Monday, September 29, 2014

A Note The Library Deniers: Libraries Do Have something For Everyone

This isn't another rant about why libraries matter or why closing down a library in any community is a bad idea.  .  It's not about that at all.  Rather this is a post for the library deniers. Who are these deniers?  The neighbors, friends or family members who simply deny that the library has anything to offer to them or anyone else.   This is precisely why a visit to the library once a year could change the harshest views of the library.     It may be surprising to some of the library deniers to  know, it's not just about books. There's new technology.  There are plenty of programs for every age.  In other words, it's not just books.  It's about people.

Library have changed drastically in the past decade.  No longer are books the only items to be borrowed.  The variety of  items to be check out range from fishing poles to telescopes and everything in between.  Why is it then that the stereotypical view of the library still exists? It could be that the marketing (or branding) of the library has not been effective.     After all, who wants to hear people complain about how no one respects them or their libraries?   No one does.  What is more effective is to "show" the community how the library adds value to the community.   This is an re-introduction to the library.   It is meant in the spirit of "hello again" to those who have not been in a library for quiet some time.  Consider this a preface to a three part series which will demonstrate the community building that libraries across the country do everyday.  Whether it's good times or bad, libraries are continuing to reach out to the community.

It was Lady Bird Johnson who once stated, "Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library".  She was correct in that observation.  The library is open for all residents, rich or poor, young or old.    Quite frankly, it is also the institution that has something for everyone.   Even those who claim they don't need a library.  Chances are, they may not need one today but tomorrow may just be the day that the library meets a need of  a library denier.   There are a few questions that every library denier should ask themselves.  First, how do you know the library has nothing that you need?  Two,  what library services would you like the local library to provide? Finally, when was the last time you were in a library?   Answer the questions truthfully and it may reveal that everything you know about the library may be false.  

First it's important to lay the foundation of what the mission of a public library is and has been for years.  Public libraries, large or small, are established for the purpose of lifelong learning for every member of the community From newborns to senior citizens to everyone in between.  It is the one place that the community turns to access information.  This may explain why there are more libraries than there are McDonalds in America.    All though most fast food places, including McDonald,  provide free wifi access customers must use their own laptop, smart phone or other related devices to gain access.  Libraries only require that a wifi user have a free library card to gain access to not only the internet but also to databases and  computer software programs such as Microsoft Office.

The foundation of lifelong learning creates a positive environment for every person to learn something new everyday.  That is , if they choose to do so.  In the next three blog posts,  different library services will be examined and shown how they help shape and build the community around them. The goal here is to take away any excuses that library deniers have in visiting and using the services that are there for the taking.  It is also a chance to showcase how libraries are making a dramatic impact on the community.  Positive impacts that can be seen and measured in tangible ways. Is the interest peeked just a little?


Monday, September 22, 2014

Why Would Little House on the Prarie Be Challenged?

The libraries across the country will be celebrating Banned Books this week.  Banned books in America?  Really?  Well, actually not banned per se.  More like challenged but it sounds so much more richer to say a book has been banned.   In an effort to promote intellectual freedom,  this is one way of getting attention about books, reading and libraries.   To be clear, the First Amendment guarantees the right to say, write, believe or read anything without fear of  punishment from the government.  The list of books here, are widely available and anyone can read them if they choose.  Judy Blume, Neil Gaiman and other authors can rest assured, this is still America and no books are truly banned.  Just merely challenged.  Having said that it's important to keep vigilant on the topic of banned books.  It let's those who hold office  know that the freedom to read is taken very seriously.

To answer the question why would Little House on the Prairie penned by Laura Ingells Wilder  be banned?  According to parents in the Lafourche Parish schools, this book is offensive to Indians, in the political correct terms, Native Americans.  In the book, which is historically accurate, the main characters describes the Native Americans in an unflattering light.  Big deal.  Is it so hard to teach children that historically that is how  settlers in the west viewed the Native American culture?  Thank goodness we are passed that now, right?    For the record, this entire  series has been given numerous awards, including one named after Ms. Wilder from the American Library Association, for making a positive addition to American Children's Literature.  

Ms.Wilder is not alone in the "culturally insensitive" language department.  Mark Twain's beloved The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn suffers the same attack for using the word "nigger".  The book has even been published in a "friendly" version where the "n" word is removed completely.  Any literary purist and historian will say this is not only ignorance at it's best but offensive at it's worst.   It is agreed that every person deserves respect, but when making the accusation that the word is deeming in a tome that lifts up the value of friendship between the two boys is illogical to say the least.  Leave the text alone, and discuss the book with children in order to give them the proper perspective on the text.

Gone With the Wind is another victim of  accusations of racism.  Margaret Mitchell's portrayal of black slaves as being simple minded  was deemed as offensive in many communities.  Again,  if readers are to look at the historical context of  the book, it falls in line with what the common thought was.  History can not be changed but it should be understood in order for a society to learn from the mistakes of the past.

Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland has always stood out as a classic tale in the fantasy genre.  It has also earned the attention of those who wish to protect readers from dangerous books.  In the 1900's at Woodsville High School in New Hampshire, the book was thought  to have subconscious influences which leads the reader into sexual fantasies. One has to wonder how this community might have reacted to Fifty Shades of Gray had it been printed then?  It would have made them blush several shades of pink to be sure.

To Kill A Mocking Bird,  Harper Lee's tour de force, was banned in  Hanover Virginia in 1966.  Why?   The  plot was considered immoral because it dealt with rape.  Also through out the story,  racism is interwoven.  

As a modern feminist writer Virginia Woolf broke many boundaries in her time.  It comes as no surprise that one of her books would be challenged or banned.   Due to the topics of gender changing and homosexuality, Orlando is definitely on the list of books that some thought should be forbidden..  This book is not one of her better known titles, but it is said that it was a "love" story written to a famous female  of Woolf's day.  The idea of changing one's gender and to have one women kiss another full on the lips "like a lover" was scandalous.  In this day and age, not so shocking. 

One for the pages of this can't be true but it is.  In 1993, the community of Corona-Norco, California thought it was imperative to ban.  Aldous Huxley's Brave New World because it focused too much on negativity.  It's too bad that they didn't understand Huxley's true message of how humanity could be controlled if society gave their consent.  Great book that could develop into greater discussions.

The Curious Incident of Dog In the Nighttime by Mark Haddon is a wonderful, delightful book that allows the reader to see the world through the eyes of  a boy with Autism.   In Tennessee, a writer has to beware of using the "F" word one time to many in their work or they may find that their book is not welcomed in their community.  One school district in Tennessee did just that citing that while they are sure the students in the school were familiar with the "F" word,  it does not mean that the school district should condone the use of vulgar language in literature.

In 1939,  Grapes of Wrath  literally came under fire in one community and banned in another due to it's offensive language.  In East St. Louis, Illinois, the public library of this community burned the work by Steinbeck.   Yes, burned.  As in, light a match,  toss the book in a bin and drop the match in the bin.  The irrational behavior does not get rid of the book entirely.  More copies can and were printed.  Readers today still enjoy the book.  In Buffalo New York,  the public library there banned the books.  It is reassuring to know that the book is still available for the citizens of Buffalo. 

Last, but certainly not least  Sid Sheldon's book, The Giving Tree came under criticism.  This is due to the fact that the two main characters of the book, boy and tree, have an questionable relationship. Tree gives everything it has to the boy and the boy  seems to never have enough and nothing to give to the tree.  In 1988 it was banned in a public library in Colorado because it was considered "sexist".  Well if that didn't work, it has been challenged in some public school libraries for criminalizing the forestry industry.  Seriously, some adult look too deeply into a book to try to find something that's not there.

Ten books that may make  readers to pause, scratch their heads and say this is nuts.  Books may be challenged, they can even be banned but in the end, they will always find a way into someone's hands who will appreciate a good story.   Do something daring today, go out and read a dangerous book.  As a matter of fact, share it with someone you love.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Happy Patriot Week! Books That Shaped America

It is Patriot Week (September 11-17)  in the state of Michigan.  This is the week set aside in September to remember, reflect and renew the American spirit by celebrating the First Principles and the Founding Fathers.  It is a grassroots effort that began and was embraced in the Great Lakes State and is now spreading to other states as well, such as Wisconsin and South Carolina.  With this in mind,  here are a few favorites titles that are for the serious and thoughtful readers of history.  There is much to be gleaned from these books and if readers were to dabble in even just one chapter of each of these books it would be well worth the time spent.

It cannot be denied that Thomas Paine's work, Common Sense (1776) provided the rational and convincing arguments to why the Colonies should choose independence from King George III.  This pamphlet was so widely read that it had in its first year of printing, half a million copies in twenty five editions.  Without this masterful piece of writing, American may have never existed.

The Federalist Papers (1787)  is another collection of writings that spurred the colonies to take a pivotal stand in America's young history.  This time it was to support the ratification of the American Constitution.  Although originally published under the pen name "Publius" it was later revealed that the authors were Alexander Hamilton,  John Jay and James Madison.   This is first contribution to political literature in America.

Democracy in America (1835) is the observation of a Frenchmen Alexi de Tocqueville when he came to observe the prisons in America and came away with a whole lot more.  Although this is not authored by an American it has been very influential on how Europeans view Americans as well as how Americans view themselves.  For the reader who is a historical buff this is a must read.

It is true that all three books,  Common Sense Federalist Papers  and Democracy In America are not to be bedtime reading materials but to complete the well rounded historical reader these are for the hardcore historians in our midst.

For readers who want serious historical fiction, these next three books should fill that void perfectly.
Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage (1895) is a tale of a young Civil War solider, who witnesses the battles of wars with all of it's horrors.  This is the first book to look at war through the eyes of the solider  instead of through the lenses of the battle in general.  Even if this book was read years ago in a Freshman's English class it is still worth it to pick it up again.  As an adult reader, there are many threads woven through this book that may have been missed earlier, such as the loneliness, regrets and sacrifices of the Civil War.  This book does not paint a pretty picture of war, and that was Crane's intent.

Uncle Tom's Cabin made such a mark in American History, that even President Abraham Lincoln said he had to meet the little lady, Harriet Beecher Stowe, who penned this novel.  In March 1852 ,  Uncle Tom's Cabin was published in novel form (previously it had been serials written in an Anti-slavery magazine) and sold over 300,000.  It can be said that Ms. Stowe proved that the pen is mighty , words are powerful and one person can make a difference.  Uncle Tom's Cabin persuaded enough Northerners to ignore the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and changed public opinion of slavery in the days proceeding the Civil War.

It would be unconscionable not to mention Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884).  This book is still a delight to reread time and time again.  Huck and Jim's adventures led them  to see the violence, hypocrisy and racism in American society.  It also taught them about themselves and the value of friendship.  Twain's simple language and easy going style gives the reader's a rare view down the Mississippi.  If one is willing to travel down the river again, it is suggested to bring along a friend or two.  This book is wonderful to read aloud in a classroom or at home with the kids.

There are many other books that have given American readers reason to celebrate their heritage but for the moment,  in the spirit of Patriot Week,  the focus will be left with Early American History.  
Once a reader dives into those books, there is no doubt left in their mind that the formation of this country is nothing short of amazing and inspiring.    Happy Patriot Week!

For a complete list of books that are for children and adults that help celebrate Patriot Week, request a digital copy of Patriotic Books for Patriotic Families at     For more information about Patriot Week please visit 


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering 9/11 -- From the Bookshelf

Everyone can remember where they were on September 11, 2001.  If each person in America had documented that day in a journal, it is sure to fill too many volumes to fit in one library.  Not to take away from what anyone felt, but everything that needs to be said has been said by many.  Each person in their own way will remember September 11th.    There have been many biographies, fiction and nonfiction books dealing with the historic date in America's history.  Each are fascinating in their own way.  However there  will is one book that has been lost in the shuffle and perhaps it's time to refresh the memories for some readers.  Michael Ford's book  Father Mychal Judge: An Authentic American Hero (2002)  is a book worth reading from the stand point that the good Father was a victim at Ground Zero.

Father Judge's story is one that is truly inspirational.  He loved his vocation of priesthood in the Franciscan order.  How people remember him is exceptional because each story is one of a man who demonstrated compassion, forgiveness and taking care of the poor.  His last earthly act was in giving Last rites to those who were dying in the World Trade Center.  This is where he died.   The picture of the fireman carrying his body out of the building was sobering and spiritual as well.   If one is in need of a good spiritual story on this day of national remembrance.  This is it.

There is one "startling" fact that was added to the book that  caused debate.   Ford decided that it was pertinent to add in the book that Father Mychal Judge was gay.   This fact has been disputed by both sides, Conservative Catholics and Progressive Catholics.   Friends who knew Father Judge have said he told them privately that he was gay.  Others believe that the idea that he was gay stems from his involvement in the LGBT community.   At first the reader may think that this fact was added in hopes to sell more books and maybe even make a statement against the Catholic Church.  If one really looks at the heart of the story they will find that this is a story of fellow citizen who gave up his life to serve others in the only way he knew how.   It could have easily have been a favorite pastor in any parish in any town in America.  On that day, it happened to be a Franciscan Priest from New York City  Father Mychal Judge's sexual preference is not what was important  What was important was that a very good man died and his memory should be honored along with the many heroes and heroines who died that day.

RIP Father Mycahl Judge. As they say in the Catholic Tradition, Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let Perpetual Light shine upon him.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Does Common Core Help Boost The Importance of School Libraries?

The topic of Common Core stirs up a whole hosts of reactions from positively for it to positively against it.  When common core was first rolled out as the plan of choice to fix everything that No Child Left Behind did not do there were many who jumped on board and ran with it.  As time progressed, there were still too many questions,  too many problems and it seemed as if it began to complicate education more than before.  School Library Journal conducted a webinar series that specifically aimed to help school librarians understand common core and demonstrated how this could help the library become the focal point of the school curriculum.  One problem, the  ideas that they shared in the webinar have been in place.

This may be harsh words but facts are facts, Common core does little to nothing to boost the library's presence.   In the first webinar on Common Core, SLJ insisted that part of the beauty of the new vision of education is that reading nonfiction was more of a focus.  Wonderful.  That is good news, however they went further to say that school librarians, as well as the public librarians, really did not know the nonfiction section as well as fiction.  Wait a minute!   A librarian in today's library, be it a school or public library, is wearing many hats.  Not only are they responsible for manning the reference desk,  but also collection development,  programming,  grant writing and bibliographic instruction.  In other words,  the entire collection of the library is pretty much familiar to the librarian who is going through the shelves day in and day out to assist students, teachers and patrons.  That was the first glaring misstep from the webinar series.

Based on the idea that librarians needed to be keenly aware of the nonfiction sections, the webinar series began to take the path down to information literacy.  They stressed how the school librarian can become the gatekeeper to the information in the sense of challenging students to question the information they found on the Internet.  The webinar suggested that students should be asked questions such as : Who wrote the article?   Did they document their resources?  Were they biased?  Goodness, Information literacy has been around longer than Common Core!  When the Internet became the main tool for gathering information, it became paramount to teach both students and adults to be skeptical of what they found on the Internet.  Hasn't the joke been around so long that everyone now sarcastically says "I found it on the Internet, so it must be true." ?  It is disappointing, to say the least, that those who are touting the benefits of Common Core would have librarians believe that they had never dared thought of instructing students to verify the information.  Second glaring misstep from the webinar series.

Finally, what quite possibly can be described as the nail in the coffin, is the notion that reading a loud to children at every age is an important activity.  Agreed.  Students can benefit from having to be trained to listen carefully.  It also empowers them to use their imagination.  In the webinar they actually suggest that the reader of the book should read for a stretch , stop ask questions of the students to see if they picked up key parts of the plot, and reread the same pages over again.  Why? This will reinforce the story in the students mind.  Disagree.  This can only bore the audience and quite frankly the reader as well.  Third glaring misstep form the webinar series.

Due to the three glaring missteps it becomes apparent that SLJ does not have a clue on how Common Core will connect with the library.  Good school librarians understand the curriculum,  speak with teachers and administrators to see how the bolster the library's collection to meet the students need and know how to teach students to be active library users.  Is all of this covered in Common Core?  No, it's not.   What Common Core advocates have to realize sooner or later,  community control over the school district is much more practical than a National standard.  Parents, administrators and educators can all agree that the best outcome is for the student to be prepared a productive member of society.  How each community gets to that point is up to them.  What is scary is that children are now guinea pigs in the laboratory of education.  Leave it to the  bureaucrats in Washington have found a way to make NCLB look good.    Hasn't anyone figured out yet that testing does not prove that a hold has completed a solid education?

What is even more disturbing is that many school districts are opting to place school librarians in the classrooms along side the teachers.  (Examples in Michigan are Fraser Public School and Romeo School Districts)  Apparently SLJ and the Common Core lobbyist didn't foresee this move to make School Librarians over educated teacher assistants.    Then again, it must be a shock to all librarians to see another step backwards in the profession.

Having said all this,  is Common Core boosting the library usage in school and public libraries?  Not more than usual.  Could it at some point help?  No.  Common sense in the education of  students would be a much better approach.   Just think back to the days when students were required to learn the basics and once they mastered them, they could go off to explore all that the world had to teach them.   Could it be that the homeschoolers had it right all along?

Monday, September 1, 2014

What is The Best Job In the World?

A little fun on the blog today due to the holiday.  A brief examination of literary characters and their professions.  Mrs. Nowc hope this is as fun for readers to read as it was to post it. 

It's Labor Day in the United States.  A time to honor the workforce which makes this country what it is today.  Everything shuts down for the day, except for a few stores who feel the need to have sales but Government offices are shut down as well as the banks.  For those who don't shop, well there are parades galore in every city.  It's a nice holiday to end the summer.  After the last parade has passed by, the BBQ has been shut off,  last minute school clothes has been bought and the family has been tucked in for the night, one begins to ponder what would be the best job to hold.  

At first one would think a doctor would be cool.  Unless you are a doctor during the Russian Revolution, like Doctor Zhivago.  Then it's not as glamorous because a wartime doctor does not get to practice the medicine he would like.  Let's face it a family practice would be much better than treating men who have lost a limb or mortally wounded.  Then again, he found another  profession as a poet.  All be it, not very lucrative but he had love.  So it's all works out in the end.

Being a doctor could be good or bad depending on the era but lawyers always seem to be at the right place at the right time.  For example.  Atticus Finch, the lawyer of To Kill A Mockingbird.  Who wouldn't want to be the type of lawyer who could prove his client is innocent in a racial charged case?  Then again,  Ms. Harper Lee never gave a full account of how the brave Mr. Finch fared under the stress.   It's the deep south, it's a white women's word against a black man's, and the whole town is against you.  That would be enough to drive some to drink. At the very least, move.  No lawyer might not be a great job either.

Businessman is always a good profession. It's generic, one can work just about anywhere and the money is always good.  Unless, you're Ebenezer Scrooge of the Christmas Carol.   Money got to him in a big way.  No one liked him.  He didn't like anyone either.  Holidays were lonesome until one Christmas when he gets three ghostly visitors.  Nope.  Business is not good either.  

Private detective would be a wonderful job too.  Always searching for clues.  Always have a sidekick, like  Dr. Watson.  Sherlock never misses a clue, always thinking and quite frankly is probably a bore to be around twenty four hours a day,  seven days a week. Which might be the reason why the reader never hears of a Mrs. Holmes.  No, that can't be a good job either.  Who wants to be right all the time?  Too demanding.

So what is the best job?  It has to be a profession that allows for learning something new everyday.   A place where one never knows who might walk through the door.  A place where it is quiet yet not as quiet as a church or spooky as a graveyard.  Actually books would have to be present, along with computers, oak tables with matching chairs.  Yes,  a librarian is the perfect job.  Well, at least from this viewpoint.  Where did this idea come from?   Not sure, but maybe the title of this blog might give a clue.

Happy Labor Day to one and All!