My Summer of Abundant Reading: Musings and Reflections

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This is the first summer since 2012 that has not involved long-distance moves, major family illness, and/or other significant life upheaval.  It has been a godsend to have an extended period of time of self-care that has included regular exercise, plentiful sleep, quiet unhurried reflection time, minimal stress, and lots of reading!  I have probably read more texts (and I use a broad definition of texts) this summer than any other year of my adult life since I was last in graduate school at UGA over 10 years ago.  I have focused most of my text reading on books this summer—-it has felt like a luxury to have time and energy to do so.  Though I love reading, I have been a picky reader as an adult and have struggled at times to find self-selected reads that appeal to me.  I have been surprised by the volume of reading I have done this summer though I feel the gift of time, no professional commitments, my Kindle, a new job, and new connections on social media have contributed to my reading revival.

I have read hard copy versions of some books; however, I have read quite a few books on my Kindle Fire that I purchased last fall.   What do I love about reading on my Kindle?  I can:

  • Read while I am working out at the gym on the elliptical–exercise for the body and mind!  In addition, reading while I am on the elliptical makes gym time go MUCH faster.
  • I can sample many kinds of books thanks to the free preview feature of Kindle books—I am confident that I have tried many more kinds of books through the serendipity of Kindle book browsing than I would if I were physically browsing shelves in a library or bookstore.  This aspect of book discovery is one I find quite interesting and is making me think much more deeply about how readers connect with specific books.
  • I can use the “Blue Shade” feature on my Kindle to help ease eye strain (people seem to love or hate this feature, but I like it).
  • I can easily and seamlessly post updates from Kindle reads to my Goodreads account (and I have used Goodreads much more for book ideas this summer than ever).
  • I can easily highlight and take notes, and then export those for easy reference at a later time if I want.
  • I can add Audible narration when available (and in my budget)—I like this feature even though I don’t consider myself an audiobook person.

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With that said, there are times I want the hard copy of the book to read—this desire mainly occurs with professional books though sometimes I wish I could afford both the hard and copy the e-copy as I am trying to figure out the best method of taking notes on my professional reading that fits who I am as a learner these days.  With my professional books, I often want to flip to a specific section of the hard copy of the book not just for ease of reference, but also because sometimes I just need to SEE it right in front of me.  I still like highlighting and writing out notes by hand, but I do love the ease of highlighting on the Kindle, too.

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Other times a book may only be available in hard copy, but sometimes you also need the hard copy to better appreciate the graphics, art, or photography.

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Here are my summer reads; the ones that I have boldfaced are my favorites:

  • Inside Out and Back Again, Thanhha Lai
  • Hour of the Bees, Lindsay Eagar
  • The Unstoppable Writing Teacher, M. Colleen Cruz
  • Shadowshaper, Daniel Jose Older
  • Road to Tara:  The Life of Margaret Mitchell, Anne Edwards
  • Eruption, The Untold Story of Mt. St. Helens, Steve Olson
  • Georgia, A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe, Dawn Tripp
  • The Atomic Weight of Love:  A Novel, Elizabeth Church
  • My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout
  • Simple Dreams:  A Musical Memoir, Linda Ronstadt
  • Cumberland Island:  Strong Women, Wild Horses, Charles Seabrook
  • Losing Clementine, A Novel, Ashley Ream
  • Awash, Dawn Lee McKenna
  • Being Mortal:  Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande
  • American Ghost:  A Family’s Extraordinary History on the Desert Frontier, Hannah Nordhaus
  • Lily and the Octopus, Steven Rowley
  • Lab Girl, Hope Jahren
  • The Wright Brothers, David McCullough
  • Sally Ride, America’s First Woman in Space, Lynn Sherr
  • Blue Horses, Mary Oliver
  • The Beekeeper’s Lament, Hannah Nordhaus

As you can see, I read a pretty diverse mix of books including biography, nonfiction, memoir, fiction, and poetry.  I read some things that I normally would have never picked, but I stumbled upon them through my browsing experiences in the Kindle Store and Goodreads; there were also times I discovered books to read (or to add to the wish list) through colleagues on Twitter and Facebook.  Interestingly enough, I have been watching a lot of documentaries this summer, which seems to parallel my growing love for nonfiction.  I am thinking a good bit about the core of powerful stories at these genres of film and texts, but that is another set of reflections for another day.

Being able to sample books on the Kindle or to read a free excerpt online before ordering a hard copy of a book was critical to the choices I made.  Most of the books I read this summer I liked though there were a couple I thought I would enjoy more (they fell flat for me); there were also a couple I found incredibly disappointing and didn’t enjoy at all.  I still have quite a few in progress, and I have a “want to read” list that is a mile wide!

As I mentioned earlier, my summer reading experiences have me thinking a lot more about how people find and connect with specific books as well as the experience of contemporary “browsing” and book discovery.  What is that like in a digital environment compared to physical browsing?  What do those experiences have in common?  How are they different?  What does this mean for our students or our library patrons?  Ourselves?  How and why might it differ for children/teens from adults?  Interestingly enough, I did not go to my local library for any print or digital books, nor did I consult with anyone from my local library for a suggestion or help.  Instead, I relied heavily on Amazon browsing and Goodreads suggestions. However, my reads and “to read” lists not only came from these sources, but as I mentioned earlier, Twitter colleagues.  I also belong to two Facebook groups on teaching reading and writing that have provided lots of great professional “want to reads”; I have also gotten many ideas for children’s books to read from the Coastal Savannah Writing Project Facebook group.  All of these musings have me wondering how might I draw upon my experiences as a reader to help my students during the upcoming school year.

Most importantly, my summer of reading has helped me reconnect with myself in many ways.  To feel the joy of reading I felt as a child has been energizing and has helped me remember why as a child I declared I wanted to be an “author” or writer of some sort (more on that in a future blog post).

Buffy as a Child Falling Asleep with a Good Read

Buffy as a Child Falling Asleep with a Good Read

This summer of abundant reading has also helped me explore genres of writing and topics I like as well as discover new favorites.  On a more personal level, my reading has been therapeutic and helped me in many ways process and cope with the profound grief I still feel over the passing of my mother who has been gone two years but whose absence is still felt acutely in my heart and day to day life.  The act of reading and the actual books I have read (even the ones that seemingly have nothing to do with losing my mother) have all in some way been healing for me.  Many of my reads also have me thinking about new dreams for myself, seeing life in a different and positive way, or contemplating how a particular book might inspire/nurture a friend or future student.  I have re-discovered just how nourishing and sustaining reading genuinely is for me.

What have you been reading this summer?  How do you discover books to read?  What have been your favorites?  Where do you like to read, and what formats of texts do you enjoy?  What are you looking forward to reading next?  How are you helping your students or library patrons connect with books?  I would love to hear your experiences and reflections!

Nook Program @ The Unquiet Library Update, March 2012

Catching Up

Many of you have been writing or Tweeting for updates on the Nook program we had planned to launch last fall; unfortunately, several factors slowed our launch date for the program, including:

  • a lack of clerical help this academic year
  • an incredibly busy schedule of instruction (a good problem to have!) in the library; since the teaching and learning focus comes first, we prioritize our energies into that effort first
  • significant delays in the communication process with Barnes and Noble in processing our ebook purchase orders

At this time, we own 50 Nook Simple Touches; Nooks 1-35 are designated with our Barnes and Noble Managed Digital Locker program for classroom use, which could include literature circle book study or independent reading selections.  Nooks 36-50 are for circulation to students who return a parental permission form or who would like to use them in the library during a class or lunch visit.  I worked with Dan Boon, my Community Relations Manager at the Alpharetta Barnes and Noble,  to establish groups of Nooks so that it would be easy for B&N to deliver the eBooks we order via purchase order to the appropriate Nook devices.

Challenges with the Digital Managed Locker Program

In terms of the digital managed locker program, there have definitely been some problems that I have experienced as have many of you.

1.  Barnes and Noble has frankly not done a very good job in educating its employees about the Digital Managed Locker program.  As you can imagine, librarians who are trying to inquire and find out more information about the program feel frustrated when they can’t get the answers they need, and the B&N employees also feel frustrated that they may not have been provided the information and training they need to help implement the program with school librarians or classroom teachers in an effective manner.  I know these concerns have been concerned to B&N management from those of us in the trenches as well as from employees, so I’m hopeful they are committed to being more systematic in communicating the information more effectively.  If you are not able to get the answers you need from someone at the first store you visit or call, I recommend contacting a neighboring store or the regional Barnes and Noble manager for your area.

2.  In some store locations, the community relations manager or person designated as the “go to” person for the Digital Managed Locker program is just swamped with multiple responsibilities; consequently, they may have difficulty dealing with the communications from librarians or teachers in a timely manner.  Since there is no electronic/virtual  interface at this time that librarians can access to submit purchase orders and manage eBook (or app) orders, eBook orders can be delayed significantly when there are gaps in communication.  We as librarians and teachers desperately need a virtual interface to manage these orders; email is simply not an efficient means of managing the orders; we as customers need the option of having more control over reassigning texts to different devices if needed.  While I appreciate that B&N is doing a lot of the management for me, I need to be able to have a point of access to do it myself when needed.

Our local store and representative are committed to helping B&N address these concerns; I very much appreciate that Dan has shared my suggestions for improving the communication channels and order management with those who work at a higher level in the company.  In addition, I appreciate that Dan is willing to come out to my school site if I need assistance with devices.

In terms of technical issues, they have been minimal so far.   We have not had any issues connecting to wireless, and the downloading process has been fairly seamless.  We did have one device go bad as we could not unlock it; after not having any success with the 1-800 technical support, our representative Dan was helpful in resolving the issue and actually bringing us a replacement device (a major time saver–thank you!).  We did have one device not receive the appropriate eBooks assigned to that device, but we are working on resolving that issue as we speak.  One other helpful hint:  it took me a while to realize that the power button is on the back of the Nook; thankfully, the covers we bought are designed to stay on and have the Nook symbol on them so that you can press it and power the device off and on without having to remove the cover.

First Steps of Implementation, Spring 2012

We have now started circulating devices to students for free reading (yes, I let them take the devices home—students and parents sign an acceptable use agreement, and we also bought a 2 year warranty), so I hope to have their feedback for you soon.  The initial impressions, though, have been very positive–students really seem to like the “swipe” technology as well as the size of the devices (it fits in their pockets).   One student in particular is absolutely thrilled to have the chance to use a modern eReader—I am not exaggerating when I say he was giddy and glowing when he left the library!  At this time, the free circulation Nook collection (36-50) is purely student driven like our Kindle eBook collection since students submit eBook request forms when they turn in their permission forms).   At this time, the loan period is one week although we hope to extend that in the future.

Our other initial pilot group is Deborah Frost’s 1st period  9th Literature/Composition class.  The majority of the class, boys, chose to read Monster by Walter Dean Myers; the remainder of the class, girls, selected The Secret Life of Bees.  Since many of the students in the class are self-described reluctant readers, we”ll be surveying them regularly about their reading experiences on the Nooks to see if the medium of reading has any impact on their feelings about reading.  The students are excited  (as are we!) to be the first pilot group; I hope to provide some updates in April when they finish their unit of study.

Questions via Email and the Blog

First I want to apologize if you have emailed me in the last month, and I have not answered your email individually.  For the last year or so, I have tried very hard to answer each inquiry individually and in a timely manner.  However, the number of inquiries has come to a tipping point, and I’m just not able to continue answering inquiries personally at this time.    I’m hopeful that either this blog, my Kindle LibGuide, my Nook LibGuide, or my recent chapter in No Shelf Required II edited by Sue Polanka, will give you the answers you’re seeking; you might also want to follow my Scoop.it magazine on eBooks and eReaders.

I’ve received several emails as of late about how we are circulating the eBooks via our OPAC and tracking what students read.   At this time, there is no way to do either–neither Kindle eBooks on a Kindle device nor a Nook book via a Nook device.   I do not assign MARC records to the eBooks for Kindle or Nook although I do catalog the devices; as I’ve written before, I don’t catalog the Kindle or Nook eBooks individually because 1.  you can’t really “circulate” them via your OPAC and 2.  I don’t assign them to the devices in the MARC record because media specialists in my district do not have rights to edit existing MARC records.    If you need to track that kind of data or circulate eBooks electronically, then you will need to look at an eBook platform like Follett eBooks or Overdrive that is designed to function in those ways.

Next Steps

We’ll now provide students post-reading surveys about the Nook reading experience to determine if they are a good fit for our students;  I’ll also be working with Ms. Frost to get her feedback as a classroom teacher.   While I’m still looking for an eBook platform whose licensing agreements are acceptable for my library and learning environment, especially as our district is now ready to implement a bring your own device policy for 2012-2013, I still think there is a place for circulating the devices themselves since so many don’t have one of their own.  I look forward to giving you a new update in a few weeks as I document our journey of learning and exploration of eBook and eReader experiences and options.