We Live in a World of Bad Text

 Obamacare vs The Affordable Care Act

Fake news versus propaganda . . . (one more)

Altright versus white supremacist

ripped from the womb vs late term abortion

* * *

There is power in names, in language, in how we describe things and what we call them. When female authors  write under male pen names (or just use their gender ambiguous initials); when you call grown women girls; when you describe a medical procedure in sensational and inaccurate language; when you write about people of color using only food-based descriptors you’re doing your audience a disservice and, in the end, damaging our society as a whole.

* * *

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.

“Nothing, no one, is too small to matter. What you do is going to make a difference.”
Madeleine L’Engle, A Swiftly Tilting Planet

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. 

George Carlin, MLIS

Within the context of ALA policy and the professional practices of librarianship, critical examination of beliefs and viewpoints does not, by itself, constitute hostile conduct or harassment.  Similarly, use of sexual imagery or language in the context of a professional discussion might not constitute hostile conduct or harassment.
http://alamw14.ala.org/statement-of-appropriate-conduct

When Carlin rattled off the seven words you can’t say on television, they gained the musicality of a poem, an incantation that summoned to mind whatever images you wanted those words to stand for. Because that’s all words are–they are symbols for larger, messier thoughts that are imperfectly expressed. Carlin knew this, and pointedly commented on how some “dirty” words were situational. Ass, for instance, was okay when it brought to mind a donkey; but it was decidedly not okay when it brought to mind someone’s posterior. Bitch was fine for dog breeders, but not for a man referring to his cruel girlfriend. Carlin, with the ribald glee of a manic linguist, tore apart these words and put them back together like a master sculptor.

Note that when he performed this piece (and he performed pieces; Carlin was know for the careful writing, rewriting, and honing of his work), he was not directing these words at anyone in particular. He was not demeaning a gay man by calling him a cocksucker. He was not attempting to intimidate an outspoken woman by calling her a cunt. He was exploring the power and impact of these words in a raunchy yet cerebral exercise that poked fun at how much power we give to these sounds that inherently have no power of their own. The only power words have over us are the power we give to them, power that is given by the intent behind them and the way we say them.

It is precisely that distinction that means that Intellectual Freedom lovers everywhere have nothing to fear from the Statement of Appropriate Conduct at ALA Conferences. Because it is not meant to curtail lively, intense, thoughtful intellectual discourse. It is not meant for the George Carlins, Richard Pryors, and Margaret Chos of conference presenting. It is meant for furtive come-ons and anger filled insults that are designed to demean, intimidate, and take down other people. It is meant for the person who scrawls cocksucker on the picture of a homosexual keynote speaker. It is meant for the disgruntled male who calls a colleague a ball busting bitch after she adroitly points out errors in his proposed idea. It is meant for all the people who use words as weapons, which is often a prelude to physical violence as well.

Further, you need to consider that if you’re going to listen to a speaker, especially a keynote speaker, you should have some idea about their style and approach. I’m happily looking forward to David Sedaris at PLA this year, and being familiar with his work I fully expect some profanity and tales of disturbingly hilarious subject matter. For people who aren’t into that, you have the choice of not going. Most street harassers don’t afford people that sort of courtesy. “Pardon me, ma’am, but I’d like to subject you to a tirade about how much I enjoy your tits in that blouse and what I would like to do to them. All right?” Having your choice taken away is another important factor when it comes to deciding if something is frowned upon, whether it’s part of a statement of conduct or not.

So for anyone who is planning on saying “fuck ebook borrowing restrictions!” in their next conference presentation, keep that f-bomb in there. Even if someone does complain, the statement is not meant for you. Fuck in this instance is an intensifier, a rallying cry, a sharp blast designed to grab attention and incite action.

But I and many others are damn comforted that if someone tells me to shut the fuck up because they don’t like what I have to say, I have that statement as a starting point to push back and find some recourse.

And just for fun, here’s a video I found of Louis CK honoring George Carlin at the NYPL.

Baby, do you understand me now
Sometimes I feel a little mad
But don’t you know that no one alive
Can always be an angel
When things go wrong I seem to be bad
But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

-The Animals, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

Accentuate the Positive

negativeYou’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium’s
Liable to walk upon the scene

Johnny Mercer

I like being nice. It’s true. There’s nothing I like more than making a friend smile by treating them to dinner out or with a small, silly, yet thoughtful present. I’m always happy to hold open a door for someone with a heavy load, or cover a story time so someone can go on vacation. If someone seems anxious I’m happy to offer a listening ear.

I guess what I really mean is that I like doing nice things for people, which is a bit different than being nice or keeping sweet. I like acknowledging good work (like Anne Clark‘s conference program title, Aww Chute: Children’s Programming ideas with parachutes, scarves and other props), giving pats on the back, and generally drawing attention to and basking in the awesomeness of great people that I know.

Yet that doesn’t mean I shy away from the darker side of life. I’ve known trouble in my life, both personal and professional, and while it might seem easier to ignore it, we all know that it’s really so much better to address trouble head on and get it taken care of.

It’s ignoring trouble that leaves organizations with people in positions of power who should have been fired years ago. Why go through the mess and the trouble of documenting issues and firing someone when it’s so much easier to just promote him or her? Why actually address sexual harassment or discrimination in a workplace when you can just shuffle people around or promise someone a good reference if they will leave? Why bother fighting for what’s right when acquiescing is so much easier?

It’s sometimes hard to speak up when you believe something is wrong. Sometimes–rarely–you learn that because of additional information you were not privy to, the situation isn’t what you thought it was. But more often than not, it is. Your instincts are right. There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark. And it’s not going to change until you speak up.

Me? you think. Why me? Why can’t someone else do it?

Because everyone is thinking that. Everyone is waiting for someone else to speak up and start the conversation. And so those conversations never happen. And things never get better, and will most likely get worse.

I’ve written before about ethical courage and ethical librarianship. The best class I took in library school was Information Ethics, and ever since that time it’s been my mission to be an ethical librarian who has ethical courage.

That was all prelude, of course, to talking about Will Manley’s eloquent and carefully considered post about the ALA code of conduct for conferences and meetings, a work of such heart rending truth and shattering genius that he or perhaps the spirit of Ranganathan himself has removed it from view, to protect us mere mortals from being blinded by its brilliance.

(It’s 2014, where is that sarcasm font?)

Essentially, Will wrote that a code of conduct (which came out of many discussions about sexual harassment at conferences being a huge problem) was tantamount to censorship and an attack on freedom of speech.

But you know what it really was?

It was a small, but important, step in the right direction. A code of conduct isn’t going to end sexism, harassment and intimidation overnight, but at the very least it indicates that our major professional organization believes that its members should feel protected and safe at their own conferences and meetings. Further, it was the direct result of librarians finally speaking out. These librarians, many of whom are women, and several of whom have been brutally victimized at conferences and elsewhere, finally felt safe enough, or enraged enough, to speak out and demand some protection.

Some people said to just ignore Manley’s idiocy, to not dignify it with attention or comments. And I can understand that impulse. Hell, I could have well done without the rage inducing distraction. But I read it, and participated in the backlash, because he needed to hear that he really doesn’t understand of what he spoke.

Further, this is a man who has been given several major platforms from which he speaks for the profession. I mean, he has columns in both Booklist and American Libraries (the official publication of ALA, mind you), two publications that reach a large swath of the profession who might know nothing of the conversations on twitter, on blogs, or even, god help us, in Facebook groups. For some, his voice is a major influence…and for a man who doesn’t even really understand what freedom of speech really is to have that much influence over my profession frightens me. Between Will and the Annoyed Librarian, I don’t know whether to drink tea or hang myself.

So, yes, I dearly love to accentuate the positive, and spread joy. But for that to happen, we need to eliminate the negative–and in my view, a discussion where gendered insults are bandied about freely and in fact applauded is a huge negative in my book.

Finally, for all my snark, I do want to say that ultimately, I feel no ill will for Mr. Manley— I mostly feel disappointed that he shut down the discussion once it got thorny. That’s freedom of speech at work, sir. You can’t shut down what people say just because they don’t agree with you. That’s the easy way out. It’s much harder to listen, reflect, and perhaps even reconsider your original stance.

Will’s been at this game for a long time. I hope he comes back ready to continue the discussion. After all, if Richard Pryor, one of the comedians Manley name checked in his article, could make a comeback after lighting himself on fire, certainly Will can come back after having his comment thread set aflame by some angry librarians who refuse to stay silent any longer.

More discussion of Manley’s folly can be found here (wherein Lisa also links to more discussion).

ETA 01/02/14: Matthew Ciszek has an excellent point by point rebuttal to Manley’s folly.

the ethical librarian

I started writing this post in October of 2010, and it’s an issue that still bothers me today. On a listserve recently there was a pretty brutal backlash against a teen librarian who essentially said he was burning out and that (I paraphrase) “So many teens suck these days and I don’t want to serve them.” Several librarians called him out and mocked him mercilessly on twitter and in other venues, and while it got very heated, I think that ultimately this sort of calling out is justified and, in the long run, can weed out the bad librarians.

And we’ve seen the bad librarians. Hell, sometimes we end up being the bad librarian, if we’re feeling tired or burnt out (I’m looking at you, end of summer reading program) or beaten down by circumstances beyond our control. But there is a big difference between having a bad day or week and being so fundamentally ill-matched to your position that you’ll never have a good day, because you either hate the work itself or you hate the people you’re supposed to be serving.

The institutions are at fault here. Coworkers who don’t call out their peers who are doing a bad job are at fault, and managers who don’t take the time to adequately hire, review, and fire employees if it’s warranted are at fault as well.

(Here is where the original post began.)

A [couple of years] ago I was thinking about ethical courage, conformity, and what it all means for me, my profession, and everyone else–you know, your usual fluffy [end of summer] thoughts.

[After I] listened to This American Life’s The Right to Remain Silent episode, it pissed me off. The first story pissed me off because the guy in it is an obvious moron and jackass, and the second story because the blatant quota pushing by the NYPD went on for so long and so few people spoke out.

Here’s TAL’s synopsis of the cop story:

For 17 months, New York police officer Adrian Schoolcraft recorded himself and his fellow officers on the job, including their supervisors ordering them to do all sorts of things that police aren’t supposed to do. For example, downgrading real crimes into lesser ones, so they wouldn’t show up in the crime statistics and make their precinct look bad. Adrian’s story first appeared as a five part series in the Village Voice, written by Graham Rayman. Schoolcraft’s website looking for other cops to come forward is here.

One of the more infuriating parts was the serial rapist who kept ending up back on the streets because his assaults kept getting downgraded and not reported. Eight or nine–the actual number isn’t known–women were assaulted because of the negligence of the police. No one said anything. Willful ignorance and blatant lying became the norm because people were afraid and, I think, lazy. (As an aside, it is incredibly hard to write this post without using a ton of profanity). Fear is sometimes understandable and sometimes forgivable. Laziness, however? Fuck that shit. (Sorry. You have to give me that one.)

It seems to me that ethical apathy is the new default mode for society. Isn’t that part of how our economy tanked, because no one balked and extending large amounts of credit to people without savings, jobs, or collateral? Didn’t the Gulf Oil spill become so terrible because people cut corners without considering the possible outcomes? And what about those miners in Virginia? Not to mention that poor guy in France getting hit so hard, while the big corporation that encouraged his bad behavior is getting off without any kind of punishment.

How does this relate to libraries and librarians? Well, seeing as all librarians are humans (so far, just wait until that arrow robot starts doing reference), we, just like all other people, have an obligation to each other to speak up when we see injustice, and take action when it is needed. Compared to an oil spill or a mine collapse, speaking out against tiny workplace injustices might not seem worth the effort, but every large catastrophe began as a small problem that, if nipped in the bud, could have stayed a small problem. When we allow small injuries to be left untreated, they will fester and spread until the entire organism is infected.

Once I was waiting for a bus. Near the bus stop, a couple was having a fight. The man kept moving close to the woman, and the woman kept saying things like “Get off of me.” She would walk away, and he would follow. It was around nine at night, dark, and a light rain was starting to fall. I stood under the bus stop shelter, listening to their argument, fretting about whether or not I should call 911. Chances were high that by the time the cops arrived, the couple would be gone, or that they were merely playing. My gut, however, told me that this was serious.

I called 911. I told the dispatcher the location, what was happening, and described the couple. My bus arrived. The couple began moving off. I watched them walking off as I rode away on the bus. Their body language was awful. He kept encroaching on her space and she kept edging away.

I don’t regret making that call. I only regret other calls I didn’t make. I regret all the times when I was growing up that no one noticed what was happening with me and my family. Or, rather, I regret that no one did anything about what they did see, because in retrospect, it’s all terribly obvious that things were not quite right. I lived so many years regretting the help I never got that I became a person who vowed to never let anything else like that happen again if I had any possible way of changing it.

Working with the public, we have many unique and terrifying opportunities to be confronted with problems and injustices that we don’t really want to deal with. We might be committing these injustices ourselves with discriminatory policies and practices. Children’s librarians might become the confidants of young patrons and hear stories about their home lives that they’d rather not hear, and really have very little power to do anything about. We might have to stand idly by while services and materials are denied based on a coworker’s prejudices, because we have no power to do anything else.

In my working life, as a teacher and a librarian, I’ve always made it a point to speak out about things that find wrong, unjust, and unethical. And sometimes–often times–this gets me in trouble. I’ve been escorted out of buildings after exit interviews for accurately using the words “censorship” and “emotional abuse.” I’ve felt sick to my stomach having to accuse parents of abuse. I’ve had to speak sharply to good friends who have told me, “Why do you even bother? There’s no point and no chance for you to change anything.” But I’ve done all these things, because it’s the right thing to do. And loyalty to my ethical standards come before any loyalty to an institution or a profession, even one I love as much as I love librarianship.

Even though I love librarianship, I’m mad at libraries. And librarians. I see so many libraries (libraries here meaning specific library cultures) letting shitty librarians continue being shitty. I see teen librarians who hate teens getting to keep their jobs, or even get promoted. I hear from patrons about home libraries who refuse to offer storytimes in the evenings or on the weekends for working families. I see librarians who are too lazy and self important to help someone use the photocopier, or speak up for the user’s experience, who do the same damn thing day after day and year after year because they are too lazy to think of a new program or class or event. I want to be somewhere where it matters if I try; where excellence is expected & rewarded; where the dead weight is cut loose instead of shuffled around.

I’m mad at libraries, because I know they can be better than they are.

When you see bad things go down, document it. Get a witness if you can. To thine own self be true, because you’re all you have. Your identity as a librarian, as a teen librarian, as a professional, all of that can disappear in an instant– and if all that gets taken away, don’t you want to be left with the identity of someone who stood her ground?

Tales of the Madman Underground: a love letter

I fall in love with books the same way I fall in love with people– deeply, unabashedly and without any pretense of dignity. This post is a love letter, and like the gushing of any girl newly in love, it may ramble here and there, but I hope you’ll indulge me.

One book that I fell for, hard, during my youth, is John Barnes’ One For the Morning Glory, an utterly unique fantasy novel that will nevertheless remind readers of The Princess Bride and the Prydain Chronicles. Tales of the Madman Underground is nothing like that book, but I’ve still fallen head over heels for it, which is a testament to Barnes’ versatility and skill as an author.

I will admit that I actually haven’t finished the entire book; it’s a long one, and I’m taking my time with it. You might say that I’m enjoying the early stages of being smitten to the fullest. The novel is very episodic but cohesive, thanks to the strength of the main character’s voice. It’s the story of Karl Shoemaker, a teen with an extremely fucked up home life, and the interconnected tales of other members of the Madman Underground, which is the nickname for a group of teens who attend therapy together during the school day. Karl is a brutally honest narrator who tells his story with black humor and a lot of profanity.

Madman reminded me strongly of The Catcher in the Rye, but while I can’t STAND Holden Caulfield, I would love to have Karl as my secret mentally disturbed high school boyfriend. For teachers who want to explore those classic themes of alienation and teen angst, but can’t stand Holden either, I think Madman would be an excellent substitution or alternative for any curriculum or reading list. The book’s profanity might make it a hard sell in schools, though, which is as shame.

There’s a great scene with a teacher explaining about how to read Huckleberry Finn that I think should become a mandatory introduction during any study of that novel. The teacher, Gratz, says that there are wrong ways to read Huckleberry Finn, one of which is the Hollywood way, which portrays the story as being about “[…] all=American boys on a road trip on a raft (211).” The second wrong way to read it, Gratz says, is as a racist novel:

‘[…T]here is a very important character in the book called Nigger Jim. And because of that fact we will say the word ‘nigger’ pretty often in this class. And when you talk about Jim and the way he is treated, sometimes you’re going to have to say the word ‘nigger.”

‘So understand me. First of all and mot important, we don’t ever call anyone a ‘nigger.’ Not in this class. Not anywhere. When we have to discuss the idea, we always quote the word ‘nigger.’ […] It is okay to say that thus and so is what those very prejudiced white people meant when they said the word ‘nigger,’ and that they meant it about Jim. […]’

‘[…T]o show the evil of racism to anyone, you have to use the words that the racists use. And some groups out there insist that Huckleberry Finn is a racist book, and that a teacher who teaches it must be racist, and even that the students who read it will automatically become racists, all because’–he whispered dramatically–‘it…has…that…word!” (213-14).

I read that passage (which I’ve vastly abbreviated) shortly after the “search and replace” Huckleberry Finn debacle, and I put the book down so I could clap. This is an extremely brave statement to make, and I applaud both the author and the fictional teacher for taking that risk.

We talk a lot about keeping kids safe. We put them in booster seats, we keep them away from plastic bags, we rate our movies, and we bowlderize great fiction for their benefit, because apparently exposure to ideas is equivalent to being thrown through a windshield or choking on a hot dog. But you know what? We can’t keep kids safe. We can try, yes, and we should, but sometimes they need to be exposed to danger. Until I read Don’t Hurt Laurie!, I didn’t know that anyone else knew the pain of being physically abused by someone they loved and who loved them. I didn’t know that help was available. I didn’t know that I was alone, until I found that book, and took solace in it. I read that thing to tatters, and it helped me survive. Some people want to label literature that explores difficult topics as triggering and not think any more about it. In my case, triggering literature may very well have kept me from pulling a trigger.

Not every book is suitable for every reader. While I eagerly seek out and devour tales of the broken, beaten, ravaged and raped, and find solace in accompanying them on their difficult journeys, others may not find comfort in those journeys, and might wish to avoid them. That’s why we have book reviews and blurbs on the back covers, so that readers may make informed choices. That’s why people curate lists on a given topic, to point people in a direction. That’s why most lists have a focus and a theme and criteria to be followed. That’s the sort of list that is useful to readers, and the sort of list that librarians excel at making.

Love is rare enough in this world. We should do all that we can to give the right book to the right reader at the right time, and avoid, at all costs, keeping books from readers, even in the most passive of ways. Without lists, blog posts, and professional reviews, I wouldn’t have found my new favorite book, and my life would be poorer for that.

I’ll end with a short list of  books that have broken my heart, in the best way possible:

  1. Tender Morsels
  2. Deerskin
  3. Blue Plate Special
  4. Jacob Have I Loved

ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.

OR: Love is the higher law.

I’m in a summer funk, y’all.

The heat, humidity, and summer reading program account for a lot of this funk. Now that the program is winding down, there is much fretting about the NUMBERS! I am paranoid that my new program for pre-readers has negatively impacted the number of people finishing the program. I stand by my early literacy skills promoting book log, however, and think that there must be another reason for low finishing numbers.

This summer I’ve also been plagued by the New Jersey/Gail Sweet/Revolutionary Voices debacle.

SIGH.

How do I even begin? Since I am lazy, if you’re unaware of what this issue is, please see the links below.

In a nutshell: Gail Sweet, worst library director ever, removed an anthology of queer writings from the library based on the complaint of a grandmother who was systematically seeking to remove books with gay themes from every library in her immediate area of influence. Gail removed the title Revolutionary Voices without following proper procedure, and without making the grandmother fill out the standard reconsideration form.

Oh, and this grandmother? Beverly Marinelli is her name. She belongs to a group that wants to “to bring us all back to the place we were on September 12, 2001[.]” Let me think….as far as I recall, everybody was SCARED on 9/12. Crying, trembling, awfully scared. You know what, Beverly? I don’t want to feel like that, and I think you’re a pretty terrible person for wanting to take us all back there. We remember 9/11 plenty well, thank you very much. Even the gays! David Levithan, editor and YA author who is also one of those homosexuals that are ruining the world (according to you), was so moved by 9/11 that he WROTE A BOOK ABOUT IT.

Did you write a book, Beverly? Did you create something in the aftermath of all that evil and terror? Did you GIVE something in an attempt to make the world better? NO? You only took something away? You X’d it? You uncreated? Wow, well, good for you. It’s easy to take something away, to remove a book just like the twin towers were removed. Oh, yeah, I went there– I am comparing the removal and destruction of a book to 9/11, y’all! Look at me go! Straight to hell! Or maybe I should say queer to hell. Book banning and terrorism have the same root: the impulse to destroy that which you do not like and do not understand.

Yet, this book banning spree really has nothing to do with the mission of 9/12: “But she said the common association between the complainants is a coincidence and the protests against the book are not part of that project.”

Uh. Okay. If it has nothing to do with 9.12, then why are you wasting your time with it? Why not focus on your task at hand?

Here’s the whole quote:

Ms. Marinelli, the woman who originally contacted Ms. Sweet about the book, was one of a group of people who first brought it to the attention of the RVRHS Board of Education. She acknowledged she and the others are all members of The 912 Project, a group started by conservative pundit Glenn Beck whose purpose is “to bring us all back to the place we were on September 12, 2001,” according to its website. But she said the common association between the complainants is a coincidence and the protests against the book are not part of that project.

So, not only is grandma a hateful bigot, she can’t even stay on task. You’re never gonna get us back to 9.12 that way, Beverly, at this rate. I’m not sure what offends me more, your obvious hatred of queer people or your utter LAZINESS.

Okay. So Beverly got a bee in her bonnet, wrote to Gail Sweet, Gail Sweet was all, “SURE!” Bang, there goes the book. When she was asked why the book was being removed, Gail Sweet replied simply, “Child pornography.” Yeah, she’s lazy, too. At least when I am lazy, I don’t try and pretend I was “being funny.” I’m just lazy.

“‘I was really being funny, even if it doesn’t sound it,’ she said. ‘Maybe they were ill-advised words, but I’ve learned something: Be careful what you put in e-mail. They were not meant in any way other than being facetious.'” – Gail Sweet

Do you really want a library director who thinks following policies and procedures is funny ha ha laugh time? Oh, yeah, wait, she didn’t follow the procedures fully. She just made an irrational, emotional judgment and got rid of the book.

The worst part was that not only did she remove all copies from the library, she didn’t even want to allow them to be sent to the book sale:

“How can we grab the books so that they never, ever get back into ccirculation (sic). Copies need to totally disappear (as in not a good idea to send copies to the book sale)[.]”

I’m surprised she didn’t have a bonfire and just burn them, and maybe, while she’s at it, the effigy of a gay teenager. Heck, why not just burn a real teenager? I hear they cast a lovely light.

This story has actually been reported on by a variety of publications. I, myself, actually emailed Dan Savage to see if I could get him to rant about it, seeing as his decrying of the Constance McMillan prom issue actually provoked some real change to her school’s attitudes and policies.

(It’s pretty hard to write this, as blinded as I am by rage. It’s also hard to keep out all of the profanity I would like to use.)

Some argue that libraries have this kind of “child pornography” on their shelves, but not the converse–books about reforming gays, or the like. And you know, I don’t agree with that, either. If there’s a reviewed item that speaks to that ideology, add it to your collection for balance. If there is a patron request, and you have the budget, add something even if it is a poorly written, blearily printed chap book. I don’t care if you agree with their views or not, if they pay taxes, it is their library, too, and you’re obligated to provide materials they want to read, however distasteful you find them personally.

So, Gail, what you should have done was keep that well-reviewed, important book on the shelves, and added materials that provided a counterpoint. But that might have involved, oh, I don’t know, SOME WORK. You might have had to look at some REVIEWS. Or asked Beverly for SUGGESTIONS. Instead, like Banning Beverly, you took the easy, lazy way out, and got rid of something.

Doing the hard work of researching in order to add more materials would have made you a good librarian. Instead, you’re a slothful censor who makes terrible jokes, and I hope that someday soon a young person in your family, a nephew or niece or grandchild, comes out to you, and changes your mind about what materials like Revolutionary Voices mean to people like him or her.

Beverly, Gail, I leave you with the eloquent words of Frank Zappa: “May your sh*t come to life and kiss you on the mouth.”

Actual emails exchanged between Gail Sweet and various parties

Safe Libraries

School Library Journal

Fire Gail Sweet!

Tea Cozy‘s Account

Central Jersey.com

The Frisky

Bitch Magazine

TPM Muckraker

Jezebel

Guardian UK

Banned Librarian

The Advocate

American Libraries

Shakesville

Box Turtle Bulletin

Philly.com

we don’t need you, either.

The Summer Reading program. It is the event  that youth librarians spend almost their entire year either preparing for or recovering from. Children and parents descend, en masse, worked up into a froth of excitement from the promotional tour–books were booktalked, prizes were displayed and demonstrated, and the joy and pleasure of the program were hyped to the extreme.

Summer Reading, in my opinion, should be about the joy of reading, with the bonus of getting tacky plastic crap in return. I hope most libraries also give away books; in most programs I’ve worked in, that is the final prize. I also see Summer Reading as a time for kids to experience the freedom to read what they want. No AR tests, no quizzes, just–read. Enjoy a story, or a set of facts, or a recipe. Listen to an audiobook, or idly flip through a magazine. Read a video-game guide while you play your current favorite game (and people who think gamers don’t read, have you seen the super-thick game guides that are out there? Lots of text, and pretty complex directions to follow as well. So, shut it, people who claim video games are anti-literate; between the guides and the story inherent in most games, gamers are incredibly literate.)

I’ve recently heard a sad tale of a library that restricts teens to reading only YA titles for their summer reading. That sounds so nonthreatening, right? But it isn’t. It’s step one down the slippery slope of restricting access to materials. What if a teen doesn’t want to read YA books, and prefers adult books? Stephen King and Dean Koontz are popular with teens, as is Jodi Picoult and Nicholas Sparks and his LOVE stories (don’t call them romances). Tough sh*t, guys; you’re gonna read what the librarian tells you to read. And don’t forget, when adding up your totals, 2+2=5.

This library also denies teens the ability to check out movies based on rating. Even a 17 year old, who could see an R rated movie in the theater, can’t check out an R rated film from the library, because if you’re 17, you have a card that is color coded to indicate that your access is restricted.

This, my dear friends, is censorship. It is acting in loco parentis, which is frankly not the librarian’s job.

I hate these policies, and all too often teens are the ones suffering the most. Why can’t teenagers get a break?

Thinking about this stuff just makes me feel so sad and tired. Does anyone have any stories about awesome libraries that go out of their way to defend the rights of minors to access information?

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.

gate hate.

I was fairly late to the twitter game. I didn’t really see much value in it, until I discovered that I could spend most of my time following people and not worry about creating my own content. Now I spend my twitter time enjoying the jarosity of Maureen Johnson and the pictures of food from around the world that Roger Ebert twitpics.

I also find value in the twitter chats such as kidlitchat and yalitchat. The majority of chatters (I believe) are writers of kid and ya lit, along with a smattering of readers and bloggers. I am not sure how many of the chatters are librarians. Sometimes I feel like the only one, but I know I am not.

Occasionally, in the midst of the chatting, a comment will be made about librarians. The comments I notice the most, and try to respond to without getting angry, are the ones that imply librarians have a mission to keep books away from readers instead of giving books to them.*

Librarians love authors and the books they write. If a librarian loves your book, s/he will do everything s/he can to put it in the hands of readers. If those readers love your book, chances are good they will want to buy their own copy. This, I understand, is good for authors. You want people to buy your books, right? So do librarians. We buy as many copies as we can justify. Sometimes the demand is there because of pop culture forces beyond our control or ken; other times, we create that demand by being passionate about books and telling everyone we know to READ THIS BOOK.

This is why I get especially sad and upset when I see authors making comments such as:

Kids may not mind swears, but it’s their parents and librarians who will prob. buy most of the books.

This is a brief comment, tossed out casually, but its implications are vast. It implies that librarians will choose not to buy a book because of its content, regardless of quality (so, most librarians wouldn’t stock Ulysses, I suppose). It implies that librarians are censors. It implies that we are arbiters of taste who only buy books we like. It implies that we cower in fear every time we come across a swear or a nonheteronormative character, because we fear the wrath of a mob of angry parents. This is not true. I will repeat: this is NOT TRUE. Let me present to you one of the articles of the Freedom to Read Statement:

There is no place in our society for efforts to coerce the taste of others, to confine adults to the reading matter deemed suitable for adolescents, or to inhibit the efforts of writers to achieve artistic expression.

Okay, so that second clause, “to confine adults to the reading matter deemed suitable for adolescents”, is a little weird, but what it essentially means is: it’s not our job to tell fourteen year old Johnny he can’t read Stephen King. That last clause, though! Look at that! It’s not our job “to inhibit the efforts of writers to achieve artistic expression.” What does that mean? It means, don’t worry about that sex scene or that swear word or that depiction of violence in your book. If it serves the story, if it serves your art, DO IT. A good, honest, ethical librarian will never not  buy a book because of those elements. Will we give the book with the graphic sex scene to every reader? No. Hell no. You give books to readers based on their tastes. You ask, What books have you read recently that you liked? That you didn’t like? What did you like about that book–the characters? The plot? The writing? We suss out what they enjoyed, and we try to match them with something similar.

So if a girl tells me she’s recently read and enjoyed It by Stephen King and Boy-Toy by Barry Lyga, I’d probably suggest she read Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan and Deerskin by Robin McKinley. If she’d told me she loved Nancy Drew and the Princess Diaries, would I still suggest Tender Morsels and Deerskin? Uh, no. I’d have to work a little harder to find books for her, since I don’t read much in that area, but there are tools I can use–Novelist gives out lists of read-alikes, and one can also use goodreads and librarything to find similiar books. I can ask coworkers. I can figure it out. I want to give her books she will enjoy reading just as much as I want the other girl to have books she will enjoy.

Librarians serve the public, and the public is diverse and varied with different tastes, needs and wants. I need to have books (and DVDs and CDs…) that will appeal to goths, to Christians, to Muslims, to struggling readers, to geeks, to skateboarders and knitters…and on and on and on. So I’ll need some books with sex, with swears, with violence and abuse; I’ll need some books with kittens and puppies and unicorns who poop marshmallows; I’ll need some books with romance but no sex.

Where will I get those books? Why, from authors! So, authors, follow your guts and write what they tell you to write, whether that is cozy mysteries full of tea-times and gentle jokes, historical war fiction full of blood and guts, or sex comedies full of scatalogical humor. Because out here in the world, there is a reader for every book, and unless you write that book, that reader will be very sad indeed.

Instead of thinking, “Golly, I’d better not write about gerbil rodeos  because some gerbil rodeo hating LIBRARIAN will get her bun in a twist and censor my book,” think, “I AM SO HAPPY that there are librarians out there who will find the person for me who wants to read my great American novel about gerbil rodeos.”

I will say it one more time, just to be clear: Authors should NEVER censor themselves because they think librarians, and to a lesser extent, teachers, will censor their books. Good librarians do not do that. Some, sadly, do, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Librarians are your friends, and if we are passionate about what you write, no matter the content or genre, we will do our damnedest to get it into the hands of someone who will love it. We buy for our public, not for ourselves (okay, occasionally for ourselves, but we make sure to have a balance).

Love,

your librarian,

Miss Julie

*Many authors know the value of librarians and love them accordingly. One bit of  evidence:

You know, I love librarians. I really love librarians. I love librarians when they crusade not to be stereotyped as librarians. I love librarians when they’re just doing those magic things that librarians do. I love librarians when they’re the only person in a ghost town looking after thousands of books. I love the ALA and am proud to be on one of their posters. —Neil Gaiman

(You should go read the whole post, because he goes on to criticize the ALA president, which is kind of neat).

I need an idiot’s guide to ALA

Not only do librarians have to have a master’s degree from an accredited university, we also subscribe to a Code of Ethics, a Freedom to Read Act, and almost every division of librarianship (from Youth Services to Young Adult to Reference Librarians) has competencies that they are expected to meet. Further, we have five laws* passed down to us from the beginning of Librarianship, which, if you had to chuck everything else for expediency and sanity’s sake, would still ensure you’d be a pretty damn fine librarian.

Yet. Even with all of this education, guidance and oversight, there are still many complacent, lazy, and–dare I say it?–BAD librarians out there. Librarians who are content to give out bad information, who don’t bother to keep current on new trends and new possibilities, who are too indifferent or too afraid to challenge outdated policies and procedures. There are librarians who censor books by not purchasing them, who put together tired power point after tired power point and call themselves educators, librarians who don’t bother to stay aware of and interested in what is going on in their own library much less what is going on in the profession as a whole.

I want to discuss all of these issues in more detail over the coming weeks, but I am going to begin by asking for help from the top: ALA.

ALA does a lot for librarians, and the ALA website is an imposing chunk of information. Perhaps too much information. I want to be a member of ALA, and ALSC and YALSA, but I find the dues too rich for my blood. Since it’s the American Library Association, why can’t the memberships of the librarians who work in those libraries be put forth by their institutions? Wouldn’t that be easier on everyone? Wouldn’t it save a lot of issues of American Libraries from being thrown away?

I cry ignorance on this topic. I beg to be told what’s what. Because, Lord help me, I can’t even begin to wade through ALA’s website without twitching. To be clear, I value what ALA provides–I did link to much of their information above–but I don’t understand why they need my money, and once they have it, where it goes.

*By the way, this page sucks; could someone more savvy fix it?