A few months ago, the Library History Buff Blog did a piece on early children’s rooms in public libraries. While the piece was short, I thought it was especially interesting to see the motivations behind offering library services and facilities for young people:
Although various libraries including the Boston Public Library lay claim to having the first public library children’s room, the Brookline Public Library in Massachusetts seems to have the strongest claim. Their children’s room was established in June of 1890 primarily to get noisy children out of the adult reading room. It was initially supervised by the library’s janitor.
John Cotton Dana of the Denver Public Library–the first to offer dedicated children’s services in 1894–did say, “If public libraries are of value, this form of a children’s department must be, if not the ideal thing, certainly an ideal thing.” But in 1896, Mary Wright Plummer found only 15 public libraries nationwide that provided services from a children’s room.
We’ve certainly come a long way in providing library services to young people since then, but how many libraries don’t have a dedicated teen space or even a dedicated YA librarian? (This seems like a good point to plug YALSA’s Teen Services Evaluation Tool, a rubric based on YALSA’s Core Competencies that you can use to assess your library’s success in having the resources and desire to provide great service to teens.) There’s always progress to be made!
Sarah of Glass Cases recently wrote an essay called “YA: Then vs. Now” with an interesting mix of history of YA lit as well as personal reflections on growing up with the YA lit of the ’90s and musings on some historically significant titles. In the essay, she’s trying to pinpoint when YA lit turned the corner from “writing about teens” to “writing for teens.” Especially since I’m about the same age, it was a pretty interesting read.
And man, if you want some vintage YA lit, check out the Mod-Mod Read-In Paperback Book List featured on Sara Ryan’s blog. It’s pretty groovy (click through for more scans and some analysis of the chosen titles):
You know what we need? More recognition of awesome women who rock out in their fields. While librarianship has historically been a women’s profession, anything to do with computers or programming has generally been branded as being for men (although one of the first computer programmers was a women!). But what about the people who exist at the intersection of libraries and computers? The Geek Feminism Blog recently featured Henriette Avram, who was a programmer who worked for the Library of Congress and who is responsible for the creation of MARC in the 1960s. Awesome.
Women ruining everything (again)
Of course, not everyone wants to recognize women’s accomplishments. Some would rather distance themselves from women in the workplace because apparently women defile everything they touch and even just being associated with women or what they do will ruin you and your career. At least, that seems to be the gist of Penelope Trunk’s blog post “What To Get Ahead? Stay Away From Women.” (It is possible that she doesn’t mean what she says, that she is writing these things ironically or sarcastically or in some other way where I can believe she’s not for real, but I don’t think that’s the case.)
Trunk’s starts with the idea of a “competition gap” wherein women self-select themselves into lower-paying, less prestigious fields, and that even within their chosen field, they go for “support roles” rather than competitive management positions, or–in her case–even if they are in a “man’s field,” they choose to focus on womanly things, like writing about women and their lives. This is true! We do value competition and men over nurturing and women. (And I’ve written about this before in the context of libraries.)
But rather than having a problem with privileging things that are labeled male over things that are labeled female, rather than trying to elevate the prestige of “women’s work,” she wants women to just stop complaining about this gap:
The thing is that Kimberly concludes in her post that women are getting ripped off. It kills me. I don’t want to be writing next to women who believe that women are getting a raw deal and then complain about it. I don’t buy it.
Women are getting a raw deal if they’re constantly being told that choosing things that interest them and that they value, that being a woman are bad things and that if they were just more manly, they’d succeed. So what’s Trunk’s advice?
Women: It is very bad to write stuff about dinner with family if you are trying to get ahead. Do not do this. People assume that if you have kids you will do less work. This may or may not be true – I mean, doing less work. But what is true is that you should not talk about family at work if you want to be in the all-boys departments.
But here’s the thing: I don’t want to be in the all-boys departments. I want to do work that is meaningful to me, and I want society to value that work. Every day, I work in a public library with teens–I think the only way it could be more women’s work is if I were working with children–and that work has an impact on those teens and on my community. I am proud of what I do. I’d like for other people to value that as much as they value technology, competition, and dudeliness.
Some encouraging successes
Wow, after that downer, let’s talk about some good things that have happened recently!
Michelle Luhtala, the librarian at the high school in the town that my library serves, is hands-down totally awesome. She’s really plugged into technology and the importance of tech in libraries and schools, she’s a webinar facilitator for edWeb.net, she’s been named Librarian of the Year by CLA, she was recently elected Director of Region 1 of AASL, she churns out instructional tools like crazy, and she has a great relationship with her students. Last year her library was one of two to be named AASL’s National School Library Program of the Year, and earlier this month Nancy Everhart, the president of AASL, made New Canaan High School her Connecticut stop on her nationwide tour.
More good news: at the beginning of this year, a controversy erupted when the director of the Enfield (CT) Public Library was told the library couldn’t show Michael Moore’s “Sicko” as part of their ongoing film program. The library was eventually allowed to show the movie, which was a victory in itself, but the director was also recently recognized by the Connecticut Library Association with an Intellectual Freedom Award.
There are lots of successes we have each day that are never officially recognized with awards but are just as meaningful. David Lubar recently wrote a LiveJournal post about an email he received from a parent about how his books had so captured her son’s imagination that he had gone from below grade-level reading to above grade-level–and that he’d begun writing his own stories. That’s really powerful stuff.
I’ve recently had a couple of those moments–maybe smaller, but no less encouraging–myself. I’m organizing a Minecraft competition at my library (I’m planning to talk about it in detail once it’s happened) and one of my TAB kids is helping spread the word to her friends on Facebook. Her post was attracting a few comments, and then one of her non-library-going friends wrote, “That’s actually like way too cool for a library to be doing,” and seeing that totally made my day. I am changing non-library users’ perceptions of what a library is and does!
And then last week, a former borderline troublemaker came over to me and out of nowhere said that I was doing a good job of standing up for teens and that I was making the library a better place for teens. He couldn’t have made me happier if I’d been feeding him lines to parrot back at me! And then he asked if he could join our Teen Advisory Board!
So you know, haters gonna hate–but I’m doing my job and it’s having an impact on my community and I feel good about that. And you should feel good about your work, too! What encouragement have you received recently?
September’s drawing to a close, but there are still a few days left in the YALSA blog’s 30 Days of Back to School. My latest post is about working with non-YA librarians:
In my last post, I talked about my job search and mentioned that I had an interview the next day. I was lucky enough to be offered that job (yay!) and had my first week at work last week. The library where I’m now working has never had a dedicated YA librarian before and I’m excited about developing great teen services, but there’s only so much I can do as just one person. Many YA librarians find themselves on something of a team of one, the only professional at their libraries dedicated to serving teens. When we’re not at the desk or in the building, taking care of teens’ reference questions and readers’ advisory requests falls to non-YA staff members.
That’s right! I got a job! I’m now the Teen Services Librarian at the New Canaan Library in New Canaan, Connecticut. I think the library and I are a good match for one another, and I’m so excited to finally putting into practice everything I learned during my MLS and my work while I was a library student and all of the great ideas I’ve seen on listservs and blogs. And I’m looking forward to doing so in collaboration with my non-YA coworkers! Click through for my thoughts on the necessity of collaboration and working with librarians in adult services and children’s services.
When my Youth Services class visited the Greenwood (IN) Public Library in February, one of the things assistant children’s services department head Anne Guthrie mentioned in passing was that you could make your own finger puppets by cutting open a small stuffed toy and sewing in the fingertip of a glove. I loved the DIY aspect of this and was struck by how easy and clever it was, so when we had to do an assignment that required us to plan a library program in detail (like, fifteen-page-writeup level detail!), I outlined a preschool storytime with a “tails” theme and created mice finger puppets that could be used as manipulatives during a recitation of “Three Blind Mice” using Anne’s method.
They took me longer to make than I was expecting, but I think that was mostly due to lack of experience not only with making finger puppets like this but with sewing in general. Even for a domestic arts pro, though, it’d be tough to whip up a batch of 30 the night before a program. If your library has a strong volunteer group, especially including people with sewing experience, this could be a good project to farm out to them.
Blind Mice Finger Puppets
Materials: stuffed mice (I used cat toys from a local pet store), an old glove, fabric scraps for tails, a little bit of sew-on velcro, a seam ripper, needle, thread, and scissors
Mouse #1, pre-surgery
1. Using a seam ripper and scissors, cut a finger-sized hole in the bottom of the mouse. Pull out a fingertip-sized chunk of stuffing (and maybe catnip), but make sure to leave in enough stuffing for the toy to keep its shape.
This mouse's seam was reinforced with glue, hence the gross ragged edges around the edge of the fabric
2. Cut a fingertip off of an old glove. It helps to put on the glove, put your finger into the toy, and then mark around the bottom of the toy so you know how much to cut off. More tightly-fitting gloves work better than loose ones, and if you plan to have children use these as manipulatives, be sure to plan for little fingers.
Reminds me of my marching band days
3. Insert the glove fingertip into the toy and sew around the edges. A whipstitch is easy, but if you’re not using a thread color that blends in, it makes the fingerpuppet look a little like Frankenstein’s monster. I also recommend choosing toys made of a forgiving fabric; the knit mouse in my collection really showed off every mistake in cutting and stitching.
4. To create detachable tails, fold a rectangular bit of fabric in half (or in quarters with the raw edges on the inside) and sew the sides together. Then fold over a bit of the end of the tail and sew it down to create an elongated t-shape. Cut a piece of velcro to size, cut off the mouse’s original tail (if it has one), and sew the velcro onto the new tail and the mouse’s behind.
Removable tail--no carving knife necessary!
5. Repeat as many times as necessary to create your own nest/colony/harvest/horde/mischief of finger puppet mice.
My mischief of mice earned me an A!
While the storytime I planned was tail-themed, these could be reused for a more general animal storytime, a pets storytime (although the detachable tails are a little sad in that case!), or a nursery rhyme-themed program. They’re not too hard, especially once you’ve gotten a little practice, and they’re pretty cheap, too.
Last week children’s book author KP Bath was sentenced to six years in jail for possessing child pornography. This brings up questions of what librarians should do with his books if they’re held by the library. Should they be removed from the collection? Should they be booktalked and suggested? Should they be featured in displays? In South Carolina where the book won the 2007-2008 Junior Book Award, should the book be stricken from the award list?
Bath was originally arrested in April 2009. At the time I was taking both a seminar on intellectual freedom and Materials for Youth, and I brought up his arrest in both classes to gauge my fellow students’ reactions. While my seminar classmates were all vociferous in their defense of the book (but not the author), I was surprised by how many of my classmates in Materials for Youth would have removed the book from their libraries’ collections, even if they hadn’t read the books themselves. I think that were KP Bath an author for adults, even more cautious librarians would be less likely to pull his works; it’s providing his books to children, the very group he was exploiting, that concerns us.
At the time I hadn’t read any of KP Bath’s books, but by the end of the semester had read both THE SECRET OF CASTLE CANT and ESCAPE FROM CASTLE CANT, the first two books in a trilogy that will now probably never see completion. I thought they were mediocre fantasy novels that started with an interesting world but fell short in their narration style and details. But aside from a few notes about how insufferable adults are (which you’ll find in many books for older children and young adults), there was nothing in the books that seemed unusual or uncomfortable, much less exploitative. So, wearing my librarian hat and separating the author from his work, I concluded that it would violate the Freedom to Read Statement were we to remove the book from our library shelves.
But this also illustrated to me the occasional separation that occurs between my professional ethics and my personal ethics. While I’m not always great at it, it’s important to me to spend my consumer dollars wisely since it’s the only vote I get in the behavior of corporations and the business world in general. And I definitely don’t want to financially support someone who exploits children–especially someone so downright skeezy as Bath. He wrote in one of his chats, “I’m glad there are molesters out there,” and “I wish a 9 yr old was doing that to me. This from a man who’s writing books for 9-year-olds.” While he was enjoying (and trading) videos and images “depicting sadistic conduct, rape, sodomy and bestiality,” he was also volunteering at the Beverly Cleary Children’s Library in Portland. He was volunteering at the local children’s library. It chills my blood to read that sentence. Knowing what I know about Bath, there’s no way I could spend my money on his books, recommend (rather than suggest) his books to any children I know, or in any way not oppose him.
But those are my personal values. My professional values demand that I treat his books as I would have before his arrest and conviction. Normally I feel like my own values and my profession’s values are a good match, but I really struggle with this case. I know that as much as we want it to be or might claim it is, our collection development isn’t objective. I want social justice to be a part of librarianship. But intellectual freedom is at the core of librarianship and is the defense for some controversial things that happen in youth librarianship. If we start making compromises, how can we continue to defend controversial books being on our shelves? If we make exceptions and remove KP Bath’s books from our collections, then how do we retain the works of other felons or of anyone–atheists, gay people–whom someone in our library’s community might think immoral?
But can I really set aside my personal values in favor of my professional ones and be okay with myself? I certainly expect it of any librarians who personally think that (for example) people in the queer community are on the path to hell–I’d still expect them to collect books by LGBTQIA authors. Is the reason I think this is different because the law and a majority of people in our society agree that pedophilia is wrong whereas (in most states at least) homosexuality isn’t a crime?
I struggled with this conflict of values last spring and now that Bath has been sentenced, I’m thinking about it again. Professionally the right thing to do is to treat his books no differently, but personally, I’m torn. Intellectual freedom is important to me, but so is supporting good in the world and opposing evil. I feel okay keeping Bath’s books in a collection and with giving them to patrons who ask for them directly. But can I, with a clean conscience, add Bath’s books to a booklist? Can I booktalk them? I think I’ll probably do so–and feel good about it at work but feel guilty about it at home.
I’m not sure what it is, but I seem to really enjoy the early morning sessions. Today the first one I attended was “Pregnant/Parenting Teens: Promoting Library Services Among the Underserved” with Maryann Mori, the director of the Waukee Public Library in Waukee, Iowa. She addressed the needs of pregnant and parenting teens, what libraries already have for those teens, and what libraries can do to further their service to these patrons.
In some ways, the needs of pregnant and parenting teens are similar to a lot of public library patrons’ needs: they want help with their education, with finding a job, and with entertainment. But they also have more specific needs like learning parenting skills, being put in touch with other community organizations that can help them, and just having someone in their lives that they can trust. We can meet these needs with our usual materials and services that provide for the educational, informational, entertainment, and lifelong learning needs of all of our patrons, but we can also provide a friendly staff, contact names and addresses for community organizations, and storytimes that also teach parenting and reading skills–especially by using the Every Child Ready to Read framework.
With the principles of ECRR in mind, Maryann designed a four-session program that emphasizes the six aspects (print motivation, vocabulary, phonological awareness, print awareness, letter knowledge, and narrative skills) and also explains the general benefits of reading to your baby.
The first meeting is an introduction to ECRR and provides statistics about the benefits of reading to your baby. The second meeting focuses on children’s books, choosing books for your baby, and print motivation. The third meeting covers phonological awareness and vocabulary. The final meeting reviews the first three and touches on teen parents’ reading memories and provides encouragement for the future. Each session combines storytelling and songs and rhymes and fingerplays with parenting skills that include aspects of child development.
Maryann also spent a lot of time talking about partnering with other organizations in the community. Such a partnership might be something as simple as creating a bookmark with information about the classes and good books for babies in the stuff that gets sent home with moms when they leave the hospital, but it can be as much as going to shelters and group homes and correctional facilities to do the classes. There are so many other organizations you can partner with to make these programs a success including high schools, the local WIC agency, the crisis pregnancy center, churches, the department of health, even the grocery store (advertise in the formula aisle!).
Serving pregnant or parenting teens also exists at an interesting intersection of teen services and children’s services, so it can be an interesting collaboration between librarians or departments.
There are some barriers to library access that some of these teen patrons may have. They may be balancing school and work. They may be living in temporary housing. They may be totally dependent on welfare. They may not be strong readers. They may lack transportation. They may not know what good parenting looks like. They might not even be able to get a library card without a parent’s signature since they’re underage–and what if they’ve been kicked out? Does your library have a policy that would provide for them?
Despite these stumbling blocks, this is an important demographic to reach because as they see what’s available to them and their babies at the library, they’ll come back. And Maryann’s program works: she’s not only seen these teens come back for more library services, but they’re also more likely to graduate and more likely to start reading more themselves, and their children develop better reading and language skills through the program.
What does your library have now for pregnant or parenting teens? What more can we be doing to serve them?
[Please note: throughout this post, I’ll be using “queer” to refer very broadly to the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning/queer, intersex, and asexual/ally) community.]
The first session I attended today was Spanning the Generations: Serving the GLBTIQ Community of ALL Ages. Unfortunately two of the speakers, Nancy Silverrod and KR Roberto, were unable to make the event, but we were left in the capable hands of Allan Kleiman and Angie Manfredi. They talked about how libraries can–and should–serve members of the queer community and how queer patrons’ needs differ by their ages.
Allan told a story about reading what few materials on homosexuality were available to him growing up in secret at the library, always in the reading room and never by checking out the books. While he acknowledged that materials have improved drastically since then and that society as a whole has become more accepting of queer folk, he did tell us that people are still reluctant to ask for information on queer materials or queer resources, so our focus with adults should be making the library an openly welcoming place and making materials available without asking. We can do this by including books about queer characters in displays on other topics, by including queer authors in our book displays, by partnering with community organizations and participating as a library in pride parades, and by linking to queer resources on our library websites.
Angie addressed service to queer teens, tweens, young people, and their families. There’s been a sharp increase in the number of YA titles published recently about queer teens and the content has become much more accepting as well, but we still have a long way to go. One of the ways we can work to see more titles like these are to make sure our library buys these books (or nonfiction titles like GAY AMERICA: STRUGGLE FOR EQUALITY) or at the very least thanking publishers who make these materials and things like GAY, LESBIAN, BISEXUAL, TRANSGENDER AND QUESTIONING TEEN LITERATURE: A GUIDE TO READING INTERESTS (part of the Genreflecting series that will be published at the end of the month). She also mentioned the Rainbow List as a good resource.
Angie also talked about how one of the most important things we can do for queer patrons is to make our library a safe place. Refuse to tolerate hate speech. Partner with your local gay-straight alliance–or create one. Be supportive of openly queer teen and tween patrons. And make use of GLSEN’s toolkits.
When serving children, Angie recommended doing both overt things and working to normalize queerness. One overt way we can support the queer community through our youth service is having a Rainbow Storytime that includes stories not only about queer families but also stories about differences, diversity, acceptance, bullying, and originality. We can also include books about queer people in history and in our culture in displays and storytime because just treating queer people like everyone else sends the message that queerness is a part of our society and has been and will be and that that’s totally fine. Supporting queer families should also be a focus in our service to young people.
Allan encouraged us all to support our queering efforts by tying it to our mission (queer patrons definitely fall into the “underserved populations” category) and making it integral to our library service. He finished up by talking more about partnering with local organizations in the queer community and by pointing to successful work in specific public libraries (especially the San Francisco Public Library’s blog, Queerest. Library. Ever.) to support and engage the queer community.
Angie has compiled a list of resources for serving queer youth at delicious.com/youth.lgbtqia to get you started, and Allan emphasized the importance of taking what we learn back to our libraries, so I tell you: go forth! Queer your library!
The William H. Willennar Genealogy Center
We started at the William H. Willennar Genealogy Center where we met Gregg Williamson, the Manager of Genealogical Services (and a SLIS-Indy grad!), who gave us a tour of their building. We started off with the print collection, which has the largest collection of genealogy materials dealing with DeKalb County, and includes yearbooks for local schools dating back to 1905, family histories for local families, phone books, and individual files of research people have done on their own families. They also have a large microfilm collection of local newspapers, microfilm readers and scanners, and computer stations where patrons can use online resources to do genealogy research.
The seating space in the main room of the Genealogy Center. Photo by Erin Milanese.
Part of the print collection. Photo by Erin Milanese.
Gregg then took us through the staff workspace and talked about the people who work at the Genealogy Center (they’re mostly part-time employees and volunteers) and showed us the basement archive and the permanent archive upstairs. The basement archive is mostly local newspapers; some date back to the 1800s, but the collection also includes recent issues as well. As Gregg explained it, we’re very fortunate to have those two hundred-year-old papers, and people two hundred years from now are only going to have resources like that if we save current newspapers now.
Archival boxes in the basement archive. Photo by Erin Milanese.
The Genealogy Center has a lot of really cool technology and tools; one of the ones I found the most interesting was the microfilm camera. EPL still sends some of its things out to be microfilmed since it’s such a labor-intensive process and they do depend so heavily on volunteer work, but there are some items that they scan themselves. I can’t remember what the exact claim to fame was, but this may be one of the only microfilm scanners in a public library in Indiana. It was something really impressive like that.
EPL's microfilm camera. Photo by Erin Milanese.
The upstairs archive is the permanent archive and contains records that are available upon request but aren’t immediately available to the public (e.g., old gradebooks from local schools). We had a short but interesting conversation about balancing privacy and access; Gregg said that rather than siding with archivists who’d be more interested in privacy and protection of the physical materials, he tends to err on the side of making things open to people, reasoning that it’s a public library, so their holdings should be open to the public. He did say that there are some things that aren’t available to the public at all because of privacy concerns, like old library card registrations from earlier decades that include people’s names and addresses.
We also got to check out the digitization lab. Alaina Ring is in charge of the metadata for the library’s photo archive and database and she walked us through the creation of a database record. The digitalization lab has some neat technology, too, including a 35mm slide scanner, and what’s really cool about it is that it’s open to the public. They’ve done a lot of grant writing to build their collection and the tools they have available to them. It’s really impressive.
Two of the computer workstations (and the slide scanner) in the digitization lab. Photo by Erin Milanese.
This trip also gave us all a chance to better understand the specifics of and our own roles in this project. The Genealogy Center already has an extensive collection of photographs and documents, but most of it is of historical materials–which makes sense, since the people who use the Genealogy Center are doing research into their family’s history or into local history in general. But in the same way that Gregg is saving local newspapers now for the researchers of the future, Andrea wants to start saving the digital content of today for the researchers of tomorrow.
What we’re hoping to do with this project is to target some people whose stories reflect what’s going on in the community now: the woman who owns a local cafe, a teenager growing up in Auburn, a prominent politician, the factory worker who recently got laid off because of the economic downturn. We’ll solicit from them real and digital objects that represent their lives in the community and then figure out how to ingest that content into the library’s digital collection (or find a home for it at the DeKalb History Center or return it to its owner after scanning or photographing it). We’d also like to collect oral histories (maybe even on video) and find a way to include those in the library’s database. After an initial pilot program this year, we’re hoping to expand the project to include more community members in future years, and to promote the collection during Auburn Pride Week.
Andrea’s big on co-created community resources and on knowledge exchanges, so since we (both we students and the public library) are learning from community members with this project, we’ll also be doing workshops this summer to give some knowledge back to the community. The library’s done programs before on creating scrapbooks and preserving photographs and they’ve brought in outside speakers to talk about preserving digital information, but we’re hoping to build on what they’ve done before to help teach people about collecting, organizing, and preserving their digital content. We’ll also do workshops on privacy and copyright issues when dealing with digital content.
During our discussions, I was thinking about the different people we’re going to recruit for the pilot program and it really struck me how people of different ages understand digital content in completely different ways. Most teenagers are very at home in a digital world and are very nearly swimming in digital content. But maybe there’s also an older person in the community who doesn’t have his own computer and comes to the library to check his email where his granddaughter has sent photos from her latest birthday party. He understands those digital photographs that just live in his inbox in a totally different way than the teen understands the photos he texts to his friends. I think I’d like to learn more about that.
Now that I’ve got a more detailed idea of how the People of Auburn project is going to go and I’ve actually seen the physical facilities and gotten to know the library a little bit, I’m even more excited about this project. I have to admit that normally I find genealogy and archives only mildly interesting, but the more Gregg showed us on Saturday, the more interested I got. They’ve got so many unusual and unique resources and technology. I’m also very excited about the team we have assembled for this project!
Back row: Andrea Japzon, Erin Miller Milanese, Gretchen Kolderup, Alaina Ring, Gregg Williamson. Front row: Katie Nakanishi, Eve Grant. Not pictured: Angela Slocum. Photo by EPL's Gretel.
Eckhart Public Library is unusual in that it actually comprises three separate buildings all on the same street. We conducted most of our business on Saturday at the Genealogy Center, but we also visited the main library building and the teen library. Oh yes, EPL has a completely separate building for its teens–and it’s totally awesome. It’s open after school and on the weekends and it’s got comfortable furnishings, really striking light fixtures, computers, and a space for programming and games. Adults are only allowed in for fifteen minutes at a time if they’re not accompanied by a teen. When we walked into the building, the teens sitting at the computers turned around to stare at us; Darcy, the librarian I talked to, said that’s one of the things the teens like best about having their own space, feeling like they belonged and anyone else was an outsider. She did acknowledge that sometimes the people in adult services were too quick to send teens away from the main library building but said that overall, having their own space was great. I was impressed with how current their fiction collection was and how large their non-fiction collection (homework resources and teen-interest stuff like gaming guides and yoga books and things like that) was. I think it’s really important for teens to have their own space in the library–and it’s even better when they can have a space where they aren’t constantly being told to keep their voices down.
The outside of the Third Place, EPL's teen library. Photo by Erin Milanese.
We also visited the main library building, which was built in 1911 and is on the National Register of Historic Places and has a lot of interesting touches. It was originally going to be a Carnegie building, but Charles Eckhart, a local businessman, said he’d build the library on the condition that the contract with Carnegie be severed. The library has a fountain in the yard outside, stained glass windows, and a fireplace. It’s very comfortable and it really feels like a homey place the community can gather.
The fountain outside the main library. Photo by Erin Milanese.
Stained glass and bookshelves in the main library building. Photo by Erin Milanese.
I also took a trip downstairs to check out the children’s area. They have puppets and toys available for checkout and their storytime room is decorated with a Secret Garden theme and has an adjacent room with kid-sized tables for craft time. I was so impressed with the creative touches throughout the whole library. It seems like a really fun place to be able to go!
A tree in the storytime room in the children's department. Photo by Erin Milanese.
EPL has internship opportunities available for SLIS-Indy students. If you’re interested in working in the Genealogy Center processing materials for the digital collection, in the teen library, for information services, or in technical services, email Gregg Williamson. Don’t forget that internship applications are due to Marilyn Irwin in the SLIS office by 15 March for the summer semester and 15 July for the fall semester.
Last night my Youth Services class took a field trip to Greenwood Public Library to observe a preschool storytime and hear from Emily Ellis, the YA librarian; Rachel Korb, a children’s librarian and recent IUPUI SLIS grad; and Anne Guthrie, the assistant head of children’s services and the early literacy specialist. I’d never actually been to a preschool storytime (at least as an adult!) and it was interesting to observe all of the different components of the program–and we got to dance and play with the parachute! Anne is very energetic and is a grant-writing machine and in her introductory talk, she covered a lot of the highlights of connecting with preschoolers and encouraging a love of reading and libraries at an early age.
She also showed us a PowerPoint presentation that I’d seen her give at the Indiana Library Federation‘s Children’s and Young People’s Division Annual Conference last August. In it, she talks about how boys are different from girls: their brain scans look different and different chemicals are present in their brains, and because of this, boys learn best through movement and enjoy competition.
So to draw boys into the library and keep them there, Anne’s created an ongoing program called the Boys’ Adventure Club. There’s also a parallel program for girls, the American Girl Club. In the brochure for upcoming programs I picked up on my way into the library, I noticed that the next American Girl Club will center around Molly and her Victory Garden and will teach girls about gardening. The next Boys’ Adventure Club is called Survival 101 and will “[test] your knowledge on what you could eat, which herbs would help you heal a wound, how you could make your own shelter and other interesting strategies for staying alive if you were ever stranded alone in the wilderness.”
I know that libraries (and educators generally) are worried about a “boy crisis” now, and it’s true that boys don’t read the same way that girls do and that libraries are generally the realm of girls and women and that lots of measures of literacy show boys behind girls. I want to find a way to get boys into the library and to show them that literacy, reading, libraries, and librarians are cool. And I have no problem with planning programs that appeal to a specific subgroup within your service population. But what kills me about this gendered programming at GPL is that it’s gender-exclusive. If you’re a boy, you’re not allowed to go learn about Molly’s Victory Garden and how to have your own garden. If you’re a girl, the library isn’t going to teach you to live off the land.
In some cases, gender-specific programming seems to me like a positive thing. Jon Scieszka’s Guys Read initiative works to help boys become motivated readers for life. One of the components of encouraging boys to read is providing male role models who read, and having a father/son book club is a great way to do that. On the other side, having a self-esteem-building after-hours event for teen girls is a great way to help girls like themselves for who they are without worrying about pleasing boys, but there needs to be a similar program for boys. It’s not gender-exclusive programming that bothers me, I guess, so much as the library enforcing gender-specific interests and offering such a limited role–for both girls and boys.
So the Boys’ Adventure Club and American Girl Club bother me on a personal level. I grew up as a tomboy who would have much rather learned about wilderness survival than some stupid garden in the backyard, and this experience, this part of who I am, wants me to stand up for the tomboys of today.
They also bother me as a feminist. Of course there are gender expectations everywhere, in everything we do. The gender of the person to whom we’re talking influences how we talk, what we say, how we behave in the conversation. But do libraries have to overtly support gender norms like this? What does it say to girls who want to join the Adventure Club or boys who want to learn about gardening or even something like knitting?
But they really bother me as a librarian. We sell the library as a place to learn and explore, a place to figure out the world and ourselves. We invoke the 40 Developmental Assets–especially when working with teens–to make a case for how the library helps young people grow into healthy adults. One of the internal asset categories is Positive Identity. Making non-equitable gender-exclusive programming can tell young people that they have no place in the library as who they are.
Can we bring boys into the library without falling back on exploiting gender norms? I’m not sure. How do you target a specific group without using statistics and expectations about that group? But there’s a difference between relying on data about a group and relying on stereotypes about a group or shutting out non-members of that group. So can we bring boys into the library without enforcing gender norms? Absolutely. And it’s better for everyone if we find ways to do so.
(If I get another degree in culture and gender studies or do a PhD in library science, I think I’d like my thesis to be related to how our gender expectations inform our library service to young people.)