Library programmers, for the love of Ranganathan, DON’T DO THIS.
It is exclusionary as hell. I’m almost forty. I don’t see my interest in graphic novels and horror disappearing on my fortieth birthday. But apparently the library thinks I shouldn’t want to attend programs like this if I’m forty, which, delicate flower as I am, makes me feel real upset and angry and mad. Also, this book is set in the sixties, and a lot of people who grew up in and remember the sixty are way older than 39. INCLUDING THE AUTHOR OF THIS BOOK. So, you’re saying readers the author’s age aren’t welcome at your program? Why would you do that?
While millennials love libraries, most millennials hate the label of millennial, so branding your programs for them as “millennials + libraries” really isn’t going to get them into your programs.
“But Julie!” you cry. “We want younger people to come to our programs! What are we supposed to do?”
Here’s what you do: you probably have millennials on your staff, or in your life. Ask them what they’re interested in and concerned about, and what their friends are interested in and concerned about. Program around those interests and concerns. Don’t use any labels beyond “adult” and, even then, avoid that label if possible.
Here’s the thing: youth librarians program by ages and grades because developmental needs roughly correspond. Youth programs need to be aware of developmental needs and differences, because of the physical and cognitive limitations. Adult programs, on the whole, do not (programming for adults with developmental delays/differing abilities is a whole other “I can’t even”). So while adult programmers should borrow a lot of ideas from youth programmers, targeting audiences by age is not one of them.
“But Julie! What about programs for seniors and the elderly? Seniors have different needs than most other adults.”
Ok, yeah, sure. But no. The same rules apply. Program for their interests and concerns, but you don’t necessarily have to call them all out as “programs for the elderly.” How many old people you know who just love being called elderly, or who want every damn place they go to full of other old people? Or for so many programs to be about preparing for death? (Downsizing, wills, etc.) Program for their interests, concerns, and abilities, keep the ages open, and you just might be surprised at the delightful mix of ages and backgrounds that come to your inclusive programs.
“But Julie! What about English language learners and parents?”
Ah! You think you got me there. But no—those are programs are different, because they are based on interests and concerns, not arbitrary generation definitions. Those programs are a-ok.
So go forth and program for interests and concerns, and don’t do things that make cranky old librarians in the Oregon Trail generation needlessly angry.
Libraries are for nerds, and dorks, and outcasts, who want to dig deep into a subject and hardly come up for air.
Libraries are where you take your lunch when no one wants you to sit at their table.
Libraries are where you go when you have questions and no one to ask for the answers.
Librarians are people who have no chill, who can’t shut up, who flash and yearn to prove to people that great literature should not bores them, but if it does, then dammit, what do you want to read? We’ll find it for you. This is not cool; it will never be cool. Is it interesting? Valuable? Necessary? Perhaps. I cannot tell you what it is, only what it is not, and it is not cool. At. All. And really, has anything genuinely cool ever been called cool, (except for perhaps Miles Davis)?
And, nerds, sorry to break it to you, but: libraries are about stories. Go ahead and fight me about this. I DARE YOU. (see above, re: NO CHILL.) I’m tired of “libraries are more than books blah blah blah axe body spray chicken fries” because, yeah, sure, whatever, I get it, it’s great, but at the end of the day, whether it’s in a book or at a board meeting, libraries are about stories. And speaking of books:
The act of borrowing printed books is still by far the most popular activity at libraries, even compared with using computers: 64% of library users ages 16 and older checked out a book in the last 12 months, compared with 29% who used a computer at the library in the same time frame. http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/09/09/libraries-2016/
So get over it, nerd. You are, on the whole, a trustworthy, punk ass book jockey with no chill, who is neither sinner nor saint nor good red herring. Your job, your career, has value, but it cannot save the world–but it can make the world a bit more interesting. You’re not cool and will probably never be cool.
Librarianship isn’t what you might call a physically demanding profession. Youth librarians do exert quite a bit of energy–I regularly hit 6000 steps during a day of book talks, and if I’m not sweating at the end of my toddler time then I feel like I’ve failed as a presenter–but compared to, say, my stint as a family farm hand or my time as a motel housekeeper (tip your hotel housekeeping staff, please), it’s definitely on the lower end of physically demanding work.
When I was a preschool teacher, I remember being physically exhausted at the end of most days, but more than that, I remember being emotionally bereft. I had a dozen small children clinging to me physically and emotionally from 8 in the morning until 6 at night. They turned to me for comfort, reassurance, support, and I was happy to give it when they were in my care.
But then I would go home, and have very little left for myself. I’d given everything I had to these children, and had no one in my life who could do the same for me, other than my cat and my small group of friends. As someone who was already depleted from a childhood of living with abusive, alcoholic parents, this was not a good situation.
When I made the career change from early childhood education to librarianship, I expected that my emotional reserves would be better protected. This was true, to a certain extent, but as time has gone on and I’ve assessed my experiences, I realize my emotional workload is probably the same, if not more, because in my library work I often have to do emotional labor for management and administration as well as for my patrons.
Just being in a customer service position, and having to smile in the face of everything from indifference to hostility, can take a toll on employees, especially women. This expectation that when serving the public, or discussing important work issues with colleagues, or advocating for more staff or more money, that women will be pleasant, quiet, and calm, is damaging. This quote is about attorneys, but could easily apply to librarians:
Jennifer Pierce, a University of Minnesota sociologist, found that the expectations for emotional labor in the legal profession apply to women working in every part of the field. In other words, while male attorneys—generally speaking—are allowed and even expected to be aggressive and domineering, that does not extend to female attorneys, who are frequently penalized if they attempt to conform to these emotional norms.
To take this further, think about even the most innocuous seeming reader’s advisory interaction. Have you ever done a reader’s advisory interview with a parent who is trying to get a book for their child from a school list or list from some Educational Conglomerate, where all of the books are twenty years old and often out of print, and no other options will do because the parent has this list, and been promised that this list and this list alone is what will help their child be successful? Think on how stressful that is, for the parent, and you, and eventually the child who ultimately must read this book that is impossible to find.
Or simply helping someone with the printer, and they start telling you about how they really need to get these naturalization papers printed and submitted because they’re terrified that their spouse will be deported by the new administration.
Or having to console a school age child who is attending a library program independently, and makes a mistake on his project, and becomes inconsolable, and his parent is nowhere to be found.
Or as a storytime presenter, programmer, and outreach person, think about all of the time you must be ON and ON STAGE. It’s not just happy good fun times presenting a program or reading books. It’s 30-60 minutes of being the focal point of a group, having to shepherd kids and families from one task to another, transitioning from a song to a story to a fingerplay, getting and holding the attention of large groups of children. As an introvert, the hours I spend in front of audiences, giving of myself, needs to be balanced by enough time being on my own, and replenish my emotional well.
Think about this in terms of a profession that is made up primarily of women, but more often has men has managers and decision makers. Do they understand the toll that emotional labor is taking on their female reports? Are they even aware that it’s happening, and do they care? Is it possible to make your library’s leadership understand this issue?
I’m exhausted. Aren’t you?
edited to add: I’d be interested in hearing about this from the perspective of a librarian of color; I expect the workload there is even more intense.
If you manage a Thomas Jefferson, you have a star employee who always convinces you to send them to the best conferences and networking opportunities. They reflect well on your organization, though, so you don’t mind sending them everywhere all the time.
When a Jefferson is actually at work, they’re rushing in and out of meetings and can be hard to get a word with. Jeffersons thrive under pressure, and often come up with their best ideas on the spot and at the last minute, so make sure your Jefferson has plenty of “thinking” time (i.e., they look like they’re goofing off, but they’re not). Jeffersons thrive in positions where they work alone, or are collaborative on their own terms.
If you’re managed by a Jefferson, oh shit, I’m sorry. You’re going to wait weeks to get anything signed, you’re going to have little to no guidance when you need it. If you’re an outstanding performer, your manager will rarely be around to praise you, and if there are issues with your performance, it could take months for them to get noticed and resolved. Jeffersons should rarely manage people because they are never around. Jeffersons make great assistant managers, however, and are skilled at leading from any position.
Out of all of Strunk and White’s solid words of advice, perhaps none need to be heeded more strongly these days than “[u]se definite, specific, concrete language.” What is more specific and concrete, Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act? Alt-right or white supremacy? Fake news or propaganda?
* * *
When I consider the power of specific language, I remember how during an exit interview after leaving a particularly abusive work environment, I had to tell the director of the library about the unethical actions of my immediate supervisor, since those actions were largely the cause of my leaving. I told the director that by not allowing me to order a certain series of books for my teen patrons, my manager was a censor, and practicing censorship. I calmly and deliberately used those words. The director said something to the effect of, oh, don’t you think the word censor is a bit strong?
I agreed. It is a strong word. Moreover, it was–and is–an accurate word.
I was escorted out of the building by the secretary. It was a glorious feeling.
* * *
To support these specific words, we will need specific–and accurate–sources. To defend these specific words, we need to accurately record any misuse or abuse against them.
This is what we’re here for, librarians, by whatever title or name you go by. This, right now, is the call we need to answer.
re: the title of this post. Years ago, almost ten, I watched a show on PBS about writing, and the only thing I remember from it is the quote “we live in a world of bad text”. I have no idea what the show was or actually about; if anyone can figure it out, let me know.
Three years ago I wrote about ego and librarianship, a howl of anguish of sorts, a call to action, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. I don’t even recognize that person anymore–who was that woman, so full of words and opinions? Where has she gone?
I remember, faintly, caring a lot about what I did. I remember being a brazen, mouthy jerk, whose reach exceeded her grasp. I remember being ambitious and eager to make my mark, hungry to build connections and have conversations, anxious to do my very best work and do great things for the profession at large, as well as in my own smaller realm.
I don’t feel that way anymore.
I’ve been thinking a lot these days about this quote from Edward Albee’s (unpublished) play about Federico García Lorca. Lorca is speaking here:
Do you know what it’s like to fall in love with people who don’t want you?
Do you know what it’s like to be completely misunderstood?
To love your family so much the last thing you would ever want to do is to hurt them?
Do you know what it’s like to know you’re not like anyone else in the world in any way?
To want nothing more than to share, and give, and touch?
Do you know what it’s like to know how special and dangerous your talent is?
To live in a society so … so rigid, so set in its ways you don’t dare be yourself …
except deep inside?
Do you know what it’s like to be filled with poetry, to be filled with music, to be filled
with love, and pity, and fear, and anguish, and a deep, deep … terrible dread?
Do you know?
Do you know what it’s like to be me?
I’ve long felt–and have had confirmed by outside sources–that I have valuable talents, skills, and capabilities that are being vastly under utilized–but what do you do? What can you do, if you can’t find anyone who wants to take advantage of all you’re capable of?
I tried a lot of things in 2015 and 2016, and they all failed. I was rejected, a lot, and I’ve been trapped in a holding pattern for way too long. I’m a curious person, always seeking fresh challenges, and when that doesn’t happen I get bored, and when I’m bored I get into trouble.
To illustrate: In high school when I was bored, I decided to collaborate with some friends of mine and throw an anti-prom to protest the terrible theme of the actual prom: Moonlight Diggity. I started the whole project, and soon we had a local band booked to play at the VFW on the night of the prom, and our advertising included a hand drawn poster of a car on fire.
My principal called me into his office to talk about how I’d gotten caught up with some “bad influences.” I nodded and listened, thinking all the while about how I was so pissed that he was underestimating me– I was the brains behind this project. I was the one in charge here. I was the rebel with a cause. I was having my very own Frankie Landau Banks moment, if you will.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned how to work with this boredom without an outright rebellion, but sometimes even that strategy doesn’t work, and I find myself longing for the mouthy, outspoken person from just a few short years ago who was so eager to do great things. But I don’t know how to get that feeling back, and there’s only so much a person can do without the proper support.
It makes me wonder: how do motivate high achieving, self-motivated employees? How do we recognize talent in the profession and reward it? How do we nurture talent beyond those “emerging” years?
Of course I’m grateful to be working in the field, yet isn’t there always something more to strive for? Shouldn’t we always be trying to improve ourselves, our services, our profession?
Their name is Alexander Hamilton, and don’t you forget it. In fact, you couldn’t, even if you tried. This employee doesn’t usually stay around too long, but when they’re in your organization, you can’t avoid hearing their name. They work their way into the best projects and onto the most interesting committees, and make their voice heard. If you don’t give your Alexander Hamilton enough challenges and opportunities, you’re going to lose your Alexander Hamilton.
The Work Style of the Hamilton
The Hamilton doesn’t usually come in early, but they’ll often stay late. They can’t help but overhear conversations and jump in to offer their opinion, as well as three or four observations or solutions that hadn’t been previously considered. When they’re engaged, they’re laser focused and their productivity is off the charts. When they’re bored, they can be cranky and irritable and come across as the worst employee you’ve ever had, when that is not the case at all. Keep your Hamilton engaged with high profile projects and problems that require creative solutions. Have your Hamilton work on teams that need some inspiration and energy injected into their work.
The Career Path of the Hamilton
The Hamilton moves through the ranks quickly. If they stay at an organization long-term, it’s often because opportunities for growth, challenge, and promotions are available. Hamilton starts out as a page and becomes a manager within five years, if their talent and drive are recognized and nurtured. If you ignore your Hamilton they’ll be gone within two years, if not sooner.
Managing an Alexander Hamilton
This go-getter thrives on praise, challenge, and variety. Give your Alexander Hamilton ample opportunity to try new things and fail. Let them get out in the community and make a name for themselves. You’ll never have to push your Alexander to work better or harder, you’ll just have to reign them in when their reach gets too far. Make sure your Alexander is on a team that complements them rather than competes with them. Let your Alexander be a leader for a while before giving them formal managerial or supervisory duties–they need time to figure out their style and get their attention seeking behavior out of their system.
Being Managed by an Alexander Hamilton
If your Hamilmanager has been around for a while and they’ve gained enough personal glory, they can be excellent managers, especially to other Hamiltons. If they’ve been promoted too soon, however, they’re going to compete with their employees rather than nurture them, and you’re going to end up with a dissatisfied, under-producing team. If you’re competing with your Hamilmanager, try to position yourself as a comrade rather than the competition. Ask to take on assignments or tasks that don’t interest your Hamilmanager, and that will put you in their good graces while also allowing you to gain experience.
I’ve heard it in more than one training and workshop that part of customer service is when you’re faced with an unhappy or even irate patron, you should consider what has happened in their day, their week, their life, up until that very moment, that might be causing their distress. If there is an outburst, it’s very rarely about the fine or the missing item. It’s about the coffee they spilled in their car on their commute, or how their father always yelled at them when they misplaced things, and how once they had to go to school in the snow wearing only sandals because they’d lost their winter boots.
So it goes with those who work in libraries; we all have our own stories, chains of events and people that have created the person we are today. Our stories make us. Our stories are who we are. We share these narratives when appropriate, and listen to the narratives of others when required. (I’ve said before that all library service is made up of stories.)
I’ve heard these stories. My father had a derogatory name for Junior Mints that I won’t repeat. He also told me I could marry any man I wanted, but not a black man, because my father didn’t want any “[mixed] grandbabies.” (My father is no longer a part of my life, for this and many other reasons).
I’ve also heard other stories. My mother told me about her home ec teacher, Mrs. Hill, a woman who my mother greatly admired and adored. Hearing positive feelings for a black person was a revelation for me.
When my little brother was still very little and didn’t know much about the world, he called black people who stopped by our summer farm stand to buy fruit and vegetables “chocolate pudding people.” We watched Alex Haley’s Queen together, and when he asked me about what was happening, I talked to him as honestly and frankly about racism as I could. He listened, and then went off to ponder some more; my mother came in and thanked me for talking to him about it.
Yet once when I was riding the bus and a black man struck up a perfectly pleasant conversation with me about chili recipes (I had a bag full of chili fixings with me, fresh from a trip to the grocery store), I was nervous and uneasy and, while not rude, not very polite, either; and to this day I can still see his expression–a mixture of resignation and anger, perhaps?
I sometimes cry on my way to work if I see a black or brown face in the cars next to me on the road, I hope that they don’t get stopped that day, or any day. I see children in the library and I want to tell them that I see them, that I have stories for them, that their stories are worth listening to.
I’m listening, no matter how much it breaks my heart.
In case you need something to tide you over while you wait for your copy of Reading Unbound to arrive, here are some more quotes about why we need to let kids choose what they read.
We want to help our students fall in love with books in ways that foster a life-long devotion to reading. So what should schools do? We think the implications of our research are manifold, but two seem especially compelling. First, our data make clear that educators should consider interpretive complexity in concert with textual complexity, a centerpiece of the Common Core State Standards. Every text our participants read—from graphic novels to dark fiction to Harry Potter—required sophisticated strategies for entering a story world and absorbing the twists and turns of the plot line and character relationships. All fostered deep intellectual engagement.
Our data also convinced us of the importance of choice. Students should have regular opportunities to behave the way adult readers do and choose their own reading. They know the kinds of texts from which they will take pleasure. At the same time, teachers should expand the possibility of pleasure by introducing students to new books they might not select on their own.“
I love that this quote illustrates the role that “gate-keepers” should have–opening gates rather than closing them. Once a kid has read through everything they could find on their own, teachers and librarians can help them find the hidden treasures that will still meet their needs.
Reading is indeed crucial to success in school and in careers. But we worry that discussions of reading, especially public policy discussions, focus almost exclusively on its utilitarian value. What’s missing is the pleasure readers derive from the reading they do.
Again, people making these policy decisions know very little about children and child development; however, I do believe that Common Core, with its breadth of text types, actually encourages what I believe is important–giving children a wide variety of choices when it comes to what they read. Have you ever had it suggested that novels in verse are better for struggling readers because of the white space and shorter length? Then what about play scripts? White space abounds, it is mostly dialogue, and it very pointedly tells you what you’re seeing–but then again, it’s like a graphic novel without the images, and your imagination needs to fill in the pictures. HOW AWESOME IS THAT?
If I were Queen of the World, I would decree that all students be given the gifts of time and books they want to read throughout their schooling, and all pre-readers would have an adult who would read aloud to them everyday. Through independent reading children gain a wealth of background knowledge about many different things, come to understand story and non-fiction structures, absorb the essentials of English grammar, and continuously expand their vocabularies. Many also remember visually how to spell words. In a nutshell, the habit of reading does as much, if not more, than Direct Instruction and the rigorous demands of the Common Core. All without boring kids to death or persuading them that they’re dumb.
Years ago, I received a phone call from my godson’s mother. She said, “I know you told me to wait, but David is reading Harry Potter on his own.” David was in kindergarten. David read Harry Potter at 5 for the plot. He reread it at 10 for the plot, characters and emotional truths. He reread the entire series repeatedly the summer he was 13, to his mother’s dismay. “Can’t you get him to read something else?!” I didn’t even try.
Yes. The importance of re-reading. I know, I know, there are so many books! But every time you re-read something, you gain something new. It’s magical.
The latest salvo comes from a survey released late last week by Scholastic Corp., a publisher of popular children’s books, which suggests that middle and high school students who have time to read books of their own choosing during the school day are also more likely to read frequently for pleasure.
“For us, choice is key,” said Kyle Good, a spokeswoman for Scholastic. “When you let kids choose the books they want to read, they’ll be voracious readers.”
In the survey, 78 percent of students, who read frequently for fun (at least five days a week), said they had time to read a book of choice during the school day. By contrast, 24 percent of infrequent readers — those who read for fun less than one day a week — said they had time to read a book of choice during the school day.
In the most recent edition of Cover to Cover by K.T. Horning, there are no early childhood, middle grade, or ya distinctions in books for children. Encompassing fiction and nonfiction, the breakdown is:
Picture books (including board books)
Readers/Beginning Readers/Easy Readers
That’s it. We have those formats, and within those formats, every genre is covered, for ages birth to teen. (Oh, but wait–where should graphic novels go? I’d include them with chapter books, honestly; the art in a graphic novel serves as a concurrent visual text, in my opinion. Or, heck, let’s put them in with picture books, maybe? I don’t have all the answers, clearly.)
In my ideal, imaginary library, this is how it would be– those formats would be organized, so kids who are being read to can find board and picture books, pre-readers can find the books they need, transitional readers the same, and then chapter books for independent readers who can make their own choices (with guidance from their parent/guardian and, ideally, a librarian). There would be a call number, and no other designations– no guided reading, or any of that other stuff. Just books and excellent staff and seemingly limitless choices. (I’m getting chills just writing about it.)
Does a library like this exist? Probably not. Although my personal library is like this. I’m sure everyone’s personal library is like this. So why do we insist that youth follow dozens of arbitrary guidelines when it comes to the stories they get to read?
Anyway. This summer I tried something different with our suggested reading book lists, in an attempt to create a small scale version of this literary utopia. I wanted to move away from parents just grabbing the list of their child’s grade, and slavishly following those suggestions we’d made, with the best of intentions. Instead of lists covering 2 grade levels, as had been the practice in the past, I had:
Pre-readers (babies-Kindergarten): includes board and picture books, all genres
Beginning readers (K-3rd): easy/beginning readers, all genres
Transitional Third Grade reads: transitional chapter books, all genres
Third Grade and Up: picture, beginning, transitional, and chapter books, all genres
Now, there isn’t just one Third Grade and Up list, oh no. There were several, with titles like:
Smile Diary: books for Wimpy Kid and Telgameier Fans
Murder and Mayhem: stories that are scary and thrilling
WONDERing what to read next: Wonder readalikes
Full STEAM ahead: books for kids who like to tinker and create
Myths, Magic and More: fantasy, science fiction, and the just plain strange
Game On: books for gamers
Tell Me A Story: books about the magic of storytelling
That’s Funny: Books to make you laugh
Can You Believe It?: Books to make you see the world in a different way
The books were listed not in alphabetical order, but rather in order of literary and thematic complexity.
To explain, each list had an introduction like this:
3rd Grade and Up
Murder and Mayhem: stories that are scary and thrilling!
If you enjoy scary stories, thrilling tales of true crime, forensic science, and the unexplained, then these books are for you!
Read from the beginning of the list when you’re short on time but still want a good story. Read from the end of the list when you’re up for a more textually and thematically challenging experience.
Not every book on every list will be right for your child. If you have questions about any title, please see [library] staff for guidance.
Third grade and up meant just that: independent readers from third to twelfth grades (or beyond! Mom and Dad, you can read these books too!) could read these books, all of which were chosen from our children’s department collection. I wanted to do this so that an older student who wasn’t reading at grade level wouldn’t be stigmatized by reading from a list that was clearly marked for a younger age. By having only a lower limit, rather than a lower and upper, the list was more open to more readers. And by keeping the selections limited to our children’s department, we were still helping parents make appropriate choices for their child (advocate for freedom that I am, I still want to make things easier for parents, so I’m not going to hand them a third grade and up list with really intense themes and situations).
Oh, and another cool thing–the books on these lists were jointly nominated by my library staff as well as school librarians from our main school district, and they used these lists as their district’s recommended summer reading. How great is that? School librarians got to suggest awesome books that they loved, while I did all the grunt work of collating and organizing them, and our wonderful graphics department made them into beautiful brochures.
Ultimately, I wanted these lists to provide some guidance, while also encouraging kids and parents to use library staff to help them find the best book for them.
For teens we had 7th grade and up lists, with items exclusively from the teen collection. (Now, ideally I’d want to include picture and other books, but with display and cataloging restraints, this just wasn’t possible; and, again, these teens could also enjoy all the books on the third grade and up lists.)
For teens, our themes were:
Social Justice: books about making the world a better place
Not Okay: readalikes for The Fault in Our Stars
Get Real: Realistic fiction and memoirs
Myths, Magic and More: Fantasy, sci-fi, and speculative fiction
I have to say, the impetus for this project was the bookReading Unbound: Why Kids Need to Read What They Want—and Why We Should Let Them. We actually recommended this title to parents in our lists, and amazingly, the book got checked out. How many people actually read it, I don’t know, but it just goes to show that if you make something available, people will take advantage.
I was concerned about confusion and push back–would parents get on board? Would they understand it? Was I creating a problem where there wasn’t one?
I don’t think so. I actually think these lists have been doing what they are meant to do–broaden the scope of what kids read, and providing guidance while also encouraging choice.
Now, summer’s not over, so the verdict isn’t completely in yet, but so far I’m going to call this a success. Books are still getting checked out at a rapid clip, I’ve heard people express delight at the themes, and so far no one has been upset that a book about the Lizzie Borden case was on the “Murder and Mayhem” list (really, with a title like that, I was suspecting parents of sensitive kids would know to steer clear).
What do you think? How do you handle suggested reading/passive reader’s advisory?