March Madness, College Life, and Beyond

The middle of March is unofficially, for many students, the start of the countdown season leading to the end of the academic year. In addition to the annual spring basketball collegiate competition of the “March Madness,” and spring break, there are the last round of tests for hopeful undergraduates. These various assessments, including the SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement, and others, are the culmination of many years of preparation and study.

One of the areas that students are tested on is in the area of reading and reading comprehension, as well as critical thinking and composition. Despite the claims of many pundits and others commenting about the impending irrelevance of anything not related or applicable to modern technology, the written word is not dead. Numbers and technical drawings do have an important place in everyday life, but not at the expense of everything else.

Much can be learned anew about the human condition and experience from works in the area of literature and the humanities, some of it surprisingly familiar at times. A few weeks ago, at the Academy Awards ceremony, the Best Picture of the Year honor went to to the film Argo. This was based in part on the book The Master of Disguise, by Tony Mendez. Military operations and intricate strategic planning are nothing new in the field of literature and historical narrative. Interested readers, young and old, may want to investigate History of the Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides.

For younger audiences, the adventures of action heroes have great appeal, evidenced by the films of the recent Batman series, as well as those recounting the feats and exploits of Iron Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and the rest of the Avengers team. These characters are all dedicated to protecting the weak and innocent, as well as standing up against evil and injustice. Literature has many examples of similar fictional heroes preceding them, such as The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baronness Emmuska Orcszy, and Zorro, by Johnston McCulley.

Reading, critical thinking, and composition writing are skills that have to be practiced and developed constantly over time, much like athletes train and condition their muscles and bodies for intense competition. It is not always fun or easy, and can be quite difficult at times. However, the end result in both cases is that an ability to perform difficult and challenging tasks in the face of challenging conditions is developed. For the student, what is strengthened is the mind, and the ability to comprehend and convey concepts and ideas in the written word.

It is an ongoing argument about the merits of engineering and the sciences versus the the arts and humanities, one that is unlikely to be settled here in this essay. There is little disagreement that these are areas that many standardized tests examine in assessing the readiness, and well-roundedness, of a person to progress to the next level of education. One area of agreement is that regardless of the field of study or interest, it is necessary to be able to read and comprehend the material presented, in whatever form this is done, and to discuss and communicate these findings in the written form and word.

For the foreseeable future, this attention to being able to read and write at an advanced level is what college admissions administrators and counselors will be using to evaluate students beginning their formal academic careers, as well as their professors during the course of their undergraduate and later studies. It all begins when a child is young, to develop these reading and writing skills early on, to build on additional learning later on throughout life, and not just for any one set of examination or placement tests.

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The Once, and Future, Library

How many times has it been said that education is learning how to teach yourself? This is something that many of us, some of “a certain age,” can readily admit to being told on almost a daily basis during our formative years. Learning was often quite formulaic, where one was to sit quietly in front of open books, paper, and a writing instrument. This was what was prescribed and enforced by a great many parents and teachers.

There were many in the past who regularly did homework and other school assignments at the library, where there were resources complementing the material used in the classroom. It was also a place where one could concentrate and work in a place of general quiet, by students young and old. It is worth noting that this was the expectation on the part of most in the community that this was what the library environment was normally to be. By and large this is still the case for libraries, particularly public libraries.

Recently, there was a report issued by the Pew Research Center, “Library Services in the Digital Age.” This paper examines the role of the library in the presence of the Internet, e-books and e-media, and the comments of people surveyed concerning their views on the relevance of libraries in the present day. Also discussed are survey results about what materials and services people are interested most in from the library.

The report does not predict the impending irrelevence and demise of the library as we know it, nor does it foresee the disappearance of the paper book format. It does present a snapshot of what people are seeing and expecting in the way of services, now and in the future. In short, the findings reveal that people are looking for the library to provide information and assistance from librarians in locating it, in the same way that was done in the past but with the knowledge and technology of the the present and future.

This is the time of the year, the beginning of March, when students of various levels are beginning to enter what many call the “test season.” This includes the standardized assessment examinations given to elementary and secondardy level students throughout the US, as well as the SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement (AP) and Achievement tests, along with a few other professional and vocational exams that people are beginning anew to study and prepare for.  As any librarian can tell you, there are now a wide variety of study and review materials available on a number of electronic and print platforms from which to access it.

In mentioning it, this is not to ignore or diminish the regular and ongoing efforts of students of all levels, in school and post graduation, in their studies to learn and move on to the next level of their educational careers. It is usually impressed on people, typically by parents and teachers and tutors,  that the way to review and retain the material appearing on tests to to make a dedicated  and unrushed effort at this, studying. The act of studying covers a wide range of things from memorizing facts and figures, to reading and reviewing different types of material and resources, to writing reports and assembling presentations.

The library in the past has been a forum where information and various media, such as art images, are housed and retrieved. It has also been a place where knowledge can be accessed for academics as well as personal enrichment and fulfillment. From what people are saying, this is what we can expect the role of the library to be in the future as well, no matter what technology is on the scene.

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Award Season, For Children’s Literature

It is never too early, or too late, to encourage a child to develop the skill of reading. Despite the reliance of modern society on things having to do with engineering and technology, there is no getting around the fact that concepts and processes are most effectively conveyed through the written word.  This is why we teach children to read, with the goal of developing a lifelong interest and love of reading.

Each year during the Mid-Winter conference of the American Library Association, two of the most famous book awards, in the world of children’s literature, are made. These are the Caldecott and Newbery medals.

According to the ALA web site, the Caldecott award is named in recognition of Randolph Caldecott, an English illustrator who lived during the nineteenth century. This award is made to the illiustrator or artist of what has been named as “the most distinguished American picture book for children” of the year.

The recipient work of the 2013 Caldecott medal is This Is Not My Hat, written and illustrated by Jon Klassen. Young readers will enjoy and relate to the tale of a small fish having something that belongs to a bigger fish, and the issie of what is right and what is wrong.

The Newbery award, also according to the ALA site, is named for John Newbery, an English bookseller who lived in the eighteenth century. Here, the medal is presented to “the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”

The 2013 Newbery medal winner is The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate. This work is written for middle school readers, who are beginning to understand and relate to the topics and issues of friendship, hope, and humanity, which in this story are told from the view of a gorilla in a zoo.

To find out more about these and other award winning books, children and adults are highly encouraged to visit their local library – and to regularly return for additional material.

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The Printed Book AND the Electronic Reader are Alive and Well

One of the most frequently discussed topics these days is whether the printed book has seen the end of its useful life, with the increasing popularitiy of electronic and digital media. Look around on any given day, and you will see a great many people carrying or staring into any one of a number of electronic devices, from laptop computers, to smart phones, to tablet computers, to e-book readers.

I will leave it to others to participate in the loud debate. For my own contribution to this topic, I submit that there is eventually going to be a place at the table for the various formats, with each being recognized for its unique strengths and weaknesses. Some will prefer the convenience offered by an electronic device, while others will enjoy the presence and physical feel of a paper based item.

There are those who will need to stay current with information and data, from fast developing and changing events throughout the community and the world, as well as for other immediate needs such as traffic information and weather forecasts. At the same time, there are readers whose requirements are not always so immediate. A student reading a work of history, or other areas of literature, for a school assignment can make the claim that his or her needs are as effectively met by using a hard copy book or periodical.

Whatever the format, it is important that the same goal be pursued and reached, namely the seeking and assimilation of information. The blinking lights on an electronic device, or the printed letters on a page of paper, are essentially worthless if the effort behind possessing the device or item is nothing more than to impress others with the latest or most costly of personal accessories.

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Home Cooking and Restaurant Favorites

There was an interesting news item this past week, where the McDonald’s Big Mac secret sauce ingredients were revealed and shown on a blog posting. This topic received a great deal of coverage in broadcast and online news reports. This, and other fast food topics, is something that has been discussed and analyzed for a long time on various web sites and discussion forums. There are also a fair number of books and articles devoted to the topic.

In the way of books there are some titles that might be of particular interest during these summer months, especially to those cooks who might not want to go out and spend the money for a visit to a fast food restaurant. With money generally tight for everyone these days, being able to make popular restaurant dishes at home has a big appeal to many, whether ambitious or accomplished cooks.

Top Secret Recipes: Creating Kitchen Clones from America’s Favorite Restaurant Chains,  and, Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2: More Amazing Clones of Famous Dishes from America’s Favorite Restaurant Chains, and, Top Secret Recipes: Sodas, Smoothies, Spirits and Shakes, are part of the ongoing ”Top Secret” series of home adapted recipes by Todd Wilbur. Mr. Wilbur has been featured on various television programs as a guest contributor and cook, with regard to fast food cuisine.

Additional works to take a look at, in recreating fast food menu items at home are America’s Most Wanted Recipes: Delicious Recipes from Your Family’s Favorite Restaurants, by Ron Douglas, and the CopyKat.com’s Dining Out at Home Cookbook: Recipes for the Most Delicious Dishes from America’s Most Popular Restaurants, by Stephanie Manley.

These and other works are available through librariies and bookstores, so bon appetite!

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Summer Media Reads

Sorry that I’ve been away for so long! In my “real” life I am a librarian, and the past several months (and more) have seen me swamped with work and duties.

The world of literature continues on though. The summer months that we are in now are a great time to get caught up on, or to start chipping away at that long compiled reading list. Right now I am finishing up rereading a couple of books for a project that was going on at work.

If you like film history, particularly that examining the Golden Age of Hollywood, Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer, by Scott Eyman is recommended. This is a biography of the famed executive who headed the largest movie studio in Hollywood during this period, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

The work examines the development of the motion picture industry from its earliest days in the silent era to the transition to sound. Also discussed is the impact of what was happening in the world on film audiences, from the Great Depression to World War 2. This book also looks at changes that took place in the 1950s, such as the development and increasing acceptance of television, and its impact on film audiences.

If you are interested in the history of radio broadcasting, or journalism during the early days of World War 2, This Is Berlin, by William L. Shirer is something that you might want to take a look at. This is a history of the events that took place between 1938 and 1940 which were covered and reported over the CBS Radio Network by correspondent William L. Shirer.

Among the events and topics covered are the Nazi invasions of Northern European nations, the fall of France, and the air battle of Great Britain. Also discussed are the personal observations and experiences of the author in matters such as censorship and personal safety.

If these sound interesting, why not visit your local library along with a child or youth? While your’re there, please feel free to sign them up for the Summer Reading Club!

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Literature Happenings in October 2011

There have been important happenings during the month of October 2011. Probably the biggest event was announcement of the 2011 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Tomas Transtromer, of Sweden. After looking at his bibliography, I would like to become more familiar with his works. Over the next several months, I’ll be exploring his writings, and reporting back about them.

On a sad note, the worlds of literature and broadcasting lost one of its luminaries, the multi-talented writer and poet, Norman Corwin, at the age of 101.

Many of Mr. Corwin’s works are now considered classics in American radio broadcasting, as well as in literature. One of these is We Hold These Truths, a radio drama written to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the US Constitution, and broadcast eight days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, in December 1941. Another is On a Note of Triumph, a radio work written to commemorate VE Day, marking the end of the war in Europe in April 1945.

Even though we live in a world where visuals and sounds compete for our attention, it is important to remember that the written word conveys ideas and images just as effectively, if not more. This is the importance of the work of Tomas Transtromer and Norman Corwin, along with other writers whose works are well or less known.

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