Snow Day

There’s nothing like the gift of a snow day, but the first snow day of the winter is especially wonderful.  The superintendent of schools in the town where I work called a snow day yesterday, in the early evening, which meant that I knew early on that I could stay up late and sleep in a bit.  

First up for the evening was to work on my final project for school, making some final tweaks to my website.  And then the Patriots game: usually an 8:20 Patriots game is stressful, since usually I have to be up early the next morning and full of energy for storytime, but with a snow day ahead at least I could watch the game without worrying about exhaustion.

After suffering through most of the Patriots game my husband and I decided to give up on the game when it was clear that the Pats were going to lose.  (There’s only so much anguish a true Pats fan can endure, and last night’s game was a test.)  My husband decided to call it a night, and I said that I’d stay up reading just for a bit to calm my frayed nerves.

And then a magical thing happened: I got sucked into a book in a way that hasn’t happened in a very very long time.  It wasn’t that the book was amazingly awesome, but rather that I actually had the space to read, and that outside the snowy world was magically time-resistant.  I kept reading, and reading, and reading, and when I finished the book I realized that it was one in the morning (way past my usual bedtime).  

I looked out the window to the beautiful snow scene outside (and took the picture you see below) and felt the happiest that I’ve felt in a very long time.  If ever there was proof of the magic of reading, this was it.  

 

I was actually stunned by how happy I felt as I went to bed, and it reminded me of the joy that I used to get from reading when I was a child. The book I read last night, of course, was a children’s book, which might have added to the happiness, but honestly I think that any book would have filled the bill for me last night. Last night was about having that moment for reading without obligations or guilt or exhaustion or any of the other daily demands that can detract from our reading. The gift of the first snow day of the winter.

And then an additional gift today: all town offices are closed for the entire day! There might be more reading in my future today…

Frontline Documentary on AI

Below is another forum post from this semester’s class, from the beginning of this month:

On Tuesday night [November 5] I viewed most of an incredibly well-done documentary on AI (I missed the first half hour, since I only stumbled on the show and hadn’t planned on watching it).

The documentary, titled “In the Age of AI,” aired on Frontline on PBS and runs for just under two hours. Though it’s a big time commitment to view the entire documentary, it is a comprehensive look at AI and has great relevance to this class. Here is the official Frontline description of the program:

FRONTLINE investigates the promise and perils of artificial intelligence, from fears about work and privacy to rivalry between the U.S. and China. The documentary traces a new industrial revolution that will reshape and disrupt our lives, our jobs and our world, and allow the emergence of the surveillance society. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/in-the-age-of-ai/

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/in-the-age-of-ai/

The documentary covers all aspects of AI, from the prospect of self-driving tractor trailers, to robots on factory floors assembling cars, to the sophistication of facial recognition. Most fascinating to me was the discussion of ethics in AI (including a look at how Google changed its initial “do no harm” business model in the wake of the dot com crash of 2000), and also the discussion of what is essentially shaping up to be a new Cold War, but this time a technology Cold War, between China and the United States. Linked in to this ethical discussion was the profound effect that AI has on human beings, from United Auto Workers members (UAW) who have lost their jobs to robots to the persecution of the Chinese Muslim minority, the Uyghur, by the Chinese government via sophisticated AI surveillance. By the end of the documentary, my husband and I were chilled by the impact that AI already has on society, and terrified by how the future of AI could profoundly change our lives, and not necessarily for the better.

As I was watching the documentary, I kept thinking to myself “how does all of this relate to what I do as a librarian?” I knew that I wanted to share this program with the class, but I also wanted to find a way to link it to our chosen career. Ultimately, I feel that as librarians we are the gatekeepers to knowledge, and the professionals that many people seek out to help them navigate the ever-changing world of technology. In that role, we have the ability to educate our patrons about the full spectrum of AI: its positives and also its negatives. If we are well-educated about the potential perils of privacy concerns like facial recognition that can be misused as surveillance, then we can help our patrons understand the implications of using advanced technology. And, as a children’s librarian, I have an additional responsibility to teach the kids I work with about AI in a way that makes them aware of dangers while not frightening them away from technology; these kids have never lived without technology, and they are also the future of technological advances.

I can’t recommend this documentary highly enough – it is well worth the time investment to watch it, and my mind is still processing what I’ve learned from it to the extent that I plan on watching the documentary again this weekend.

The documentary can be accessed here: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/in-the-age-of-ai/

TikTok, Memes, and A.I.: Losing Ourselves in Technology

Well, obviously I haven’t had the time to write blog posts this semester, so I thought I’d share here a couple of posts that I wrote for my class. The class is “Technology for Information Professionals,” and over the course of the semester each student must post on the semester-long forum on “Applying Technology.” Our posts are either supposed to be about a recent technology article, or they are supposed to be about “tech in the wild” – using technology in real life. Our posts are supposed to be no longer than 500 words, which has been a challenge for me to abide by… 🙂

Here is the first post that I wrote for the forum, in early October:

I just finished reading a fascinating article “The Meme Factory: How TikTok holds our attention” by Jia Tolentino in the current issue of The New Yorker. The article begins by discussing the app TikTok, but then expands in an ever-growing circle to discuss current app technology and how it uses A.I. to influence what we see and experience, and, finally and most disturbingly, the article discusses the parent company for TikTok, ByteDance, which is based in China but has influence worldwide. According to Tolentino, there are questions about the information that ByteDance accumulates as it uses A.I. to tailor its apps (TikTok worldwide, Douyin in China) to provide its users with content that they respond to. Tolentino states: “Although TikTok’s algorithm likely relies in part, as other systems do, on user history and video-engagement patterns, the app seems remarkably attuned to a person’s unarticulated interests. Some social algorithms are like bossy waiters: they solicit your preferences and then recommend a menu. TikTok orders you dinner by watching you look at food.” (Tolentino, p. 36)

Though the content on TikTok tends towards mindless, fun, short fifteen second videos created by and enjoyed by mostly teenagers, the fact is that there is a huge amount of money and power lurking behind the fun, and that the A.I. used to tailor the app could potentially be used for nefarious political means. Tolentino questioned a ByteDance representative about the possibility of the Chinese government making use of “the massive trove of facial closeups accumulated on its various platforms,” or “what if a third party got hold of the company’s data?” In other words, a seemingly innocuous app is able to collect facial recognition files as well as “pose estimation” that helps A.I. to learn human body language.

This is an extremely interesting article about a complex topic, and I can’t even begin to touch the surface here of what Tolentino addresses in her piece. Simply put, though, it put chills down my spine as I thought long and hard about the role that technology plays in our daily lives, and how we are gradually becoming immune to privacy worries. In Week One of this class we read the article “Library Tech Trends for 2019” by Jim Lynch which discusses assisting patrons with privacy concerns on social media, and also discusses the ALA’s worry about ethical concerns with facial recognition. As Lynch states, “[facial recognition] technology is already raising ethical concerns that might go against the core values of libraries, including intellectual freedom, privacy, equitable access, and diversity.” As more forms of technology accumulate data on our unique facial characteristics, there is more possibility of such information being misused as it has in China to find and imprison Uighurs (a Muslim minority). Frankly, I’m now a bit terrified about our future, but I’m very grateful to Tolentino for writing this excellent article.

Lynch, J. (2019, January 14). Library Tech Trends for 2019 [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.techsoupforlibraries.org/blog/library-tech-trends-for-2019

Tolentino, J. (2019). The meme factory: How TikTok holds our attention. The New Yorker, XCV(29), 34-41. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/09/30/how-tiktok-holds-our-attention

Also worth checking out: Christoph Niemann’s cover for this issue of The New Yorker (the technology issue): https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cover-story/cover-story-2019-09-30

Thoughts on being an adult learner

Just a quick post today, since I’ve got a lot of homework to do…

Earlier this week I was talking to a friend of mine who’s not too happy in her job, and she mentioned that she is thinking of going back to school.   I told her that going back to school is the best thing that I’ve done for myself in recent years – that being in school has been amazingly fun and validating.  I actually surprised myself with the enthusiasm of my response to her, and it got me thinking a bit about what it means to be an adult learner.

The first thing that I’ve had to come to terms with is that the majority of my fellow students are far younger than I am.  This is both a negative and a positive for me: the younger students are extremely enthusiastic, and most of what we are learning is new and exciting to them.  They also have more flexibility in the way they approach new topics in class; let’s face it, they are more open to change than an older student (even a fairly progressive one like me).

But then there is the positive side to being an older student, which for me greatly outweighs any negatives.  I’ve got several years of work experience in my favor, so that as I learn new topics I can immediately apply it to my career – a younger student who has never worked as a librarian cannot do that, for obvious reasons.  I love that the breadth of my experience allows me to consider our assignments from a higher starting point than if I had never worked in the field.  And for the technology class that I am taking this semester, I have the distinct advantage of having grown up alongside personal computers, so I have direct experience with some of the things that we’re learning right now.  For instance, this week’s video lectures are on the command prompt, and as I’ve been viewing them, I’ve realized that my classmates grew up using computers with a mouse, whereas I grew up using commands in DOS (ah, the good old days of the C prompt!) with VAX machines for email in college (I learned all kinds of cool tricks for using the VAX machines!).

And then there is the most lovely part of being in school after years of being in the working world: the immediate and definitive gratification of being graded on your assignments.  In the real world, I get formal feedback once a year at my job, in the form of my annual review.  Obviously, there’s also less formal verbal feedback over the course of the year, but it’s not written and precise in the way the annual review is.  So it’s been really cool doing assignments over the course of each semester and getting written feedback from my professors on those assignments.  And it’s even lovelier to get grades on classwork, something that just doesn’t happen in the real world.

Last but certainly not least, I love learning new things.  I love working my brain in ways that it hasn’t been worked since I got my last master’s degree.  Admittedly, this mental fitness program hasn’t left much time for my physical fitness program, but I’m working on adding physical fitness back into my daily routine (there just aren’t enough hours in a day, are there?).

Long story short, it’s pretty fantastic being in graduate school as an adult learner who is already established in the profession.  I’m learning so much, and loving the experience more than I can ever say.  My only regret is that I can’t take any classes in person, but rather am pursuing the degree online, since it would be fabulous to be in a classroom with all of these smart classmates of mine.  But that’s a small regret, and perhaps I’ll be able to squeeze in a face-to-face class at some point.

Yay to education!!!

Year Two, and Year Fourteen

It has been quite a while since I’ve posted here, but there is a good reason: in September 2018 I started graduate school in pursuit of my second master’s degree, and since then I have been trying to master the balance of full-time job, part-time graduate school, and living my life to its fullest.

Happily, I survived my first year of school, and on Tuesday I will be beginning my second year of graduate school. As these things tend to go, I’m hopeful that my second year will be less stressful and more manageable (one can hope, right?), the theory being that after surviving one full year’s cycle, then I’ll have the skills to better anticipate challenges and scheduling conflicts.  Stay tuned to see if that theory proves correct…  🙂

It’s been interesting going back to school as a middle-aged, mid-career adult, especially since most of my classmates are in their 20’s and 30’s and are new to the field.  I’m attending Simmons University as an online-only student, and I am working towards a Master’s in Library and Information Science.  As the title of this post suggests, I am about to reach the fourteenth anniversary at my job as the head children’s librarian in a public library, so some of what I am learning in school is not new to me.  The Simmons program is quite challenging, though, and I am being exposed to many new ideas, theories, and practical concepts, which is making this degree more than worth the time and energy (and money) that I’m spending on it.

For the fall semester, I am taking my last required core class, Technology for Information Professionals, which is a little daunting but also very exciting.  I’ve heard rumors that the final project for the class is to build a personal website from scratch, which definitely intrigues me.  And given that this class focuses on technology of all kinds, this seemed like a particularly good moment for me to resurrect my blog.  I’m going to try to post at least once a week, perhaps more frequently, and to include posts about what I’m doing/learning in school and also posts about what is going on at the wonderful library where I work.  And, of course, there will be posts about cats…  😉

Programming Update

And another summer reading program has come…and gone…

It’s been quite the year since I last posted, which is my only excuse for not posting since June of 2017.   Attendance at our programs hit an all-time high in FY’18: an astounding 8,509 for all children’s and teen programs (and of that, 518 was teen attendance and 7,991 was attendance at children’s programs).  I say astounding because I work in a town with a population of approximately 6,000 people; for us to have attendance just over 8,500 in a town that small is pretty amazing.

I added several regularly occurring programs in the past year, including afterschool movies in the story room, regular afterschool craft programs, and the sensory playtime.  Afterschool movies are a terrific low-key program, possible now that we have a projector in the story room.  Often the once-monthly family movie night upstairs in Volunteers Hall can be a little intimidating for younger children or children with sensory issues, so it is wonderful to offer an alternative in a smaller room that is inside the children’s room.  It is easy for kids to go in and out of the room during the movie, so if anything feels too overwhelming, it’s easy for attendees to take a break.  And, of course, it’s a great afternoon activity for kids who are in the library after school.  My deepest thanks to the teen volunteers who provide the supervision during the afterschool movies!

And the afterschool craft programs are also heavily dependent on teen volunteers.  Sometimes the teen volunteers run the craft completely on their own, and sometimes I do the teaching of the craft and the volunteers are my assistants.  Either way, we are able to provide a great range of fun artsy programs throughout the school year.

But my favorite newer program is the Sensory Playtime.  It has taken a lot of work to set up the systems for sensory playtime: I distinctly remember sitting on the floor of the story room sweating bullets as I tried to assemble the water table twenty minutes before the start of the first playtime, and my great relief as my two awesome teen volunteers (both seniors) breezed in, saw my panic, and said to me, “Don’t worry, we’re here now!”  Since that first rather terrifying day, the set-up process has been streamlined, and I have gradually added to the assortment of sensory activities.  We now offer, on a rotating basis, Moon Sand, Dyed Rice Noodles, Rice Tubs, Colored Salt, Wash the Dinosaurs, the water table, Cold Prints, playdough, Dirt & Worms, and too many other activities for me to list here.

This was all possible, mind you, because I knew I could rely on my awesome teen volunteer B—–, who provided the supervision and welcoming personality during each playtime.  I took care of the planning, written materials creation (including signs for each station and parent handouts for each playtime), and most of the set-up (including doing things like dying the rice noodles the morning of the program), and B—– was my reliable outgoing supervisor for each playtime.  It would have been nigh on impossible for me to get this program going without her, and I will be forever grateful to her.  I’ll miss her immensely now that she has headed off to college, but thankfully the sensory playtime process is smooth and easy now, so I think I can handle things without her… 😉

So, what is new in programming for FY’19, you ask?  Truthfully, there isn’t much room left in my calendar to add new things – we have something scheduled for every single afternoon – but I have managed to squeeze in a program that I am calling “GraviTrax Challenge.”  I was really intrigued by the new Ravensburger marble raceway system (find more information here), and I am hoping that I can make it into a cool program for ages eight and up.  I’m limiting enrollment to six kids, and I’m going to have them work as a team to build a marble raceway that will get the marble from the start all the way to the finish.  I love that there is a building app available from Ravensburger, and I’m excited that we are going to have a children’s room iPad so that kids can use the app to help create their raceway.  If the September program goes well, then I will purchase another GraviTrax set, and for the October program we will have two teams of three kids each working on a design.  Fingers crossed that this goes as well as I think it will, because it seems like an awesomely fun way to work with physics and engineering.

That’s a quick update on the new programming that I’ve added in the last year and will be adding this year.  Obviously, there are lots and lots of ongoing programs like book groups and storytimes that also deserve attention, but since they’re not new to my library, I haven’t mentioned them here.

And stay tuned for updates on collection development, what’s new in those ongoing programs, and, of course, daily library life!

My 12th Summer Reading Program

It’s really hard to believe, but I’m getting ready to host my twelfth Ice Cream Social, and then my twelfth summer reading program.  And this is the twelfth year that I’ve hosted the elementary school classes to tell them about the summer reading program.  How is this possible?

As I’ve shown the classes bookplates from past summer reading programs, I’ve realized that some of those bookplate-earners are now graduated from high school…or even college.  There is an entirely new generation of children coming to the children’s room, and an entirely new generation of parents who bring them to the library.  Most of the parents who come in to the children’s room now are millennials; there are very few parents from my generation anymore.

I like to think that I still look the same, though.  Haven’t aged a day, right?  🙂  And I’m still looking forward to summer reading, just as I did that first summer.  I can’t wait to introduce the sensory playtime, and to run our cool in-house programs, including an origami open house, science playground, and tape games.

I love that my job stays relevant, fresh, and challenging from year to year, and that there is never a dull moment.  And, most importantly, that it’s terrific fun working with the kids who come to the library, and getting to know their parents.  What a great career I landed in!

Our dilemma

I have always wanted a dog – always.

Given a choice, I would have gone with a career of veterinarian, because animals are, and always have been, my first and best love.  But given my rampant allergies (an allergist recently told me that I’m “allergic to everything”), and given that I have no talent in math or science (which made my physicist father sad), being a veterinarian was never an option.

So when I was about ten I talked to my mother about my desire to have a dog.  My mother replied that if I kept my room clean for a year, then I would have shown the necessary responsibility to have a dog.   Being the tidiest member of my immediate family at the time (my mother, my father, and me, since my siblings were grown up and away at college), it was an easy thing for me to keep my room clean for a year.  I thought it was a done deal, that I had earned my dream dog, a rough-coat collie just like Lassie, but my mother failed me on a technicality.  I don’t remember what the technicality was, but clearly I had surprised her in my desire to have a dog – clearly she didn’t expect me to have met the criteria and kept to my clean behavior for a year.  Long story short, I didn’t get a dog, and I consoled myself with time spent with our outdoor/indoor cat Tabby, a sweet but grumpy girl who refused to be picked up and who would only snuggle with me when I was wearing my mother’s pale blue fake fur bathrobe.

Fast forward to this year.  It’s been a rough couple of years, and I’ve been fantasizing about better days.  When my beloved feral project Mommy Cat perished in the cold spell of February of this year, most likely after having been shot by a BB gun, I started to allow myself to think about getting a dog.  Mommy Cat would have never stood for a dog in her yard, and I would never have brought a dog into our lives as long as she was alive.  But after I grieved her miserable and untimely passing I allowed myself to start thinking about what our lives would be like with a dog.  I surfed various dog adoption websites.  I talked to my dear father, who at this point was suffering from dementia, about the dogs I had applied for.  I showed Dad photos of the dogs, and talked to him about his childhood dog, Tuffy.  And after Dad’s death in April, I got really serious about getting a dog.  I put in adoption applications for ten or so dogs, always missing out because I hesitated too long in applying and someone else who was quicker got the dog.

I knew exactly what kind of dog I wanted, and what kind of dog would work for our home:  three to four years old, mellow, a dog that had lived with cats, and a dog who was good with children.  My perfect dog would be trainable to be a reading therapy dog, and would snuggle happily with our three kitties at night.

And then I applied for a dog from a different adoption agency than the one I had been working with.  The first agency collects adoption applications from many applicants, giving priority to first applications and then to applicants who best suit the dog.  I had missed out on many dogs due to my response time, but had been told that we had a “lovely home.”  So with this different agency (recommended to me by my dentist), when I saw Layla, I applied almost immediately.  First I sent them an email asking if Layla was good with cats, and when the response was, “Yes!  Layla has been cat-tested and done great!”, I applied.

This agency worked differently from the other – I was the first to apply for Layla, so I was given first priority, and Layla was immediately removed from their website.  She was described as “a lovely Lab/Spaniel mix” who was two years old and “sweet, gentle, and quiet” and good with cats.  In phone conversations with her Southern foster and foster supervisor, I was told how Layla was extremely mature for her age, exceptionally smart, had no prey drive, and was very good with cats.  “Yay!” I thought, with tears in my eyes, “I’ve found the perfect dog for us!!!”

In no way do I fault this adoption agency – they are very good people doing very good things for very needy dogs –  but after meeting “Layla” Jim and I learned that they hadn’t met the real dog.  Clearly they had been in the so-called “honeymoon period” with this dog, and she hadn’t shown them her true personality.

Now named Clara by us, our sweet crazy pooch could best be described this way:  sweet, gentle with kids, crazy, just over a year old (i.e., still a teenager), bonkers, spazzy, completely untrained, has a really high prey drive, and is a Lab/Hound mix with a very very big voice (when she uses it).  She’s good with other dogs, but extremely excitable.  When she sees anything that looks like prey (including our cats), she barks in her loud hound voice and goes after it with all guns blazing.  She’s not mature – did I mention that she’s actually a teenager? – and can drive you nuts with her enthusiasm.  By some miracle she passed the Basic Obedience Course we took with her; the course instructor said she was “very surprised,” as were we.  But that night of good obedience was clearly a fluke, and our dear sweet Clara has shown time and again that she needs A Lot More Training.

And here is our problem:  we have fallen in love with this crazy dog, and despite a recent email to the adoption agency detailing our worries about Clara and the cats, we are hard-pressed to give up on our silly Clara Kerfuffle.

But our three wonderful cats are terrified by Clara.  Our cats, Moses, Millie, and Moxie, are feral-background cats who were born to feral Mommy Cat in our yard, and who we personally trapped and tamed (in the case of Moxie, against all odds).  Our vet has told us that these cats can never live with other humans, that their feral background precludes them from accepting other two-legs.  And these same cats have shown great signs of stress from being in the house with Crazy Clara, including a UTI for Moses and all three cats eating half what they normally do.  I can’t blame them:  Clara barks at them, chases them, and corners them when given the opportunity.  Clara has a very high prey drive, and our scared kitties provide excellent potential prey for her, not housemates.  If only they would stand up to her and give her a good scratchy swipe on her nose, then perhaps the dynamic would shift.  But they’re not built that way, and they run in terror from the Great Black and White Loud Barking Thing with Really Big Teeth.

Currently, we live a life divided.  Our small house, only 1,000 square feet, has a Cat Side and a Dog Side.  We can either spend time with Clara, or we can spend time with the cats.  When we are with Clara, the cats give us sad eyes through the French door.  When we are with the cats, Clara has to go into That Stinking Crate because otherwise she will chew and destroy everything in her reach.

What are we to do?  Clara has brought a lot of great things into our lives.  As a childless couple, Clara provides us with a great intro to people we don’t know.  She’s cute, she’s charming, everyone loves her and wants to meet her.  She’s a dog in a million, truly, and we are very blessed to know her.

But we’re also very blessed by our sweet, loving kitties.  And it doesn’t seem fair that we’ve brought such stress and strain into their otherwise charmed lives.

Life without our kitties is unimaginable.  Life without Clara is a very sad thought indeed.  Perhaps our dilemma is insignificant to some, but I take it very seriously.  Four vulnerable lives are affected here, four lives of four beings who can’t speak for themselves.  I wish I knew what the right answer was to our dilemma.  And I sometimes (often?) wish that my selfish desire for a dog hadn’t put us into this position of having to choose one breed of animal over another.

Summer reading, part three (the log post)

Does tracking your reading time take away the joy of reading?  Can the action of having to record the minutes you spend reading make a reader become a non-reader?

I’ve often thought about this, and I was very interested to read this article in The Atlantic.  The article suggests that the school practice of asking children to read for twenty minutes a night and then to record that time and write about their reading can and does affect how children view reading; that reading goes from being a pleasure to being a chore.  My question is, does the summer reading program at the library fall into the same category?

The summer reading program is voluntary, so that makes me feel better.  But I also know that I participate in the summer reading program each year myself, with the goal of reading at least thirty hours each summer, and that I actually hate having to keep track of how much time I spend reading.  I read because I love to read, not because I need to read thirty minutes a day (or whatever time is necessary to get to thirty hours), and tracking feels wrong.  Do I count the ten minutes in the bathroom reading The New Yorker?  Yuck – but I guess I do.  If I get totally sucked into a great story, do I have to look at the clock at the start of my reading and then again at the end and then do the math to figure out how much time I’ve read, rather than bask in the glow of having finished an excellent book?  If I’m tracking my summer reading, then yes, I do.

So I see why the argument could be made that the library summer reading program could be detrimental to the joy of reading for some children.  BUT – and this is a big BUT – we all know that children leave school in June with a certain skill level for reading, and that if they don’t read over the summer their reading skill will have dimished by the fall.  This does happen, and the way to avoid that slippage is to read over the summer.  Summer is also an amazing time for children and reading, since they have lots of free time and the ability to choose to read whatever they would like.  I have seen many children go from functional to avid (and hopefully lifelong) readers over the course of the summer.  It can be magic, and the summer reading program helps that magic to happen.

As you can see from my past two posts, one of my big goals at the library has been to make the summer reading program be more about pride of achievement and joy of reading than about junky prizes or requirements.  I’m hopeful that the structure of our summer reading program nurtures joy and pride; I’ve certainly done my best to format it that way.  And it is, and always will be, an optional part of a child’s summer.  For the children who tell me they love to read but don’t want to participate in summer reading, my response is always, “That is absolutely OK!  The most important thing is that you Love To Read!”

Summer reading, part two (the cheating post)

In the past ten summers of the summer reading program, there has been little to no cheating as children log their summer reading hours.  There’s been no reason to cheat, since pride of achievement has been the main feature of summer reading, and also since children can only earn a maximum of eleven prizes over the summer (three yellow prizes, four blue prizes, and four red prizes).  Occasionally a child will come up to the desk on the second day of summer reading with twenty-four hours of reading time logged, only to have the harsh realization that the fibbing in their reading log hasn’t gained them anything – they won’t earn any additional junky plastic prizes from that point on.  There has been no point in cheating, and any temptation to cheat has been replaced by a real desire to achieve a personal reading goal over the summer, and to take real pride in that accomplishment.

So I was really surprised to have kids ask me about cheating in this year’s class visits.  I meet with each elementary school class individually over the course of two weeks, which is important because the cheating question has come up in almost every single class this year (but has never been raised to me in past years’ class visits).  The difference this year?  The online summer reading program.

We have used an online summer reading program for almost every summer that I have been at the library.  The Massachusetts Library System (MLS) very kindly provides access to the program for all public libraries in the state, and I have absolutely loved using the online program.  Kids log in to their accounts from either their home computers or the library computers, enter their reading time, write book reviews of books they have read, and then check in with the children’s librarians to find out what prizes they have earned.  Easy for everyone, and I love that writing and comprehension skills are being maintained over the summer in addition to reading skills.

The online program has always been fairly bare-bones, not flashy, just functional.  This year is exciting, since the MLS has changed to a new program that has a game component to it.  Each child has an avatar as part of their summer reading account, and as children enter their reading time, they earn points that they can spend to buy new body parts for their avatar.  It’s really cool: current, accessible, and fun.  In addition, this program has a challenges feature, in which I can set up various challenges that kids can choose to attempt.  There are no points or prizes awarded for completing a challenge; it’s all about pride of achievement.  I have set up book review challenges (write a book review), secret code challenges (visit the library and ask the children’s librarian for this week’s secret code), and scavenger hunt challenges (fifteen different challenges that encourage children to read different genres and types of books).

I LOVE this new program, and I’ve been so excited to present it to the classes.  The kids in the classes LOVE the new program, too, and are very excited to try it out.

The surprise, for me, has been that in each class there has been at least one child who has asked me, “won’t kids cheat and lie about their reading time so that they can earn points to change their avatar?”  Huh.  It hadn’t occurred to me that this might be an issue – but once the first child asked me that question, I can see how it is a problem.  If a child is more focused on the game aspect of summer reading than the reading aspect of summer reading, and if they want instant gratification when changing their avatar, then yes, they probably will cheat.  Which is quite unfortunate.

My reply to the “won’t kids cheat?” question has been to say that we use the honor system for summer reading, and that I know they are all honorable people.  In addition, I say, there is pride in accomplishment in summer reading – if you earn a bookplate that goes in a library book, you want that bookplate to reflect your actual summer reading achievement.  There is pride in that bookplate, and cheating won’t feel good.

I hope my answer has been sufficient, and that the children participating in summer reading this year will continue to set reading goals for themselves and feel good about their summer reading accomplishments.  Only time will tell if this is true, but I have hopes that it will be.

Reflections on children, literature, libraries, and life…and cats.