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Virginia Libraries

Current editors:
Beth DeFrancis defrancb@georgetown.edu, Editor
John Connolly jconnolly@nsl.org, Assistant Editor

April/May/June, 2004
Volume 50, Number 2

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OPENERS

The Challenge of New Media

by C. A. Gardner and Cy Dillon


Tomorrow to fresh woods, and pastures new.
—John Milton, 1637

We have always loved libraries as treasure houses of books, and would be the last to suggest that electronic media will obviate the need for a clean, well-organized place to find and read the real thing. Nevertheless, libraries can benefit from making new forms of expression and information available to patrons, and those of us responsible for libraries need the flexibility and foresight to turn the challenge of new media into another means of service. In this way we respond to the needs of our communities and lead those communities at once.

In an era of required Standards of Learning and concern over the impact of television and film on young minds, alternative means of achieving higher literacy have become ever more important. The natural challenges involved in developing a populace that reads regularly include an entertainment industry that seems to actively erode the patience and self-reliance necessary to the good reader. The printed word must compete with the quick-moving story sequences, rapid images, and flashy sound and visual effects of television, film, and videogames, all of which provide instant gratification and little, if any, reliance on the imagination.

Libraries have always had a strong role to play in overcoming such challenges to hold the attention of the reluctant reader. Traditional programs such as summer reading clubs have continued to address this need. New beginning reader collections help early readers by identifying materials specifically geared toward different reading levels and skills. Ongoing literacy activities such as Motheread®, children's book discussion groups, and traditional story-time programs can build stronger elementary school readers. But what about young adult readers?

…alternative means of
achieving higher literacy
have become ever
more important.

Some librarians have stepped up to the plate with a collection that appeals directly to a young adult audience already inundated with flashy images. Comic books, once spurned as a deterrent to serious reading, have begun to gain respect in recent years for their increasing artistic and literary achievements. The graphic novel, a longer form, often deals with serious issues and extended themes much as a literary novel would do. Just as with early readers, the correlation of pictures and text helps encourage the reluctant teen reader to engage with text in order to plumb the depths of the story.

There are many resources available for constructing such a collection. Librarians at the beginning of the process might wish to consult guidelines such as those of East Greenbush Community Library (http://www.eastgreenbushlibrary.org/teen/yagn.html) or Francisca Goldsmith's "YA Talk" article (http://archive.ala.org/booklist/v94/youth/my1/55yatalk.html). For an active discussion of Graphic Novels in Libraries, try the listserv GNLIB (http://www.angelfire.com/comics/gnlib/). Many recommendations by age range and genre are also available, such as "Comic Books for Young Adults" (http://ublib.buffalo.edu/lml/comics/pages/recommended.html), Steve Raiteri's "Recommended Graphic Novels for Public Libraries" (http://my.voyager.net/~sraiteri/graphicnovels.htm), and Librarian Robin Brenner's "No Flying, No Tights" (http://www.noflyingnotights.com/).

Graphic novels also provide another benefit for libraries, of course—the high circulation count of such collections may help offset the loss of circulation in other areas. Likewise, the popular nature of this genre can draw new or less frequent users back to the library.

Unlike our younger patrons, adults may need a gentle push toward the acceptance of two of the potentially most beneficial new resources libraries offer. Electronic books and online periodicals can augment any collection where the library has Internet access, but they often remain hidden from library users.

At Ferrum College we now say that we have more full text electronic books than volumes on the shelves, but our users have been slow to discover them on their own. A summer spent migrating to a new public access catalog with all our electronic titles cataloged and linked directly from the catalog entry will bring these riches to light and guide users to around 100,000 brand new e-books. While reading from a monitor may deter readers of a certain age, try observing a teenager at a public library terminal. You will see an endurance fully capable of putting in enough screen time to read whole books. Also, most of us who work with research realize that books are most often used in part when a student is preparing a paper or presentation. Electronic books lend themselves to easy searching and focusing on key passages.

Another access challenge lies in the wonderfully diverse and dauntingly complex world of 'zines, or online periodicals. Some libraries catalog these materials as well, linking from the record just as in the case of e-books, but this requires great chunks of staff time that smaller libraries cannot always afford. If you are familiar with titles such as Atlantic Unbound (http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/poetry/), and the Cortland Review (http://www.cortlandreview.com/), you understand the potential of Internet publication when it comes to the arts. But even more modestly funded efforts such as the Appalachian College Association's Nantahala Review (http://nantahalareview.org/) take advantage of audio and video clips as well as striking graphics and innovative presentation.

Those of us who cannot afford to catalog these resources have to rely on links pages or portals to guide readers into the rich new country. On one level that is frustrating to people who care so much about order and control, but it is good to know that new media and new challenges will continue to confront libraries and those of us who work in them. If you have thoughts or suggestions about this topic, let us hear from you. Librarians are great at sharing resources, and ideas are our greatest resource. VL


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