we don’t need you.

This post breaks my heart. It also makes me want to yell at the librarians that Brent mentioned. Not only are they bad people, they are bad librarians, unethical, piece of sh*t librarians who need to find a different profession immediately, preferably nowhere near books or children.

A brief summary: Brent is a gay teen who loves reading about kids like himself. Shocking, I know. When he ran out of books to read, he turned to his libraries–first his school library, then his public library. This is how his school librarian treated him:

When I set out to find more LGBT titles, I turned to my school’s library. Honestly? It was pathetic. There was not one single LGBT novel. But oh, of course the librarian went out of her way to buy books about gangs, drugs, and teen pregnancy. […] When I asked her about it, she replied, “This is a school library. If you are looking to read inappropriate titles, go to a book store.” Uhm, how in the hell is LGBT YA lit “inappropriate”?

His public librarian didn’t fare much better.

In case you were wondering, Brent, as a gay male, is not inappropriate, nor are his tastes in reading. That school librarian is inappropriate and needs to find another profession. Her response  indicates a blatant ignorance of and disregard for the ALA Code of Ethics*, the Freedom to Read Statement and YALSA’s Competencies for Librarians Serving Youth. Granted, these are not iron-clad, binding documents, but they are the standard guides for ethical behavior and good service for the profession.

We librarians love to talk about how important we are, how the work we do is so valuable, and how our roles in the current culture are vital; yet how often do we talk about the trash that exists in the library world? The incompetent, the vile, the lazy, the downright dangerous?

We need to stop being nice. We need to stop making excuses. We need to start having some ethical courage when it comes to the crap that some of our colleagues pull. It is hard. You will be branded a troublemaker. You will be told not to make waves. You will be told that censorship is an awfully strong word. But, you know, sometimes it is an accurate word, and we need to use it.

Please don’t let people get away with doing this to kids, especially the most vulnerable kids. The catchphrase of “If you see something, say something” doesn’t just have to apply to unattended luggage, packages, and odd behavior; call out your coworkers who are being unprofessional, reputation damaging jerks.

No one deserves to be treated the way this kid was treated. Don’t be an accessory to this kind of thing. If you are, and I find out, I’ll yell at you, too.

*We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources. (ALA Code of Ethics).

ETA: Here’s another post on the same topic by the Ya Ya Yas.

story:

OR, You Can’t Have Transliteracy without Literacy.

“So my phone broke so my grandson got this new phone for me, but it didn’t come with a manual or anything and I can’t figure out how to make a call on it….”

“My microsoft word doesn’t look like this one. All I want to do is edit my resume and I can’t even figure out how to open it from my disk.”

“Do you have anything about sign language for babies? My baby keeps moving her hands around and making noises, but I don’t know what she’s saying.”

“I saw it at my friend’s house. It has two girls on it, with blond hair. Or light brown hair. They’re twins. One can see into the future and one can see into the past. The title was in green letters.”

“I did so bring those books back. I went to the bank and then I came here and put them in the drop-off outside. Look for them again!”

Everyone has a story. Every question or interaction we have in a library is rooted in story. There are characters, events, obstacles to be overcome, arcs to be completed, resolutions to be reached. There are comedies, tragedies, and sometimes even gothic tales of horror. We listen to stories from our coworkers and our patrons alike, and the level of skill these storytellers have can greatly influence the tenor of our transactions.

If  a patron’s story is incomprehensible or not compelling, it will harder for us as librarians to participate in the tale. If we are unfamiliar with the new genres of personal storytelling–I’m thinking particularly of the techno-genre, with its vast and quickly changing cast of characters and jargon–we’ll be even further left behind.

If we can’t spin a tale to our managers and directors that convinces them of a need for a new service, program, or material, we suffer as well as our users. Your entire professional life will become a film missing its final reel, or a book with the last ten pages torn out of it. Do you want to live with that amount of frustration and dissatisfaction your entire life? Do you want that for your patrons?

The jump to e-readers, smartphones and iPads is not a harbinger of death for reading; it is, actually, an expansion of the way we can tell and experience stories. Reading is not the only way stories are told. It never has been and never will be. There was oral storytelling and visual storytelling long before humanity created alphabets, writing, and books. Blogs tell stories, twitter feeds tell stories, hell, even the lolcatz tell stories. The story isn’t going anywhere. It’s simply putting on a new dress and dancing to a new tune.

One of the six early literacy skills is something called narrative skills, which means being able to tell or retell a story, and being familiar with the elements of a story–there are characters, events, a beginning, a middle, and an end. We need to remember that even as the scope of our work widens, we can still break it down into small, simple, and easy to understand concepts–and we should. For everyone.

advocate.

I was poking around craigslist not too long ago, seeing if I had anything anyone needed in the “wanted” section when I came across this ad:

Wanted: BOOKS OR MOVIES

Hi,
I am in need of books of any kind to read myself or to my children I have been laid off of work now for 7 months and have lost are cable due to the price increase so we read more and watch movies well we have read every book and watched the same movies for about 2 months soanything would be appreaciated at this point again thanks and have a blessed day.

You can see where this is going, right?

I promptly cut and pasted the email address and sent the person a note suggesting she (I am assuming it is a mother) go to her local library to check out books, DVDs, CDs, and to take advantage of the free programs for children and adults. I wished her luck during her difficult time, and that I hoped she and her girls would enjoy the library.

Shortly thereafter, she replied:

Miss Julie
Thank you so much I never thought of that my girls would love that
GOD BLESS you
I hope her library treats her right. I hope she finds a flyer on job search help, and signs her kids up for summer reading–I hope she signs herself up, for that matter. I hope whatever trinkets they get make her kids smile. I hope they find a book or a movie so engrossing that they forget their money troubles for at least a little while. That would make me happy.
How have you been an advocate for your profession, your place of work, or for people in need recently?

privilege.

Before I begin, a caveat: I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the most logical thinker in the world. I go with my gut on most issues. So if any of my arguments seem incredibly simple or even stupid, they just might be. And I am okay with that. Mostly.

After reading a couple of posts by the Annoyed Librarian (Libraries the Meritocracy, Give Them What They Need) I began thinking about privilege, libraries, and how the two intersect and affect the larger world.

From “Give Them What They Want”, which was written in May, so the Annoyed Librarian is well aware of the financial crisis we’re all in right now:

So the question is, do public libraries provide something that’s necessary, but not generally available? Not just nice, but absolutely necessary for the quality of life of people in the community?

Here’s where librarians start talking about Internet access, but I suspect that response doesn’t resonate well with the Americans who both have money and vote, those middle and upper middle who participate most in the political process with their money and their votes.

Why wouldn’t they care? Because, like the majority of Americans, they have Internet access either at home or work or both, and if they didn’t have it, they could afford it if it was a priority. Even a lot of poorer Americans could. How many people without Internet connections have cable television and/or cell phones? Most of them, I bet. And don’t say that even if you can afford an Internet service you still have to buy a computer. To use cable, you still have to buy a television.

Here’s where privilege popped into my head. The tone of this excerpt, and the entire post, implies that the writer has never been poor. I think people hear the word “poor” and they imagine food stamps, welfare, pan handling, bare-foot children in the dirt kind of poor. But there are many kinds of poor. There is a poverty spectrum, if you will. There are the poor who subsist on aid or charity, and there are the working poor, and there are those who have been plunged into unemployment by layoffs or firings or who are no longer solvent because their investments were corrupted.

The working poor can own a television, yes, and they can even subscribe to cable. Do they have the means to pay their bill every month, on time? And how old might their television be? If it is newer, is it being paid for in installments? They probably have cell phones, too, but are they on plans, or do they have pay as you go phones, which sometimes aren’t paid and don’t go? How many of these people juggle their bills each month, deciding which ones to pay now and which ones to put off? How many of these people have their phones, television, and computer because of credit cards that they have run to the limit and can no longer afford to pay? Maybe they do have internet access, but it is only dial-up, and they prefer the faster speeds at the library.

When you lose your job, or you have a job that doesn’t pay enough to cover all of your debts and expenses, life is hard. No, you’re not starving, you’re not homeless–yet–but the stress wears on you. The phone is constantly ringing until finally the phone is shut off. The mailbox is a land mine that you don’t want to go near. As soon as one bill is paid another arrives, or your car breaks down, or your kid gets sick, or you cut your finger open making dinner and you have to decide whether or not the trip to the emergency room is worth it. Even working people with health care, if they are over extended, have to decide whether or not the twenty dollar co-pay is worth it, or if they can even afford that at the moment.

You can’t tell the working poor by looking at them. They can be any age, any race, any gender. You can tell, after a while, who is struggling. The man whose entire family comes with him to the library every day, and every question he has has to do with submitting a resume electronically, or using google maps to map out how far away a job is. The woman whose kids love the library, but can only come sporadically, depending on whether or not their truck is running at any given time. The mother who asks, quietly, after you tell her all about your amazing programming for children, “And how much does it cost?” The relief in her eyes when you say that all library programming  is absolutely free tells you the entire story.

Oh, and another thing about the poor I just remembered. Not only do they not have any money, they usually don’t vote.

That’s from the Annoyed Librarian again, who, per usual, doesn’t bother to provide any sources. Even I, as lazy as I am, will quote a bit from wikipedia:

The most important socioeconomic factor in voter turnout is education. The more educated a person is, the more likely he or she is to vote, even when controlled for other factors such as income and class that are closely associated with education level. Income has some effect independently: wealthier people are more likely to vote, regardless of their educational background. (Voter Turn-out)

Since we can’t reasonably make poor people richer, we have to educate them. Since college is expensive (and not worth the money these days, in my opinion), the library will have to fill in. This was the mission of the first intentionally public library (the Boston Public Library, in 1854, included in its statement of purpose “The future of democracy is contingent on an educated citizenry“), and everyone from Glenn Beck to Frank Zappa has touted the educational value and necessity of libraries.

So the assumption that poor people can have internet access if they want it is a faulty one. The assumption that they don’t vote is less faulty, but is probably less of a factor than education. If we can provide free education to the working poor or those living in poverty, they will be more likely to vote in ways that might improve their situations. Or they will become more employable, etc.

The Annoyed Librarian’s penultimate paragraph states:

And what is the necessary? This is where choices become very hard. What’s more important for the community? Library staff or library databases? Romance novels or reference books? Librarians have to emphasize what libraries have that most people really need, even if only occasionally, rather than what they want only in good times. [emphasis mine]

Which I take to mean that providing internet access to the working poor isn’t important, or necessary. The job board by the adult reference desk isn’t important. The storytimes that provide important literacy skills and social interaction for children who can’t attend preschool are not important. If upper middle class and rich people don’t need it, it isn’t important. You people, with your debts and your unemployment and your struggles, you’re not important, and you don’t matter, because you don’t vote and since you don’t vote, when the library is on the chopping block those rich people won’t vote for it and you’ll be up shit creek without a paddle.

That is privilege–being able to write off an entire swath of humanity because you’ve deemed them unimportant. It is easy to do with the poor, with immigrants, with children and teens, the elderly, the disabled–if you’re privileged enough, it is easy ignore them, and make them the other, and decide that what they need and what they want isn’t important because it isn’t important to you.

I’m sure any librarian reading this could look through their institution’s policies and find something that discriminates against someone, and asserts some sort of privilege. Most common targets in libraries are teens, and the homeless (lots of libraries adding “hygiene” clauses to their policies). Think about it, and see how it makes you feel. Try to find something about yourself that makes you vulnerable, and think about how you’d feel if there were a policy attacking you for it. Like fat people on Southwest airlines. Or gays in the military. Or gay marriage. Or adopting as a single parent. See how this privilege issue can spiral out of control?

I feel a little ill.

Notes:

I am certainly not attacking the Annoyed Librarian. I’m sure we agree more than we disagree, but I can’t really tell for some reason. There’s something about the tone of the writing that keeps me at a distance so I can never really tell where the writer is coming from, or what it really intends to say.

Some excellent books on the working poor are The Working Poor: Invisible in America and Nickel and Dimed: on (not) Getting by In America.

More librarians need to idolize Frank Zappa.


weak in the knees.

Dear Readers,

Consider this cover:

Galley cover of The Kneebone Boy, via Ellen Potter's website

I’ve been smitten with this book cover since I first saw it back in January, on several different sites. The rich, saturated colors; the direct, forthright gazes of the three children; the hidden person; the cat; the fact that they all sort of remind me of Harold from Harold and Maude. Yes, this cover is beautiful, and does what a good book cover should do–it tells me a little bit about the book, while also making me eager to know more. And now, I can know more, because through luck and good fortune (and plain old niceness!), I now have an ARC that I am in the middle of reading.

There will be no review until closer to its release date (September), but I just had to tell someone about this book. I can’t remember being so utterly captivated by a book since I read A Wrinkle in Time in the fourth grade. I want to read it all in one go, but I’m making myself stop because I don’t want it to end. I want to read it out loud to every 3rd-6th grader I can round up, because the voice of the narrator would be so much fun to read.

Remember these faces, friends. You’ll be looking for them come September.

More peeks of Ellen Potter’s The Kneebone Boy from around the web:

From the MacKids Blog

Bookshelves of Doom

JVNLA grabbag

Andrew Smith’s review-lette

Jason Chan, the amazing artist