7/30/10

Revolutionary Voices: If You Have This Book in Your Library, DON'T Weed It! Here's why:

The banning of any book hurts. The banning of Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology (ed. Amy Sonnie, Alyson Books 2000)--recently pulled from the Burlington County Library System in New Jersey--will hurt many.

Ten years old, the book remains, sadly, as revolutionary as it was when I reviewed it for School Library Journal upon its publication. That year, I nominated it for SLJ's Best Adult Books for Young Adults list (it made the list, as did the other book I nominated, Naomi Klein's No Logo).

If you aren't familiar with the story of how the book got pulled, though no formal challenge had been lodged, and how it relates to Glenn Beck, please click here for the story at Amy Sonnie's blog, Banned Librarian, and here for the updated story in SLJ . I don't want to summarize it here--though I will reproduce a quick quote:

"[I]n a May 3 email, [Library Director Gail] Sweet told staffers that they needed to 'pull' Revolutionary Voices from library shelves. 'How can we grab the books so they never, ever get back into ccirculation (sic),' Sweet wrote to BCLS staffers. 'Copies need to totally disappear (as in not a good idea to send copies to the book sale).'"

Totally disappear. When library books don't go to the book sale, they get a) put in the recycling bin, if the library is responsible or b) put in the trash. Note: Sweet also referred to the book as "child pornography." Of its 54 contributors, only 11 are under 18 (most are in their early 20s), and of these 11, only 2 mention sex at all (and this in ways totally in keeping with YA novels*, etc). Very few of the pieces mention sex, period.

The banning of any book hurts, but Revolutionary Voices is out of print. Copies remain in only 400 libraries, according to WorldCat. And there's nothing else like it out there. 54 youth contributed stories, poems, artwork, and zine pages to the book. Most also contributed pictures of themselves, along with short bios. Here's a sampling of sentences from the bios:

"I am a 23-yr-old mixed-race queer poet of Vietnamese/Scottish/Swedish descent"

"I am a 20-yr-old Igbo woman from Nigeria…I am trying to find my voice as a Black queer woman living in the United States. Our society tries to speak for us young folks, and it's about time we find and use our own voices"

"I am a triracial, First Nation, Two-Spirit Fairy Trans Faggot activist"

"a 17-yr-old queer Latina living between homes in New Jersey and California"

"I am a poet and queer youth activist about to enter tenth grade"

"I am a 19-yr-old Chinese-American, born in Hong Kong and raised in San Francisco"

"i am 23 years old and active not only in the arab community but also in ethnic/feminist/queer communities"

"I am a gay biracial (Japanese and white), Nissei, male, genderqueer"

"I am a 21-yr-old queer boi of mixed heritage (human-melting-pot-style) and intersexed physicality"

Now: it is hard enough for queer youth to find books about white queer youth, and books about white queer youth that talk about more than just coming out. This book is full of the work of young queer writers of color (it does include white queers, too). It has pictures of the young queer writers of color. And it's about a lot more than being queer and coming out.

Here's a paragraph from the Introduction:

"What's so revolutionary about these voices? The young writers in this collection, like so many revolutionary thinkers of the past and present, are moving toward a radical consciousness by questioning heteronormativity and positioning themselves as young and queer in a world that tells us queerness and teen sexuality are discrepant. We think critically about regimes of gender, race, class, ability, and age. We see that we live under a system of heterosexism, white supremacy, misogyny, and capitalism--where homophobia is wielded as a weapon of sexism; where most of us are taught a Eurocentric version of history in school; where young people, especially young people of color and poor people, are being tracked into prisons. This is a system that justifies spending more money on the military than on education and health care combined; a system where foreign business interests control peoples and nations of color and the United States bombs and sanctions whoever it pleases. This system makes possible a society that packages queer identities with rainbow ribbons and sells them to the highest bidder. A society in which Pride has been commodified… Unlearning mainstream society's teachings is a difficult process requiring visible alternatives and open dialogue. This collection is our attempt at opening this dialogue. We share our work to counter our own invisibility, to become allies to one another, and to demonstrate that we believe in ourselves enough to take up a pen, paintbrush, or a camera in our own defense."

This book should be in print**; this book should be in libraries; this book should be in readers' hands. If you own it at your library--we are lucky here; our library system owns 2 copies--please don't weed it, ever. It's ten years old, yes. But it reads like now, and tomorrow, and probably many tomorrows after that.



*as commenter "Josh" wrote in the comments section of the SLJ article: "No one is removing books marketed toward preteen girls in which 150 year old men eating the placenta out of their new wife so that the baby that is devouring her from the inside can be freed. Nope, they are simply further marginalizing an already shaky and oft oppressed teen demographic.

**I've contacted the editor to see if she's interested in trying to get it back into print, or creating an ebook version

7/28/10

Library Day in the Life

The Library Day in the Life project is positively infectious. In its first go-round, in July 2008, Jan participated. I want to participate this year, in a meandering kind of way, so here goes:

My work days, for the most part, are similar to each other (though a benefit of working with the public is that no two days are ever too much alike). Occasionally, I do a high-energy storytime (I’m not in Youth Services at my current pow, but I was when I worked for FCPL, so I’m back-up) and emerge sweaty and happy. Occasionally, I do a program—recent ones have included a "Best of YouTube" Viewing Night (my baby--more on this another time), an Open Mic Poetry Night, and “10 Sites in 10 Clicks,” a recurring series in which we highlight useful (or much-in-the-news) sites for the 55+ crowd. As often as I can—which is usually about twice a year, as lots of other folks are interested in these opportunities, too—I involve myself in one of the library’s outreach programs—in April, for ex, I participated in Dan Marcou's brilliant Read to Me, which entails heading to the correctional facility and holding three sessions with currently incarcerated parents, talking about the library and early literacy, and helping them make digital recordings of themselves reading a few books, poems, and jokes to their kids (we send the kids the books, a CD of the recording their parent made for them, and a pic of their parent holding the books).

But for the most part, I’m a desk horse. As an associate librarian—at my previous job, called a “Library Assistant I” (whatever it's called, it means I didn't go to library school)—I have less intense assigned off-desk projects than my librarian coworkers. And mine are dreary: I handle exam proctoring, booking the meeting rooms, and tax forms, when they’re in season (if you handle them at your branch, you know that they almost always are. We need to place our orders with the IRS in August). I’m lucky in this, because I prefer to work at a clip, on my feet, moving around, etc. (with an occasional stretch of time to read feeds), and my current branch, a very busy one, lets me do just that. If I get assigned more than two hours in a row off-desk, I usually try to bum a desk shift from a coworker who could use more back-room time.

On to the average day:

6:00-- wake up, to have an hour to myself before waking my partner & our girls. This is when I throw together a comic strip, if I have an idea in mind, or catch up on unread posts in my feedreader, or read some of an actual book. If there's a new strip, I sign into Facebook to post it directly to the Shelf Check page, as Facebook's blog import feature's spottiness leaves much to be desired. Scroll through friends' statuses.

8:30-- after half-hour car commute, arrive at work. Check work email, phone messages (rarely do I have any), deal with meeting room and exam proctoring requests that have come in since I was last in the building. Sign into Bloglines, which I keep open all day. I subscribe to a few feeds in Google Reader--I am trying to prefer it--but so far, buggy as it can be, I still prefer the look of Bloglines.

8:45--9:50: Morning routine before we open: check the weeding cart we place at the end of our AMH (Automated Materials Handler) for items that need to be withdrawn. Whoever's on the desk (there are two of us each shift) in the morning gets this duty. In the month of July, my library checks in an average of 4000 items per day. When folks spot books that are falling apart, they place them on this cart. It's pretty full.

I usually do some of what I call "proactive shelving" at this point--always do, in the summer. At 4000 items per day, full carts of recently returned items line the back room, sometimes as many as a week's worth. I skim the carts (as yet unsorted) and pull exceptionally popular items to shelve immediately--right now, Rainbow Magic Fairies books, Garfield, Magic Tree House, A-Z Mysteries, Goosebumps, Geronimo Stilton, Star Wars for kids; Jodi Picoult and Vince Flynn for adults. There is a "Just Returned" status in our catalog that is a killer--folks looking up a book see that it was "Just Returned" and, having no idea of what our back room looks like, assume we can get it quickly (a neighboring county's library catalog only has two item statuses: "Checked Out" or "Check Shelf." I think "Check Shelf" is incredibly clever. "Oh, it's not on the shelf? Guess it's not available, then.") Proactive shelving is a way to try to lessen the number of times I and my coworkers need to come back digging for a Just Returned item. Shelving is not part of the info staff's duties, but I generally do a bit anyway--not with a cart out on the floor, but in quick bursts like this. I also try to shelve all of the DVDs and music CDs before we open: I like to start the day with those sections full.

At the info desk, turn on all four computers; bring up Outlook, the catalog, Communicator (IM), and Firefox on each. Open my Bloglines account at whichever station I plan to sit at. Print a copy each of the desk schedule and the meeting room schedules. Retrieve the wireless phone we keep at the desk in case we go roving.


9:50: I smoke. Awful, I know.

9:55: I listen as people attempt to open the locked lobby door. Every morning, at least one person does. Usually, the people that attempt it are regulars, well aware that we don't open until 10:00am. Just too damn tempting, I guess.

10:00am: open. I always smile and say good morning. Most people brush past me, some bumping into me, in a rush to get to whichever of our 82 computers they have somehow decided is the best. People who are coming to my branch for the first time, however, usually smile and sometimes say "Wow" as they peer in and see the awesome that awaits them. I am proud of our branch. I've been in libraries for 16 years, and have worked with many an uninvolved, complacent, who-gives-a-fuck librarian and circ aide. While it may sound improbable, we. don't. have. any. If you work hard, think hard, are constantly trying to figure out ways to improve patrons' experience, and, basically, rock, you don't stand out here. Everyone does. Our branch is always Homecoming-fine. There's no one on staff who won't stoop to pick up some patron's nasty tissue off the floor. When I first came to the branch to interview, I stopped in the bathroom to assess my appearance (pretty weak). Do you know what I saw there? A sign that said, "NEED A DIAPER? WE MAY BE ABLE TO HELP! ASK AT THE INFORMATION DESK FOR EMERGENCY SUPPLIES." So simple a service and offer, and yet, I was blown away. And still am. Maybe two people a month ask for a diaper. We purchase them with book sale money. That's how awesome my branch is.

10:00-12:30: on desk. We're busy. This is a busy shift year-round (summer evenings and weekends are slower than fall and winter). Storytime (Family at 10:30 on Tues and Fri; Baby at 9:30 and 10:30 on Weds and Thurs--we seat 80 babies a week!) adds to the thrum. The phones ring off the hook. I sometimes think we should have a dedicated phone librarian--it is a lot for the librarians on desk to handle, in addition to in-person folk. But we do. It's true that people sometimes get frustrated on hold and hang up, and that I sometimes wish there was a way to redirect calls that are not branch-dependent (they need a librarian; not a librarian at our branch) to a central service, or a less busy branch. Our hold music is horrible, the worst I've ever heard, one terrible repeated 12-bar-or-so piano phrase. I'd rather listen to someone shout, "You're on HOLD! You're on HOLD! You're on HOLD! Sucka!" When patrons seem amenable, I joke with them about it.

We frequently have to run-walk to the back room for Just Returned items. When it's really busy, working the info desk feels like skateboarding, weaving in and out of the (oblivious to other bodies around them who need to get past them) crowd. Or waitressing. It is fast. In the back, we are on our knees, struggling to squeeze between carts, pulling unsorted books out, trying to find the ones folks want quickly enough so that they don't walk away while we're back here, and everyone in line behind them doesn't get to sighing too heavily.

My job is physical. And my legs suck. I was born (don't think I've mentioned it here), like runner Oscar Pistorius and the famous Aimee Mullins (link to her TED talk), with fibular hemimelia (always a fun term to use when trying out new search engines), only my parents decided not to amputate. I've had a lot of surgeries, my right leg is full of metal, and I don't know what in hell I'll do when it stops working well enough to do this job the fast, intense way I like and feel I need to. I cannot be a still librarian. I am not looking forward to that day. Occasionally, on the library floor, I get a feeling like lightning has struck my leg. I keep moving. This is simply not a slow job. I hear myself emphasizing, maybe overemphasizing this--because many non-library folk still say things to me like, "That must be such a peaceful job. You must have so much time to read." My ass.

Lots of reference questions. Today's favorite was a precocious 5-yr-old kid who stayed with me for minutes, returning frequently throughout my shift to thank me, or inform me of something else he'd found. He was in search of books with nothing but picture after picture of treasure chests. We didn't have any. We should. I'd like a book like that, too. Picture book writers, take note. But we found some okay stuff in Shipwrecks, in Pirates, in Gems & Minerals.

12:30 Desk shift ends.

12:31-12:35: I smoke. Yeah, I know.

12:35-2pm: I'm back on the desk at 2. I technically have a half hour lunch somewhere in this block, any time I want to take it, but I rarely take it as a full chunk and eat a full meal. If I ate a meal, I'd want to nap. So I eat weird little quick things, a yogurt, or some edamame, or a Rice Crispies bar, occasionally in the break room, but usually at my desk. I lunch-work until 2. One of my more interesting back-room tasks is curating the queer ("GLBTQ Voices") fiction and nonfiction book lists at Bookspace, so I might fart around in the catalog looking for new stuff (LC subject terms are not terribly GLBTQ-friendly, so I try to keep my book lists current and abundant, fearing no one will find this stuff otherwise), check out Lambda Literary and other libraries' GLBTQ lists, etc. I love Bookspace. Favorite blurb portion from the fiction list: "If you read only one lesbian time travel romantic adventure this year, award-winning Minnesota author Catherine Friend's Spanish Pearl is a great bet." Do people read this stuff? I hope so. Also: weeding my assigned section, choosing low-circ items to be redistributed to other branches where they might fare better, processing new books (deciding which to highlight on the "new" shelf) and new reference books. I'm on the library system's diversity steering committee, and might update the diversity toolbox (links for staff to refer patrons to) or blog, or work on a possible training. Another recent task: compiling an in-branch (not system-wide) list of "If You Like 'The Clique'" books to post in the teen section and a list of books for those just starting to to read chapter books. We do a lot of recommending on the desk and on the floor, but it's nice to have these lists posted for patrons to find themselves if they'd rather not speak with a librarian--and for us to draw on when we're caught on the spot and suddenly can't remember which titles would work. If I have a storytime or program coming up, I work on putting that together.

1:50-1:55 Smoke. Yep, I count up these minutes. We get two 15-minute breaks in addition to the half-hour lunch.

2-4pm: same as 10-12:30, with a little less energy and a lot more caffeine.

4-5pm: slump. Dum de dum. I do everything I'm supposed to, but I'm losing energy fast.

5-6pm: horrid, bumper-to-bumper commute home. My morning commute takes a half hour and energizes me; my evening commute leeches out whatever energy I have left. I often apologize to my family for the exhausted state I'm in by the time I get home. I try to play a really kick-ass song right before I pull up to the house, to shock myself back "up" for them. I'm not a road rage type, but many on the road are. It's a lot of negativity to face/try to merge with at the end of a work day. Audiobooks and music don't help all that much. My commute home is the worst thing about my job by a long shot.

Thanks for reading. How's your days?

Shelf Check #428

Shelf Check 428

7/27/10

Shelf Check #427

Shelf Check 427

Pope Pens Children's Book Entitled The Friends of Jesus (Guardian)

Tom of Finland (Wikipedia entry)

--and have you seen author Carolyn Parkhurst's Ghashlycrumb Tinies 2010?

7/26/10

Shelf Check #426

Shelf Check 426

7/22/10

Shelf Check #425


7/21/10

On blogging and intention, sometimes

There's the post you hope (even "expect") will generate some discussion.


And then there's the post that does

generate

discussion.

Glad for readers either way.

Shelf Check #424

Shelf Check 424

Video: the full Shirley Sherrod speech (NAACP)

7/20/10

Shelf Check #423 (2 parts)

ShelfCheck 423a
ShelfCheck 423b

7/19/10

Shelf Check #422

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[This strip's for Jessy Randall, writer, librarian, & fellow Pinkwater fan]

Shelf Check #421

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7/16/10

What would you do if you didn't need the approval of 15 committees?

Put another way: what would you do if your library system was better using your talents?

The lightning-speed rollout of the Old Spice/New Spice videos, the fun of the Librarians Do Gaga video (and, to a lesser extent--but probably only because flash mobs have become fairly common--the Seattle Library Flash Mob), JoCo Library's Read to a Unicorn April 1st post...all have me both excited


and

frustrated about libraries run by committees and the compartmentalizing of library jobs (that is, you have your social media people, and only your social media people work on the library's social media presence; you have your communications department, and all communications with the public have to be run through it, etc.) If you work in a medium to largish library system, you are a part of a crowd of workers. And chances are, your library system isn't crowdsourcing within its staff...your library system isn't making use of everyone's talents. A big shame, because libraryfolk tend to be a pretty talented bunch.

I think of what, for ex, David Lee King does for Topeka & Shawnee. David has lots of talent; David has lots of gear...but a lot of folks who work in libraries have lots of talent and lots of gear. What ultimately matters most is lots of permission. David has that, I think--at least it looks like it from here--and most of us don't. Many of us don't need to be told or taught at conferences how to engage with patrons via social media, how to market our libraries via YouTube or Facebook, etc--we need our administrators to be told or taught that they should allow us to do so. In the largish public library systems I've worked in--all good systems, and none of which I mean to complain about here, as I'm pretty sure it's the norm (which I do mean to complain about)--you can barely post an Out of Order sign on a bathroom door at your branch without getting the font approved by someone in PR or communications. You can't do spontaneous programming, as all programs need to be approved (so they can be officially promoted, when promoting at the branch level would probably yield as high a turnout) at least 6 months in advance. You can't seize the moment; you can't seize the day; you're lucky if you can seize the year. Old Spice/New Spice practically seized the nanosecond.

Part of me wants to propose a place for library workers to post their ideas, ideas of stuff they would do if their library systems let them--so that other library systems, perhaps systems more willing to take risks, can run with those ideas if they want to. Free Library Ideas. Because we care about libraries, and we want awesome library stuff done, even if we're not in the required position to get it done at our own libraries.

Here are a few of mine:

If your library has a Facebook page, slap together a gift app. It takes about an hour. Create fake book covers in Picnik or wherever, covers that say things like "Pulse-Pounding Thriller" or "Savvy Historical Romp." Patrons can send them to people, and each should come w/the attached message: "For 10 Great Pulse-Pounding Thriller recommendations, call _____ Library at XXX-XXXX" [or insert ask-a-librarian's email, etc]". Boom. Facebook gifts. Reader's Advisory promotion. An hour or two of work. (Facebook quizzes are also a piece of cake. Have *something* fun & light to offer aside from your library's info, at least. Local history quiz? How Well Do You Know Your Library? quiz?) Quizzes and Facebook gift apps are kind of "yesterday," I know--but today's yesterdays are most library systems' tomorrows, so hop to.

National Poetry Month promotion for kids (or adults, really): run weekly drawings for personalized poems. You've got a poet on staff, or on your teen advisory board, or in your local literary community. You make up forms, or have a web form--kids write in 5 things they want included in the poem (give them suggestions: a sport, Harry Potter, a favorite color, toad guts, etc), and check whether they want the poem to be silly or serious. Draw one name a week, or 5 names a week, or 10 names a week during National Poetry Month--whatever your poet/s can handle. Poets write poems, type up poems on nice paper, give/mail poems to kids.

What else? Some kind of free reading-type content to download to e-readers/iPhones/etc. A free ebook, courtesy of the library. That's right; your staff puts it together. A selection of our librarians' favorite short stories in the public domain, if no one on staff wants to write original stuff. A compendium of library-related humor. An anthology of literary mash-ups (Pride and Prejudice and Librarians) by staff. Our Library's Got Talent. Anecdotes. Whatever. People LOVE free ebooks. Promote your library's free ebook via your library's social network presences, your library's web page, etc. Boom. You've given people something different, for free, and folks, it really wasn't much work at all.

If YouTube and blogs and LOLcats have taught us nothing else, they're taught us that sometimes the little guys, the guys who may otherwise have gone undiscovered, are fantastically smart, talented, and funny. Your new page may be a sharper writer than your senior PR person. For goodness' sake, don't let some other library learn about that before you do.

If anyone from any library system that will approve it wants to work with me on any of the above (especially the ebook), let me know.

What are your ideas? What aren't you getting to do that you'd do in a heartbeat if you could?

7/15/10

Shelf Check #420

Shelf Check 420

7/11/10

Shelf Check #419

Shelf Check 419

Rainbow Magic at Wikipedia (there are even more fairy subsets in the UK)

Shelf Check #418

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