egotism vs self worth

In January 2013 I wrote a post that touched a raw, exposed nerve for many in the library world. One year later, I’m still amazed at the outpouring of reactions to that piece, and the variety of reactions it provoked. I’m also very proud of some of the projects that it inspired, including the very valuable and very amazing Storytime Underground.

In addition to inspiring big and awesome things, I’m pleased that my post articulated for a lot of librarians a feeling that they had been wrestling with for a long time, but could never quite express–a feeling that librarians who work with children and teens aren’t respected, aren’t taken seriously, and aren’t valued. And in the year after writing that post, I realized I wasn’t really talking about ego, I was talking about self-worth.

Many of us struggle with self-worth and self-esteem on a regularly basis, both personally and professionally, constantly feeling that we are falling short. I know I do. I feel guilty about something pretty much every minute of every day–about an email I didn’t answer quickly enough, or how I don’t visit my family enough, or what junk I ate for lunch because I am incapable of packing one, and on and on. When I fall into these spirals of shame and self-blame and awfulness, sometimes the only thing that can snap me out them is a thank you note from a grateful teacher, or a compliment from a coworker about a recent success. Because sometimes no matter how intrinsically and self-motivated I am, or how much I believe deep in my heart that my work is valuable and I am good at it, sometimes you just stop believing that until someone else recognizes it and reminds you of it.

The youth librarianship community has really stepped up in this area (or maybe I’ve just become more mindful of noticing it). Not a day goes by that I don’t see compliments flying on twitter, conversations full of idea sharing, heart felt “thank yous” and pats on the back. And I see more of us reaching out into different areas of the profession, staking a claim in the worlds of tech, letting it be known that we have expertise that is worth listening to.

To that end, let’s keep it going– let’s dig deeper and reach higher. Make sure to take advantage of any local and national awards, and take the opportunity to speak out about your favorite librarian. Even if they don’t win, you can certainly share with him or her what was said–and just the process of nominating someone, thinking deeply and thoughtfully about their contributions to the field, will be a benefit to both you and them.

Beyond Movers and Shakers and I Love My Librarian, I assume most state library associations have awards for librarians, so take a look and see who you can recognize. I know that my state’s awards for librarians are often lacking for nominations, so if you’re in Illinois, I plead with you to submit one. YALSA has an award for excellence in Teen Librarianship, as well as awards recognizing excellent programming. ALSC has the ALSC Distinguished Service Award, but perhaps another award or two could be implemented– youth librarianship is vast.

Are there any opportunities to recognize our fellow librarians that I have missed, especially those that are youth and teen centric? Let me know.

And thank you, dear reader, for being a friend. Next time I see you in person, the cheesecake is on me.

1985-GOLDEN-GIRLS-006

ego, thy name is librarianship

cc license photo by flickr use r zoonabar
cc license photo by flickr use r zoonabar

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have a bit of an attention problem. No, not attention deficit– I have a need to be, if not the center of attention, at least left of center. Even though I am an introvert at heart who needs significant alone time to recharge and prepare, I am actually happiest when I am in front of a crowd. I meet this need for attention in many ways–by working in an area of librarianship that demands that I present storytimes and other programs, by being a performing songwriter on my personal time, by writing this blog. Often these endeavors are satisfying enough in themselves, but sometimes–during dark, lonely afternoons as I type up program plans, or ponder what to write about next on the blog–I crave even more attention, but I don’t know how to get it.

Doesn’t this all sound awfully conceited? I know. It does. But I’m nothing if not honest, so yes, I’ll admit to thinking I am awesome. I think I do excellent work, and have unique contributions to make, even though I don’t have a slogan or a hashtag or a large, slavish following. Sometimes I wonder if I were a man, writing about ebooks, if I’d get more attention. But since I am a lady writing mostly about playdough and early literacy, decidedly unsexy topics in librarianship (and when did “sexy” begin to equal “intriguing” or “worthwhile” or “interesting”?) I have a decidedly smaller circle of admirers and colleagues, most of whom are my fellow unsung heroes of the library world. As a children’s librarian, if you write more about how you use books with children than you do about the books and authors themselves, you don’t get as much notice.

Perhaps it is just my sensitive ego at work, but I feel like the librarian bloggers who work with children and teens and who write primarily about programs don’t get the recognition they deserve. Storytime blogs such as So Tomorrow, Awesome Storytime, Mel’s Desk, Playing by the Book, Tiny Tips for Library Fun, Bryce Don’t Play, and Storytiming provide real, concrete advice for creating worthwhile programming, which should be the bread and butter of libraries. If all of us wrote more book reviews and less about the programs we created using those books, or why we create the programs we do, perhaps we’d get more notice. If we blogged about hot button topics like e-books for babies or stripping our children’s departments down to look like futuristic lunchrooms filled with ipads, perhaps we’d get a ton of traffic. But we don’t. We write about our quiet successes and failures, about the simple craft of creating a flannel story, about what rhymes will fit with certain themes, and when we do review books, it’s always with an eye to How will I use this with a group of children? When we get dressed for work, it’s always with a thought about how easily we’ll be able to get up and down from the floor during storytime, and whether or not sweat will show if we’re doing a lot of jumping songs that day.

In a profession that’s supposedly dominated by women, I find it sad that the librarians who get the most attention are mostly men (and, admittedly, some women), men who very rarely write about honest, simple, day to day issues in librarianship (Swiss Army Librarian being a rare exception, with his marvelous ref questions of the week). These men spin elaborate fantasies about librarians being information rockstars who dress to impress (either flashily or with an eye to ironic hipsterism), dismiss librarians who still use books to connect with patrons as hopelessly backwards, and come up with gimmick after gimmick to get libraries “noticed” without ever once writing about a concrete, applicable thing that they have actually done. Show me how libraries and librarians are amazing, don’t just tell me and expect me to be convinced.

I’m on very precarious ground as I write this, because honestly, my main motivation is that I am sad that I am not more recognized. [I really regret this sentence right now! While I, personally, do want to be recognized, more than that I want my tribe–kid and teen librarians who work so damn hard with little to no recognition in the wider library world–to be noticed and appreciated. Which they might be. I’ll admit to not being able to read everything ever printed about libraries. JJ 01/16] I want to be noticed. I want people to listen to what I have to say. I want to be offered speaking engagements, to have a larger platform to  discuss my ideas of how to better librarianship, to be valued. I want to win awards. I crave approval and recognition, and yet, to paraphrase Lillian Hellman, I cannot and will not cut my librarianship to fit this year’s fashion. I don’t particularly care about e-books, only that I wish we could give our patrons what they want. I don’t particularly want to shove ipads into the faces of babies and toddlers because I still believe screen time is ultimately damaging. I don’t really care to have the perception of librarians go from shushing bun heads to strutting pimps. (I think Frank Zappa* is a better rock star librarian model than any rapper, but that’s just me. Like Frank, I believe in free speech, showmanship, and being a decent human being. Like Frank, I think you can push the envelope of expression without being hateful to women.) I like books, and I believe librarianship is about books, if you stop and think about how books equal stories, and it doesn’t matter what goddamn container they come in, be it paper, digital, audio, or a film or a video game. Stories are what people crave, and stories (like the storycorp partnership with libraries, or the not so new resurgence of reading aloud to adults–and adult librarians, if you need help on reading aloud, you know who to ask) are what libraries have and always will do best.

So next time you need a keynote speaker, perhaps consider one of us librarians who spend most of our time on the floor–often literally. Our subject matter might not be “sexy”, but we know how to tell a damn good story.

*”If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.” – Frank Zappa

you know what this is about. or you don’t.

You know, some librarians think the ARC issue is a waste of time, and others don’t. For my part, I don’t care to know much about cataloging beyond the surface basics, but I do appreciate the cataloging nerds who are really into it and keep it going and tell the rest about the most salient points.

It’s the same thing with the ARC situation. Not every librarian has the same passions, but as a whole profession we keep each other informed about a broad range of topics, and learn from each other.

Dismissing someone’s passions as invalid doesn’t do anyone any good.We all have different areas of expertise and passion, and we need to respect those. That’s the only way we can pull together, help each other, and move librarianship forward.

If you don’t care, don’t comment. If you do care, contribute. And also: don’t be a dick.

The Cockroach Approach: Doughnuts, an interlude

I posted this quote by John Green on my facebook timeline the other day:

“Adult librarians are like lazy bakers: their patrons want a jelly doughnut, so they give them a jelly doughnut. Children’s librarians are ambitious bakers: ‘You like the jelly doughnut? I’ll get you a jelly doughnut. But you should try my cruller, too. My cruller is gonna blow your mind, kid.”
― John Green

And seeing as I am friends with many a type of librarian, several adult services librarians I know became really defensive. I can see why. I’m sure there are many adult librarians who offer up crullers, long johns, muffins, and perhaps even hash brownies– but here’s the thing: you’re not seen that way, adult librarians. Your message isn’t being heard. Which is what I’m trying to get at with these posts.

If authors who are library advocates don’t comprehend your value, and other librarians such as myself aren’t sure of what you’re doing, then what are the chances that the public knows?

I’m not trying to anger people, but I am trying to provoke and inspire.

So adult librarians: tell me about your crullers. I dare you.

Listen, I’m Telling You Stories

Funerals are not for the dead, they are for the living. They are for those left behind, to act as a comforting play in which we know all the roles and there is no twist in the second act.

My mother would have hated her own funeral. It was a maudlin, religious, church bound affair, with a sermon by the very affable ginger haired priest, and some hymn played by the equally affable church organist. If I hadn’t been wracked with grief–if her death hadn’t been such a surprise and a shock–I would have known to have cut the hymn and played a recording of Mama Cass singing “Dream A Little Dream” or perhaps the Beatles singing “I Don’t Want to Spoil The Party.” The church location was fine, I suppose; it was the same church where her own mother had been the organist until her death, but the rest of it…ugh. My mother was many things, but she was not overtly sentimental or sappy. Where other mothers might have sent a card featuring a plucky kitten grasping a tree branch, with the sentiment of “Hang in there!”, my mother tended to send cards with lines like “Don’t forget that you’re the shit!”

So her funeral, with its heartfelt speeches and quiet sobs, would probably have galled her. “Jesus Christ on a crutch!” she’d say. “Don’t you have anything better to do? This town has bars, you know.”

My mother had grand aspirations as a girl. When I was young, I found some of her poetry, and several lines of it have stuck with me since I first read them:

Laying in the Weeds

Sing a song of love
Sing a song of hate
Sing a song of dreams
That always have to wait.

Simple, and not very good, you might think; but what might my mother have become if she hadn’t dropped out of college to move back home and work at the town factory? What if she hadn’t met my miserable, mentally ill father, who managed to charm her into marriage, and after that made it his mission in life to make her miserable?

Once, during a phone call, one of the few times I ever heard my mother cry, she said her terrible marriage had been worth it, because she’d gotten her four children out of it. To give me and my siblings life, she’d abandoned her own–her dreams of being a poet, a singer, a college graduate, the life of being a girl who met her girlfriends in the cemetery for picnics of pizza and beer–she replaced these with four children who tried her patience but whom she loved fiercely, and owed their existence to a man who was as cruel as Bluebeard but not half as sane.

I learned recently that even after birth, for decades after, fetal cells can remain inside the mother, and sometimes will act as positive agents, fighting diseases or repairing tissue. I wondered tonight, as the rainstorm lashed outside and I could not sleep, whether or not my baby cells fought to save my mother’s heart when it was slowing, breaking, and ultimately stopped early one morning in 2007. I hope they did. I hope they tried, because I would have, if I had been there.

I was not ready for my mother to go. Are we ever ready to lose the life of one we love, who sacrificed everything for us? Do we ever recover from the pain of losing them, or the joy of knowing that someone, once upon a time, loved us so much, and so deeply?

My memories of my mother are inextricably intertwined with certain stories. I discovered Stephen King by raiding my mother’s bookshelves, and to this day I still rue the loss of her limited edition copy of The Eyes of the Dragon, signed by the author and chewed by dog and lost in a house fire when I was fourteen. Whenever I watch Labyrinth I spend a moment of two thinking of the morning I woke up at five a.m. and wandered downstairs to find my mother and my little brother watching it because neither of them had been able to sleep. Sometimes I will listen to George Carlin’s Classic Gold album– which I really don’t have to any more, since I have it practically memorized– and remember the time my mother was listening to it in the car on our way to the Indian Head Supper Club to have lunch with my Aunt Pat, my mother’s bitchy, long haired chain smoking sister.

These stories–these connections—are what is vitally important to our lives. I don’t want us to forget that. We tell stories, and we keep stories, and we create stories so we can become ourselves, and remember the people who helped us along the way.

That’s what matters.

Sharing A Wrinkle In Time

Click through to see the facebook page for A Wrinkle in Time.

My love of A Wrinkle In Time has been documented before on this blog, and because I love it so much, it is one of those books that I can’t share lightly, and I have to be careful not to put it in the hands of a reader who isn’t ready for it. Usually when I suggest books to kids, it doesn’t hurt my feelings if they decide they don’t want it, but if a kid were to reject Wrinkle, I’d be ineffably sad. (I was recently talking with a parent whose daughter was reading A Wrinkle In Time for a school assignment, and struggling with reading it. I wasn’t sure what to tell her. Every book its reader, and every reader its book; perhaps, sad though it sounds, she just wasn’t one of this book’s many and ardent readers.)

But I have to do something to celebrate this book’s 50th anniversary, so I’m going to throw a big book party. I’m looking to have an event in the fall, maybe October or November, so that the chance of somewhat dark and stormy weather will be increased. I’m thinking this will definitely be a family/all ages event, because I am sure there are some parents and grandparents out there who have some warm feelings about this book.

There will definitely have to be a buffet of all of the different kinds of sandwiches that the Murrays eat in the beginning of the book, and some hot chocolate. I also think having my fellow librarians and volunteers dress in costume as various characters would add a lot of fun to the event.

I want to booktalk Wrinkle and a bunch of L’Engle’s other books, and of course read aloud that first amazing chapter. We could also tie in When You Reach Me, which, as a contemporary Newbery winner, might pull in additional readers to the story. We’ll also booktalk other great fantasy and science fiction titles for kids.

How will you be celebrating the anniversary of this wonderful book?

My other posts about Wrinkle: It was a Dark and Stormy Night and How it All Began.

Read what other bloggers are saying about A Wrinkle in Time.

top 11 posts of 2011

When I first started this blog, I had no grand aspirations. I am passionate about the library field, child development, and children’s literature, and I wanted to have a place to express my thoughts, and I hoped that I would garner at least a dedicated, engaged readership. Fairly early on, I experienced the Elizabeth Bird bump, and for that I’ve always been grateful. I appreciate my twitter friends for all their conversation and ideas, and frankly, without them I probably wouldn’t be writing much at all.

Looking at my top posts, I realize that people love it when I write about things that a lot of librarians are probably thinking but are too scared to talk about, and my programs for children. I’m going to make an effort to write more about these topics in 2012, and also write more from the gut and the heart, no matter what the topic (my angsty review of Ingenue being an example of this new goal).

Thank you to all my readers for commenting, emailing my posts to your colleagues, and generally being awesome. Let’s do more of this in 2012.

top posts (excluding static pages):

11. Meow Mix. I think this is solely because of the cat picture, although I think my cat who doesn’t know how to meow storytime through line is pretty awesome.

10. Make it Happen: Teen Space. Pretty much an airing of grievances post that also allowed me to congratulate and laud a fellow librarian. Now complete with a comment I didn’t initially approve because it’s super negative, but hey, whatevs. Different strokes for different folks.

9. New Storytime Favorites. Why is this so popular? I dunno. Probably because I mention cats and I’m a librarian. The cat/librarian diagram is so venn it’s almost just a circle.

8. Tales of the Madman Underground: A Love Letter. This was a very personal post and book review, and I almost didn’t publish it. But this book is amazing and I think that librarians—much like teachers—need to fight for the right to be real, flawed, human people with pasts and problems like any other people. Just because we work with children doesn’t mean we’re all Mary Poppins, and we shouldn’t be punished for being real people. But seriously, read that book.

7. The Ethical Librarian. This one is me totally ranting and raving on my high horse while my horse is standing on a soapbox. You might as well call me the Bughouse Square librarian. I took an information ethics class in library school, one of the few actually challenging courses I took, and it ruined me forever. You’re welcome.

6. #makeitbetter. I just hate bad librarians. Sorry if you’re one of them.

5. You might not being doing it wrong, but you could certainly do it better. Ah, my screed against library schools. I might not get so worked up if I weren’t $50,000 in debt, but that ship’s sailed, huh? Good times. And by good times I mean kill me.

4. Librarian, Weed Thyself! Wherein I apply the CREW and MUSTIE methods to people. I am a monster. A pudgy, cuddly, hyberpolic monster.

3. Beginning Reader Storytime. A warm and fuzzy post about how I revamped my library’s preschool storytime. How…charming.

2. How to Become the Best, Most Versatile Baby & Toddler Programmer Ever. Babies and toddlers are tricky audiences.

And, unsurprisingly, the number one post of 2011 is…

1.  Summer Reading, Pain in my a**. So many people enjoyed my rants about the sacred cow of summer reading, which really pleased me. I love when people reassess long running programs with a fresh eye. Can’t wait to see what people do with their 2012 summer reading programs.

Happy new year, everyone!

Love,

Miss Julie

you might not be doing it wrong, but you could certainly do it better.

Part One: Education

I’ve been reading Steve’s posts over at Go Librarians about the changing role of reference librarians and degree relevance and I actually started leaving a comment on one of them when I realized it was going to be a huge chunk of text, and decided it deserved to be it’s own blog post instead.

It was this line that sent me off the deep end: “The MLIS is the minimal requirement and should be regarded as such. Its sustained relevance and its value to developing librarian positions is the onus of library school administrators. They’re smart people. I trust them.” (Emphasis mine).

Oh, lucky people who had a rigorous, edifying library school experience. I was not so lucky. Sure, some of my classes and professors were great; but when you’re paying as much as I did for my degree, I think every single class should be above and beyond excellent. My intro class in library school was taught by a last minute hire who’d never taught a class before. We spent the entire time looking at awkward power point presentations and joke websites– I remember there was one about the danger of water or oxygen or something, and it was supposed to be an example of how we need to tell valid information from invalid. Which is fine, I guess, except in every subsequent class, when a professor said “As you learned in your intro course….” I often had no idea what s/he was referring to.

I just went through the course catalogs of four of the top library schools (according to US News) and the school where I got my degree, and I was unimpressed. One school offered a class on making mobile apps. I think that, and a class about access and advocacy in youth services, were the most interesting classes that I saw. The top curricula still rely heavily on the old standbys of cataloging, reference, reader’s advisory, and materials for children and young adults. Which–don’t get me wrong–is fine. Like the title of the post indicates, you might not be doing it wrong–but you certainly could be doing it better.

Children and teen librarians need to take courses in Child Development. The one class period spent during a materials class is not sufficient. In addition to Child Development courses, we need courses on using music with children, using art with children, and working with special needs kids. Children’s librarians need to know that forty-five minutes is generally too long for a preschool story time, that 100 kids in any storytime is too many (yeah, way to be popular, but that’s not developmentally appropriate), that four year olds should be able to cut with scissors and that three year olds should be able to follow two step directions (pick up your bean bag and put it on your foot). We need to know how children learn to read, how they learn to write, and how to disperse this information to parents and caregivers. When a parent has a concern or question about their child’s development, we would be much better equipped to help them find resources and refer them to social agencies if we knew about child development ourselves.

All librarians should have the option to take theater courses so we’ll have the ability to improvise, think on our feet, and shed our inhibitions. The library world needs performers and teachers, and not just in the children’s department. Wouldn’t booktalks be all the more exciting if you could really act the parts?

And maybe, just maybe, we should suck it up and instead of hiring social workers, librarians should be able to have a specialization in social work. It’s happening anyway– we’re helping people look for jobs, apply for jobs, search for government assistance and apply for that assistance, why not take the next step and be experts in finding what they need and how to get it?

While I’m at it, I’d like to see more library school professors who are actually still working in a library, so that they’re better able to have their curriculum address the realities of working in a library.

If I had my way, people would get a master’s degree with the option of adding a certificate of library and information sciences. So, you’d have someone with a Master’s Degree in Child Development, or Film Studies, or Social Work, with an LIS certificate; perhaps the LIS certificate would be broken out into Public, Children’s/Teens, Academic, and Special. But the MLIS as it stands today? Boring, borderline irrelevant, and doing a pretty mediocre job at preparing people for actual library work.

But that’s just my opinion….what do you think?

hark! an arc!

I’ve come into possession of several ARCs recently, and normally I don’t give a frak about that kind of thing, and book-bragging fills me with an inexplicable rage, but I really have liked these books so Imma gonna tell you about ’em. However, I don’t do synopses because they bore me, that’s what we have goodreads and amazon.com for.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, due September 2011.

My lovely coworker Miss Stephanie nabbed this at BEA, and Maureen Johnson signed it, along with the poignant inscription of Pizza. Judging by the cover, I thought a red haired girl went back in time and met Jack the Ripper, who ended up being sexy like Chuck Bass, and I was hella excited. While the book was nothing like that, I still enjoyed it. It reminded me a lot of Torchwood, in the best way. A++ would read again.

This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, by Kenneth Oppel, due August 2011.

I got this by filling out a form through a website that I can’t even remember now, but I am glad I went into a fugue state and did so, because this novel is pretty well written, and it allows me to imagine young Victor and Konrad Frankenstein as played by Benedict Cumberbatch. I’ve only read the first quarter or so thus far but I am enjoying it immensely because, hello,”it’s my Cumberbatch imagination, running away with me…

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, due August 2011

I was introduced to Jonathan Auxier at the Newbery/Wilder/Caldecott banquet at ALA 2011 while I was traipsing about with James Kennedy. And by introduced I mean that James suddenly froze, sniffed the air, yelled “SCOP!” and bolted in the direction of a tall hairy man in the distance. When I finally caught up to the both of them, Jonathan (I discovered his name by reading his name-tag, because, unlike most librarians, I am thoroughly and utterly LITERATE),  was deftly juggling James’ collection of pocket kittens while James took painstaking and quite intimate measurements of the depth, width, and color of Jonathan’s beard. James dictated these measurements to me and I copied them down, because 1) his handwriting is atrocious and 2) like I mentioned before, I am a literate librarian and must show off at every opportunity. After this auspicious meeting, I sent Mr. Auxier a message on twitter asking for an autographed beard photo and was sent a copy of his book instead, which in the grand scheme of things is a-okay with me.

If you’re a fan of James Kennedy’s writing (which I am) I have a hunch you’ll enjoy Auxier’s book (an excerpt of which you can read here, and a Fuse#8 review of which you can read here). I myself have not yet begun to read, because once I begin I am sure I will quickly read it through until the end, whereupon I am sure I shall be sad, because you can never have the first read of a book again once you’ve done it, and there’s nothing quite like that first breathless romp through a truly wonderful book. Which is what I believe Peter Nimble to be, for a little Betsy Bird has told me that there will be Peter Pan references abound, and the only thing I love more than Peter Pan references are Alice in Wonderland references, and since Auxier’s line drawings are strongly reminiscent of Tenniel’s work (as well as a little Gorey and a little Blake for good measure), I am quite confident I will be satisfied on all counts.

The other reason I haven’t read it yet is because James told me that every tenth copy is infused with fairy dust, and since I will be ever so happy while reading this book, once the fairy dust hits me I will most assuredly begin flying about, and since I am in the middle of summer reading right now and don’t really have the time to go flying about, I must postpone my reading until I am sure I will have flying time to spare, which will be soon, I hope.

Summer Reading, pain in my…*

Summer Reading. We spend all year working on it. We can’t escape it.

I hate it. I hate summer reading.

But…but…it helps kids retain their reading skills over summer vacation!

You know why we even have a summer vacation?

So kids could spend the summer months helping out on the farm.

Wait…your kids don’t live on farms? They live in the suburbs? Or the city? Or even if they do live on a farm, it’s such a large farm that their meager help isn’t necessary during the summer months?

“Why operate on a calendar designed for the economy of the last century?” Kelly Johnson, communications coordinator for the National Association for Year-Round Education, asked Education World. “As we head into the 21st century, I don’t know of very many children who must work on family farms. So why do we continue to implement a calendar which has no educational advantages?

There’s no reason for summer vacation. Sure, it’s nice. Teachers love it, and probably want to punch me in the face right now. But really, why are we holding onto something that is nice but ultimately detrimental to our children and families? It has to be terribly difficult for working parents to find child-care for three months out of the year. I’m assuming a lot of kids just stay home unattended, or they get dropped off at the library for eight or more hours a day, without even a snack. Rarely will a child spend all of that time reading. Most of it is spent talking with friends, playing on the computer, or rolling around on the ground, rending his garments and crying “I AM SO BORED!”** Wouldn’t that time be better spent in school?

Are American schools serving up a quality education for all students? Although we provide students more years of formal schooling than any other nation, our school year is short, usually only 180 days. The world’s average is 200 to 220 days per year, and Japan’s is 243. (See “Give Kids More School,” USA Today, August 31,1992.) Over time, this difference can add up. [emphasis mine]

Further, in Chicago (where I live but do not work), our school days are among the shortest in the nation. We spend fewer days in school and even on the days we’re there, we’re not there for very long. And how many of those days are no more than an hour long?

Don’t worry about it, though! Summer reading will fix everything! Prizes from Oriental Trading and reading logs are an amazing cure-all for YEARS of educational neglect!

When a child is struggling with reading, I think the last thing s/he wants to do is spend the entire summer being forced by a well-meaning parent to read. Because that’s all it is– we give them a piece of paper or a database log-in and say, Here ya go! Read! Maintain your skills! What if Billy’s an eighth-grader and his reading level is only at the second grade? What good does it do for him to maintain that? How is he supposed to begin reading at his grade level without support, direct instruction, intervention–you know, SCHOOL?

The library is NOT school (no matter how many of my little patrons call me teacher), and most librarians are not equipped to teach children–or anyonehow to read, and I believe this is a major failing of most library school programs. How do we expect people to be invested in the library when they lack the one skill that makes it worthwhile? And even if libraries move away from storage and preservation towards content creation, how can we expect illiterate people to create content? How can we document community stories when the majority of the population lacks the ability to tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end? If we’re going to be putting on this “program” that is supposedly going to keep kids from falling behind in school, shouldn’t we know how literacy is developed, how kids learn how to read, how adults learn how to read? How many librarians reading this right now have a clue as to how any of that works, and how to apply it in a library setting?

This doesn’t mean I am opposed to fun programs at libraries, especially for children. I love programming and telling stories, and filling the library with whimsy. I think decorations kick-ass. I just think that libraries should do that sort of thing ALL YEAR, and not just spend all of their time, effort, and money during the summer, when, frankly, most people are just there for the chintzy prizes. Kids that want to read will read, regardless of how charming and well crafted your summer reading program is. Children who can’t read and don’t like to read won’t read, and your posters, prizes, and logs won’t help them one damn bit.

Much like a Vulcan, I can’t stand things that I find illogical, and I find the Summer Reading Program, with its high minded, idealistic mission, to be a completely illogical artifact of the past. I also never participated in it as a child, so I don’t adore it slavishly out of misplaced nostalgia. Yet I am an above average reader and writer, so I guess the lack of summer reading really didn’t hurt me any, did it? And I was one of those farm kids who was so urgently needed on the farm during the summer, one of those bare-foot, dust covered urchins that summer reading was supposed to help so much. Perhaps all that time I spent listening to my father ramble on about hog prices and what the neighbors down the road were up to helped my literacy skills more than I knew.

In summary, I do believe that the average summer reading program is little more than a crutch for the failures of the average American school system. What do you think?

NOTES

School calendars around the world

This article has a ton of links at the end about school calendars, start times, etc.

*to the tune of “Summer Lovin'”

**This is only a slight exaggeration.