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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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.

 

 

Podcasts About Books for Kids and Teens

By Gwen Vanderhage, MLIS

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


Pod·cast (ˈpädˌkast)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Other terrific podcasts I have been listening to include:

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

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

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

Picturebooking — showcases the authors and illustrators of current picture books

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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.

 

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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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.

 

 

How to Get Rid of Unwanted Books (Quietly, So as Not to Incite a Riot)

By Stephanie Campbell, MLIS

Stacks of Old Books_437994868When talking about their chosen profession to a general audience, librarians inevitably hear “You must really love books!” And while this is probably true of many of us, I have found that it’s the non-librarians who seem more attached to books, often maniacally so, especially when doing their own weeding projects or witnessing ours. Book sale donations, while wonderful for fundraising, can be the bane of our existence when they contain such gems as midcentury “Encyclopedia Britannica” sets, not to mention whatever wildlife took up occupancy in the boxes while they were in the attic or garage. And if you try to deny such materials with your donation policy, you are met with indignation about how expensive the set was when new and that “there’s still a lot of good information in there!”

Similarly, it can be hard for librarians to make decisions about old, expensive, previously revered materials. The biggest thing standing in your way of having a great collection is that your shelves are clogged with obsolete items. They haven’t circulated or been used in eons and you know they should go, but what to do with the materials that have been weeded?

Whether the books are donations or discards, make sure you exhaust organizations such as the American Rescue Workers, Goodwill, Salvation Army, Military Order of the Purple Heart, etc. Contact your local churches to see if they have any missionary projects in impoverished areas around the world. Private primary and secondary schools are also an option for unwanted but viable titles. Perhaps you can try selling items through Better World Books, Amazon, eBay, etc.?

Do be aware that charitable and for-profit organizations can be selective about what they will accept. Add to that the guilt you may feel about donating/selling items that are horribly dated or otherwise blatantly undesirable.

If you dumpster them, dumpster divers and/or tattletales will invariably report about the perfectly good books the library is throwing away, which may have been funded by taxpayer dollars. Boxing up books and putting them at the curb can also prove too scintillating. In my experience, boxes were inevitably torn open after library hours and rummaged through. I tried duct-taping the boxes shut and then putting the boxes in garbage bags to disguise them as trash, but not even those measures could deter the rabid bibliophiles (perhaps bibliohoarders or bibliopolice would be a more apt term).

This kind of activity can spur the librarian stealth ops. Place the boxes out at the curb under cover of darkness, or arrive at work pre-dawn and put them out just before trash pickup. It’s amazing we have to go to such lengths. Believe it or not, I once had a colleague who took the library discards home and burned them in her outdoor furnace in an attempt to avoid opprobrium. And librarians are the ones who usually oppose book burning!

Large sets are especially onerous. I once gave away a vintage “Oxford English Dictionary” set to a local shabby chic home designer and she turned it into a side table for a client (I’m still kicking myself for not getting a photo of that!). Municipalities will often only accept paperback books for recycling. So I also enlisted the help of the library maintenance man to make a complete Contemporary Authors set “go away” by cutting the hardcovers off with his table saw and recycling the pages.

But enough is enough! We never agreed to warehouse items that no one wants. And it’s exhausting trying to hide the dirty little secret that libraries regularly deaccession and often throw away books. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I absolutely love weeding. However, I absolutely hate clogging landfills with stuff that is otherwise reusable or recyclable.

Family Donating_1332264656All laughter aside, we must strike a delicate balance. We want to welcome well-meaning individuals who wish to donate their personal collections for our fundraising efforts. And we also value the members of our community who pay the most attention to us (and what goes into our dumpsters). Our biggest champions can also be our harshest critics. In terms of selling library discards in book sales, you can also face push-back, especially when expensive items are selling for as little as 25 cents.

We take our role of information steward seriously. Transparency is key. Be forthcoming about what you are doing and why. Keeping up with your weeding projects will also prevent the massive deaccessioning jobs that arouse suspicion. I found it best to not “nickel and dime” the process and simply make discarded books free for the taking. And if anyone questioned it, I simply said, “Your tax dollars paid for these, now we’re giving them back to you.” In one of my last jobs, we would take cart after cart of materials that had been weeded, roll them into our book sale area with a “FREE” sign, and most of them would disappear within a few days.

We’d love to hear any funny (or not so funny) stories you’d like to share about navigating the world of unwanted books!

 

Further reading:

ALA’s LibGuide on Discards

“Weeding without Worry” from American Libraries

Check out Awful Library Books (Tagline: “Hoarding is not collection development”) for lots of laughs, plus a section on their website about how to “Discard Responsibly.”

 

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.

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.

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?

 

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.

Turn Your Book Club into a Blockbuster

By Stephanie Campbell, MLIS

book club_482961064There can be a lot of pressure on libraries to host book clubs. But many don’t want the hassle of putting one together or the attendant problems that can arise: drama over what books to read; who will facilitate; what to discuss; plus the stress attendees may feel over not liking the book or knowing how to contribute to the conversation.

Here’s my formula for keeping the anxiety-producing aspects of book clubs to a minimum.

In my book club days, I led a group of about 10-15 people through 11 selections per year. Considering how busy many people are over the holidays, I found it more realistic to have a combined November/December meeting. Book Club was held the same day every month — the third Tuesday, for example — so that the meeting could be easily remembered. Attendees were encouraged to drop in (or out) as their schedule and tastes dictated.

I found it best to choose all of the books a year in advance to help everyone be prepared, including myself. This allowed plenty of time to acquire a copy of the book and read it. Members were encouraged to email me their reading suggestions for the coming year. I distilled those into a list of the most accessible titles within my consortium. I only considered titles with 10 copies or more, as I never wanted anyone to feel they needed to buy the books, though many chose to.

At the last meeting of the year, the group chose the January book and voted on the books for the rest of that year. We aspired to include a nice mix of fiction, nonfiction, new, and classic titles, while covering as many genres as possible: historical fiction, dystopian novels, etc. Reviews, awards, and synopses guided our choices. But it certainly wasn’t easy, as we often had upwards of 40 suggestions.

Once we settled on the books, I arranged the sequence with many things in mind: overall demand for a particular title (to make sure we weren’t reading any hard-to-obtain titles at the height of their popularity), length of the book, and more. I found it best to keep things relatively light and frothy in the summer months, with meatier tomes slated for spring and fall.

We met for approximately two hours. Reading Group Guides and the author/publisher websites were favorite sources for questions, but I was blessed with a fantastic group who found plenty to talk about without being prompted. Our icebreaker involved introducing ourselves and stating whether or not we liked the month’s selection. I rarely liked what we read, so that was always a source of levity.

I found the running of a book club to be very rewarding, as it forced me to read outside of my comfort zone. I always got something out of the discussion that I never would have had I merely read the book on my own. And sometimes I even changed my mind about my initial thumbs-down!

Here are some other tips/alternate book club ideas.

Books into Movies

Members read the book, gather to watch the movie adaptation, and compare/contrast the two.

Cookbooks

Pick a cookbook, try recipes, and bring samples to share. If you’re super concerned about food safety, you may want to stick to baked goods.

Genres

Limiting the choices to only mysteries or science fiction can take the stress out of choosing what to read — and the odds of your attendees having a good time are better, since they are reading the types of books they already like. Another idea is to focus on travelogues or biographies, with each attendee choosing whatever title they want and telling the group about what they learned.

Reading Marathons

Not necessarily book clubs, but gatherings for book enthusiasts who love listening to spoken word. Individuals take turns reading from the same book.

Short Reading

Rather than a full-length book, focus on an article, essay, short story, or poem that can be read in less than an hour. Similarly, you could stretch a single book out over several sessions, covering just a chapter at a time. This works well with nonfiction self-help-type topics such as mindfulness.

reading coffee shop_1131016739Silent Book Club

Silent Book Club, also dubbed Introvert Happy Hour, is generally held in bars or restaurants. Individuals briefly share what they are reading, read independently, then perhaps socialize a bit more within a two-hour timeframe. There are opportunities to form new chapters.

This is akin to a book conversation group where attendees all read different books, but gather to talk about them. Many libraries do this either in-house or gather offsite.

Teen (or Children’s) Reads for Adults

An outlet for those who gravitate toward books geared toward younger audiences. This could easily double as an intergenerational program.

Walking Book Clubs

Perfect for people who love to walk and also love to read! Attendees find their own pace and the group naturally breaks into smaller chunks, thereby reducing any stress about group discourse.

Online Book Clubs

These are online groups, such as Goodreads, that follow a blog-like format.

What ideas have worked for you? We would love to hear them!

 

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.

Spanish-Language Collection Development: What to Keep in Mind When Selecting


Hablas Espanol_331952135

By Jessica L. Blaker, Spanish Services, Collection Development & Acquisitions

The demand for Spanish materials in public libraries has increased dramatically over the past few years, and librarians have accepted the challenge to find the right titles for their library’s demographic.

Often, libraries do not have in-house staff with enough experience or language skills to make the best decisions. When you don’t speak the language and reviews are nonexistent, how do you know what to buy? Simply filling your shelves with Spanish language titles does not guarantee success, and it doesn’t mean your materials will appeal to patrons or circulate.

Library Patrons_160679732Know Your Patron Base

One of the keys to selecting Spanish materials for your library is knowing your population’s country of origin. The Spanish dialect in which a book is written can have a big impact on how readable or useful it will be in your community. For instance, the Spanish spoken in Spain is much different than the Spanish spoken in Latin America. A picture book or board book that contains words and expressions colloquial to Spain, for example, may look odd to Mexican readers, and therefore be less appealing.

While it is important to be mindful of regionalism, it’s a mistake to take this too far and totally exclude authors and publishers from Spain (assuming your patrons hail from countries other than Spain). Doing so could cause you to miss out on a big chunk of what’s out there.

Thinking that Mexicans or Salvadorans would not want to read materials from Spanish authors is akin to me saying that, because I am an American, I won’t ready Harry Potter, since the author of that series is from the UK. Spanish authors such as Carlos Ruiz Zafon, who enjoys universal readership, could get lost in the shuffle. That would shortchange your community.

Brodart’s Spanish materials experts vet as many titles as possible — particularly children’s titles — reviewing them for dialect and quality. We also note author country of origin on adult titles to aid in selection. These are the factors that will be important to your Spanish-speaking patrons.

English Language Titles in Spanish

Many Spanish translations of popular English language titles are published in Spain. For example, “Miedo: Trump en La Casa Blanca (Fear: Trump in the White House),” by Bob Woodward, is being released in December by Roca Editorial. This is likely to be one of the biggest books of the year. But a library that excludes publishers from Spain would never see that title in its library collection. Other examples of popular and must-have titles coming out of Spain include “El cuento de criada (The Handmaid’s Tale)” by Margaret Atwood and “La forma del agua (The Shape of Water)” by Guillermo del Toro.

Appropriateness for American Libraries

We Americans tend to be more prudish than much of the rest of the world when it comes to sex and nudity. An example of this is a book from Spanish Publishers called “El pañal de Bumba.” This is a board book about a little boy who has lost his diaper. Right or wrong, the illustrations in this book, while perfectly acceptable in Europe, would be challenged in the US. The title does not meet American standards for board books, due to depictions of nudity (albeit childish nudity).

In this case, it would be understandable to exclude the title due to the illustrations. This is why book-in-hand reviews are imperative.

Here’s another point you may not have considered: juvenile titles from Spain are often printed in cursive font. This may not sound like a big deal, but many schools across the US are no longer teaching children cursive. Conversely, cursive writing (la caligrafia) is still widely taught in Central and South America. Thus, while a book’s subject matter may be deemed appropriate for American children, and while Spanish-speaking children who have learned to read in another country might have no trouble with it, it would be unintelligible to English-speaking American children learning Spanish. Titles printed in cursive are not of interest to many public libraries.

What Is Popular among Spanish Speakers?Hispanic Couple Reading_253450447

Like their English-speaking counterparts, Hispanic patrons read a balanced mix of both fiction and nonfiction.

In nonfiction, the most popular Dewey categories are the 100s, 200s, 300s, and 600s. The general trend in Hispanic nonfiction is toward self-improvement books. Leylha Ahuile, writing in Publishers Weekly, points out that there is a high demand for self-improvement literature in the Spanish-­language book market in the US, including books on “finance, health, marriage, parenting, acquiring or improving skills, entrepreneurship, leadership, and spirituality.” The same holds true for English speakers: these topics are universal and tend to be among the most in-demand and highest-circulating items in libraries today.

Graphic Novels

Most Spanish-language graphic novels tend to come from Mexico and Spain. Spanish Publishers has recently picked up the wildly popular “Lumberjanes (Lenadoras)” in Spanish for the YA market. Interestingly enough, there are a number of current widely popular graphic novels that poke fun at the US President and our current state of affairs. These titles are mostly from Mexico.

Hello Hola_1020911380Háblanos! (Talk to Us!)

Overcoming language barriers and reaching underserved populations is one of the most rewarding experiences for librarians. We would love to hear your stories and welcome your questions and concerns about Spanish-language collection development. Leave a comment to share!

For further reading:

Library Journal’s Collection Development feature on Selecting Spanish

RUSA’s Guidelines for Library Services to Spanish-Speaking Library Users

 

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.

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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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.

Graphic Novels and Literacy Programs: Making an Impact

By Kat Kan, MLS

In my 35 years of working in libraries, I have always advocated for including graphic novels in library collections. Back in the early 1980s, that was not a popular position. People regarded comics as “kids’ stuff,” trash reading, or—influenced by Dr. Frederic Wertham’s “Seduction of the Innocent”a pernicious source of juvenile delinquency. The publication of such comics as “Watchmen” by Alan Moore and “Batman: The Dark Knight,” by Frank Miller, led still others to think of comics as only for adults and not safe for children. I was obliged to battle those wrongheaded perceptions as I tried to introduce comics and graphic novels into the libraries where I worked.

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Over the past three decades or so, things have been gradually changing, as more librarians and teachers have embraced the graphic novel format. Some library professional journals include regular graphic novel reviews, ALA conferences include at least a few panels and programs on comics and graphic novels, and teachers are using more graphic novels in their classes—not just as supplemental reading.

lady with comic_534338989So why comics? The format of art, together with smaller amounts of text (usually in word balloons), generally arranged in panels that show the story’s progression, looks a lot less intimidating to a non-reader or a struggling reader. The trick is, so much of the narrative is reflected in the art. My own mantra is “Exercise Your Whole Brain – Read Comics!”

Comics are now being published on just about every subject you could imagine, from language arts, to math, to science. Comics are especially beneficial for literacy programs due to their visual nature; the combination of text with pictures helps to reinforce memory of the content, and helps all kinds of students, not only those who need more help in building reading and comprehension skills.

Recent immigrant teens who came to the library where I worked in Fort Wayne, Indiana, told me they loved reading manga because the art helped them understand what was going on in the story, and they were learning more English by reading them. Some of my current students at my school check out lots of graphic novels because they think the format is fun and the stories are great. The teachers have told me some of those students struggle to read prose, so they don’t mind that the kids read comics.

Then there are kids like my younger son, who has been reading since Kindergarten (just like his mom!), but who never really enjoyed reading fiction. He did so only when required for class, and thus was branded a reluctant reader by his middle school language arts teacher. The summer before his freshman year in high school, I gave him “Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation,” a graphic novel by Tim Hamilton, and I asked him to try it. He came back to me that evening, bubbling over with excitement about the story and asking the kinds of questions any teacher would love to hear from students. He did read the novel his junior year, and he told me that having read the graphic novel adaptation, he found the prose novel much easier to understand and therefore more enjoyable. Now, as a college student, he actually reads some novels for fun.

TV_372377596Graphic novels also tend to boost library circulation, a topic discussed in a Publishers Weekly article in 2013: “How Graphic Novels Became the Hottest Section in the Library”. In my own school library, graphic novels account for 25-60% of circulation per week, depending on the class (4th graders borrow more often than any other age group). I conducted a small survey in my public library teen department of circulation statistics for some of the graphic novels, comparing them to bestselling prose fiction. I found that most of the graphic novels circulated at least three times more than any prose fiction (aside from the super-popular titles, such as the Harry Potter books). This means that graphic novels have a high return on investment for libraries. In my library, only the nonfiction picture books about animals out-circulate graphic novels—and some of those are in graphic format, too!

As you may have detected, I am passionate about comics, manga, and graphic novels. I love to sing their praises. But don’t just take my word for it (apologies to LeVar Burton). Here are some sources that reinforce what I’m saying.

Check out CBLDF Raising a Reader, especially pages 9-10, where Meryl Jaffe discusses multiple learning skills, including memory, sequencing skills, language, language usage, and critical thinking.

Educator Tracy Edmunds has a lot of great material on her blog. In particular, read “Why Comics?” from June 2, 2016 and “Why Should Kids Read Comics?” from June 21, 2016 for lots of information and sources you can use to justify using comics in your library.

Gene Luen Yang includes a story in his TED Talk about what happened in an algebra class when he started writing and drawing the lessons in comic book form. He points to two major reasons comics work so well: their visual nature and their permanence. Past, present, and future are all together on the page.

Other sources you might want to peruse are Pop Culture Classroom and Diamond Book Distributors’ online newsletter “Bookshelf,” which includes lesson plans from Dr. Katie Monnin, who is now Director of Education at Pop Culture Classroom.

On a final note, at the 2018 ALA Annual Conference, the ALA Council passed a petition to convert the existing Member Initiative Group into the Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table. According to ALA, this “will allow for organization-wide engagement with professional and collection development, public outreach and advocacy, and internal mentorship, as well as furthering the cultivation of industry partnerships relating to the sequential art format in schools and libraries.”

Graphic novels are here to stay!

final_kat_caracatureIf 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.