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.

 

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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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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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The Man and the Machine: What Ever Happened to Oliver Sacks?

By Paul Duckworth, MLIS

On a sunny, mild day last week, rare this winter in the Midwest, I walked to the mailbox to collect the usual assortment of flyers: oil change coupons, muffler shop flyers, supermarket ads, the ubiquitous fast food coupons, and special offers for hearing aids (yes, I admit that I am “of that age”). There, mostly hidden amidst the glossy and pulp paper promotions, was something I actually wanted—the new issue of The New Yorker, dated February 11. And so, sometime that evening, after walking outdoors enjoying the weather, cleaning up after the cat, and cooking a pot of spicy curried dal, I was able to settle in and savor the deliciously-drawn and worded cartoons, plus an article or two of interest. As I flipped through pages, I stopped, riveted and disbelieving, on page 28: an article by Oliver Sacks! Those who don’t know me can’t appreciate what a fan I am of this odd, intelligent, soft-spoken Brit.

You may very well be mulling over the words “Oliver” and “Sacks” and thinking, “Is it Sacks? Seems it should be Sachs” and “Why are those words somehow meaningful to me?” Or perhaps, “Wasn’t he a doctor?” Or, “Why am I connecting him with Robin Williams?” Plus, of course, the question “Whatever happened to him?”

What happened to him is simple to say: he died in 2015, aged 82, after a great career as a neurologist and writer. The fact that he is deceased may help you better understand why my eyes were riveted, my mind reeling, by this page 28 in one of my favorite magazines. The article was titled, appropriately enough, “The Machine Stops.” Is Sacks comparing himself to a worn out machine? I wondered. Are we humans merely a collection of wires and chemical reactions operating under the marvelous laws of physics? Has Sacks spoken from the dead? More about this article soon, but first, some background about the man and his marvelously mesmerizing mind.

Unless you are a neurologist, your first association with Sacks probably dates back to a movie theater in 1990 when you went to see Robin Williams and Robert De Niro in “Awakenings.” Or, if your amalgamation of protoplasmic cells had not yet emerged onto planet Earth back then, you might have watched the film more recently at home on DVD, courtesy of your local library. But then, being the reader you are, no doubt you connected the film to the book of the same title, written by none other than Oliver Sacks.

So, you very well may know who Oliver Sacks is, or was. However, I’d wager that there’s a lot about the man which you may not know. Following is a list of statements about Sacks and his life. See if you can tell which of them of him are true, which are false. Answers are at the bottom of this article, in small print, upside down. Take a guess, or look up the answers in your thousands of books and millions of web pages at your disposal.

  1. He was British, born in London.
  2. Was a bodybuilder on Muscle Beach in Venice, Calif.
  3. First cousin of Israeli prime minister Abba Eban.
  4. Suffered from a rare condition called prosopagnosia: a neurological condition characterized by the inability to recognize the faces of familiar people.
  5. His I.Q. was between 180 and 200, higher than that of Stephen Hawking.
  6. Sacks “discovered” Temple Grandin and wrote about her.
  7. Used L-Dopa.
  8. Was a meth-head, for a time.
  9. Was gay.
  10. Immigrant to the U.S.
  11. Lived on an Israeli Kibbutz for a while.
  12. Scuba diver.
  13. Both parents were physicians.
  14. Failed medical school.
  15. Atheist.
  16. Owned a BMW motorcycle, which propelled him on numerous long road trips.
  17. In his early college days, after being awarded £50 for an Oxford University essay on anatomy, he spent most of it to purchase the twelve-volume Oxford English Dictionary.
  18. His middle name was Wolf.
  19. Made friends with the Hell’s Angels.
  20. A collection of his essays, titled The River of Consciousness, was published posthumously in 2017.
  21. A collection of his essays, Everything In Its Place, will be released this April.
  22. Recovered from encephalitis lethargica, also known as sleeping sickness.
  23. His books have been translated into more than 25 languages.
  24. Was reputed to have been a prolific handwritten-letter writer who never used email.
  25. His neurological knowledge helped inform the early inventive stages of the Internet.
  26. Authored 16 books.
  27. Doubting himself, he burned the manuscript for the first book he wrote.
  28. Suffered from writer’s block for several years.

So, how did you do? Look, now you know more facts about Sacks than you ever thought you wanted to know, plus a few plausible-sounding things that are not true.

OliverSacks-quote

In case you’re wondering, I haven’t forgotten about saying more in regard to what inspired me to begin this article: Sacks’ short essay, “The Machine Stops.” In the summer of 2015, weakened by cancer, short of breath, his eyesight failing, having just a few weeks to live, Sacks was attempting to complete an essay about social media and in the midst of his work discovered the prescient 1909 short story “The Machine Stops,” by E.M. Forster. Forster’s story was set in a futuristic world where people live in solitary isolation underground and a giant machine takes care of all their needs, including a device for communicating with other isolated people that we today would recognize as instant messaging and video chat. At the story’s close, the machine “crashes” and down goes civilization with it. But before they die in the chaotic entropy, people realize this: the only thing that matters is humanity and one’s connection to the natural world. Forster’s Sci-Fi story resonated with Sacks, and in a letter (handwritten, of course) to his friend Atul Gawande, Sacks shared that he was trying to complete his essay about smartphones, etc. and was delighted to have found Forster’s short story.

In this final, brief piece, “The Machine Stops,” which The New Yorker withheld until now, Sacks wrote what were perhaps his final words to the public and “raged against the machine” with his calm, intelligent, rational, and cogent observational thoughts:

Everything is public now, potentially: one’s thoughts, one’s photos, one’s movements, one’s purchases…. [People] have given up, to a great extent, the amenities and achievements of civilization: solitude and leisure, the sanction to be oneself, truly absorbed, whether in contemplating a work of art, a scientific theory, a sunset, or the face of one’s beloved…. [I feel] that the very culture in which one was nourished, and to which one has given one’s best in return, is itself threatened [and I have] deep fears about the well-being and even survival of our world. Nonetheless, I dare to hope that, despite everything, human life and its richness of cultures will survive, even on a ravaged earth. While some see art as a bulwark of our collective memory, I see science, with its depth of thought, its palpable achievements and potentials, as equally important; and science, good science, is flourishing as never before. I revere good writing and art and music, but … only science, aided by human decency, common sense, farsightedness, and concern for the unfortunate and the poor, offers the world any hope in its present morass. This idea is explicit in Pope Francis’s encyclical [On Care For Our Common Home]…. We can surely pull the world through its present crises and lead the way to a happier time ahead. As I face my own impending departure from the world, I have to believe in this—that mankind and our planet will survive, that life will continue, and that this will not be our final hour.

As I conclude, I think about the film “Awakenings” and Sacks’ later comments about his work in that hospital ward. He was tenacious and courageous in trying to reach and cure those patients who were locked in their own bodies, yet awake in their minds. I think about listening to the audio version of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat as I drove through the Sandhills of Nebraska one July many years ago. Sacks was compelled by his curiosity to enter the world of these people with neurological differences and share their experiences with us. On The Move comes to mind, his fascinating tell-all autobiography that I listened to a couple of years ago as I was driving to Yellowstone. I loved listening to his voice, as he accounted stories and scientific knowledge. What lingers most for me, though, is his sense of compassion for those with neurological differences and how he treated each person with whom he worked with gentleness. Sacks regarded each one as a full, three-dimensional human being, rather than mere subject or patient. In so doing, he has given his readers much wonder, delight, empathy, and insight into the human condition. Sacks was a 19th-century gentleman who, lucky for us, lived in the 20th and early 21st centuries. His joy of knowledge and his ability to take events and facts and weave them into insightful connections is unparalleled. His words remain as a gift for us and for the future.Answers

 

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Shreddings of the Heart: Who Was V. C. Andrews?

By Paul Duckworth, MLS

As a young, impressionable librarian, recently graduated with my MLS degree, I went to work in a public library in a medium-sized Midwestern city, where I did the usual reference tasks common in the 1970s. I was fascinated by the rich variety of interests and passions that motivated patrons to not only visit the library but actually come to the desk and ask for help (how often does that happen these days?). Among the subjects and authors that people were looking for, two names often popped up in requests: “Where’s Barbara Cartland?” and “Why aren’t there any V. C. Andrews books on the shelf?”

I gracefully step aside from discussion of Cartland’s bodice rippers and ask you to focus your attention on today’s topic: shreddings of the heart, which is what Andrews penned. Stir together themes of vulnerable children tormented by neglect, rape, incest, greed, death, or betrayal by a family member, sprinkle in ghastly gothic overtones, skillfully fold in some personal tragedy, and top it all off with the workings of a vivid imagination, and it is no wonder that readers of V. C. Andrews’ five-book “Dollanganger” series identified with the characters and felt as if their hearts had been ripped apart with each new installment.

V._C._Andrews Source Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Who was this V. C. Andrews who attracted so much interest from readers, especially teenage girls? And whatever became of her? Yes, I know — in simple terms, she died. “What!?” you say, “Dead? But she has a new book coming out this month!” Indeed. That’s part of the story. There is much more to tell, both before and after her passing.

Cleo Virginia Andrews was born on June 6, 1923 to William and Lillian Andrews of Portsmouth, Virginia. After high school, she enrolled in art correspondence courses and then began a successful career as a commercial artist and fashion illustrator. All the while, she felt completely compelled to write, and did so every night after work, at home, where she continued to live with her mother, Lillian, for Cleo’s entire life (for Lillian outlived her).

Silent Pain

Unbeknownst to most people, Virginia was crippled and confined to a wheelchair much of her adult life. Two conflicting stories exist about the cause of her condition. One claims she fell down the stairs at school, which caused back injuries. The other, vouched by relatives, says she suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis. Family members describe her as being in a full-body cast for a time, and having little or no neck movement. Her editor, Ann Patty, said, “Her spine was fused – it didn’t move. From her butt bone to her head, the spine did not move.” Her cousin describes Andrews as standing up at a high desk and typing out her first few novels. Whatever the cause, Andrews lived her life in great, unremitting pain. She suffered in silence, but the pain poured out through pen and paper. Fans of her fiction can be thankful that her hands and mind did not object to constant use.

Andrews was bored by her artistic daytime job. All her imagination and energy went into writing. Several stories and novels were rejected. Then, a magic moment: her pitch letter to a literary agent resulted in “Flowers in The Attic” being bought by Pocket Books with a $7,500 advance. Two weeks after its 1979 paperback publication, it was on the bestseller list. And the rest, as they say, is history.

So how did Cleo Virginia Andrews become V. C.? As one story goes, a printer at Pocket Books reversed her name on the cover and shortened it to initials. Another explanation is that the publisher wanted readers to wonder if the author was a man or a woman. Just think—we could be talking about the famous Cleo Virginia Andrews today! A happy accident, or publisher’s strategy, indeed.

Fame and Inspiration

When fame (and fortune) landed in her lap, Andrews avoided publicity. She was quite private and gave few interviews. Indeed, her physical condition was not well known. She kept her focus, day and night, on writing, never caring about health or other matters. According to a relative, Joan Andrews, “She knew she had a lump on her breast, but would not take care of the situation until she finished the current novel she was working on and also the sequel. By then the cancer had begun to spread.” She died of breast cancer on December 19, 1986, just seven years after “Flowers'” first publication and is buried in Olive Branch Cemetery, Portsmouth, Virginia. In a rare interview with Contemporary Authors, she said, “There is no beauty without ugliness, and no enjoyment without suffering; we have to have the shade in order to see the light, and that is all I do in a story, put my characters in the shade–and try before the ending, to have them in the sunlight…. My novels are based on dreams, and situations taken from my own life, in which I change the pattern so that what might have happened actually does happen–and therein lies the tale.”

Andrew Neiderman

MV5BZTQ2OTA3ZTQtYjEzYy00ZWUxLThkMzEtYjQ3YTFhOWIyNGY1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjQwMDg0Ng@@._V1_

Source: IMDB

V.C.’s two brothers and her mother took charge of her estate, and along with their publisher, secretly selected an author to continue the ideas and storylines of her books. It seems that a tax case in the early 1990s between the estate and the IRS resulted in the ghostwriter’s name being publicly revealed. Andrew Neiderman has been the voice of V.C. Andrews’ many bestsellers since finishing up her fifth book, “Garden of Shadows.” His story is fascinating in itself. He was hired by the estate, never met V.C. Andrews, and is a popular fiction writer in his own right, with several novels published. When he began writing as V.C. Andrews, he used two different computers, one for his own work, and one for Andrews’. He has done quite well in imitating her voice, types of characters, and nuances. Contemporary readers maintain the popularity of her novels, with no end in sight. Many seem not to know that Andrews has been gone for more than 30 years.

Continuing a Legacy

Neiderman recently signed another contract with Simon & Schuster for an additional four V.C. Andrews titles, after already having done about twenty. “Silhouette Girl” was just released on January 2. “Beneath the Attic,” a prequel to “Flowers in the Attic,” comes out at the end of August, 2019. For those with a fondness for statistics, her 75+ novels have sold more than 100 million copies in 95 countries and have been translated into 25 languages. Not bad, eh?

 

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What Ever Happened to…?

By Paul Duckworth, MLS

Xerox Machine

Chester Carlson invented the photocopier in 1938, but the now ubiquitous magic machine didn’t appear in commercial usage until 1959. The first one in the spotlight was the hefty Xerox 914, weighing in at a whopping 650 pounds. It wasn’t long before college students and librarians were “Xeroxing” magazine articles and catalog cards galore, in addition to using the trademarked name as an adjective and a verb.

If you’re old enough, you may recall the Xerox Corporation joining the ranks of Kleenex, Frigidaire, Clorox, and others in endless attempts to get people to stop misusing its name. Today, we “photocopy” everything under the sun using countless brands of equipment. The Xerox Corporation is still in business, and they still make Xerox machines. However, like so many longtime names in American business, they were absorbed into a new enterprise (now called Fuji Xerox).

Microfilm ReaderMicroFilm Reader_1048960790

Bulky and cavernous, these hulks — with names like Kodagraph — started taking up space in libraries during the 1930s. Early models demanded darkened rooms and considerable floor space, although new technology helped squeeze down their size in the 1960s. By the 90s, however, microfilm readers began their decline into obsolescence, a casualty of the mad rush towards digitization. Most medium to large libraries still have one or more devices tucked away for reading microfilm or microfiche on demand, but many staff are understandably unfamiliar with how to use them.

old librarian_2167390Hair in Buns, Shushing, Sensible Shoes: The Image of the Mean Spinster

How did we come to collectively use this image to represent a librarian? In the mid-to-late-19th century, single women started working outside the home in much greater numbers. With many professions still forbidden to women, that of librarian was one of several careers that became known as a “woman’s profession.”

Cornell University librarian Michael Engle, in his fascinating paper “Remythologizing Work: The Role of Archetypal Images in the Humanization of Librarianship,” discusses how the single female librarian was seen as a “good mother,” someone who would educate children and provide morally good literature for the poor and uneducated masses. As Engle relates, the shadow side of this “Good Mother” is “The Crone.” The negative image of the librarian came to gradually replace that of the saint who helps others. Armed with a scowl, shushing library patrons, hair in a bun, feet outfitted in sensible shoes, this mean character lurks even today in the imagination of some people, not to mention living on as a convenient cliché in advertisements. Some of us librarians might admit that, in our early days, we may have put our own fingers to lips to tone down excessive noise within our hallowed halls. I am not confessing.

Card Catalogs

Starting with the Library of Congress’ catalog card service in 1911, libraries began subscribing to this service and filing these cards in the multi-drawered furniture we all remember fondly. Later, OCLC offered its own card service to libraries. Surprisingly, this service continued being offered to customers well into the 21st century. Its termination on October 1, 2015, marked an official close to the card catalog, though they had vanished from most libraries long before that.

Where do old catalogs go to die? Many of them have found new purpose with these uses: sewing and craft supplies, wine storage, coffee tables, shoe holders, displays for postcards in antique shops, etc. Perhaps the most famous example of re-purposing appeared in the TV series “The Big Bang Theory,” where a card catalog starred as part of Sheldon’s living room decor. And what about those millions of rag content cards with summaries, height in centimeters, pagination, and tracings? At least one resourceful librarian took a heavy box of them home when his library’s card catalog was put to rest. He used them for note-taking and grocery lists. How do I know this? As with the aforementioned shushing, I am not confessing.

But wait, I have declared an end to the catalog too quickly! For libraries that continue to make use of the system today, Brodart makes handsome, well-constructed card catalogs.

24301650_120185669969Library Paste

This sticky paste, generally known in the industry as starch glue, was made of water and flour. Eons ago, many of us used it in our professional endeavors as an all-purpose glue. For the sake of professional accuracy, I must add that as children, a few of us might also have eaten it. You guessed it: I am not confessing to this, either. Production of starch glues was tied to supplies from extensive cassava plantations in Indonesia. When they fell under Japanese control during the Second World War, the industry turned to other types of glues. Here’s a paper on the history of wood adhesives that reveals even more (PDF).

I was not able to discover when use of library paste ceased but can confidently say that when sensible and progressive library staff learned about the virtues of the new PVA glues, they embraced the technological advancement and firmly stuck to it. Besides offering better adhesive qualities, this glue is apparently not palatable.

Library CatsCat on Books_609107240

What ever happened to those lovely felines that used to live in libraries? Many of their kind remain to prowl the stacks and fend off mice. Library cats are still in residence in libraries nationwide, although their numbers are decreasing, perhaps due to a combination of ADA, allergies, and the protests of ailurophobes. My cat still rules over my personal library, though he prefers watching television and sleeping in front of my computer keyboard.

16mm Film Projectors

Can anyone over the age of 40 ever forget the sound of the trusty workhorse Bell & Howell 16mm film projector? For a bit of auditory nostalgia, listen to this YouTube clip. At one time, it was important for AV staff in libraries to know how to use the three types of machines: Manual Threading, Self-Threading, and Slot-Loading.

The introduction of VHS tapes for commercial and educational use in the 1980s led to the demise of film projectors in most libraries. For a brief period, VHS struggled against a competing format, Beta, but soon won supremacy. We all know what eventually happened to VHS. Though gone from libraries, VHS today lives on in basements, attics, and garage sales. Here’s an article on old film projectors to take you farther down memory lane.

CDs_786220756CD-ROM Databases

In the early days of digital information use in libraries, the Internet did not exist for us. Vendors supplied libraries with CD-ROM discs, which looked like today’s music CDs and DVDs. Who of a certain age does not remember InfoTrac, which first infiltrated academic libraries in 1985, and soon followed across all types of libraries? Once Internet access became stable, CD-ROM use soon shriveled and shrank. EdTech has a nice online retrospective on CD-ROM databases.

Melvil Dewey

Born Melville Louis Kossuth Dewey in 1851 in rural Adams Center, New York, Dewey is known for his wide-ranging interests in education, winter sports, spelling reform, and — of course — libraries. His eponymous classification system still thrives, despite long-term competition from the Library of Congress classification system and recent library developments that use a bookstore style to group books by BISAC headings.

As an aside, Dewey would not have survived the current #MeToo movement, for another of his avid interests was female anatomy. Wayne Wiegand, whose biography “Irrepressible Reformer: A Biography of Melvil Dewey” is considered the most historically complete and revealing, describes his behavior using the phrase “a persistent inability to control himself around women.” Dewey was an interesting, if somewhat controversial character, and it would be fun to write much more about the co-founder of the American Library Association and inventor of the Dewey Decimal System. But to return to the focus of this article, Dewey died of a stroke in Florida, in 1931, at the age of 80.

This forward-thinking quote from Dewey still rings true today:

“A library’s function is to give the public in the quickest and cheapest way: information, inspiration, and recreation. If a better way than the book can be found, we should use it.”

Henriette Avram

If you are like most librarians, you’re asking, “Who was she?” Avram, without a doubt, was one of the most influential figures ever to shape libraries, although few recognize her name. Avram was born in New York in 1919. She was not a librarian by training. Rather, she was a computer programmer who worked for the National Security Agency and, later, the Library of Congress. It was there, at the institution she referred to as “the Great Library,” that she was asked to develop an automated cataloging format. Through her genius, in 1968, the MARC record was born. Avram died in Florida in 2006.

City Directories

Valuable for genealogists, and perhaps most repeatedly used by skip-tracers, investigators, and voyeurs, the contents of the local city directory were among the most requested items of the library-based telephone reference service. So much so that some libraries developed policies as to how much — or little — service they would provide to callers. Strict policies were also developed to safeguard the books from developing legs and walking out the door.

Fold3, Ancestry, and other genealogy databases offer rich historical collections of U.S. city directories, as does the Internet Archive. The obituary of the city directory hasn’t been located, but a plethora of contemporary electronic databases offer much information, usually for a fee. Nothing satisfies the curious more, though, than leafing through the fascinating historical information within the hardbound covers of city directories. The story of how that information was gathered is for another day!

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Does anyone still care about reference collections?

By Paul Duckworth, MLS

Open Books-9043447Imagine you are a customer service librarian being forced to choose just three reference tools out of your entire reference collection and discard the rest. What would they be? Librarians and grad students used to mull over questions like this while hobnobbing at conferences or gathering in coffee shops. But what was once a philosophical reflection about the most valuable reference books (with the assumption being that of course every library needs them), has become a much simpler and more realistic question: “Does anyone care about reference collections anymore?”

It’s 2018. What three tools would any good customer service librarian choose to keep?

  1. The Internet
  2. A good search engine
  3. A smartphone

No, you’re right, they aren’t books, but you have to admit that they are indispensable. Goodbye “Encyclopedia Britannica,” farewell “World Almanac,” adiós “Famous First Facts.” Full disclosure: I got my start in the reference department of a large public library, using standards such as “The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature,” “The United States Government Manual,” and “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.” I cut my eyeteeth on them. I fell in love with many, many reference titles and I could not stifle my affection. I loved those musty tomes passionately.

Today it’s a different world—one with different patrons, who have different needs and are asking different questions. About the only thing a reference collection gives me today is warm fuzzies. OK, I am exaggerating…somewhat. Yes, there are some valid exceptions. But let’s look at what’s happening across the country.

Kyle King, at the North Independence branch of Mid-Continent Public Library (Independence, Mo.), works in the district’s reference center. Since he started there 10 years ago, the collection has shrunk from 38,000 volumes to 18,000. He says the nature of the questions he receives has changed. Computer Search-456214333A lot of what used to be ready reference is now solved by patrons themselves who hop onto a search engine for answers. The library has become an educator in information literacy and is taking a major stance as a resource for mastering digital technologies. He notes, “Twenty-five years ago, questions were informational, but now they involve demonstrating skills. For a car repair question, we handed the customer a manual rather than joining them under the hood. Today, though, we do hands-on demos of using email, navigating websites, and filling out forms.” The print reference collection still receives some use, especially in areas where no equivalent online tool is available for free or a reasonable price, such as collectibles, legal materials, building codes, and style manuals. Many reference books have been moved to the circulating collection, and some reference books are occasionally sent to another branch for a patron to use.

Kathi Woodward, Reference Department manager at Springfield-Greene County Library (Mo.), is a relative newcomer to the profession, having started in 2012 after more than two decades in the world of bookstores. During her six years as manager, the reference collection has decreased to half its size. Women Man Computer-289539899She has retained some print materials because there is no comparable or affordable online equivalent, such as various medical reference titles, collectibles, and Jane’s “All the World’s Aircraft.” Woodward agrees that the nature of the questions has changed and there is considerable focus on technology, job applications, IRS, and “How do I…?” queries.  However, the homework question—that old familiar friend of ours—still crops up often.

For Ben Lathrop, Information and Reference Department Manager for the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, one challenge is the size of the reference collection. The library weeds based on condition only. Two floors of its main library—closed to the public—house large numbers of nonfiction and reference volumes. Lathrop has pulled together a collection of approximately 1,000 volumes located adjacent to reference staff for quick, daily use. In his 12 years with the library, some types of questions have largely disappeared, with library users now asking Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant instead of librarians or their friends. Some customers, though, still ask the library for phone numbers, addresses, and such. While encyclopedias and atlases sit unused, building codes, price guides for antiques and collectibles, and a few titles such as “Corporate Affiliations Directory” remain invaluable. In many cases, the library allows reference titles to be checked out. Lathrop noted that reference librarians used to practice the “teach a person to fish” approach by helping customers use reference books, but that today they’re doing the opposite: answering the question directly without going into teaching mode.

In early 2016, Jessica Parij, Manager of Adult Services at Rochester Hills Public Library (Mich.), posed this question to ALA’s Think Tank Facebook Group : “What’s your print reference section look like nowadays? Still big? Small? Interfiled? Gone completely?” With close to 40 comments, the most common responses were:

  • Heavily weeded
  • Getting smaller
  • Shrinking
  • Moving to circulating collection
  • Replaced by online resources
  • Sad but tossing the outdated and unused books

These individual comments are particularly noteworthy:

  • “I’m about to decimate mine.”
  • “I just discarded three quarters of mine.”
  • “Gone. A few ready ref at the desk but other than that, all gone!”

Andy Woodworth, manager of reference and adult services at Cherry Hill Public Library (N.J.), a 2010 Library Journal Mover & Shaker, is author of the blog Agnostic, Maybe: the Neverending Reference Interview of Life. Woodworth offered what is perhaps the best response to this post’s featured question in the article he wrote for INALJ (the website formerly known as I Need a Library Job). In the entry titled “Reference Isn’t Dead, Just Different,” Andy says, “I turn downright ornery towards the physical reference collection as a continuing concept that libraries should embrace…. (After weeding the reference collection) I am presently looking at a leaner, meaner physical collection that covers the topics better than their online counterparts.”

So it seems that after ruthless weeding and a focus on the immediate goal of meeting the needs of 2018 library users, those beloved reference books have been replaced by fast Internet, smart searching, and strong technology. The remaining titles have to earn their shelf space. So what should stay? The titles should be solid, dependable, reliable, easy to access, quicker than going online for an answer, and offer beautifully arranged, succinct answers to frequently asked questions. Simple, eh? To paraphrase a great Zen saying, “The way is easy, except for the picking and choosing.” I confess, it still pains me to discard a reference title I have long loved, but I can do it.

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Where Have All the Readers Gone?

By Paul Duckworth, MLS

“I’m going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do.” —Neil Gaiman

Recently, I wrote here about print versus shutterstock_548101636digital and raised the question as to whether the physical book is dying. My question today may seem very similar but it’s really more broad and speculative. In fact, it’s a series of questions.

Is reading on the decline? Are we in a “post-literate era?” Is the act of reading itself on the way out, to be replaced by video, the spoken word, game apps, data implants to the brain, knowledge pills, or what have you?

If the answer is yes, it is in decline, then who or what do we pin the blame on? What can we, as librarians, do to combat it? And why do we want to push back against the trend, other than to save our own profession?

To begin, while it may be trite, we Americans have become multi-taskers, switching from e-mail to social media to news to game apps, then back to our latest ebook. Coupled with this, our attention spans have shrunk. We have increasingly shifted from print to moving images. This trend is not necessarily “bad.” It simply describes the direction in which contemporary culture is moving.

So, what’s happened to reading? We librarians have witnessed the rise of “short reads,” or, to use James Patterson’s term, BookShots. But “James Patterson, Inc.” isn’t the only provider offering something to readers with limited time and short attention spans. The Libraries Transform Campaign recently wrote about short reading on their website, giving many examples of other short reads that are being delivered in print and digital formats.

How else does this “time-attention-focus” shortage affect our reading? Are fewer of us reading, period? Happily, it would seem not. The 2016 Pew Research Center survey on book reading provides a richly detailed series of answers. Among many interesting statistics, 73% of Americans say they have read at least one book in the last year. For 18 to 29 year-olds, that number is higher: 80%. Along with this, a 2014 article from The Atlantic reports:

Last year, the NEA found that 52 percent of 18-24 year-olds had read a book outside of work or school, the same as in the pre-Facebook days of 2002. If book culture were in terminal decline, this is the demographic where you’d expect it to be fading fastest.

So much for the misconception that young people don’t read.

In 2012, Pew conducted a survey to identify why people like to read. The theme of “quiet entertainment” was popular among respondents. Here are some individual quotes:

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What are some factors that tend to be a positive catalyst for reading? Nothing beats the age-old practice of a parent reading to their child. Adults who were read to as children tend to continue the practice of reading throughout their lives. Along with this, according to a Pew Research Center Study, education level and income both seem to influence reading. Those with college degrees read more than those without. Those in middle to upper-middle income brackets tend to read more than those with lower incomes.

We Americans pride ourselves on being highly educated and literate, but when we compare ourselves to the rest of the world, how do we as a country stack up in regard to reading? According to the NOP World Culture Score Index on hours of reading per week per person, India is #1, at 10 hours, 42 minutes per week. China is at eight hours, Russia and Sweden are at seven, and Canada, Germany, and the U.S. are about five hours,45 minutes each. Mexico is slightly below America, at five hours, 30 minutes. This suggests there is not a correlation in other countries between standard of living or education and reading.

shutterstock_450545746What librarians can do to foster reading is exactly what we have been doing: promoting reading through storytimes, publicizing summer reading programs, fostering book discussion groups, and promoting literacy by partnering with literacy organizations. Beyond that, we know every book a child is given makes him or her more likely to become a lifelong reader. We know that families who are well educated will be more enthusiastic readers, as well as users of libraries. We know that fostering efforts to raise families out of poverty will tend to move them more into the camp of those who love and find value in reading.

In our present hyped-up, frenetic world of doing, working, chatting, and surfing, perhaps our best stance as librarians is to take every opportunity to water the seeds of imagination in individuals. To be a catalyst for discovery, and to offer not so much a reflection of the culture, but rather a pathway to a life of the mind that offers rich rewards for personal and social development.

Is the librarian’s push to promote reading a kind of self-serving insurance policy to protect our livelihood? Perhaps, to some degree, it is. But more importantly, we understand the secret of reading. And this is what we seek to share.

Ultimately, we as librarians work not to save the institution, not to maintain the status quo, not to save “the book,” and not to act as luddites. The crux of the issue revolves around fostering “the good life.” We believe with all our hearts that reading is a magic elixir that takes us out of ourselves, broadens our perspectives, leads us to ask questions, and brings us into connection with the world around us.

Perhaps Neil Gaiman said it best:

“You’re also finding out something as you read [that is] vitally important for making your way in the world. And it’s this: the world doesn’t have to be like this. Things can be different.”

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Is Print Dead?

By Paul Duckworth, MLS

shutterstock_1031453560It goes without saying that most of us who work in libraries love books. What do we do, then, when people start sounding the death knell for the printed word? Some of us may be dismayed by the statistics about print that we read and hear, including the news release from Amazon that it now sells more Kindle-formatted books than those in traditional format. But the statistics do not indicate any clear death notice, and they fail to tell us the real story.

Let’s consider this.

It’s clear that those heralding the coming death of print never sat in on the university forecasting class taught by noted IBM business planner Ollie Wight in the mid-decades of the last century. Each of Wight’s opening lectures began with Wight stating, “Remember that all forecasts are wrong from the moment they are made.” And so it goes with the predictions about the death of print. These predictions seemed to take on a strident pitch with the emergence of portable electronic tablets more than a decade ago. These days, amidst the proliferation of electronic reference databases, downloadable library e-books, and the ease of hyperlinking, what thinking person wouldn’t wonder how soon the obituary of print would be—pardon me—printed?

I am struck by sociology professor and author John Thompson’s (“Merchants of Culture”) observation that “Few … challenges were foreseen in the feverish hype of the 1990s that the days of the book were numbered. Paper texts were clunky and old fashioned; digital versions were smart and sleek.” Many have jumped onto the perceived coffin of books, Pull-Quote-1newspapers, and magazines and enthusiastically heralded a new day. Indeed, yes, it is a new day—with many more to come for those of us who work in libraries. The rapid changes facilitated by technology will continue and the pace will become even faster than it is at the moment. However, does this mean that print will soon be dead? Perhaps not. When radio appeared, forecasters predicted that newspapers would disappear. The advent of television led to the same prediction for radio.

Going back to 1894, there was speculation that the (then) new technology of phonograph records (à la audiobooks) would bring about the demise of books. Earlier cries were that the newspaper would kill the book. Today’s newspaper, while certainly challenged, is still with us, as is the book it was going to replace. Except for high-end audiophiles, the phonograph record is dead.  So is its successor, the audiotape.  For some of its applications, print is in great decline. Think about reference collections today versus twenty years ago.

Humans, wired as we are by our genetic heritage, tend to like tactile objects. Gutenberg’s invention was a vast improvement over cuneiform tablets and parchment scrolls. Do digital editions and databases offer a similar leaping improvement over print? We humans prefer convenience and practicality along with the sensory and tactile. You, the reader, are right now looking into an electronic screen, not a printed page.  When you pack for a long trip, you may well be packing yourshutterstock_229026028 iPad or other portable reading device along with a laptop. Who wants to lug around a suitcase made heavier by adding several books and magazines?  So, yes, reading digitally is sensible, practical, and convenient. And its integration into our daily lives and into libraries is a no-brainer.

Certainly, digital reading offers splendid possibilities and conveniences. What librarian wants to return to the days of hunting for magazine back issues, finding missing or mutilated copies, or lugging reference books around that are too expensive to be duplicated at all branch locations? Digital reading is wonderful for some applications—but not for all of us all the time.

Stephen Fry, comedian, actor, and writer, summed things up well when he wrote: “This is the point. One technology doesn’t replace another, it complements. Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators.” I think this is where we are in the print versus digital buzz. Print is holding its place well for many applications and users, while the adoption of digital formats continues to become more widespread. It isn’t one against the other. There aren’t winners and losers. We simply have more choices these days.

Pull-Quote-2I believe that print is going to maintain a presence in our lives—for the present and near future, and probably for a long time. Why? Many people prefer it for long reading and various aesthetic reasons. Who doesn’t thrill at receiving a handwritten card or letter from a friend? What child does not delight at having an adult share a picture book with them? What emotions do we experience when we pull a long-treasured book off our personal bookshelf and find a pressed flower, a scribbled note, or a bookmark that triggers memories? A while back, I relocated to another city and my books were stored in heavy boxes for a few months. I was able to put them back onto bookshelves recently. The experience was more than I expected it would be. I was so moved that I began to write:

Poem2

Print and digital are close cousins, not warring tribes. Underneath the emotional aspects of an attachment to print, the solid ground is that print works for us. And digital works for us. New technology benefits us and gives us choices we did not have before. The thrill of the new can sometimes obscure the benefits of the old-fashioned. We winnow our way as librarians and help translate the truths of the library into today’s vernacular. We flow with and help interpret the tide and lend a hand to customers as we explore and adapt today’s technologies.

Premature Obituaries for Printed Books:shutterstock_228824866.jpg

  • “Books will soon be obsolete in the public schools.” —Written by Thomas Edison, in the summer of 1913
  • In 1966, in a Life magazine profile, Marshall McLuhan lumped books with other antiques: “Clotheslines, seams in stockings, books and jobs — all are obsolete.”
  • “The physical book will be dead in five years.” —Declared by Nicholas Negroponte, father of the One Laptop Per Child project, at a conference in 2010
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Self-Publishing & Instant Printing

By Paul Duckworth, MLS

shutterstock_268054271As librarians, we know that technology has changed the way we provide service to our patrons—it’s a no brainer. Some of us, myself included, have been around long enough to remember being a part of the beginning waves of change: the introduction of the MARC record, the advent of turnkey automation systems, followed quickly by the rise of personal computers, and the transformation of card catalogs into scrap paper. For years, prior to using the Notes feature on my smartphone, the backs of my library’s catalog cards served as shopping lists.

None of us really knows how technology will transform the way we interact with our customers in the next five to ten years. But there’s one particular area that I’m especially excited about: the advent of instant publishing. Gone are the days when the publisher imprints of Vantage Press and a few others were stigmatized as “vanity presses” and scorned by librarians. Today, any title can be easily published with only a modest financial investment and made available worldwide through standard online retailers, as well as a wide variety of other websites, including ebooks.com, smashwords.com, fictionwise.com, and buy-e-books-online.com.

Why am I excited about this? Furthermore, why should librarians care?

Fifty-ShadesFirst, instant publishing completely bypasses the gatekeeping function of traditional publishing, designed to maintain profitability. It is now possible for anyone who has a good story to tell—or an underrepresented nonfiction topic to explore—to publish their work, be it via print or e-book. Thanks to new publishing alternatives, hot titles like Amanda Hocking’s Trylle trilogy went from initial self-published e-books to having its rights acquired by St. Martins. After being rejected by major publishers, E.L. James self-published her first book, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” both as a paperback and an e-book. Ever heard of it? I didn’t think so…

Second, books can make it into finished form and into the hands of readers much faster than ever before. That’s undeniably a good thing.

Third, local authors in our communities have many more shutterstock_348765254options now for getting self-published and getting their books onto our shelves. I could go on and on, but the benefits of self-publishing are clear for authors, readers, and libraries. An added plus for collection development librarians is that it has become easier for publishers to bring titles back that had moved to O.S.I. or O.P. status when their inventory was exhausted.

Self-published titles do present challenges for libraries. Lack of reviews and cataloging records, competition for limited materials budgets, and acquisition challenges are not insignificant. I have often wondered how my library could offer an e-book to users if it isn’t included in titles offered by ProQuest, Overdrive, hoopla, or other content aggregators. But in my experience, libraries (and opportunistic new businesses) always find ways to shape new technologies into expanded services for patrons.

ebm_bartells1

Source: the-digital-reader.com

Today, Espresso Book Machines are installed in public libraries and other locations. This ingenious device makes it possible to purchase a book from among thousands of available titles and have it printed and delivered (i.e., dispensed from the machine) in a few minutes. Biblioboard makes it possible for individual e-books to be easily added to its database of titles that are available to libraries (MARC records included). Also, its partner, SELF-e, offers a means for people to produce their e-books and distribute them through their public library.

These are exciting times when we librarians can say “yes” to more people and encourage access to more titles.

shutterstock_222267694At one time, the LP record was THE format for music and spoken word. Its replacement, the cassette tape, is long gone and now CDs are beginning to be phased out. The emergence of Beta and VHS videotapes led to forecasts that movie theaters would disappear. Instead, theaters continue attracting audiences, Beta and VHS are gone, formats unimagined at the time have replaced them, and video materials have the highest turnover in public libraries.

Similarly, the development of e-books sparked fears that the traditional book format would fade away. So far, the physical books are holding their own quite nicely and libraries now offer access to far more titles in formats far improved from the original Rocket eBook. No doubt self-publishing will trigger predictions that traditional publishers will crumble. More likely, as with so many other developments, it will simply add yet another format or option to the mix. I predict that we librarians are going to enjoy choices and service opportunities that even the brightest of us can’t predict. How’s that for a prediction!

shutterstock_255656932.jpgWhat do I see when I gaze into the crystal ball? Change. It’s just a hunch, but I think libraries will remain part of that mix so long as we don’t latch onto particular formats as sacrosanct or reflexively try to resist the pace of change, only to make ourselves redundant in the process. Instead, we must continue to embrace new opportunities and technological adaptations in the name of service for our communities.

 

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