Tag: commentary

What’s Darien Library’s Secret?

On Friday I attended the Programming Unconference Northeast at Darien Library and had a fantastic time: I reunited with Connecticut YA folks I hadn’t seen in a while, made some new YA friends (including a bunch from NYPL whom I hadn’t met yet!), got a couple good programming ideas, and was energized by conversations with other people who want to do good work.

darien library logoBut that day also provided me the opportunity to talk to a couple of Darien librarians to find out what their secret is.

I’d known about Darien Library even as a library student in Indiana. I assumed at the time that their greatness was a product of the wealth in the community, but after moving to Fairfield County and seeing other libraries with just as much money who weren’t nationally known, I realized that money isn’t enough to make a library successful. (It may be necessary, but it’s not sufficient.) So what’s Darien Library’s secret?

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Leave a Comment September 30, 2013

Voter Turnout (and More) for the 2013 ALA Election

Last year, I analyzed voter turnout for the ALA election and speculated on why certain divisions did better than others (if turnout is a measure of member engagement). Now that data for this year is available, I thought I’d do the same and make some comparisons.

First, comparative turnout between divisions (with all of these graphs, click through for bigger versions):

2013 by division

(In this chart and throughout this post, what’s labeled as ALA voter turnout isn’t the overall turnout for all members; it’s how many members voted for Council and President of ALA — “Big ALA,” if you will.)

And let’s compare that to last year:

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Leave a Comment May 15, 2013

I still exist! What I’ve been doing, the fruits of professional involvement, and ALA voter turnout

It’s been nearly eight months since I last posted here! A lot has happened in that time, and believe me, I’ve missed blogging. I’m not sure I can even pretend this post is the harbinger of a comeback; I’m still doing all of the things that took me away from here last winter, and until that’s over, I’m not sure I’ll be blogging regularly.

What are those things? Well, I’m getting more involved locally. And like I mentioned ages and ages ago, I’ve been on YALSA’s Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults committee, and as of February, I’ve been chairing it. I also took over as member manager of The Hub last summer and I’ve been spending a lot of time on that as well. I started reviewing for School Library Journal. I think those are probably where most of my time is going — and as of the beginning of this month, I also have more hours at work! I’m still not quite full time, but I’m getting there, and there are so many things that have happened at work that I’ve wanted to tell you about but just haven’t made the time to write up. The things I do with YALSA seem to feed back into my work, and the things I do at work inspire new connections and conversations on Twitter, and then I see those people involved with YALSA and think to make new connections. I’ve definitely been busy, and it feels good! And while I miss blogging, I’m kind of enjoying just putting my head down and working. That feels really good.

So the more involved I get with YALSA — beyond committee work, I’ve also been on a taskforce, organized the speed networking session at Annual this year, and helped write up a proposal [pdf] that the YALSA Board form a task force to monitor what’s going on with ebooks and help YALSA create resources about ebooks for its members — the more involved I want to get and the more I want to learn about the organization and help make it better.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about recently is member involvement in divisions and in ALA as a whole. (more…)

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Leave a Comment July 21, 2012

Things I Did Not Tell You: I Was on the Radio! Plus M. T. Anderson, Pittacus Lore, and NaNoWriMo books at The Hub

Dear readers, there are things I have not told you. Between summer reading, preparing for our first-ever high school lock-in at my library, and then the 31 Days of Authors feature at The Hub in October, I’ve been very busy–and being busy has kept me from sharing things with you.

The most exciting of those things is that back at the beginning of September, one of our children’s librarians and I were on the radio! In honor of the release of the fifth movie, Jane Williams invited us to talk about Harry Potter and its effect on kids and their reading for her Bloomberg EDU program. It was really exciting and a lot of fun and I’m so glad we were given the chance to do this. (Also exciting: that same day I visited the feather store that supplies Big Bird’s plumage!) You can listen to the segment online [mp3]; our part starts at the 14-minute mark. I know this was two months ago, but I’d still love to hear what you think!

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Leave a Comment November 1, 2011

Are librarians still specialists? Then let’s be so publicly.

by flickr user Mai Le

All of this is written from a public library (and youth services) perspective. Academic librarians, special librarians, archivists, and other library folk may see things differently.

A couple weeks ago Ashley Barrineau posted on yalsa-bk about a new website called Story Snoops, which “offers children’s book reviews from a parent’s perspective” (although in their FAQ, they clarify that they do not advocate censorship: “Our website is a resource for parents to seek out or avoid specific content in a book, and to facilitate valuable discussions with their children.”). They also offer book lists and readalikes.

I’m happy to have a new tool to use in helping young readers and their parents find books (and another tool to teach them how to find books), but I have to admit that I’m really bummed that Story Snoops wasn’t created by librarians. This is what we do–so why aren’t we doing it? (I suppose the KDL What’s Next Database comes close, but it isn’t as user-friendly as Story Snoops is.)

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9 Comments September 7, 2011

A grown-up’s guide to YA lit

Over the last two months, I’ve been working on a guest post for In the Library with the Lead Pipe about YA lit. It’s been a great experience (I’ve never had an editor before!), and I’m really proud of the final version of the article, “Are You Reading YA Lit? You Should Be.” Here’s the intro:

I’m a young adult librarian, but I didn’t read young adult lit when I was a teen myself. I was a precocious reader and desperate to be treated like a grown-up, so I read books for grown-ups because anything else was just too puerile for someone as obviously mature and sophisticated as I. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties, working on my MLS and realizing that I wanted to work with teens, that I discovered there was a huge, glorious world of excellent YA lit that I had completely missed. Now it’s almost all I read.

Outside of YA circles, I sometimes find myself having to justify my tastes to others. Yes, a lot of why I read YA lit is because I work with teens. But even if I were to switch careers, I would continue reading YA lit because it’s good. That’s not to say adult lit isn’t, of course, but YA lit has a freshness that I really enjoy, and it rarely gets bogged down in its own self-importance. YA lit is also mostly free of the melancholy, nostalgia, and yearning for the innocent days of childhood that I find so tedious in adult literary fiction.

I think the reason some grown-ups look down their noses at YA lit is because they haven’t read any of it recently, so they don’t know how good it’s gotten—or how different it is from what they might imagine it to be. While there are still books that deal with Big Issues, the “problem novel” of the ’70s and ’80s has been eclipsed by more slice-of-life contemporary fiction, romances, fantasies, mysteries, sci-fi stories, and genre-blending tales that defy categorization. For as much attention as the Twilight series has gotten, it’s certainly not all that’s out there.

I talk about what YA lit is and isn’t, how YA lit is similar to and different from adult lit, recent trends in YA lit, and grown-ups reading YA lit (plus some suggestions for adults who want to give YA lit a try). It’s kind of long, but I hope you’ll read it!

I want to say again how awesome it was to work with Lead Piper Brett Bonfield and my guest editors Candice Mack and Nancy Hinkel. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to write this piece with their insightful input and to be an ambassador for YA lit to a wider audience.

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6 Comments July 27, 2011

When you can’t choose privacy

As part of its Privacy Revolution efforts, ALA declared last week Choose Privacy Week, with this year’s efforts focusing on youth and privacy. If you dig into the websites and publicity around the event, you’ll find that this initiative is about creating dialogue about privacy in our society today, but I didn’t see a lot of talk on blogs or Twitter this week about privacy–at least, not more than I usually do. That’s especially disappointing because I think that in a lot of cases, you can’t choose privacy, as ALA exhorts us to do. (more…)

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Leave a Comment May 9, 2011

Question: what should young people be reading?

Answer: books they want to read.

Now here’s the longer version.

A couple of days ago I had a really frustrating interaction with someone. Part of the frustration came from me not being in a position to debate the merit of this person’s statement, but part of it also comes from her opinion being a widely held one among people who don’t actually work with kids and books that I suspect other librarians fight on a regular basis as well.

Let me give you some context. Our local middle school has a Battle of the Books in which each English class competes against each other. Students are given a list of about 100 “recommended reading” books and are encouraged to read books from the list throughout the year. Then, as the school year is winding down, each class picks who will be on their official team, and those teams compete against one another in a trivia contest that draws facts from the books on the list. Whichever team answers the most questions correctly wins.

So I was having a conversation with this woman about middle schoolers in our community, and she said that she just loves the Battle of the Books because it gets kids reading “good books instead of that Clique stuff1,” and at that point it was hard for me to not start a fight, because–and I think she’d find this shocking and appalling, and might think I’m a Bad Librarian because of it–I’d much rather see a middle school kid reading a Clique book or Twilight or a graphic novel for fun than see the same student struggling through a Classic Novel of Great Merit, hating every minute of it.

Allow me a few parameters and caveats. This isn’t really about what books get assigned in English classes. I’d really like to see more contemporary titles with similar themes or literary devices as the “classics,” but I understand that fitting things into the curriculum (or changing the curriculum) and developing lesson plans from scratch can be hard, and schools are under a lot more pressure to provide books that strengthen kids’ moral fiber or introduce them to our “universal” culture or indoctrinate students into the “right” kind of thinking (or at least don’t lead them astray with the “wrong” kind of thinking) or whatever.

Furthermore, I don’t have a problem with the Battle of the Books program itself. I mean, libraries all around the country do something similar, and it can be a cool way to get kids excited about reading and about books. That’s great! We need to find more ways of doing that. An essential component of lifelong reading is getting kids to like reading. (I suppose you could argue that more is not always better, as British authors are doing right now around the whole “kids should be reading 50 books a year” thing, but again, there’s a difference between what schools do and what public libraries do.) And the Battle of the Books book list isn’t just classics: the lists also include Newbery winners, other award winners, bestsellers, and even actually popular books (like The Lightning Thief and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone). But it is definitely a list that is intended to highlight Good Literature and exclude “trashy” reads.

So really, it’s not the Battle of the Books or the books themselves, and you can, of course, make an argument for having classics in the YA section. It’s not the classics that I have a problem with–it’s giving kids choice. What’s really killing me here is this woman’s assumption that classics = good and popular books = bad, regardless of any other circumstances surrounding the situation. Later in the conversation, the recent smallish expansion of our teen area came up, and this woman responded, “Oh, good! They really need so much room to study,” completely missing the point that the books in our teen area are mostly fiction and that the teen area has also been evolving to become more of a space for hanging out than a space for tutoring. It was just really clear to me that she sees libraries as books + studying and that kids should only be reading Books of Great Merit.

Kids will have assigned reading in school, and that’s fine. But they also need to have choice in what they read, and those choice needs to not be policed for literary merit. That kids’ recreational reading choices are scrutinized by adults who think they know better is infuriating. No one lectures adults on how they should stop reading Dan Brown or put down the latest John Grisham book and instead pick up War and Peace or Ulysses or something. No one’s going to look at an adult who comes home from a long day at work and plops down to watch American Idol and say, “Are you really watching that trash again? You should be watching a documentary,” but man, kids go to class for seven or eight hours a day, have sports practice or clubs or music lessons or part-time jobs after that, go home and do their homework–and then are expected to read books that will make them better people instead of books that they want to read? You’ve got to be kidding me.

LizB–once again–has it right: the 50 books every child should read starts with #1: a book of their choice, continues with #2: a book of their choice, and keeps going that way. That’s how you build lifelong readers, how you get people to for fun–you let them read things that interest them. And as the British authors who stood up for kids and their reading pointed out, requiring kids to read 50 books a year while simultaneously cutting library funding and closing libraries is also crap. Kids need choice in their reading materials, and they need libraries to have that choice.

1 The Clique books seem to be the go-to “these books are bad” books in my community–I’m not really sure why it’s The Clique in particular and not Gossip Girl or Pretty Little Liars or The A-List or any other of the many series like that in my library that are very popular.

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7 Comments March 24, 2011

Enfield (CT) Public Library will be showing “Sicko” after all–but what exactly is “balance”?

A photograph of the Enfield (CT) Public Library in the wintertime

The Enfield (CT) Public Library

You may have heard that the Enfield (CT) Public Library was ordered on the 19th by the mayor to cancel their screening of Michael Moore’s documentary “Sicko” planned for the 21st after residents complained about the subject matter. Other residents and representatives cried censorship, and the Connecticut Library Association responded that it “deplore[d] the cancellation of the showing of the film.”

As libraries and librarians around Connecticut suggested “solidarity screenings” of the film, gaining some supporters within a few days (which also brought up an interesting point on securing movie licensing rights), word also broke that the entire film series program had been halted and the director at Enfield commanded not to speak to the media.

But then yesterday, Enfield town officials backed down and will allow “Sicko” to be screened (although they want the library to wait for a while to let the controversy die down). The gag order on the director has also been lifted. Library Journal has more, and the CLA has been collecting links to news stories throughout.

The library had previously shown “Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11” without any trouble; it was apparently because the House of Representatives had recently voted to repeal President Obama’s health care plan that “Sicko” was considered somehow inappropriate or unbalanced. But I think that while requiring balance sounds good on the surface, that can be hard at times:

Finding balance is not always easy, [Enfield Library Director Henry Dutcher] said. Sometimes, there are no obvious counterpoints to offer. For example, he said the library once hosted a presentation about deep-sea fishing, and he said he didn’t know what would constitute balance in that case.

He said he has considered several films to provide balance to “Sicko.” One of the titles is called “Sick and Sicker” and is a documentary critical of the health care reform law promoted last year by Obama. Although both films focus on health care, Dutcher said it isn’t clear whether they represent a balanced look at the same issue. (source)

I know that lots of libraries have collection development policies stating that the library seeks to collect materials representing all viewpoints, but with what might as well be an infinite number of issues, topics, viewpoints, and sides to a discussion and only a limited number of dollars to spend on materials, how close to that vision for a balanced collection can we really get? And how do you balance topics like deep-sea fishing?

While I don’t have firsthand knowledge of what happened in Enfield, I don’t think that actually wanting to see balance was at the heart of the original complaint. From the resident who originally objected to the screening of “Sicko”:

“If we do want to see differing points of view, I would suggest films like ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and other controversial movies would also be filmed or shown and advertised for viewing in a public venue like that on the tax dollar,” Fealy said.

It’s not that this resident has a problem with the library somehow trampling on his views on healthcare; he wants an ultraviolent Christian propaganda film to somehow “balance” a Michael Moore documentary on health care. Moore definitely has an agenda with his movies, but “balancing” it with “The Passion of the Christ” doesn’t seem like any kind of real balance to me.

No one ever sees these explosions of community discord and media coverage coming, and I wonder what the library administration and staff at Enfield will be doing differently from here on out to achieve “balance.” I’m just really glad that freedom of information and expression won out over censorship this time.

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3 Comments January 26, 2011

Public libraries, not publicly-funded-but-run-by-private-companies libraries

The New York Times recently ran an article about a private company being contracted to run public libraries. The company is LSSI (Library Systems and Services), and they’re now running 14 library systems with 63 different locations in California, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas–which, if you measure library system size by branches, now makes them the fifth-largest library system in the country. The idea is that a private company is better suited to cutting costs and increasing efficiency, but I think ceding control of our public libraries to private companies will destroy exactly what is good about public libraries.

Alicia of The LibrariYAn does a great job of identifying a lot of the problems with the rationale behind letting a private company take control of a public library and the effects of doing so (especially her arguments about how “cutting costs” often means cutting salaries and benefits and excluding union workers or turning to volunteers instead of trained professionals), but I wanted to contribute some more thoughts.

I think what makes me angriest is what Frank A. Pezzanite, the CEO of LSSI, thinks about libraries and librarians:

“There’s this American flag, apple pie thing about libraries,” said Frank A. Pezzanite, the outsourcing company’s chief executive. He has pledged to save $1 million a year in Santa Clarita, mainly by cutting overhead and replacing unionized employees. “Somehow they have been put in the category of a sacred organization.”

[…]

“A lot of libraries are atrocious,” Mr. Pezzanite said. “Their policies are all about job security. That’s why the profession is nervous about us. You can go to a library for 35 years and never have to do anything and then have your retirement. We’re not running our company that way. You come to us, you’re going to have to work.”

You know what, Mr. Pezzanite, screw you. I’m sure that there are librarians who have been coasting throughout their careers, but especially now in a time of budget cuts and there being more MLS grads than there are new positions, the librarians I know are not doing nothing. It’s true that because of the high cost of firing someone and replacing them, it can be difficult to get rid of less productive employees at a non-profit organization, but that’s still no reason to insult an entire profession. And New York Times, you’re really not helping dispel the notion that libraries are full of old people who are resistant to change by showing a picture of an elderly librarian who “is opposed to the outsourcing plan.”

Furthermore, Mr. Pezzanite’s snide dismissal of public libraries as “this American flag, apple pie thing” makes me very angry. The library isn’t a sacred organization, but in many communities, it’s the only place the least fortunate have to go to be put in touch with resources they desperately need. As more and more government services are moved exclusively online (especially things like filing for unemployment) and employers begin accepting applications online only, it’s even more important that public libraries are able to offer free computer and Internet access to those who can’t get online anywhere else. (Remember that 67% of public libraries are the only place in the community that offer free computer and Internet access and that 90% of public libraries offer technology training.)

Libraries are also where parents can take their children for storytimes that improve their literacy skills, where families can borrow DVDs for free, where people can attend classes that teach them new skills or help them develop their hobbies, where anyone can get book recommendations or have their questions answered, where works of fiction and non-fiction representing what humanity has created and discovered are kept, and where resources are shared. None of this is done because it turns a profit, and in fact, the people who most need libraries are the ones who are least able to afford those services elsewhere. A for-profit company is going to be much less concerned with meeting the needs of the community that supports it and much more concerned with operating as cheaply as possible, regardless of what services they have to cut or the quality of those services and materials. In some ways, this echoes the preference for “male” values (competition, success, profit) over “female” values (helping others, sharing, building community) that I’ve talked about before.

I also think that one of the greatest strengths of the public library is that it is local. The management tree never goes past the city or county or maybe state that funds the library, so libraries are able to reflect their communities. They develop digital collections of photographs reflecting their communities over the years, they connect people to local agencies, they plan programs that make use of local people’s expertise, and the really good ones buy locally (even when it’s more expensive than getting materials from huge corporate vendors) and invest the tax dollars they receive back into their communities. I have a hard time believing that a for-profit company based in a state all the way across the country would be as interested in knowing, serving, and supporting the local community.

We need to consider who wins and who loses when we turn control of our public libraries over to private, for-profit companies. Staff members suffer in reduced wages and a limit on their ability to form unions. Patrons suffer because cutting costs means cutting services or materials or requiring payment for things that were formerly free. The entire local community suffers because the library is less likely to serve local interests or invest money back in the community. The only party who wins is the for-profit company. Rather than turning public libraries over to for-profit companies, libraries should find ways to cut costs and increase efficiency themselves or, if they need outside help, hire consultants while still maintaining their autonomy. And in fact, that’d be an even better outcome in terms of costs vs. expenditures because however much the local government spends on the contract with LSSI, LSSI is going to be spending less than that to run the library so they can turn a profit. Keeping the library public means keeping that would-be profit to a private company invested in the community.

This isn’t some sort of American flag apple pie garbage–it’s preserving our local culture, our identity as citizens instead of consumers, and our cultural repositories from the dehumanizing crush of a capitalism that favors profits over people and efficiency over assistance. Public libraries need to remain publicly funded and publicly managed if they’re going to continue to do the good they do in our communities.

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5 Comments September 29, 2010

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