Saturday, December 1, 2012

What I Did This Week: A Photo Essay

Earlier this week, I made a new bulletin board.

One of the things I like about our Children's Department Head is the fact that she will give me a general idea like, "How about a display called 'There's SNOW Better Time to Read'? We can have snowflakes with book covers on them...

...but feel free to run with that idea."

Earlier today I was at my other job and I looked like this...

Every year, the local businesses and institutions participate in a coordinated festival of seasonal whimsy that includes carriage rides and Santa riding around on a firetruck throwing candy to children. Santa had an event at the historical museum at noon, so the elves visited the library in the morning to read books, do crafts, and pass out cookies. I imagine that this is sort of what it's like to be a celebrity--people want to take a photo with you and are either awestruck and/or incredibly shy. Granted, these reactions are generally confined to children ages 3-7 and not the general populace, but it's close enough. (Toddlers are mostly indifferent to the elf aspect and are content to go about their business, which usually involves running around and making noise).

Overall, it's been a fun work week.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

It's the End of the Assignment as We Know It

Well, folks, this is it: the blog assignment has officially ended. I would ask where the semester went, but I am still struggling to accept the fact that it is November when just yesterday it was early October.

I am not 100% sure where I am going with this post, apart from saying that I'm kind of sad that the blog assignment is over. There is nothing quite like a deadline to kick me into action, although a large chunk of such work is often churned out at the last minute. I cannot tell you how many blogs I have started and then abandoned due to a lack of time--one of my classmates postulated that this particular habit of mine may be responsible for the fact that so many blog names are already taken. This seems like a reasonable theory to me. The part of this assignment that I really liked was the fact that I had to keep writing because it was an assignment for school. And if I don't do an assignment for school, I will get a bad grade in the class and NEVER GET INTO HARVARD.

(Note: Apart from a brief period in kindergarten when I believe that I was going to go to Harvard and have a dual career as the first woman president and a fashion model, I have never had serious Ivy League ambitions. Interestingly, this has had little effect on my internal logic in regard to academic performance).

But now the assignment is over and my continued posts have no weight on my academic career. My intent is to keep on posting about library-related things because this is a topic that I enjoy talking about. However, I feel obligated to warn readers that I have a terrible track record for this sort of thing. Taylor Swift could have written "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" about my relationship with blogs, although to be fair, my breaking up and getting back together with blogs is less reflective of an inability to commit and more of a symptom of a busy schedule.

Anyway, the point is that just because the assignment is over does not mean that the blog has to end. Given my track record, I'm reluctant to make promises about how this time it will be different, but I can promise to try my best. Hopefully, you'll hear from me soon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Comments from the Peanut Gallery #8, 9, & 10

Felicia has an interesting post about following a dress code while still maintaining a sense of individual style. You can read it (and my comment) here.

Guest ALSC blogger Caroline McKinley has a lovely post about the role of animals in libraries. Her library has a bird named Holly GoFlightly, which I think is completely adorable. You can read her post (and my comment) here.

And finally, YALSA blogger Linda W. Braun has an interesting post about the future of teen spaces. You can read her post (and my comment) here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Election News You've Been Waiting For: Vote For Books Results

I know that you are all have been waiting for the results of the most important election of the century:
Let me tell you a secret: I love making bulletin board displays. It's a combination of arts, crafts, and creativity that I thrive on and I consider myself very lucky to have a job where I get paid to do this (among other library-related tasks).

I put up the Vote for Books display in mid-October. Kids could pick up a ballot at the front desk and vote for one character from each category, or write in their own. Voting was limited to once per day and completed ballots were kept in an ultra secure shoebox that I repurposed as a fancy ballot box. On Wednesday, the election judges (me) tallied up the votes.

We had a total of 128 ballot submissions, which is a pretty great turnout for a small community. From what I observed, the kids enjoyed it--there were many earnest discussions about which characters were most deserving (one girl made a campaign button for her favorite character) and what winning the Vote for Books election actually meant (short answer: it's just for fun).
And in case you were curious, here are the candidates and the results (and a more detailed look at the display):

My reactions:
--I expected Picture Books to be a race between Fancy Nancy and The Pigeon, but Scaredy Squirrel trounced them both and actually got the highest number of votes in the entire election.
--The thought of Amelia Bedelia in any position of authority frankly terrifies me. I loved those books as a child, but she made me so nervous because I knew that she was going to mess up.
--I knew Fiction would be a close race between Harry Potter and Greg Heffley, but I expected a little more of a turnout for Judy Moody and Babymouse.

Overall, a fun and fairly easy display to create. Even if you are not an arts and craftsy type, you can do a modified version of this without much hassle.

Did anyone else do a similar display this past week? I'd love to hear about it!

You Canna' Take My (Intellectual) Freeeeeedom!!: Filtering Internet in Schools

The internet started to make an appearance in my classrooms around third grade--I have a dim memory of attempting to search the web for an encyclopedia article and being somewhat frustrated by the format. Until about sixth grade, the internet was present and accessible in my classrooms, but not used to the extent that it is today--this was in the days of dial-up and SLOO-OO-OOOW connection speeds, which I imagine had an effect on classroom use. But starting in sixth grade, internet research and online resources became more and more prevalent in my school assignments. Internet use was usually a classroom activity--my teachers would reserve the computer lab for the purpose of completing a particular assignment or working on ongoing projects. Lab time was supervised by the instructor and it was rumored that the school librarians could see what you were doing from a special program on the staff computers (it was not entirely clear whether or not this was true).

I remember being aware of one instance of a classmate viewing inappropriate content--a boy in my class got busted for printing out pictures of naked ladies and chihuahuas, although not both in the same pictures. The librarian seemed equally annoyed by the fact that he had wasted so much paper to do this. At the time, my reaction was primarily one of disbelief: it seemed like the kind of thing that you do when you are deliberately trying to get caught.

I don't remember my middle school or elementary school computers being filtered, but high school was a different story. My high school years coincided with the emergence of social networking, which apparently presented a problem for the administration. Xanga, an early blogging site that was popular with a lot of girls in my class, was blocked my junior year, along with MySpace. Facebook opened up to high school students during my senior year, and for a while, the administration was not wise to this great secret. They eventually caught on and Facebook was similarly blocked. While we didn't find ways around the filters, we did change our browsing habits to avoid the filters--Facebook and Xanga might be blocked, but Text Twist on Yahoo! Games was absolutely fine.

The most frustrating part of these actions was the fact that it seemed that the administration could not trust us enough to make decisions on our own. The blocking of social media sites was largely justified by the fact that it was not school-related, regardless of the fact that some use of the sites occurred during study hall or lunch periods. It was not considered useful, so it was banned.

One of my teachers used to tell us, "It's a private school: you check your rights at the door," which I suppose is true to a certain extent. But even if that is the case, is there not an intrinsic value in treating students with respect?

I don't know if they still filter or block sites--there's been some significant turnover in the administration since I graduated, so things may have changed. The explosion of social media and the advent of the smart phone (in high school, I was rocking a silver flip phone with no camera and limited internet connection that I was not allowed to use because it was something like $1.99/minute) may make it futile to restrict internet access on school grounds. So, if technology has taken the teeth out of filtering software, what do you do?

Filtering or blocking cannot and should not be mistaken or substituted for supervision or education. Blocking Facebook did not teach me about the dangers of internet predators, nor did it convince me that it's a waste of time: the only thing it taught me was that the administration didn't really understand or care about my information needs. So what's to be done? Instead of wasting time and energy trying to restrict and control access to technology, why not use it for your own educational purposes? Show kids how to use social networking to collaborate on projects or share ideas. Lead classes on internet safety, including cyberbullying. Teach kids how to incorporate web and print materials into research projects. Help kids find resources and tools that reflect their interests and needs (Power Point too boring? Try Prezi. Difficulty organizing? Try Things or One Note). Respecting the needs of your patrons goes a heck of a lot farther than condescension, regardless of the age of the patron.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Comments from the Peanut Gallery #6 & #7

Bethany has a great post on the tragedy/comedy of Lexile numbers and the necessity of their presence in the catalog. You can read her post (and my comment) here.

Margaret had a very interesting post on technology and teens. You can read her post (and my comment) here.

The Fallacy of the Lazy Librarian

I've brushed on this topic before in some earlier posts, but I wanted to devote a little more space to it, as it's something that seems to be relatively prevalent. While working at the desk, I've heard variations of the following:

1). "You need a Master's in order to be a librarian?"
2). "Working in a library must be so much fun! I'd love to read all day!"
3). "Are you a volunteer?"
4). "Librarians just organize books and shelve."
5). "Why are you going to school for library science? What can you actually do with that?"
6). "Are all of these books donations?"
Et cetera.

I admit this can be maddening. Who wants to have their profession and passion reduced to an amusing hobby, at best? It's not a nice feeling. But the thing is that for the most part, people don't ask this question to be condescending or rude: they ask because they honestly don't know. It is, in its essence, a reference question. The difference is that we are perhaps more emotionally and personally involved with this question than, say, a query about stock prices from August 1943. So it makes it harder to be detached. However, the hallmark of our profession is providing access to information without imposing personal judgment, preferences, or taking personal offense. Why should inquiries about the profession itself be the exception to the rule?

This issue comes up frequently in the context of youth services. If librarians are lazy, children's librarians are the laziest because all they do is read picture books and sing songs. They work with kids all day, and kids are funny and always well-behaved, right?

I will be the first to admit that working with kids is a lot of fun and very rewarding. It is also a heck of a lot of work. Part of doing good work in children's services seems to necessitate hiding the hard work. Our main patron service group is children; our priority is providing them with library services and access to library information and materials. While I've had some children ask me about what I do all day at the library or what I'm working on, the majority are not interested in what I'm doing--their priority is finding whatever it is they're looking for. They're not interested why these stories were selected for storytime or why we ordered this book instead of another one. 

So, are we still obligated to explain our roles if they are not immediately apparent or relevant to the patron's needs? I don't have a very good answer for that. I think we can justify the necessity of libraries and librarians through excellent service. I also think there are some areas where we can be more upfront about what we do behind the scenes. And we need to learn to bristle less and explain more when patrons ask about what we do, which I know is much easier said than done.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

It's My Library and I'll Cry if I Want To: Dealing with Conflict

I confess that this post is not strictly related to youth services--it's more about the general skills of librarianship. But it's something that I wanted to write about because I think it's an important moment in my professional growth (or whatever you want to call it).

I should explain first that I am a crier. Some people get mad or loud or really, really quiet when exposed to conflict. I cry. I am the sort of person who cries at the end of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which is not a particularly sad movie in the slightest. I have always been this way and it's not something that I'm particularly embarrassed about or frustrated with on a general level--it's just part of who I am.

Despite the fact that I have grown to accept my weepy tendencies, the fact is that it's not always convenient. In fact, I would venture to say that it is rarely, if ever, convenient. This is especially true for professional settings.

The reality of public librarianship is that you have to work with the public. Most of the time, this is a wonderful and excellent privilege because it allows you to work with all kinds of wonderful and excellent people. But even wonderful and excellent people have flaws and bad days, and sometimes, you end up with a Very Angry Person at your desk.

I do not like being yelled at. I certainly do not like being yelled at for things that are not my fault or are beyond my control as an individual library employee (you would be amazed by the number of people who seem to think I personally have something to do with the most inconvenient aspects of Illinois state law). But the great and challenging thing about my job and this profession is that it has very little to do with me and everything to do with the person who comes to the desk looking for help. My job is to help them, whether they want to find a book or angrily soliloquize about their overdue fines.

It's easier said than done, but it can be done--actually, the more I've dealt with these situations, the better I feel about them. Ninety percent is knowing what to say: the policies to cite, how to explain them, what alternatives to offer, when to turn the situation over to the director or a coworker. Every situation like this is an opportunity to learn and practice.

The reason that I wanted to write about this today was because of a situation that I handled recently. This person was angry and frustrated for a variety of reasons that I won't go into here. Had this situation taken place a few years ago when I was a new library employee, I would have cried in the staffroom after it was over.

But I didn't. I explained the library's policy and corresponding laws clearly. I offered what alternatives I could. I told her that I understood her frustration and explained why I could not offer the option that she wanted. I was polite, but firm. And after she left, I was a little frustrated, but I didn't feel like crying.

It may sound silly, but I'm so proud of myself for that small victory.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Comments from the Peanut Gallery #5

Bethany is gearing up for Teen Read Week and it sounds like a lot of fun! Read more about it (and my comments about big dreams vs. reality) here.

Great Expectations: Children and Non-Fiction

One of the more interesting and challenging aspects of helping kids find non-fiction books is that their expectations often far exceed either library budget or the scope of the publishing industry. For example,  I've had questions like:

"We have to make a model of the Congo River Valley for class. Do you have a book on how to make a model of the Congo River Valley using things like papier mache and sticks? 
"Do you have any children's biographies on Machine Gun Kelly?" 
"I'm doing a project. Do you have a book about the history of root beer and how to make root beer?"

These questions are almost always compounded by the fact that the teacher wants them to use a book source and not any websites. While I firmly believe in the importance of teaching kids how to research using print materials, I always bristle at teachers who seem to believe that legitimate research excludes anything that may be found on the web. It is so, so, so important to teach kids how to use the web for academic work! With books, there's this (perhaps undeserved) idea that print is free from error, whereas the web is a handful of facts scattered in a minefield of lies. There are some really great resources on the web and it is just as important to teach kids how to identify and use those resources in addition to print resources. There are also many web databases that offer digitized versions of print books and journals. I cannot tell you how many times I've had this conversation: 

"This isn't quite the same thing as a website. This is a digitized version of a book--you are accessing it through the internet instead of looking at the print copy. If you looked at the print copy, it would be exactly the same as what's on the screen--you're just accessing it differently." 
(skeptical look) "I dunno, my teacher said I can't use more than three internet resources..."

However, I've digressed a bit from my initial point, which is that kids have high expectations for very specific materials. I have learned how to reform their question and show them how to use a number of resources to find the information that they need: "Well, I'm not sure that we have a book that is specifically about making a model of the Congo River Valley, but let's take a look at some of these craft books..." For the most part, this works well: the kid gets some information and hopefully learns a little bit about how to find information in the library.

And occasionally, I'm quite pleasantly surprised by what I find during this process. Case in point: this weekend, a girl asked me for help in finding some books on a rare kind of frog. I pulled a couple of non-fiction books before wandering over to the reference section where I found it: a full three-page article about the rare frog. I was thrilled--I hadn't expected to find anything beyond a passing mention. So perhaps the lesson here is that hope in reference work is sometimes rewarded--ask for the impossible and sometimes you might find it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Some of the Best Books Are Banned: Banned Books Week

As you are most likely aware, it is Banned Books week. Today I made this display:

While this project was done in my capacity as the interlibrary loan manager/general adult services sidekick, it concerns youth services in that most banned/challenged books are challenged/banned in order to "protect the children." Case in point:

The fact that Captain Underpants is so often on the chopping block never ceases to amaze and amuse me. Are we as a society really concerned that our children might think underpants are funny? (Hint: it's too late. This is a commonly held belief). Do the amusing qualities of underpants really qualify as Serious Business that should not be Taken Lightly?

The perceived problems with this particular title are sexual content and setting a poor example. The presence of sexual content is fuzzy at best. I've outlined it in a flowchart:

1. There are underpants in this book.
2. Underpants are worn over underparts.
3. Underparts are involved in sex.
4. By using the power of the transitive property, you can conclude that this book has SEXUAL CONTENT.

The notion of "setting a bad example" has a little more merit in that it actually exists in this book--the protagonists are poor students and notorious cutups. The issue here is that "a bad example" is so subjective that it is difficult to enforce in terms of defining suitable content. Some people might believe that Captain Underpants should be banned because the kids set a bad example; however, there are others who might argue that people who try to ban books set a bad example by trying to force individual values and beliefs upon the larger community.

There was another issue unrelated to Captain Underpants that I came across while making this display, and that's the idea of silence. A lot of books have been banned or challenged because they contain elements that are objectionable--racism, sex, foul language, etc. Take To Kill a Mockingbird. This book is frequently challenged because it contains accounts of racism. But what I can't quite wrap my brain around is this: the book talks about racism in order to show why it is wrong and how it creates a society that is unkind and unjust. How is that an unsuitable or dangerous idea?

The other problem that accompanies this is the idea that difficult issues should not be discussed with children. It is true that not every child is intellectually and emotionally prepared to take on the problems of racism, sexism, violence, or what have you, but is it not just as harmful to pretend that these issues do not exist? It often seems that situations where material is "unsuitable" for children are really code for "I don't feel like exploring the complexities of this issue or answering the questions that a child might have." The importance of dialogue cannot be understated--with dialogue, adults have the opportunity to help children understand and think about difficult issues. With silence, the opportunity to learn and understand is lost.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Comments from the Peanut Gallery #4

Anne had an interesting post with some good questions about program registration. You can read it (and my comment) here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Trivial Pursuits: Patronizing "Young People"

I fully admit that I am someone who will occasionally yell at the computer, newspaper, or whatever book I happen to be reading when I come across something that bothers me. Today I read something that just about sent me into orbit. In the interest of not accidentally starting an internet war, I will not mention the website by name (although those of you who are working on the Digital Collections assignment in 501 might be able to figure it out). The site in question was a resource guide for teens on a variety of subjects. While it had some fairly significant issues, the part that really floored me was the following line from their user submission page:

“We couldn’t figure young people out…then we had a brainstorm: STOP TRYING! Instead, we’ll give you a theme, a space to write, the promise to post your moderately relevant responses and see what happens.”


Would you ever dream of saying something like that to an adult? Let’s try it. Replace the word “young people” with “the elderly” or “middle aged people” or “parents” or “baby boomers.” When you put it in that context, it seems kind of rude, right? But it’s not just the context: it’s just rude! This statement trivializes an individual’s needs, desires, likes and dislikes, and human qualities based on the fact that the person saying it “doesn’t get it.” You don’t have to “get it” in order to be an effective youth services librarian—you have to embrace and respect it in order to be an effective youth services librarian.

And “young people”? Really? Can we pick something a little less patronizing?

There are other things that bothered me, but it’s getting late and I’ve already expended way too much energy getting worked up about this. I’d also love to hear what other people think about this. Leave a comment and let me know.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

It's the little things...

One of the great things about working with kids is that you sometimes get to hear conversations like this:

Little girl, wearing a cape: Hi! I'm an evil vampire librarian!

Coworker: Oh goodness! Well, do you have to be evil?

Little girl: No. But I am a vampire. And a librarian.

Any child who comes to the library in a cape is already my favorite, but this girl is a very rare blend of awesome. She made my day.

Comments from the Peanut Gallery #3

I love, love, love Amanda's latest post about her real life experiences with our class readings. You can read it here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Little Loud: Noise and Children

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. The shushing librarian is a stereotype, but I think it's (finally) becoming rather dated. Most of the public libraries that I have visited embrace reasonable levels of conversation, which I think is wonderful. I've also seen some libraries dedicate space to silence--a quiet reading room or reference area that is shut off from the rest of the library. I like this approach because it accommodates people who want to work quietly without silencing the rest of the library space. While I don't necessary advocate shouting in the library, I do think that as an information center, we have to accommodate a certain amount of noise. People should be able to ask questions in a normal speaking voice without feeling scolded or chastised.

So where do children fit into this? Well, sometimes they don't. As I've discussed before, children are new people. They are still learning about general societal rules and expectations--some are more advanced than others. This means that sometimes you are going to get a toddler who is very excited that he found a book about A TRUCK! and he would like to share that joy with you. Or, alternatively, you will encounter a toddler who is deeply, deeply hurt and shocked by his mother's suggestion that he put on a coat because it is cold outside. "NO COAT! NO COOOOAT!!" he will shriek while flinging himself onto the floor, sobbing hysterically.

Both of these situations present a disruption of some sort to the library environment. So what do you do?

Here's my feeling: toddlers have a right to use this space. They have the same right to use this space as any adult. And not just toddlers, but children in general. The perception of children as sub-par library patrons comes from the phenomenon that Warner discusses in the passage I posted earlier: the tendency to recognize negative qualities in children as unique to children, rather than human qualities. Sure, sometimes toddlers are not ideal library patrons; sometimes they throw tantrums at the circulation desk. But how is that any different from an adult who berates a staff member about her fine balance? If you look at it from that perspective, the toddler has a better excuse: it's a developmental stage. The adult theoretically knows better.

I think that this issue is best handled on an individual basis. We need to recognize that children have a right to use this space and that, like adults, sometimes they won't be ideal patrons. Rather than placing limits or casting judgments, would it not be more effective to change how we react? A screaming toddler, for instance, is often placated by the opportunity to help stamp the due date stamp on the book. Creative problem-solving, flexibility, and forgiveness allow more useful and inclusive solutions for the child and other patrons--plus, the parents appreciate it.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Comments from the Peanut Gallery #2

Julia had a very thoughtful analysis of the recent kerfuffle over NPR's 100 Best Ever Teen Novels. You can read it (and my comment) here:

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Stigmas Might Actually Hurt Me

I have the pleasure and privilege of working with the librarian who got me hooked on libraries as a child. Earlier last week I was chatting with her about youth services and she mentioned that she had recently read an article about how many libraries (public and school) are putting non-librarians in charge of the children's department in order to save on costs. This conversation got me thinking about a couple of things:

1). Why is there a pervasive assumption that "anyone" can run a children's department?

I think that a large part of this has to do with the fact that part of being an effective children's librarian is making the job look easy. Toddlers do not enjoy storytime because they know it enhances their early literacy skills; they enjoy storytime because the person leading it is fun and engaging. The librarian leading storytime has a dual responsibility of being fun and engaging while also thinking about those deeper issues, like early literacy skills and programming. This dual role requires a great amount of creativity, professionalism, and critical thought on the part of the librarian. So why is it not immediately recognized for what it is? I think part of it has to do with the fact that the more professional role is not always immediately visible to the average observer--by and large, a patron will only see the end result of a storytime program and not any of the preparation that went into the creation of the program. Same applies to selection and deselection, and even in-person services like reader's advisory and reference.

2). How can we truthfully say that children are a priority if we find it too inconvenient to employ professional children's librarians?

There is an inherent hypocrisy here: children are so important, but not important enough to justify the expense of employing a professional children's librarian. I'm not disputing the fact that sometimes budget constraints mean difficult choices; rather, I am taking issue with the idea of justifying eliminating or reducing children's services based on this misguided perception of professional worth and ability. There are also implications and judgments about the value of children as people--namely, that they are less needful of professionals because their needs and existence are so simple. The chapter from the Warner book touches on this concept in its discussion of being "for the children"--it's an admirable ideal that is rarely put into useful practice.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Cooperation over Competition: Public Libraries and Public Schools

I will begin this post with a disclaimer. It was my intent to avoid issues that were either vaguely or overtly political because the internet has a habit of remembering these things and I live and work in a small town. However, after reading two articles about impending teacher strikes, I got to thinking about the relationship between public libraries and public schools and I thought, “Hey, this might be an interesting blog post.”

So here we are.

Perhaps characterizing this issue as political is a bit of a misnomer. It’s political, certainly, but I suppose the point of this post is not to take a side—rather, I want to pose some questions.

But first, some background. Chicago Public School teachers are planning to go on strike tomorrow if negotiations fail. There is impassioned debate from all sides of the issue.

I think that everyone can agree that these are difficult times for taxpayer-supported institutions. Nickels are scrutinized; organizations are forced to justify their existence in a way that they have not had to before. In some cases, it pits institutions against each other because public money has become limited.

My question is this: how can we insure the continued cooperation of public libraries and public school libraries when the competition for resources intensifies?

The last thing that I want to see is public schools pitted against public libraries, but sometimes I wonder if the current economic climate might push us to that extreme. (I should also note that Mayor Emanuel's initial proposal for the city's budget cut $6 million in funding to the Chicago Public Library). The fact is that we need both: schools cannot replace libraries and libraries cannot replace schools. The cooperative relationship between public libraries and public schools enhances youth services in both institutions. But when the existence of public institutions gets reduced to numbers and dollar signs, distinctions become blurry and the effects of cooperative services are minimized (“If schools already have libraries then we don’t need a children’s department in the public library…”). What can we do as professionals to insure that this is more clearly understood by lawmakers and taxpayers? And how do we go about doing that without resorting to competing for tax dollars?

Comments from the Peanut Gallery #1

Caitlyn had a really interesting post about the objectification of female bodies on YA books:

I posted a comment, but either it is awaiting moderation or the Internet ate it. Hopefully it'll turn up.

Little Angels, Little Monsters in the Library

One of my favorite parts of reading is finding a book or a passage in a book that expresses something that I have been struggling to articulate. While preparing for our class meeting tomorrow, I had that kind of moment while reading the third chapter of Marina Warner's Six Myths of Our Time:

"[...] the difference of the child from the adult has become a dominant theme in contemporary mythology. In literature, this has produced two remarkable dream figures living in voluntary exile from grown-up society--Kipling's unforgettably vivid Mowgli, and J. M. Barrie's cocky hero, the boy who wouldn't grow up, Peter Pan. Both reveal the depth of adult investment in a utopian childhood state. This can lead to disillusion, often punitive and callous, with the young as people" (45).

"The difficulty is that by angling such material at children in particular, the pleasure they took in it marked out bloodthirstiness, fearlessness, and even callousness as childish--rather than universally human--characteristics" (51).  
Aren't those great?

What resonated with me was the idea that children are people. I would expand on Warner's point to add that children are not only people--they are new people. It's such a simple concept, but I think it's something that easily lost and not articulated very often. I think the dissonance between adult understanding of the child's experience often stems from the fact that adults forget the wonder and terror of being new to the world. Case in point: a few months ago one of my coworkers was making a copy at the public printer. She hit "start," the machine whirred, and when the paper came out, the five-year-old who was standing at the circulation desk ran over and shouted "Whoa! HOW DID YOU DO THAT?!"

I wanted to blog about these passages because they also articulated a significant chunk of my philosophy of librarianship. One of the reasons I kept coming back to the library was the fact that the children's librarian treated me like a person--I was not "just a kid" or a miniature adult. She saw me as a human being and a friend. It seems like such a small and obvious thing, but it made all of the difference in the world to me then and it guides my professional philosophy today.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Origin Story and Explanation of This Blog's Title

When I was a kid, I used to get grounded from the library.

This sounds much more dramatic than it actually was. I only got grounded from the library on one or two occasions, and then only because I made the mistake of misbehaving on a night that we were planning on going to the library. My parents were not Dickensian villains with a vendetta against childhood literacy; they fostered and encouraged my love of reading. They also believed that if a child were to perhaps pick a fight with her younger brother, that child should experience consequences for her behavior, such as not allowing that child to do something that she wanted to do. And what I wanted to do more than nearly anything else was visit the library.

My avid patronage of the library had a lot to do with books, certainly, but I loved the library because of the librarians. The children's librarian was so good at helping me find books that I absolutely loved--Alanna, Dealing with Dragons, Beauty, and so many others. I memorized her schedule so that I could time my visits accordingly. She didn't seem to mind that I was shy, awkward, and bookish--she embraced it. She never treated me like I was "just a kid"--she saw value in my thoughts and ideas. In the children's department, I was always free to be myself.

"Grounded from the Library" refers to the idea of the library as a place where people want to be, and it reflects my general philosophy of librarianship, particularly within the realm of youth services. This may seem trite, but I keep returning to this particular idea because it can be lost amongst professional jargon; "fun" is not necessarily a concept that goes hand-in-hand with, say, metadata. Granted, metadata plays a very important role in libraries--however, it wasn't metadata that kept me coming back to the library as a child.