One of the three Sno-Isle Strategic Priorities for 2017-2019 is: Increasing Kindergarten Readiness in Language and Literacy.

When children are not developmentally prepared for kindergarten, they begin their schooling at a disadvantage that follows them throughout their educational careers. This has become such an issue in Washington that Ross Hunter, Director of the Washington State Department of Early Learning (DEL) has set a statewide goal of 90% of Washington’s children to be ready for kindergarten by the year 2020.

I’ve been doing some academic reading on ways to prevent early reading failure and assist early readers in becoming fluent readers. Some of the methods from my reading include:

  • Children need to read books with controlled vocabulary (such as the books found in our Reader collection).
  • They need to be introduced to decoding words (using phonics books, which are also found in our Reader collection).
  • They need to be read to so that they hear and become familiar with more complex words than they can easily decode.
  • They need to read the books that they can read over and over to gain a fluency which helps them to understand what they are reading, not just sounding out the words.

(Check out the Sno-Isle Database: Academic Search Premier using the search term: Phonics and all sorts of interesting articles come up.)

I have been working hard in the selection of materials for our Reader collection, offering both tried-and-true old-favorite titles with many newer titles featuring characters from television shows and movies to entice our early reading customers and their caregivers.  When books are selected, more copies are being purchased, so you should see more books available on your shelves for browsing.

I have also been updating our phonics materials for the library system and you should be seeing many of our new phonics series coming into your community libraries.  We are phasing out the old single paperback titles that you have been keeping in your Reader collections for a very long time.  Most of these paperbacks are looking pretty ratty and have served their purpose for our young people. We are having the new phonics series bound together for ease of use, and for easier shelving and locating for our customers and staff alike.

The books purchased in the latest phonics order include: 6 different Bob Books sets by Bobby Lynn Maslen, as well as books featuring Batman, Fancy Nancy, My Little Pony, Pete the Cat, Sesame Street characters and Superman.

Phonics books

I plan to purchase more bound phonics sets later in the year, so be aware that more will be coming to support this important part of our library mission.

You might also like to look through the Reading Rockets website.  Reading Rockets is an education initiative of WETA which is the public broadcasting system in Washington DC.  They create and disseminate free, evidence-based information about reading through three major services: PBS television programs, online services, and professional development opportunities.

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Today’s PW Daily had a link to a Guardian article titled “How eBooks Lost Their Shine: Kindles Now Look Clunky and Unhip,” which presents the case for the idea that, far from bulldozing traditional print books into the dust, ebooks have lost sales in the recent couple of years and are settling into a certain specific use and marketing niche while the book itself as an object has become more appreciated.  One of the interesting points is the preference of teens for print when reading actual books, in part because of digital technology’s tendency to distract the reader with the draw of other digital forms of entertainment and interaction.  This article talks about the UK’s situation, but the New York Times in late 2015 published an article, “The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead” noting the same phenomena already developing here as well.

There is a rebutting argument, however, taking notice that all of this is focused on sales by publishers as reported to the Association of American Publishers, which these days hardly covers the entire ebook market.  Robert Springer in an article on the site EContent, clearly lays out the opposite case, quoting Smashwords CEO and Founder Mark Coker

Amazon’s virtual stranglehold on ebook sales is another reason that subscription services are struggling. The ecommerce giant controls “something north” of 70% of the ebook market, says Mark Coker, the founder and CEO of Smashwords, a company that helps authors and publishers distribute ebooks. For $9.99 a month, Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program allows ebook readers to choose from more than 1 million ebooks.

So, ebooks sales of content by traditional publishers are settling if not outright declining, but “independent” author content sold by Amazon on the cheap represents a large segment of the ebook market, which Coker estimates at already 10-20% of the total book market.  Coker presented a program on this topic last summer at BEA, which I attended.  The Smashwords founder was critical of both traditional publishers (for not adapting effectively to the new situation) and of Amazon for habituating readers to the idea that books should be virtually free, for promoting quantity over quality, and for rigidly exclusive contracts with ebook independent authors (as part of the KDP Select program).

Smashwords incidentally, is the one indie title source that provides ebook content to OverDrive for us to lend. Still, the traditional publishers, while they seem to have succeeded in pulling back some of their own business to print, are the main drivers of our customers’ electronic borrowing, especially in the sharply increasing eaudio market but with respect to ebooks as well.  Sno-Isle’s OverDrive statistics showed over 130,000 checkouts last month, for instance, compared to less than 70,000 in April 2015.  Perhaps would-be buyers of some published ebooks are choosing to borrow them from their libraries instead?

 

A new Pew study reveals that Americans’ reading habits are being maintained. What’s more, the percentages reading an ebook vs. a print book have been level as well for the past four years.  While single method only readers favor print over ebooks by 38% to 6%, what’s really interesting is that a solid 28% read in both formats.  A full 26% in this survey have not read a *single book in the past year* and admit it (I figure reading books is an admired activity that one might inflate in self-reporting).  Still, even if the read-a-book figure is high, it’s consistently so, indicating no decline in overall reading.  What I like also about a survey like this is that it’s asking people how many books they read – whether self-published or traditionally published, whether bought at big box retail or borrowed from a library, etc. – not trying to track sales, so there is none of the usual suspicion that a certain market is being missed entirely.

Another note of utter stability is the age breakdown, indicating no necessary change in these preferences in the near future.  The factors in preferring digital seem to be income and education.  From the study:

Relatively few Americans are “digital-only” book readers regardless of their demographic characteristics. However, some demographic groups are slightly more likely than others to do all of their reading in digital format. For instance, 7% of college graduates are digital-only book readers (compared with just 3% of those who have not graduated from high school), as are 8% of those with annual household incomes of $75,000 or more (compared with 3% of Americans with incomes of $30,000 or less). Interestingly, young adults are no more likely than older adults to be “digital-only” book readers: 6% of 18- to 29-year-olds read books in digital formats only, compared with 7% of 30- to 49-year-olds and 5% of those 50 and older.

 

This article from Digital Shift covers the views and reactions of several key library personnel and advocates to the new subscription services I mentioned yesterday. It sounds like their offerings are heavy on self-published and public domain works, at least for now.

Here’s a quote:

As surveys by LJ and others has shown, regular library users tend to read many more books each year than the average U.S. consumer. They borrow more, buy more, and use e-readers more frequently. For now, [Massachusetts Library System Small Libraries Advisor] Chadwick said she thinks that these new subscription services will likely fold into many users’ reading habits without an adverse effect on libraries.

 

I hope that’s right.

 

 

It seems the latest development in the evolution of the eBook market is the subscription service – basically offering subscribers a large selection (hundreds of thousands of titles) for a monthly fee, with unlimited reading time for whatever title you can find.  Three players have jumped on the scene: Scribd, Oyster, and (naturally) Kindle Unlimited.  Limiting factors for these new services include lack of publisher cooperation and the fact that they tend not to get the real frontlist.  That is understandable, as the services’ low cost model prevent them from compensating publishers and authors sufficiently to carry the hottest new titles. Read here for more information.

I stumbled across this study by the Pew Research Center while searching for information on format transition for the Collection Budget Team.  I really thought these results were interesting enough to share with a wider group.  Among the findings:

Half of Americans now own either a tablet or an e-reader

A third say they read an ebook in the last year, compared to 78% who read a book in any format including audiobook

In the 2014 results, 32% read a book on a cell phone, 55% on a tablet, and 57% on an e-reader

87% of ebook readers also read a print book, and 29% also listened to an audiobook

A majority of print readers still read only in that format, while 35% also read an ebook.

I don’t know if this indicates long term whether ereading will largely replace print reading someday or settle into a permanent niche at a certain level.  What does seem clear is that both methods of reading will co-exist with significant overlap for quite some time.

 

 

Thomas Jefferson famously declared he couldn’t live without books, but while he was enthusiastic about classical languages and scientific information, you might be suprised to know that he had this to say about reading novels:

A great obstacle to good education is the inordinate passion prevalent for novels, and the time lost in that reading which should be instructively employed. When this poison infects the mind, it destroys its tone and revolts it against wholesome reading. Reason and fact, plain and unadorned, are rejected. Nothing can engage attention unless dressed in all the figments of fancy, and nothing so bedecked comes amiss. The result is a bloated imagination, sickly judgment, and disgust towards all the real businesses of life. This mass of trash, however, is not without some distinction; some few modeling their narratives, although fictitious, on the incidents of real life, have been able to make them interesting and useful vehicles of a sound morality… For a like reason, too, much poetry should not be indulged. Some is useful for forming style and taste. Pope, Dryden, Thompson, Shakespeare, and of the French, Moliere, Racine, the Corneilles, may be read with pleasure and improvement.—Thomas Jefferson to Nathaniel Burwell, 1818. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson Memorial Edition (1903) 15:166. Web 17 June 2013.

There are probably many today who would agree that fiction is fluff – a private and personal indulgence with no practical utlity beyond maintaining the basic reading skill itself, perhaps. There is accumulating evidence, however, that this view is wrong.  For several years there has been intriguing research into the ability of fiction to increase empathy in readers. What suprised me, however, is a recent story on Salon.com that fiction reading has been linked in a University of Toronto study to improved thinking skills as well:

A trio of University of Toronto scholars, led by psychologist Maja Djikic, report that people who have just read a short story have less need for what psychologists call “cognitive closure.” Compared with peers who have just read an essay, they expressed more comfort with disorder and uncertainty—attitudes that allow for both sophisticated thinking and greater creativity.

In a recent session I attended on “Why Fiction Is Dangerous,” Neil Gaiman talked about participating in an international science fiction and fantasy convention in China in 2007. Gaiman asked hosting officials why the 180 degree change in attitude toward these genres, which had been suppressed as potentially subversive.  He was told China was now encouraging reading science fiction and fantasy because they believed it would lead to greater innovation and inventiveness after surveying the top talent at American companies like Google, Microsoft, and Apple and discovering many had grown up reading those genres. 

So even the most pragmatic world powers focused like laser beams on economic development see serious value in reading speculative fiction.  It clearly goes way beyond idle entertainment.