Monday, January 9, 2017

Both/And

I love physical books. I love the feel of the page, the heft of the book. I love to run my fingers over the dust jacket and feel the bumps and divots. I love physical books. 

And, I am not proud of it but there was a time when I was only a fan of physical books.  I was, I am ashamed to admit, very anti-ebook.  

The reasons aren't hard to imagine. 

Tech can be threatening, especially when it is a rival for something that is beloved.  I think it was probably overwhelming and scary to imagine something digital taking over something so fundamental, beautiful, and tangible as physical books.  

Looking back, I now know this was an overreaction, absurd and alarmist, but it came from a good place. 

Ebooks are not a threat to physical books.  Will they be one day?  Maybe, but I don't see it really.  And that is due in large part tot he fact that the ebooks people can't get their ducks in a row. 

There are too many devices.
There are too many formats. 
Copyright regulations are too outdated. 
The idea of leasing vs. buying is a pox that they can't seem to grasp. 
Highly illustrated books don't translate well. 
Ebooks just can't compete in an all-out scorched earth competition. 

That being said, I really love ebooks.

Full disclosure: We are a Kindle family.  Every member of my family has one and uses it regularly. The PaperWhite is incomparable tech, Kindle customer service is top of the line, and for all of Amazon's ills, they have got it figured out in terms of ease of purchase, ease of use, and ease of sharing amongst family/account members. 

Adding to the Kindle's dominance is the fact that they now own OverDrive, and while the audiobook part of OverDrive has been a glitchy mess lately, the ebook checkout's working with a Kindle is seamless and robust.  

So what happened?  How did I go from someone who swore I would never own an e-reader to such a fan? 

One word: Access. 

My disgust with ebooks was visceral, as a defense of the physical book, and it clouded my perception of the true beauty of the ebook. 

Vision
Readers with vision concerns can really be served with an ebook.  Most libraries can't afford to keep a large print section that parallels the main collection.  I know my district doesn't spend anything at all on large print.  So if a reader needs it, we have to search for a book on ILL. 

But with an ebook,  the ability to change the size of the font is instantaneous and highly customizable.  It makes reading possible for those with low vision in a way a physical book never could. 

You can even change to contrast to white print on black background.  

The access this provides for readers with vision concerns is unparalleled, and it is an important factor.

Dyslexia
For many readers with dyslexia, books are a daunting hurdle.  However, thanks to the Dyslexie font that comes standard on most e-readers, books are far more accessible.  With a click of a button, a reader can switch from Times New Roman to Dyslexie, and I have personally witnessed more than one reader immediately report being able to read better with this change alone.  

24/7
With most public libraries (and some school libraries) having access to OverDrive or another digital book platform,  the ability to check out and download books 24/7 is now available to anyone with a stable internet connection. 

I have had a child who needed a book after the library had closed.  I was able to go into OverDrive, find the book, check it out, send it to the device, and have my child reading in under 5 minutes without ever having to leave my house.  

Size
When traveling, whether it is to the store or around the world, there is no way to compare carrying an e-reader (whether a dedicated device or an app on a phone or tablet) to carrying a physical book.  This makes ease of access simply better.  For those with limited mobility or those with limited room in their luggage, ebooks can solve a problem for a lot of people.

So then where's the love?  I am forever getting cartoons shared with me that are pro-physical book/anti-ebook, and while I do chuckle,  I never re-share them. I never argue or berate people, but it is my show of solidarity with ebooks and the access they provide. 

I can see how those who love physical books still feel threatened by ebooks or, at a minimum, don't personally love them.  That's understandable. Nobody has to love ebooks. 

But nobody shoulddisparagee them either.

I always tell my children, "Whatever floats your boat and doesn't sink someone else's." And, for me, this is an issue of sinking someone else's boat.  If a reader needs larger font, a dyslexic compatible font, or ease of access in general, ebooks are often right on the money.  And as a person who is passionate about access, in all its forms, this is an issue that strikes close to my heart. 

It is hard for me to admit when I am wrong, but on ebooks, as a hater, I was dead wrong.  

And that in no was diminishes my love of a physical book. Unfortunately, it also doesn't mean that in my small library I am spending money on ebooks. It just isn't a wise use of resources.  But I do look for ways to get my students access (often through a partnership with the public library) and encouraging them to try the format.

This situation is one of equality, access and fairness. 

In the battle of physical vs. ebook, it doesn't have to be either/or.  Both/and works quite well.  

Thursday, December 1, 2016

My helper

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This post brought to you by Penelope, the Hedgehog.  (I was making sure she was awake, friendly, and active for a classroom visit when she climbed up on my keyboard.) 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Let's Talk Turkey

Not long ago I was reading through some Facebook posts and came across a crafty video about making a turkey out of an old book.  Hot glue, cutting, folding, rolling, voila! Centerpiece!

It is a cute idea and a really cute turkey. 

Then you get to the comments.  

I know, I know. Never read the comments. I really did quite by accident, but either way, I read them.  

And boy howdy!  People were becoming unhinged.  

Why? 

Because this project involved the destruction of a book. 


I will be the first to admit that I love books.  I mean, I really love them.  The look of them. The smell of a new book. The feel of the edges of the pages. (I especially love a book with deckle edges.)  Or some of the newer publishings that have color on the edges of the page. I love looking at the binding, seeing if the book is glued or sewn. 

I also love well-loved books.  I am the person who will write in the margins of a book.  It helps me, especially if I am ever planning to reread. (And not just books I teach from; my copy of Blue Like Jazz is positively filled with notes.)  

However

Books are things.  Special things. Wonderful things. But things, nonetheless.  And physical things have a useful life span.  They are created, they are used, and then, essentially, they reach the end of that useful life.  

We try to preserve things that are rare or personal or done by hand, but generally speaking, books, like other things, can reach the end of their lifespan. 

And that is not bad. Or evil. Or wrong.  It is just life. 

When people are nervous about the idea of pulling old books from the library, I try to gently remind them that we are not the Library of Congress.  Our mission isn't to house every book. Nor is it to forever keep every book we ever get. 

We don't have that kind of space, and every old, worn-out, mouldering book on the shelf is taking the space that could be housing a book that a student really wants.  

If a book hasn't been checked out since 1968 (I came across one of those a few weeks ago), it probably needs to go.  If a book is incorrect or outdated or in poor repair, it just needs to go. 

And that is OK.  

And if that is the case, what better usage than living on as a cool, decorative turkey? 

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Long Ago Hurt and a Present Healing

It can be easy to say that what's in the past is in the past, but it never really is.  We all drag around our pasts with us, a bag of burdens that inform, mold, and influence us.  For good or ill. 

But it is a lot easier to pretend past sins don't exist, past errors and flaws are gone. Until they aren't. 

Last week, Representative John Lewis won the National Book Award for Young People with his powerful graphic novel March: Book Three. This book is not
only the true story of the civil rights movement, told by Representative John Lewis, chronicling the Freedom Summer murders, the 1964 Democratic National Convention, and the bombing of the 16th street Baptist Church. It is made in a format that is accessible to everyone. It is deeply moving and a powerful show of what people can do when they are mobilized for change. 

It is an amazing book, and Rep. Lewis is an amazing man.  

Just when you think this is the feel-good story of the year,  he gives his acceptance speech. 


Here are his words:
“I remember in 1956 when I was 16 years old, with some of my brothers and sisters and cousins, going down to the public library and trying to get library cards. We were told that libraries were for ‘whites only’ and not for ‘coloreds.’ To come here and receive this award, this honor, is too much.”

This kills me. It hurts my heart in a way that feels too sharp, too raw. 

The thought of the journey, those two points on a timeline.  To be that young man, kept out of the library because of race.  Then, fast forward, to receiving the National Book Award for a text dealing with that exact struggle. 

But there is no fast forward.  This is Rep. Lewis's life, lived and led. 

And these are the sins of the nation. 

Libraries are, at this point, some of the most progressive institutions in America.  They safeguard access to materials, stand up for intellectual freedom, protect the rights of the marginalized.  

But it has not always been that way, as Rep. Lewis and millions of others can attest. 

And it is up to each and every one of us to assure that this national tragedy is never repeated. 

The hardest part of this is to look in the mirror. 

I would never ever refuse service to anyone. Ever. 

But have I, in smaller ways, done the same? 

Have I ever not purchased a book because of controversial subject matter? I am sure I probably have. 

Have I ever shied away from a difficult discussion because I found it personally painful, even though it was morally right? Definitely. 

Have I been the best, most vocal advocate for the marginalized?  Doubtful.

My place in the library and in the school is to be the one who safeguards access.  While restrictions might not be as overt as those that kept Rep. Lewis out of the library 50 years ago, they can be just as effective and sinister. 

Which means I need to look at myself, and the ways I try to ensure that the library is fair, free of bias, open, and accessible.  It means I need to be purposeful in noticing those minute ways that people and subjects are kept out or hidden. 

But let's be honest here.  It isn't always the big things.  Sometimes it is the kid who has a fine and can't pay it. Or the kid who has lost a book and is terrified. Or the ones who have been made to feel uncomfortable in libraries in the past. 

Library anxiety is a real thing.  It can keep people from being where they need to be, where they have a right to be. 

What about hours of operation?  I have the luxury of being open during the entire school day.  What about schools that have so restricted staff that the hours don't accommodate students?  What about kids who might need the library before or after school? Or at lunch?  How can I make the library accessible, so accessible that no one is ever turned away?

Rep. Lewis's story is, in the end, a victorious one, but also an indictment, and one that can't be ignored.  

Monday, October 31, 2016

Truth, Reality, and the News: Training a Critical Eye

I love The Onion.  I really do.  It scratches the itch that sits firmly at the intersection of my need for intelligent commentary and craving for satire.  From the gang violence between academics who use APA and MLA citation styles to the new requirement that welfare recipients provide sweat samples to show how hard they are working, The Onion provides skillfully crafted commentary on our world, society, and those aspects of humanity that define us, occasionally uplifting but typically through shame. 

While The Onion is great fun, it isn't news. Heck, its tagline is "A farcical newspaper featuring world, national and community news." It is satire. It is farce. It is hilarious.  And it is not news. It is fake.  Everybody knows that, right?  

Well, no, everybody doesn't know that.  News organizations don't even seem to know that, since they are so readily fooled by it and cite the Onion as a source. And it isn't just international news organizations; politicians in the US seem to be unaware of what The Onion actually is. 

I guess it is no surprise, then, that the average American is so easily fooled by it. And it isn't just The Onion.  

weeklyworldnews.com
There are a whole host of satirical news sites. Some proudly wear their absurdity on their sleeves like The Weekly World News (Batboy lives!!! Their favicon is even a picture of Batboy), but at the same time sprinkle in believable headlines. Today's slide show on their homepage rotates between Megyn Kelly leaving Fox News and Saturn being a large UFO.
weeklyworldnews.com 10/31/2016
While most people wouldn't even consider the latter, an awfully large section of the population wouldn't think twice about the former.  


And that is in no small part due to the mixture of reality and fiction. Kelly has been reportedly looking elsewhere.  But she hasn't left yet, and that makes the news story fake. 
weeklyworldnews.com 10/31/2016

But people still share it.  And they share it with a level of faith in the validity that is strong.  

In the last week alone, news organizations around the world have written about the problem of people reading (or, more often, not reading) fake news and sharing or re-tweeting it, with a signal boost that gives it a wider range and a greater likelihood of catching another unsuspecting reader unawares.  CNN, The Guardian,  The Daily Beast (Newsweek's digital home), all talking about how people are tricked by spoof news sites. 

And let's be honest here.  This is only talking about satire news sites. What about satirical sites within reputable ones?  Things like The Borowitz Report (100% fake) as a legitimate column within The New Yorker (entirely legitimate news source).  

Who cares though?  It is all good fun! 

No, actually, it isn't. 

According to the Pew Research Center, "Twenty years ago, only 12% of U.S. adults got news online. Today, that number stands at 81%. About six-in-ten (62%) get news through social media – a figure that rises to 84% for 18- to 29-year-olds. We have also reached a point where a large majority of the public (72%) gets news on a mobile device." Source

If people so readily believe news that is 100% fake (and tells you that right upfront), how much more do they fall for news that is a mixture of truth, reality, spin, bias, and hyperbole?

What about heavily biased or extreme right and left-wing news sites like The Drudge Report or Salon.com, even though they make no pretense at hiding their slant (and, in fact, celebrate it)? These sites make no apologies about putting a spin to news. 

Or bloggers who present their views, bias and all? Alex Jones of Infowars is a blogger, radio host, and conspiracy theorist who, according to Quantcast, reaches over 7 million listeners a month.  he dances between outright conspiracy theory (the US was behind 9-11 and faked the moon landing) and "news" stories purporting to reveal the truth the government hides. Michael Moore is an award-winning documentary maker and news shaper. He has 3.2 million followers on Twitter and refers to his own pieces on his website as "letters", though they give the look and feel of news. 

Neither hides his bias.  Both are upfront about who they support, who they oppose.  And neither are impartial news sources. 

But readers see the stories, tweets, blog posts, and letters from all of these sites, people, agencies, and more, and readily believe that there has been a background check or the vetting of information.

When people rarely read beyond the first paragraph of a story, it is so much easier to spread misinformation. 

But why should I care?  Why should anyone care? 

As a librarian, I strive to encourage literacy, and being able to detect spoof, satire, and misinformation is a big part of digital literacy. 

If one need only use a serif font and put leaves around some well-worded headlines in order to trick people, then that is not literacy. 

Being able to recognize some letters or symbols is not literacy.  To be literate, one must understand , and a part of truly understanding is knowing when something is real, when it is factual, when it is presented without bias, and when it is not. 

The problem, I think, and I include myself at times in this indictment, is that this can take a lot of work.  Not always. Sometimes it is obvious. Or should be.  The now-famous meme about dividing 360 million dollars among the people of America created online debates so fierce that the UK Daily Mail reported on it. Solving that didn't even need research. Just a calculator.

But there is an entirely different level of story that needs to be run through Snopes, an award winning, highly respected site that debunks rumors and false news stories. 

Often, it is just a question of doing one's due diligence.  

  • Read the story. (I know. We are all busy and tl;dr is an easy way out, but at least read more than the first paragraph.) 
  • Look at the source.  
  • What is cited? 
  • Who is cited? 
  • What is the date or the story? 
  • Can you find the same info at any other site?
And all of that takes work, but it is part of being informed. It is part of literacy. It is a part of knowing that the information you are getting is true, accurate, unbiased. And if it isn't, at least being aware of the bias, and countering it.

This isn't explicitly about politics, but that does seem to be the field on which the battle for accurate information is most regularly fought these days. I am not so foolish as to think that it will all go away on November 9th.  Honestly, it is something that has been building for years, with the rise of social media and the increased use of non-traditional sources of news including The Colbert Report, The Rush Limbaugh Show,  The Daily Show, Brietbart, and Last Week Tonight.  

I fully recognize that as a Gen X, it is tricky to look at the way Millennials and Gen Z get their news with a critical eye without being purely critical.  Millennials, as a group, are highly informed. They are critical of news sources,and they are exposed to politics in their Facebook and Twitter feeds at a higher rate than Gen X or Baby Boomers.  

So this isn't a generational thing. It seems that it is societal.  At the risk of turning the nation into a monolith, generally, people are in a hurry. They digest news quickly and move on (tl;dr). And that creates a prime breeding ground for misinformation. 

For many people, and I include myself in this, there are times that a news item is what we want to believe.  We want  it to be true. In those cases, it doesn't take much convincing. 

And in those cases we must be ever more diligent. 
To check sources. 
Look for citations. 
Demand verification.
Ask the hard questions.

Because being a well-informed, literate digital citizen is more than just consuming information.  

It is knowing what information to spit out. 


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Well, It Is about Time!

By now, the world of Twitter and Facebook have awakened to the news that, yes,
Photo Credit: Nobel Foundation
in fact, Bob Dylan did just win the Nobel Prize for Literature.  No, it isn't an article from the Onion. Yes, it really is true.  

I was awake for the announcement (Some people have their World  Series, some people get up early for the Nobel announcements). I really do look forward to the announcement each year.  It starts with the beginning of October and waiting for the announcement of the date (October 13th. Later than usual.), then the actual waiting for that date. In the interim, I occasionally check the betting odds makers, often review past winners to look at trends, and renew my yearly hope that Haruki Murakami doesn't win. (I know, I know. He has many fans, but I am not one of them. I'm sure he is worthy, but I suppose I am still bitter about 1Q84, also known as "1,000 pages of my life I will never get back".)  This year was no different from any other. 

Then Bob Dylan won. 

And my  Facebook feed blew up with not just news articles about it but also people posting to me specifically. 

Why? 

Yes, I am a follower of all things literary award. I really love literary awards. All of them. Following the journey from long list to short list, reading about controversies and revolutions, reading the works.  Nobel, American Book Award, Abe Lincoln, Man Booker Rebecca Caudill, Printz, Hugo, Newberry, you name it. I love literary awards. 

But I am also a longtime, faithful, loyal Bob Dylan fan. 

I was that nerdy kid who had the lyrics to "Positively Fourth Street" hanging in my locker (In the late '80s, early '90s, well outside Dylan's "cool" phase).  In my first full time teaching position, I had the students in my poetry class read Dylan. My senior year in high school, I did a semester long biographical research project on Bob Dylan.  Seeing him perform live is on my bucket list. I, *ahem* , still have some of his music on cassette. 

So what happens when a vaunted literary award like the Nobel is given to a...folk singer? Rock star? Gravely voiced musician? 

Many of the articles and comments I read had the same theme: Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan? Really?

They should have said: Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan? It's about time!

I am not here to wax poetic on the value of
Dylan's musical skill (Acoustic vs. Electric,  Folk vs. Rock, Love that voice! Hate that voice!) 

I am here to say that Dylan's Nobel doesn't lessen the award; it expands it. In one fell swoop, the Nobel became far more relevant to far more people, even those who are not fans of Bob Dylan.    

First of all, the Nobel is awarded to a body of work, not a specific title or piece. Though it can be technically quantified, it is hard to really imagine the truly vast nature of the body of Dylan's work and the influence it has. 

More than 35 albums. Over 5 decades. His published catalog alone is hundreds of songs. It is truly a body of work. With each work creating ripples in the pond, Dylan is responsible for waves. Decades of waves that changed the shoreline. 

Second, the directions Alfred Nobel left dictating the mission statement of the literature prize are very vague. It states that the award should go the the person producing "the most outstanding work in an ideal direction". This gives great latitude to those awarding the prize.  It has been given to novelists, essayists, journalist, poets.  Those working in non-fiction, realism, romanticism, magical realism, on and on. There are few constraints.  Let it just be "the most outstanding work". 

Is Bob Dylan that?  Someone creating the most outstanding work in an ideal direction? Absolutely. And he has been for 50 years. 

For the Swedish Academy to recognize that really shows their expanding view of what it is to be working in an ideal direction.  It expands the very concept of literature.

Let's be honest here. For far too long, the literary canon has been mostly dead white guys. 

The literary world is whatever is the polar opposite of an early adopter.  It spent centuries rejecting outright the works of women and minorities. It is quick to devalue the works of those who are able to break into the publishing world.  "She must have stolen the idea (and probably from a guy)." "Successful black author? He must have stolen the idea from a white person (probably a guy)."  "She only got that award because she is a woman."

One of the things the literary elites loathe, in addition to those non-dead-white-guy types, is that which is new.  

New style? Rubbish! 
New themes? Unworthy! 
New voices? Unnecessary!

So, for Bob Dylan to get this award, it broadens the scope of what it means to be literature. Poetry that is put to music. Poetry written for the people. Poetry written not just about but for the common man. Poetry that rebels.  Poetry that has mass appeal. Poetry that is sometimes funny, sometimes dark, always entertaining.  Poetry that is political, offensive, irreverent, nonconforming. How to quantify it?  

All of these point to the true issue at hand: if the average person loves it, how can it be an example of greatness?

That which is great should be elite, out of reach, ideal, inaccessible. It should be fenced off, placed on a plinth, and admired from afar. It should be muttered about in hushed voices of admiration, with eyes downcast while mourning for the poor commoner who could never grasp, never fathom, never appreciate such perfection. 

And then Bob Dylan has to go and ruin it all. 

It is about time. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Intellectual Freedom

When I was in high school, I wanted to read The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie.  I wanted to read it for no other reason than that it had been all over the news.  Libraries were banning it. People were burning it. Ayatollah Khomeini put out a fatwā  on Rushdie's life. What, I wondered, could be so powerful, to cause so much fuss? 

Likewise, I would walk slowly past the section where Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire sat on the shelves of my public library. I was a bit of a chicken when it came to scary things, so vampires were a no-go at the time, but the book called to me because I had heard whispered conversations that it was "bad", read the newspaper articles saying that it should be "banned" and "taken off the shelves".  (It would take me another 20 years to get around to reading the book. In 2015, Louis and Lestat were hardly terrifying, but the images of grief, remorse, redemption, loneliness, forgiveness, and suffering hit me like a fist.  I wondered again, how could anyone want to keep people from this book?)

Last week, I was at home discussing the upcoming Banned Books Week festivities I hoped to host.  My youngest daughter asked what "banned books" meant, so I tried to explain it to her. (Full disclosure:  I am a fervent, tireless advocate of intellectual freedom.  I have a very strong bias against banning literature.) It went something like this:

Me: Well, there are some people who don't like certain books or certain topics, so they don't want to read books on those topics.  But they also don't want other people to read them either, so they try to get them removed from the classroom or the library.  

Her: (puzzled look)

Me: I know. 

I am a strong advocate for self censoring.  If one does not like something, one should avoid it. That doesn't mean that one can tell others that they must avoid it too. 

I am also a strong advocate of parental involvement in children's lit selection.  I do see what my children read, mostly to have an idea of what they are reading about.  But occasionally I do warn, "That is really violent" to my child who is sensitive or "You need to be a little older to read that" for topics more mature.  

I know some people bristle at even that, but parenting is a difficult path, and this is how I choose to navigate that road.  I don't tell my kids they can  never read something, just that they need to be older. And I do have a child who read The Hunger Games at 11. After flying through the series (and dressing as Katniss for Halloween), she wanted to read Divergent.  It is more
mature (especially in latter books), so I was hesitant, but trusted in her ability to self-censor and her judgment of herself and her interests.   She read Divergent , then lost interest in the follow up books (where things became more mature). She recently expressed a desire to read them again, and I continue to trust her judgment.  

So then people ask, what if she wanted to read Fifty Shades of Gray? She needs to be older. Period. 

What if she wanted to read something with an LGBT character/issue?  This is simply a nonissue for me. She has classmates who are LGBT (whether they are out or not), friends, family. Books today reflect reality in a more brilliantly vivid and accepting way than ever before.  And, again, if such a topic bothers her (which I hope it would not), she should self censor. That is not my place. Period. 
  
What if she wanted to read something that I personally found offensive?  I think it depends on what it is.  
If it is something sexual, it is probably a "read it when you are a bit older". 
If it is illegal (child porn), no. That is an issue of consent and privacy, not censorship.  
If it is violent, I would caution about that and let her decide (she doesn't like violence). 

If it is obscene?  

Good question.  Obscenity varies from person to person.  When I was a child, I knew a woman who was like a grandmother to me. She was kind, loving, and generous. I respected her above all others and valued her opinion as the law.  And she could not say the word "pregnant". She grew up in a different time with a different set of values, and the mere mention of the word was impossible. It was obscene.

So, I guide my children the best I can, knowing that what bothers me may not even register to them.

15 years ago, I taught with some teachers who were horribly offended by Harry
Potter and crossed those books off on the Scholastic Book Order that they sent home. 

Now I think, honestly?  Who is bothered by Harry Potter? Well, According to the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, the Harry Potter series was the most frequently challenged book in libraries in the 2000-2009 decade.   

Today, though, it seems most challenged books are due to either religion or sex. 

One of my favorite books of all time is The Librarian of Basra. It is the true story of a librarian who saves books, many ancient or sacred, during the war in Iraq.  And people wanted it removed from libraries because it was "violent" and promoted "the Koran and praying to Mohammed". This is a book I have read to my children again and again. The librarian risks her life for books and freedom and knowledge. And she wins.  The books are saved, in spite of war and bombs and flame, and it unites her communities. How is that dangerous? Powerful? Yes. Dangerous? Only to tyrants. 

I my children to grow up in a world where And Tango Makes Three is a fun, sweet,cute book and nobody raises a stink about the fact that the penguins are the same gender. I want my children to read I am Jazz and marvel at Jazz's strength and fortitude, not clutch their pearls at the LGBT aspect of it. People are LGBT; moving right along. 

At the same time, I am in a public school library, so it is a bit different from a public library itself.  Some books do not fit in the mission and focus of the school library (which shapes the collection and the books I purchase), so, no, my library does not have Fifty Shades of Gray.  But the public library in town does, and that is as it should be.

And yes, we have Twilight. Don't think it is quality 
literature? That is not important. My library is here to create lifelong readers.  And if people want to read about sparkly vampires (which, based on sales and circulation data, they clearly do), then I am happy to help them. 


Do we have the Walking Dead graphic novels? You bet!  I can't keep them on the shelves. The kids want to read them! Are the pictures creepy and gross? At times. I would not ever read a book about a zombie, much less an illustrated book on zombies.  But the artwork is amazing, the story lines are great, and the students want to read them.

While I call my students "my kids", they are not, in fact, my children, so it is not my place to censor their reading. Period. I am here to guard their access to information.  

And so I have my Banned Books Week display up for all to see.  A few kids have asked about it, and I am happy to talk about why it is important to have access to literature.  

And I am hosting a school wide Banned Books Bingo. (Spoiler
alert: Mine is The Librarian of Basra)

And I carry on the good fight.  Talking about books and reading and intellectual freedom. Buying books. Promoting reading. Encouraging students to self censor. (Don't like it? Don't read it.) Discussing why things have been challenged in the past, and why that is important. 

It is an important discussion why Huck Finn is a challenging read, that stabs at the heart of America and many of the issues it still struggles with.  We need to talk about why one can't just remove the N-word from the book to try to soften that blow, that reality.   

It is important that students have access to the information they need: accurate, current, unbiased information. 

It is important that we not forget that in the past people did pile books up and burn them. (And unfortunately still do. In America.) It is essential to realize that one can still be killed for owning certain books in parts of the world today.

And lest Western arrogance cloud our eyes, it is crucial to realize that the Chicago Public School system recently talked of removing Persepolis from the
summer reading list and pulling it from the library, with planned confiscations that drew national attention and the focus of the mayor.  Why? Because the book deals with issues like war, growing up, totalitarian regimes, and a "brief sequence depicting torture in Iran, including a man urinating on a torture victim."  The students reading Persepolis are the same ones who must grapple with the realities of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.These are issues that are important and real. Painful, but important. 


It feels odd to say I celebrate banned books week, because it is less a celebration and more a reflection.  
A call to see what is happening. 
A rallying cry for intellectual freedom. 
A view of what we have come through and how important it is to protect the freedom we have. 

As a kid, I worried about Salman Rushdie. His family. His well-being. His life.  I feared for him (though I barely knew who he was) and wondered at the disguises he must wear and the fear he must shoulder.  I suppose my young heart thought that as an adult, the world would have moved past that sort of judgment, shame, and censorship. 

Apparently not.