Tag: underserved populations

Save the CT state library plus thoughts from the 2011 Connecticut Library Association Annual Conference

Update: the state library may be safe, but the details aren’t settled yet.

As I write this post, Connecticut is facing the elimination of funding for its state library. While the mission of the state library is “to preserve and make accessible Connecticut’s history and heritage and to advance the development of library services statewide,” it does that in such important ways. From the CLA website:

If the State Library goes away there will be no more:

If you are a Connecticut librarian or resident, please please please call Governor Malloy at 800.406.1527 and tell him that you are a Connecticut resident, that you’re concerned about the elimination of state library funding, and that you want the state library to continue to be funded. Here’s a longer description of what the state library does and what will be lost [PDF] and some talking points [PDF] if you feel like you need them. At the very least, please sign this petition.

The 2011 CLA Annual Conference was last week, and I was able to attend on Tuesday, the second day. It was kind of fun because for the first time, I had an employer who paid my registration, and for the first time I knew people at the conference and didn’t have that awkward moment at lunch surveying the tables and trying to decide who looked friendly enough to welcome a stranger.

I attended four different sessions, checked out the exhibit hall, and then listened to the keynote speaker. Here are a few notes from the sessions I attended. (more…)

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2 Comments May 13, 2011

The New Gay Teen, Disability in Graphic Novels, and Diversity in Historical Fiction @ YALSA’s 2010 YA Lit Symposium

I attended the 2010 YA Lit Symposium in Albuquerque. This post is a summary of three of the sessions that I attended. Check out other posts tagged yalsalit2010 for more session recaps.

My notes for the other three sessions I attended aren’t as extensive, so I’m going to cover them all in one post. First up is my third Saturday session, “The New Gay Teen: Moving Beyond the ‘Issue’ Novel” with Alexandra Diaz, Madeline George, PG Kain, Carley Moore, Lauren Myracle, and Stephanie Hopkins.

Imagine that you’re just waking up and you realize your hands are tied. What’s happened over the last few hours is sort of hazy–you remember something about a fire and your friends. You don’t know where Robin is. And not only are your hands tied, you’re blindfolded, too. From the slight sway and the smell of the sea, you think you might be on a ship. Have you been captured by pirates? Will you have to fight them? Could you become a spy? You definitely remember a fire and pirates and maybe even space aliens–but none of that matters because you’re gay.

That’s how Alexandra started off this session and while it drew some laughs, it also drew attention to the way that stories with LGBTQIA characters are often focused on the character’s sexual identity or preferences as the primary conflict or issue in the story. In fact, Alexandra summed it all up really nicely when she said, “If [a character’s sexuality] continues to be the issue, it will continue to be an issue.”

This session was mostly a panel discussion where authors read from some of their books with LGBTQIA characters and talked about the way sexual preferences and identity played out in their books and in YA lit in general. Madeline George’s reading from her upcoming novel (currently untitled, due out in spring 2012) about a butch lesbian who, through her relationship with two other young women, learns to go beyond identity politics had the audience nearly in tears with laughter and I am seriously dying to read it.

Some of the common ideas that emerged were that of ignorance, of the gap between teen’s experiences and their language for those experiences, and the desire of LGBTQIA teens to read stories that have LGBTQIA characters who do something other than wrestle with their sexual identity. We also got a fabulous booklist with LGBTQ titles in YA lit that I cannot find online. Does anyone have a link?

My final session on Saturday was “Images and Issues Beyond the Dominant: Including Diversity in Your Graphic Novel Collection.” This was a booklist-heavy session, but the sheer range of things we saw was fantastic. Graphic novels and manga can portray race and ethnicity, disability, and body shapes in a different way than prose or poetry can, and that makes some stories incredibly powerful. Again, we learned that readers are getting tired of “issue” stories and just want characters who are like them having interesting adventures.

Oh, and we were pointed to webcomics as the new frontier for library graphic novel/manga/comic collections. Some will never appear in print, so how do you make them available to your patrons?

Here’s a list of the fabulous titles we were shown.

And my final session of the symposium was on Sunday morning. I attended Melissa Rabey’s “Doomed to Repeat It: Diversity in Historical Fiction” with authors Christina Diaz Gonzales and Ruta Sepetys. Melissa identified diversity in historical fiction as telling the stories of lesser-known cultures and civilizations, considering famous events from alternate perspectives, and looking at a group’s past beyond the events most associated with that group (so that not every historical fiction story about a Jewish character takes place during the Holocaust). In general, there’s been a slow improvement in the range of explored culture, and some groups have received fuller treatment than others.

Melissa then shared with us a bunch of interesting titles and concluded with what we need to see with diversity in historical fiction (Hispanic historical fiction set in the US; stories from Africa, South America, and the Middle East; and fresh takes and recent history) and what she sees coming up (mashups between historical fiction and other genres and blending historical fiction with current trends like paranormal elements), but left open the question of where diversity fits.

This session ended with a really awesome author panel. Christina Diaz Gonzales recently wrote The Red Umbrella, which is about a fourteen-year-old girl who travels from Cuba to the US in 1961 as part of Operation Pedro Pan and is based on her parents’ story. Ruta Sepetys’s Between Shades of Gray comes out in March and tells the story of a fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941 whose family is sent to Siberia during Stalin’s “cleansing” of the Baltic region.

They both talked about the research they did, the importance of authenticity, and why historical fiction matters. Ruta had a very difficult time getting survivors to tell her their stories since they fear repercussion (the Balkans only got their independence in the ’90s, so stories are still emerging), and as part of her research, she participated in a simulation of what it was like in a gulag during which she was beaten and wound up rupturing two discs in her back and going home in a wheelchair. She was shocked by how quickly she put aside her values in the interest of self preservation. (You can see her and videos of survivors at the official site for the book.) But at the end, she said that by sharing history with teens through fiction we can try to create a more just future. On the role and importance of historical fiction, Christina said, “Teens want a good story. If it also teaches them about history or their own families’ history, that’s our goal.” She also pointed out that authors tell the stories that are in their hearts, but they have to be told authentically. If authors don’t have a personal connection to a culture, they need to do their research.

Melissa kindly made her booklist and other resources available.

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5 Comments November 8, 2010

Beyond Good Intentions and Chicken Soup: YA Lit and Disability Diversity: How Far Have We Come? @ YALSA’s 2010 YA Lit Symposium

I attended the 2010 YA Lit Symposium in Albuquerque. This post is a summary of one of the sessions that I attended. Check out other posts tagged yalsalit2010 for more session recaps.

The second session I attended on Saturday morning was “Beyond Good Intentions and Chicken Soup: Young Adult Literature and Disability Diversity: How Far Have We Come?” with Dr. Heather Garrison, Dr. Katherine Schneider (founder of the Schneider Family Book Award!), and author Terry Trueman.

This was another really outstanding session. The speakers opened with an explanation of disability as a social construct (it’s society that disables people by not providing allowances and through the perception of others) and a short examination of different models of disability, including the medical model (there is something wrong with people with disabilities’ bodies), the moral model (there is something wrong with or shameful about people with disabilities), and the minority model (disability sets someone apart, but it’s something one can be proud of and that person can lead a full life).

With a bit of a theoretical groundwork, they next talked about the importance of the depiction of disability in literature. Since 20-30% of the population has a disability, it’s not something that we can ignore or not address. Positive depictions of people with disabilities counteract Othering, and reading stories about characters with disabilities may be a reader’s first exposure to disability. (Making this point later, Terry Trueman said that he hoped that after someone read his book Stuck in Neutral, they might see someone with cerebral palsy and think, “Maybe that person is like Shawn, which means that maybe that person is like me.”). Futhermore, seeing characters with disabilities means that people with disabilities are worth writing about. Characters with disabilities can be leaders, have girlfriends, and go on adventures–they’re more than just their disability. And finally, having characters with disabilities in good stories provides positive role models for people with disabilities.

We find a lot of stereotypes of people with disabilities in literature, many of them contradictory. For example, characters with disabilities are either asexual or hypersexual, victims or vengeful, infantile or “supercrips” with powers beyond that of “normal” people. We see a lot of this especially in classic literature, and we were encouraged to instead of glossing over a character’s disability, to address the potentially problematic depiction of that disability and how the disability was perceived during the time in which the book was written. We shouldn’t ignore problematic depictions of disability, but should instead use them as a chance to discuss and education.

When we’re evaluating books that include a character with disabilities, we should consider:

  • Awards like the Schneider Family Book Award or the recently revived Dolly Gray Award
  • Attitudes: are the characters with disabilities equally active but not a super-person? Are they accepted without having to overcome their disabilities or prove themselves?
  • Accuracy: what are the credentials of the author (including personal experience)? Is accurate information given in a variety of settings? Are equipment, accommodations, adaptations, and support all depicted correctly?
  • Appeal
  • Accessibility

If you’re reviewing a book that includes mention of a disability and you’re not sure if the depiction is accurate, ask someone with that disability. The slogan “nothing about us without us” is helpful here–people with particular disabilities are the best authority on that disability because of their lived experience. You can also pair potentially problematic books with a memoir by someone who also has that particular disability.

There was also a great list of what is and isn’t available in both nonfiction and fiction:

  • Available in nonfiction: “living with…” books about particular disabilities, books about sibling issues and self-esteem issues, and biographies and autobiographies
  • Not widely available in nonfiction: books about sex, jobs, manners, histories, Daring Book for Girls-style books, and “and” books address disability and race or class or gender
  • Available in fiction: relationships, drugs, alcohol, sex, school issues, teen community, and books in both realistic and sci-fi settings
  • Not widely available in fiction: the transition to college, historical fiction, intersection with other identities (e.g., LGBTQIA, poverty, teen parenting, race/ethnicity, religion)

Finally, we were asked how our libraries do with accessibility. Can people with disabilities use your website and electronic products? Can they attend your programs? What are staff attitudes like? And are our conferences accessible to people with disabilities? This was the only session I attended that had large print handouts and discs with the handouts in formats that assisting devices for the visually disabled can read.

Dr Garrison kindly sent me handouts from this presentation; I’ve uploaded them so everyone else can access them, too.

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Leave a Comment November 8, 2010

Body Positivity and Fat Acceptance in Contemporary YA Fiction @ YALSA’s 2010 YA Lit Symposium

I attended the 2010 YA Lit Symposium in Albuquerque. This post is a summary of one of the preconferences that I attended. Check out other posts tagged yalsalit2010 for more session recaps.

My second preconference was Angie Manfredi’s “Body Positivity and Fat Acceptance in Contemporary Young Adult Fiction”.

Angie started us off with a discussion of the general dehumanization of fat bodies in our society and the distorted view of what is normal and acceptable in body shape. She then introduced us to the Fat Acceptance movement (which I didn’t know has been around since the ’60s). Since more than half of 18- to 25-year-old girls would rather be hit by a truck than be fat, and two-thirds would rather be mean or stupid, we need to address body positivity and fat acceptance in YA lit. Teens are looking for themselves in the books they read, so Angie summarized how fat characters are (and aren’t) portrayed in YA lit.

She took us on a tour of books that positively portrayed fat characters, books that had good intentions but didn’t quite make it, and books that were problematic in their treatment of fat characters. The books on the “positive” list had multifaceted characters whose fatness usually wasn’t the primary issue in the story, or whose fatness was completely unrelated to the character’s struggle. The “good intentions” list included titles that seemed to want to treat fat characters fairly, but maybe had them lose weight to be happy or had covers with skinny characters on the front or occasionally used a character’s fatness as a crutch. The “problematic” books were problematic because they focused on weight loss rather than health, put everyone in fat camp and then totally fell apart, or conflated fatness with being a slob or some other character defect.

Angie also shared with us adult titles that treated fat characters positively that would appeal to teens and books that dealt with disordered eating in new ways. All of these booklists will be available on Angie’s blog, Fat Girl Reading, in the next few days.

After getting a taste of the good and bad in treatment of fat characters in YA lit, we talked a little bit about other fat acceptance resources and how to promote positive body image among library teens. One organization in particular that’s working for a broader range of body types is Delta Delta Delta through their Reflections Program. Every year at the end of October, they sponsor Fat Talk Free Week, which aims to eliminate “all of the statements made in everyday conversation that reinforce the thin ideal and contribute to women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies.” This includes things like “Do I look fat in this?” and “She’s too fat for that dress” and “I need to lose ten pounds.”

In your library, you can make a display or host a discussion group during Fat Talk Free Week. One audience member suggested bringing boys into the conversation and talking about what it means to be a man, since men are expected to adhere to restrictive body shape options as well. Angie also suggested using–with a little adaptation–the Reflection Project’s “Things Your Chapter Can Do to Promote Positive Body Image” with your library teens, too. She also said that Operation Beautiful has been popular among teens in her library. But above all, you should advocate and integrate by including fat lit in booklists, book talks, and book displays.

The second half of the session was an author panel with Megan Frazer (Secrets of Truth and Beauty), Madeleine George (Looks), Susan Vaught (Big Fat Manifesto), and Allen Zadoff (Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have). It was really interesting to hear from the authors what their motivation was in writing their books, what they hoped the books would convey to readers, readers’ reactions to their books, and some of the struggles they’d had in writing. Some of the themes I noticed running through their responses were:

  • feelings of being watched, being judged, and being acceptable
  • the “paradox of visibility” that Madeline especially talked about where being fat makes you both very visible and simultaneously completely invisible at times
  • books having alternate titles before being published: Big Fat Manifesto was originally titled Diary of a Big Fat Fat Girl, but marketing didn’t think that’d sell, and Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have was originally Invisible
  • covers not matching the contents of the book and publishers being unwilling to have fat characters on the covers of books
  • these books that didn’t stigmatize fatness weren’t about struggling with being fat: they were about finding where you fit, finding connection with other human beings, dealing with family relationships, handling change, and being lovable. Allen said of his protagonist, “it’s not his body that changes–it’s his eyes.”
  • a universal sense among all teens (and grownups, I think, if we’re being honest) of feeling different and unacceptable

This was one of my favorite sessions of the symposium. I thought it was a great introduction to fat acceptance and a good selection of good and problematic titles with excellent explanations of what makes for a positive or problematic story. And hearing from the authors about their motivations and why their books unfolded the way they did really reinforced a lot of what Angie had been telling us earlier. Themes of authenticity, visibility/invisibility, and moving beyond issue books also surfaced in later sessions.

Angie’s going to put handouts and booklists and resources on her blog in the next few days.

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6 Comments November 7, 2010

A different kind of mobile library: on bookmobiles

Bookmobiles have come up in a number of conversations I’ve had recently, so I thought I’d share some thoughts and links.

Jane Hu wrote a piece earlier this summer for the Awl called “Booktorrent! The Bookmobile as Rural Filesharing Network”. There weren’t quite as many parallels to today’s models of sharing information as you’d expect from the title, but it’s still a good, short introduction to bookmobile service in England and America. She touches on the way public library service first began in cities, leaving those who lived in more rural areas without the free access to information libraries were beginning to provide. Bookmobiles were a way to bring that information and those resources to a wider audience.

One emerging trend in librarianship now is to position the library as a “third place,” a location that is neither work nor home but which allows for social interaction and the establishment of a sense of community. (The more common way to refer to this is as the library as a community center.) But Hu points out that this is something early bookmobiles were already offering:

The bookmobile also provided often-detached rural populations opportunities to socialize. In attempts to appeal to adults, bookmobiles often added late night stops. (I’m a little disappointed these don’t happen anymore.) The goal of the bookmobile to educate and thus “make better Americans” opened up a cultural conversation that spreads each day with the traveling word.

For a more extensive chronicling of the history of bookmobile service in a particular place, check out the articles and photos (such great photos!) that Western Maryland’s Historical Library has collected and made available. In fact, it was in Washington County that Mary Titcomb started the first bookmobile service in America in 1905 as a way of reaching potential patrons who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) visit the deposit stations in general stores and post offices that she’d established throughout Washington County, Maryland. What I found especially interesting was her evolving thoughts on what the bookcart should look like and what connotations it should evoke. She wrote in The Story of the Washington County Free Library:

The first wagon, when finished with shelves on the outside and a place for storage of cases in the center resembled somewhat a cross between a grocer’s delivery wagon and the tin peddlers cart of by gone New England days. Filled with an attractive collection of books and drawn by two horses, with Mr. Thomas the janitor both holding the reins and dispensing the books, it started on its travels in April 1905.


When directions were given as to painting, we had the fear of looking too much like the laundry wagon before our eyes, and the man was strictly enjoined, not to put any gilt or scroll work on it but to make even the lettering, “Washington County Free Library,” plain and dignified, directions carried out only too well, for in the early days of our wagoning, as our man approached one farm house, he heard a voice charged with nervous trepidation, call out “Yer needn’t stop here. We ain’t got no use for the dead wagon here.” Suffice it to say, that we promptly painted the wheels red, and picked off the panels of the doors with the same cheerful color.

In 1912, the library began using a motorized bookmobile.

However, this bookmobile suffered frequent accidents and breakdowns, prompting the librarian at the time, Miss Nellie Chrissinger, to write in the annual report, “The wagon is a victim of circumstances over which we have no control. Even at best, but eight or nine months can be counted on and wet days, wet roads, and repairs shorten the time of operation still more.”

The Washington County Free Library most recently upgraded its bookmobile in 2004. It can carry up to 4000 books, has four computer workstation outlets, is air conditioned or heated depending on the season, and comes equipped with a wheelchair lift.

It’s interesting to see how much bookmobile service has evolved in the last hundred years!

Hu mentions that bookmobile service was the only way libraries were able to reach many people living in rural areas. I’m not completely sure I’m remembering this correctly, but during one of my courses with Dr Preer during my MLS, she told us that when public library service was expanding across the country, the government provided funds for libraries to develop bookmobile service in their area to reach rural residents. Even then, though, Indiana had something of a libertarian bent, and most libraries declined this funding, not wanting to take federal money to provide a local service. So while other states were sending out bookmobiles and demonstrating the relevance, importance, and general awesomeness of library service to as many people as possible in their towns or counties or service areas, Indiana was focusing on physical buildings and not doing as much outreach. As a result, even to this day, support for libraries isn’t as strong as it could be in Indiana, and library service often lags behind other states in the Midwest. There are still plenty of people who don’t have library service without having to pay for library cards (the white areas on this map show unserved areas), and because library service is still a patchwork of town and county libraries, it’s harder to have state-wide standards for staff qualifications and services provided and operating hours. If only we’d said yes to bookmobiles!

Mary Titcomb wrote, “No better method has ever been devised for reaching the dweller in the country. The book goes to the man, not waiting for the man to come to the book.” But it’s not just country dwellers whose lives are enriched by bookmobile service; bookmobiles across the country now bring the library’s resources to nursing homes or the homebound.

Even elsewhere in the world, mobile library service provides people with access to information they wouldn’t otherwise have. The InfoLadies of Bangladesh bring villagers practical information on agriculture, health, and social services available to them. In Colombia, Luis Soriano is saving children from illiteracy with his “biblioburro.” And across the world, children get library service in all sorts of ways.

It seems like a lot of people have fond memories of bookmobile service. When my parents first moved us to Indiana, we lived in an area just outside of Fort Wayne that was only just beginning to be developed. The nearest library branch was about 20 minutes away, so we made use of the bookmobile service the library provided while they planned and built a branch in our area. While my memories of the bookmobile are pretty hazy–mostly I remember enjoying the coolness after being out in the hot summer sun and the delight I felt in being in a room full of books–my mom still reminisces about how much she enjoyed being able to request specific titles and have them brought to her the next week.

W. Ralph Eubanks mused on his own memories of bookmobile visits during his childhood in Mississippi for All Things Considered earlier this summer. What I found especially interesting was this passage that reflects on both the inequality of life for a black family in the South, but also on the way library service can change our lives:

Even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Mississippi resisted enforcing it. But when my mother, a school teacher, asked for the bookmobile to stop at our house in the summer of 1965, the librarian did not hesitate even though schools were still segregated. By simply following the law rather than ignoring it, the bookmobile transformed me into a lifelong reader and eventually a writer.

The thing I came across most recently that got me thinking about bookmobiles was Audrey Niffenegger’s The Night Bookmobile, a graphic novel about a woman who discovers a bookmobile one night that contains every book she’s ever read. The bookmobile disappears, though, and the woman spends years trying to find it again, becoming a librarian in the mean time.

Being able to bring library service to as many people as possible is part of the mission of any good library. We help those who are able to make it through our doors, but we also need to consider the needs of those for whom visiting the library isn’t possible or practical. We send books to nursing homes, we visit juvenile detention facilities, and we provide ebooks and downloadable audio books, but for many, the bookmobile has a special place in their heart as the way they access their libraries.

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2 Comments September 23, 2010

Women in American librarianship and valuing women’s work

I recently finished reading the updated edition of THE STORY OF LIBRARIES: FROM THE INVENTION OF WRITING TO THE COMPUTER AGE (Continuum, 2009) by Fred Lerner. It exists in this weird intersection between scholarly and recreational reading (the text is more dense than I was expecting and that I think a casual reader would want, but Lerner isn’t as rigorous in citing his sources as I’d expect for an academic work), but as I read, I was enjoying little historical tidbits. For example:

  • Ashurbanipal (668-627 BCE) had a library of 1500 tablets organized by subject and edited and revised them himself. Libraries go way back!
  • Libraries in Asia that existed before the Middle Ages or so were light years ahead of Western civilization at the time.
  • Prior to World War II, scientists worked hard to share widely their research and publications, but the war created a division in which both sides were trying to share widely within their own boundaries to encourage innovation that might win the war but were increasingly cautious about letting that scientific progress be known to the other side. So in 1944 these two German agents get off a submarine on the coast of Maine. They have a microfilm camera with them and they’re planning to head to the New York Public Library and photograph scientific journals–but they’re apprehended by the FBI before they can do so. Libraries in the middle of a Nazi plot to steal American science!

But as Lerner’s narrative moved into more modern times and he started reflecting on the mission of libraries and their place in society, I started feeling angrier and angrier. Little things seemed to indicate that he was valuing academic libraries over public libraries, that he thought women had warped the purpose of libraries, and that certain kinds of library use were more important or worthy than others. And then near the end there was one particular chapter–one particular page, even–that just drove me nuts. I’d like to share that page and why I felt so angry and why I think he’s wrong.

Lerner writes:

Libraries and librarians have always existed at the margins of the society they served. (p. 181)

The ‘feminization of librarianship’ is often adduced as the essential reason for the marginalization of the field in America. In 1852, the Boston Public Library hired its first female clerk; by 1878 two-thirds of American library workers were women; and by the 1920s that figure had reached nearly 90 percent. During those years the leaders of the most important libraries–like the top people in every field–were men; but most of the staff that a library user would encounter were female.


In one sense, the lack of respect that libraries and librarians have endured can rightly be traced to the feminization of librarianship. The first women to become librarians in England and America were imbued with the middle-class notion that women were a civilizing force in society with special feminine abilities to work with the young, the sick, and the poor. Under their leadership, libraries became identified with underprivileged and marginal elements of society. (p. 182)

First of all, it’s contradictory that librarians have always been marginalized, but it’s somehow still women’s faults, even though they apparently weren’t part of the profession until the 1800s.

Now, the leaders of libraries were men (of course!) but somehow “under [women’s] leadership, libraries became identified with underprivileged and marginal elements of society.” But if women were always subservient to men, how could they have been at the helm changing the library’s mission and image?

The answer is that there were women leaders and that their values (not some sort of womanly deficiency they all had) shaped American librarianship. I also just finished WOMEN AND THE VALUES OF AMERICAN LIBRARIANSHIP (Ide House, 1994) by Sydney Chambers and Carolynne Myall and they provide tons of examples. Here are just a very few:

  • Public libraries were formed out of community libraries that were originally started by women in most cases. In 1933 the ALA “credited women’s clubs with the repsonsibility for initiating 75 percent of the public libraries in existence at that time” (p. 17).
  • Isadore Gilbert Mudge built Columbia University’s reference collection and taught library school students her methods of conducting a reference interview. (p. 29)
  • Adelaide Hasse was a founder of special librarianship, developed a classification scheme, and helped form the US Government Documents service. (p. 31)
  • “[O]f the four insitutions established before 1900 which later became charter members of the Association of American Library Schools, the founding directors of three were women,” Katherine Sharp, Mary Wright Plummer, and Alice Kroeger. (p. 36)
  • Mary Wright Plummer was the head of the library school at the Pratt Institute Free Library from 1895 to 1911, the Principal of the library school at NYPL from 1911 to 1916, and was President of ALA from 1915 to 1916–years before women were even allowed to vote! (p. 35)
  • The director of the LA Public Library from 1889 to 1895 was Tessa Kelso–and this was decades before women got the vote. (p. 43)

While women who held leadership positions often did so at local or state or regional levels, women were also library founders, innovators in their fields, library directors, library school founders, and even served as the president of ALA before their country trusted them to vote.

Lerner goes on to describe how libraries being shaped by women’s values ruined the reputation of librarianship:

To many of those who controlled the country’s purse strings and set its priorities, that made the library into a societal luxury–inexpensive enough to maintain at a limited level, but irrelevant to the real needs of those who mattered. The low repute that has been the constant companion of the pedagogue has also had its impact. Despite librarians’ attempts to be viewed as educators, it is the prestige of the schoolteacher rather than that of the professor that has become attached to them. (p. 182)

I hope he’s being hyperbolic here and that he doesn’t actually mean this because it privileges helping academics meet their information needs over helping working-class people meet their information needs. I reject that ranking of human beings as more important or less important just because of their socioeconomic class. Taking care of the neediest in a community shouldn’t be a “societal luxury.” It should be our top priority.

The “problem” with librarianship isn’t that women were allowed in the field and that somehow ruined it. It’s that women themselves aren’t valued, that women’s work isn’t valued, and that women’s values aren’t respected as valid.

Chambers and Myall write about how early research in ethics was done by men on male subjects. Rather than interview both men and women and develop a view of human ethics that way, their theories of ethical development were entirely based on what boys and men valued and how their values changed as they grew; women who held different values were seen as ethically immature or deviant. That’s subsequently changed: research has broadened to include women, and we now have more research and a better understanding of women’s ethics and values. (As a note, it’s not that all women hold these values or that no men do; rather, the majority of women studied have ethical systems that are more like this model than the traditional model, and the majority of men have another set of values. There’s blending, of course, and women who hold “male” values and men who hold “female” values, but in general we can model women’s vales differently than men’s.)

Chambers and Myall paraphrase the list of women’s values that Sally Helgesen outlines in THE FEMALE ADVANTAGE thusly:

  • responsibility to community and sense of responsibility for maintaining community;
  • cooperation rather than competition;
  • concern for children and weaker members of the community;
  • objectivity, a nonjudgmental appreciation for multiple points of view, which we regard as an important aspect of what some would call ‘selflessness’;
  • concern for consequences of actions;
  • holistic view of human beings;
  • local scope of action (sometimes expressed as ‘think globally, act locally’);
  • connectedness as both fact of life and value to encourage.

(p. 6)

They then link library services (like reference, collection development, bibliographic instruction, and interlibrary loan) to these values.

Anyway, Lerner goes on:

Especially in the United States, the social-work impulse has continued to be pervasive among librarians. Most are imbued with a missionary confidence in the importance of reading, but have little interest in assessing or dealing with the economic importance of information. (p. 182)

It’s not “missionary confidence.” That makes it sound like librarians have some sort of blind faith in why reading is important, but there is a lot of research that backs up the good reading to kids does for their futures, and illiteracy among adults is an incredible barrier to their being able to participate in life at a very basic level. And again here Lerner prioritizes male values (economics, competition, ability to exploit something to make money) over feminine values (community, helping others, improving the world). Healso talks a lot in the chapter after this one about “information science” and being able to come up with new ways to access and shape information and how this new research should be used to make money and deliver information differently to people with money than to people without. He gets all excited about technology and I think Thomas Mann would have a bone to pick with him about Lerner’s dismissal of traditional library ideas and practices. Lerner also seems to have no concept of the digital divide within our own country (although he does talk a little about the problems libraries in developing countries face).

Anyway, in this passage about women and American librarianship, Lerner continues:

Much of the leadership in developing new ways of access to information has come from chemists, computer scientists, economists, linguists, philosophers–from people whose professional interest in information science has not been shaped by the library schools and library literature.

But this is nothing new. The librarians at Alexandria never went to library school, and nobody at Urbino ever read a library journal. The craft of librarianship is not so narrowly defined. For many centuries a love of literature and a respect for learning have been the essential qualifications of the effective librarian. (p. 182-183)

So basically it seems like Lerner’s understanding of American librarianship goes something like this:

1. Librarianship was great until women showed up.

2. Men managed to maintain leadership positions after the ladies arrived, but since women had the majority of positions under them, they somehow took control of the library and changed its values and ruined everything.

3. The change women brought about was caring about stupid poor people and children instead of taking care of Very Serious Research Business for important rich people.

4. Now that no one respects librarians anymore and librarianship is full of stupid ladies, no one in the field is doing Important Information Science Research and all of the innovations are coming from people outside of the field.

5. All of those outsiders are making truckloads of money on their information science innovations and lady librarians are so dumb that they’re content to continue helping those stupid poor people and children instead of exploiting technology to exclude some people and make money off of everyone else.

6. It doesn’t matter anyway, though, you stupid lady librarians, because library science isn’t a real thing and hasn’t been a real thing since the beginning, so you can keep your stupid books and your stupid poor people and your stupid children and your stupid lady-filled profession.

Librarianship is a fantastic example of one of the very first fields in which women could exercise their intellects and their leadership skills outside of the home. Because women participated in the field in such huge numbers–and did hold leadership roles both as practitioners and as educators–it was shaped according to women’s values. Librarianship’s emphasis of those values persists today and despite the good public libraries and public librarians do in the world, the profession is still undervalued because of its association with women and their values. Librarians are told that if they’d only be more like men, more competitive, more interested in making money and less interested in helping people, that they’d be more respected.

And that’s bogus.

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9 Comments June 26, 2010

Miscellany: InfoLadies, what makes a library, MCCSC librarians saved, and videos

Whew! Life is finally starting to settle down again after the move. I have so much to talk about! Let’s start with some miscellaneous things that have happened recently.

Near the end of May, Cory Doctorow made a post on BoingBoing about the InfoLadies of Bangladesh. Women ride from village to village on bicycles bringing medical supplies and a netbook to help people with their information needs.

“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!

I wrote earlier about disappearing school libraries across the country and wanted to follow up with some good news: all fifteen media specialist positions in the Monroe County (IN) school district have been restored for the 2010-2011 school year. All funding for extracurriculars and the stipends for coaches were cut, but some classroom teachers will also have their jobs back.

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.”

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3 Comments June 8, 2010

Miscellany: cakes, a calendar, a storefront library, and more

Graduation photos are starting to show up on Facebook; one of my classmates’ cake included a bookcart, and fellow SLIS-Indy alumna and Oath-swearer Shellie had a cake at her graduation party that was just books books books:

A photograph of a cake that looks like a stack of books. The books include the Intellectual Freedom Manual, Mockingjay, The Wind in the Willows, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Shellie's graduation cake

(I love her selection–she had me with MOCKINGJAY, but to have the whole pile topped off with the Intellectual Freedom Manual is the best!)

Cake Wrecks normally features reader-submitted photographs of cakes that have gone terribly wrong, but on Sundays, Jen features Sunday Sweets” cakes that are beautiful, clever, or well-constructed. This week she must have been getting our librarian graduation vibe: she showcased “Reading Sweets,” books modeled after or inspired by books. The featured books include the Harry Potter series, the Lord of the Rings books, and WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. About a year ago, Jen had a similar post, “Reading Rocks” with lots of Seuss and other children’s books.

The Swiss Army Librarian recently showed off a due date calendar made by Aunt June on Etsy. I love Brian’s idea to laminate them and sell them as fundraisers.

My husband and my mom both have iPads and it’s been fun to play with them and see the way the user interface and user experience have changed from the iPhone. While I think we’re still figuring out how libraries can use things like the Kindle and the iPad, it’s interesting to see what experiences people are coming up with for books on the iPad. Penguin shows off their vision of interactive books, but even more awesome is Alice for the iPad.

Former supermodel and talkshow host Tyra Banks will be writing a fantasy series about an academy of super-elite models known as Intoxibellas. The first book, MODELLAND, will be out in summer 2011. While the reaction at Bookshelves of Doom is disappointment? horror? exasperation? I don’t think it’s surprising. America’s Next Top Model is still going strong (it’s in cycle 14 now and has been renewed through the 16th and it’s the CW’s top show) and Tyra has been moving through different media (reality television, music, her talkshow, and now books) trying to capitalize on her fame. With such a Tyra following among teens, tweens, and young twenty-somethings, of course a publisher is going to agree to release her books. The only question is, will you buy them for your library? (Related: did you know that former supermodel and ANTM judge Paulina Porizkova wrote a book about a young girl in the modeling world, A MODEL SUMMER? It is for grownups, though.)

The Boston Public Library closed its Chinatown branch in 1956. Tired of waiting for the library system to respond to community demand for a library, Leslie and Sam Davol (of Boston Street Lab) and Amy Cheung created the Chinatown Storefront Library, a collection of donated books, computers, programming, and space that was open for three months at the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010. While it was always intended to be temporary, a second iteration will be open this fall for a projected two years. As Rebecca Miller wrote, “Perhaps most significant, the project offered real alternative insight into how to give the community a place to land and learn when full library service is out of reach.”

Way back when I was first starting this blog, I wrote about library service areas in Indiana. The State Library recently updated that data and provided a new map of those service areas. A few of the contract areas were dropped, but other previously unserved areas are now covered under contracts. While I’ll be leaving the state soon, I hope everyone at the State Library will continue to work hard to get every Hoosier access to a library.

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1 Comment May 17, 2010

PLA Blog: serving pregnant or parenting teens

This post was originally written for the PLA Blog. ALA holds the copyright to this text; it is reproduced here with permission.

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?

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Leave a Comment March 26, 2010

PLA Blog: queering the library

This post was originally written for the PLA Blog. ALA holds the copyright to this text; it is reproduced here with permission.

[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!

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Leave a Comment March 25, 2010

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