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LitWeaver: the very model of a new age lit anthology
Geek confession: I love anthologies. As a lit major, I delighted in breaking open the Norton volume assigned to each of my courses.
Launched in open beta on February 15 by author Will Weaver, LitWeaver evolves the spirit of the lit anthology, allowing us to easily remix in a very portable way.
The free, digital and happily diverse anthology curates and shares e-books, authors, and reader’s guides.
The focus is the shorter work of well-known authors in the form of essays, short stories, plays, poems and mixed genre pieces. Teachers can easily set-up classrooms and populate them with students, assign readings, post online questions and writing prompts. Users can set up shelves, print and rate and comment on their readings. Readings are easy to navigate (and discuss) by page and line numbers.
Among those authors currenting contributing are:
There are more and the list is growing.
JV: Will, you shared that the idea for LitWeaver feels ripe right now. Can you explain?
WW: It starts with the needs of English/language arts teachers and school librarians. And those needs have changed dramatically over the years. I’ve been visiting schools over twenty years with my young adult novels and I see increasing pressure for teachers and librarians to do more with less. I hear about declining budgets and increased class size. At the same time, we’ve seen the rise of tablet-style learning and iPad schools. We’ve also seen changes in publishing. The big print publishers are back on their heels a bit, not sure how to react to ebooks.
JV: Right, we’re still looking for a fair business model for schools.
WW: Yes, that’s exactly right. So, there’s a real paralysis. The big publishers are not sure how to react and it’s an important market.
JV: But the students are ready now for ebook anthologies.
WW: I recently did a school visit where at the back of the room was a big stack of five-pound anthologies. It looked like Stonehenge. But the students were all looking at their tablets.
We see LitWeaver as a transition from print to e-reading. And we don’t believe all schools are 1:1 tablet schools by any means. We think of access first and technology second. We’re also seeing a pedagogical focus on shorter material. So I see another way in which LitWeaver is good timing. We’re focused on shorter works. We’re not trying to compete with the publishers. They do novels well. We do shorter stuff well. And the fact is, teachers can’t afford to buy class sets of novels.
JV: Is LitWeaver a response to Common Core reading needs?
WW: Yes, in a way, but in the long term, those top-down programs come and go. Good literature remains. We intersect with Common Core State Standards, but we are not driven or dominated by them.
JV: So, as someone who sponsored book club for around 30 years, I see the potential for LitWeaver in informal learning settings outside of the classroom or curriculum, as well. It was always a challenge to get multiple copies of the things kids wanted to read.
WW: Obviously, the main market is schools, but it is a good opportunity for others. For example, we’ve had several sign-ups from public libraries, who are saying, we have after school tweens and teens programming and we think these short works would be perfect for that use. We authors have novels, but we also have a lot of shorter work. I get teachers each week, reaching out to me and saying, “Hey I read your story. Do you mind if I photocopy for my class. Well, why not make that work more available?
JV: Was it a challenge to wrangle all those fabulous authors into contributing?
WW: Actually, it couldn’t have been easier for two reasons:
- I reached out to Don Gallo, the godfather of YA lit anthologies. He has worked with so many authors and was immediately onboard. So, we had a great resource to start reaching out to authors.
- We authors have such great support from schools and librarians and so this is a wonderful opportunity for us to give back. All the authors have been paid, but it’s just a small percentage of what they would be paid on the open market. It’s a way to give back to schools. It works for everybody. Everyone gets access to great short works. We link to the authors.
JV: So what are folks responding to on for LitWeaver?
WW: They are responding to the great list of authors. They know these authors. Essentially, our brand, if you will, was already positive. We’re delivering literature with a new modality. We’re making the technology easy and affordable. We’re giving free stuff to schools. But we do have bills to pay. Eventually we’ll add low-cost subscription to help us pay our bills. [Note: the website notes that the Plus version will include: an expanded collection, with regularly updated content, including plays and novels, student writing and other extras.]
JV: So, what’s next?
WW: We’re hearing from more authors and we’re adding more authors. We’re broadening the collection. We hope to integrate author access with Skype, along with the author material. In Phase 2, we’re hoping to add a student writing component, to integrate user-generated content and peer reviewing in a controlled environment. Students will be able to post their work and get reaction to it.
Please spread the word! LitWeaver is currently in the outreach stage. Will Weaver and his team seek our feedback and they are trying to reach as many teachers and librarians as possible. I can’t imagine an ELA teacher who wouldn’t want to play in these digital shelves!
About Joyce Valenza
Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza
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