Saturday, August 29, 2009

4 Reasons why the Public Library is Still Important

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, we asked that our friends and family write a personal note in a copy of their favorite children's book instead of sending us greeting cards. My daughter, Sophie, is now two years old and she loves the small library that has developed in the corner of her bedroom. There's no doubt between me or my wife that we want reading to be an important and valuable part of our kids' lives, and I feel like we're off to a good start. Recently, we introduced Sophie to the public library.

I shamefully admit that before our trip, I hadn't stepped foot in a public library in more than ten years. I was of the belief that modern technology was destined to bring about the slow obsolescence of the public library. To my surprise, the library is still quite useful – and apparently I'm not the only one to have figured this out. When we got home from our trip, I made a quick poll about library patronage and posted it to twitter. Here's the results:

If you're one of the 26% who haven't been to one in awhile, here's 4 facts about modern libraries that may sway you to take the trip.

Libraries are no longer a place to collect information.
If someone needs to look up some information you probably won't find them lurking around the reference desk at the local library - especially when Google is only a few keystrokes, or even a text message away from pointing them in the right direction. The library is no longer the place to go to gather information. That's not to say that it lacks purpose. With the introduction of literature clubs, children's reading groups, even daycare, the traditional vision of the library with the large “SHHHH!” sign posted by the front desk has gone the way of the Dewey Decimal system. Instead, the Library has now become a social center, an intellectual and creative outlet for a community. That's something you won't get from Google.

Libraries are more than book repositories.
While some argue that technology is bringing about the downfall, it's clear that libraries have adopted a “If you can't beat 'em, join 'em” mentality. In addition to rows of bound books, my branch also has a section of audio books, DVDs, and even free wireless access. Patrons who neglected to bring their own laptop have the option of logging on to one of the ten or so library PCs available for public use.

Libraries have gone digital.
In addition to audio books, libraries are now beginning to dabble in E-books, and specifically cater to things like the Kindle and the iPod Touch. This comes in the form of a digital bookmobile. Users download a helper application that controls E-book selections, and “signs” them out. This digital copy is processed with an expiration date. When it expires, the digital selection is no longer able to be executed by the reader, and is “returned” the the site so other users can download it. This idea of a digital library is similar to copyright-free E-book sites such as Project Gutenberg, but is extended to many new and popular titles.

Libraries set an expectation and a lifestyle for children.
In a day and age where NCLB rules from its ivory tower, more and more emphasis seems to be getting placed on teaching the skills of reading instead of teaching the value of reading. Sure, you can argue that an illiterate can't appreciate books, but are we creating a generation that looks at To Kill a Mockingbird the same way they do the reference manual for a DVD player? During my one trip to the library I saw parents reading with their kids, and I witnessed my own daughter pull (much to the librarian's chagrin) a dozen books from the shelf before choosing the one that looked most appealing. Not only are libraries an invaluable resource, but it is sadly one of the few places still remaining where books can not only be read, but experienced.
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ed Tech Day 2009

I don't normally pay much attention to commericals, however about a month ago one caught my eye. It was for something called Ed Tech Day, and judging by it's straight-forward message and simple production quality, I assumed it was something local. explains that the event is sponsored by the Educational Technology Foundation of WNY, and is designed to "help educators and community volunteers enrich the lives of children by improving access to modern computer technology. " Basically, a bunch of tech nerds get to wander around technology-starved schools piecing together a variety of donated technologies. I spend much of my free time doing this in the basement with no real purpose or cause, so Ed Tech Day was right up my alley.

Ed Tech Day was this past Tuesday, the 18th. My assignment was Northern Chautauqua Catholic School in Dunkirk. The worse part of the event was the hour and a half drive from my house for the 8am start, but I got to meet some cool folks and picked up a few new tech tricks as well, so the bleary-eyed drive was worth it.

Of the 8 of us volunteering, I was the only one without a professional IT background, but I was still comfortable doing most of the day's chores. It was mostly cleaning up exisiting computers - virus scans, defragging, Windows updates, etc - although I also had the pleasure of unboxing and configuring a brand new Promethean Board. Again, nothing too difficult, so anyone reading this should consider volunteering next year.

The part I'm amazed at is the complete lack of local awareness for such an incredible cause. After seeing the commerical, I sent a tweet out asking if any of my fellow WNYers knew of the event, and didn't receive a single response. Regardless, Ed Tech Day seems to be growing in scope and scale. Here's a portion of a follow-up email I received from foundation president, Elizabeth Schanbacher:

The Educational Technology Foundation of WNY would like to thank all of you who braved the heat today to upgrade 18 sites in three different counties for
the 6th annual Ed Tech Day. Over 120 people volunteered to install 7 servers,
deploy 80 computers, install and upgrade 10 wireless networks as well as
complete a myriad of other tasks to ensure access and equity of technology for our community.

I'm proud to have been one of those 120 people, and I'm looking forward to
doing it again next year. Who's with me?
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