“That’s what makes the magic happen in the classroom. It’s that interaction between the teacher and the student and the content.” –Member Dr. Carey Wright of @MissDeptEd #ChiefsOnChange
To see video, go to Twitter @RaymondMyers
Is the public library obsolete?
A lot of powerful forces in society seem to think so. In recent years, declines in the circulation of bound books in some parts of the country have led prominent critics to argue that libraries are no longer serving their historical function. Countless elected officials insist that in the 21st century — when so many books are digitized, so much public culture exists online and so often people interact virtually — libraries no longer need the support they once commanded.
Libraries are already starved for resources. In some cities, even affluent ones like Atlanta, entire branches are being shut down. In San Jose, Calif., just down the road from Facebook, Google and Apple, the public library budget is so tight that users with overdue fees above $10 aren’t allowed to borrow books or use computers.
But the problem that libraries face today isn’t irrelevance. Indeed, in New York and many other cities, library circulation, program attendance and average hours spent visiting are up. The real problem that libraries face is that so many people are using them, and for such a wide variety of purposes, that library systems and their employees are overwhelmed. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, about half of all Americans ages 16 and over used a public library in the past year, and two-thirds say that closing their local branch would have a “major impact on their community.”
Libraries are being disparaged and neglected at precisely the moment when they are most valued and necessary. Why the disconnect? In part it’s because the founding principle of the public library — that all people deserve free, open access to our shared culture and heritage — is out of sync with the market logic that dominates our world. But it’s also because so few influential people understand the expansive role that libraries play in modern communities.
Libraries are an example of what I call “social infrastructure”: the physical spaces and organizations that shape the way people interact. Libraries don’t just provide free access to books and other cultural materials, they also offer things like companionship for older adults, de facto child care for busy parents, language instruction for immigrants and welcoming public spaces for the poor, the homeless and young people.
I recently spent a year doing ethnographic research in libraries in New York City. Again and again, I was reminded how essential libraries are, not only for a neighborhood’s vitality but also for helping to address all manner of personal problems.
For older people, especially widows, widowers and those who live alone, libraries are places for culture and company, through book clubs, movie nights, sewing circles and classes in art, current events and computing. For many, the library is the main place they interact with people from other generations.
For children and teenagers, libraries help instill an ethic of responsibility, to themselves and to their neighbors, by teaching them what it means to borrow and take care of something public, and to return it so others can have it too. For new parents, grandparents and caretakers who feel overwhelmed when watching an infant or a toddler by themselves, libraries are a godsend.
In many neighborhoods, particularly those where young people aren’t hyper-scheduled in formal after-school programs, libraries are highly popular among adolescents and teenagers who want to spend time with other people their age. One reason is that they’re open, accessible and free. Another is that the library staff members welcome them; in many branches, they even assign areas for teenagers to be with one another
To appreciate why this matters, compare the social space of the library with the social space of commercial establishments like Starbucks or McDonald’s. These are valuable parts of the social infrastructure, but not everyone can afford to frequent them, and not all paying customers are welcome to stay for long.
Older and poor people will often avoid Starbucks altogether, because the fare is too expensive and they feel that they don’t belong. The elderly library patrons I got to know in New York told me that they feel even less welcome in the trendy new coffee shops, bars and restaurants that are so common in the city’s gentrifying neighborhoods. Poor and homeless library patrons don’t even consider entering these places. They know from experience that simply standing outside a high-end eatery can prompt managers to call the police. But you rarely see a police officer in a library.
This is not to say that libraries are always peaceful and serene. During the time I spent doing research, I witnessed a handful of heated disputes, physical altercations and other uncomfortable situations, sometimes involving people who appeared to be mentally ill or under the influence of drugs. But such problems are inevitable in a public institution that’s dedicated to open access, especially when drug clinics, homeless shelters and food banks routinely turn away — and often refer to the library! — those who most need help. What’s remarkable is how rarely these disruptions happen, how civilly they are managed and how quickly a library regains its rhythm afterward.
The openness and diversity that flourish in neighborhood libraries were once a hallmark of urban culture. But that has changed. Though American cities are growing more ethnically, racially and culturally diverse, they too often remain divided and unequal, with some neighborhoods cutting themselves off from difference — sometimes intentionally, sometimes just by dint of rising costs — particularly when it comes to race and social class.
Libraries are the kinds of places where people with different backgrounds, passions and interests can take part in a living democratic culture. They are the kinds of places where the public, private and philanthropic sectors can work together to reach for something higher than the bottom line.
This summer, Forbes magazine published an article arguing that libraries no longer served a purpose and did not deserve public support. The author, an economist, suggested that Amazon replace libraries with its own retail outlets, and claimed that most Americans would prefer a free-market option. The public response — from librarians especially, but also public officials and ordinary citizens — was so overwhelmingly negative that Forbes deleted the article from its website.
We should take heed. Today, as cities and suburbs continue to reinvent themselves, and as cynics claim that government has nothing good to contribute to that process, it’s important that institutions like libraries get the recognition they deserve. It’s worth noting that “liber,” the Latin root of the word “library,” means both “book” and “free.” Libraries stand for and exemplify something that needs defending: the public institutions that — even in an age of atomization, polarization and inequality — serve as the bedrock of civil society.
If we have any chance of rebuilding a better society, social infrastructure like the library is precisely what we need. (NY Times, 8/9/18)
Although it is a nonprofit educational organization, Sesame Workshop has no intention of being left behind in the midst of the deal-making craze that has accompanied the rise of the streaming industry.
As the result of a recent deal with Apple, it is making a concerted effort to expand beyond “Sesame Street” the series that began on PBS in 1969 and now counts HBO as the home for its first run episodes. Sesame Workshop has its biggest programming slate in 15 years, with a new animated series, “Esme and Roy,” expected to premiere on HBO in August – just before the school year starts. Of course, HBO is a pay-for-view service. So we have come a long way from “public broadcasting.”
I wonder how much “Big Bird” is making? Stream, baby, stream. It’s all online and don’t forget HBO!
“About five million K-11 students in the United States do not speak English fluently and their numbers are growing fast. While these students currently make up 10 percent of the total student population, researchers estimate that they could make up as much as 40 percent by 2030.
Schools around the country are turning to technology to help them better serve these students (and their parents) – whose success will increasingly drive graduation rates, test scores and other school-quality metrics – and to help connect with their families. In the classroom, computer-based programs can give students additional support as they work to master the vocabulary and mechanics of English. ELLoquence, IStation and PreK12Plaza are among those that let students move through lessons at their own pace (this is not an endorsement from TechtoExpress).
Many more schools serve immigrants now than ever before, and digital technology can offer effective ways to reach them (Tara Garcia Mathewson, NY Times, 4/8/18).”
Google recently announced that it will be offering online tools and funding for journalists ($300 million over the next three years). It will be known as the Google News Initiative. I am not sure that I completely understand how all of this is going to work, but hey, who really reads newspapers anymore? Maybe Google can bring them all back, if that’s really the goal? Or perhaps we all should pledge to read more news in “reliable” print format everyday, but I think it may be too late. Some experts have already proposed that young minds are already “flickering” because of all the technology tools surrounding them. But let’s give Google its due and highlight a couple of their efforts.
As part of its Initiative, Google is creating a Disinfo Lab in partnership with the Harvard Kennedy School’s First Draft, which will attempt to identify false news during breaking news situations. Google and YouTube, the video site owned by Google’s parent company, have been criticized for allowing conspiracy theories and unreliable partisan sources to filter to the top of their search results for breaking news and for having failed to stop the spread of false news during the 2016 presidential election (have a look at my blog post on Wednesday about YouTube and Wikipedia joining forces, sort of). In addition, Google.org, Google’s nonprofit arm, also announced a $10 million media literacy project to help America’a teenagers learn skills to identify fake news (maybe it will also help parents!).
So watch out kids! Your days will be getting busier and busier. No time for all those “extracurricular” activities that might be the most “real” part of your day.
So the title of this post may be a little misleading, but let’s face it, we now have a president who has learned to use the power of our digital media to propagandize his agenda and belittle those who dare to oppose him. And this has all happened over the course of his first year in office. He has apparently raised a very successful anti-press campaign. He has recently issued “fake news” awards.
“The buzz around the president’s latest anti-press stunt has contributed to a shift in American attitudes towards the press. In a study released this week by Gallup and the Knight Foundation, 66 percent of Americans who were surveyed said most news organizations blurred opinion and fact, up from 42 percent in 1984. ‘Fake news’ was deemed a threat to democracy by a majority of the respondents (NY Times, 1/18/18).” Now who are the real fake news purveyors?
Senator John McCain has risen to the occasion: “We cannot afford to abdicate America’s longstanding role as the defender of human rights and democratic principles throughout the world. Without strong leadership in the White House, Congress must commit to protecting independent journalism, preserving an open and free media environment, and defending the fundamental right to opinion and expression.”
Not to worry, Facebook has already removed these nearly 3 million posts – including videos, ads and other forms of content from its services during the first half of 2017 after complaints about copyright and trademark infringement. Now I am really curious about why it has been so difficult for Facebook to account for all those Russian-based posts during the last Presidential election that were basically falsehoods or propaganda intended to enhance Mr. Trump’s chances and defame candidate Clinton? I don’t think these were ever taken down en masse but were “reviewed” individually and removed or retained in a very sluggish (and arbitrary?) manner.
The global data on intellectual-property-related takedowns is a new disclosure for Facebook as part of its biannual “Transparency Report.” Aggregate data shows that Facebook received about 377,400 complaints from January through June, with many referencing multiple posts. About 60 percent of the reports related to suspected copyright violations on Facebook. Determination of copyright infringement, of course, can result in the awarding of monetary compensation for damages.
So we can all rest assure now that American (global?) commercial interests have been protected by our courts where even Facebook has to be judged for its transparency. But please still don’t believe everything you see or read there, comrade!
P.S. Please have a look and listen at mypeacecorpsstory.com, podcast #018, where I discuss my “technology-free” Peace Corps years in India, 1966-68.
I guess the title of this blog is not a real “attention-grabber” but it is still very important if we want to better understand how technology is playing an increasingly important part in reading instruction. Here is the link if you would like to read the complete report: https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018017.pdf. The report focuses on reading achievement levels across fourth graders in sixteen countries and their proficiency in reading ONLINE.
In terms of the percentage of fourth-grade students who performed at an advanced level, the United States was the fourth highest in reaching this level. Students in Singapore, Ireland, and Norway tested higher on this online measure of informational reading (ePIRLS, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017). “The report has at least one silver-lining: Students in the United States fared far better on an Internet-based version of the assessment that tested their ability to process information online. U.S. students placed fourth out of 16 education systems that participated.”
Unfortunately, for American students who are reading in a more “text-based” manner, the results are not as high when compared to their international peers. They dropped to 13th place. “The decline was especially precipitous for the lowest-performing students, a finding that suggests widening disparities in the U.S. education system (National Center for Education Statistics, 2017).”
P.S. Please have a look at mypeacecorpsstory.com, podcast #018, where I discuss my “technology-free” Peace Corps years in India
Maybe you worry about your children spending so much time in front of computer screens that it has a detrimental effect on their vision. The ready availability of technology may make the children of today faster at configuring a new smartphone, but does all of that screen time affect the development of their vision? As reported in recent research by two optometrists at Ohio State University (Zadnik & Mutti), another factor may be a more critical factor.
To their surprise, more time outdoors has a protective effect and reduced the chances that a child would go on to need myopic refractive correction. Without reporting on all the research that has gone into this determination, here is the dominant theory or conclusion: “The brighter light outside stimulates the release of dopamine from the specialized cells in the retina. Dopamine then initiates a molecular signaling cascade that ends with slower, normal growth of the eye, which means no myopia.” Actual light exposure, not just a decrease in the time spent reading because children are outdoors is the explanation for this “magic.”
No one before has ever said playing outside could help you prevent or minimize nearsightedness? I should have spent more time time playing outside when I was younger. In my case it was not the computer screen that intrigued me. It was TV.
It’s just too easy. We can write blogs, tweet our anger about the state of affairs in the U.S. today, but do you often wonder about who is really listening or who really cares. It is all so easy and self-satisfying to let people know how angry and upset we are. But at the same time, do we really begin to ask ourselves whether this is all having any impact? Mere words may not be enough.
I think the Bully-in-Charge (a.k.a, the so-called president) really has the upper hand. He uses Twitter to communicate with all his adoring fans, and they really like it. Nothing is really complicated – just listen to my harangues and we will all feel a lot better. He will lead us in making America Great Again. Just read and believe! He is tweeting while “Rome burns,” and very few seem to really care. I am sure we can all write statements in opposition to all this “fake rhetoric” but what have we really accomplished? Many worry that ceaseles statement -writing is sucking us dry.
In a New York Times’ opinion piece on Sunday Tiya Miles wrote: “I doubt my own courage and wonder each day whether I could deploy my body beyond the relative safety of marches approved by permits. But I am certain of this: The change we seek to make won’t be accomplished by words alone.”
So I may be digressing from my usual commentary here about how technology’s advances and empowerment have made the internet a powerful tool for free expression, but Trump has also managed to make it a tool of oppression. For example, “Over the weekend, the president of the United States retweeted to his 38 million Twitter followers a video clip doctored to show him driving a golf ball off the tee and between the shoulder blades of Hillary Clinton – ‘Crooked Hillary’ in the tweet – knocking the former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee to the ground. Eighty-four thousand people ‘liked’ this violent takedown of Trump’s former opponent.
A woman has been Speaker of the House (and proved substantially more effective than the two men who succeeded her), another came within a whisker of the presidency, and others (Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine) wield the decisive votes on health-care and other legislation. But recent events make it feel as if we’re in an earlier time, when a woman’s job in politics was simple: sit down and shut up. This no doubt is the work of a president who, by word and deed, make sexism safe again, giving license to shed ‘political correctness and blame troubles on minorities, immigrants and women (Milbank, Washington Post, 9/20/17).”
Unfortunately, it looks like there will not be a second chance for Hillary, but her recent book sale numbers may portend what the future may bring. “What Happened” is now the No. 1 best-selling book in America.
As reported in the New York Times, Google and Facebook “stroll to the starting line.” I am not talking about a foot race here, but rather the rate of responsiveness in their efforts to vett or block the reporting of fake news on their websites. Here is one account of what these two companies have been doing: “Google and Facebook have been taking steps to curb the number of false news articles propagated across their sites. On Wednesday, the Silicon Valley companies showed that they were still in the early stages of their battle to limit misinformation online.”
Just this week, these tech giants announced that recent updates to their sites will help prevent hoaxes and fake news from being posted. Still, industry watchdogs remain skeptical about the effectiveness of these moves. Some experts remain unconvinced: “Nothing drives clicks better than when the headline is exactly what people want to hear or believe. . . without significant changes to the economies and the technology of online ads, banning individual sites would not produce change in the long run.” In many ways, these efforts showed how the fight against fake news remains a work in progress.
So I guess it all comes back to the individual reader of the news. Whether it’s digital or print, what we choose to believe may all still be in the “eye of the beholder.”
“I cannot give you any idea of what these Talking Books mean to those of us who cannot read ordinary print.” This unsolicited testimonial was sent to the American Federation for the Blind after one of its members began to first listen to recordings of printed book editions. It was then a new technologocal innovation in the 1930s, but technological advances over the last century, and into the twenty-first, have now made almost any printed document accessible to individuals with print disabilities. These technological advances have also made these printed materials available in a multitude of languages that give it a global outreach.
The United States Department of Education (ED) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have been in the forefront of these efforts. Bookshare.org is funded by the Office of Special Education in ED, and has been a leader in this area for many years, and is now increasing its outreach around the world. AllChildrenReading.org is funded by USAID and is now supporting projects that include enhanced programs for children with print disabilities. Both of these programs utilize technologies that are most readily available in the areas where the children live. Mobile technologies play an increasingly important part in these efforts, particularly in the more remote corners of the globe.
Please visit the websites for these programs identified above. I had the opportunity to be involved in a small way in the development and growth of these projects during my years of federal service.
Trump knew where his message would have the most appeal, Heartland, U.S.A. And please don’t try to sell subscriptions to the “New York Times” or “Washington Post” of you are traveling there. No one is buying anyway. Now these media mainstay publications, along with others, have been looking for an Internet age strategy, but “nobody has found it.” Why browse through a newspaper when you can just “order up” the news you want to read online and forget about the rest. That seems to be what most of middle America has been doing this election year. Just get on the Internet and find something you like (it takes so long to read those old print news articles anyway).
I guess the proof is in the fact that he won the Presidential election with the overwhelming support of midwestern Americans. They elected a man who has rarely traveled west of the Hudson River his entire life (well, okay, New Jersey and Philadelphia to broaden his world view :). One adventuresome online news service based in New York City, ProPublica, is now trying to establish some Midwest roots. It is expanding into Illinois with a 10-person editorial team – laudable to be sure, but it can’t begin to make up for vibrant local papers with dozens of beat reporters, statehouse bureaus and investigative teams. Even with a move to the Midwest, “many in the news media believe that news organizations must rebuild relationships of trust with citizens, even Trump supporters.” Now if only I am able to figure out how that trust was lost? Is that really what happened?
So the suggested strategy is for the Democratic Party to change the media landscape (good luck with that). I think in most cases, people will read what reinforces or confirms their perspectives on the world in general. To learn more about your world takes more than just reading your favorite newspapers or listening to your favorite newscasts.
Just as the Internet has changed most Americans shopping habits, i.e., stay at home and shop online, it now seems that you can now shop for your news and take your pick of what you like. Recent polls show that many of us have burrowed into our own echo chambers of information where we can “shop” for the news that will confirm our own opinions. For years, technologists and other utopians have argued that the online news would be a boon for our democracy. That has not been the case.
If you study the dynamics of how information moves online today, pretty much everything conspires against the truth. Let’s take the traditional standard of documentary proof. Thanks to Photoshop, for example, any digital image can be doctored. Any bit of inconvenient documentary evidence can be freely dismissed as having been somehow altered. Of course, our own behavioral standards play a role in all this. Surveys show that people who liked Mr. Trump saw the Access Hollywood tape where he casually referenced groping women as mere “locker room talk”; those who didn’t like him considered it the worst thing in the world.
Research has has shown that we all tend to filter documentary evidence through our own biases. I think the Internet just makes it easier for us to select only the news with which we agree, or “fits” our definition of the truth.
“All the News That’s Fit to Print.” Well, not exactly anymore, at least in its News App NYT Now. As you may already know, the motto of the New York Times has run into some roadblocks in the digital age. It’s all about the decline in the number of subscribers over the past year. In May 2015, NYT Now had 334,000 total unique subscribers? Over the last three months, the app averaged only 257,000 unique users.
So what is the Times to do? Facebook and Twitter, baby! No “Old Gray Lady” anymore. The Times now has an audience development team that will be looking to third party platforms. I guess it was just a matter of times(s?). NYT Now is not the first app that the Times has retired. In 2014, it shut down NYT Opinion because it failed to gain much traction.
Maybe some people still just like to read the printed newspaper? In this case, it seems that the Times is chasing the digital audience, and there is nothing wrong with that. But instead of printing all the news that’s fit to print, they may be only reporting the news that the digital reader wants to “fit?”
Two weeks ago a new book was published on Amazon as well as other online book publishing formats. I authored one of the essays in this book: “Changed During the Sixties.” The book’s title is “Turning Points: Discovering Meaning and Passion in Turbulent Times.” I hope you will enjoy reading these essays about personal and professional transitions made during this time.
During the remainder of August, I will only be posting commentary on Mondays. I will be “resting” on Labor Day, but will resume my posts on a regular M-W-F basis on September 12.
Twenty minutes at a time on a daily basis will be your limit however. All you need to do is download this handy app on your cell phone (free on iOS devices). There is a small selection of these classics (e.g. “Moby Dick”) right now but the library is expanding daily. It’s called Serial Reader, and I’m thinking this will be taking reading the classics to a whole new level that maybe some of us may not want?
You will not have to buy a book to treasure and read at your leisure. You will only have to check your phone daily to read the latest installment. No skipping ahead here. You will become, what I will call, a programmed reader, unencumbered by hardbound or paperback copies of any classic you might want to read. Lighten your load. All you need is internet connectivity to make it so. No need to browse those bookstores and libraries any more. It can all be in the palm of your hand.
But let’s not forget that we do not all have to be Serial Readers. It’s still your choice, and the reading of books now seems to come in a variety of ways. According to a New York Times survey of subscribers in July and August of last year: 38% only read physical books; 4% only read books on electronic devices; and 58% only read physical books and books on electronic devices. Read on, Macduff!