Books in the Family

By Gwen Vanderhage, MLIS

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“Art is something that makes you breathe with a different kind of happiness.” ~ Anni Albers

In some families, there runs a thread of common traits, common interests, or particular talent. We see it with athletes like the Manning family, political dynasties, or some of the legendary acting families like the Barrymores. There are also family partnerships and dynasties in the world of children’s picture books. Three of the most successful picture book families happen to be African American and mixed. These are families who contribute mightily to the diversity shelves with their personal and universal stories.

Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers

1 Illustrator Families

Image credit: wbur.org

Walter Dean Myers is best known for his gripping teen novels exploring African American identity and urban life, as well as his powerful historical novels and biographies. He also authored many picture books. Christopher Myers, his son, was immersed in the craft of publishing from an early age and always dreamed of illustrating his father’s books. Before he was a teenager, Christopher began winning art contests and even had his art published in a children’s magazine. The two became collaborators when Christopher Myers was in college; he received a 1998 Caldecott Honor for their first picture book together, “Harlem.” Ultimately, the two would collaborate on five picture books, all of them featuring poetry written by Walter Dean Myers. Christopher Myers illustrated several of his father’s novels, as well.

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Both illustrators brought exceptional talent and detail to their books. What’s more, they took immense pride in each other’s work and had real affection for each other, which is immediately obvious in reading interviews of them, or seeing them in person at book events — as I was lucky enough to do. In his chapter about their family in “Pass It Down,” Leonard Marcus writes about how both of them were worried about letting the other down in their collaborations. Christopher held his father’s writing in high regard, while Walter had great respect for his son’s art and never wanted him to feel judged when they worked together.

Since Walter Dean Myers’ death in 2014, Christopher Myers has been an outspoken advocate for the need to see diverse people and viewpoints in publishing. He is the creative director of the Make Me a World imprint at Random House, which published its first books this fall, to great acclaim. He has also been an ambassador of his father’s legacy. In his acceptance speech for his father’s Children’s Literature Legacy Award (American Library Association, 2019), he said:

You told us about young people like you were, ambitious and fearful, guarded and loving, intimidated and brave. Mixed-up and beautiful. You told me that the reward of a story was in the growth of a character, that no one cared about superheroes unless they had a weakness, a vulnerability that was a strength. That is what every child, in classrooms and prisons, riding subways or walking through cornfields, recognizes in these books you’d written and themselves. Kids who have been painted with masks, like thug or good-for-nothing, threat or fear; first you saw in them, yourself, and then articulated all that vulnerability, lightness, sweetness, and love.

This family that speaks to the importance of seeking out stories and voices, and telling your own, has made the Myers legacy one for all readers.

Donald Crews, Ann Jonas, and Nina Crews

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Image credit: nccil.org

Donald Crews and Ann Jonas met at art school in the 1950s and shared careers and family from then on. In the 1960s, the two found most of their work in jacket design for books, before Donald published his first picture book, “We Read: A to Z.” It wasn’t until after Crews received a Caldecott Honor for his now-classic “Freight Train” that Ann began publishing ground-breaking picture books of her own. She was inspired by her two daughters, Nina and Amy, and included them as characters or models in most of her books. Nina Crews, now an adult and celebrated picture book maker in her own right, remembers being around her parents’ art and supplies all her life. In their family, creativity was celebrated in everything they did. They visited museums often, Ann made her daughters’ clothes, and the parents built their children toys like a play kitchen and dollhouse. This environment allowed for freedom of experimentation, and while Nina has followed in her parents’ footsteps, her artistic style is entirely her own. Nina Crews’ work mixes photography and collage, and features her father and her sister’s children as models.

The Pinkney Family

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Jerry Pinkney is one of the most celebrated American children’s illustrators working today. He won the 2010 Caldecott Medal for his interpretation of Aesop’s “The Lion and the Mouse” and has won numerous Caldecott honors, Coretta Scott King awards, and lifetime achievement awards from those same bodies, in addition to awards and honors outside of the American Library Association. Working from his home studio, Jerry Pinkney has spent a lifetime sharing his art with his family. His wife, Gloria Pinkney, was a milliner, silversmith, and storyteller before becoming an author. Together, they strove to fill their home with inspiration — common areas full of art supplies, dance and drama classes, and no television. The children made toys out of balsa wood or pipe cleaners; they dressed up in costumes and modeled for their father’s paintings. Eventually, all of the Pinkneys’ four children became artists in different disciplines.

Brian Pinkney was the most interested in his father’s artistic process and wanted to do whatever his father was doing. Brian published his first picture book in 1983, just after graduating college. While he was finding work as an illustrator, Brian was dissatisfied with painting and started working with scratchboard drawing. Over the years, his own style has become more recognizable and different from his father’s. He has written picture books of his own, while mainly illustrating the words of others. He has his own shelf of medals, Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards and two Caldecott honors.

Gloria Jean has gone on to author her own picture books, most of them illustrated by her husband or sons Brian and Myles.

Myles Pinkney is a photographer who has contributed to books by his mother and has collaborated on picture books with his wife, Sandra L. Pinkney. Their book “Shades of Black” won an NAACP Image Award.

Andrea Davis Pinkney is a best-selling and award-winning author who married into the Pinkney family. She has received Coretta Scott King Author Awards and authored the books for which her husband, Brian Pinkney, earned Caldecott honors. The two have collaborated on 20 children’s books, in addition to their own critically-acclaimed projects.

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The third generation of Pinkney artists is beginning to make their way in the publishing world this year. Granddaughter Charnelle Pinkney Barlow (daughter of Myles and Sandra) has her first book out in January 2020. In “Just Like a Mama,” Charnelle illustrates a text by Alice Faye Duncan. Charnelle’s art can be found on Instagram, where she has also been featuring her textile prints and designs @callmechartreuse.

Family talents and values really do make a lasting impact. My own family features several generations of teachers and readers. I know that my childhood experiences — from my mom reading aloud, to library trips when staying with my grandmother, and the crates of new books my reading specialist aunt would drive over to share — these all made a critical impact on the children’s librarian I am today. Do you have a family passion or talent passed on to you? Tell us about it in the comments.

Sources:

“2019 Children’s Literature Legacy Award Acceptance by Christopher Myers on Behalf of Walter Dean Myers” — Horn Book, June 24, 2019

Pass It Down: Five Picture-Book Families Make Their Mark — by Leonard S. Marcus

“The Pinkney Family: In the Tradition” — Horn Book, January 10, 1996

“The Pinkneys are a Picture Book Perfect, Author-Illustrator Couple” — NPR, August 11, 2019

Seeing Into Tomorrow: Haiku by Richard Wright — written by Richard Wright and illustrated by Nina Crews

“A Visit with Charnelle Pinkney Barlow” — Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, September 30, 2019

 

Gwen Vanderhage - 2.5 x 3

Gwen

After spending many years as a children’s librarian and collection development specialist at Denver Public Library, Gwen joined Brodart to share her passion for children’s literature with as many different libraries as possible. Click here for more.

The Five Laws of Library Science

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By Scott Piepenburg, MLIS

Every profession has some basic philosophies or guidelines that they follow. For doctors, the Hippocratic Oath is perhaps the most well-known. Police officers often adopt the concept of “to protect and serve,” while firefighters often use the phrase “Everyone comes back alive.” Librarians, too, have such a concept of service. This service guide should not be confused with a code of ethics or a code of conduct. It is not a code, but rather a concept, or philosophy, that the profession has used as a guide for what we do.

The most frequently used foundations of philosophy for librarians are often called the five laws of library science or Ranganathan’s Code. They were developed in 1931 by Indian librarian S. R. Ranganathan. While they have been modified and attempts have been made to update them, we will consider them in their original, basic form, as that form has been the most enduring.

For reference, the laws are:

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every person his or her book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism.

They are very simple, yet together constitute a basic, and evolutionary, path. Let’s briefly walk through the laws and their progression.

1. Books are for use.

shutterstock_127278632This is the foundation of what we as librarians do. We believe that books are to be used. For many centuries, books were inaccessible to users. Because of their value, they were frequently chained down, and only select individuals were allowed access to them. Then, when they became more plentiful, they were still kept locked away because it was felt that the average person should not have free access to them. If you wanted a book, you would write down its location derived from a catalog and “call” for the book at the circulation desk (yes, this is where the phrase call number comes from).

In America, Benjamin Franklin and the founding fathers adopted a more egalitarian philosophy. Books would be readily accessible to users via an “open” collection. This is where the terms closed stacks and open stacks come from. It was believed that in a democracy, the population at large should have access to books, a concept Thomas Jefferson strongly believed in.

2. Every person his or her book.

shutterstock_294833369This second law expands on the first by taking the assumption that books are for use to the next level. It states that each person has a desire, or need, for a book. It is important to note that not every person will want the same book at the same time; on the contrary, it presumes that people will want different books at different times. Even people who are very similar may want different types of books at any given time. Here we accept that all people want, and have a right to, the book they want when they want it. This concept leads us to our next point.

3. Every book its reader.

Having assumed in the first two laws that books are an inherent good and that every person should have access to them, this law looks at the other side: it presumes that every book has a reader. Some books, like those in the “Harry Potter” series, achieve widespread sales and readership. Others, particularly technical or research books, have a much more limited audience. That being said, this law assumes that if a book exits, then somewhere, sometime, there is a reader for that book. This law states that there is a reader for every particular book. It may not be today, and it may not be widespread, but there is a reason for the existence of that book.

4. Save the time of the reader.

shutterstock_386315788This is the first law that points to us as librarians. The first three looked at the source of our existence, both items (or “products”) and customers. Now we are looking at what our purpose is. There are many books, articles, and classes devoted to what we do for our users as librarians, both in public and technical services. But this rule states it very simply: our users’ time is valuable, and it is our obligation to save it. They could spend hours poring over catalogs, databases, finding aids, thesauri, etc., or we could intercede and help them—or disambiguate their search, if you will. We have specialized skills and training to help readers find what they are looking for as efficiently as possible. Our goal is to help every reader find their book, and to help the book find someone who desires the information it contains. These two concepts could be summed up as “reference/cataloging” and “reader’s advisor.”

5. The library is a growing organism.

This last rule reminds us that we are not a static venture. Our users grow and change, books change, and we need to change with them. Notice that the law says “the library” is a growing organism. It presumes that the library is a living, breathing entity. It means that it grows and changes over time. The books we purchase and house in our collections will change with the times and our audience. Libraries in a given location may notice a change in their demographics and devote changes in collection development to address that change. Our collections become dated, many items irrelevant, and like an shutterstock_150822401overgrown garden, we weed our collections and remove those items that don’t have as many readers or readers in that specific location to make space for new books and new readers.

We are not going to go into all the issues of collection and staff development here, but suffice to say that our collections—along with the librarians who tend to them—change, morph, and adapt to evolving times and situations. As our users and resources grow and change, we also must change and grow so that we can be better stewards of those resources.

This is not a comprehensive look at the laws of library science. Indeed, many books and scholarly articles have been written about them. That said, in five short statements, we find the embodiment of what we do, why we do it, and how we can do it effectively. Each day we need to keep those concepts at the heart of our efforts and focus. It is why we are librarians.

Scott Piepenburg Image

Scott Piepenburg is currently the Cataloging Services Manager at Brodart and is the author of the popular Easy MARC series, as well as articles on the future of library automation, the history of disc-based recording technology, and the role of cataloging AV materials for school and public libraries. Click here for more.

 

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Holiday Displays

By Stephanie Campbell, MLIS

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Which holidays to observe and/or celebrate at your library is a local decision, sometimes to the chagrin and confusion of staff and patrons alike. Libraries are, at their core, inclusive: accepting and sensitive to all community members and their respective races, ethnicities, cultures, and religions. But it’s hard to please everyone.

When to be open and when to be closed?

Federal holidays are generally a safe bet in that closing the library is acceptable—but that doesn’t mean that you or your patrons have to like it or understand it. Controversy surrounds what is/isn’t or should/shouldn’t be a “holiday,” and observance can differ across the country. No matter what you do, you will probably always hear someone say “I’m surprised you’re open” or “I couldn’t believe you were closed.”

shutterstock_543130312Keep in mind that your library holiday schedule is negotiable. State library standards may limit how many days you are closed per year, but do not specify which ones. Perhaps your board would consider letting you close for a different purpose or trade one holiday closure for another.

Scheduling professional and personal development opportunities can also be a struggle for libraries. Rather than honoring Presidents Day and Columbus Day as holidays, perhaps you could close for staff training or community service? In other words, if you’re going to close for Columbus Day, devote it to staff development and make that known. It’s not because you care more about Cristoforo Colombo than indigenous peoples (as some might infer).

Some argue that purely religious holidays shouldn’t be observed at all by public institutions. This article from The New York Times provides historical insight into what constitutes federal holidays and also helps those who struggle with explaining why libraries observe some, but not others.

Opening the day after Thanksgiving was the bane of my existence as a library manager, as many staff like to travel then. And because we were always open the weekend after Thanksgiving, I argued that staff deserved two days off for Thanksgiving.

Conversely, while many municipalities close for Good Friday, I considered it superfluous for my library to be closed that day. Our community had a significant Jewish population; therefore the library was closed both Saturday and Sunday for Easter and Passover. Being closed on Good Friday would have meant a three-day shut down—something many libraries are loath to do. After surveying my staff, I proposed to our library board that we trade Good Friday off for Black Friday off.

I stressed that this wasn’t sanctioning one holiday over another, rather providing the opportunity for staff to spend extra time with their families. Patrons and boards who love their libraries generally love their library staff and are happy to see them rewarded in this way. And it worked! The board approved this change when they voted on the upcoming year’s calendar.

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Think about whether your decorations, displays, story times, and other programming should be holiday-focused. I’ve found that a lack of holiday-themed programming goes largely unnoticed, whereas you will definitely hear about it when patrons feel something is exclusionary or inappropriate. One person’s time-honored tradition is another person’s pagan ritual. Should libraries have Halloween parties and put up Christmas trees? Given that there are so many alternatives to choose from, is it worth the risk? “Reframing” seasonal themes is often all it takes to make your programs and décor more inclusive. See these opinion pieces from School Library Journal and American Libraries for more.

Ditch Holiday Programming – SLJ

Thinking critically about holiday programing – American Libraries

Holiday Theme Alternatives

What I’m suggesting is libraries need to “spin” things appropriately in order to be respectful of everyone.

shutterstock_396139090For children’s programs and story times, replace holidays with secular, seasonal themes. Instead of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, think autumn (falling leaves and harvest), winter (cold, snow, and hibernation), and spring (growth and renewal.) If you can, create a holiday book section and leave it up to children and their caregivers to choose what they want to read and learn about, whenever they want.

We can, and want to, cover many cultural and historic topics for both children and adults, but reframing is crucial. Day of the Dead (El Día de los Muertos) is not Mexican Halloween. Present it as a cultural program, part of Hispanic Heritage Month.

By adhering to heritage and history months, you have greater freedom to present informational and recreational programming that is of a religious/cultural nature. Just make sure you call in an expert to cover the material. See the Library of Congress guide to Commemorative Observances. For program planning in general, it’s also important to consult a comprehensive calendar to choose dates/times for events so that you don’t exclude members of your community based on their culture, religion, or ethnicity.

Ultimately, you need to do what’s in the best interest of your community.

We would love to hear your ideas and experiences!

 

stephaniecampbell

Stephanie

Stephanie Campbell has worked for more than 20 years in public, academic, and special libraries in roles ranging from children’s and older adult services, outreach, administration, and technical services. Click here for more.

Dewey or Dewey Not? Peering into the Zen of Political Correctness in Libraries

By Paul Duckworth, MLS

Editor’s Note: Following is an honest attempt at examining the hot-button issues of censorship in the literary world, the renaming of several literary awards, and the role the library plays with regard to political correctness. Emotions run high on these topics, and our intent is simply to examine them dispassionately from all sides. At the risk of being politically correct, we mean no offense…

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“That is unacceptable behavior!” “Mind your language!” How many of us remember someone reproachfully barking these words at us when we were children? My hand is raised. Language can hurt, can’t it? Words matter, as do actions. Clearly, some behaviors are hurtful and unacceptably wrong. So, why is it that we use words and do things that cause offense? Perhaps it is because we are human and fallible and locked in our own cultural framework. A few of us may ignore cultural expectations, refusing to be bound by them.

Consider when the use of language or behavior that some find offensive appears in a novel. In some cases, authors intentionally make their characters use “red flag” words and actions in an attempt to illustrate more fully who they are. This may be because words and deeds are powerful and sometimes humans grasp for more power through the use of hot button words and offensive behaviors. It is also sometimes the case that words and behaviors that were widely tolerated in the past are regarded as offensive by current standards.

shutterstock_1033250923Consider the often-used statement, “racial attitudes were typical of the time.” Is that a meaningless excuse, or is there merit in not judging yesterday’s attitudes by today’s standards? The same can be said regarding behaviors. Racist, sexist, harassing, and similar behaviors are unacceptable and have no place in our contemporary culture. However, they weren’t always considered to be taboo. “Boys will be boys,” “locker room talk,” racial epithets, and winking at some of the behaviors that men sometimes displayed with women was commonplace in past times. Not today. Our sensibilities as a culture have evolved and we have witnessed powerful movements such as #MeToo.

The American Library Association recently took bold steps in response to past words, attitudes, and behaviors. In its June 26, 2018 issue, Publishers Weekly reported:

The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association, voted on Saturday to strip the name of Laura Ingalls Wilder from a popular children’s book award, months after a task force set out to consider the long-running scholarly discussion around ‘anti-Native and anti-Black sentiments’ in the author’s work. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award honors an author or illustrator whose books have made ‘a significant and lasting contribution to children’s literature.’ It will now be called The Children’s Literature Legacy Award.

This year, in its June 24th issue, Publishers Weekly announced this ALA decision:

“Citing a history of racism, anti-Semitism, and sexual harassment, the council of the American Library Association on June 23, 2019 voted to strip Melvil Dewey’s name from the association’s top professional honor, the Melvil Dewey Medal. The ALA Council approved the measure after a resolution was successfully advanced at the ALA membership meeting during the 2019 ALA Annual Conference in Washington DC.” The Medal is “an annual award consisting of a bronzed medal and a 24k gold-framed citation of achievement for recent creative leadership of high order, particularly in those fields in which Melvil Dewey was actively interested: library management, library training, cataloging and classification, and the tools and techniques of librarianship.”

Most of the mainstream media have made supportive comments about the Wilder renaming. Here’s an example from Book Riot:

Yes, we are judging a person from a different time based on today’s moral and ethical standards—because they are still being read and honored in today’s times. Yes, most authors from this time period and others would fail against today’s standards. Some have disingenuously argued that this is evidence we just want to erase history, rather than learn from it. The truth is that this name change is indicative of a population that has learned from its history, acknowledged its mistakes, and is moving forward with the intent of doing less harm.

Harvard Professor James Noonan wrote:

Because the stories are so colorful and told with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, it’s also easy to be blindsided by the racism … It’s how racism gets perpetuated That is, by children soaking up the prejudices of people they love, laid bare in unguarded moments.

Other reactions have been mixed. William Shatner has been quite vocal about the Wilder decision. He said, “An author who cannot defend herself was inadvertently judged in 2018 for a viewpoint from 1867.”

The Daily Wire commented:

Wilder’s work is considered ‘controversial,’ because of how she speaks of her family’s fear of Native American attacks, and her era-specific views on blacks. Intellectuals and historians might teach Wilder’s works in the context of her upbringing, but, apparently, children’s librarians are incapable of the same level of nuance.

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Some posts from the Library Think Tank – #ALATT Facebook group reacted to both renaming campaigns:

“Excellent decisions on both counts.”

“Revisionist history has never been of interest to me.”

“I think renaming the Dewey medal is great. Dewey was an incredibly problematic person (sexist, anti-Semitic, racist) despite his contributions to librarianship.”

“While I understand that Dewey was a pig and a misogynist, and that his behaviors should never have been acceptable, he did make huge contributions to the library world. I don’t think that anyone awarded or nominated for Dewey medal thinks it’s because of his behaviors, but only for his contributions to the library.”

“Please just stop this trend of demonizing people of the past because of the stories they wrote. These authors were a product of their time and life experience. Her books made a significant contribution for their time. I am not against the name change but sad that this action could lead to a snowball effect in demonizing authors who told stories from a different perspective of their time and place. It’s a kind of censorship we should be careful how we implement going forward…”

“Change the names as much as they desire; they will never change the fact the Dewey was a pivotal individual for this profession. His contributions will forever last.”

“The sentence ‘The only good Indian is a dead Indian’ is said three times in the Little House on the Prairie series. What would you say to a little American Indian girl who was upset about reading that? How would you defend naming Wilder as the ideal writer of children’s books? People have talked about the importance of preserving history. This is true, but the place to remember the genocide of American Indians is in a museum, not in the name of an award for children’s literature.”

“I think renaming the award is fine, maybe even a good idea. I don’t think we should demonize the books, though, for accurately depicting a point in time. You can’t just erase racism from a book that takes place in a time when racism is rampant. Just look at Tom Sawyer. The books are a record of what life was really like back then. But, that being said, I would hope that if a teacher were to assign something like that as reading, they would have the awareness to use it to start a conversation about what’s WRONG with the language being used or the actions being done.”

“Jacqueline Woodson addressed the name change in her speech last night. When the winner of a lifetime achievement award feels othered and marginalized by the award that is meant to celebrate them, we need to listen to them. We need to listen to what our library colleagues & favorite creators say when they tell us they are affected & hurt by racism. If they feel this way, how must a child feel encountering these things? 2) I feel it is common to say we as book people discuss & explain these books & their harmful content with/to kids. However, I do not feel this is a wide mainstream practice. So our perceptions of how much damage an outdated book can do is deeply flawed. 3) No one said to remove the little house books, demonized Wilder, or proposed any kind of censorship in the official statement. Censorship & Wilder’s legacy are separate from this issue.”

“Since Washington, Jefferson and even Lincoln were all rather racist by today’s standards, will places and things named after them be changed in future? I wonder where we need to draw the line.”

 

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How do you as a librarian feel about these actions taken by ALA and the ALSC?

Were they correct? Or, do you think they were politically correct? Some people have labeled them as yet another example of disgusting “political correctness” gone overboard. To be sure, Americans have heard tremendous negative commentary regarding PC. “Politically correct” has been chewed and spit out and snickered at in the media over the past two decades and even Nobel Prize winners such as Elie Wiesel have weighed in critically on the subject. I wonder, though, if many of us are attaching different meanings and connotations to the term. Like countless other words and phrases, what PC means depends on the person using it.

“Merriam-Webster” defines PC as “conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated.” A 2016 article in the Washington Post sheds a lot of light on the history and evolution in meaning of “politically correct.” I highly recommend that anyone with a curious mind (and aren’t we as librarians a curious profession?) read it.

shutterstock_1292732065What to do? How to proceed? Are the ALA and ALSC actions examples of political correctness?

In 2019 we are in the thick of a muddy mire as to determining what is offensive to whom, and when, and why, and where, and how in the heck do we respond sanely?

As I write this, I am doing my best to be sensitive and mindful and yet not stray from an honest inquiry. Many discussions, issues, offenses, behaviors, and loaded words exist to potentially trip us up. Here are a few that come to mind.

Brown Bag Programs

shutterstock_774540499Do those of us who plan library programs offer brown bag lunchtime programs? Think about the point raised in a memo by the chief spokesman (should I use spokesperson?) for the Seattle Office of Civil Rights. He advised the city’s public information officers to avoid the phrase “brown bag” and instead use “sack lunch” or “Lunch-and-learn.” The memo read, in part, “Innocuous phrases, right? Mm, not so much. For some people, the phrase ‘brown bag’ calls up ugly associations with use of the expression ‘brown bag’ to determine if people’s skin color was light enough to allow admission to an event, a home, etc.” So, what is your library doing? Do you offer “brown bag” lunch programs?

The Education of Little Tree

If you are of a certain age, you may recall this 1976 book by Forrest Carter with much fondness. I most certainly do. Oprah Winfrey recommended the book on her website soon after it was released. Imagine the shock when the truth emerged in 1991 that the author was Asa Earl Carter, a Ku Klux Klan leader in the 1950s, and that the book is fiction, not nonfiction as it was originally catalogued. Where does the shock come from? The fact that it isn’t factual? The fact that it was written by a Klan leader? The thought that it wasn’t honest or true? Knowing the author’s views, would we speak of the book today with the same reverence and awe that we did at one time? Has the message of the book shifted, or is it our view that has shifted?

Huckleberry Finn

shutterstock_76729498Does your library have copies of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”? As a classic of American literature, it probably has a place on your shelves. How do we as librarians deal with Mark Twain’s language? Specifically, his frequent use of the N-word in the novel? One Twain scholar, Dr. Alan Gribben, has edited a 2012 edition published by NewSouth Books (9781603062350) that omits use of the word in question. Did this significant change fundamentally alter the spirit or intent of Twain’s original, or make it more acceptable to a modern audience? I wonder how many libraries own this version of Twain’s classic.

Dr. Seuss

Was Theodor Geisel a racist? A 2012 article in Business Insider offers evidence of this from his early advertising illustrations. Children’s Literature professor Philip Nel agrees in his book “Was the Cat in the Hat Black?” (9780190635077 ), citing several examples. The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum in Geisel’s hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts, removed a mural in 2017, taken from the book “And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” that showed a Chinese character with chopsticks, slanted eyes, and a pointed hat (read more here). Do some of the illustrations in his beloved books perpetuate racist stereotypes? Should the library withdraw them? Should the American Library Association (ALA) consider renaming its Theodor Seuss Geisel Award? As described by ALA, “The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award, established in 2004, is given annually (beginning in 2006) to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished contribution to the body of American children’s literature known as beginning reader books published in the United States during the preceding year.”

Alice in Wonderland

shutterstock_1216708135Was Lewis Carroll a pedophile? In an article in School Library Journal (“Separating Art from the Author,” School Library Journal, June 2018 p. 10-11), the Livingston N.J. Public Library’s youth services librarian, Anna Coats, questions consistency in current calls to condemn some authors. She points out Lewis Carroll, who “was believed to be obsessed with two young girls, photographing them naked, and taking a picture of himself kissing an 11-year old.” Should we revise our opinion of this mid-nineteenth century author in light of his behaviors?

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Is it time for this classic to be renamed? After all, that word is now uniformly accepted as being derogatory. A British theater company in 2002 that produced the play changed its title to “The Bellringer of Notre Dame.” What does Quasimodo have to say to us in 2019?

When We Was Fierce

Author e.E. Charlton—Trujillo’s 2016 young adult novel received starred reviews and was a VOYA Reluctant Readers Pick. The author appeared in the publisher’s booth at the ALA summer conference and distributed signed copies. But a few days before the book’s official release date of August 9, “the sh** hit the fan,” due to perceived stereotyping of its black characters and use of a “made-up” dialect in narration. Candlewick, the novel’s publisher, pulled the book with an explanation that they would work with the author on revisions. A revised version was never issued and, to my knowledge, no commentary has come from either the author or the publisher. Some libraries that preordered the book received it, followed by at least one vendor’s attempt to recall copies. While some libraries weeded it, other libraries may have copies available for checkout. Should they be withdrawn? Read more about the furor here.

Sherman Alexie

Several women have recently accused prominent American Indian author Sherman Alexie of sexual harassment. In early 2018, the American Indian Literature Association rescinded Alexie’s 2008 YA Book of the Year Award, “to send an unequivocal message that Alexie’s actions are unacceptable.” Was this move justified?

American Beauty

Does your library still have a copy of the Academy Award-winning film “American Beauty”? Given the highly publicized predatory sexual behavior of one of its lead actors, Kevin Spacey, does this film belong in your collection?

Bill Cosby

What, if anything, are libraries doing with their copies of “Fatherhood,” “Time Flies,” and “Love and Marriage,” or the DVD copies of television series that he starred in? What do you think about having these in your collection?

Hanta Yo

This novel, written by Ruth Beebe Hill, was a beloved portrayal of Plains Indians life prior to the influx of North Americans of European descent. When it was published in 1979, it was on the bestsellers list. However, Sioux activists soon organized protests against it for its alleged inaccuracies that demean the Plains Indians. It has been out-of-print for years, and chances are that most libraries no longer have a “live” copy. But should a book considered so offensive to the Sioux be part of a library’s collection?

The Good Earth

Objections to Pearl S. Buck’s novel and its 1937 film version are longstanding for its stereotypes and cultural appropriation. Author Celeste Ng, whose parents immigrated from Hong Kong to the U.S., began her review of the book on GoodReads by saying, “It’s difficult for me to explain how much I hate this book, and even harder to explain why. I don’t think it’s just because I hated the main character so much, and in this case at least, I don’t think it’s because of the weirdness that arises from a Westerner writing about a colonized country.” However, the facts about Buck’s Chinese upbringing and firsthand experiences do lend weight to the book’s accurate portrayal.

 

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Quite the quagmire, eh? Is our footing on a slippery slope? Renaming awards isn’t new and isn’t limited to the library profession. Recently, Analog Science Fiction and Fact made the decision to rename its John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Campbell was the publisher of the magazine from the late 1930s until 1971. A statement from its current editor, Trevor Quachri, was posted on the website in August of this year and reads in part:

Campbell’s provocative editorials and opinions on race, slavery, and other matters often reflected positions that went beyond just the mores of his time and are today at odds with modern values, including those held by the award’s many nominees, winners, and supporters. As we move into Analog’s 90th anniversary year, our goal is to keep the award as vital and distinguished as ever….

This past spring, the Vermont Department of Libraries decided to change the name of its Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award, which honors excellence in children’s literature. Fisher was an educational reformer, social activist, and popular author in the early 20th century. Eleanor Roosevelt cited her as being one of the 10 most influential women in the United States. So why rename the award? Fisher, it is alleged, was associated with the eugenics movement of the 1920s and ’30s that promoted “better breeding.” Her novels were regarded by some as being stereotypical of French Canadians and Native Americans. Fisher’s defenders say the famed author, who died in 1958, stood up for prison reform, adult education, and war relief. They say she is being judged unfairly over a minor association with the now-vilified eugenics movement.

Here are three comments from the many responses to the Fisher renaming:

“Revisionist historians with their sanctimonious posturing…”

“Why must we constantly judge those in the past with the standards of today? Those in the future will find today to be wanting as well.”

“We hope that this name change will help make all kids feel welcome to be part of the book award program….”

In some cases, an award is not renamed despite complaints. Cable channel MTV awarded its Video Vanguard Award in 1988 to Michael Jackson, and in 1991 renamed it the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. Despite protests about the appropriateness of retaining Jackson’s name on the award, given the numerous allegations against him of child sexual abuse, MTV is so far not considering a change in name.

In 2015, Sports Illustrated renamed its Sportsman Legacy Award as the Sports Illustrated’s Muhammad Ali Legacy Award. This award, as the website states, “was created in 2008 to honor former athletes and sports figures who embody the ideals of sportsmanship, leadership and philanthropy as vehicles for changing the world.” Might a military veteran object to receiving this award, since its namesake was convicted in 1967 as a draft dodger? Although the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 1971, it is not a stretch of the imagination that a military veteran might be offended if given an award named for a man who refused to be drafted into the U.S. Army.

Anne Rice made this comment on her Facebook account on August 10, 2015:

I think we are facing a new era of censorship, in the name of political correctness. There are forces at work in the book world that want to control fiction writing in terms of who “has a right” to write about what. Some even advocate the out and out censorship of older works using words we now deem wholly unacceptable. Some are critical of novels involving rape. Some argue that white novelists have no right to write about people of color; and Christians should not write novels involving Jews or topics involving Jews. I think all this is dangerous. I think we have to stand up for the freedom of fiction writers to write what they want to write, no matter how offensive it might be to someone else. We must stand up for fiction as a place where transgressive behavior and ideas can be explored. We must stand up for freedom in the arts. I think we have to be willing to stand up for the despised. It is always a matter of personal choice whether one buys or reads a book. No one can make you do it. But Internet campaigns to destroy authors accused of inappropriate subject matter or attitudes are dangerous to us all.

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What’s next? Who’s the next author to be posthumously censored? Which award renaming will be put to a vote next? Where will it end?

I don’t know. The 2009 comedy film starring Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, and Alec Baldwin pops into my head. The title says it all: “It’s Complicated.”

I leave you with two quotes, one from an ancient sage, and one from a more contemporary critic of modern society.

 

 

“We cling to our own point of view, as though everything depended on it. Yet our opinions have no permanence; like autumn and winter, they gradually pass away.” —Zhuangzi

“Political Correctness is Fascism pretending to be manners.” —George Carlin

 

 

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Paul

Nothing brings a smile to Paul Duckworth’s face quite like a good book, a long walk, and the unmatched beauty of country life. Click here for more.

 

 

September is Literacy Month

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By Gwen Vanderhage, MLIS

As librarians, literacy is something close to our hearts. We are readers, searchers, and devourers of facts. As information becomes easier to access but more complicated to manage, there are now many different kinds of literacy we can help our patrons navigate.

Early Literacy is a topic we know a lot about. Library storytimes, summer reading programs, and board book collections for babies all support early literacy. As a nation, Early Literacy with Wordswe have recognized the importance of getting children ready to read and love books by 3rd grade. Some libraries deliver books to new mothers in hospital. Most libraries develop programming to model early literacy support skills to parents, using the Every Child Ready to Read practices of Read, Write, Talk, Sing, and Play. Many librarians travel to rural areas on bookmobiles, read to children in community centers and laundromats, and even bring library card sign-ups to the entire school district. (Remember: September is Library Card Sign-Up Month too, hooray!)

This month, encourage parents to check out extra books and take extra time to read with their children. Modeling reading and having conversations about what we’ve read together is the very best way to build a foundation for lifelong literacy.

shutterstock_1470820073While librarians spend a lot time and resources developing programs for children, literacy is also about struggling adult readers whom we help at the reference desk with reading maps and forms, and filling out resumes and government applications. One in five adult Americans have low literacy skills, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. This includes adults who are unable to compare and contrast information, paraphrase, or make low-level inferences from reading, in addition to those who are completely or functionally illiterate. Low literacy affects the ability to read medical instructions and prescriptions, help children with homework, evaluate news sources, and especially navigate the internet. Does your library have a collection for low-level adult readers?

Did you know that since 1967, UNESCO has honored September 8 as International Literacy Day? The goal is to remind world leaders and influencers that literacy is an integral element in eradicating injustice and poverty.

While learning the basics of reading is the foundation of literacy, librarians and the community have increasingly been talking about other kinds of literacy, as well.

shutterstock_730277116Food Literacy is all about understanding the impact of your food choices on your health, your environment, and the economy. With wider conversations about organics, GMOs, and sustainable farming practices, people are becoming more engaged with learning about where their food comes from. It was all over the news last month that United Nations scientists recommend switching to a plant-based diet to fight climate change, but how can we do that? Fad diets and news about the “microbiome” spur research to compare and contrast different ways of eating. Families getting by on small budgets and government assistance need help finding the best ways to eat healthfully on a budget. All of these issues, plus the bare basics of how to cook, are parts of food literacy that our library collections and programs can address. (September is Food Literacy Month, too!)

The Free Library of Philadelphia supports an amazing Culinary Literacy Center, offering collections and classes to share food literacy with its patrons, young and old. Many public libraries are offering programs on square-foot gardening, cooking with the Instapot, international foods, and even cookbook reading groups. Cooking and eating crosses divides and has been a way to bring diverse communities together, even in the library. For more information about food literacy, and to access a Food Literacy Month toolkit, check out the Food Literacy Center, supported by UC Davis, California.

shutterstock_783381802Health Literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions. Health literacy is much more difficult to attain, including complex words and concepts, in addition to numerical data and manipulation. Only 12% of American adults have proficient health literacy, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. While it is mainly up to health professionals and organizations to utilize plain language in their materials and translations, libraries can help in some ways. In addition to promoting books and pamphlets about health topics, librarians can keep web bookmarks handy and create links on the library website. Many public libraries offer health programs and speakers. (October is Health Literacy Month.)

The Public Library Association has launched an initiative with the website “Healthy Community Tools for Public Libraries,” with a lot of helpful information for libraries to implement. There is also free, archived access to the recent excellent webinar, “Health Literacy Begins at Your Library,” from Web Junction, which showcases experiences from Oklahoma libraries.

What other literacy competencies are you talking about and implementing in your library collections and programs? Digital literacy? Media literacy? Tell us about it!

 

Sources:

When a Laundromat Becomes a Library, PBS News Hour, April 2, 2019.

Every Child Ready to Read, a joint project by the Public Library Association and the Association of Library Service to Children

National Assessment of Adult Literacy

UNESCO International Literacy Day

Plant-Based Diet Can Fight Climate Change – UN,” BBC News, August 8, 2019.

 

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Gwen

After spending many years as a children’s librarian and collection development specialist at Denver Public Library, Gwen joined Brodart to share her passion for children’s literature with as many different libraries as possible. Click here for more.

 

The Evolution of the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards

By Kat Kan, MLS

The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards have seen significant changes over the past 14 years, and I have been honored enough to be a part of the process. I witnessed first-hand the impact librarian judges have made on the Eisner Award voting and how the Awards have evolved to reflect emerging trends in publishing and society at large. It has been a fascinating journey to witness and participate in.

shutterstock_1130802248I’ve worked in libraries for about 36 years now. For most of that time, I have pushed to promote the acceptance of graphic novels as a vital component of library collections. For a couple of decades, it felt like a long, hard slog to convince other librarians of the value of graphic novels. Writing my “Graphically Speaking” column in Voice of Youth Advocates since 1994 may have helped—at least I like to think so! In late fall of 2004, when I was serving as chair of the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) Graphic Novel Task Force proposal, I received a phone call from Jackie Estrada, who administers the Eisner Awards for the San Diego Comic-Con International.

Kat Gift Picture

I spent my 50th birthday traveling to serve as a judge for the 2005 Eisner Awards. Jackie Estrada and my fellow judges surprised me with a cake and a very cute stuffed bunny, which I still have to this day.

She said that she wanted to add a librarian to the judges’ panel for the 2005 Eisner Awards, and she asked me to be that librarian judge. The Eisner Awards are the Oscars of the comics industry, so it was a huge deal that she wanted a librarian to be part of the awards. Of course I said yes! I didn’t find out until years later that Mr. Eisner himself had requested librarians to be included as judges for the awards. Incidentally, he passed away in early 2005. I’m sad I never had the chance to meet him.

I had served on various book list selection committees for YALSA over the years, so I had experience with having to read a lot of books, but this time all the reading was comics! For the Eisners, we judges were to select up to five nominees for each award category. We were also tasked with creating a new award category for best digital comic.

We all gathered in San Diego over the first weekend in April 2005. We spent the next two days in marathon discussion sessions, punctuated by someone dashing to a table or box to pull out the comics in question. We talked about the writing, the art, the stories. It was amazing and invigorating. We argued, but things never got heated among us. Jackie sat with us, ready to referee if needed, but our discussions remained cordial. I imagine the interaction between judges is similarly animated and stimulating every year.

There are two stages to the Eisner Awards process (from the Comic-Con Eisner Awards FAQ):

Judging (Nominations)

“The nominees in each category are chosen by a blue-ribbon panel of judges who meet in San Diego in the spring of each year… The judging panel, which changes each year, consists of five or six people representing various aspects of the comics industry.”

Voting

“Once the nominees have been chosen, voting…usually occurs in mid-April, with a deadline in early June. Voting is open to comic book/graphic novel/webcomic creators (writers, artists, cartoonists, pencillers, inkers, letterers, colorists); all nominees in any category; comic book/graphic novel publishers and editors; comics historians and educators; graphic novel librarians; owners and managers of comic book specialty retail stores.”

Serving as an Eisner judge is a once in a lifetime opportunity; I can never serve again. However, what Jackie did was open voting privileges, first to me, because I had served as an Eisner judge, then to all librarians who work with graphic novels. Why was this so special?  Before 2005, only those people working directly in the comics industry as publishers, creators, retailers, and journalists, could vote. Librarians were excluded from this list. But within a couple of years, voter eligibility was expanded to include not just comics industry professionals, publishers, and the librarian judges, Powbut also any librarian who works with comics and graphic novels. Broadening representation among judges and voters has helped the Awards to develop.

The following 11 awards categories were introduced after librarians were added to the judges’ panel and are still being presented:

  • Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 8) (2012-present)
  • Best Publication for Kids (ages 9–12) (2008–present)
  • Best Publication for Teens (ages 13–17) (2008–present)
  • Best Reality-Based Work (2007–present)
  • Best Adaptation from Another Medium (2013-2014, 2016–present)
  • Best U.S. Edition of International Material — Asia (2010–present)
  • Best Archival Collection/Project — Comic Books (2006–present)
  • Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism (2008–present)
  • Best Academic/Scholarly Work (2012–present)
  • Best Digital Comic (2005–present)
  • Best Webcomic (2017–present)

Since librarians became eligible voters, and as more librarians have taken advantage of that opportunity, we are seeing more independent comics creators and independent book trade publishers being nominated—and winning. Certain categories, especially YA and international adaptations to English, have been expanded. These changes reflect the maturation of the comics/graphic novels segment and growing contributions from what were once considered fringe sources.

Each succeeding year has brought more nominees from outside the Marvel/DC superhero mainstream, and various judges’ panels expanded the younger reader category into three age levels. The international comics category has also been split into two, separating Asian comics from those published elsewhere in the world.

shutterstock_521328379In 2005, seven women were nominated and two of them won. Fast forward to the 2015 Eisner Awards, when there were 30 nominations for women, and 12 of them won. Of the 29 categories, independent comics publishers and trade publishers won most of the awards; DC won one, and Marvel didn’t win any.

In 2019, there were 31 categories. New this year, the webcomics category was divided into digital comics and webcomics. More than 40 of the nominees were women, and Image Comics swept the entire Best New Series category.

The Eisner Awards have undergone dramatic changes over the past 14 years. I’m looking forward to seeing even more diversity and representation among nominees and winners in the years to come.

Sources:

Eisner Awards FAQ

2005 Eisner Award Winners

2015 Eisner Award Winners

2019 Eisner Award Nominees

2019 Eisner Award Winners

Kat_Kan_Better_Pic

Katharine

If you’re looking for a graphic novel guru, you’re looking for Kat Kan. Kat looks like the stereotypical librarian with glasses and a bun, until you see the hair sticks and notice her earrings may be tiny books, TARDISes from Doctor Who, or LEGO Batgirls. Click here for more.

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Podcasts About Books for Kids and Teens

By Gwen Vanderhage, MLIS

kidlitwomen Credit should be Illustration by Grace Lin Books Between hey-ya-podcast


Pod·cast (ˈpädˌkast)

Noun: A digital audio file made available on the Internet for downloading to a computer or mobile device, typically available as a series, new installments of which can be received by subscribers automatically.

Verb: To make (a digital audio file) available as a podcast.


I am an avid podcast listener, yet until last year, when I explored the topic of library podcasts for this blog, I had not thought to seek out podcasts about literature or the business of librarianship. That previous post has been popular with our readers, so maybe you had not taken much time to seek out librarian shows, either. Tell me, have these podcasts inspired you? Have you found new library podcasts you love?

shutterstock_1360986551Since I spend my time reading and working with books for kids and teens, this year I have been listening to podcasts that feature topics, trends, and authors in young people’s literature. I don’t think I’m alone. There are some great ones out there for librarians, families, authors, and readers who appreciate the art and craft of writing for young people. At the ALA Annual Conference this past June, in Washington, D.C., the Pop-Top Stage in the exhibit hall featured live recordings of two different podcasts, both featuring BIG NAME authors for kids.

Dewey Decibel PodcastThe first live podcast recording I attended was for a Dewey Decibel podcast from the ALA’s American Libraries magazine. The host, Phil Morehart, Senior Editor at American Libraries, led a panel discussion about the history, influence, and resonance of the Coretta Scott King book awards, as this award celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The panel featured past King winners and prominent African American authors and illustrators Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, Angie Thomas, Christopher Myers, and Ekua Holmes.

While the Dewey Decibel podcast normally features topics from across the world of libraries, it was relevant to me to sit in on a discussion on the influence of children’s literature in the lives of young people, the importance for children to see themselves in books and pictures, and to experience the warmth and sense of family a community of book makers have when they sit down together. It was a wonderful experience that I think translates across the airwaves. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

The Children's Book PodcastThe second podcast recorded at ALA Annual was The Children’s Book Podcast, hosted by Matthew C. Winner, a school librarian in Maryland. He was joined by a panel of popular children’s book authors: Kate DiCamillo, Shannon Hale, and Cece Bell. These authors discussed humor in their books, relating to a child audience, and how their books provide a sense of “home” to young readers. The Children’s Book Podcast regularly hosts children’s book authors reading from and talking about their work. Host Winner is a fan of graphic novels and regularly includes graphic novel creators discussing their work, along with authors and illustrators of traditional formats.

Kidlit These Days PodcastMatthew Winner, host of The Children’s Book Podcast, is also the co-host of a new podcast, along with author Karina Yan Glaser (“The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street,” also a contributing editor to Book Riot), called Kidlit These Days, from Book Riot. Their podcast focuses on current topics in publishing, the news, and how authors and librarians can help children respond to them through literature. Each podcast pairs books with the show’s respective topic. The first episode featured the response from Latinx authors to teachers in Idaho who dressed up as the Border Wall for Halloween. Other episodes have included a children’s author who talks with kids about her hijab, problems around soft censorship, and how to use historic artifacts with kids. One thing I like about this podcast is that it highlights older books that work well in discussion with children and families, as well as new books. This aspect would also help librarians with lists and displays. The co-host format with one of my favorite authors is especially engaging.

Other terrific podcasts I have been listening to include:

kidlit women* podcast — hosted by acclaimed author/illustrator Grace Lin, who pulls together interviews with female children’s book authors talking about their careers and experiences

Read-Aloud Revival Podcast — celebrates the connections reading together can build in families; features topical book lists and is popular with homeschooling families

Dream Gardens — features authors talking about the books they love and loved as kids

Picturebooking — showcases the authors and illustrators of current picture books

The Yarn — delves deep into the process of book creation with bloggers Travis Jonker and Colby Sharp

Books Between — features book reviews and author interviews with a focus on the 8-12 age group, or “middle grade” readers

Hey, YA — Young Adult podcast from Book Riot featuring banter and insider buzz, as well as book reviews and lists of forthcoming Young Adult books

If you would like to sample any of the podcasts I have featured, they should be available to stream or download through the search feature in your favorite podcasting app (Stitcher, Downcast, Overcast, etc.), or iTunes. You can also click through the links here and listen online.

What youth literature podcasts or library podcasts do you enjoy? Are there others I should check out?

 

Gwen Vanderhage - 2.5 x 3

Gwen

After spending many years as a children’s librarian and collection development specialist at Denver Public Library, Gwen joined Brodart to share her passion for children’s literature with as many different libraries as possible. Click here for more.

 

Librarians Make Great “Jeopardy!” Contestants

By Richard Hallman, M.Ln.

Now in its 35th season, the popular game show “Jeopardy!” definitely has an appeal that some other game shows — Wheel of Fortune, for instance — don’t. That’s because it’s all about knowing stuff: Shakespeare, science, sports, American history, potpourri, and lots more.

If you’re a librarian, especially a reference librarian, you may have heard someone say, “I bet you’re good at ‘Jeopardy!’” once or twice in your career. The two librarians at my house stopped watching “Jeopardy!” a while back because it’s hard to eat dinner while screaming answers in the form of a question at the TV. The only way we could win would be as a team. I’d handle categories like World Leaders, while Fern would cover Show Tunes. We would just punt on Sports.

Many librarians love “Jeopardy!”, and since it’s on five nights a week, there have beenContestants No Numbers with Frame quite a few librarian contestants over the years. In 2017, American Libraries estimated around 150 had been on the show since 2005. The magazine interviewed 11 of them, including one with whom my sister went to high school.

The American Libraries article said that since 2005 there had been 30 librarian champions, and that librarian contestants had won close to a million dollars on the show. That was before the “Giant Killer,” Emma Boettcher, took down James Holzhauer back in June. She performed her heroic deed just as Holzhauer was about to eclipse Ken Jennings’ record winnings of a little over $2.5 million. So hopefully, Jennings sent her a nice thank you card, or maybe just a check. Librarians are so helpful!

Boettcher is a user experience librarian, a job title that I’m pretty sure didn’t exist back when I was in library school. She majored in English as an undergraduate, so Shakespeare and other categories like Literature and Theater were right up her alley. Oh, and also she wrote a paper about “Jeopardy!” while in grad school, “using text mining to find out whether the readability of the show’s questions could predict their difficulty levels.” Duh!

Is it hard to get on the show? Boettcher first tried out when she was still in high school but didn’t get chosen. Nevertheless, she persisted, and it finally paid off, to the tune of just under $100,000 this year. She’ll be on a “special “Tournament of Champions” show in the first half of November along with Holzhauer and some other smarties so stay tuned.

 

Jeopardy with Text

Would you like to be a “Jeopardy!” contestant? Start here by registering, then use the online materials, including practice tests, along with your own smarts and study up.

May the best librarian crush!

 

Richard Hallman, M.Ln.

Richard

Budding collection developer Richard Hallman finally set aside his dreams of becoming a rock star, movie director, and/or famous novelist to embrace librarianship. Click here for more.

What Ever Happened to Virginia Woolf?

By Paul Duckworth, MLS

Virginia_Woolf_Illustration

“Lies will flow from my lips, but there may perhaps be some truth mixed up with them; it is for you to seek out this truth and to decide whether any part of it is worth keeping.”

—Virginia Woolf, “A Room of One’s Own”

 

I’m a bit embarrassed, but I need to admit up front that I’ve never read anything by Virginia Woolf. Why embarrassing, you ask? First, because I’m writing this article about her. Second, because I was an English major in college and she was a prominent literary figure in the Bloomsbury set—as well as an atheist, feminist, and pacifist. One would think she would be a legitimate part of an English major’s education. What happened that kept me from getting acquainted with her? Maybe I skipped a course on early twentieth century writers, or perhaps my college didn’t give sufficient attention to female authors. Now, let’s look at the fact that most colleges in that time period, the early 1970s, failed to highlight most women authors. No, let’s not—that’s an entirely different article. Whatever the cause of my lack of familiarity with Woolf, I regret that I did not come to know her in my education. Thankfully, I discovered her through my career as a public librarian.

Right now, you may have thoughts and questions bubbling up in your mind.

“When did she live?”

shutterstock_705620560“She killed herself, right?”

“Bloomsbury set? That’s old-fashioned women’s underwear, isn’t it?”

“She lived in a lighthouse, didn’t she?””

“I heard she was anti-Semitic.”

“She was a lesbian.”

“Wait—don’t tell me. Wasn’t she in that film “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

“Someone told me that her first name was not Virginia. Is that true?”

Or perhaps even: “Why is this guy writing an article about her?”

Whoa! Stop right there, please. All will be revealed. Be patient and I will correct some misconceptions and tell you, if not everything, then at least a lot of interesting things about Virginia Woolf.

First of all, as some of you are presuming, she is, in fact, deceased. She was born in London, England, in 1882, to a wealthy intellectual family. Woolf died in 1941 in the depths of the River Ouse, near her home in Sussex. Suffering from yet another lengthy period of debilitating depression, she had waded into the river, her pockets filled with heavy stones so that she would sink and drown. She had tried to take her own life, unsuccessfully, a few times earlier in her life, but this attempt proved successful.

An odd word to use in describing suicide: successful. Was her life successful, or was it her death that succeeded? What makes a life a success? By the standards of her time, she was wildly successful in that she married well, was exceedingly well-read and educated, and was a published author of fiction, nonfiction, essays, plays, and short stories. In addition, she was the central figure in a prominent artistic and literary group called The Bloomsbury Group. Money was always easily available to her, and so her life wasn’t burdened by the manual labor that most women endured in England in this time period.

shutterstock_1216099198Nothing stood in her way to work creatively regarding her thoughts, opinions, insights, writings, and associations with people. Nothing except her psyche. Her failing was not one of those usual ones of ability, time, or space, but rather was hidden in the inner reaches of her highly intelligent mind. She inherited a family curse—mental health issues that many of her relatives experienced. Hers was a fragile mind, prone to exhaustion and depression and shaken by the family dynamics of her early years, including being sexually molested by her two older half brothers, Gerald and George. All contributed significantly to what is clear today—she dealt with bipolar illness. She was vivid in her descriptions of how it manifested itself at times. One example is Woolf’s reflection on her mental state after completing her first novel “The Voyage Out.” “I married, and then my brains went up in a shower of fireworks. As an experience, madness is terrific… and not to be sniffed at, and in its lava I still find most of the things I write about. It shoots out of one, everything shaped, final, not in mere driblets as sanity does.”

Well, what about Woolf’s family? They were prominent and quite successful in turn-of-the-century London. Her father, Leslie Stephen, was a writer, historian, and biographer. He was the son-in-law, through his first marriage, of the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray. Julia Margaret Cameron, her cousin, was a well-known photographer. Her brother, Adrian Stephen, was a pioneering psychoanalyst and well-known pacifist. Her half-brother Gerald Duckworth (no relation to the author of this article) founded the publishing company Gerald Duckworth and Company. Her sister, Vanessa Bell, was a painter and interior designer. Chevalier Pierre Ambrose Antoine de L’Etang, her great-great grandfather, was from the French nobility and served first as a page to Marie Antoinette and later as stable master of the royal stables at Versailles. Her husband, Leonard Woolf, was a political theorist, author, and publisher. He founded Hogarth Press, which consisted of a small hand-operated printing press located in his and Virginia’s home, Hogarth House, at 34 Paradise Road in London.

shutterstock_1145084495And so, what about Virginia herself?

  • No, she did not live in a lighthouse. She did, however, write the novel “To the Lighthouse,” published in 1927.
  • The question of anti-Semitism is a bit complicated. Her husband, Leonard, was Jewish. It’s clear, though, in some of her writings, that she described Jewish people in critical and negative ways. Here’s a line from a letter she wrote in 1930: “How I hated marrying a Jew — how I hated their nasal voices and their oriental jewelry, and their noses and their wattles — what a snob I was: for they have immense vitality, and I think I like that quality best of all.”
  • Whether or not she was a lesbian might be debatable, but it is a fact that she had a long physical and emotional relationship with Vita Sackville-West, which began after Virginia married Leonard Woolf. Leonard knew of their affair and approved of it, because he wanted his wife, who was often gloomy and depressed, to have some happiness.
  • Her first name was Adeline, the name of her mother’s deceased sister. Virginia’s family never called her Adeline, due to their painful association with the name.
  • She did not, obviously, play any part in the 1966 Mike Nichols film, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, which was adapted from the 1962 Edward Albee play. So, where does the title come from, you ask? George and Martha, played onscreen by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, sing the lyrics “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” to the tune of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” Interesting enough, in an interview with him published in The Paris Review, Albee stated “‘Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ means ‘Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf…who’s afraid of living without false illusions?” (See here for additional clarification)
  • In addition to her novels, she is also known for her essays, including “A Room of One’s Own,” in which she stated, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

So, what are the takeaways here?

  1. Would Woolf perhaps still be living and writing if she had had access to Symbyax, Prozac, or Risperdal? Slim chance, as she would be 137 years old.
  2. Could she have benefited from talk therapy or positive psychology? While beneficial for many people, these approaches could not be a remedy for the severe bipolar symptoms from which Woolf suffered.
  3. Should she be ignored, not given a spotlight, since, like so many prejudiced people, she seemed to have harbored anti-Semitic views? Good question, but it begs similarly revisionist appraisals of any number of past luminaries, including Theodore Roosevelt for his joy in slaughtering wild animals, Melvil Dewey for his lascivious behavior with women, and Frederic Remington for his anti-Semitism and racist views of Native Americans.
  4. Should she have left her husband for Vita Sackville-West or worked for a closer connection with Leonard? Hmmm, sounds like magical thinking to me. What knowledge does one have of the ways of the heart and the pathways of individuation? Besides, by most accounts, Virginia and her husband were close.
  5. Are her contributions of little value, given her personal life and death? Seriously!? How many other giants of literature could be similarly dismissed, given this manner of thinking?
  6. Was Woolf a complicated enigma who offers little of value to modern readers? I wonder if this question might be more than a wee bit judgmental. Let’s dissect this thread and examine the facts.
    1. One should resist the temptation to judge historical authors on the basis of current standards and mores
    2. Her impact on her contemporaries was significant
    3. She helped lay the groundwork for future feminists

Woolf was a professional reviewer, innovative essayist, novelist, publisher, biographer, and political organizer in the socialist and women’s movements. She seems to have known or met nearly everyone of importance in her day, including Sigmund Freud, with whom she and Leonard had tea shortly after Freud escaped Nazi Vienna for London. She spoke out against war and violence. Professor Jean Mills, author of “Virginia Woolf, Jane Ellen Harrison, and the Spirit of Modernist Classicism,” said: “Woolf’s comment ‘thinking is my fighting’ was an aphorism that we can usefully claim for ourselves today. Her essay ‘Three Guineas’ has been read as her attempt to grapple with the root causes of violence and war, and she articulates several conceptions of peace throughout her literary output.”

shutterstock_575109037Woolf was not hesitant to break the mold of cultural expectations for proper women’s behavior. In “10 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Virginia Woolf,” the British literary biographer Lyndall Gordon wrote, “In the 19th century nice women were quiet. Virginia Woolf said that she and her sister were taught the ‘tea-table’ manner. This was designed to keep polite, self-effacing conversation flowing. The most vital fact in her life was the contrast between this stifling of utterance, this concealment in ‘shadow’ and the ground shaking under her like an earthquake when she brought out her full-throated ‘Outsider’ voice, protesting against military or domestic violence in favour of nurture, listening and sympathy, values which the civilized of both sexes already share. The voice of her Outsider prepares the way for the present voice of the #MeToo generation.”

In the midst of Woolf’s articulate contributions to literary, cultural, political, and social circles, there was an intermittent and turbulent wrestling with an unknown force within her psyche. She was unable to elude it. In a suicide note she left to her husband, Leonard Woolf, she wrote, “I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of these terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do.”

If a person were to take away only one reason to celebrate Woolf, it would be my assertion that she was not just an important author, but a feminist icon. How so? She gave two lectures at the University of Cambridge’s women’s colleges in 1928 and developed them into the famous essay “A Room of One’s Own,” which was published the following year. As Wikipedia states, it was “an important feminist text… noted in its argument for both a literal and figurative space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by men.” Her voice, along with those of other women writers before and after, has helped to open up publishing to women. And, it has helped put more women’s book on our library shelves and important voices in the spotlight.

 

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Nothing brings a smile to Paul Duckworth’s face quite like a good book, a long walk, and the unmatched beauty of country life. Click here for more.

 

 

A Closer Look at Authority Control in MARC Records

By Scott Piepenburg, MLIS

shutterstock_367446221Accuracy of data in cataloging records is critical. A misplaced number or value can impact the ability to import a record into your system, or a misspelled word can render a title or subject lost or irretrievable by your system. There are even provisions in the MARC record to document “incorrect” information as well as its “corrected” form. This is common when an author or publisher will intentionally misspell or rearrange words in the title so the book stands out in the marketplace.

The cataloging community has long recognized the importance of consistency and accuracy in data, particularly in the areas of subjects and names. This has led to controlled vocabularies for subjects, the most notable of these being the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), as well as Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) and Sears List of Subject Headings (Sears). Through the use of these vocabularies, libraries strive to use consistent and constant terminology for ideas and subjects. This helps to ensure that as users move between public libraries in a geographic area, from school to college, or even online, they will find consistent and definable terms, thereby ensuring successful results.

shutterstock_1275512578This consistency extends to the names of people, organizations, and events. The most notable example in the United States is the Library of Congress Name Authority File (NAF). When catalogers enter the name for the author of a book (or a subject, in the case of biographies), they check the NAF to see if the Library of Congress has defined a name for this person. If so, the library will typically use this name to promote consistency in its catalog, as well as consistency with other libraries using this structure. This also ensures that records created locally will be consistent with those vendors and outside sources that also use this structure.

A classic example of this concept is Samuel Clemens, better known by his nom de plume, Mark Twain. The library will use the form of Mark Twain to ensure that all examples of his work are cataloged under the same, consistent form. The same applies to the names of corporations, governmental entities, and events, such as Olympic Games. The Library of Congress, or other trained and certified catalogers working under the auspices of the Library of Congress, contribute names to the NAF as they need them, oftentimes for works by new authors or events. In this way, the file grows and is maintained by a network of libraries, not just the Library of Congress. This enhances its usability and versatility.

The next time you are looking at a bibliographic record, it’s important to note the effort that has gone into making the headings in that record consistent and able to “play well” with other bibliographic records in your system—and with headings in many of your non-bibliographic resources, such as databases and electronic resources.

 

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Scott Piepenburg is currently the Cataloging Services Manager at Brodart and is the author of the popular Easy MARC series, as well as articles on the future of library automation, the history of disc-based recording technology, and the role of cataloging AV materials for school and public libraries. Click here for more.