Why understanding trends in publishing and book sales matters to school libraries.
A few weeks ago I wrote a post titled “The Post Digital Library: Toward the Hybrid Library” that was aimed at challenging the assumption that print is becoming increasingly irrelevant in an increasingly connected world. I would like to take this idea a little further to dig deeper into the data that underpinned this initial post. I fully recognise that the moment this post is published that the data will be outdated however the big idea is that we need to beware of our assumptions when making decisions about the future of our libraries. Up until this point, this is data that has not been brought into discussions about the role of the library in the school setting. This is a profound oversight that we can begin correcting now. While much of the data I present is based on the Nielson Bookscan research the initial prompt to find data about book sales came through information feeds I follow from a broad range of sources in the publishing sector that seemed to be indicating that the digital revolution has not changed publishing in the way we may have expected a decade ago. The more I read, the more I came to realise that the digital and print information landscape is far more nuanced than I imagined. This spurred me into searching more deeply to find definitive information to determine if the general impressions I was detecting were in fact real. The Nielson research I present therefore represents a concise summary of the trends in publishing and book sales that I have noticed both in my own experience within our own school library and within reports from around the world.
One important caveat is that to extrapolate the data I present too far would also be in error. I hope to simply present the numbers as published from a range of sources to challenge the assumptions we may have and cause us to reconsider our understandings about the role of the library. There are endless methodological issues, causal factors and compounding elements that account for the details of the data I present however it is not my intention to critique the data, simply to present it. If you find some of the data particularly interesting, the links provided will give you the opportunity to dig a little deeper. This post will also deliberately steer away from a discussion of the nostalgic features of print that these conversations will often include because, while I could write much about this (see my post on books as concept manipulatives), in management discussions where budgets are on the line and big decisions about the development of the school library are being made, appealing to emotional arguments can (rightly or wrongly) undermine the credibility of a proposal for further investment in the library.
My hope is that you will find this data reassuring but also challenging and inspiring. By presenting data that makes us stop and think for a moment, I hope that this post will stimulate a vibrant discussion about the role of the library in schools. Let’s begin.
I am going to begin with a sceptical note. Complex systems theory has experienced an increasingly rapid rise in popularity in the social sciences and by extension is also gaining significant traction in education. In the milieu of fads and trends in education there are a plethora of claims made for the effectiveness of a particular approach that can yield the learning outcomes we are all in education to achieve. I am always cautious of a new programme packaged by the large learning corporations or promoted by individuals whose income depends on the adoption of a particular approach so in presenting complex systems in education I ask that you employ the greatest level of critical analysis and sceptical inquiry. This presentation is designed to challenge assumptions, open our minds and give us a more holistic view of our classroom and library practices. The value I see in a complex systems approach is that implicit within the theoretical framework is an open and holistic view of students and the educational context we are part of creating for them. Any theoretical framework that seems to lead to an unbalanced focus on single elements or purports to be a panacea is highly suspect because education is not simple. There is an undeniable complexity to the task we have as educators. When you consider the diversity of students within a single class, the thought that a single approach will meet all their individual needs instantly appears ridiculous. Herein lies the strength of a complex systems approach because at it’s very core is the embracing of the complex, the dynamic, the unpredictable, the intangibles and the challenges of working with children who bring a vast array of prior experiences, expertise and characteristics that come together to make them a collection of unique individuals.
When it comes down to it, while I entirely support & endorse the careful planning of the curriculum & all the work we do to ensure our students learn & understand what is important in today’s world, the most powerful learning are often unpredicted moments of discovery. The moments of serendipity that come about within rich, stimulating, safe & nurturing environments within but often outside school. For example, in all our attempts to craft the ultimate guide to mastery in literacy, it is most likely the discovery of an author that is able to unlock the power of narrative for a student. Similarly, while we seek to scaffold the ultimate research environment, it is most likely to be a quiet moment of discovery that a child experiences in reading their favourite shark book that brings an enlightenment that triggers a life long pursuit.
I can’t remember when it was but I think I was in grade 1 or 2 when a police brass band came to visit our small country school in Australia. They performed a few fun tunes then each instrument was introduced in turn, they played some more tunes, then left. Nothing too spectacular however for one young wide eyed student, me, when the saxophonist stood up to play a few notes, I was enraptured. He could have been the worst saxophonist in the world for all I knew but for this young student, from that moment on I desperately wanted to hold that cool looking contraption & make that magical sound. That event taught me nothing about playing the saxophone, no theory & no technique but when I heard that saxophone, I loved it. The school, at that moment, taught me nothing but it provided the context, the setting, the access, the inspiration that was the beginning of a lifelong pursuit that continues to be an inspiration & source of great fun for me now.
Participation empowers us for civic engagement, moving us from being information consumers to becoming creative contributors & sharers. Librarians as information specialists (this has always been the key role of the library) are now (should now) be in the thick of this new diversified information landscape that provides opportunities for engagement and participation.
Knowledge, now more than ever, is based on our ability to connect, collaborate & network with knowledge when we need it rather than storing knowledge just in case. The skills AND knowledge required of us & our students to navigate our increasingly connected information landscape are continually adapted & refined. Having a staff member whose role is (and has always been) devoted to understanding & building capacity in information literacy is vital in any community or organisation.
Technology provides immense possibilities for information specialists to support diversity and student identity through engaging and supporting a rich multilingual environment. It is a profound challenge for librarians to provide connection to resources that recognise the broad cultural diversity in our schools. Supporting multilingual pedagogy (Jim Cummins) is fundamental for student engagement in globally connected education environment.
Finally the world is beginning to move beyond concept that the digital technologies are the answer to everything. Finally the dust is settling after the onslaught of new digital technologies & we are able to glimpse a new future. The digital revolution has most certainly been a revolution but not quite what we had envisaged in science fiction films and books. Certainly there were elements of truth but we are a long way from the worlds of “Back to the future” or the “Blade Runner” of 2019 (disappointing in some ways, I was really looking forward to the hover board). We only need to pick up a design website, an arts magazine, a science magazine or a picture book to see that the world is moving beyond digital toward a hybrid world. A post-digital world. A world where the analogue and digital coexist, neither one is replaced nor entirely fills the role of the other yet both are heavily influenced by each other through complex interactions. Neither one works entirely independent of the other. How often does it happen that you start reading a magazine, then jump to a website to find out more, then click on a link to go further, watch a video, then go back to purchase a book written by someone you have just discovered through their online presence, then return to that magazine to read another article? It is a hybrid connected experience. Similarly in the library we are finally able to envisage a world where digital resources coexist with print and more traditional analog resources such as the beanbag in a quiet dimly lit corner. Libraries that have gone entirely digital have pre-empted a world that does not exist, the digital has not replaced the analog but has transformed it, changed it and now it has evolved and will continue to evolve. Evidence for this can be found in looking at trends in book sales. Book sales on the whole, including digital and print, are going up. Digital sales particularly in areas like mass appeal paperback fiction are rapidly increasing – the book, the narrative text is still just as engaging as it ever was. While in the print world sales in children’s picture books are growing rapidly but so are other areas such as graphic novels. What we have are patterns of publication that are changing but nevertheless still growing. Print is showing no signs of disappearing – only changing. As a result our library has moved from attempting to be a deposit of all knowledge sufficient for an inquiring student, to providing a boutique collection of unique print titles that inspire a different response than a website or an e-book. We can now expand our resources into the electronic world particularly in reference resources through databases & e-books so that now I don’t need to stock those specialty titles in print for future reference, my students can now access resources electronically where-ever they are, when ever they need it. This means that when they come to the library they expect a different experience. And that is really what the library offers, an experience. That experience may include and often does include digital components however this all occurs in the context of beautifully bound books that inspire and create an atmosphere of creativity and exploration. So in the post-digital world, the post-digital library, we find a hybrid world where digital technology & analog technology mingle together. For this to continue the library environment needs to be nimble, flexible and adaptable yet open and carefully designed to maximise the benefits of both print and digital resources. The post-digital Library is a space and an idea that reflects the complex and connected world that we live in. This may change in the future but right now there is no indication that the near future will be any different. This is so exciting for me because I have been able to collect some of the most beautiful and inspiring books I have ever seen. I am not sure if this is reflective of the publishing industry producing more interesting texts or if I am just getting better at finding them. Which ever way, the library is filled with a never ending supply of unique, boutique creations. This is a great time to be in the world of library and information management.
We can always be assured that when we pick up a book by Professor Howard Gardner, we are holding some very carefully considered and powerful ideas in our hands. I am not familiar with the work of Professor Katie Davis however after reading this book, I will certainly following her research in the future.
From the outset, this book sets a high standard for academic writing. The scope of the subject is clearly defined & methodologies set out in detail. The appendices further expand the transparency of the research behind this work which leads me onto a first general observation. The research draws heavily on the American cultural context which places significant limitations on how far findings can be extrapolated to other cultural & geographical contexts. Don’t get me wrong, the questions asked within the theoretical constructs the authors use to frame their discussion are extremely important & certainly caused me to think deeply about the “App generation” in my context. Suffice it to say that the cultural backgrounds, historical & technological contexts that the students I see everyday at an international school in remote South East Asia could not be more different from the subjects of the studies based in Harvard. There are most definitely commonalities but the temptation to extrapolate the research presented in this book to students outside these studies must be vigorously resisted. For example, the technological history outlined on page 52 is distinctly western (if not American) & most certainly not paralleled by the vast majority of the world’s population particularly here in Asia. How the students I see each day have come to this technological space is so diverse that we must guard most ardently against assuming we understand their perspective. I would go even further in saying that we can draw little value from describing a “generation” in any way for fear of drawing conclusions based on stereotypes rather than the lived experience of each individual student we encounter. This may sound like I oppose the premise of this book but not so. Instead, we should apply the same inquiring mind that Gardner and Davis have applied in their context to challenge our own assumptions about the “App Generation” present in our classrooms. Their rigorous & deeply reflective approach that seeks to draw information from multiple sources to make sense of a notoriously enigmatic topic such as technology & youth is refreshing in a field such as education which is rife with myths, unchallenged assumptions & scant methodology.
This post will not be surprising coming from a librarian but still, it needs to be said. I call it Fast Food Literacy (#FastFoodLiteracy). I am talking about the prepackaged and heavily marketed reading programs produced by the big educational publishers. They are attractively packaged and so convenient that a school can purchase a large levelled reading set or online program at the push of a button. In contrast, to build a library collection of a similar size takes many hours of carefully reading reviews by trusted sources and researching authors to ensure the very best of what the world has to offer in literature is available to the students when they need it. A library collection built in this way is also tailored to suit the unique needs of that school community. How could a generic levelled one-size-fits-all reading package possibly meet the needs of every school community around the world?
The analogy with fast food seems so obvious when reading sets arrive in their brightly coloured cardboard prboxes with the easy access flip-lid.
This corporatisation of education is extremely concerning on many levels. The pleasure of reading is transformed into a literacy commodity purchased for consumption. Students are placed on a conveyer belt in production line of literacy education. The sell is that it is personalised or differentiated with the subtext that if you are really serious about literacy education, regardless of what you are doing now, you need the proprietary package. The branding instills a sense of security that is based on marketing strategies rather than a deeper concept of literacy. Schools earnestly striving to demonstrate that they take literacy seriously are drawn to this sense of security in a brand because it is a tangible but this security is shallow and false. The approach of Jim Cummins builds a far more sophisticated view of literacy and language that has relevance to a world wrestling with multiculturalism, plurilingualism and diverse semiotic codes. Among the most worrying concerns is that the corporately driven programs turn the focus from building student agency to a model where students are programmed. Student agency is replaced by response to stimuli (at best). Literacy is removed from the learning environment and diced up into fragmented chunks. There are so many unchallenged assumptions in this approach that it is hard to know where to start (or finish). I would also bundle textbooks in with these fast food curriculum resources but that is another discussion. In contrast, reading that is embedded in rich contexts of inquiry ensures that meaningful understandings are built and endure. “Learning happens best when learners construct their understanding through a process of constructing things to share with others.” (Jonan Donaldson). This is entirely absent in the fast food reading programs and textbook curricula.
In this short post I would like to pose a brief musing about the role of books in the learning environment. The idea stems from two other ideas, namely, the book as a physical artefact and the use of manipulatives in the classroom such as during investigations into mathematics concepts.
There are a plethora of math manipulatives designed to allow students to grasp a new mathematical concept by holding it in their hands, examining it from different angles in a hands-on experiential way. Books, as physical objects, can similarly be considered as “concept manipulatives“. Apart from the rich stories, informational texts & all that books represent, the physical artefact that is a book gives students the opportunity to hold ideas in their hands. This is not a print versus digital argument either. It is simply an appreciation for the physical act of grasping a book or a pile of books on a subject & organising them, categorising them, classifying them, sorting them and all the while discussing & engaging with various concepts that may relate to that subject area. Even the act of searching the library shelves for a book engages the whole body in the process of research.
recognising, valuing and investing in student identity is a necessary prerequisite for engaging students in learning. Language learning that does not build on the “cultural capital” of our students or connect to individual student identity is destined for a stagnant, linear and “authoritarian kind of pedagogy” (The New London Group). Another key component to a multiliteracies pedagogy described by Cummins is interdependence across languages where strong understandings in one language can transfer to another language. This is a capabilities based pedagogy that sees strengths in any language as a valuable basis for intellectual and creative linguistic development in other languages.
Plagiarism is an issue of concern for every educational institution across the world. Plagiarism is a serious issue requiring serious attention, however, a more holistic approach is required to support sound pedagogical practices that avoid the use of punitive measures to enforce sound practices. A more refined approach to the issue of plagiarism will do less to strike fear into the hearts of students and more to support and enhance authentic inquiry. Addressing academic honesty with a more holistic approach therefore becomes an opportunity to further support student learning and the development of deeper understandings through proficiency in information literacy.
A more holistic approach draws students and teachers into a deeper engagement with sources of information. Student ability to then communicate this engagement allows them to:
Demonstrate a deep understanding of the content they are presenting,
Demonstrate the breadth of their research,
Provide a transparency to the claims they are making,
Argue for the credibility of their arguments,
Demonstrate impact of the context on knowledge
and allow an audience to connect with their sources.
Avoiding Plagiarism : the big idea
Taking a step back from the plagiarism issue, one of the key ideas is to build student understanding of our place in the continuum of knowledge and the connections embedded within complex information systems. We are able to acquire knowledge through connecting to these information systems and make sense of that knowledge to construct new understandings. Through our own senses and reflections we are also our own source of information but we must also be mindful of the many factors that have influenced our thinking. Our current understandings are therefore a result of accumulated ideas, information and influences throughout human history that have a unique manifestation in each of us. Knowledge and understandings are therefore an emergent phenomenon that is at once passed on to us but also entirely uniquely synthesised by each individual to create meaning. Our own understandings are the result of the enumerable connections throughout our lives.
While we construct new meanings throughout our lives, we are also constantly contributing in constructive and destructive ways to others who are connected to us. We are therefore part of a continuum and complex network of information, knowledge and the construction of meaning both individually and shared.
Understanding this continuum and network of connections draws the antiplagiarism emphasis away from a rules based approach with punitive measures toward a deeper understanding of the fundamental role the sources to how we come to know what we know and the meanings we construct. Our ability to recognise those sources and the influence they have on our understandings is fundamental to our learning experience and how we communicate those experiences with others. This is the broader context that citation styles fit into. Citation styles should not be the primary focus of antiplagiarism measures.
Plagiarism and the IB Learner Profile
It is more than being principled.
Here are just a few ideas about how a more holistic approach to antiplagiarism can be expressed through the IB Learner Profile:
The process of pursuing meaning requires investigation and searching which can end in new discoveries and dead-ends. Documenting and celebrating this process with it’s successes and frustrations emphasises the process of inquiry. Connections to sources, both relevant and redundant, provide a key to understanding the process of inquiry.
How do we know what we know? Where have our new understandings come from? Do these sources support our new understandings or has what we thought we knew been challenged? An idea might make perfect sense to us but did we develop that understanding from somewhere else? Was that idea drawn from a range of sources?
Providing ourselves and our students with the time to dwell on an idea and to consider the role of various sources that contributed to the development of that idea is vital to allowing new understandings to emerge. New understandings can come from taking the time to dwell on new information and considering how it impacts our thinking processes. How that information came to us may alter our perceptions and determine the importance we place on that information.
As we pass on our knowledge to others, discussing relevant sources enables those we communicate with to connect directly with that information and understand how we have formulated a unique synthesis of ideas. Discussing relevant and reduntant sources provides the listener with a deep framework for understanding the ideas we are communicating. Linking the audience to sources ensures they are adequately connected with the broader information system and knowledge continuum surrounding a topic of interest.
Finding sources that challenge our thinking and lead us to new and more comprehensive understandings demonstrates an openness to ideas that may unsettle established patterns of thinking.
Recognising the contribution of others to our own ideas reflects an empathy and respect for the part they have played in building collective understandings.
Being prepared to risk sharing our own ideas, particularly if they are found to be incomplete and require refinement, is fundamental to learning. Permission to take these risks, explore a range of sources, opinions and approaches provides greater opportunities for authentic research and learning. If the focus is not on achieving “correct” answers, we are more prepared to risk being “wrong”. The result is less focus on the “right” answer, and permission to risk generating our own ideas. Fear of being incorrect and failing as a result, is a strong motivator for copying someone else’s well written work.
A balanced research process incorporates sources of information that contradict each other and offer different perspectives. We then draw together this information to develop our own perspective demonstrating a deep engagement with the focus of the inquiry.
Reflection allows us to connect relevant sources of information to what we know and identify sources that are incomplete or unsupported. Having time and support for us to consider how we know what we know provides us with this opportunity. An awareness of our self as a source may lead us to deeper inquiries that challenge or build our understandings.
What can an holistic approach look like?
Students and teachers using Creative Commons licensing for their own artwork.
Transdisciplinary understandings: students making connections to sources across all disciplines demonstrates a deep understanding of how sources of information connect to what we know.
Students and teachers discussing the role of specific sources in how they came to the new understandings they achieved.
Using social media as a virtual referencing system to connect an audience with the sources of their information (eg. Twitter hyperlinks).
Displaying the books used during research at an exhibition (eg Personal Project, PYP Exhibition).
Providing an audience with “if you would like to know more” links.
Using the Process Journal during the Personal Project to record the frustrating sources of information that led no-where.
Using fiction to illustrate new ideas and perspectives.
Young students using picture books to help express their ideas.
Academic citation methods applied consistently when writing the Extended Essay.
Young students able to describe the Who, When and Where components of sources of their information.
Students who are able to describe the significance of the Who, When and Where components of sources of their information.
Students can identify when they need to stop an inquiry and describe research needs if that inquiry was restarted or taken on by someone else.
The 6th Asia Pacific Conference on Academic Integrity occurred during Oct 2-4, 2013, Macquarie Univeristy, Sydney. “The Asia Pacific Forum on Educational Integrity (APFEI) is a multi-institutional, cross-disciplinary and non-profit organisation that fosters research and collaboration on issues relating to educational and academic integrity. Currently based in Australia, APFEI aims to provide a platform for the discussion, investigation and promotion of ethical research and writing practices.” [from the APFEI website].
Also available through APFEI is the International Journal of Educational IntegrityIJEI published twice per year. “The journal challenges readers to consider the changing nature of education in a globalised environment, and the impact that conceptions of educational integrity have on issues of pedagogy, academic standards, intercultural understanding and equity.” [from the IJEI website].
Presents extensive but concise and clear information about plagiarism. Excellent resource. No need to re-invent the wheel with resources like this. It is important to note that Plagiarism.org is sponsored by iParadigms LLC, makers of Turnitin, WriteCheck, and iThenticate.
International Association of Academic Integrity Conferences (IAAIC)is an alliance of key academic integrity and plagiarism conferences worldwide, formed to facilitate international conversations on educational issues ranging from cheating and plagiarism to pedagogy and best practices. The IAAIC currently has members from academic integrity bodies in the UK, US and Australia and supports research initiatives from practitioners and institutions throughout the global academic community.