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David Rothman

The K-12 and economic cases for a national digital library endowment
January 24, 2015 | 11:00 am

President Obama wants expanded broadband, as indicated in his State of the Union address---a laudable goal. But what to use it for, beyond such purposes as, say, the faster downloading of YouTubes? Here's the latest version of LibraryCity’s call for a national digital library endowment and intertwined public and academic library systems online. Short of time? Read an executive summary. – D.R. The average 15-to-19-year-old in the U.S. spends only six minutes a day reading for fun, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. What’s more, a just-released report from Scholastic, discussed later in this commentary, warns that the number of...

Want read-aloud in Kindles and other readers? Use FCC’s easy online form by Jan. 9
January 3, 2015 | 2:52 pm

Amazon CEO Jeff BezosUpdate: See the most recent version of the LibraryCity post with mention of an unofficial Jan. 9 deadline and a link to the FCC's easy comment form. You need to submit formally. Please e-mail the FCC ASAP. The agency deals with accessibility matters and will soon make an important accessibility decision affecting Kindles along with other e-readers. Don’t delay! For years, I’ve been publicly begging Amazon to stop muting its E Ink machines and restore text to speech in the future. I may even have been the first commentator to break the news about the Paperwhite’s lack of TTS. This isn’t mere rhetoric. I sold my...

Overpaid $266.5K city manager vs. library books
December 26, 2014 | 6:25 pm

Rashad Young: One of many overpaid city officials in the U.S.Wonder why your local public library is underfunded? Overpay of top city officials could be one reason. Here’s an example from my hometown, Alexandria, VA. The city manager’s $266,508 salary and additional benefits are almost as much as the entire substandard budget for library materials. – D.R Rashad Young, hired at $245K and now paid $266,508 a year, is leaving as Alexandria’s city manager to become city administrator for D.C. In my hometown of 150,000, Mr. Young has been pulling down a bigger salary than that of Vice President Joe Biden, paid $230,700. Across the Potomac, he’ll make $295K in his...

Amazon’s $99 Fire HD shines for library and public domain books—and here are a few related tips
October 30, 2014 | 4:25 pm

Thumbs up on Amazon's Fire HD 6 from Len Edgerly of the Kindle Chronicles. Amazon’s new Fire HD 6, a $99 tablet computer, might be catnip for frugal lovers of library and public domain e-books who don’t need a cell phone in the same gadget. Libraries themselves, in fact, may want to loan out HDs and other Amazon models while experimenting with other brands, too. The six-inch screen’s resolution is 1280x800, and the pixel count is 252 per inch. That’s equal to many cell phones selling for twice as much. 252 ppi is just 48 ppi shy of the 300-ppi of the Voyage, the new top-of-the-line E Ink reader from Amazon. The HD 6’s screen should also...

Cell phone book clubs: A new way for libraries to promote literacy, technology, family and community
July 17, 2014 | 12:25 pm

textgirl2A friend of mine in his 40s is about to start teaching in Houston, Texas, and he recently shared a discovery. Many teenagers in Houston tote cell phones, but don’t know they can read library e-books for free on their phones. This would jibe with a 2012 poll showing similar ignorance among Americans at large. A bigger issue also comes up. Just how much do young people care about books in the first place? Americans 15-19 spend only about four minutes reading for fun on a typical weekend day. Too bad. Students who love books are more likely to excel in school....

National Digital Library Endowment plan makes New York Times of philanthropy
June 9, 2014 | 10:25 am

"Civic-minded billionaires could get the endowment rolling with a goal of $10-billion to $20-billion for the first five years. The endowment could also help local libraries start Kickstarter-style campaigns through which local donors could send money to their favorite local library projects. The money raised would be crucial to improving school and public libraries---and the reading and math skills of America’s students. Much of the money could go to hire and train librarians, family literacy workers, and others, especially in the very poorest areas."...

The limits of “Hack the library”: Don’t aim for too much more with too much less—and try harder for more
April 18, 2014 | 10:25 am

Hack the LibraryLess than 12 percent of U.S. public library spending goes for books and other items. Doubt the need for “hacking the library” through ingenious tech upgrades and reinvention of processes, missions and plenty else? I don’t. Nor do the organizers of the 29th Computers in Libraries conference named after the magazine. Much to their credit, this Information Today event borrowed from the Harvard Library Innovation Lab and made “Hack the library” the theme at a gathering of well over 1,000 library professionals at the Washington Hilton. A keynoter, the ever-stimulating David Weinberger, lab co-director, told them April 7: “Libraries are getting squeezed a...

Should public libraries give away e-book-friendly tablets to poor people? $38 tablet hints of possibilities
January 10, 2014 | 4:54 pm

NextYoung people love suitable paper books, ideally new, that they can own. Could the same idea work for econo-tablets that public libraries gave away to low-income families---with a big, fat, e-book-related icon smack in the middle of the home screens? Yes! Don’t just hand out gizmos, though. Let the tablets come with old-fashioned encouragement from public and school librarians. Technology is no panacea. Kids should be able to own paper books, too, in fact, not just gadgets. But e-book-capable tablets, especially with national digital library systems in place, could multiply the number of books matching students’ precise needs. Paper books could serve as gateways to...

The most urgent digital library needs are those of Lady Gaga and the Kardashians
December 15, 2013 | 1:07 pm

Lady_Gaga_BTW_Ball_Antwerp_02Just a dream. But what if I really could write the headline above—and not as a joke? Would more Americans, inside and outside the media, care more than they do now about the Hispanics, African-Americans and poor people mentioned in LibraryCity’s latest digital library commentary? Of course, as is evident from the post, you don’t have to be in a minority to benefit from full-strength digital libraries. The challenge is to let people know, “We can make full-strength national digital libraries happen. We don’t have to put up with a crappy $4.20 per capita spent each year on public library content in all...

Voice Dream reader app can now play audiobooks
December 8, 2013 | 12:15 pm

Voice Dream reader appThe new version of the Voice Dream reader app, a superb iOS text-to-speech app for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, can now play audiobooks, too. Even at $10, costlier than the typical app, Voice Dream is a Buy, capital B, at the Apple App Store. Voice Dream 2.9.2 can handle zipped MP3s as well as audiobooks in Daisy, thanks to help from a Swiss library organization, and navigation and general usability are excellent, just as in the regular text-to-speech mode for ePub files and others. Dozen of optional voices in common languages work with the app, and my favorite is the UK-accented “Peter” voice...

National digital libraries for Carmela Hernandez and family—not just the American elite
December 6, 2013 | 2:15 pm

national digital librariesLibraryCity has just posted a major series telling how an initiative for national digital libraries could serve ordinary people here in the U.S., not merely the American elite. Sounds like a given. But it isn’t, alas. The Digital Public Library of America is a wonder, but judged by the Five Laws of Library Science, it is more for academics and others in the elite than for the country as a whole. I’m reminded of the old Literary Digest poll saying that Alf Landon would wallop FDR in the 1936 election. The Digest relied too much on well-off respondents and was out of...

Family literacy and K-12 success: How a well-stocked public e-library system for the U.S. could help our students catch up with ‘The Smartest Kids in the World’
October 21, 2013 | 5:48 pm

smartestkidsvideoAmanda Ripley, who has written on education for Time Magazine and the Atlantic, is out with a new book that might upset some traditional PTA stalwarts and other boosters of after-school activities if they don’t pick up the nuances about literacy here. No, Ms. Ripley, a fellow at the New American Foundation, isn’t anti-PTA. She appreciates “the contributions” that a local PTA chapter can make to a “school's culture, budget, and sense of community." But in The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way (video here), she asks whether American mothers and fathers shouldn’t increase time for another activity---enjoying...