Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Banned Book Week 2011: Part Two Intellectual Snobs vs. Parental Rights

It’s the middle of Banned Books Week, the world has not crumbled, at least for the moment. The Freedom to Read is still alive and well in this great country of ours. From the looks of it will be for a long time to come. Why should another blog be written on censorship and freedom? Simply put, the debate will not end because of two ideological forces are colliding like two ships that have missed the lighthouse signal.

First let’s examine intellectual snobbery for a moment. Let’s face it everyone who holds a degree in any field of study has a touch of the “snob” syndrome. When it comes to earning a higher degree than the traditional four-year Bachelors, the “snob” syndrome become almost incurable. A college degree does not guarantee common sense, but it can cause someone to look down at others as unable to understand the complexity of literature and thus can not form any valid debate against a piece of work. This type of thought should be changed and quickly for the sake of saving literature of all genres.

On the other hand, there is a knee jerk reaction from the other side that believes all books that have bad language, sex and drugs are bad. There has always been a school of thought that has insisted that books for children can only be valuable if its clear, clean and comfortable. In other words, it doesn’t rock the boat that will lead teens to ask uncomfortable questions. Those who hold onto this school of thought are often thought of as living in the past, not civilized or just don’t get it when it comes to the world, especially as it relates to teens. Like it or not, there is validity to this point of view. Just as there is validity to the point of view that teens should be exposed to different types of genre and writers. Both sides lay claim to wanting what is best for children, and neither side is willing to concede that the other might have a good idea. Why is that?

Recent titles that have been published in the Young Adult section have caused alarm and scrutiny by many groups. Authors who want to push the envelope are doing so with topics such as drugs, suicide, sex and gay life styles. It seems these topics are becoming more prevalent in the plots, causing some to wonder if every book has to have a gay person, a suicide, drugs or all of the above to make a good story? For every intellectual freedom snob who stands up for these books, the question has to be if the plots make the books more enticing to them personally? If the answer is yes, perhaps their bias is guiding them to censor anyone who is against these titles. If the answer is no, and all books with great plots enthrall them perhaps there is room to communicate that to the other side. The opposite question can be asked of parents who want to ban “bad” books in schools. Censorship from the government is never a good thing. Having said that, parents' rights are just as important if not more so than their minor chidlren. Every teen should have a good home, great education and the basic needs of life. Those needs do not include reading everything under the sun. There are just some topics that families should discuss together in their own time, in their own way,

Celebrating Banned Book Week should be the celebration of living in a free society that allows for all types of books to be published and read without fear of punishment. It shouldn’t turn into a political hijacking. In the whole scheme of things, teens are looking to adults to help them along the way in life. Once becoming a teen does not mean that they are free to explore the world without adult aid. It simply means they still need a hand once in awhile to guide them through the maze of information. Teens deserve nothing less than great books, good role model and a little advice to help them sort it all out. That should be what everyone should strive to achieve.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Banned Books: An Opporutnity for Famly Reading

Are teens really able to decide for themselves what books to read? Can they make the decision on their own that they are ready to handle heavy topics such as suicide, sex and drugs? The main purpose of Banned Book Week is to give a shout out about censorship and the rights of teens to read whatever they desire. Bold statement from YALSA, but is it really a prudent one? One factor that has always been left out of the debate is the parents of the reader. This is where a little ingenuity and flexibility has to come into play as Young Adult Librarians promote Banned Book Week.

The whole notion of banned book sounds exciting to teens. Reading something that is "forbidden" is akin to sneaking out to the garage to smoke. It's the thrill of finding out what "secrets" they shouldn't know or not getting caught. To be a teen, again. When the books were hidden under the beds, or tucked in lockers so no one would know. Wait! That never happened. As a matter of fact, in the 1970's although there were books that everyone talked about like Judy Blume's novels but not one book seemed off limits for young hands to reach out and grab. Come to think of it, from the way Banned Book Weeks is promoted, one would get the idea that American libraries are under siege and strict government regime is forbidding certain books to be read, thus they must be burned. Okay, so that's a little extreme, but since this is not the case, one has to wonder why it's so important for teens to have "rights" to read about topics that are in some sense controversial? It's all in the name of giving teens independence from their parents and finding out "who" they are. Well, this can lead to dangerous territory, and it's up to librarians to be flexible enough to find the middle ground.

Back in the 1980's when Madonna came out with her controversial coffee table book titled "Sex", libraries grappled with the dillema of how to circulate the book. Should they keep it in "closed" stacks and have patrons ask for the title. If a minor asked for the title, would there be a "permission slip" from a parent required? Does this not pose a threat to the First Amendments? Nope. Sorry, in the case of a child, and teens are still legally children up until the age of eighteen, the parents will and should have the right to determine what is good or bad for their family. This includes books.

What should a librarian do to help the teen who so desperately wants to read 13 Reasons Why? It is a s simple as inviting parents and teen to read the book together. When parents begin to worry that a topic might, such as suicide, might effect their child in a negative way, shouldn't they have the right to have the book held off until a time when the child can handle the subject matter? The only time to challenge an authority figure in a child's life is a school board, but never undermine the parents. Some of the best book discussions that have been held have been with parent and child participating. It is a excellent tool to help foster communications. That is the "Key" to unlocking the banned book debate. Let the conversations flow and include everyone in the conversation.

Banned Book Weeks allow for many good things to happen. One, it entices teens to read. Two, discussions on why the book was "banned" can bring up other ideas that can lead teen to continue their interest in the topic. Three, it provides a valuable opportunity for families to read together. That in itself is the best outcome of Banned Book Week. However your library chooses to celebrate, here's hoping that everyone enjoys the "Banned" week!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

LIbrary Porgrams for Smart Mulit-Tasking Librarians

Every library is looking for a spark of "magic" that sends patrons stampeding over with enthusiasm and anticipation. This is not an easy task. With budgets draining and demand for libraries rising, what is a multi-tasking librarian to do? Take a deep breath and unleash programs that are not only economically sensible but do not take a lot of effort or time, which will make patrons believe that the librarian is a miracle worker.

In areas that are serving patrons who are leanring English as a second language the library is an ideal place to meet with their literacy partners. These new "neighbors" have come from many different places in search of a better life in the States. A social time to help these new immigrants practice speaking English is a great way to keep these students coming to the library. Little by little, these new citizens will discover the benefits of a library card, storytime and homework help for their family. Imagine, that this can happen just by offering someone a cup of coffee (or two) and friendly conversations. Programing can't get any easier!

Reluctant readers have a special spot in the hearts of all librarians. Its in our nature to want to reach out to them and guide them into reading adventures that they will be sure to enjoy. However, over the years, people have become snobby over what is acceptable reading and what does not pass the smell test. With this attitude is it no wonder that non-readers from thrity, twenty readers refuse to go into a library today? Thankfully, graphic novels have helped with the changes in attitude towards acceptable reading. A program to help entice these readers into the library is a "comic book swap" day. Where comic book enthusiasts can share and swap their favorite comic books. Invite the participants back with another program such as a movie night theme where comic book heroes are featured.

With the economy as shakey as it is, many people are working at trying to save money on esential things such as clothing. Knitting has become an excellent way to save money, be creative and meet new friends if the local library hosts a "Knitters" club. What makes this program a breeze is that it fits age groups from teen to adults. It is gender friendly, men can learn to knit a mean cap too, just ask Russel Crowe. On top of that, once the group gets started there are knitters from every stage, from advanced to beginners, who love to share what they know and help their fellow knitters.

The love of reading is what libraries are best known for promoting. What better way to engage readers and challenge them at the same time than to host a read-a-thon. Pick a day or night where readers come in with their favorite book to read for as long as they possibly can keep their eyes open. This program can help the library in ways of fundraising, inviting businesses to become involved by sponsoring the event or partnering with literacy groups to promote reading as a healthy, everyday activity for families. It's also a great photo ops for the local newspapers.

Finally, if all the ideas above don't inspire the multi-tasking librarian, try a low key idea that gets big bang for the library's buck. never forgetting that patrons can now "visit" their library in the virtual world. Host a "Tweet" fest where avid readers can tweet about their favorite new read at the libray. Its as easy as deciding on a time and day where tweeters and librarians will tweet. Nothing more is needed! If you have patrons who have never tweeted but wanted to know what the buzz was all about. Invite them to come to the library when the "tweet" fest is happening and offer to show them how to get into the fun! It's kind of like knocking off two birds with one stone. (Yes the pun was intended!)

It doesn't have to take a million dollar program to get patrons running to the library. As a matter of fact, with a little quiet time, a pad of paper and a look through the local paper, inspirations can strike at any moment for a cool idea. If that doesn't work, check back at this blog. Together there may be a few good ideas that can be conjured up for library magic for your community.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Oh H#ck No! We Won't Go!

It's a mad, crazy web of information out in this crazy world. Going through the maze on one's own means either two things: one, the information seeker is braver than the average bear or two, the information seeker is a trained professional, otherwise known as a librarian. If it's a slow day, librarians all over the world will hear a hundred times that the internet will replace the need for a library. On Saturdays, that number triples. Since the 1990's the proverbial "they", also known as the unknown professional/gurus have been dispensing this knowledge. Truth be told, that line is getting quite old and "they" should realize by now that libraries aren't going anywhere.

A good illustration as to why the libraries won't become instinct is the American Revolution. Sounds crazy, but it's true. The ideals that gave birth to our nation is equality and accountability. Libraries provide that for every citizen in every American town. This spirit of Independence has not faded from our society. As a matter of fact, whenever Americans are feeling that their First Amendment rights are being violated, they shout even louder. Which gives great comfort in knowing that Americans will always put a good fight to protect their rights. For a moment let's take the scenario that the Internet is the end all and be all of information sources. If the internet is allowed to become the only source of information, how long would it take for just one company (Google perhaps?) to control what information to be consumed for the good of the country? For that matter, who's to say that a government couldn't control Internet searches. One country comes to mind that has done just that: CHINA. That is why libraries will continue to be at the forefront of providing equal access to all information.

It is with this Independent spirit that Benjamin Franklin might have come up with the idea of the public library. Libraries are equal opportunity institutions in that anyone is free to step inside to browse the collection, share stories and learn. Family literacy begins in the library and continues to make the community that it serves better and stronger. An educated society is a society that will flurish. Isn't that what everyone hopes for the next generation? Sure the internet may provide some access to information. However, casual observers of how television programming has developed over the years, will point out that it would not be surprising to see pay per view for websites. This has already begun, and it has a the possibility of exploding to the point where only a few websites will be free and the rest of the net will be accessible to subscribing costumers only. Another reason why libraries won't go!

In the spirit of the Founding Fathers, who basically told the British monarchy where they can stick their tea, libraries should gather all the "articles" and "scholarly" journals that put the internet on a pedestal and throw them "out to sea". Libraries support the patron's right to have access to a variety of sources in which to browse. It should be added that information that enriches everyone lives should be available,accessible and in a manner of speaking "free" for the asking. While the rest of the world believes that the internet is a one size fits all solution for information. Librarians have always known that all information is not equal. In a round about way, the internet has given libraries a new life line. Ironic since "they" say the Internet will bury the library.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Librarian's Heart Is Always In Between The Stacks

In recent years, libraries have had their share of bad times. Pink slips, budget cuts, and library closings are just a few of the battles that libraries have had to face. Misery takes comfort in company, which is to say, American libraries are not the only ones to have suffered the ax of budget cuts. A quick look at international library news points to England who are facing the same dire scenarios as in the states. This is not the time or place to wallow in pity and weep, "Woe is us." Actually, it's time for a pep talk of sort and get our "game face" on so that we can fight the next battles. As Vince Lombardi once said, "The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have." In the past years, libraries have managed to do much with what smaller budgets, which should make librarians measure up pretty well in the eyes of our patrons. Some might even say that there's a "superhero" quality to being a librarian. Might as well let the secret out of the bag: Yes, librarians are superheros.

The Librarian of Basra is a true tale of a librarian who loved her library and collection so much that she found a way to save the books from being destroied in war-torn Iraq. It's an inspiring tale of what can be done if someone has a vision and passion to accomplish a difficult task. Who would know more about a difficult task than a librarian who had to deal with difficult government leaders, saving a priceless collection and doing all this in secret hoping that one day the books will find a home in a new library? Alia Muhammad Baker is an amazing woman but to be honest all librarians have the ability to rise up as Librarian Baker has done. As a matter of fact, ask any librarian what goes through their minds when they walk past a library that has been closed or are visiting a school that has a library but for the moment it's just an open space for students to gather. If that librarian has been laid off, and is now working in a non-library field, ask what they feel when they walk through a library. The answer will always be the same: they miss the smell of the books, the patron's question and the love of a good story. In other workds, their hearts will always remain in the library, in between the shelves.

This is a clarion call to all librarians, whether in a school, public or academic library, it's time to put on our capes and save libraries. Not just because it provides for us employment. What libraries have to offer to our society is so much more than just books. It's the bedrock of a democracy. It's in a library where self-education begins and the keys to unlocking the answers to quests are found. Anyone can walk into a library to find the right book, ask as many questions as needed or locate the answer to a trivia question that has always plagued them. It is the ideal place for bi-partisan politics, all sides of the issues can be explored and debated. Sometimes, kernels of truth are found and ends the debates. For these reasons alone it is worth it for all librarians to stand up for all types of libraries. The simple truth is that everyone benefits from a library and everyone loses when a library closes. Placing the proverbial "heart" on the sleeves we must speak out when a library is threatened with closure. Our voices should be louder when children are denied access to a school or public library. Frankly, when a country like Haiti loses its libraries due to disaster, raising awareness to help rebuild should be on the agenda list of library associations in every country. Passion speaks volumes when it comes to preserving something that is cherished. How do you think Superman got his gig? He loved justice and the American Way. Well, librarians love the freedom to read and the quest for knowledge. That is a mission worthy of any superhero's time.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Inspiration or How Do You Get Your Grove Back?

In any profession, there comes a time when a person wonders if they still have what it takes to be good at their jobs. Countless of times, "Its just not creative and fun anymore" is uttered in classrooms by teachers, in offices by business managers and in libraries by librarians. The proverbial "they" are often to blame for drain on the creative spirit in the organization. Sometimes this criticism is valid but the "blame" sometimes rests with the complainer. It may be true that working under a boss who is behaves like a tyrant, demands too much and is unforgiving of mistakes can make one miserable and even cause health issues to arise. In today's job market, there are not that many options available. The economy is not helping workers feel "secure" in their personal or professional life. Living paycheck to paycheck is If forced to stay in this position either make the best of it by getting your grove back or complain about being miserable in a dead end job. Assuming that making the best of the situation is the option of choice, here is how to become inspired and get into the creative grove of work life!

First step, is easy to say but hard to practice. Stop complaining about the situation. Complaining without taking actions to solve a problem is unproductive and frankly, perpetuating a lazy attitude. According to Psychology Toady (blog, May 18, 2010) Only 46% of workers are satisfied at work. In other words, many workers are in the same boat, they are all miserable. This is a drop in satisfaction is huge from years ago, and today the number may even be lower. This may cause one to wonder what are the other 54% at work doing about their dissatisfaction at work? If even one of the workers of the 54% stopped complaining, it could make a difference in productivity, a better work environment and at least one more person happy at work. That could be a huge plus right there. Why not be the one person who makes the positive change? Stop complaining.

Next, nothing cures boredom and inactivity like reading. Of course, easy for a librarian to suggest this but it works well for all professions. Professional journals, motivational books and the daily newspapers can provide the inspirational jolt needed to get the grove on again. Sounds corny and trite? Maybe, but it is often the case that learning something new gets the brain to look at situations in a whole new light. Of course if those reading materials are not your "genre", a biography of an inspirational figure may be the "muse" to light the way to a better work day.

Do something! Many professionals state that they don't begin a new project for many reasons. They begin the list with, their boss won't let them, followed by they don't have time and ends with who would listen to them anyways. Here is why these reasons are just excuses for going along with the same old, same old. If the boss does not approve of a project, if it is a worthwhile endeavor, do it anyways in your spare time. Invite a friend who shares the same passion and vision to join in the adventure. Make the time, in the end it will be an investment that provides a very healthy return. True having an audience is important and finding one takes time. With that in mind think of Field of Dreams, if you build it they will come. Here's a valuable hint to remember, never assume who the audience is or could be, it's can be surprising to find out whose smiling face is in the audience.

Those who complain that they are not "learning" something new at thier jobs are either not engaged at work or need to recharge their batteries. On any given workday, there is always something new to learn. Maybe it's a feature on a computer system that has not be tried before. It could be something as non-essential as "Eto okno" , which is a phrase in Russian that sounds pretty cool. Hey, you've learned how to say "There's the window" in a different language. The point of this rambling is that there comes a time when taking the initiative to recharge is not only necessary but crucial to getting a career back on life support. Get out there, learn from others and put the new gained knowledge to use in your career or your home life.

If getting started on a new project seems daunting, or the prospect of not complaining anymore is too hard then it's time for a really simple fix. Call an old friend for no reason other than to catch up and reminence. A familiar voice can be the perfect "pick me" that can reinvigerate the soul. Never underestimate the power of shooting the breeze with a pal.

The bottom line is that finding the grove is up to you, not your co-workers and not even your boss. All of the above activities can make work creative and fun again. maybe not. Maybe it just may lead you to a new career that is a better fit at this point in life. Whatever the case may be find that something that "groves" you and put spark back into life. As a wise person once told me, Misery may like company but company sure doesn't like misery! So smile!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Power of Play & How It Fits Into the Library World

When children are little their lives are filled with fun things to do, like watching favorite cartoon characters, singing with music or without (and not caring either way), and playing. To watch a child at play is an enjoyable activity because it seems so innocent and devoid of any seriousness. Next time you are watching children play, whether in group story time or spontaneous get together in the children's room, look carefully. There is much more going on besides having fun. Children are busy learning. This is precisely why children are so "tired" after playing. They have used every ounce of energy in them from cerebral, to physical to emotional. It's exhausting to just think about it,let alone watching the young ones! This is not stating anything new, children psychologists have known this for years. However, the approach that the library should have when it comes to games children play, is one that invites children to explore all the ways in which to learn and grow. Games definitely belong in the library.

For directors and youth services heads who believe that the only reason to have games in the library is to educate the young patrons, they will be happy to know that ALL games are educational for children. They may not openly come out and state "play this game for hours of educational fun" but without a doubt many of the "entertainment" games are sneaky at teaching something when the kids aren't noticing. For example, the card game UNO reinforces colors or the board game Clue encourages deductive reasoning. The list can go on to include other games such as RISK, Monopoly, Operations and so forth.

Games also teach winning and losing. It is important for children of all ages to distinguish this fact and accept it gracefully. Sure there are books that can teach the "moral" value of winning and losing with grace but games bring it to a "reality" that children experience for themselves. It seems that parents are so afraid of their little Johnny feeling bad when he loses that not keeping "track" of points seem to be the best option. What is so fun about losing a game is that the participant can start to think of the next time they play and what strategy they would use. Librarians should remind parents that there is a huge book industry out there that gives advice on strategies to win for just about any game. when a child loses, encourage them to find new strategies from others or maybe even come up with their own. Losing is not a bad thing, if dealt with in the proper way.

Reading skills are also developed in playing games. On a ordinary family game night for the family at the library, it is not surprising to see parent and child reading the directions of a game they have never tried before. This is one of the more fun ways to strengthen reading comprehension in children. Together, parent and child are learning the rules and agreeing to abide by them in order to ensure a fair game. Another games that help enhance reading skills are trivia games such as Trivial Pursuit. Reading questions out loud can sometimes be intimidating, but when surrounded by friends who are there not to judge but to have fun, the stress of saying everything perfectly is lifted. Often times, this helps a child become confident in their reading abilities. What better place to improve reading skills then in the library?

In the past decade or so, gaming in the library has meant video games. When this concept came about there were numerous naysayers who denounced games in the library on the basis that it was not educational, no one would want to play games in the library and it was a waste of taxpayers money. Years latter, ALA has initiated a Game Day at the library and website ( to help libraries incorporate all types of games for all ages. If it makes library directors feel better, remind them that play time is serious business and libraries should not pass up getting involved in such a worthwhile enterprise. On the other hand, maybe they would like to get into the game too. Invite them to play a round or two of Trivial Pursuits!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Fearless, Flexible and Focused : Qualities of a Children's Librarian

Ah, the wonderful, crazy and often unpredictable world of a children's librarian is never dull. The only workplace where anything can happen from spontaneous giggling fits over a computer screen to clean up down the picture book isle and everything in between. Seriously, there is never a dull moment. However, if searching for the ultimate dull job, try a night security guard at the graveyard. it's lonely and quite and no one every wants excitement there. Think becoming a children's libraries is a good idea? The best librarians in Youth Services department have these three special "qualities": Fearless, Flexible and Focused. Without these qualities, it's better to apply for the "safe" jobs then to interact with young children at the library.
Why does it help to be Fearless? For so many reasons that it is hard to count. For the sake of time, the best scenario to illustrate this point is hosting a program where a naturalist nutritionist prepares snakes with bugs as it the main ingredients. Dare the patron to eat just one, and see how many will take up the challenge. Be prepared to be tested by the youngsters and try a bug or two. Yum! (Not!)
On a more practical side to being fearless is the willingness to go out on a limb with an idea and a hope that it will inspire youngsters to keep reading and returning to the library. Will the program or idea work? As the old saying goes: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Flexible is a term to describe the ability to bend or move in any direction without too much effort or pain. children's library programs can be fun to plan but nerve racking if a librarian expects everything to run perfectly and according to a planned script. A cancelled performer due to sickness, Three Stoodges marathon delayed due to technical difficulty, or tye-dye shirt design gone amuck. (Actually gone on the floor - YIKES!) All in the name of a providing a safe haven for children to be entertained.
On the practical side of being flexible is that a librarian is humbly reminded that sometimes life does not go according to plans. Not only that, children can be a lot more forgiving and blind to mistakes than adults. As long as they are having fun, the program was perfect enough for them.
Focused sounds boring, stuffy and rigid. It's not. It simply implies that children's librarians must be keenly aware of their patrons, needs, wants and likes. What's hot, what's not and what's cool or what's lame. That's just talking about the preschoolers, the tweens and the teens. Included with this group of demanding patrons are the parents who are looking for guidance in early literacy and grandparents who have their grandchildren visiting for the weekend.
The practical side to being focused is never losing site of who the customer is and always looking for opportunities to learn and grow with the "kids". It is one of the few profession that pulls together, learning, fun and never growing old. A wise person once wrote, "As long as the brain is able to continue to discover new ideas and learn new tricks, one will never grow old." Who said this? A children's librarian in Michigan who loves her chosen field.