Why Kids Need to Read What They Want

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Is this how we want kids to act when it comes to reading? / flicker, C. Bitner

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
  • Transitional books
  • Chapter books

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 book Reading 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?

 

 

 

 

How Much Can A Picture Book Do?

update 01/17/16: Scholastic is no longer distributing this title. 

The picture book, as a form, has been around for years, and has contributed to literature some of its most stunning masterpieces, in terms of both text and illustration. No one can dare deny the genius of Sendak, Kraus, Keats, Williams, or Raschka.

The picture book can do many things, and tell many stories, yet on the whole is often closer to poetry than to prose, even when a narrative is involved; with only 28 to 30 pages for actual story, the best picture books include meaning and poetry with their covers, end papers, and even in dedications and author’s notes.

The realm of picture books is vast; it contains multitudes. Yet, how much can these slim volumes be expected to reveal and share? Can every story be told well and accurately (and by accurately I include emotional as well as factual or historical accuracy) within the constraints of the form? Just as a poet knows when to use a sonnet, villanelle, or haiku, should an author know when to choose between a picture book, a chapter book, or a biography?

I ponder these questions because of a new title that is generating a lot of discussion, A Birthday Cake for George WashingtonI have not had a chance to review this book myself, so I am only going on reviews and descriptions– there has been much written on it already, including essays by both its author and editor, and a response from the publisher, wherein they sort of admit that the book might fall short of its intended aim:

Because we know that no single book will be acceptable to every reader, we offer many other books and resources that address slavery and Black history here and here.

The author, Ramin Ganeshram, certainly seems to have done an immense amount of research, yet one review notes that there are no sources cited in the actual book.

Ganeshram defends the upbeat, positive tone of the book and its cheerful (and admittedly beautiful) illustrations thusly:

Bizarrely and yes, disturbingly, there were some enslaved people who had a better quality of life than others and “close” relationships with those who enslaved them. But they were smart enough to use those “advantages” to improve their lives.

It is the historical record—not my opinion—that shows that enslaved people who received “status” positions were proud of these positions—and made use of the “perks” of those positions. It is what illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton calls out in her artist’s note as informing her decision to depict those in A Birthday Cake For George Washington as happy and prideful people.

This is not something I will endeavor to dispute. Slavery was an immense, complex, and shameful time in our history, and like any other grand horror, the feelings it inspires, in both those who lived through it and those who can only learn about it through other channels, including testimony, biography, and yes, even art, will not be easily or neatly categorized.

Ganeshram goes on to write:

In a modern sense, many of us don’t like to consider this, fearing that if we deviate from the narrative of constant-cruelty we diminish the horror of slavery. But if we chose to only focus on those who fit that singular viewpoint, we run the risk of erasing those, like Chef Hercules, who were remarkable, talented, and resourceful enough to use any and every skill to their own advantage.

I do not fault the author, illustrator, and editor for wanting to explore this facet of an American tragedy, or even this facet of Black history. There is a definite need for books that reflect diverse experiences. The black experience is about so much more than just slavery or the civil rights movement, and even within those historical narratives, I’m sure opinions and feelings on the situations varied widely.

But here’s the thing: just last year a textbook was published that called slaves brought over from Africa “workers.” This usage slipped past countless editors and educators, only to be caught by a boy named Coby as he read the textbook in his classroom. This term was used on a page discussing “patterns of immigration.” Now, slanting enforced capture and kidnapping as “immigration” is offensive and inaccurate, no matter how you try to slice it.

This indicates that in many ways, many children–and adults–are still not learning about or aware of the accurate history of what happened during slavery, and many (white) people in power are still deeply in denial about it:

Still, Ratliff, a Republican, found 16 other references to slavery in the geography book that he believes were accurate. He says the story of that one, problematic caption has “gotten blown out of proportion.”

Dean-Burren disagrees. She’s concerned about the words textbooks use — or don’t — to teach our nation’s rich history. Still, she’s proud of her son and the lesson he’s learned.

In this light, can we reasonably expect any picture book, no matter how well-intentioned or well-researched, to do justice to this infinitely complicated subject?

We could contrast this effort with a picture book that has been well-reviewed and well-received– Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad*.

Kirkus describes Henry’s Freedom Box thusly:

Related in measured, sonorous prose that makes a perfect match for the art, this is a story of pride and ingenuity that will leave readers profoundly moved, especially those who may have been tantalized by the entry on Brown in Virginia Hamilton’s Many Thousand Gone: African Americans from Slavery to Freedom (1993). (emphasis mine)

Ganreshram places Henry’s Freedom Box and other picture books like it in this context:

In the sadly not-so-distant past, enslaved people were often depicted in children’s literature as childlike, foolish, or happily insensible of their condition.

Counteracting the industry’s previous wrongs, recent books like Dave The Potter, Henry’s Freedom Box, and The Story of African Americans have been gorgeous, intense and…pervasively somber. These depictions lend legitimate gravitas to their subjects—but the range of human emotion and behavior is vast, and there is room in between how the literary world depicted historical African American characters [then?] and how it does now.(I think perhaps she’s missing a “then” in that sentence)

 

Again, not having read Ganreshram’s book, I can only surmise certain things, and it seems like she’s saying her book is an update because Hercules is aware of his condition (that condition being slavery), but is making the best of it anyway. Which is not, I suppose, a wholly untenable approach to take in a story. After all, didn’t Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl detail how she made the most of a horrific situation?

Yet– consider the formats. Anne Frank’s work was a diary, consisting of hundreds of pages, allowing her narrative, characters, and setting the time to bloom and be fully explored. The complexity of her situation is given the time and the space to develop, giving us a fuller picture of what was happening, and providing us the context required to understand her and her story.

Within the constraints of a picture book, I think Ganreshram is hard pressed to succeed in her mission, no matter how well-intentioned, and thusly Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s beautiful artwork will also suffer within the context. I just don’t think that the complexity of Hercules’ story is possible to condense into the poetry of a picture book at this moment in time.

I think those “pervasively somber” books are much more successful because they have a unified vision for the work. The story and art work in tandem, evoking the sorrow and sometimes horror of what they describe, whereas A Birthday Cake For George Washington is trying to have its cake and eat it, too, by calling Hercules a slave yet not indicating any of the darker emotions that entails, and having no tension between the art and the text.

I believe that the story of Hercules is an important one, and deserving to be told; but I don’t think that the picture book format, as versatile, diverse, and wonderful as it is, is up to the task of this complex narrative and character.

*Henry’s song inspired another picture book telling, Freedom The Song: The Story of Henry “Box” Brown. Even in 1849 it was included in a book of children’s stories:Screenshot 2016-01-16 09.07.14

Every Action Has an Equal, Opposite Reaction

In my post Where Do The Teens Go? I posited a Youth Services Department which is formed around a core staff of four two-person teams. Ideally they would all be full time, but that might vary depending on the size of your community and the number of schools you serve. Certainly some of the positions could blend, depending on the interests and skill sets of the people you hire. But I’m pretty adamant that positions be either devoted to in-library work or devoted to outreach, with collaboration led by the appropriate lead. This is because outreach is a full-time job, or if it’s only part-time, it should be the primary focus of the staff member.

Why so much outreach? I’ve always been a firm believer in outreach, because I’ve seen it be successful from both sides of the equation. I’ve been the in-library person benefiting from excellent outreach efforts, and I’ve also been the outreach person who brings people into the library and acts as a recognized face from one place (school) to another (the library).

In my experience, here are all the things a person in any outreach position must do, and if you don’t think these duties deserve a full-time staff member, or at least a staff member dedicated to it, I don’t even know:

  • Reaching out–writing emails and making phone calls can take up a lot of your time, and if you have too many other duties (desk, collection development, in house programs) you’re going to play a lot of phone tag and a lot of email threads are going to get buried in the process.
  • Making connections–I’ve come up with a lot of great ideas just hanging out and chatting with teachers during a program break or while having lunch with them in the staff room during a day of multiple book talks. Making the time to just chat is very important, and often overlooked when people consider outreach positions.
  • Researching community partners–like you research a company before you apply for a job, research potential partners so you can propose projects and programs that meet their needs
  • Remembering names.
  • Booking visits–you need to check your calendar, check everything else, offer times, accept counter-offers, and be prepared for changes. If you have your outreach person staffing a desk for fifty percent of their work time, good luck. You’re setting them up for failure.
  • Tapping appropriate collaborators from the community and your own staff–I’m not great at everything (I know, shocker!) so when certain events come up on my radar, I’ll often reach out to my ever-widening network and see if I can’t collaborate and make the experience that much better for the entity I’m working with.
  • Being in the library– yes, I just said you’re setting your staff up for failure, but only if you take up too much of their time with duties other than outreach. Having some desk time, and helping with some in-library programs, is great for an outreach person, because the people they see in the community will be really excited to see them in the library. Countless times I’ve been on the reference desk and kids have walked by, staring at me wide-eyed, and then they’ll finally remember why they know me and yell, “You came to my school!” I once even had a child formally introduce me to his parent, by saying, “Dad, this is my librarian who comes to my school.” We shook hands and then I died.

Essentially, and to vastly simplify (for the sake of a Hamilton reference), outreach staff are the Hamiltons of the library, and in-library staff are the Burrs.

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You see, outreach staff should be constantly (non-stop?) going out, talking, telling everyone about the library and what it has and what it can do, and yes, sometimes they should talk less and smile more, so they can learn from their community partners.

On the other hand, in-library staff can be a little more laid back–they can wait for users to come in, after they’ve been charmed by the outgoing Hamilton approach.

While both approaches can yield results, neither is as successful as when they both work together–which means no one in the library has to throw away their shot.

 

 

 

Where Do The Teens Go?

Where do the teens go? (saxophone solo) Where do the teens go?

I’ve long had a belief that service and programs in the public library, especially Youth Services (if you define Youth Services as 0-18), is a conveyor belt of sorts. We start with children in lapsit storytime, and our ultimate goal should be to create life-long library users who stay with us well into young adulthood.

I think that most public libraries do a pretty good job of getting kids from storytime to elementary programming, but start to lose those same kids during middle school. In my experience, middle school is rarely anyone’s favorite group or specialty. They’re hard to work with. They’re like toddlers, but bigger, and with more hormones. They’re trying on different personalities from day to day, and again, like toddlers, like to say no and push boundaries.

But you don’t have to (just) take my word for it!

The emergence of the middle school movement in the 1960s represented a milestone in the history of Human Development Discourse. This movement recognized that young adolescents are not simply older elementary school students nor younger high school students, but that there are dramatic changes that occur during this time of life requiring a radically different and unique approach to education. Middle school educators understood that the biological event of puberty fundamentally disrupts the relatively smooth development of the elementary school years and has a profound impact upon the cognitive, social, and emotional lives of young teens. In line with this important insight, they saw the need for the provision of special instructional, curricular, and administrative changes in the way that education takes place for kids in early adolescence. Among those changes were the establishment of a mentor relationship between teacher and student, the creation of small communities of learners, and the implementation of a flexible interdisciplinary curriculum that encourages active and personalized learning. (emphasis added)

I argue that middle school students require a unique approach to library programs, spaces, and services. Librarians for the middle school set can, and do, apply these same principles–a mentor relationship, small communities of learners, programming to appeal to interdisciplinary interests and encourage personalized learning.

Yet many libraries consider “Teen Services” 6th-12th grade, which is (in my opinion) a ridiculous age spread. A sixth grader has as much in common with a 12th grader as a baby does with a 5th grader. But so many libraries wonder why they are grappling with the question, “Where are the teens?” Can you imagine anyone being happy with your programs if you had lapsit lego time, or booktalked board books to a fourth grader? No! Then why do we do this disservice to our varied teen audiences?

But this approach doesn’t work for older teens who are in high school, which is where the 6th-12th “teen” melting pot really becomes sticky. 9th-12th graders are more firmly aware of who they are and what they want, and they have an increasing amount of autonomy.

By high school, youth are largely independent, making their own decisions about how to spend their time and exercising their increasing freedom. They are starting to think about what will come next for them postgraduation, and many have developed interests that they can pursue in youth programs. As a result, high school programs’ efforts to retain youth are different from those of middle school programs, as a provider acknowledged:

‘I think the high school programs are easy to run. I think a lot of times you have kids in a middle school program who may not want to be there, but it’s used as a form of afterschool day care by the parents who are working. I think once you get to the high school level, most of the participants really are motivated to be there, and they’re doing it because they want to—not because they have to.’ (emphasis added)

While librarian positions for early childhood have become more targeted–many libraries have a staff person in charge of early literacy programming, which is sometimes held by someone with a master’s in early childhood rather than an MLIS–and programs and materials for the elementary set have never been lacking, the expectation that one (or no!) teen librarian or a youth librarian who is interested in teens can adequately serve the entire population of sixth to twelfth graders in any one community is a bar set impossibly high.

(A lengthy aside, that perhaps deserves its own post: Serving audiences by age groupings is a popular model in libraries, and while it is a fine model, we must never forget that within any age group–from middle schoolers to senior citizens–there is a diverse range of interests and abilities, and when we program and develop collections, we need to hone in even further– twenty-something tech geeks are not interested in the same programs and resources as twenty-something organic backyard farmers. While age groupings can be a starting point, don’t forget to dig deeper.)

This also ties in to the discussion about where the Teen Librarian/staff should exist within the library ecosystem. In my experience, staff for teens are either part of Adult Services or Youth Services. (Although, sadly, sometimes there is no staff at all explicitly devoted to teen services, but just a children’s librarian or adult librarian with an interest in programming and/or literature for teens.) Both placement options have benefits and drawbacks.

I think in terms of collections, having teen books–and in this article, teen books are aimed at 9th grade and older–closer to the adult collection makes more sense. No self-respecting 16 year old wants to have to go into a children’s section for their reading material.

However, when it comes to programming, I believe that teen staff are better served by the programming know-how and collaborative nature of a youth department.

In my ideal and imaginary library, there would be the following full time positions, in terms of teams:

Middle School Team

  • Middle School Librarian (5th or 6th-8th, depending on where local middle schools put 5th grade; partners with Elementary staff for 5th grade)
  • Middle school outreach librarian (5th or 6th-8th grade, partners with Elementary staff for 5th grade)

High School Team

  • High School Librarian (9th-12th, but collaborates with Middle School staff for 7th/8th grades)
  • High School outreach librarian (9th to 12th, but again collaborates with Middle School Staff for 7th/8th grades)

Early Literacy Team

  • Early literacy librarian (0-3rd grade, partners with Elementary staff for 3rd grade, and with High School staff to provide services to teen moms/parents)
  • Early literacy outreach (0-3rd grade,partners with Elementary staff for 3rd grade, and with High School staff to provide services to teen moms/parents)

Elementary Team

  • Elementary librarian (3rd-5th, partners with both Early Literacy librarians for 3rd grade programming, and Elementary outreach librarian for 4th/5th)
  • Elementary outreach librarian (3rd-5th, again partners with both Early Literacy librarians for 3rd grade, and Elementary librarian for 4th/5th)

Further, the Adult Department would have a Young Adult librarian for 12th grade to early post college, and they’d collaborate with the High School Team.

Why does the Early Literacy team go up to third grade? Because early childhood is defined as such; when you are certified to teach Early Childhood, it goes up to 3rd grade/eight years old. Further, 3rd grade is typically a fraught time for emerging readers, and they can often use the support and skills provided by targeted early literacy programming.

I’ve lovingly collected several articles and posts for you about this very subject. Go forth, read, and learn.

3rd grade reading success matters

Grade level reading- 3rd grade

Early Warning: Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters

Early Warning Confirmed 

Middle School Students and Their Developmental Needs

Can’t Stop Talking Social Needs of Students in the Middle

Middle Schools Need to Focus on Caring and Connections

Developmentally Responsive Middle Grades Practices

Characteristics of Middle Grade Students

Developmental Differences Between Middle School and High School Programs – Engaging Older Youth: Program and City-Level Strategies

Are Middle School and High School Students Really That Different? Observations and Advice From MS/HS Teachers

Working with Middle and High School Friends: What Are the Developmental Differences?

Middle Schools: Social, Emotional, and Metacognitive Growth

CONNECT, CREATE, COLLABORATE: TEEN LIBRARIANS UNITE! THROW AWAY YOUR PICTURE BOOKS.

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.

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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.

Making Common Core Commonplace: On the Front Lines 2013

coreHi OTFL friends! Thank you so much for attending my presentation, and for the great conversation. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you want to talk more– I’d love to help.

Just a note–this post will be living organism over the next few weeks, so don’t fret– more information will be added.

Here are a few links to my work:

Resources from other sites

speak

via Howard Lake
via Howard Lake

I think my “ego” post actually contained within it several separate issues, all of which deserve their own careful looking over. Let’s do that, shall we?

first: speaking and keynotes.

I’ve been to several events where, as one commenter noted, the keynote speaker is someone famous who has just written a (usually awful) children’s book (because any idiot can churn out a book for kids, amirite?) and who blah blahs about how they LOVED libraries when they were kid or love libraries today or something else, then tell us why they just HAD TO TELL THEIR STORY in a MARKETABLE FORM.

Ugh. Gross. Don’t do that. Ever.

I say that both to the famous people in regards to writing children’s books, and to conference organizers who book them. There are so many wonderful authors who are also excellent speakers, why not book one of them?

Or, to be daring, why not book a straight up storyteller? (Ben Haggarty is one of my personal favorites). Instead of forcing your attendees to listen to some smarmy pap about “Go libraries” or “These are tough times, huh?” let them listen to a goddamn plain old good STORY. Of course, the theme will resonate with listeners, because a good storyteller will choose an apt tale, but the listeners will have to work for it. And they will appreciate it all the more that way.

Some of you might be thinking, why should I listen to a story? Because libraries are all about stories. Why do people read books? To read stories. Why do people read e-books? To carry a lot of stories with them in a portable form. Why do people need to create a resume? To tell the story of their work life. Why do people check out DVDs? To watch stories. Why do people create videos? To tell their story in a visual format. Why do people (sometimes, rarely, not often enough) access articles from our databases? To write a paper, or make a presentation, that tells a story. ET CETERA AND SO FORTH.

So libraries are about gaining access to stories, and, more recently, they are an avenue for creating and storing new ones. And shouldn’t we celebrate this fact with every keynote and every conference? This is not to say, of course, that non storytellers can’t tell a good story–it’s just a bit trickier, and that’s what the market has been glutted with in the past few years. I’m just saying…try something different, and see how it goes.

While I myself am well aware that I am not keynote level (I’m slogging along, paying my dues, very happily), off the top of my head I can think of five or six excellent women who work with youth who are at a point in their careers where I think they’d be damn fine keynote speakers. They’ve taught courses at the master’s level, published, and are all around engaging and inspiring. But librarians like that don’t seek the high profile engagements, because they are too busy, you know, being great librarians.

I don’t know how to get this to change. Does it need to come from a management level? Do public library directors and school principals need to push their staff more to engage with the profession on a larger stage? Perhaps. What do you think?

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

September, I remember

September, how did you get here so fast? Oh, yeah, summer reading (Ingrid breaks it down for you, animated gifs and all). And, oh, yeah, I have a new job (which makes another Ingrid link relevant).

I’m going from being a storytime all the time librarian to a school services coordinator librarian. It’s been hard to say goodbye to a community I’ve served for four years, but it’s an exciting opportunity, and I’m really looking forward to all the new duties, challenges and experiences ahead of me.

Since the playdough post was so popular, I wanted to pass on these links with more ideas: Garden Playdough from Bakers & Astronauts and Playdough Power from NAEYC

How was your summer? And what are you looking forward to this fall?