Saturday, February 12, 2011

Reader and Writer Response

I drafted a post to share with you about technology and its inmpact on teachers and writing; however, this email appeared in my gmail box this morning.  I decided it was meant to be.  It was written by one of my favorite authors, Anna Quindlen.  She certainly is a great writer and part of me can't imagine a world without books; however, I want a Kindle BADLY!  I certainly have a lot of mixed feelings about technology and learning.  You can link your OWN thoughts and ideas (response) to the impact of technology on teaching. 

Have you been reading the news about bookstores lately? Many are struggling. The situation at the Borders bookstore chain is dire, and only getting worse. After reshuffling management and tapping out lines of credit, they are now unable to pay their monthly bills from book suppliers. Out of necessity, Barnes and Noble is moving rapidly to reinvent itself. If you visit a Barnes and Noble store, what's most striking now is their Nook Boutiques - they have literally put digital books at the center of their physical stores. Over 700 of their smaller subsidiary shops in malls have been shuttered in recent years.

The thought for many of us of living without a big bookstore in our town is akin to some imagining life without jewelry - impossible! Yet a strange thing is happening - independent booksellers in many locations are experiencing a small resurgence in popularity. Part of the growth is a renewed commitment in communities to support local businesses, but it's more than that. The small independent shops with enthusiastic owners and clerks who match books to customers are the ones that are thriving.

It's not enough to stock books, and plenty of them - any book in the world you want to buy is available now at your fingertips without leaving home, probably at a lower price than the one at your bookstore. You can save even more time, money, and trees by buying a digital copy and downloading it instantly. These independent owners are learning the importance of their role as book curators - keepers of a cultural heritage. It is their job to collect, organize, and stock the best books - "best" as defined by what their customers want, and wouldn't necessarily be able to find on their own.

As I've been reading about the struggles of large bookstores, I've realized even small communities still have at least a few locally owned and operated independent bookstores with well-trained and enthusiastic staff. They are more commonly known as classrooms. We're selling books every day, even though no money changes hands. We're asking for something far more precious from students - their time and willingness to take a chance on the unfamiliar texts we place in their hands.

I've never been a fan of the word facilitator to describe the work of a teacher. It's a slippery, cold, cardboard-thin word. Hard to imagine a person living in it, let alone one with a beating heart. Now curator - that's an easy word to fall in love with. It sounds like a cross between care and cure. With the right book, we can cure almost any literary ailment afflicting young readers in our care - boredom with the same characters, frustration that their current book is too difficult, confusion about how text features work in a favorite nonfiction text. . . .

As book production and selling continues its rapid shift from dead tree to digital, our teaching role as a book curator will become more important than ever. We're the ones who need to decide which books are worth buying for students, in which format. Maybe most important of all, we'll need to think through in new ways which books are worth displaying prominently in our classroom libraries, or featuring with a read-aloud or booktalk for the whole class.

And as the publishing industry continues its cycle of rapid change, the bookstores that remain will be more akin to gift shops. Ten or fifteen years ago, you could walk into any large Barnes and Noble or Borders store with a title and author scrawled on a post-it, fairly confident you'd be able to find it on a shelf with a little help from a clerk. Those days will soon be gone. Yet imagine a similar scenario with a gift shop. You wouldn't walk into a gift shop and expect to find every conceivable gift available. The gift shops you return to are the ones with good curators - folks who scour the catalogs and suppliers to find unique offerings that match your taste. You don't know what you're looking for when you walk in the door, but you're often delighted when you walk out, packages in hand. The smaller bookstores that succeed in the coming years will have a similar clientele, with book curators who can tell us what we're looking for when we don't really know ourselves.

When you start thinking of yourself as a book curator, you realize there's no replacement for a teacher's role in matching students and books. It's an awe-inspiring task. You're in charge of a cultural heritage, and knowing each child well. Those are skills that take a lifetime to develop fully, and will only become more highly prized over time.

For all that, I feel such sadness at the thought of my local Borders closing someday soon. It was a landmark event in our small community when it opened years ago. I support my local booksellers, but I've also made countless trips to that Borders store. When I walk through that door - the low display tables front and center piled high with books, the curve up on either side of loaded bookshelves stretching all the way to the windows. . . it's like being greeted with a huge smile of books every time I cross the threshold. Many teachers learned much of what they know about displaying books with endcaps, recommendation notes, and pairing known authors with new writers from carefully studying the ways big chains showcase books to pique interest. Those stores will be sorely missed in so many small towns and cities.

No comments: