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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Books And — Some News From the Front

Two Articles in Today’s New York Times Hint at the New School Environment For Books Plus

Did you all catch www.nytimes.com/2009/02/16/books/16libr.html This profile of a New York City public school librarian stresses how much of her job involves showing kids how to compare and evaluate web sites, create power point presentations, or create online videos. It is not that Stephanie Rosalia is against books, or has some idea that they our outmoded. But she recognizes that the skills kids need to learn (and now have the online tools to learn) involve more than books. Which leads to the other article today, www.nytimes.com/2009/02/16/technology/16phone.html – how the smartphone industry is arguing that their products belong in classrooms, since they have all of the capacity of laptaps, and are smaller, more readily available, and even can do more. Whether this industry wins that particular argument, clearly digital devices constantly add ever-more-popular capacities for gaming, music, social networking, video creation while devlivering the basic utilities of web searching, emailing, writing, and speaking. 

So on the one hand, alert librarians are weaving ever more of the digital world into their work with kids, while technology companies race to create ever more digital capacity. The obvious point is no one knows how to meld all of this newness with books. Just last week, the Author’s Guild warned that the new Kindle could read text out loud as well as display it. Traditionally authors have been able to sell audio as a separate right different from text. www.authorsguild.org/advocacy/articles/e-book-rights-alert-amazons-kindle-2.html One can imagine that a future device would be able to, say, take the file of a picture book and animate it, or add appropriate sounds, or that an author would be able to embed video within a book: a regular text biography of MLK could include a clip of the the Dream speach, instead of a still photo. 

As the Author’s Guild’s warning suggests, this changing environment presents dangers for authors, and opportunities. I keep being concerned that we are all off in separate conversations — whether fearful or hopeful. Innovative librarians like Ms. Rosalia are not in touch with authors and publishers; digital companies pushing their products are not developing strategies to bring together what they can do with what books already do; and all of us pick up our newspapers and are both dazzled and puzzled. We really all would do better by speaking to each other.