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.