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?
Tigard-Tualatin eliminated Pasteris’ position this year, along with the district’s nine other elementary media assistants. The move saved $420,000, but keeping the libraries functioning without assistants has been a challenge.
“The hard part is finding out what are some things we just really have to stop doing,” Byrom Elementary Principal Rick Fraisse said.
District officials say there was little choice in the matter. If not the library assistants, something else would have been cut to deal with the district’s budget woes.
There are now no elementary school media assistants in this school district. And the libraries are not managing to operate normally without them: there are things they’ve had to stop doing–and that means providing services or materials. One school didn’t have morning announcements for a month because it’d been part of what the library assistant did! District officials may say there was little choice, but is the library really the least important thing, the best choice when it comes to cuts? If a school intends to educate its students, the library should be at the very heart of that, not an extra to cut as soon as there’s a budget shortfall. And no, you can’t replace library staff with volunteers and expect things to carry on smoothly like before.
Recent trends in book challenges
In further ugh-inducing news, USA Today recently covered trends in book challenges and bans across the country. While the total number of challenges (or those reported to the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, at least) has been steady at 400-500 challenges per year for the last thirty years, those challenges are more often coming from organized groups rather than one offended individual (and I’d guess that means that there are fewer people actually reading the books they’re challenging and more people just acting on what some organization has told them). And, insanely enough, “[T]he American Library Association and other groups say they have seen a noticeable rise in complaints about literature used in honors or college-level courses.” College-level courses. I assume that means college-level courses in high school and not actual college courses; if I’m wrong, please let me know so I can go weep for the youth of today. I know parents want to protect their children for as long as they can, but if those kids are taking classes that they can use for college credit, I don’t think you can expect the content of the literature to be squeaky clean. Yikes.
The New York Society Library has made public its first charging ledger, which records checkouts from 1789 to 1792 and includes records of what prominent New Yorkers, members of Congress, and even the Vice President and President were borrowing at the time. You can search the ledger, see at what individual people were borrowing, and even look at digital scans of actual pages from the ledger.
When we were working on our community repository project last spring, the head of the genealogy center at the Eckhart Public Library discussed his thoughts on balancing privacy and access: he wanted to make as many things as open as possible, but some records–like library card registrations from generations ago that gave people’s names and addresses–remained closed indefinitely for privacy reasons. So while it’s fun to see what George Washington was reading, and it gives us a more nuanced view of the man who was our first President, and he’s been gone long enough that he and his descendants probably won’t care, I wonder if there’s a statute of limitations on privacy. Do we violate our professional principles when we open these records, even if the particular people involved are long dead? I’d say probably not, but it’s something we need to consider every time we open what would normally be closed records, no matter how interesting the contents of those records.
The tree is constituted predominantly by copies of publications such as Congressional Quarterly Almanac and The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature.
Those books were chosen for a reason.
“We went into the collection and took a few of the books that aren’t used quite as often as others,” Kabat said.
That hasn’t stopped some students from giving the library staff a little good-natured grief.
“We’ve had some people come by and ask, ‘What if I need to use that book in the middle there?’ and we’ve said, ‘Too bad, you’ll have to wait until January,'” Kabat said, adding that her project reminds her of the nerve-racking game Jenga.
And finally, did you hear? The previously-capped-at-eight-books Pretty Little Liars series will be expanded by another four titles starting with Twisted in July. I’ve heard from other librarians that the dangerous divas/rich bitches/backstabbing beauties books are falling off in popularity among their patrons, but the Pretty Little Liars series and others like it are still going strong at my library, so I’m sure my patrons will be thrilled to see new material.
This collection of links is going to be a real mix of things, but there’s so much interesting stuff I’ve seen lately!
YA lit and library news and trends
One of the things I’d like to see more of in librarianship in general and youth services especially is more rigor and research. YALSA is launching the Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults, an online, open-access, peer-reviewed journal, in November. They’ve put out a call for papers for the Winter 2011 and Spring 2011 issues.
Through 20 September you can also nominate librarians for the I Love My Librarian Award. The winners get a $5000 cash award, a plaque, and a $500 travel stipend to attend an awards reception in New York hosted by The New York Times, so this is a great opportunity for all of you library users to nominate a librarian who’s made a difference in your life or your community.
Alexie’s book has won a number of awards, but that did not sway the board.
“We can take the book and wrap it in those 20 awards everyone else said it won and it still is wrong,” said board member Ken Spurgeon.
Supporters of the book said it was chosen to get high school boys, particularly, interested in reading. Spurgeon said that was a mistake because the book’s reading level is low for high school readers.
Over at Closed Stacks, The Librarienne rails against the ALA for continuing to promote the idea that librarianship is a greying profession and that there will soon be a mass exodus of retirees leaving positions for new librarians to fill, citing the unemployment and underemployment she and her fellow graduates are suffering.
But in non-sucky news, Bitch Magazine recently interviewed Lia Friedman, he head of public services at the UCSD Arts Library, the staff librarian for make/shift magazine, and an active member of Radical Reference. Lia talks about the values of librarianship, stereotypes of librarians, and what Radical Reference does.
The team at Orbit had their summer intern do “a survey of cover art elements for the top fantasy novels published in the previous year,” and a few weeks ago they published their results. The summary in chart form:
One of the characteristics of my MLS program that I enjoyed the most was the diversity in age and experience among my classmates. There were people like me who were (mostly) fresh out of college and whose library experience was fairly limited, but because of the recent changes in Indiana library certification (summary here), some of my classmates were department heads or branch managers or even library directors who had been in their positions for decades without an MLS and who were now in school to get their degrees so they could keep their jobs. This led to a wide range in opinions and experiences in the classroom, which made for great class discussions. It also meant that I got to hear a lot of stories about how things were done in different libraries, many of which had very different policies and procedures.
One of the most disturbing stories I heard during my degree was about a challenge to a book in the teen collection at a particular library. Just for storytelling purposes, I’ll call it the Anonymous Public Library (APL). Because of the worldview of a few board members, APL takes a very active role in deciding what’s appropriate for the library collection. They do not purchase or accept donations of R-rated movies, even if the movie has won awards or broken box office records. The board members who designed and uphold this policy think that APL shouldn’t carry “inappropriate” material like this because children might check it out. Staff members have tried to suggest having adult library cards and children’s cards and not allowing children to check out videos, freeing adults to watch movies for grownups, but the board members remain resolute.
Because of the generally conservative culture at APL, the teen section also comes under a lot of scrutiny. It does serve 6th-12th graders which is admittedly a very wide range, but I’m firmly of the opinion that if a parent is concerned about what his or her child is reading, that parent should be involved in the child’s selection of reading materials–in other words, it’s not the library’s job to be the parent. But APL’s policies differ from my personal philosophy, so no books in the teen collection may contain the F-word, and the board expects the teen librarian to read every book before she purchases it to make sure the forbidden word doesn’t appear and to screen for other “inappropriate” material and themes. If APL were a tiny public library with a tiny budget and few purchases, this might be feasible, but because of APL’s size and budget, there’s no way the teen librarian can possibly read everything before she orders it.
So one of the stories about APL that was told in class was this: a seventh grader checked out Julie Halpern’s GET WELL SOON, thinking from the cover that it would be like a Jerry Spinelli book. In fact, the story is about a girl named Anna Bloom whose parents send her to a residential mental health facility (a “loony bin,” as Anna puts it) to treat her depression. The young APL patron was surprised to find a number of swear words on the first page and showed the book to her mom. Her mom was very angry and brought the book back to the library to request its removal.
In most public libraries, a librarian would listen to the parent, try to assess and reflect back why the parent was upset, and to show the parent that her concerns were important to the library. Librarians usually also try to explain the value of diversity in the collection and the importance of helping kids select their reading material if subject matter is a concern. Then if the parent still wants to challenge the book, the librarian would have the parent fill out a request for reconsideration form. Depending on library policy, a group of librarians, managers, and maybe board members or members of the public would meet, review the book, and make a decision.
At APL, the book was immediately taken to the director, who looked at the first page, decided the book was inappropriate, and had it removed it from the collection. The book itself didn’t even go to the pile of general library discards that’s sold by the Friends of the Library as a fundraiser: it went into the dumpster. This all happened within an hour of the mom’s initial challenge to the book.
And the craziest part of this story is that while this was happening, the teen librarian was on vacation, and when she returned, no one from management told her it’d happened. In her absence, the book just disappeared. She only found out later when the checkout clerk who was the mom’s first point of contact told the teen librarian, which she wasn’t supposed to have done.
Obviously this is a really extreme version of how a challenge process can work in a public library, and it is, of course, up to the community to decide how their library is run. It just makes me sad that the board members who support these policies have such a limited view of intellectual freedom in general and, more specifically, of kids’ ability to choose their own reading material and to stop when they find something they don’t think is right for them, and it makes me sad that the librarians at APL can’t do more to call this out for the censorship that it is.
So it was with great joy that I read the news that the Fon Du Lac School District in Wisconsin had chosen to keep GET WELL SOON on the shelf at Theisen Middle School. Challenges in a school library are particularly tricky because unlike public libraries, the school is acting in loco parentis, so challenges are more likely to be successful. Another school district in the area had opted to put a sticker on another book (not GET WELL SOON) deemed inappropriate for middle schoolers and to require parental permission for students to check it out, so FDLSD’s decision is especially heartening. During the hearings, the media specialist defended the library’s diverse collection and said that if a student checked out GET WELL SOON and was uncomfortable reading it that she would help that student find something more appropriate. This is exactly the right way to handle challenges like this and I’m so pleased with how things turned out.
If a challenge doesn’t get much media attention, the author often never hears about the challenge or the outcome. But in this case, Julie Halpern saw an article about the decision (and noted that no one’d called her) and wrote a blog post about how the challenge affected her writing of the sequel and the role respect plays in reading, writing, and allowing kids to pick their own reading material.
Some people are speaking up for their libraries by making videos. The Monroe County Community School Corporation’s school libraries were recently saved and I’d like to think that the video students, teachers, and the librarian at Templeton Elementary School made of the play they wrote and performed during National Library Week, “The Case of the Missing Librarian,” had something to do with it.
And Laura Graff of Sun Valley High School in California created “Bleeding Libraries,” a vision of what will happen when libraries close due to budget cuts.
I tend to assume that everyone within libraryland is an unconditional library lover and supporter, but another recent YALSA blog post challenged that assumption. Linda Braun, the president of YALSA–the president of YALSA–asked if every library was worth saving.
LWB: Yeah, I get that. We do need to get the word out about the importance of libraries. But here’s the thing I’ve been thinking about. As someone who consults and teaches librarians to be – Should all libraries be saved? I hear horror stories about libraries that provide really bad service and have really bad collections.
Do we want to save those libraries too?
mk: Well, is that the fault of the library itself, or is it symptomatic of leadership within the library or the community?
LWB: Either I suppose, but if we have the rallying cry of save all libraries will that change? Isn’t it a band-aid to save all libraries and then have the same service and same problems keep happening?
Why not save some libraries and be honest about the bad stuff that’s going on in some places?
She does say she’s playing the devil’s advocate and if you keep reading, I think what Linda is saying isn’t so much that some libraries shouldn’t be saved, but that some libraries need a lot of work. And in a small way, I agree that we don’t always turn a critical enough eye to our profession, to what our libraries are doing, and to what they could or should be doing. But especially now when libraries are being threatened, it’s frightening to think that admitting our imperfections–even if we’ve also got a plan to remedy those–might mean the end of our library entirely.
But it’s adults who have power and voice in our society, so we need to be able to talk about why libraries matter and what they do and then take action. Zen College Life gives us 85 reasons to be thankful for libraries and while some are jokey (“Colleges need something to remodel every so often” and “A library is a great excuse to get out of the house (seriously, why would anyone argue with you about it?)”), some really get to the heart of what it is libraries do: we offer free Internet access to people who would otherwise be shut out of the online world, not everything can be found online and librarians can help you find very specific information, we teach children literacy and problem-solving skills. In making lists like these, I think instead of thinking about what libraries do, it’s more helpful to think about what would be missing from the community if the library was gone.
Karl Siewert advocates for the library by infiltrating Instructables, explaining in just a few easy steps how you can get any information you could possibly need (hint: the required materials are a library card and the ability to ask questions).
Jessamyn West also compiled a list of single link advocacy sites supporting libraries in need. If a library in your area is on the list, check out the site and see what you can do.
And while talking on the Internet about how great libraries are has its place, the best way to stand up for your library is through concrete, real-world action. Use your library and give them the circ stats and program attendance numbers they need to make their case. Vote for ballot measures that support library funding. Talk to your legislators and tell them libraries are important to you. The best people to advocate for libraries aren’t librarians–they’re people who aren’t formally associated with the library. We need non-librarians to champion us.
“Ask me about the pest that’s infecting your crop, common skin diseases, how to seek help if your husband beats you or even how to stop having children, and I may have a solution,” says a confident Akhter.
This kind of transformative access to information is awesome on its own, but it’s especially great in a country like Bangladesh where 36% of people live on less than $1 a day and 90% of women give birth at home with no medical assistance. Read more at the original Guardian article.
The Westbury Book Exchange in Somerset, England is billed as the “smallest library in the world” at Offbeat Earth. An old red telephone booth was purchased for £1 and stocked with books, CDs, and DVDs. People bring books they’ve read to swap with what’s in the booth. I love this community-driven love for literacy, but it’s not really a library, is it? The books aren’t in any particular order, much less being cataloged or classified, and there’s no professional staff available to help you find what you want. But it’s gotten me thinking about what makes a library a library–and it’s cute!
There’s still time to apply for YALSA’s mentoring program if you haven’t yet. Experienced public and school librarians working with teens will be paired up with newcomers to the field for mutual learning, encouragement, and awesomeness. Applications are due by the end of this month, so if you’re interested but haven’t finished your application, be sure to do so soon.
And finally, a couple videos. As part of the promotion for GUYS READ: FUNNY BUSINESS, which comes out this September, HarperCollins put together “The Joke,” in which Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, Adam Rex, David Yoo, Paul Feig, Kate DiCamillo, Christopher Paul Curtis, Eoin Colfer, Jack Gantos, David Lubar, and Jeff Kinney–all contributors to the collection–tell a joke about a new kid in school.
I like that the Internet makes authors so much more accessible than they ever have been. There’s exciting stuff like being able to read their blogs, follow them on Twitter, or watch their video blogs, but even just things like this where you get to see what they look like personalizes them in a way that I didn’t really have growing up.
Some students and faculty members at the University of Washington’s Information School show off the braininess and sexiness of library and information science work in “Librarians do Gaga.”
I received an email today via the IU SLIS listserv about the continuing struggle against school funding cuts in Monroe County. An independent group is planning a rally on 10 April to recruit volunteers to pass a funding referendum. I haven’t been able to find freely accessible news posts about the rally, but most of the information is reproduced on the Bloomington Moms Meetup Group. The proposed funding cuts would, among other things, eliminate all elementary and middle school librarian positions, leaving just one high school librarian.
And Monroe County is not alone. It’s happening in Connecticut, in New Jersey, in Arizona, and in California, too. In fact, all across the country, school library services and staff are being cut or professional librarians are being replaced with paraprofessionals. This Google Map (created by someone listed only as Shonda) shows “a nation without school librarians”–places where certified school librarian positions are to be eliminated or where librarians will have to work across multiple schools. If this is happening near you and it’s not represented on the map, be sure to update it. And stop by and tell Edi of Crazy Quilts what school libraries have meant to you.
Our trip to Auburn went really well on Saturday! I’ll be writing a post about it tomorrow. For now, just a few news items from the library blogosphere.
Reading Rants, written by Jennifer Hubert and designed by Andrew Mutch, is a collection of booklists and book reviews that’s been around since 1998 (first as a website and then in 2007 as a blog. They also published a book). Jennifer posted to YALSA-bk yesterday announcing that with the help of her 7th graders and Andrew, Reading Rants had gotten a template redesign.
There’s been some controversy in central Indiana recently: the Monroe County Community Schools Corporation announced budget cuts earlier this month that would eliminate school librarian positions districtwide. There’s been a trend recently toward having one licensed librarian provide library service to multiple schools in a district with assistants overseeing the individual libraries on the librarian’s days elsewhere, but these budget cuts would eliminate all librarian positions within the district. Mary D’Eliso–IU-Bloomington SLIS grad, former assistant manager of children’s services at Monroe County Public Library, current library media specialist at University Elementary School, and (former?) instructor of Children’s Literature at IU-Bloomington SLIS–started Let Me Think: Adventures in a School Library at the end of January and wrote in an email, “I was thinking that the main crux of our elimination was that people have no idea what actually happens in the modern school library, particularly in areas of teaching and curriculum.” She’s intending for Let Me Think to include lessons, displays, and events.
I mostly think of blogs as tools for aspiring and practicing librarians to find book reviews and get new programming ideas and as an online community for people in the profession, but they can also be public relations tools, showing non-librarians what we’re all about.