Posts tagged ‘library ethics’

PLA Blog: queering the library

I wrote about the best session I attended today, Spanning the Generations: Serving the GLBTIQ Community of ALL Ages. Read about it on the PLA Blog: “Queering the Library”.

[Full text will appear here in a month.]


March 25, 2010 at 10:29 PM Leave a comment

Gender-exclusive programming

Last night my Youth Services class took a field trip to Greenwood Public Library to observe a preschool storytime and hear from Emily Ellis, the YA librarian; Rachel Korb, a children’s librarian and recent IUPUI SLIS grad; and Anne Guthrie, the assistant head of children’s services and the early literacy specialist. I’d never actually been to a preschool storytime (at least as an adult!) and it was interesting to observe all of the different components of the program–and we got to dance and play with the parachute! Anne is very energetic and is a grant-writing machine and in her introductory talk, she covered a lot of the highlights of connecting with preschoolers and encouraging a love of reading and libraries at an early age.

She also showed us a PowerPoint presentation that I’d seen her give at the Indiana Library Federation‘s Children’s and Young People’s Division Annual Conference last August. In it, she talks about how boys are different from girls: their brain scans look different and different chemicals are present in their brains, and because of this, boys learn best through movement and enjoy competition.

So to draw boys into the library and keep them there, Anne’s created an ongoing program called the Boys’ Adventure Club. There’s also a parallel program for girls, the American Girl Club. In the brochure for upcoming programs I picked up on my way into the library, I noticed that the next American Girl Club will center around Molly and her Victory Garden and will teach girls about gardening. The next Boys’ Adventure Club is called Survival 101 and will “[test] your knowledge on what you could eat, which herbs would help you heal a wound, how you could make your own shelter and other interesting strategies for staying alive if you were ever stranded alone in the wilderness.”

I know that libraries (and educators generally) are worried about a “boy crisis” now, and it’s true that boys don’t read the same way that girls do and that libraries are generally the realm of girls and women and that lots of measures of literacy show boys behind girls. I want to find a way to get boys into the library and to show them that literacy, reading, libraries, and librarians are cool. And I have no problem with planning programs that appeal to a specific subgroup within your service population. But what kills me about this gendered programming at GPL is that it’s gender-exclusive. If you’re a boy, you’re not allowed to go learn about Molly’s Victory Garden and how to have your own garden. If you’re a girl, the library isn’t going to teach you to live off the land.

I’ve been thinking about this since CYPD and there are plenty of other examples of how gender expectations influence our library service to young people, like when we don’t recommend books to boys that have a female protagonist or feel we need to make excuses for that, because everyone knows that although girls will read books about anything, boys won’t read books about girls. Scott Westerfeld wrote a little bit about whether or not the UGLIES series is a “girl book” series, and Amber at Amber’s Xtreme Writing addressed this from a reader and young writer’s perspective earlier this month.

In some cases, gender-specific programming seems to me like a positive thing. Jon Scieszka’s Guys Read initiative works to help boys become motivated readers for life. One of the components of encouraging boys to read is providing male role models who read, and having a father/son book club is a great way to do that. On the other side, having a self-esteem-building after-hours event for teen girls is a great way to help girls like themselves for who they are without worrying about pleasing boys, but there needs to be a similar program for boys. It’s not gender-exclusive programming that bothers me, I guess, so much as the library enforcing gender-specific interests and offering such a limited role–for both girls and boys.

So the Boys’ Adventure Club and American Girl Club bother me on a personal level. I grew up as a tomboy who would have much rather learned about wilderness survival than some stupid garden in the backyard, and this experience, this part of who I am, wants me to stand up for the tomboys of today.

They also bother me as a feminist. Of course there are gender expectations everywhere, in everything we do. The gender of the person to whom we’re talking influences how we talk, what we say, how we behave in the conversation. But do libraries have to overtly support gender norms like this? What does it say to girls who want to join the Adventure Club or boys who want to learn about gardening or even something like knitting?

But they really bother me as a librarian. We sell the library as a place to learn and explore, a place to figure out the world and ourselves. We invoke the 40 Developmental Assets–especially when working with teens–to make a case for how the library helps young people grow into healthy adults. One of the internal asset categories is Positive Identity. Making non-equitable gender-exclusive programming can tell young people that they have no place in the library as who they are.

Can we bring boys into the library without falling back on exploiting gender norms? I’m not sure. How do you target a specific group without using statistics and expectations about that group? But there’s a difference between relying on data about a group and relying on stereotypes about a group or shutting out non-members of that group. So can we bring boys into the library without enforcing gender norms? Absolutely. And it’s better for everyone if we find ways to do so.

(If I get another degree in culture and gender studies or do a PhD in library science, I think I’d like my thesis to be related to how our gender expectations inform our library service to young people.)

February 23, 2010 at 6:09 PM 1 comment

From the listservs: ARCs

About a week and a half ago a member of the YALSA-bk mailing list said that she was new to receiving ARCs and asked what listserv members did with their copies. A discussion erupted that pulled in librarians, authors, and publishers alike and is still going on today.

For the uninitiated, ARCs are Advanced Reading Copies (or Advance Review Copies)–paperback copies of a book that a publisher distributes before a book is published to allow people to review them, to solicit feedback, and to create buzz around the book. Sometimes these books are uncorrected proofs with a plain cover, and the content of the story may change between the distribution of the ARC and the publication of the actual book. Publishers or authors will occasionally post to the listserv offering ARCs of an upcoming book, they’re sometimes sent to librarians, magazines or other reviewers, and booksellers, and they’re available from publishers at conferences.

(Not every book is distributed as an ARC beforehand: I was disappointed to learn from the dean of IUPUI’s SLIS program that Scholastic isn’t planning to give out ARCs of MOCKINGJAY, the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy (read my post about the announcement of the cover of the book) at ALA’s Annual Conference this July because the series is so popular and well-known that they don’t think they need to build any buzz–or let the secrets out early.)

So once you’ve received an ARC, what do you do with it? The publisher would like you to read it and either publish or send in a review and, if you like it, spread the word about the upcoming book. But what do you do with the book afterward? Many librarians said that they distributed the ARCs to their teens to read and review and then they sent the reviews into the publisher and used them to decide whether or not to purchase the book when it comes out for the library’s collection. A few said they gave away ARCs as incentives for summer reading programs or other programs with teens. One librarian reported that the library’s Friends group was selling the books in their booksales, though, and a few librarians warned against adding the book to the collection.

While many copies of ARCs are marked on the cover with the instructions “NOT FOR SALE,” completionists and collectors seek them out and will pay not as much as they used to, but still a good price for the copies since they’re not widely available–and despite the printed instructions, selling ARCs isn’t illegal. Books may change between being given out as ARCs and being published based on feedback the publisher receives from ARC readers. If a library added an ARC to the collection, it’s not necessarily the same book that the publisher actually publishes. Giving ARCs to teens–or any patron–without letting them know that it’s a review copy and not the final version of the book is a misrepresentation. Furthermore, ARCs are flimsy paperbacks and in libraries, where books get lots of use and abuse, an ARC just can’t hold up to even a regular paperback, much less a hardback.

I was totally jazzed to receive a copy of CATCHING FIRE (the second Hunger Games book) at ALA this summer and read it the night I got home and emailed a few thoughts to the contact person listed in the front of the book. Since I wasn’t working with teens at the time, that was all I could do–that and continue to rhapsodize about how amazing the series was with friends and colleagues. But once I’m working in a library, I love the idea of distributing any ARCs I can get my hands on to teens to have them review them. Teens get sneak previews at upcoming books and can promote them to their friends and help the librarian (me!) decide what to collect, and writing reviews helps them develop their literacy skills and gives them a chance to feel like they matter to publishers. And as a bonus, you can use those reviews to promote the book within the library once you order it. As for what to do with an ARC once a teen has reviewed it–why not have another teen read it? And another and another until the book just falls apart. After that, recycle it and use all of those reviews for Great Library Justice.

February 17, 2010 at 9:28 PM Leave a comment

From the listservs: dictionary controversy

News broke early this week of an elementary school in California removing a dictionary from the classroom when a parent complained about the dictionary’s inclusion of the phrase “oral sex.” Here are the essential facts:

  • The offending dictionary was the tenth edition of Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. It was being used in fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms.
  • The parent was a classroom volunteer who discovered the word on her own and submitted a written complaint to the school.
  • The school board’s policy is to immediately remove the book and convene a committee within 30 days to determine whether or not the book was appropriate and report its decision within 15 days.

Author (and game designer!) David Lubar posted to the yalsa-bk mailing list a short piece of satire he had originally written in 1997 that bore some striking similarities [reposted with permission]:

Felicity Dour, spokesperson for PAWN (Parents Against Words that are Naughty), triumphantly announced the removal of all dictionaries from classrooms in three more states. Calling the book, “Satan’s toolkit,” Ms. Dour read several samples of the kind of unacceptable filth that can be constructed from its contents.

Lubar observed in his email, “The scary thing is that a lot of the stuff that was amusingly ridiculous back then is now so close to the truth that it won’t work as satire.”

By Tuesday, a committee had decided to offer both the original dictionary and an alternative dictionary for concerned parents and the school clarified that at no time had the dictionary been “banned” (as many news reports–The Guardian’s, for example–were saying. The school would send a letter home to parents allowing them to decide which dictionary their child should be allowed to use. What’s interesting to me is that the majority of that article (and the entirety of another) weren’t about what was happening with the dictionary, but with what was happening with the media attention the school was getting and the misinformation on the book being banned that was being spread. Furthermore, I saw a lot less–from librarians and non-librarians–about the resolution of the situation than the initial “oh no they’re banning books!” emails and tweets.

On Wednesday (the day the letters would go home to parents), Courtney Saldana, a librarian in Onario, California, shared with the listserv a summary of a radio interview she’d heard on KRQQ with a spokesperson for the Menifee School District. One part of the show she specifically mentioned was when the radio host indicated that looking up “oral sex” in a dictionary was much more appropriate for fourth- and fifth-graders than Googling it, and I think that gets to the heart of this issue. Parents want to protect their children, but isn’t the dictionary one of the safest places to find answers? And really, wouldn’t you have to know what you’re looking for to find it in the dictionary? Kids are certainly technologically literate enough to know that there are answers on the Internet, but they’re going to find a lot more objectionable material there than in a dictionary.

January 29, 2010 at 5:32 PM Leave a comment