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

By Paul Duckworth, MLS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harvard Professor James Noonan wrote:

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

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

The Daily Wire commented:

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

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

“Excellent decisions on both counts.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brown Bag Programs

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

The Education of Little Tree

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

Huckleberry Finn

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

Dr. Seuss

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

Alice in Wonderland

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

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

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

When We Was Fierce

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

Sherman Alexie

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

American Beauty

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

Bill Cosby

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

Hanta Yo

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

The Good Earth

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Revisionist historians with their sanctimonious posturing…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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Paul

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

 

 

Does Your Library Carry Las Novelas Gráficas? Perhaps It Should.

By Jessica Blaker, Spanish Services, Collection Development & Acquisitions

Animal with WordingOver the last decade, graphic novels have gained in popularity and are now widely considered an essential component of almost any library’s collection. Beyond graphic novels in general gaining recognition, librarians have been clamoring for expanded Spanish graphic novel collections. There are two main audiences driving the increased demand for Spanish language graphic novels: Spanish-speaking library patrons and students learning Spanish (or, more precisely, teachers trying to encourage students who are learning Spanish).

So why are Spanish graphic novels so important to a library’s collection? Graphic novels, whether in English or Spanish, have high appeal because these types of books are fun to read and encourage literacy. Spanish-speaking patrons are picking up (and checking out) graphic novels in their native language. One librarian mentioned to me that while some children from bilingual families may speak English outside of the home, they still prefer reading in their native language and may also share their reading material with their parents. Graphic novels translated from English to Spanish can provide immigrants with valuable insights into their adopted culture.

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Spanish graphic novels are beneficial for students learning Spanish because there are numerous visual aids that provide hints to the plot of the story and aid in comprehension. The dramatic illustrations grab readers’ attention, pulling them in. With the help of such visual cues, students are more apt to absorb and retain vocabulary. Reluctant readers are also more inclined to pick up a graphic novel because the exciting illustrations and small amounts of text provide a sense of accomplishment when finished, building the reader’s confidence.

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Demographically speaking, the demand for Spanish-language graphic novels has increased because there are more Spanish speaking people in the US than there have ever been before. Hispanics accounted for 18% of the nation’s population in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center. Not surprisingly, libraries across the country have more Spanish-speaking patrons requesting reading material.

In addition, immersion programs have gained momentum in urban areas with diverse populations. One of Brodart’s customers recently noticed that children whose first language is English are checking out graphic novels in Spanish. They may be in immersion programs and feel comfortable reading in Spanish — doing so for pleasure, not necessarily for classwork. It stands to reason that demand for Spanish graphic novels will also continue to grow.

With the skyrocketing demand for Spanish graphic novels, publishers are doing their best to keep up with new titles. There are many children’s and YA popular titles in translation, such as Raina Telgemeier’s books, the Hombre Perro (Dog Man) series, and the Rick Riordan graphic novel adaptations of his novels, to name a few. Also, there are many Spanish editions of some adult graphic novels and graphic nonfiction. Some of the well-known publishers and distributors actively acquiring and promoting Spanish graphic novels include Lectorum, Spanish Publishers, Penguin Random House, Scholastic, IPG, and Stone Arch Books. The one area lacking in Spanish graphic novels, however, is superheroes. Marvel and DC do not currently have Spanish translations available to customers in the United States.

Booklist announced through ALA News that July 2019 will be Graphic Novels in Libraries Month. Suffice it to say, when a highly recognized and accredited journal deems an entire month should be dedicated to graphic novels, their importance should not be ignored.

 

Jessica Blaker

Jessica

Jessica Blaker has been a Spanish cataloger and a customer account manager at Brodart. She came back to Spanish as a collection development paraprofessional, which she loves due to the variety and the opportunity to work with customers. Click here for more.

Attending to the Forgotten: Welcoming Homeless Children into the Fold

By Gwen Vanderhage, MLIS

Homeless boy_383085028Public libraries are very familiar with our country’s homeless population. From small libraries with a handful of regulars, to large libraries with a crowd assembling outside at opening time, most of us service at least some homeless patrons. The current economy and nationwide housing crisis have simply made it harder for families to find places they can afford to live. As a result, the difficult reality facing homeless adult patrons has become a regular part of public library discourse. The movie “The Public,” by Emilio Estevez, which was released last month (after being screened for librarians at last year’s ALA Annual Conference and this year’s Midwinter), has helped to raise awareness about the issue of homelessness in connection with libraries.

But homelessness often hits kids even harder than adults. Over the last decade, the number of homeless children and teens has grown exponentially. One-third of the homeless population is now comprised of children, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. This population is less visible in the library, since kids are often in school during the day. But they are an important group of people, nonetheless, that are using and benefiting from public library services.

Removing barriers for families that deter them from using the public library is important as we librarians become some of the best partners to help the children of homelessness succeed. Can your library waive the physical address requirement for homeless patrons seeking to acquire a library card? Does your library offer fine forgiveness? Many public libraries are moving to remove fines altogether, whether from children’s materials and cards, or from all materials and cards. When children are unable to control their own transportation to and from the library, fines on materials create a huge barrier to checking out homework materials or books for escapist pleasure reading.

While public schools provide meals and a safe place for children during the day, the stresses of being homeless and the inherent lack of stability impact their academic achievement. Homeless children have higher rates of absenteeism and tend to change schools more frequently. Their literacy and graduation rates are lower than those of their peers. The growing digital divide is yet another problem plaguing these children and other low-income students. While internet access is more available via cheaper phones, it’s hard to do homework research on a phone. Libraries provide materials for homework, computer access, and a safe, warm place after school and on weekends. Some libraries partner with their local school district to provide free lunches during the summer.

Reading to kids_201736358For many years, librarians have partnered with day shelters to provide outreach services and materials for homeless families. Librarians from Queens, New York, to Cleveland and Seattle, share storytimes with kids in shelters. When I was a children’s librarian in Denver, Colorado, I was one of them. I held a weekly storytime for the kids at a nearby women’s and children’s shelter during computer training for mothers. The preschoolers in this group were eager to hear stories, sing songs, and particularly loved to interact with puppets and pop-up books. It was not just a time for the children to learn those storytime skills of active listening and learning vocabulary, but also a time when a grown-up would talk with them and listen to them. As we librarians became more nimble with Every Child Ready to Read practices, we also began to include the mothers, hoping to pass on some of those skills to help parents be a child’s first teacher. Parents under the stress of homelessness are likely not thinking about speaking 30,000 words to their child each day. Anything librarians can do to model the behaviors of reading signs, singing together, and telling stories about what you’re doing will help demonstrate that the foundations of reading readiness are easy to incorporate.

Does your library offer unique services and programs open to, or particularly for, homeless youth and their families? A recent article from School Library Journal, “Almost Home: How Public Libraries Serve Homeless Teenagers,” outlined many efforts aimed to get homeless teens into the library, engage them with programs, and pair them with services. If your area offers services particularly tailored for teens, consider forming a partnership with them. Offering donuts and board games during a time that a social worker can come and help teens is a great way to open the door.

We spend a great deal of energy encouraging people to come in when their children are tots. We are always wondering how to keep the kids coming in to the library until they become adult library advocates. Why not apply that same principle to children who happen not to have a home? Homeless patrons simply represent another subset of our community, albeit one with a particular set of needs and challenges. Providing whatever aid we can and a welcoming place during hard times is a wonderful way to grow lifelong library lovers. Isn’t this one of our primary goals as librarians?

Other resources:

Library Service to Homeless Youth and Families,” Vikki C. Terrile, IFLA

Homelessness: A State of Emergency,” The Seattle Public Library

 

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Gwen

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

 

You Can Run a Successful Will Eisner Week

By Kat Kan, MLS

Will EisnerMost people who work with comics in school, public, or academic libraries should have at least heard the name Will Eisner. He wrote and drew comics from the 1930s until his death in early January of 2005. He created the character called The Spirit, wrote military how-to manuals in comic book format during WWII, and continued that work in PS, The Preventive Maintenance Monthly until 1971. He also wrote and illustrated graphic novels, starting with “A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories” in 1978.

In testament to his standing in the industry, Eisner is commemorated in a number of ways. The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, among the major comics industry awards in the U.S., have been given out since 1988 as part of San Diego Comic-Con International. After his death, Eisner’s niece and nephew, Nancy and Carl Gropper, started the Will and Ann Eisner Family Foundation. The Foundation has funded library grants in cooperation with the American Library Association, and in 2009 began to commemorate Eisner’s birthday with Will Eisner Week — an annual celebration promoting comics, graphic novel literacy, free speech, and the legacy of Will Eisner. The celebration runs from March 1–7 every year (Eisner’s birthday is March 6). By 2017, which would have been Eisner’s 100th birthday, various agencies produced more than 100 events around the U.S. and in other countries.

For several years now, I have run a small program for Will Eisner Week at my local public library, Bay County Public Library (In fact, my 2016 program has been mentioned in the Will Eisner Week Playbook since 2017). In the past, the library had me do a program for kids and teens on a weekday afternoon, where I featured lots of age-appropriate comics for attendees to look at and gave away some free comics. Will Eisner Week Program 2019 booksThis year, we scheduled an early evening program for all ages, and I brought a sampling of recently published graphic novels and comics for all ages, from TOON Books for very early readers up to graphic novels for adult readers, including Eisner’s last book, “The Plot,” a nonfiction account of the anti-Semitic hoax “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.” I put together a one-page handout with a short biography of Eisner, and I downloaded a great comic about Eisner from Pop Culture Classroom, written by Jill Gerber, illustrated by Matt Strackbein, and edited by Dr. Katie Monnin (it’s a free download). The library made several copies of each handout available for those who attended. I gave a short talk about Eisner and his accomplishments, the Eisner Awards, and how librarians became closely connected to them by serving as judges on the Eisner juries.

We had a small audience of several families and one retired college professor who taught comics at his former institution up north (he’s what we call a snowbird: a winter resident in Florida). I brought a selection of free comics for people to take with them and encouraged everyone to come back for Free Comic Book Day in May. Considering that Panama City had suffered catastrophic damage from Hurricane Michael just five months before our program, I think it was a great success.

Programs around the country range from comics celebrity-studded panel discussions, film festivals, and comics conventions to small-town library programs, which cover just about anything related to Eisner himself or any aspect of comics and comics fandom. The Foundation provides access to a Playbook with all kinds of ideas for programming, a short biography of Eisner, and a list of past programs in many different libraries domestically and internationally. They also produce a poster and flyer each year featuring art from Eisner that any organization can customize with their program information. All of this is available at www.willeisner.com. This is a great resource for libraries to draw upon when developing their own programs and celebrations.

"Celebrate Will EIsner Week" image

Anyone can sign up to hold a program. Check the official web site of Will Eisner Studios, Inc. later on this year (signups usually open around November) to sign up for 2020. If you do, you can email details about your program to be included in their list for 2020, and you can request posters to put up in your library. You can do anything from holding a mini-comic convention, to a comics how-to program, to something like my program, which was more of what I call a “comics petting zoo” with books people for people to look at. Other libraries have done displays of Eisner’s works.  If you have a local comics retailer who is willing to support libraries, you could partner with the retailer for a program. If you know any comics creators local to your area, you might want to ask them to do a comics workshop; that’s what I’d like to do next year.

Just take it from me — conducting a Will Eisner Week program is both fun and easy!

Kat_Kan_Better_Pic

Katharine

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

Large Print Books Are Crucial for Striving Readers

By Ann Wilson, MLS, MA

As educators and librarians struggle to combat the dire reality of illiteracy and its impact on low graduation rates, meager job prospects, low income, and even crime, many remedies have been tried, with little success. Thankfully, one rather old-fashioned tool is gaining traction and showing promising results: using large print books with young, striving readers.

Large print is defined as text formatted in roughly 16 point type, compared to the usual 11-13 point type found in most hardcover books and on computer screens. A clear, clean font is used, and there is increased space (leading) between the lines. The dark, high-density ink stands out clearly from the high-opacity paper, creating a higher contrast, which is easier to read (see this article about helping reluctant readers for more). These characteristics have long been understood to benefit older folks with visual impairments, and for years, most books published in large print have been geared toward this audience. Unfortunately, children and teens with visual impairments have been largely ignored by the publishing industry.

Boy tired from reading _1100944319

Not only does a large print format assist those with visual impairments, but large print helps reduce eye strain for everyone, a factor which has become even more important as our population — especially teens — is spending more time on small-screen digital media.

In their quest to make reading an enjoyable experience for students, educators have noticed that too much text, information density, and visual clutter on a page can make reading a daunting task for many students. Large print books have fewer words and more white space, presenting a more inviting visual cue that increases reading performance and builds confidence. Students young and old, who are learning English as a second language, also seem to respond well to large print.

While research is important and can help us understand what’s going on, it’s also important to hear from teachers and librarians on the front lines. In a recent Booklist webinar titled “Large Print, Big Advantages: Strategies for Increasing Youth Literacy,” Camille Freund, ENL teacher at Urban Assembly Media Studies HS in New York, explained how incorporating large print books into her classroom collection has improved student literacy. Freund says that these books have motivated striving readers to keep trying, and that these students quickly make progress with reading and feel successful. In fact, Freund says, students often seek large print titles, refusing to read anything else.

Also during the webinar, Don Giacomini and Shelly Schwerzler from Gwinnett County Public Library System (GA) addressed the “why” and “how” of their large print title program, geared to middle grade students and teens. They explained that the large print titles are interfiled throughout their collections, allowing patrons to browse these books alongside books with normal-sized print. The library staff has worked closely with reading specialists and other education professionals in schools near each branch library to help promote the large print collection. Circulation statistics show that this collection is very heavily used.

Girls reading_470554472According to the presenters, adults’ concerns that the stigma of reading large print books will deter striving readers are almost entirely unfounded, especially for younger teens. If allowed to choose any book they wanted, many students automatically gravitate toward “books with big words.” When teachers and librarians extolled the virtues of “good books” while passing around large print versions, many kids responded favorably. Some students were quite receptive to large print titles, stating that their eyes were tired.

With a wide range of titles to choose from, supported by research and endorsed by the kids who read them, large print books are finding new uses and enthusiastic acceptance in today’s libraries. They’re not just for the visually impaired anymore. Why not consider expanding your selection of large print titles to help reluctant readers?

 

AnnWilson

Ann

Ann Wilson started working for Brodart, where she is affectionately known as The Sourceress, in 2000. Ann draws from her high school/public library career experience to feed sources and choose key titles for our selection lists. Click here for more.

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

 

Paul Duckworth New - 2.5 x 3
Paul

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

Growing Gardens, Growing Minds

By Stephanie Campbell, MLIS 

Building on the rise of STEAM education and farm to table initiatives, library gardens and gardening programs provide a wealth of learning (and partnership) opportunities. Our interior spaces are often stretched to the limit. Utilizing outdoor spaces for programming is a great way to illustrate how the library’s mission transcends its physical walls.

In my time as a branch manager, a library garden was the solution to an outdated, unattractive area of the library landscape. Through volunteer help, we cleared the overgrown shrubs and built raised beds. My children’s librarian and I had great success in creating a series of formal and informal programs specifically geared toward children and their caregivers.

For new construction and renovations, some libraries forgo formal landscaping to include a library garden. Is there an outdoor spot you can convert to this use — a courtyard, patch of lawn, even a parking stall?

Kick it off with seed planting for hardy vegetables in the early spring: carrots, radishes, onions, chard, and kale. Pushing seeds into the soil is a great sensory exercise for toddlers and preschoolers, as is seeing colorful plants and smelling aromatic herbs. Follow up with summer plantings for such things as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, or whatever your space and climate dictate.

Kids and Garden_607542530Involve children in as many steps as possible, preparing the soil, planting seeds and seedlings, watering, harvesting, and even clearing out and winterizing after the growing season. There can be teachable moments all along the way about plant diseases, insects, and animals.

Just make sure you and your attendees aren’t afraid to get dirty! And put all thoughts of tidiness out of your mind. Your garden will not have even rows or correct plant spacing. I actually recommend overcrowding since there will invariably be plant casualties as the children work on their fine motor skills in gently planting and plucking.

At a minimum, your young attendees are learning how to listen, follow instructions, and take turns. But they are also learning where food comes from and that vegetables don’t need to look perfect in order to be perfectly edible. Whether or not you actually encourage eating, allowing your participants to take home the harvest is something you would need to think about in advance.

In addition to formal, planned garden activities such as planting day and harvest day, my children’s librarian incorporated the garden into other programs, making it a key component of school and daycare visits and an ending activity following storytimes.

Container gardens are also a space-saving and user-friendly option, and there are all kinds of fun things to grow. Just Google “trash can potatoes.”

Not into vegetables? How about a butterfly garden? Don’t have your own space? See if there are any opportunities to piggyback on a school or community garden.

The USDA’s Cooperative Extension System can be a great resource to help get you started, with connections to master gardeners and even free supplies, such as composters.

Jovial two volunteers arranging garden

High schoolers and college students often need community service projects, and this could provide you with extra hands. In my case, building on the success of our initial two raised beds, we added two more, plus a hand-built compost bin via an Eagle Scout project. Through one of our local watershed organizations, we installed a rain barrel to use for watering.

Garden centers will often give away expired seeds. Germination rates may be slightly reduced, but the extra seeds are always helpful. Just mix some current-year seeds in with the expired ones as little hands tend to dump rather than scatter. Ask for a discount on plants and garden supplies in exchange for a naming opportunity or sponsorship publicity.

In my experience, a library garden was a fantastic addition, providing learning and exploration for all ages across many disciplines. Adults found inspiration for photography, art, and nature journaling. After our first year, we got many offers of free plants from local garden enthusiasts. Plus most people just can’t resist watching how your garden grows!

Tell us your stories of inventive outdoor programming!

 

Additional resources:

Web Junction: Library Garden Programs

USDA Cooperative Extension Services

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

 

stephaniecampbell

Stephanie

Stephanie Campbell has worked for more than 20 years in public, academic, and special libraries. She is an avid gardener, bicyclist, and kayaker. Click here for more.

Trends in Readers’ Advisory Services

By Gwen Vanderhage

library conversation_1231292743Readers’ advisory — the art of recommending the right book to the right patron — is arguably one of the most important parts of a public librarian’s job. In an age when libraries are using their time and space for makerspaces, information literacy, gaming, job skills training, and computer use, the books still claim the largest share of real estate. Reading is not dead. Readers are still hungry to talk about books they love and seek help to find the next great thing. (See my colleague Paul Duckworth’s piece on reading here.)

Many libraries have experimented with and embraced readers’ advisory on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram. Over the last few years, librarians have jumped on hashtags like #fridayreads or #tuesdaytitles to offer custom recommendations in a new way. Setting up an hour a week with a few librarians to dish out customized reading suggestions has been one popular idea. Some large metropolitan library systems have enjoyed enduring success using an attractive, short form questionnaire to email customized reading lists. Seattle Public Library’s “Your Next 5 Books” and Multnomah County’s “My Librarian” advertise these services and even provide links to the lists in Bibliocommons.

tattoo_1132435790A few intrepid libraries have taken a unique approach: Tattoo readers’ advisory. Multnomah County (Oregon), Denver Public (Colorado), and Durango Public (Colorado) libraries are among those that have pioneered this type of program. The libraries invite patrons to send in photos of their tattoos and the stories behind them; librarians then recommend titles that match the sentiment or “personality” of the tattoo. At first, these campaigns were largely conducted via social media, but Durango and Denver have since hosted live events where librarians and patrons can meet face-to-face to share their tattoos, stories, and recommendations. Denver has had so much success with this program that it recently hosted a fundraising evening featuring local tattoo artists who performed their art on patrons in the library.

During their last round of strategic planning, the Whatcom County Library System (WCLS), outside of Bellingham, Washington, chose to build a culture of reading in each location. To this end, all staff, not just librarians, were encouraged and trained in the art of “Reading Conversations.” Staff members have meaningful conversations with patrons about books while shelving in the stacks and working at the desk. Several WCLS librarians have a bookselling background and taught staff the quick method of “hand-selling,” which is used in the retail setting.

Hand-selling involves getting to the kernel of a recommendation. How do you compellingly describe a book in just three sentences? It takes practice! How do you avoid putting undue pressure on your patron to accept your recommendation, while giving them confidence to trust you? Give them three great titles and walk away. You want to understand the appeal factors in a plot, look for clues in the way publishers market and design a book, listen for cues in what patrons are really saying when they talk about books, and get comfortable talking about books you have not had a chance to read, yourself.readers_ advisory _1096210103

Whatcom County staff were encouraged to read broadly and try new genres. Internally, they were given a year-long game to lead the way, make it fun, and stretch their wings. Not all staff were naturals or comfortable with the idea of talking about books with strangers. Over the last two years, however, the culture inside the libraries has changed noticeably. Librarian Mary Kinser said:

“There’s a renewed energy and excitement around reading that is infectious – I hear it when I’m in the branches as a patron and I hear from staff all the time how much they enjoy the freedom we’ve granted them in spending time with patrons. I love being a fly on the wall and hearing staff talking about books, which we did not hear before Reading Conversations started. And the takeaway in all that conversation is more picks that we can share with patrons, of course.”

Excitement around books and reading—that’s what we’re all about!

For more Information:

“Inked RA: Libraries recommend books based on patron tattoos” (American Libraries March, 2018)

“Notes from the Field: Reading Conversations with Mary Kinser” (Booklist Online, February 9, 2017)

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Gwen

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

“Librariana”

By Fern Hallman, M.Ln.

The very first time I attended an ALA conference was in Philadelphia in 1982. I was a newly minted librarian and could hardly believe the entire city was filled with librarians. I didn’t know which way to turn! I randomly attended the most fascinating presentation I had ever seen, a show-and-tell session about librariana: collectible items related to libraries and librarians. Until that day I had no idea that there were people with collections of library overdue notices on postcards.

If I had been a true collector, I would have saved my program from the conference, which would tell us who had been speaking. However, using my magical librarian skills, I have determined that the speaker was probably Norman Stevens, author of the sadly out-of-print “Guide to Collecting Librariana.” Maybe you have a copy in your collection.

I thought I’d delve deeper into librariana to see what I could find.

Although The Library History Buff is a little dated, it’s a pretty comprehensive site for library collectibles. Turns out there are more souvenir library spoons and china than you might expect.

One of the most obvious collectibles is library cards. Apparently you can go into some libraries and they will just give you one (un-activated), especially if you are on vacation and ask very nicely. Some people who have moved around a lot have pretty extensive collections from everywhere they have lived. Here’s an interesting article on the subject (you may have to scroll down to see the content).

It seems that there are also Lego librarians. I had no idea about this! Who wouldn’t want to collect them? But why do they all have “Shhh!” mugs? I myself am a somewhat noisy librarian.

The idea is taken even further here, with entire library scenarios made from Legos. If that wasn’t enough, there’s even a stop-action Lego library movie.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Circulation & Reference: “There are 30 holds for ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ Shall I add your name to the list?”

Have you ever heard of librarian action figures? Irresistible! I could imagine playing with one as a kid.

Action Figure
Some librarians just really like to shop. There is a small industry that caters to this group, including a company called Out of Print. You may have seen them at library conferences, with their fun assortment of date due card socks, book cart shirts, and library stamp boxers.

Socks

If your tastes run a little fancier, you might find something you like at the Library of Congress gift shop. If you are shopping for me, I really love these dishes: (Hint, hint.)

Dishes

Or perhaps this snow globe:

Snow Globe

It’s always enlightening to examine a subject through the mirror of the past. Looking at vintage library-related images and collectibles, we can get a glimpse into how libraries were seen by their patrons, and how libraries attempted to convey their raison d’être to the public. To close, here’s a collection of fascinating vintage librariana on Pinterest.

 

fern

Fern

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

 

Natural Disasters—What’s Your Plan?

By Stephanie Campbell, MLISBe Prepared_323156054

Nobody likes thinking about it, but no matter what part of the country you live in, disasters can strike at any moment. While it’s impossible to avoid natural catastrophes completely—even manmade ones—we can be prepared for them with policies, procedures, and supplies.

Disasters take many forms. From fire (wildfires, volcanos, lightning strikes, HVAC and electrical system failures) to water (hurricanes, floods, sprinkler system glitches and roof leaks) to debris (earthquakes, mudslides, fallen trees, broken windows, building collapses), preparedness is the key to dealing with crises as they happen and in their aftermath. Here are some key strategies to help you face whatever fate throws at your library.

Do you have evacuation procedures in place? Do you practice them? Coordinate with your local fire department to schedule fire drills and fire extinguisher training. Schedule annual courses in certification for first responder, CPR, and AED. Check in with the central station of your security system to ensure they have up-to-date contacts and backups for both emergencies and disruptions such as outages.

Fallen Tree_710909917Make sure building systems are inspected and maintained: heating, cooling, and electrical equipment both inside and outside your building. Report overhanging and dead trees or power lines that threaten your building, check chimney flashing, gutters and downspouts. Identify roof areas prone to ice dams, particularly those adjacent to sidewalks and doorways.

Pennsylvania and much of the Mid-Atlantic had record rainfall this summer. Many public schools were forced to delay opening due to mold problems. Even though no flooding had occurred in some places, high humidity alone was enough to damage classroom furniture and materials and jeopardize the health of students and employees.

Staff should constantly monitor their work environment and report active and potential infrastructure problems. Be diligent in checking basements, stairwells, and little used corners and rooms. Make note of soot surrounding duct vents, cracks in walls, bubbling paint, and stained ceiling tiles.

Internet and/or short-term power outages can be overcome with backup circulation systems, emergency lights, and more, but it’s in everyone’s best interest to have policies that state under what conditions you will remain open, and for how long. Set minimum and maximum temperatures under which your building will remain open or close its doors. Rooms without natural light should be evacuated during power failures.

Traditionally, libraries aspire to be open at all costs. But I see this trend changing. I remember working in near darkness, with no heat, electricity, telephone, or running water. I also remember enduring major capital projects (lighting replacements and roofing installations) with deafening noise and dust showering down. These are at best, uncomfortable, and at worst, unsafe environments for staff and patrons alike.

Similarly, there is little reward in staying open too long during winter storms that make travel dangerous. Libraries in cities and walkable neighborhoods are sometimes tempted to remain open too long. While school district closings can be used as a guide, a better indicator of storm severity is retail and/or public transportation. It’s generally better to close completely than to work around blocked entrances, ladders and scaffolds, and snowy or icy conditions that make it difficult to keep up with salting sidewalks and plowing parking lots.

emergency kit_101441059For those times when the power goes out, or you find areas of your building damaged, make sure you have emergency kits set up in strategic places: flashlights, plastic sheeting to quickly protect shelving, disposable gloves, dust masks, goggles, garbage bags, and paper towels for preliminary cleanups. If possible, obtain fans and dehumidifiers, or know where to get them if needed. Familiarize yourself with local industrial cleanup services.

These may seem like onerous responsibilities, especially in light of all we’re asked to do as librarians. But we’re in a public service industry, and the safety of our patrons and staff is paramount!

Feel free to share your words to the wise regarding emergency preparedness. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst!

 

Here are some additional resources to help your library prepare for a natural disaster:

Library Disaster Preparedness & Response

Library of Congress Emergency Management

 

stephaniecampbell

Stephanie

Stephanie Campbell has worked for more than 20 years in public, academic, and special libraries. She is an avid gardener, bicyclist, and kayaker. Click here for more.