What’s it Like Being an MSLS Student in 2020? Interview with Meghan Herman

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Meghan Herman graduated in 2019 from Penn College of Technology with a B.S. degree in Industrial Design. However, being the daughter of a Brodart executive (Gretchen Herman is Brodart’s Vice President of Product Development), she grew up having a close familiarity with the library industry. It was no great surprise, then, that Meghan recently decided to pursue her Master of Science in Information and Library Science (MSLS) degree from Clarion University.

Not only is she currently studying diligently to become a librarian, she also works full time in Brodart’s Collection Development department. Talk about getting a crash course in libraries from two different angles at once!

What follows is a look at one person’s MSLS journey, which will be an ongoing feature in Librarian to Librarian. Please share your own perspective as you read about Meghan’s experiences.

 

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L2L: What made you want to become a librarian?

MH: I’ve always been interested in books, so that was a strong driver for me. I graduated with an undergraduate degree in Industrial Design, but by my senior year, I had decided it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. Also, after I graduated, there weren’t many available positions in the field. I knew I wanted to pursue a master’s degree, but the Industrial Design programs are mostly in New York City or California, where I didn’t want to be. Then I discovered an MSLS program at Clarion that doesn’t require an undergraduate degree in Library Science. I did a lot of research, talked to people, and thought about it for almost four months. Then I made the decision to pursue my MSLS and become a librarian.

L2L: What courses have you taken so far?

I completed an introduction to librarianship and a class on databases. I’m currently taking courses on developing library collections and Information sources and services.

 L2L: Have you chosen an area of concentration in your studies?

MH: We do have areas on concentration, but I have not picked one yet. I might stick with collection development or get more into the information science aspect.

L2L: What appeals to you about collection development?

MH: Well, I enjoy building lists. It’s my current position (at Brodart). The data portion of collection development is fascinating to me. When creating lists one of the important factors we consider is demand. But aside from bestsellers and popular authors and subjects, we need also to account for important books that may not show up in a demand search. For example, technical-oriented books that have lower Dewey Decimal numbers aren’t usually in high demand, but they can be very important for a library’s collection.

 L2L: Do they teach you how to “shush” unruly patrons in the library?

MH: (Laughing) I’m not there yet. That’s a more advanced course.

shutterstock_667206523L2L: Do you have any perspective on how MSLS curricula have changed over the past few decades?

MH: Well one thing I’ve discovered is that some librarians who got their degrees years ago are surprised to find that an entire course of study can be online these days. That can be a challenging aspect, because all of the interaction is spread throughout the day, as people post their comments to lectures and discussions according to their different schedules. This can make the discussions less spontaneous and I have to monitor those posts and experience the class through my phone, which is different.

As for the curriculum itself, I feel like electronic sources have become more important.

L2L: How about issues like gender and inclusiveness?

MH: One thing I can say is that our professors ask us what we prefer to be called—not only name or nickname, but also our preferred pronouns. I’m finding the industry to be very open. As long as you can do the work, people will accept you, no matter who you are.

L2L: What is it like working in a libraries services company while studying to become a librarian?

MH: It’s very interesting to see the same challenges from two different angles. One of our homework assignments was to pick a Dewey range, choose titles in that range, and fill categories for a collection. Essentially, we picked a specific range and were assigned a budget and a specific library to select for. I do that at work as well, but there I have access to a number of automated processes. The tricky part for me is to complete the homework assignment while knowing that I have more powerful tools to use at work that make the task much easier!

shutterstock_704005726About 50% of the students already work in the library industry—like me—but some do not. So the teachers have to tailor instruction based on how much each student already knows. At the beginning of my study, I was brand new, but since then, not only have I been studying library science, but I’ve also been working every day in the industry. Some students worked in libraries, found out they really enjoyed it, and then decided to get formal degrees. Other people worked in different industries but volunteered at libraries and, as a result, decided to switch careers.

 L2L: What do you enjoy most about MSLS studies?

MH: Probably the IS aspect — especially building technical information into databases.

L2L: Is it what you expected?

MH: Yes and no. It’s a lot more writing, but I should have expected that! There are a lot of research papers on various library systems. One assignment was to choose a well-known librarian and explore that person’s professional life. I picked Judith F. Krug, who fought hard for intellectual freedom in libraries. She surprised me somewhat, because while Krug looks the part of a typical librarian — quiet, reserved older woman—her appearance belied her significance in the library world. She was an outspoken champion for incorporating books in library collections that had formerly been regarded as taboo. She focused mostly on subjects like information about STDs—nothing erotic—but which had formerly been flagged as sexual and bad. She helped to change people’s thinking so that libraries now regard those topics as important medical texts, to be included on library shelves.

I’ve also written research papers on professional specialization within the library. The professor wanted us to explore more in an area that interested us, and I used this paper to examine different options before landing on academic librarianship. This career path, while interesting, is hard to get into starting out—so it will be interesting if I ever pursue it later on in life. The last paper I’ll mention focused on the impact of eBooks and eReaders on the library, both positively and negatively.

 

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Beyond the Clouds: What Ever Happened to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry?

By Travis Corter, Copywriter

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“All men have the stars…but they are not the same things for different people…You—you alone—will have the stars as no one else has them…” — “Wind, Sand and Stars,” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

 

Copyright Domaine de Saint-Exupery

Photo © Domain de Saint- Exupéry

What is it about unsolved mysteries that keeps our minds churning into the late hours of the night? Is it the compulsion to solve a puzzle no one else has, to be the first to see things clearly? Or maybe it’s the compulsion to understand what happened to a fellow traveler in life, especially one who fell earlier than expected.

The addictive rush of flying and a conviction to serve his own fellow travelers is what propelled author and avid aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of “The Little Prince,” through nearly every phase of his life before his disappearance in the summer of 1944. But the circumstances surrounding his disappearance aren’t the only mysterious aspects of his short life. Debate continues over whether the man was a supremely skilled or reckless pilot, whether he used his friends for gain or genuinely cared for them.

Let’s start with some of the basics to get a better understanding of the famous pilot and revered writer.

  • Born June 29, 1900, in Lyon, France.
  • Became a part-time mail pilot in 1924.
  • In October 1926, Saint-Exupéry flew mail to northern Africa, France, and Spain.
  • Published “The Aviator,” his first short story, in a literary magazine in 1926—the same year his oldest sister died of tuberculosis.
  • Saint-Exupéry’s first novel, “Night Mail,” was published in 1929.
  • Married Consuelo Suncin, a widowed Salvadoran writer/artist, in 1931.
  • During a 1935 Paris-to-Saïgon air race, Saint-Exupéry and André Prévot, his navigator, crashed in the Sahara desert. The two suffered mirages and fought dehydration and starvation for days—until a caravan of Bedouin found and helped them. This experience would years later become the key catalyst for “The Little Prince.” It was also detailed in Saint-Exupéry’s memoir “Wind, Sand and Stars.”
  • Antoine Saint-Exupéry’s most popular literary work, “The Little Prince,” was published in French and English in 1943. First published in the United States due to the ongoing war, which prevented Saint-Exupéry from publishing in France, the book was published in France in 1946.
  • On July 31, 1944, Saint-Exupéry embarked on an approved mission after eating with friends at a restaurant and cheerfully “performing card tricks and telling funny stories.” He was never seen again.

The Young Man

One of five children born into an aristocratic family, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was still a boy when his father, the Viscount Jean de Saint-Exupéry, died of a stroke. Antoine regarded his mother, Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger de Saint-Exupéry as “a beautiful, intelligent, and caring woman.” She and the five children moved to her aunt’s castle (yes, a real castle) in the northeast. Antoine’s dear brother, François, died from rheumatic fever at age 15, another reminder that loss is too often at the doorstep.

But Marie took Antoine for his first airplane ride when he was 12, and something new was born. So began an all-consuming love for flight. After failing to enter the French Naval Academy in 1918 and subsequently studying architecture at the School of Fine Arts in Paris, Saint-Exupéry earned his military pilot’s license in December 1921.

There was, however, more to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry than this passion for flight. Despite a shortened lifetime, he played many roles and left a lasting impact.

The Aviator

Narrow In PlaneActing as a mail pilot early in his career, Saint-Exupéry once fractured his skull in a plane crash. The accident dissuaded his fiancée at the time from further pursing their relationship due to the danger he constantly faced while flying. He also regularly rescued downed pilots. Some individuals claim they found balled-up pieces of paper in his planes and said the man would often keep flying until he completed the novel he was reading. This speaks to how his vocation and literary aspirations were closely intertwined.

When World War II descended, Saint-Exupéry flew reconnaissance missions for the French Air Force. As German Forces seized control of Paris in May 1940, Saint-Exupéry fled the country for New York. He would return to France in 1943 and promptly return to his squadron. Pilots 30 and over were not allowed to fly the P-38 Lightning, but then-42-year-old Saint-Exupéry convinced officials to make an exception for him. He once wrote in the “Paris-Soir” newspaper: “Don’t you understand that self-sacrifice, risk, loyalty unto death, these are behaviors that have contributed greatly to establishing man’s nobility?” He also confessed, “I feel like I am watching the war from a theatre seat.” He was also grounded, however, after crashing several planes.

The Lover

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Saint-Exupéry married Consuelo Carillo shortly after meeting her. Photo source: Historiahoy.com.ar

He married Salvadoran widow Consuelo Carrillo, an artist/writer, shortly after meeting her in 1931. Consuelo says in her memoir, “The Tale of the Rose,” that Antoine Saint-Exupéry gave her a puma in France after she fled his proposal on the very night they met, in Argentina. The two shared a passionate, if terribly strained, marriage.

The Writer

Saint-Exupéry was known to start each writing day at 11:00 p.m. and wrote until dawn. He often called his friends after midnight to read bits of what he’d written aloud. His second novel, “Night Flight,” was published in 1931 and won France’s esteemed “Prix Femina” literary prize. In 1932, after an English-language translation of “Night Flight” was released, the book was adapted for the silver screen, starring John Barrymore.

Wind Sand and StarsSaint-Exupéry published “Land of Men,” which recounted his flights over South America and North Africa, in 1939. The memoir won the 1939 “Grand Prix du Roman” and was released in the U.S. under the title “Wind, Sand and Stars,” in which Saint-Exupéry also describes the 1935 crash that would go on to inspire “The Little Prince.” “Wind, Sand and Stars” received the Grand Prize for Fiction from the French Academy, along with the United States National Book Award for best nonfiction book, a testament to the blurred lines Saint-Exupéry’s writing navigated.

Saint-Exupéry’s memoir “Flight to Arras,” detailing his reconnaissance flights in France, was published in the United States in 1942.

Little Prince Cover“The Little Prince,” first published in the U.S. during World War II and published three years later (1946) in France, is the author’s best-known work. The story takes its inspiration from a 1935 plane crash that stranded Saint-Exupéry and his navigator in the Sahara desert with no food or water for several days. “The Little Prince” is a fable for both children and adults. In it, a prince, who hails from Asteroid B 612, gains wisdom by traveling throughout the universe. When he lands on Planet Earth, he meets a downed pilot in the desert. The themes reflect the author’s views on friendship, death, childhood, and more.

The book has sold nearly 200 million copies and been translated into over 300 languages. Saint-Exupéry handed his good friend, Silvia Hamilton, a paper bag with his illustrations and “The Little Prince” manuscript tucked inside, with this apology: “I’d like to give you something splendid…but this is all I have.” The book was illustrated by the author himself, who gave the publisher strict guidelines regarding illustration placement and the captions to be included, among other parameters.

“The Little Prince” boasts adaptations including movies, ballet, opera, anime, live theatre, games, and even the world of music.  France even opened a Little Prince theme park, Le Parc du Petit Prince, in 2014. The park boasts several attractions and exhibits, including a roller coaster called The Snake. In 2013, a signed first edition of the title was estimated to be worth $25,000-$35,000.

The Myth

No one had the slightest clue what became of the revered aviator and author. Some suspected an accident, or that he was shot down. Others thought the pessimism of his later years might have driven the pilot to suicide. Then, in September 1998, fisherman Jean-Claude Bianco found an engraved bracelet caught in his trawling net—a bracelet belonging to none other than Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Hoping to keep the man’s status as a revered war hero of almost mythical proportions, the surviving Saint-Exupéry family opposed efforts to investigate the source of a landing gear found by scuba diver Luc Vanrell in May 2000. Major pieces of Saint-Exupéry’s downed aircraft, a P-38, was found and brought to the ocean’s surface in 2003. A serial number confirmed this craft belonged to Antoine Saint-Exupéry, though the lack of bullet holes and combat damage keep the aviator author’s true fate hidden behind a shroud of secrecy.

The Legacy

A three-foot-tall bronze likeness of the titular character of “The Little Prince” stands outside the Northport-East Northport Public Library in Long Island, NY, the result of a joint effort between the Saint-Exupéry estate and French expatriate Yvette Cariou O’Brien. Museum exhibitions and a foundation launched by his surviving family continue to advance some of the causes Saint-Exupéry valued.

The Friend

There is one more role Saint-Exupéry played that had a large impact on himself and everyone around him: Friend.

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Léon Werth, friend to Saint-Exupéry, told of his WWII ordeal in “33 Days,” though the memoir was not published until 1992. Photo source: Alchetron.com

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry dedicated “The Little Prince” to his close friend, Léon Werth, noting, “(H)e lives in France, where he is hungry and cold. He needs to be comforted.” Werth was a reputable Jewish critic and writer who could no longer publish once Germany occupied France. He would go on to survive World War II. Saint-Exupéry felt such a strong kinship with Werth that he smuggled Werth’s manuscript, a memoir recounting Werth’s ongoing ordeal and escape from a Paris ruled by wartime Germany, out of the Nazi-occupied country and brought it to New York.

Saint-Exupéry’s attempts to get his friend’s work published failed, but Saint-Exupéry did write an introduction to the memoir, which eventually be published in 1992. He wanted to convince the United States to enter World War II…and he longed to see his friend and compatriots set free of the fear that had made France inhospitable.

In the introduction to Léon Werth’s memoir, “33 Days,” Saint-Exupéry lamented one of several friends he’d lost in life. “Guillaumet, the last friend I lost, who was shot down flying mail service into Syria, I count him as dead, by God. He’ll never change. He’ll never be here again, but he’ll never be absent either.” Friendship and death seemed long intertwined throughout Saint-Exupéry’s life. He also noted in his “33 Days” introduction that “(t)he presence of someone apparently far away can become more substantial than before they left.” Meaning that absence truly does make the heart grow ever fonder.

Regarding the ache that comes from a cherished acquaintance being plucked out of one’s life, Saint-Exupéry wrote: “Bit by bit… it comes over us that we shall never again hear the laughter of our friend, that this one garden is forever locked against us. And at that moment begins our true mourning, which, though it may not be rending, is yet a little bitter. For nothing, in truth, can replace that companion…One by one, our comrades slip away, deprive us of their shade.” –Excerpt from “Wind, Sand and Stars.”

In “The Little Prince,” however, Saint-Exupéry assures readers that no one is ever truly gone: “In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…”

Saint-Exupéry’s love of people drove him skyward time and again as a mail pilot. It was his love of people, not just country, that drove him to fight for France and join his comrades in the clouds during some of the most harrowing times the world has seen. He wasn’t perfect, not one of us is, but he was a fierce friend. And though his later writings may have seemed melancholy, Saint-Exupéry stood firm in the assertion that the darkest night is always lit by those we love, if only we look up.

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10 Deadlines Only a Librarian Would Understand

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Image by Cartoon Resource

 

For librarians, deadlines invite a special chance to embrace the sometimes absurd—but always rewarding—task of meeting patrons’ unique and changing needs.

Here are 10 deadlines that only a librarian can fully understand.

 

1. Buy $100,000 worth of books in three days—but only titles NOT available in the U.S.

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Spanish Language Selector Nerissa Moran: “My funniest book deadline would be buying at the book fair in Guadalajara. Talk about a rush order!”

 

2. Become a master on The Masters as fast as humanly possible.

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Richard Hallman, M.Ln.: “Way back when I was a news librarian, we had many deadline requests.” Here’s one Richard remembers well: “Find out everything you can, as fast as you can, about everyone who’s a member of Augusta National Golf Club, AKA ‘The Masters’ golf club.”

 

3. Order at least 1,000 books per day.

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Fern Hallman, M.Ln.: “This was back in the day, before Bibz and the World Wide Web (1988), ordering an average of 1,000 books per day for new library branches in Atlanta.”

 

4. Give children a library tour of a building you’re completely unfamiliar with.

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Gwen Vanderhage, MLIS: “The only crazy deadline I have faced would be: Show up as a substitute librarian at a branch and find out I need to take school kids on a tour in half an hour—but I’ve never been in this building before!”

 

5. Set up a camera to welcome students to school on live TV—with NO prior experience.

TV Studio Kid

Suzanne Hawley, MLS: “I was hired to open a new school… My attention was solely focused on unpacking and organizing the collection on the new shelves, as well as managing the set-up of computers in the library… The principal mentioned to me that I would also oversee a TV studio. Late on the Friday before the first week of school, she told me she expected to welcome students live on TV for their first day. I Had NO idea how to operate ANYTHING in a TV studio. Wearily, I unpacked the camera and tried, without luck, to figure out how it sent signals to the classrooms. Never underestimate a librarian! The principal was seen on the TVs in every classroom at 9 a.m. the first day of school.”

 

6. Find a way to wheel a TV downstairs for a group of toddlers—while the elevators are down.

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There is no limit to the lengths to which a librarian will go to help little ones gain a literary edge. Desperate times sometimes call for creativity. Luckily, librarian ingenuity often strikes at the eleventh hour. Never bet against a librarian under pressure.

 

7. Find 26 wine corks and make a pumpkin out of them. Post-haste.

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Autumn opens the door to all kinds of unique opportunities for librarians. And that means unique challenges. Programs like Wine-Cork Pumpkin Making provide a chance to feature special activities for adults, giving them a new excuse to visit the library.

 

8. Get told you have to create an escape room in time for the library’s grand reopening—and on a shoestring budget.

Escape Room

Escape rooms challenge those within to use problem-solving skills and sometimes motor skills to successfully unlock a door and emerge with a sense of accomplishment. Such a program, with adult supervision provided, could benefit library goers. Organizing the event, though? That’s a different challenge altogether!

 

9. Learn everything you can about ska, starting yesterday.

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Maybe a fellow librarian was going to lead a program on ska featuring instruments the young attendees could make themselves. Unfortunately, she’s come down with a nasty bug and asked you to fill in. So you dive in and get to work. Librarians are masters of the impossible.

 

10. Dress up as a children’s book character when the person scheduled to play that character suddenly cancels.

Sailor Costume

There’s a unique adrenaline that comes with undertaking such a substantial feat with little to no prep time. But nothing beats putting a smile on someone else’s face or eliciting giggles.

 

This is just a sampling of the quirky obstacles librarians often face. Odds are, you have your own fun anecdote about a library deadline no one else would understand. We hope some of these have brought a smile to your face. Remember, you’re not alone!

Is it Time to Eliminate Overdue Fines?

By Fern Hallman, M.Ln.

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I have been a library user my whole life. My mom took us to the library every week, and kept perfect track of all of the books we borrowed. We were never late. I won’t say we were afraid of the local librarians, but we certainly understood that the library was a great service and that we should cooperate fully with the rules. However, the rules were not always easy for those with limited resources, like families with unreliable transportation or personal issues. Also, to use a watered-down cliché, THINGS HAPPEN. Maybe you left a book in a hotel or a taxi, and were unable to confess at the library. Would this go on your permanent record? Will this prevent you from ever visiting the library again?

Take a look at this map from the Urban Libraries Council. It shows a strong national movement for the elimination of library fines. While some libraries see the fines as a revenue stream, in many cases the fine money just goes back into the city or county general fund and does not directly benefit the library. This study from Library Journal, perhaps the most scientific one available, notes that only 15% of fines collected nationally by public libraries is spent on library materials. A little more unscientifically, you may take into account that libraries incur labor costs when they track and collect fines, and that some libraries even pay collection agencies to collect fines.

According to one perspective, fines are a useful way to teach and promote personal responsibility, while others feel that it’s more important to encourage reading and forego the morality. You can read more about the debate here.

shutterstock_741262948Some library systems have been reluctant to completely eliminate fines, choosing other creative ways to approach the issue. A different option is to eliminate fines only for youth, since fines often keep parents from allowing their children to use libraries. Libraries hope to increase access to reading and other library services to those who need them most. Not to worry—most libraries still expect books to be returned before more can be checked out.

Here are two more examples of libraries that are eliminating fees for younger patrons:

shutterstock_108717770Several libraries—including Santa Clara County Library District and Dearborn Public Library—have established programs to allow patrons to pay their debts in alternative ways, including through food donations. Perhaps this is a good way to generate goodwill and retrieve long lost library materials.

It may be too soon to determine how this issue will play out, but here’s an early result. According to news reports, the Chicago Public Library, one of the largest library systems in the country, has seen a 240% increase in book returns since the implementation of a fine-free policy. The new policy has also improved public perception of the library system and attracted new users.

Your library system may not be ready to make this move, but it’s certainly something worth thinking about.

For more on the magic we librarians create, here’s an interesting article on the role of librarians.

 

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Fern

Fern has worked for Brodart as a Collection Development Librarian since 1990. She also did a stint as a reference librarian in the CNN newsroom and is married to a newspaper librarian. Click here for more.

What Ever Happened to R.L. Stine?

By Paul Duckworth, MLS

The name R.L. Stine may be quite familiar to librarians, but what about the man behind the books? Those of you with only a passing familiarity of the author have likely asked at least one of these questions:

“R.L. Stine? Who was he? Whatever happened to him, anyway?”

“He’s not a real person. It’s like the Hardy Boys series, all those books have been churned out by a team of writers.”

“Oh, he was that nerdy guy who wrote all those scary little books for kids, wasn’t he?”

“Isn’t he dead?”

“I feel like I ought to mark a pathway on the floor of the Children’s Department so kids could just follow it to find the R.L. Stine books, instead of asking me again, and again, and again!”

Stop right there! Are you talking about the R.L. Stine that I’m talking about? Let’s look at the facts. First of all, he is not dead. But, if you thought he might be, you’re not alone. He recently turned 76 and, as we all know, that’s pretty old (no offense to the septuagenarians reading this). At a book signing a couple years ago, a teacher approached him, phone clutched in hand, and said, “Can I have my picture taken with you? The kids all think you’re dead.”

And to tell the truth, despite the fact that he makes his living writing children’s horror stories, he doesn’t look at all like a horror storyteller. I know, that begs the question, “What’s a famous horror writer supposed to look like?” I don’t know…why not go ask Siri or Alexa?

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The first “Goosebumps” series featured 62 books.

Stine has often joked about the local newspaper in Ohio describing him this way: “In person, R.L. Stine is about as scary as an optometrist.” Stine then goes on to say, “I’m basically a jolly guy who likes to sit at a keyboard all day and write things to frighten children.” Then he shares the anecdote about the time he was outdoors, walking toward the conference center where he was going to speak, when a woman stopped him and said, “Did anyone ever tell you look a lot like R.L. Stine? No offense.” And, of course, he never hesitates to tell people that a magazine once described him as a “training bra for Stephen King.”

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Meet Jovial Bob, himself.
Image credit: scholastic.com

Robert Lawrence Stine was born in Columbus, Ohio, on October 8, 1943, the first of three children. He grew up in Bexley, an old, tree-lined suburb of Columbus. His father was a warehouse clerk, his mother a homemaker, and the family was poor, quite poor (no offense to any penurious people reading this). As Stine relates, “I had to wear my cousin’s old clothes to school. I think it made me very shy. It’s one reason I liked staying in my room and writing.” And he really did like to stay in his room. His mother would often try to coax him, unsuccessfully, to go outside and play. “What’s wrong with you?” she would blurt out. Lucky for his future fans, Stine didn’t budge from his room. He was an avid reader and began writing when he was nine. He recalls, “I was this weird kid. I found an old typewriter in the attic and I dragged it into my room and I would just stay in my room, typing — typing out funny stories and little comic books.” And he has never stopped writing since. When he turned 13, his parents asked what he wanted for a bar mitzvah gift. Guess what he chose—a new typewriter! “They bought me an office-type machine. We’re talking a heavy-duty typewriter here. It was perfect. I used that typewriter for years.” Just imagine—all those books he’s written on that typewriter, and all of them using one finger at a time—he never learned how to type.

After high school, he attended The Ohio State University, where he majored in English. His freshman year he had to borrow the money needed to pay his tuition. He graduated in 1965, after having been the editor of the school humor magazine for three years. In an August 2018 Wall Street Journal article, Stine describes what happened next:

After graduating from Ohio State, I drove to Manhattan in my white Corvair. I sold it for $400 as soon as I arrived and moved into an apartment in Greenwich Village. My first job was writing fake celebrity news for a woman who published six movie magazines at her townhouse on West 95th Street. I never saw her out of her brown bathrobe. Three of us came each day to write. She’d tell me to write an interview with Jane Fonda or Diana Ross. There never were any interviews. We were expected to make it all up. After a long string of writing jobs, I wound up at Scholastic. The publisher had launched Dynamite, a magazine for kids. It was so successful I was asked in 1975 to launch Bananas, a humor magazine for teens.

He adopted the name Jovial Bob Stine and remained Bananas’ editor and chief writer for 10 years. Then, Scholastic went through a major reorganization and Jovial Bob lost his job with the company. Soon afterwards, he found himself desperately doing all kinds of work to survive financially. One day, he remembers, “I was having lunch with an editor, a friend of mine. And she had had a fight with somebody who was writing YA novels, horror novels. And she said ‘I’m never working with him again. You could write a good horror novel. Go home and write a book called Blind Date.’ She even gave me the title.” He did a name switch from Jovial Bob to R.L., since that made him sound like a more serious author of horror. The book was released in 1986 and was met with success. So, as fate would have it, Stine turned from his first love of writing humor to writing horror. Millions of children who like to get frightened are glad that he did.

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R.L. Stine’s first “Fear Street” novel, “The New Girl,” was published in 1989.

In 1989, he created the “Fear Street” series for teens, which led to more than 100 titles. Stine’s wife, Jane, had recently co-founded Parachute Publishing, and “Fear Street” found a home with Parachute. Jane became Stine’s editor, which she has continued throughout his career. And yes, all of his books are written by Stine himself, the “one finger wonder.” Unlike so many other authors, he does not use ghostwriters. Three years later, Jane and her business partner at Parachute suggested to Stine that he create a horror series aimed at kids between seven and 12, which was an untapped market. He was somewhat reluctant, but told them he would give it a try if he could come up with a good name for the series. Soon afterwards, Stine was reading TV Guide and saw an ad that proclaimed, “It’s Goosebumps Week on channel 11.” This was 1992, and as it’s often said, the rest is history.

Now, after more than 125 “Goosebumps” titles, two wildly successful “Goosebumps” movies have been released, which has generated renewed interest in the book series. A new movie is coming out next year based on his Fear Street series. Stine has also written two well-received picture books, both illustrated by Marc Brown. He has sold over 400 million copies of his books and they have been translated into 35 languages. He is one of the best-selling authors in history, has achieved incredible success, and is estimated to be worth about $200 million. He modestly attributes his success to the fact that kids like to be scared and the books are very easy to read. He and his wife Jane live in a large apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. They also have a home in Sag Harbor, NY, at the eastern edge of Long Island, where Bob likes to barbeque. So, given his age, what do you suppose he is doing with his time, aside from grilling meat? One might assume he is kicking back and enjoying his golden years with his family. After all, he and Jane have one son and a grandchild. Coasting along? No way! Relaxing is not how he’s spending his days, other than participating in the beloved rituals of the barbeque.

Who is this person? What makes R.L. Stine tick? He is a humble, gentle man with a huge sense of dark, dry humor. He loves horsing around with his jokes and… he loves making kids frightened. Ask him what his proudest accomplishment is, and he shoots back, “Getting kids to read.” He is intensely curious, loves being entertaining with people, and although a natural introvert, has honed the extroverted skills needed to connect with others. He has an active mind that never seems to stop—perhaps as a result of his voracious reading habits. He keeps up a dizzying schedule of book conferences, bookstore signings, media interviews, and school visits. When I contacted him recently, he messaged back, “Wish I had time, but I’m traveling now, Paul.” He seems to get genuine pleasure from connecting with children, librarians, teachers, and the adults who were his fans 20 or 30 years ago. In response to repeated questions from kids about his writing techniques and his awareness of today’s distractions that keep children from writing, he created a 16-page writing program for teachers to use with their students. Also, no doubt in response to thousands of requests, his website offers a package of images that children can download for school reports (including his and Jane’s wedding photo).

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Send your fan mail—he does read it!
R.L. Stine
Parachute Publishing, LLC
157 Columbus Avenue
Room 518
New York, NY

He’s often asked where he gets his ideas and what advice he would give to young writers. “People always say do I have advice for young people and generally I don’t give advice for young writers at all,” Stine says. “[But] I never said no to anything when I was starting out as a writer. Just say yes. Say yes to everything.”. R.L. Stine is a man with a passion, and not just about scaring children. His devotion shows through in the introduction he wrote to teachers for his writing program. He is outspoken about the benefits children receive from reading and writing. Last year, Mental Floss published a list of 12 quotes from him in honor of his 75th birthday, clearly revealing Stine’s firm belief in the value of being a literate person.

In a 2015 interview, NPR’s Michel Martin asked him, “Since the ‘Goosebumps’ series started, there have been a number of children’s books series that have also been successful, but none like yours. I just wondered if you—you know, what—of all the things that you’ve done, what do you want your legacy to be?” Stine replied, “My legacy? Oh, I don’t know. I guess on my tombstone: He got boys to read.”

Jovial Bob has indeed turned boys—and girls—into readers, and sparked their imaginations. Chances are good that right now he is planning or participating in another public appearance where hundreds of his young, excited fans will delight in his storytelling, humor, and passion. At 76, he shows no sign of winding down—or giving up writing his scary stories. Like the Energizer Bunny, he is still going. Nothing outlasts R.L. Stine.

Thank you, R.L. Stine. Countless kids, teachers, and librarians adore you. Your contributions to spreading the values of reading and writing are colossal. You can be certain your legacy will be long-lasting. And… maybe someday… you and I can have that chat by phone before you head out to barbeque some chicken. You’ve got my number.

 

Paul Duckworth New - 2.5 x 3
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.

 

 

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

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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

 

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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 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.