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Today, we often take for granted how teens use technology. It seems to be embedded into their every day lives and something they pick up easily. But have we ever wondered how teens use technology to help others every day, especially others who do not understand technology as well? A group of researchers at the University of Washington’s iSchool are investigating these teens, whom they refer to as “info-mediaries” (InfoMes). Karen Fisher, Philip Fawcett, Ann Bishop, and Lassana Magassa are working with mainly groups of ethnic minority teens in the Seattle area to gain a better understanding of how teens, as information mediaries are using information and technology to help others.
My group working on our app. We are in the visual stages where we are drawing out what our problem is.
To gain this insight, the research team created Teen Design Days (see video link for a longer explanation). This is a three-day workshop where the teens gathered to discuss, learn, and explore how they help people in their social networks with information and technology. The teens are paid for their time and by the end of the workshop, will have created a design project that would help them. The design days are structured around the developmental needs for teens, identified by J. Davidson and D. Koppenhaver in their 1992 publication, Adolescent Literacy as “physical activity, competence and achievement, self-definition, creative expression, positive social interaction, structure, and clear limits.” This means that along with the learning, the teens take an active role in shaping the outcome of the workshop. From designing the rules and expectations, to participating in “light-and-lively” activities (physical activity component), the teens are truly front and center. As they begin to move from discussing their role as information mediaries to more fully fleshing out designs and solutions to improve their InfoMe work, the teens talk with each other, share ideas, and revise their design.
From a research point of view, these design days allow the group to collect large amounts of data in a short time, create friendships with the youth they work with and the larger community as a whole, and get an insight into what the teens are facing on a daily basis and what ideas they have to solve these problems.
One of the researchers, Ann Bishop, made a visit to University of Illinois in early October to share InfoMe. I attended one of her presentations in which she gave an outline of their research. At the end of the session, the group expressed interest in participating in the “train-the-trainer” workshop model. We hoped that a session like that would give us ideas on how to design similar programs for the teens we currently serve.
Telling the story of our problem (the stress of going home and visiting family and friends).
Our train-the-trainer workshop took place over a three-and-a-half hour time block at the Champaign Public Library. Bishop led us through a condensed design workshop, which included brainstorming problems we encounter daily and then splitting us into three groups based on the type of problems we identified. My group looked at the problem of visiting family and the hassles and stress that we confront. Through critical thinking, some storytelling, and using our limited drawing abilities (see photo, complete with stick figures), we more clearly defined our problem and then moved into thinking about what could help us out. My group created the beginnings of an app; one that would allow for family and friends to see your schedule when you’re visiting, for you to track your flight or train, and also a spot for stress relieving activities such as calming music or cat photos (whatever floats your boat). We created a prototype and if we had more time, would have continued to refine the app based on feedback from the rest of the group. When I left the workshop, I was energized and excited about the possibility of this for the future.
I believe the ideas behind InfoMe can be applied in our libraries. Not only is there potential for new designs to be brought forth, but also for teens to collaborate, and for librarians to gain insight into the teens they serve. I’m looking forward to following InfoMe and seeing what other insights they uncover with future Teen Design Days. For more information, make sure to visit their website, and read their various publications.
I’d email first drafts of my chapters for “Strong Inside” to my mom and dad, and I soon discovered why the messages I’d get back only contained suggestions from my mother: my father understood from the very beginning that I’d feel a whole lot better about my book if I knew I did it without major input from him.
Which isn’t to say that he had no influence. His fingerprints are all over it, but more in the sense of lifelong lessons on reporting and writing: avoid clichés and unnecessary words; find the universal in the particular; do the reporting.
Growing up, the people who came to visit our house for dinner or picnics were mostly journalists—I’d sit around on the periphery of the conversations and listen to the joy everyone took in describing great lead paragraphs, or scooping the competition. (I also remember the time Bob Woodward brought my sister and I some 45-RPM records, including “Safety Dance,” and the time Sarah and I tried to trick John Feinstein into eating a dog biscuit). Growing up in the home of a Washington Post journalist meant reading a great newspaper every morning—and reading great writing is the best way to learn to write. (Another childhood memory: Each morning, I’d spread the Post out on the dining room table, read the sports section first, and our family sheepdog, Maggie, would hop up on the table, park her body on top of the rest of the paper, and then lap up the milk from my cereal bowl when I was nearly done. Wow.)
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My father did not become a published author until after I graduated from college, but one of the lessons I’ve picked up from him in this later stage of his writing career is the concept of “go there.” For him, that meant traveling to Vietnam for one book, moving to Green Bay, Wisconsin, for the winter for another, and flying to Kenya, Indonesia, Hawaii and Kansas for his bio of Barack Obama.
In my case, going there meant two things: seeing my adopted hometown of Nashville through the eyes of my subject, Perry Wallace, and trying to travel back in time to the 1960s in as many ways as possible. On the time-travel side, I set my satellite radio to the 1960s channel and spent my 45-minute commutes to my “day job” listening to the songs Wallace and his contemporaries would have heard while he was making history as the first African American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference. I watched movies from the period, and read books about the Sixties that had nothing to do with Wallace’s story but shed light on the culture of the times in interesting ways (in addition to my dad’s many books that are set in the decade, one of my favorites was Mark Harris’ book, Pictures at a Revolution, on the five movies nominated for Oscars in 1967).
It was seeing Nashville through Perry Wallace’s eyes that produced the most valuable anecdotes for the book. I’ll forever remember the afternoon we spent driving around the town he left 44 years ago. He showed me the houses he grew up in, the parks he played in, the schools he attended. Driving past one house, he saw an old friend sitting on the front porch and jumped out of the car to say hello. Driving past a street corner in a now-fashionable part of town, he explained that in 1955, standing on that same corner, he had been stunned by a carload of white teenagers who pointed a gun out their window at him, pointing it, pointing it, pointing it, as the car slowly made its way around the corner. And as we drove past a baseball field, he asked me to stop the car. We got out, and he pointed to a thicket of rocks and trees behind the outfield fence. “See that rock?” he asked. “That’s where I sat and meditated over my decision whether to go to Vanderbilt.”
Suddenly I was standing next to Perry Wallace in the present, but also sitting next to him on that rock in 1966.
Two years ago, I wanted to write a story set in Campinas, Sao Paolo, Brazil.
I had never been there.
I only knew the name of two people who lived there.
Yet, I could convincingly write about the setting. Here’s the secret.
The free app, Google Earth, is immensely helpful to writers. I use the free, desktop version.
View satellite imagery, maps, terrain, 3D buildings, galaxies far in space, and the deepest depths of the ocean.
In 2011, Google Earth added the street view. They send out cars that drive along a certain road and take a 360 view of the landscape. That means you can put Google’s orange man on the street and look around. Today, the street view is available on all seven continents. See more on the background, scope and how to use Street View.
WhereisTheGoogleCar.com asks people to take a photo of the Google car when they see it and post the picture. It’s a “social experiment” to track the location of the car(s) on any given day.
Thank You, Google Earth, for Helping Me Write!
GPS Coordinates: Context.
When I wrote Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma, about a mother puma who died in a chicken coop trap near Campinas, Brazil, I was lucky enough to have an incident report that included GPS (Global Positioning System) coordinates. Google Earth immediately zoomed me into the right position, so that I was visually hovering right above the chicken coop. The context of the coop was crucial: Brazil has increased sugar cane production for use in making ethanol for automobile fuel, and the coop was nestled amidst the sugar cane fields. Pulling out some, though, it was also apparent that the sugar cane plantations were very close to large urban areas. This wasn’t a remote rural area. Instead, the pumas lived within sight of skyscrapers. How did I know this?
Abayomi was recently named a 2015 National Science Teacher’s Association Outstanding Science Trade Book.
Google Photos: Visual Details.
Google allows users to upload photographs that are marked with GPS information. On the maps, these are shown as tiny rectangles that when clicked open up the photos. Very near the chicken coop was such a photo that showed a skyline of skyscrapers of the city of Campinas.
Google Street Man and Maps: Topography
Google Earth also allows you to see the topography, or the terrain, of a setting. Is it hilly, flat, or somewhere in between? You can use the Street Man or simply fly around. We have a friend from India who flew us–through the miracle of Google Earth–over his parent’s house in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Distances: Measuring the Earth
I love the extra tools of Google Earth,too. For example, you can use the ruler to measure distances in kilometers or miles. I learned, for example, that a drone in a story would have to fly about 5 miles–as the crow flies. Very valuable information! I can then answer so many questions:
Is that within a drone’s range? Yes.
How long would the flight take, figuring 50 mph? 6 minutes.
That gives my hero a very narrow time window to locate the villain and disable the drone.
Google Earth has in impressive area of other specialities: historical maps, Mars, the Moon, 3-D buildings, favorite places, maps about climate change and much more. See the range of services at their showcase.
I’m researching Mt. Rainier for a story: through Google Earth, I’ve gotten context, followed trails, found fantastic photos, and almost feel like I’ve been there. No, I haven’t felt the wind on my face or heard the chatter of birds. I’m adding to the Google Earth info such things as the flora/fauna of the region. I’ve hiked other areas in the Pacific Northwest, and I’ve hiked in mountainous areas. I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to recreate this landscape for a reader. It won’t hurt to have a beta reader from the area vet it for me, but I think it will be close. For me, Google Earth is the next best thing to being on-site myself. Add to that Flickr Photos that are Creative Commons licensed, and my story take on an added weight of reality.
(Click the photos to go to the original flckr.com sites.)
There are tons of committees, task forces and areas to work in YALSA. Everyone knows about the book award committees and some of the major task force, but there are a lot of smaller, less glamorous and flashy committees that are a part of YALSA as well. Did you know that YALSA has a Research Committee? Well, I didn’t either, until I decided to volunteer for YALSA and became a member of the research committee, which I currently chair. So what is the research committee? What exactly do we do?
The Research Committee has actually been around since 1968. The Research Committee’s purpose is “To stimulate, encourage, guide, and direct the research needs of the field of young adult library services, and to regularly compile abstracts, disseminate research findings, update YALSA’s Research Agenda as needed and to liaise with ALA’s Committee on Research & Statistics.” So what does that entail? Well for starters, the Research Committee developed the YALSA National Research Agenda, which helps guide the direction and express needed research to “help guarantee that librarians serving young adults are able to provide the best service possible as well as advocate for funding and support in order to ensure that teens are served effectively by their libraries.” The Research Committee also keeps this document up-to-date, which is one of this year’s current tasks. We are using The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action to ensure that the Research Agenda is up-to-date and on track.
The research committee works to disperse information through the YALSA wiki and monitors YALSA’s Network for Research on Libraries and Teens, and contributes to the YALSA blog. The committee often holds research forums at Mid-Winter conferences as well. Last year, we worked to determine if there was a need for a new Harris poll. We examined what research was currently out there and available to librarians and researchers, and brought our findings to the board to help them decide if a poll might be necessary.
Of course this is just a brief overview of what the committee has worked on, there have been many more tasks and projects. The Research Committee works to develop and improve library services for teens by helping to bridge the gap between existing research and applying that information to teen library services to help ensure their needs are being addressed. So when you decide to you fill out your volunteer form, consider signing on to help the Research Committee.
I just wanted to thank our members for the 537 volunteer committee applications that were submitted and to give everyone an update on the award and selection committee appointments process!
The appointments task force was finalized in October and award and selection committee chairs were selected. The appointments task force and I are still working on filling all of the award and selection committee member vacancies, but rosters should be finalized soon.
Appointing the local arrangements committee for Midwinter 2015 is the next priority.
ALA Appointments: There has been one ALA Appointment call to review the general ALA appointment process. The slate for the nominating committee has not been officially presented, but does include one YALSA member.
ALA President Elect Sari Feldman has put out a call for volunteers for the ALA committees listed below. Please let me know if you are interested in being recommended for any of them. The ALA application form closes this Friday, November 7, 2014.
The Internet has changed so much about how I write. In the old days, I relied on my faulty memory, things I had seen on TV, and trips to the library where I consulted these green volumes called The Readers Guide to Periodical Literature and then tracked down the relevant magazines.
Now if I want to know a character to give the Boy Scout salute and I don't remember what it looks like, it's right at my fingertips. Then again, so is a bunch of other distracting stuff.
Often, the reader of a mystery or a thriller gets to learn something - something the writer either knows or had the pleasure of researching. (Of course, sometimes what you learn, especially if it’s on TV or in the movies, is wrong. Like female CSIs don’t wear four-inch heels and low-cut tops. And a lot of the flashy technology you see exists only in some screenwriter’s imagination.)
To research Girl, Stolen, I started by reading autobiographies of people who had gone blind. The more I read, the more I realized how having a guide dog can change your life if you're blind. Not only can you walk much faster, but if you have a cane people are worried they might get in your way or you might hit them, so they tend to stay away. But if you have a guide dog, people are much more likely to talk to you.
I had sort of thought guide dogs were like a GPS with fur, but it turns out you have to know where to go and direct your dog.
I also interviewed people who had gone blind and later asked them to read the book.
I even talked to an ophthalmologist about what happens when you go blind as the result of an accident.
I bought a cane and learned something about how to use it. Once I brought it on a school visit with me in Detroit. My phone fell behind the motel bed, which was fixed in place. Thanks to my cane, I was able to get it out.
Once I took the cane with me to a signing about 45 mints away. The cane unfurled itself as I walked and the woman at the register looked at me and her mouth fell open. "How did you manage to drive here?" she asked. I was tempted to tell it I stuck it out the window and pointed it straight ahead.
Right now, I'm working on a sequel to Girl, Stolen, and researching new technologies that might allow my character to regain at least some of her sight.
The Afterschool Alliance just published a study regarding after school programs in the United States. This is the third study of its kind, following in the results from the 2004 and 2009 studies. The group wants to document where and how children spend their time between 3 and 6 PM. The previous studies, along with this one, show that there is a demand for after school programs. However, more programming is needed to help reach the approximately 11.3 million children who are unsupervised after school.
The study is full of facts and figures. Such as: 18 percent (10.2 million) children participate in some after school program. This is an increase by nearly 2 million children when the study was conducted five years ago. We can only hope that number will continue to rise. Parents enroll their students in after school programs because it allows them to feel that their children are safe and also in an nurturing and creative environment. Parents that were polled were satisfied with their after school programs when the organization provided a snack, opportunity for physical activity, an environment to complete homework, and also a space for enrichment activities, such as STEM programs.
Income and ethnicity also played a role in the study; students from low-income families make up 45 percent of the students enrolled in after school programs and the most demand for after school programs is highest among African American families. This study confirmed that yes, we as a country are beginning to provide the after school programs our communities need, but a gap still exists.
So what does this mean for libraries and us as librarians? This is an opportunity to us to help out our community and potentially reach the population of people who feel underserved by after school programs. Of those 11.3 million children who are unsupervised, the majority are teens in middle and high school. For libraries, it can mean two things. The first is that we can either create some sort of informal (or formal) after school program or space for our teens to come to. If we foster an environment of learning and fun, we can help create a space the teens will flock to (at least, that’s what we hope). Our other option is reach out to after school programs in the area. We should ask ourselves, Where could the library fit in to their programming? Perhaps we could visit the program, or even just give them information about the library and events you offer. Regardless, establish some connection that says, “Hey, we’re the library and we are here for you.” If we can make our presence known, through establishing a place in our library or through outreach, we have the potential to make connections, ones that will last a long time. The study cited that students were more likely to continue the program into the summer. Hey, we do summer programming and wouldn’t it be great to get more kids involved? After school programs are our “in.” And in the process, we have the potential to do a lot of good.
So let’s get the conversation going. Are your libraries an after-school spot? What has worked for you? What has not? Since the study does not explicitly cite libraries as a spot for after-school program or programming, I’m curious to know what our librarians are already doing from that 3-6 PM time zone.
One way to increase transparency is for scholars to “preregister” their research. That is, they can write up their research plan and publish that prior to the actual implementation of their research plan. A number of social scientists have advocated research preregistration, and Political Analysis will soon release new author guidelines that will encourage scholars who are interested in preregistering their research plans to do so.
In order to facilitate further discussion of the pros and cons of research preregistration, I recently asked Jaime Monogan to write a brief essay that outlines the case for preregistration, and I also asked Joshua Tucker to write about some of the concerns that have been raised about how journals may deal with research preregistration.
* * * * *
The pros of preregistration for political science
By Jamie Monogan, Department of Political Science, University of Georgia
Study registration is the idea that a researcher can publicly release a data analysis plan prior to observing a project’s outcome variable. In a Political Analysis symposium on this topic, two articles make the case that this practice can raise research transparency and the overall quality of research in the discipline (“Humphreys, de la Sierra, and van der Windt 2013; Monogan 2013).
Together, these two articles describe seven reasons that study registration benefits our discipline. To start, preregistration can curb four causes of publication bias, or the disproportionate publishing of positive, rather than null, findings:
Preregistration would make evaluating the research design more central to the review process, reducing the importance of significance tests in publication decisions. Whether the decision is made before or after observing results, releasing a design early would highlight study quality for reviewers and editors.
Preregistration would help the problem of null findings that stay in the author’s file drawer because the discipline would at least have a record of the registered study, even if no publication emerged. This will convey where past research was conducted that may not have been fruitful.
Preregistration would reduce the ability to add observations to achieve significance because the registered design would signal in advance the appropriate sample size. It is possible to monitor the analysis until a positive result emerges before stopping data collection, and this would prevent that.
Preregistration can prevent fishing, or manipulating the model to achieve a desired result, because the researcher must describe the model specification ahead of time. By sorting out the best specification of a model using theory and past work ahead of time, a researcher can commit to the results of a well-reasoned model.
Additionally, there are three advantages of study registration beyond the issue of publication bias:
Preregistration prevents inductive studies from being written-up as deductive studies. Inductive research is valuable, but the discipline is being misled if findings that are observed inductively are reported as if they were hypothesis tests of a theory.
Preregistration allows researchers to signal that they did not fish for results, thereby showing that their research design was not driven by an ideological or funding-based desire to produce a result.
Preregistration provides leverage for scholars who face result-oriented pressure from financial benefactors or policy makers. If the scholar has committed to a design beforehand, the lack of flexibility at the final stage can prevent others from influencing the results.
Overall, there is an array of reasons why the added transparency of study registration can serve the discipline, chiefly the opportunity to reduce publication bias. Whatever you think of this case, though, the best way to form an opinion about study registration is to try it by preregistering one of your own studies. Online study registries are available, so you are encouraged to try the process yourself and then weigh in on the preregistration debate with your own firsthand experience.
* * * * *
Experiments, preregistration, and journals
By Joshua Tucker, Professor of Politics (NYU) and Co-Editor, Journal of Experimental Political Science
I want to make one simple point in this blog post: I think it would be a mistake for journals to come up with any set of standards that involves publically recognizing some publications as having “successfully” followed their pre-registration design while identifying others publications as not having done so. This could include a special section for articles that matched their pre-registration design, an A, B, C type rating system for how faithfully articles had stuck with the pre-registration design, or even an asterisk for articles that passed a pre-registration faithfulness bar.
Let me be equally clear that I have no problem with the use of registries for recording experimental designs before those experiments are implemented. Nor do I believe that these registries should not be referenced in published works featuring the results of those experiments. On the contrary, I think authors who have pre-registered designs ought to be free to reference what they registered, as well as to discuss in their publications how much the eventual implementation of the experiment might have differed from what was originally proposed in the registry and why.
My concern is much more narrow: I want to prevent some arbitrary third party from being given the authority to “grade” researchers on how well they stuck to their original design and then to be able to report that grade publically, as opposed to simply allowing readers to make up their own mind in this regard. My concerns are three-fold.
First, I have absolutely no idea how such a standard would actually be applied. Would it count as violating a pre-design registry if you changed the number of subjects enrolled in a study? What if the original subject pool was unwilling to participate for the planned monetary incentive, and the incentive had to be increased, or the subject pool had to be changed? What if the pre-registry called for using one statistical model to analyze the data, but the author eventually realized that another model was more appropriate? What if survey questions that was registered on a 1-4 scale was changed to a 1-5 scale? Which, if any of these, would invalidate the faithful application of the registry? Would all of them together? It seems to the only truly objective way to rate compliance is to have an all or nothing approach: either you do exactly what you say you do, or you didn’t follow the registry. Of course, then we are lumping “p-value fishing” in the same category as applying a better a statistical model or changing the wording of a survey question.
This bring me to my second point, which is a concern that giving people a grade for faithfully sticking to a registry could lead to people conducting sub-optimal research — and stifle creativity — out of fear that it will cost them their “A” registry-faithfulness grade. To take but one example, those of us who use survey experiments have long been taught to pre-test questions precisely because sometime some of the ideas we have when sitting at our desks don’t work in practice. So if someone registers a particular technique for inducing an emotional response and then runs a pre-test and figures out their technique is not working, do we really want the researcher to use the sub-optimal design in order to preserve their faithfulness to the registered design? Or consider a student who plans to run a field experiment in a foreign country that is based on the idea that certain last names convey ethnic identity. What happens if the student arrives in the field and learns that this assumption was incorrect? Should the student stick with the bad research design to preserve the ability to publish in the “registry faithful” section of JEPS? Moreover, research sometimes proceeds in fits and spurts. If as a graduate student I am able to secure funds to conduct experiments in country A but later as a faculty member can secure funds to replicate these experiments in countries B and C as well, should I fear including the results from country A in a comparative analysis because my original registry was for a single country study? Overall, I think we have to be careful about assuming that we can have everything about a study figured out at the time we submit a registry design, and that there will be nothing left for us to learn about how to improve the research — or that there won’t be new questions that can be explored with previously collected data — once we start implementing an experiment.
At this point a fair critique to raise is that the points in preceding paragraph could be taken as an indictment of registries generally. Here we venture more into simply a point of view, but I believe that there is a difference between asking people to document what their original plans were and giving them a chance in their own words — if they choose to do so — to explain how their research project evolved as opposed to having to deal with a public “grade” of whatever form that might take. In my mind, the former is part of producing transparent research, while the latter — however well intentioned — could prove paralyzing in terms of making adjustments during the research process or following new lines of interesting research.
This brings me to my final concern, which is that untenured faculty would end up feeling the most pressure in this regard. For tenured faculty, a publication without the requisite asterisks noting registry compliance might not end up being too big a concern — although I’m not even sure of that — but I could easily imagine junior faculty being especially worried that publications without registry asterisks could be held against them during tenure considerations.
The bottom line is that registries bring with them a host of benefits — as Jamie has nicely laid out above — but we should think carefully about how to best maximize those benefits in order to minimize new costs. Even if we could agree on how to rate a proposal in terms of faithfulness to registry design, I would suggest caution in trying to integrate ratings into the publication process.
The views expressed here are mine alone and do not represent either the Journal of Experimental Political Science or the APSA Organized Section on Experimental Research Methods.
Heading image: Interior of Rijksmuseum research library. Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed. CC-BY-SA-3.0-nl via Wikimedia Commons.
Public libraries are, as ALA President Courtney Young said in a July 2014 Comcast Newsmaker interview, “digital learning centers.” We are able to provide access to computers, wireless capabilities, and also a space to learn. Access to technology becomes even more important to our “at-risk” teens; the library becomes a safe spot to use these resources. The question becomes how do we help them use this technology and learn from it? Earlier this month, the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) published a report titled “Using Technology to Support At-Risk Students’ Learning.” This brief defines “at-risk” students as high schoolers with personal and academic factors that would could cause them to fail classes or drop out of school all together. They give three variables for success, real-life examples to why these variables work, and then recommend policies to help achieve these variables. While the article was geared towards schools, these variables are important to keep in mind as we work with the teens in our libraries.
When learning new digital skills, youth must be engaged in interactive projects, must do more discovery and creation than the standard “drill and kill,” and must have a blend of both teacher and technology (6). These variables are part of the larger, digital learning ecosystem which places the learner at the center. This ecosystem relies on the constant bi-directional dialogue as the learner engages with learning outcomes, technology, and the context of the situation (which includes the activity, the goals of the activity, and the community the learning is taking place in). As we use technology and support our teens, we should be in constant reflection mode, altering our future programs to best fit the needs of our teens. Feedback we receive can help us discover what we are doing well and what needs to still be worked on. How we shape our digital literacy programs are up to us; we know our community of teens better than anyone else in the library. If we highlight and support their interests, they are most likely to be engaged with the program and more likely to return the library and use our resources.
These variables overlap and are more powerful when used together. The authors cite that interactive learning allows “students to see and explore concepts from different angles using a variety of representations” (7). As the teen engage, they are likely to discuss their findings with the people around them, which in turn strengthens both the learning and the existing community. As we work with our teens, we should push for creation versus just going through the steps, because this form of interactive learning this strengthens retention of skills and again, creates conversation. As we implement this programming, we can also be resources and a support team for our teens. It is important to stress that we don’t have to be the experts, and there might be times where we are all learning together. The moments of collective learning enhances our community and creates shared memories the teens won’t forget. Looking at the big picture, by keeping these variables in mind, we can empower our teens through access to technology they might not have regular access to.
To me, these variables seem obvious and are important to keep in mind as we think about creating programming that target digital literacy skills. This might also be because of the assistantship I am a part of at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Our nine month grant from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity focuses on eliminating the digital divide across the Urbana-Champaign community. I am working with two after-school programs and am developing curriculum to support digital literacy.As we think about this article and our own libraries, this can be our framing question: How can we support teens’ digital literacy with the resources our library has? These variables also push us to provide more than just access to our teens. While access is important, this article reminds us that thoughtful programming can engage our teens, help them become a stronger part of our library community, and grow as an informed global citizen. We can help them create content they can share with the world and empower them to use technology as a tool to better themselves. Over the following months, I’ll be creating digital literacy programs and will be keeping these variables from the SCOPE article in mind. I cannot wait to share my discoveries with you and hope some of what I learn and create can be used with the teens you serve.
I got exciting news this week! Scholastic has bought a bunch of copies of The Body in the Woods, the first in my new series. Girl, Stolen and The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die have been Scholastic bestsellers, so I'm hoping this book meets the same fate.
I got the idea in April 2012 when a friend told us her teen was a volunteer with Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue. Our local SAR does what all SARSs do—find people lost in the wilderness—but ours is unique in two respects. First, it is an all teen-led organization. Adults can volunteer, but they can't be elected to leadership positions. Second, about 30% of what these teens do is search for evidence at crime scenes. Evidence they have found has been credited with helping solve dozens of murders. The more I learned, the more I was sure I had found what I had long sought: a realistic hook for a teen mystery series.
The teen volunteers receive about 300 hours of training. They meet every Wednesday evening as well as go on weekend outings once a month. I have gone to trainings with them, most recently a unit on "man tracking," which is what they call it when you follow someone's tracks. It's a real art, and the only clue that someone might have been there can be as small as a broken twig or a few grains of sand on top of a leaf. (I told folks at my kung fu school that I was learning to man track and another lady said, "Oh, don't worry, honey, I can set you up with somebody!")
How to write about something you
don't know much about I stared first where I always start: at the library. I checked out books about Search and Rescue. I even bought a few manuals (which were expensive, even if they weren't that much bigger than a book. I don't understand why textbooks and such always priced so much higher.)
I interviewed the girl who was a volunteer, and she showed me all the things you have to carry in your pack and on your person when you are called out for SAR. After signing a criminal background check, I started going to meetings, including an orientation meeting, where I took notes and talked to people. But the best thing I did was to make the acquintance of Jake K., a guy in his early 20s who had volunteered for SAR since he was a teen. Like many SAR volunteers, SAR is Jake's passion. But he's also willing to answer a million questions by email.
And slowly I found my way to a story. Actually I found my way to ideas for about a dozen stories, but i picked one and worked on that.
First up: the Body in the Woods
Alexis, Nick, and Ruby have very different backgrounds: Alexis has spent her life covering for her mom’s mental illness, Nick’s bravado hides his fear of not being good enough, and Ruby just wants to pursue her eccentric interests in a world that doesn’t understand her. When the three teens join Portland County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, they are teamed up to search for a autistic man lost in the woods. What they find instead is a dead body. In a friendship that will be forged in danger, fear, and courage, the three team up to find the girl’s killer—before he can strike one of their own.
Next in the series: Blood Will Tell
This last weekend, I turned in the final draft of the next book in the series. The working title was Blood Will Tell. The amazing thing is I think the publisher kept it. I think the last time that happened was 10 years ago.
In Blood Will Tell, Nick, Alexis and Ruby are well on their way to being full-fledged members of Portland’s Search and Rescue—and to being friends. When a woman is found stabbed to death, their team is called out to search for evidence. Suspicion begins to fall on a guy who lives nearbyr, an awkward kid who collects knives, loves first-person shooter video games, and doodles violent scenes in his school notebooks: Nick Walker. As the evidence against their friend mounts, Alexis and Ruby must decide where their loyalties lie—even if it puts them in danger.
Awards and honors
A Junior Library Guild selection.
Kirkus: "A fast-moving and well-constructed mystery... A quick, thrilling read that doesn’t skimp on characterization."
Publishers Weekly: "The author’s expertise at plotting a murder mystery and knowledge of police procedure are evident."
School Library Journal: "A pervading sense of threat and danger."
VOYA: "Henry has created not only a gripping mystery, but rich and detailed characters as well."
Click here to read the first chapter
For Alexis Frost, Nick Walker, and Ruby McClure, it all started with a phone call and two texts. It ended with fear and courage, love and loathing, screaming and blood. Lots of blood.
* * *
When the classroom phone rang in American history, Alexis Frost straightened up and blinked, trying to will herself awake as the teacher answered it. She managed to yawn without opening her mouth, the cords stretching tight in her neck. Last night had been another hard one.
“Alexis?” Mrs. Fairchild turned toward her.
“Yes?” Her heart sped up. What was it this time? The possibilities were endless. None of them good.
“Could you come up here, please?”
Mrs. Fairchild was looking at Alexis as if she was seeing her in a new light. Had it finally happened, then, the thing she both feared and longed for? Had something happened to her mother?
* * *
Nick Walker’s thumbs were poised over the virtual keyboard of the phone he held on his lap. He was pretending to listen to Mr. Dill, his English teacher, while he was really texting Sasha Madigan, trying this angle and that to persuade her to study with him tonight. Which he hoped would mean lots of copying (on his part) and lots of kissing (on both their parts).
The phone vibrated in his hand. Mr. Dill was busy writing on the board, so Nick lifted it a little closer to his face. It wasn’t a reply from Sasha but a message from his Portland Search and Rescue team leader.
Search in Forest Park. Missing man. Meet time 1500.
His first SAR call-out! He jumped to his feet.
“Nick?” Mr. Dill turned and looked at him over the top of his glasses. “What is it?” Mr. Dill had a lot of rules. He had already complained about Nick’s habit of drawing—only Mr. Dill called it doodling—in class.
Nick held up his phone while pointing at it with his other hand as if he had been hired to demonstrate it. “I’m with Portland Search and Rescue, and we’ve been mobilized to find a man missing in Forest Park. I have to leave now.”
“Um, okay,” Mr. Dill said uncertainly. Someone in Wilson High’s administration had had to sign off on Nick being allowed to join searches during the school day, but maybe the information hadn’t filtered down to his teachers.
No matter. Nick was already out the door.
He just hoped someone from class would tell Sasha. A text wouldn’t do it justice.
Nick Walker, called out on a lifesaving mission.
* * *
Ruby McClure felt her phone buzz in her jeans pocket. She waited until the end of chemistry to check it.
Fifteen hundred made so much more sense than three P.M. Ruby preferred military time. No questions about whether “nine” meant morning or night. No having to rely on context. No one getting hung up on whether 1200 had an A.M. or a P.M. after it, which was a ridiculous idea because A.M. meant “ante meridiem” and P.M. meant “post meridiem” and meridiem was Latin for “midday,” and twelve noon was midday itself.
It was 1357 now. Which meant she had an hour to get home, change into hiking clothes, pick up her SAR backpack, and meet the rest of the team at the Portland sheriff’s office.
Piece of cake.
Ruby pulled out the keys to her car as she walked to the office to sign herself out. On the way, her phone buzzed again. It was Nick, asking for a ride.
“Write what you know,” the adage goes. But when my heart pulled me way outside my knowledge base to help Rwandan Frederick Ndabaramiye write his unbelievable story, I knew that I had a lot to learn.
Here are a few pointers based on what I did, what I didn’t do, and what you must do … from someone who now knows.
What I Did
I saturated myself in the culture—as much as a Tennessee girl can, anyway. I asked Frederick for photos, read Rwandan news and books set in Rwanda, and listened to Rwandan (Internet) radio. Much of that information never made it into the book, but it enriched my ability to feel the surroundings, see the scenes, and hear the voices that later would be woven into the story.
I went! None of the remote research will enhance your knowledge and sense of setting as much as seeing it for yourself. If I hadn’t, I would have never known that the whole country smells like a campfire or why—almost everyone cooks over an open fire. I would have never known the inexplicable warmth and kindness of the people, felt the breathlessness of climbing the steep Rwandan hills, or known the awe of looking into the eyes of a mountain gorilla.
You’ll learn things that the native people would never think to tell you, and you’ll discover answers to questions that you would never have known to ask. Sure, it can be costly, but it is worth every cent—or Rwandan Franc—you’ll spend.
I begged the advice of those gone before me. And I got answers about everything from car rentals and hotels to what kind of shoes and electrical adapters to take.
This proved to be invaluable, especially in hiring a driver. We tried to rationalize that particular piece of advice away (the per-day fee was as much as a weekly car rental in the States), but in the end, we caved and were greatly rewarded for our investment. Our guide Charles had actually fought with the RPF (the army that ended the genocide) and shared knowledge and experiences beyond what I could find in any book. And as for the driving, we honestly could have never navigated the steep, rutted roads ourselves.
What I Didn’t Do
Learn the language. Of course, I bought the book and practiced some phrases, but I had no working knowledge of the language. So when the Rwandan pastor said something from the front of the church that prompted the entire congregation to turn and look at us, I didn’t know whether to smile or hide. (Thankfully, he was welcoming us.) If you even think that you may be traveling to a foreign-language location, start practicing the language yesterday. I can’t imagine how much more I would have learned if I had.
Ask permission to take photos. Every. Single. Time. It’s a courtesy common to most cultures, and I asked most of the time. But the one time I didn’t—in the market, when I wasn’t really photographing a person, but a place—I greatly offended one lady. And I didn’t need to speak Kinyarwanda to know it.
What You Must Do
Keep a journal. I did this but wish I had done more, had noted more details, went more in-depth about daily experiences. Stay up for an extra thirty minutes each night and jot down every single detail you remember about your day. This will be a priceless gift to yourself, not to mention the much-needed descriptions it will provide for your story.
Try something new. I ate sambaza, best described as fried minnows. And it was delicious. I fell in love with African Tea (like a chai latte with a kick). I’m not an athlete—in any sense of the word—but I eagerly signed up for the mountain gorilla trek. I drank in the culture, and I am forever changed.
Share the experience. I quickly shared my photos on Facebook, but two years later, I have yet to compose the dozen blog ideas that I jotted down while riding in that bumpy SUV. (Okay, so I did write a book, but still.) Find the time—share your experiences.
After all, it is our duty to the world as writers. And in many cases, it’s the only way readers will experience another world for themselves—through your writing, now that you know.
Amy Parker has made her mark as an experienced and versatile writer and editor who has a particular enthusiasm for children’s books. She authored the bestselling A Night Night Prayer and has collaborated with authors ranging from a New York Times bestseller to her own son.
A short list of tweets from the past week of interest to teens and the library staff that work with them.
Do you have a favorite Tweet from the past week? If so add it in the comments for this post. Or, if you read a Twitter post between September 12 – September 18 that you think is a must for the next Tweets of the Week send a direct or @ message to lbraun2000 on Twitter.
This was the fifth year of the Writers Police Academy. I've been to four, so you can tell how much I love it. The first year, most of the attendees hadn't been published. I remember looking around thinking, "Why isn't everyone here?" Now the event sells out in a few hours.
Where else are you going to be able to:
ask questions a Secret Service agent
hear a guy who spent two years deep undercover with the Mongols motorcycle gang (and said frankly that he would never have done it if he knew how it would blow his family up and put a price on his head - forever)
put on a firefighter's turnout and work a fire hose
watch how firefighters and EMTs handle a mass casualty accident
search a building (and maybe get "killed" if you don't search well enough
talk to an expert in biological weapons
learn how forensic artists work their magic
hear from a domestic violence investigator
watch experts breach doors with explosive devices
have drinks with all the experts in the bar at night
use a firearms training system and learn what it's like to make life or death decisions in a split second
watch divers recover evidence underwater
and a million more things
This year I won the jail tour. This included a stop in the Seg Unit. Prisoners shrieked and shouted obscenities, pounded on the plexiglas and metal doors, stared and made gestures. The deputy said, "Don't worry. We are perfectly safe." But of course I had seen enough horror movies to know that you NEVER say that.
Are staffers outside of youth services ever responsible for staffing your children’s desk in a programming pinch? Would employees outside of your department feel comfortable and confident in providing this service or would they feel stunned like a deer caught in the headlights?
At our community branch library, information services staff members also staff our children’s services desk, and we receive a great number of children’s reference questions at our adult information services desk. Staff members outside of youth services must be familiar with the needs of children and those that work with them. Being cross-trained to provide customer service to customers of all ages is a necessity, but how do we ensure that staffers receive the training necessary to handle the unique needs of our young customers?
My colleague recently presented training for library staff outside of youth services. Not meant as a substitute for advanced youth services training in reference or readers’ advisory, this overview highlighted many of the traditional questions staffers receive when they work in the children’s services department. This training served as a perfect introduction for those employees who may occasionally need to staff this service desk.
Where are the BOB books?
(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)
During this youth services basics training, my colleague used questions that have been previously asked by customers as training examples. Just as when working in the information services department, training participants realized that questions are often not as simple as they appear. The question, “where are the BOB books?” is a perfect example. The answer could mean numerous things in our library system, depending on the needs of the library user, and could include a request for a standard beginning reader series; it could also serve as a request for the TV inspired books based off the popular Bob the Builder character, or the extremely popular Battle of the Books (BOB) competitions sponsored by our public school system. Understanding how this one type of question, “where are your BOB books?” could mean various things to different people, was rated by attendees as one of the most valuable pieces of information they learned during the training.
Let’s Take a Tour
As part of the training, participants toured our children’s department at our Headquarters Library. This touring component provided staffers with a close and personal look at our collection and was helpful to staffers from each of our branches as our youth services departments are structured similarly in each of our eight library locations. By including this hands-on training component, participants were able to view exactly where items were located, from the juvenile biographies placed at the end of the children’s nonfiction collection to the difference among board books, picture books, and beginning readers. Knowing our collection is critical in providing excellent customer service, and this tour helped our trainees gain confidence in providing that service for our young patrons.
Priorities of Programs and Services
Questions about children’s programming, and the specialized services offered within the children’s services department, are often questions asked by patrons. Adults may frequently register their children to attend special programming, request information on how to duplicate the story time experience at home, or request tutoring resources. Staffers must be able to quickly address these questions while also being aware of the unique services offered within the children’s department, such as our picture book bundle service, where customers may check out a group of books organized by a specific theme. Children’s unique interests and needs must be understood by all staff, not just those librarians specializing in children’s services.
(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)
This training helped staff members without a background in children’s services to gain a better understanding of the interests and needs of our young patrons. Our goal is to prepare our colleagues to feel as comfortable and confident as they can when working with children and their families, instead of feeling caught like a deer in the headlights! What topics do you believe are important to introduce to staff members outside of your department if they were to staff your children’s desk? How do you ensure staffers are most effectively able to reach out to your customers? Please share in the comments below!
Early this year, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts launched its interview series, In Conversation, with Benedict Cumberbatch. (Good choice!) Something he said about how he researches a new role struck a chord with me:
“[Research is] a security blanket. Not all of it — very little of it ends up on screen, often. And it’s just to take a little bit more possession of the extraordinariness of what I’m being asked to do. Because it’s so far removed from my experience. It just gets me a little bit more… It just gives me a little bit more courage to pretend to be something I’m so far from.”
I literally couldn’t have said it better, because I’m not Benedict Cumberbatch! But I feel the same way about novel research. Obviously, before you start writing about something you don’t know much about, like say computer hacking — the topic of my next book, The Silence of Six — you have to find out more about it. But the tricky thing about research is you don’t necessarily know what information you will need before you start outlining or writing the book. The natural solution is to learn everything you can, just like Sherlock, but as Cumberbatch said so sexily: most of that isn’t going to end up on the page, and it shouldn’t.
A “security blanket” is a perfect metaphor for the way I research, because I don’t feel comfortable enough to start a new project until I’ve read a bit about it — even if I’m just going to be making things up. Research also gives me a better idea of the kinds of things I’ll need to learn in more detail to make the book as authentic as possible, and the more I learn, the more ideas I have that will make the book even better.
My research usually starts off on the internet (where else?). I’ll probably start by visiting Wikipedia and various websites to get a basic introduction to a particular topic. This usually leads me to books and movies and documentaries that they’ve referenced, which soon become my primary sources, and I’ll start looking up fiction books on the same topic.
Some of my research books for The Silence of Six.
I know a lot of writers don’t or can’t read books similar to what they’re writing, because they’re worried about being influenced by them too much, but I find it helpful to see what’s out there. They help me discover the right tone for my book. It’s good to know how other writers have approached the same ideas, so I can avoid duplicating them and, maybe so I can try to do better. For instance, many technothrillers in film and print treat hacking like magic; a few minutes in front of a keyboard, and a hacker is deep in the Pentagon’s most top secret files, when in reality, a hack of that magnitude would take months, or much longer. In fact, before many hackers try to break into a facility or system, they do research too!
Research is one of my favorite parts of writing. I love to learn new things, and since my school days are long behind
me, researching new stories introduces me to all sorts of topics I wouldn’t have found out about otherwise. Research can also be fun — it gives you “permission” to read a bunch of books and watch TV shows and movies, while still considering it a productive part of writing. I finally started watching the show Leverage as inspiration for some of the infiltration scenes in The Silence of Six. I got to read Michelle Gagnon’s PERSEF0NE series and Robin Benway’s Also Known As books for great examples of how to write computer scenes and tense, action-filled chases. I watched The Fifth Estate, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange (but sadly I can’t recommend it, for reasons that have nothing to do with his performance). I also probably ended up on some NSA and FBI watchlists for Googling things like “How to hack into a Macbook,” “How to hack a car,” and how to do Google searches like that anonymously.
The danger of research is you can get a little too attached to that security blanket. There’s so much to read and watch, you can feel like maybe you’ll never be ready to start writing that book. You cram too much of your research into the book, so your editor starts giving you notes like, “It feels like there’s a subplot about Wi-Fi.” (All I can say about that is Wi-Fi is fascinating! And there are lots of ways to exploit it.) When research turns into procrastination, it’s time to put those books aside and start writing, confident that you know enough to get through a first draft, and you can always do more focused research later when you need it. Just highlight the sections that need to be filled in on your manuscript (I like to mark them “TK”), and keep going. And try to avoid falling into another Wikipedia spiral as you look up those missing details!
I’m in this exciting research phase with my next project. All I’ll tell you about it is that Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry, and The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst are on my reading list. I actually think these books aren’t at all similar to what I want to write, and this project shouldn’t need much research, but they’re going to get my subconscious thinking about the story so when I do start writing, I’ll feel ready.
Do you like researching your stories? How do you go about it? Do you like Benedict Cumberbatch?
The Bechtel Fellowship is designed to allow qualified children’s librarians to spend a total of four weeks or more reading and studying at the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature, a part of the George A. Smathers Libraries at the University of Florida, Gainesville.
The Baldwin Library contains a special collection of 130,000 volumes of children’s literature published mostly before 1950. The fellowship is endowed in memory of Louise Seaman Bechtel and Ruth M. Baldwin and provides a stipend of $4,000.
Applicants must be personal members of ALSC, as well as ALA members to apply. Deadline for submissions is Wednesday, October 1, 2014.
Digital Inclusion is more than Digital Literacy, focusing on not just access but supporting users to engage in digital communities. The report explored the roles of public libraries in four main areas:
Quality access to digital technology
Access to a range of digital content
Services and programs that promote digital literacy
Programs that address key community needs, such as health and wellness and education, and that promote workforce development and civic engagement.
Overwhelmingly what we discovered is that libraries have increased access to computer workstations and faster internet and technology infrastructure like outlets and wireless printing.
All libraries offer access to online databases.
Almost all libraries offer homework assistance.
Most libraries offer access to e-books,
While over a quarter of libraries provide patrons with e-readers to check out.
The survey has also documented the innovations that are happening in libraries like Mobile Technology and 3D Printers which have been adopted in 1.5% of libraries.
What the survey highlighted is that while we are providing access to technology and content we are creating a different type of digital divide.
City Libraries are able to
make more upgrades to technology infrastructure like workstations and outlets,
offer an Average Internet Download Speed that is 5X faster than Rural Libraries.
Only 32.5 percent of rural libraries can support formal technology classes,
while 77.6 of city libraries offer formal computer skills training
100% of city libraries surveyed reported that they offer either formal or informal technology training.
We know that rural communities have less access to resources, but as we work to support STEM in schools these gaps can put communities even further behind.
In addition to being an information center, many libraries serve as a central location where members can gather to foster community.
Over half of Suburban and City Libraries host community engagement events
while less than half of town libraries and less than one-third of rural libraries are able to engage and support the community in this way.
As more and more people connect online, the library can be one of the few places where the public can engage with members of the community, be exposed to diversity, and gain a better appreciation for and connect to their neighbors in a comfortable and relaxed environment. While hosting a book club, candidate forum, or gaming seems small, these can be one of the few places in the community outside of school where everyone has a chance to interact and participate.
Lastly Health and Wellness is an area we can all improve. With the move to National Health Care, and the confusion of much of the public I expected to see many libraries offering programs and support, but a mere 37% of surveyed libraries offered programs that assisted patrons in finding and accessing health insurance information.
The one area of Health and Wellness that libraries are addressing is promotion of a healthy lifestyle, but only 55% of libraries offer these types of programs and it drops to 44% for Rural Libraries.
We have made many strides since the last study was conducted in 1994, but we still have a long way to go. With so many free online courses available libraries have even more access to resources than they did before. We can partner with organizations like Workforce Career and Job Training, CoderDojo, Code.org, Healthcare.gov, local health providers, and other community organizations to help serve patrons and create a more informed citizenry.
This is the first survey to provide detailed data about how libraries are serving the public. As we apply for grants to support the needs of our communities, I hope this survey helps frame the needs of our library users.
Ipac has framed the survey results in the context of the communities libraries serve. You can access a mapping tool online at http://digitalinclusion.umd.edu to explore the services available in your community.
I’m on a board for people whose write about murder and theft, poisons and fires. In addition to writers, there are a lot of professionals on the board - people who are or have been cops, paramedics, FBI agents, firefighters, PIs, and more.
A writer recently posted a question about what kind of gun her character should get. She said she knew nothing about guns, and she wanted to know what her equally ignorant character would experience if she went to a gun shop and asked for help.
At which point I (and several other writers) chimed in. Why not just go into a gun store and explain what she was working on and ask their advice? This was one real-life situation (unlike questions about, say, the best undetectable poison) where it would be easy to experience it.
And experience will give a writer so MUCH more than reading about it ever would. She’ll be able to describe the shop without trying to google images of “gun shop.” She’ll know the heft of a gun, and the feeling of the grip, learn it’s surprisingly heavy even though parts of it appear to be made out of plastic. There may be smells and even tastes she would not expect. Since her character and the writer herself are both coming from the same place (not knowing much about guns) she’ll be able to ask the questions her character would and hear the answers her character would as well.
I have found that almost everyone likes to talk about themselves and what they do to an interested person. I have interviewed teens, death investigators, DNA experts, and curators. In some cases, I have gone in cold (as I would in the gun situation above). In others, I have done the professional the courtesy of learning as much as I could before I went to them. With Dr. Dan Crane, the DNA expert, for example, it would be a waste of his precious time to sit down and say, “What’s DNA?” Instead I learned a lot on my own and asked about Y-STR and familial DNA testing.
When I was working on the end to The Body in the Woods, I knew it took place in Forest Park. And I knew my bad character would be armed, and my good characters wouldn’t be. They needed something they could use as a weapon. But what? I took the same walk they would have to get into the park, past nice homes, and I photographed everything I thought they might consider for use as a weapon. Real life thought of many more alternatives that I did.
One of the best parts about researching a book is that I don’t know what I’m going to find. Each project is like a mystery, and I have the fun of solving it. Researching my new twin titles about a World War I service dog named Stubby proved especially challenging because so much of his historical trail had gone cold.
This stray dog turned soldier had gone from being one of the most celebrated participants in World War I to being forgotten by almost everyone. A few loyal fans have kept his story alive on the Internet--alive and evolving, I should add, which created one more layer of mystery--but most people who happen across Stubby's remains, which are mounted and on display at the Smithsonian, have no idea of his exploits. It became my job to sort fact from legend as I worked to revive the war hero's story.
...to young at heart (above, adult title).
My favorite surprise by far during my journey as history sleuth was the discovery that Stubby's best human friend, a fellow soldier named J. Robert Conroy, had descendants. When I began my research, I asked Smithsonian curators what they could tell me about Conroy. The answer, basically, was nothing. The museum had lost track of him after he’d donated Stubby and his belongings to the museum in 1956, and they’d barely learned anything about him even then. Other people had tried to trace him, I was told, but with no luck.
Research is not a particularly linear process. True, I may read a reference book from front to back, but the research threads I pick up in one source tend to fan out like rays to countless others. By the time I’m done, I haven’t so much connected the dots; I’ve more nearly created a web of facts. The stronger that web—the more connections and overlap that I uncover—the better I understand the history.
Those web-like rays inevitably lead me to unexpected places. One day a package of clippings arrived in my mailbox, as promised, from a librarian in New Britain, Connecticut. I’d tracked down the librarian by contacting the New Britain Public Library, and I’d contacted the library because New Britain was the city where J. Robert Conroy had grown up. I wasn’t the first person to inquire at the library about Stubby, and Patricia Watson kindly sent me her usual packet of clippings. One of those articles had been published in the 1990s and featured a quote from a man named Curtis Deane, who was cited as being the grandson of J. Robert Conroy.
Stubby on parade, 1921. LC-DIG-hec-31070
This was news. Up until that time, I’d found no references whatsoever to Conroy having any descendants. Now I’d found one, or at least found out about one. Fortunately, Curtis Deane hadn’t moved since he’d been quoted in that story almost two decades ago (a minor miracle, really, given how mobile people are these days). Before too long, I had been able to track him down by phone. “Can I call you back?” he asked, after confirming that, yes, he really was the grandson of J. Robert Conroy. He was digging out from three feet of snow, he explained, and he had been without power until that hour. “Sure,” I said, having learned that patience is an important part of the research and writing process.
True to his word, Curt Deane called me back the next day. We talked for 45 minutes and agreed to speak again soon. A number of conversations followed, and before long we’d made plans to meet in person. Other meetings followed as one thing led to another. The threads for that web stretched farther and grew thicker. Eventually Curt Deane introduced me to other family members, and I met more descendants of the soldier whose history I had set out to find. As we became better acquainted and I heard stories about the man these people had known as Grandfather Bob, Stubby’s best friend became as real to me as the dog that he had helped make famous. Their story became richer, and so did my ability to share it with readers. Best of all, I had made new friends—one more surprise, one more bonus, during the adventure of researching my books.
Posted by Ann Bausum during the release week for Stubby's new books. Follow his return to the limelight on my Facebook page.
I enjoyed reading Esther’s, Laura’s, and Jill’s posts about their clipping habits. Although I listen to Public Radio in the car and follow the news online and on TV, I rarely read newspapers or magazines. Instead of clipping paper, I keep too many tabs open in my browser. I periodically devote an hour or two to skimming, bookmarking, and adding links to don't-forget-to-read-later lists until I reduce the number to something more manageable.
This actually appeared on my computer screen once:
It’s a bit much, isn’t it? I know. I don’t want to miss anything.
Today’s post is a look at some of the many tabs currently open in my browser. Here are the latest I couldn’t resist but haven’t yet made time to explore fully:
Make Way for Monarchs: a June 6 research symposium at the Chicago Botanic Garden. I’m registered! Several varieties of milkweed grow in our backyard, I've raised monarchs there for the past four summers, and I plan to do it again this year. Last fall, my husband and I collected milkweed seeds and scattered them in hospitable locations all over the city. I've already started seeds in pots to give away, and I'm revising a monarch manuscript. I can’t wait to soak up everything I can at this meeting--I'm hoping for an on-the-brink-of-disaster recovery.
Never, Ever Give Up: Long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad's TED Talk about motivation, sent by my sister Eileen, who knows I need it!
These topics might seem random, but they are all parts of a big picture that includes everything from research for current projects to random things I’m curious about. I can never know all there is to know, but I’m always searching. I start by collecting everything I can, trying my darnedest to gather every last snippet of information.
Then I narrow it down to what’s usable, eliminate redundancies, and focus, hoping to locate that one magic nugget.
Framed above my computer is a birthday card from my sister Judy with a Gertrude Stein quote:
There ain’t no answer. There ain’t going to be any answer. There never has been an answer. That’s the answer.
I may never have The Answer, but I won't stop looking.
“I can only find three leg hairs” observed my youngest from the back seat. The chemotherapy killing her tumors also attacks any fast-moving cells – thus the hair loss, fingernail lines, and white blood cell reduction. She is twelve and had kind of fuzzy, blond legs a couple of months ago. Her smooth legs weren’t troubling to her, just something she noticed.
“Well, that would come in handy if you cared about that stuff yet,” I said, glad she didn’t.
“Why do girls shave their legs anyway?” she wondered. “I mean, who started that whole thing?”
A very interesting question. Who did start that? I assume Eve had leg hair when Adam popped the question. Do you think when they ate from the tree, not only did they figure out they were naked, but Adam also noticed her furry legs for the first time? Did he made a snide remark about Eve being only a slight step up from his former companion, the chimpanzee? Every guy knows the remorse of SCS – Stupid Comment Syndrome. The moment you say something to your wife and immediately wish you could turn back time to retract it. Adam’s comment sent Eve into a tizzy trying to scrape the hair off with a stick while stitching together the fig leaf bikini we see in all the pictures. If God created enmity between woman and serpent, imagine the enmity Adam created with his wisecrack.
Ah, here is where I began a quest for knowledge. I had no interest in important knowledge, anyone can get that. The learning I sought is practically irrelevant outside of bar bets, board games, and trivia competitions. When did women first start shaving their legs?
Where do I turn? My best friends and cohorts in the immaterial: Google and Wikipedia, of course. Google brought me facts that I have to believe. It seems that women were so covered before the turn of the 20th century that it wasn’t necessary for them to shave – their body hair was kind of a honeymoon surprise. But as hemlines raised in the early 1900’s, razor sales increased. I can buy that.
The more compelling facts I found were about why women began shaving their underarm hair. They involve motion pictures, flappers, and old western women of ill repute. I would explain, but everyone likes a cliffhanger. My true audience is only twelve and wanted to know about leg hair anyway.
Besides, while on my search, I found a website called Mental Floss. It is like a Mythbusters of the inane. My evening was shot. I learned why bacon smells so good, 15 reasons we love Mr. Rogers, and why baby names have become increasingly female-sounding. Forget Wikipedia, some of that might actually be true. I have a new homepage!
After about three hours of copious research into absolutely nothing worthwhile, my daughter asked me why women started shaving their legs and I had to admit that I could tell her all why cows moo with accents, but had crammed so much useless knowledge into my finite brain, I had forgotten why women shaved their legs.
She left disappointed. Back to Wikipedia to start over…
But wait – an article titled, Do Racehorses Really Pee All That Much simply has to be read!
So you have an idea. A persistent something that has gnawed at your brain doggedly enough for you to start jotting it down. You’re getting to know your characters, and laying down the brickwork on the bumpy path that will become your plot. What next? Well – unless you’re writing a real-time testimonial of your own life (mine might be called Girl Who Stares at Computer and Drinks Many Teas) – you’ll probably need to do some research.
Astonishingly, most fiction authors are not in fact experts in every worldly field. Whether your book is set in a suburb that isn’t your own, or on a space station orbiting Pluto – whether your character is a forensic genius or plays the flute or is champion chess boxer (yes that is a thing) – chances are, your story will demand knowledge of some things that are unfamiliar to you. Writers always walk a line between creating their own worlds, which they set the rules for, and ensuring those rules make at least some real-world sense. Bringing into existence another person who has skills that are not yours can be pretty daunting. There’s always the fear of getting something wrong, or simply of being ill-equipped to execute the story you want to tell…
[For the month of June, I will be writer-in-resident at the fab Inside a Dog - you can read the rest of this post here]
In April I reminisced about six + years of blogging with this wondrous group of authors. I've so appreciated the opportunity to come up with something every month at least vaguely related to this quirky profession we’ve chosen.
For my last go-round, I’ve decided give a glimpse of one writer's life day-to-day. It’s not all creating deathless prose. So here's as much as I can remember of my to-do and have-done lists in the last two weeks.
• Revise my next book. It’s a middle grade group biography due out in 2016.I’ve been working on this book since 2009 and so last week I decided to google one of my subjects once again. I found a 2011 book I hadn’t seen before, with a chapter on my subject. I couldn’t find the book in the Los Angeles system, so I consulted WorldCat:The World’s Largest Library Catalog and found that six miles away, Mt. St. Mary’s College had an ebook copy.
• So up up up into the Santa Monica Mountains I drove, to a beautiful Spanish-style library. Well, I drove to the parking garage and then hiked up some more steep hills to the library. I had the complete attention of three librarians, it being summer break. They all worked to figure out how to print a few pages from the e-book, but in the end, job done. This research yielded details and quotes I hadn’t found elsewhere.
• Reviewing my original research, I found a tidbit I’d not included in the manuscript.My subject inspired a minor character in an 1828 adventure-romance novel.Being a lover of tidbits, I ordered an interlibrary loan of the book on microfilm through my public library. This last week I spent part of two afternoons skimming through this forgettable tale of a beautiful and virtuous heroine whose romance with a worthy suitor is thwarted by a dastardly villain. My ‘subject’ helped to save said heroine from said villain, as well as perform some brave deeds in American Revolution. The hours spent skimming added three sentences to my manuscript.
• Chapter completed, I emailed it to my critique group who will meet this week and tell me how to make it better.
• I’ll critique their work as well.
• I’m meeting my editor at ALA in Las Vegas this weekend. She wants to read my revised chapters on the plane flying west, so I emailed her to ask about the last moment I can send her those chapters.
• Speaking of ALA, where I’ll be signing at two booths on Saturday (see below,) I must remember to call my trusty auto mechanic (named Toolsie!) to fix my failing a/c. Will need all I can get for the drive to LV.
• Made arrangements to meet with Starwalk Kids Media at ALA about signing up an out-of-print book for their e-book list.
• Confirm ALA meeting for coffee with INK Author Jan Greenberg.
• I’ve been a member of the Authors Guildfor decades. They offer so many benefits to their members, one of which is a free legal critique of contracts. I finally got around to integrating their suggested changes to my contract for the above book and sending it back to the publisher. The Authors Guild also hosts my website for pennies, but perhaps their most important mission is their lobbying on our behalf to Goliaths like Google and Amazon.Support yourself – and them – and join!
• I’ve nudged an editor who has had a ms. of mine for months and promised to give me an answer last week. Still waiting. I need to nudge a couple more editors who are sitting on my middle grade novel.
•Last month I reported on the excellent BIO conference (Biographers International Organization) in Boston.There I met Dorothy Dahm, creator of Kids Biographer's Blog, a first-rate collection of reviews and interviews.She reviewed Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence, and asked for an interview.I wrote that last week and it’s here.
• I’m returning to London again in the autumn for another three-month home exchange. I’ve got some fans in Yorkshire, so I emailed four schools about return author visits. Have confirmation for two already.
• I wrote this INK blog.
• The World Cup: I’m trying to limit myself to one game a day, or two halfs of different games.It’s hard though. Drama is building every day!
Traveling to libraries, reading, marketing, contracts, nudging, emailing, critiquing, blogging, and, yes, writing.On and on it goes.
Finally, to quote my favorite English major: “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.” My ALA Signings: Saturday June 28 • 10-11am: Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek • 2-3 pm: Lerner/Carolrhoda
It bothers me when I read something in a book that I know is wrong. Wrong and Google-able. (I started writing before the Internet, or at least before a widely available Internet, when it was not quite so easy to check things out. Twenty years ago, I felt more comfortable just guessing or making stuff up. No longer.)
(Guess what doesn't have a safety? That was the end of this book for me.)
With a little bit of time, you can figure out nearly anything without having to step away from your computer. Like:
Do red-tailed hawks eat road kill? (If fresh, yes).
Does Oregon pay for braces for kids in foster care? (No.)
What time are trial advocacy classes at the University of Washington. (Late afternoon.)
What testimony did the original grand jury hear in the Phoebe Prince case? (Actually, I couldn’t find that, which makes sense. Grand jury testimony is sealed. Still I would like to know more.)
One of the absolute best parts about my job as a mystery and thriller writer is doing research. In the past couple of years, I've:
Taken a class in fighting in close quarters. At the end, someone sat behind you in your car and attacked you with a training gun, a training knife, a plastic bag, and a rope.
Pulled out everything from underneath my kitchen sink, crawled into the space, and taken a picture to prove to one of my editors that yes, a body would fit under there.
Asked my kajukenbo instructor to drag me across the room, his hands underneath my arms, so that together we could figure out how a character could fight and get away.
Spent a day with a criminalist at Forensics Division of the Portland Police.
Faced down armed muggers, home invaders, crazy people, and robbers - all while armed with a modified Glock that uses lasers instead of real bullets. I did this at a firearms training simulator facility (the only one like it in the world that is open to civilians) which, lucky me, is just 20 minutes from my home. You interact with life-sized scenarios filmed in HD. The scenarios change depending on what you say (for example, “Hands in the air!”) and where your shots hit (a shot that disables versus one that injures). Meanwhile, the bad guys are shooting back. If you choose - and I do - you can wear a belt that gives you a 5000-volt shock if you’re shot. The facility even offers a simulation that is nearly 360 degrees, so you feel like you are standing in the middle of, say, the convenience store or the parking lot. This teaches you to look behind you for that second or third bad guy.
Every year, I go the Writers Police Academy, which is in North Carolina at a real police and fire academy. I also graduated from the FBI’s Citizen Academy, which is taught by real FBI agents and included a stint at a real gun range where I shot a submachine gun. I’m a member of Sisters in Crime, and my local chapter has experts speak every month (the blood spatter expert was particularly interesting). And I’m an online member of Crime Scene Writers, which has lots of retired or even active law enforcement personnel who answer questions.
Wait—what day is it? I’m supposed to post today, right? I’m happy to say that we're having a busy, active summer so far with more adventures planned. Here’s what I’ve been reading:
Road maps. I have practically no sense of direction, but given enough time, I can figure out which way to go with a decent map, especially if it comes with step-by-step instructions. We just returned from a two-week trip to Colorado, and I took advantage of Map Quest and other smart phone apps for the first time.
Monarch butterfly information. Home from our trip, we found our backyard milkweed plants loaded with monarch eggs and caterpillars. I joined the Monarch Butterfly discussion list, where people post fascinating updates about current research as well as their own observations. In the past four days, I’ve gathered about 75 eggs and 15 caterpillars. Two chrysalises also hang in our backyard mosquito net tent. (A neighbor kept an eye on them while we were gone.)
Research on multiple topics for future books of my own and a couple freelance fact-checking projects.
An adult book (gasp!) I borrowed from my husband because I didn’t make it to the library before we left town. I’m finding it a bit too long and convoluted, but I’ve grown attached to the characters, so I’ll probably finish the book just to find out what happens to them.