I tend to fall on the side of free for all. In any case, the fee is often far less than what you'd pay for a rental at a chain video store, and the fees to cover costs of processing and growing the video collection. If you're looking for a rare film, perhaps older or on an obscure format (Betamax tapes are out there still) libraries can save you a ton compared to buying it on Ebay.
  3. Kids Activities: Any library worth its salt offers a summer reading program for kids. Often with prizes, programs, and events all summer long. Libraries also offer story times, arts and crafts, computer classes, movie nights, and reading clubs for kids of all ages.
  4. Save Money and maybe your life!: Libraries offer seminars in home buying, estate planning, and even purchasing electronics and other big-ticket items. Libraries also offer free blood pressure screenings and programs about weight loss and exercise.
  5. Make new friends: Library book clubs and book discussion groups are great ways to meet people. Some libraries even offer "mingling" events for single patrons.
  6. Find a new job!: I can't tell you how many times local employers have come in asking to post job listings or drop off materials about open positions. Many libraries offer resume writing workshops, computer training, and even job fairs. College and university library job fairs are often open to the public.
  7. Libraries listen to consumers!: We like to call them patrons, but we really do listen. Do you want a story time for kids after 5pm? Ask for it! Want more books about home finance or budgeting? Just ask! Libraries often go to great pains to suss out what the community wants, letting us know directly is great. The complaint or suggestion of a patron carries a lot of weight with library directors and boards, so you are being heard.


The Peace Project: Todd Parr and Pioneer Middle School

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Students and Author Team up to Promote Peace

By Ben Carlson

As part of a yearlong service-learning project students from Pioneer Middle School in Plymouth, Michigan in collaboration with nationally renowned author Todd Parr, of The Peace Book, will be traveling to New York City on April 3, 2009 to promote peace.

The Peace Project has allowed Pioneer Middle School to create a community of peace within the Plymouth-Canton School District. Peace is a global concept that the entire world can embrace. It transcends age, race, economic status and gender. It is the very fiber on which this country was created and is an important concept to embrace and examine through education. Eighth grade students from Pioneer Middle School will study the concept of peace across the curriculum through their language arts, social studies, and art classes. They will gain a deeper meaning of this concept and the impact peace has on the community in which they live.

This year’s project began with a celebration of International Peace Day. Pioneer invited Parr to come and share his book with the community on September 23, 2008. During his visit, Parr spoke at Pioneer Middle School, Farrand Elementary School, and held an evening presentation and book signing at the Barnes and Noble Bookstore in Northville, MI.

During that same week, eighth graders traveled to every elementary school and read The Peace Book to the second graders. The students will continue their collaboration by creating their own Peace Book. Second graders will be empowered to use their imaginations to define the concept of peace. The project will help students focus on the elements of community, exploring cultural and historic notions of identity, strengthening writing skills and expressing thoughts and feelings through the visual arts. The students will gain a deeper understanding of who they are, what a community is, the important role they play in the community, and the impact they have on the world around them. As a culminating project, each classroom will be able to publish their own “peace” book. The collection of Plymouth-Canton Peace Books will be on display in the spring at Plymouth Community Arts Council in conjunction with the Behind the Lens art exhibition in late May of 2009.

As a “random act of peace” on April 3, students will read and pass out copies of The Peace Book to people on the streets of Manhattan (Fifth Avenue, Central Park and Union Station). In addition to The Peace Book, people will also be receiving a peace “gift bag” that will contain promotional material from the following organizations: Yoko Ono; One; UNICEF; Pennies for Peace; Share Our Strength; American Association of Teachers of French; Teaching Tolerance; Peace One Day Project; Vote Smart; Amnesty International; Arbor Day Foundation; American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages; American Library Association; Putumayo Kids; Soles 4 Souls; American Community Garden Association; Shelterbox; United Nations; Junior Tours; Little Brown.


I Got My Job Through ... The New York Public Library

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Originally published in the New York Daily News on November 9, 2008

That might well be the slogan of an ad campaign suited to an era when unemployment is rising and the U.S. is shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs a month.

As a reminder that local libraries offer extensive job-search resources, here's how Barack Obama found his community organizing job in Chicago after he graduated from Columbia University.

In 2005, he told American Libraries magazine:

"People always mention libraries in terms of just being sources for reading material or research. But I probably would not be in Chicago were it not for the Manhattan public library, because I was looking for an organizing job and was having great trouble finding a job as a community organizer in New York.

"The Mid-Manhattan Library had these books of lists of organizations, and the librarian helped me find these lists of organizations, and I wrote to every organization. One of them wound up being an organization in Chicago that I got a job with."

The help is still there, and in even greater sophistication. Check it out.