Subscribe to SLJ
Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Betwixt and Between

The Digital Download Library and the Flat Test Scores

Today’s newspaper defines the challenge for all of us. On the one hand, as the Times reports, you all in libraries have the challenge/opportunity of lending digital books: The article points out how this is a potential business threat to publishers (and thus authors, artists, designers), but of course that is only part of the issue digital book-lending raises. As I have pointed out here many times, no one has cleared digital image rights — so can a library lend a book in digital format without its images? Who pays for those rights? And, to take this the obvious next step, once the primary format for a book is digital, why shouldn’t it be a Vook, an audio book, and a print book all rolled into one. In other words, the shift from printed page to digital download is not like going from LPs to CDs to digital downloads — the shift in medium makes possible an entirely new form of narration, and brings into question issues about rights that have never been addressed.
      Today’s paper also brings the news that national NAEP results are flat. This article focuses on New York, but the trend is national: If you want the real data, and to look at specific states, this is a great site, So NCLB, testing, all of that does not seem to have helped. Perhaps it stopped a slide. Perhaps for a bit it made an incremental difference. But for the moment the whole huge elephant of national education has stopped moving. Kids are not getting better, the achievement gap is not narrowing. Poverty trumps every effort to overcome its damaging effects. And all of this testing is just on math and reading — the areas the schools DO focus on. We don’t have the results for the areas they ignore, like social studies and science.
     So friends, once again our work is cut out for us — to think and ponder and speak out about where books fit in the world of the digital. And, at the same time, to be the voice in the wilderness for content, for meaning, for giving kids nonfiction books they want to read, for questioning the focus on testing that is, it seems, not bringing the results we all desire. Betwixt and between, beset, bothered — we also need to be heard.