Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Sunday Reflections: It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye

This past week, I started a new job at a new library. I didn’t make a big announcement in part because I’m so very bad at saying goodbye. And although this new job is a great opportunity for me professionally, leaving my old job was harder than ever for me.

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I began my library career at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County, where I worked for the first 7 years of my career. With another co-worker, I built that program from scratch at the tender age of 20. When I left the first time, I cried for an entire year afterwards. I didn’t want to leave it then and I didn’t want to leave it now. Getting asked to come back was one of the best things that ever happened to me. And professionally, turning the teen program into the Teen MakerSpace was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I had in many ways hoped to retire at this library, ending it all where it all began. Plus, it was an honor to work once again with my mentor and friend. She’s retiring at the end of this month and I wish her nothing but the best.

My library mentor

My library mentor

It’s not just the program that you come to love, it’s the people. Coworkers. Teens. I’m a very relationship oriented person and leaving a workplace can be difficult. And as you know, I genuinely care about the teens I serve. As a teen services librarian, you have to say goodbye every year to a small cohort of your teens as they go off to college or whatever comes next. There’s a lot of goodbye built into being a teen librarian.

I'm not gonna lie, I took a picture of my Teen MakerSpace manual and put it up at my new desk. I will miss you TMS manual! Though I'm already making a new one.

I’m not gonna lie, I took a picture of my Teen MakerSpace manual and put it up at my new desk. I will miss you TMS manual! Though I’m already making a new one.

This past week, I began a job as the Children’s and YA Materials Selector at Fort Worth Public Library. This is hands down the largest library system I have ever worked at and it in right in the middle of a big city. So there is a lot of change happening here. I’m going from a medium sized Midwestern rural library to a big big big city library system. I’m going from a position where I’m in charge of anything and everything teen related to being the collection development person. I’m going from being in charge of a staff to being in charge of, well, no one. And did I mention it’s big? Like, super big.

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Like I said, it’s a lot of change.

There’s a huge learning curve here. I have to learn new people, new demographics, new systems, new processes and more. I’ve already met a ton of people and, although they’re very nice and I will eventually make meaningful connections, those first few weeks or months when you are a stranger in a strange land are always so very hard for me.

Thing 2 helping me pack boxes of books to take to the Rowlett Public Library

In larger systems, everyone has very specific job titles with very specific jobs and very specific responsibilities. This is not always the case in smaller systems when you are just in charge of everything. In my new position, I’m a collection development librarian. Like many larger systems, there are programming or collection development librarians and I am working with collections. In order to help fulfill my desire to work with and serve teens hands on, I am also working with the local arts council to help create a Teen MakerSpace as a volunteer at the public library in the town that I live. So I will still get to do some programming. I will still get to connect with teens. I will still get to serve and advocate for teens in the area of programming as well. I feel blessed in that I get to learn and grow and still do all of the parts of teen librarianship that make me feel the most like me.

25 years as a Teen/YA Librarian. I've met a lot of people I love along the way.

25 years as a Teen/YA Librarian. I’ve met a lot of people I love along the way.

This fall I begin my 26th year as a Teen Services Librarian, and I’m beginning it at Fort Worth Public Library. It’s a new and exciting adventure that I am looking forward to taking. In my previous 25 years as a Teen Services Librarian I have started 2 teen programs from scratch, revamped 2, created a Teen MakerSpace, managed a small staff twice, built several collections, served literally thousands of teens, published a professional book, and started Teen Librarian Toolbox. It’s not a shabby resume and I’m looking forward to see what happens next. Let’s do this.

Sunday Reflections: It Was a Rough Week to be a Teenage Girl

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault and Violence

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This past week, John Kerry said that Trump had the “insecurity of a teenage girl.” Are teenage girls insecure? Some of them are, perhaps in part because we continue to use being a girl and femininity as an insult. Or perhaps it’s because teenage girls are told that they have to be sexy, but not too sexy because then you’re asking for it. Or perhaps it’s because teenage girls are told that they have to be smart but not too smart because then they are intimidating. Or perhaps it’s because teenage girls are told they have to speak up but no too loudly because then they are shrill and bossy. Or perhaps it’s because teenage girls are told that they have to be perfect and bear responsibility not only for themselves, but for the education of the boys around them (dress codes), for the future of the human race (pregnancy and maternal instinct) and for, well, everything it feels like.

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But if teenage girls weren’t already feeling insecure about being used metaphorically to take down a sitting president by pointing out their, well, insecurity, they were also told repeatedly by political, cultural, and spiritual leaders that their safety doesn’t matter. Especially if it means that we might have to reconsider our current Supreme Court candidate and have to put pushing a political agenda on hold to try and find a conservative Supreme Court candidate that hasn’t been accused of attempted sexual assault. That’s right, teenage girls got to spend the entire week hearing about how their sexual safety really doesn’t matter, which definitely won’t make them feel insecure, am I right? Boys will be boys and we just have to accept that, even if it means that we have to sacrifice the long term emotional well being of our daughters. Even if it means we have to place yet another alleged sexual predator on the Supreme Court. If the current version of the future plays out the way the GOP wants it to play out, that means that teenage girls will get to grow up in a world where two sitting Supreme Court justices have been accused of sexual violence and harassment. If that doesn’t make you feel insecure and fearful about your place in the world, I can’t really figure out what would.

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In the meantime, they got to hear elected representatives, including our own personal self-confessed sexual predator president, talk about how the pain of teenage girls doesn’t really matter. Of course, we shouldn’t find this surprising from the man who confessed that he liked to walk in on teenage girls changing clothes in the dressing room of the beauty pageant he owned. So I’m not going to lie, as a former teenage girl who was sexually abused, I don’t really care what this man has to say about sexual abuse and harassment. Self-confessed perpetrators don’t get to tell survivors of sexual violence how they should think or feel about what has happened to them.

Then the hashtag #whyIdidntreport started trending. It’s important to note that this is not the first time a hashtag of this nature has trended and it, most infuriatingly, won’t be the last. Why don’t victims of sexual violence immediately report their abuse? Because we know that 9 times out of 10 we won’t be believed and even if we are, the men who victimize us will pay very little consequences. Remember Brock Turner? There are thousands of Brock Turners who are serving too little time for violating us. And there are far too many people in our culture who worry about the effects of jail time on men like Brock Turner’s future then there are those that worry about the long term effects of sexual violence on the girls that men like Brock Turner rape. Maybe teenage girls are insecure because we keep telling them that their pain doesn’t matter and that they are the sacrifices we are willing to make to sustain the lives of men.

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When you think about the world that teenage girls are growing up in, and I mean really think about it, they are doing a bang up job in all honesty. They are out there marching, demanding to be heard, learning, growing, and more. They are rising up, as they always have, against a patriarchy that continues to claim that they are somehow lesser, so much lesser that even some of our most progressive elected representatives still find it far too easy to use them as a negative comparison to make a political point. Yes, I’m side eyeing you John Kerry.

It was a rough week to be a teenage girl, as most weeks are when you live in a patriarchy. I don’t blame teenage girls though, because it is the adults that are making life hard for them. When I marched in the Women’s March one of the signs I kept seeing was a sign that said, “I can’t believe I’m still marching for the same shit.” That’s what this week has felt like. Why are we still here? Why are we still willing to sacrifice our daughters for the sake of our sons political careers? It’s 2018, maybe we can find someone who hasn’t been accused of sexual violence to serve in the highest court of our land. Maybe, just this once, we can send a different message to send to our sons and daughters and let them know that character matters and female pain isn’t an acceptable sacrifice.

My daughters aren’t an acceptable sacrifice for your political agenda.

Sunday Reflections: Stop the Massage Train, we don’t need to be asking professionals to touch one another

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I often like to follow a conference tag on Twitter when I can’t attend a conference because I still tend to learn from them. I will screen shot tweets and send them to people I know who have been discussing the issue or save ideas for future consideration. This is what was happening when I was following tweets from #ASRL2018 the past few days. But then a tweet about staff development stopped me cold in my tracks:

I initially thought that this tweet was about doing this activity in a staff development training at the library, but this activity happened at the conference in a session about staff development and training. A group of people who paid to go to a professional conference were asked in a professional setting to engage in a massage train. I imagine given the way that these conferences work that this was also suggested as a possible activity for a staff library training or staff development day, though I can’t guarantee that it was as I was not there.

This tweet seems to be suggesting that asking staff or conference attendees to participate in a massage train is a good idea for staff development and team building. To clarify, this would mean asking your staff or conference attendees in a professional development environment to touch others in very intimate ways. This isn’t a professional handshake, this is reaching out and massaging the person beside you. I want to state this in plain and specific terms: do not ask your staff or other professionals to touch each other or put them in a position where they may have to publicly refuse to do so.

The first thing I want you to understand about this is that light, playful massage is often a grooming behavior of sexual harassers, assaulter and predators. Massage and “playful tickling” are chosen because it helps to break down barriers and it’s hard to accuse someone of assault when it can easily be dismissed as “a light massage”. If you Google Harvey Weinstein and the word massage, you will find stories that highlight the ways in which massage is used in workplace sexual harassment cases. You’ll find more of the same if you Google the words massage and grooming. This is a very common practice among sexual harassers and it should never be encouraged in the workplace, especially in the year 2018.A large number of woman have had to find ways to prevent themselves from being “massaged” by the skeevy coworker who wants to expert power over them and wants to touch them without their permission. There are very real reasons why massage is often the touch of choice and it behooves us all to spend some time researching why that is.

Let’s flip the script. Imagine you are that pervy person who is always looking for a reason to touch other people and now you’ve just been handed a buffet. What’s more, you have reinforced their belief that this is normal and acceptable behavior and fed into the foundational beliefs of a serial harasser or abuser. You have normalized what should not be normalized behavior. You are now complicit in this person’s ongoing harassment of their coworkers.

Many of our staff members and conference attendees are themselves sexual violence survivors. If we go by the most current statistics, 1 in 4 of them are. That means that many of the people we are putting in this situation will be triggered by this activity and they now have to figure out how to deal with it. Do they publicly opt out? If they do so, how will it affect their work relationships? Imagine you are the person in the room that your coworker has just refused to let touch them when everyone else in the room had no problem doing this activity. There are so many group dynamics and ramifications happening here. It’s not a good look for anyone.

It’s important to note that this is not just about sexual violence either. Some religions and cultures have very strict rules about touching, especially touching between people of differing genders. Other people just don’t like touching people period. Others have OCD issues and serious germ phobias. There are a lot of reasons why people may not want to touch other people and it is, quite frankly, completely unnecessary for us to ask our employees to do this.

But this isn’t just about employee comfort and safety, it’s about workplace liability as well. In the year 2018 and in the midst of the #MeToo movement, any workplace who asks their staff members to engage in this type of activity, even if we are suggesting that they can opt out if they wish to, can be seen as putting staff in a harassing environment. There is no scenario in which I would ask my staff to touch each other as a part of their job or job training because I don’t want to be sued for creating a sexually hostile work environment nor do I want to appear in the press for doing so. It’s a bad look.

It was suggested in the discussion that participants can opt out or in as they wish, but we all are aware that peer pressure is a real thing as are group dynamics. Even if someone is told that they can opt out, they may not feel genuinely safe to do so because they have to measure what the true social and professional cost will be to them. There is a social and professional cost to being the staff member who refuses to participate, especially publicly, in an staff training or staff development activity. Even if management claims it is okay, we all know that it is now possible that management has now internally labelled this staff member as an outlier, someone who is not team oriented or wants to cause problems. This sets up all kinds of potential internalized bias for a staff member all because they want to protect their bodily autonomy.

I can think of very few scenarios in which we should ask our employees to touch their coworkers or fellow conference attendees, and most of them involve saving their lives. But a massage train? It’s completely unnecessary. Whatever we believe may be accomplished by this activity can be done so in another way and in a way that respects our employees bodily autonomy and keeps us safe from liability.

Don’t get me wrong, I have hugged tons of my professional peers at a conference and sometimes even at work, but this is always because the other person and I choose to engage in this activity. We have full bodily autonomy and mutual consent, it’s not being privately or publicly suggested by a person in a position of power outside of the two of us, and there is no cost to us if we refuse to do so. In a professional environment, there is little reason to ask people to touch each other. Please don’t do this.

Sunday Reflections: The Fight for Our Children is Exhausting, but Important

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It seems like every day now there is a new assault to be concerned about. Some lawyers want to know, is literacy a fundamental right? My gut reaction is yes, but the more important question is what happens when literacy rates go down? Spoiler alert: one of the answers is increased crime and incarceration rates.

Many are once again trying to take away healthcare, especially healthcare that covers pre-existing conditions, from the American people. Not only is it generally in-humane, it once again puts communities at risk of higher poverty and crime rates. It puts children at risk.

Many people are complaining because the Houston ISD is offering free breakfast and lunch to all of its students because this is of course tax funded. But what happens when children go through every day hungry? It puts communities at risk for higher poverty and crime rates.

Hundreds of children are sitting in cages that will probably never be reunited to their parents because their parents dared to try and bring them to a better life for safety and hope.

Children in Flint are drinking poisoned water that will have life long health effects.

You probably see a theme here.

It’s especially hard because a lot of these assaults are at the expense of children and as someone who has dedicated their life to working with children, particularly teens, I know first hand the impact that poverty, poor healthcare, poor nutrition and a lack of community support has.

We are failing our children. And in failing our children, we are failing ourselves. No good will come from all of this hatred, greed, selfishness and a lack of caring and nurture for the next generations. None.

It’s easy to despair in the year 2018. I do so frequently, if I’m being honest. I can’t even understand what some of my dearest friends and family are thinking when I hear some of the things they are saying. As a nation, as a culture, we have seem to have lost our heart. We failed to learn from the past.

But there are many who are continuing to fight, and every day more are joining in because this fight matters. The fight for our children, for their health and well being and safety, matters. Not just because it is the humane and moral thing to do, but because it has real consequences.

I’m not going to lie, yesterday I never even got out of my pajamas. I took a day to do nothing, to recharge my batteries. Because it’s easy to read the news, to go to work and see the world around you, and to be completely overwhelmed. Sometimes I don’t even know where to start making a different, it seems like too much is wrong, that I don’t understand the questions, and that this is all so much bigger than me, bigger than any one person.

And it is. It’s bigger than any one person. Which is why we need to be in this together.

We need each other.

And our children need us, to work for them, together.

So I’m getting out of bed today and trying again. I hope you’ll join me on the days that you can.

Sunday Reflections: When Darkness Means You Can’t Read – Reflections on Mental Health and Reading

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TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses depression, anxiety, mental illness and suicide

Recently, Time magazine reported that less 1/3 of teens don’t read for pleasure. At the same time, a lot of YA/Teen librarians are looking at their circulation statistics and wondering why they’re going down. I did a completely informal and unscientific Twitter poll, and about half of the 88 respondants indicated that their circulation stats were going down. This was not surprising to me because it’s something that I see a lot of my peers talking about and working to fix.

There are a lot of possible reasons as to why. For one, we know that more teens are reading digitally and these circulation statistics aren’t counted in traditional ways. If you use Hoopla, for example, they don’t separate YA books out in their reports. But we know that a lot of teens are migrating to digital content, both ebooks and audiobooks. In addition, a lot of teens are abandoning traditionally published fiction and embracing fanfiction on forums such at Wattpad. It’s not that teens aren’t reading, they’re just reading differently. And of course, we can’t ignore that a lot of teens are spending more time engaged with social media just as adults are.

In just the five years between 2010 and 2015, the number of U.S. teens who felt useless and joyless – classic symptoms of depression – surged 33 percent in large national surveys. Teen suicide attempts increased 23 percent. Even more troubling, the number of 13- to 18-year-olds who committed suicide jumped 31 percent. (Source: http://theconversation.com/with-teen-mental-health-deteriorating-over-five-years-theres-a-likely-culprit-86996)

But I would like to suggest that another reason for the decline in reading pleasure would be the increase in mental illness. Statistically, we are seeing a growing number of teens report episodes of depression and anxiety. The Center for Disease Control reports that incidents of depression, anxiety and suicide having been steadily rising for teens, and I think this is a significant issue that needs to be addressed for a lot of obvious reasons, but also because I think it affects reading.

I am an adult human who struggles with depression and anxiety. I am prone to panic attacks and have some serious moments of suicidal ideation. As such, I find myself involved in a lot of online forums with others who struggle with these same issues. One of the things that seems common for a majority of us is that when we are in the midst of a depression or anxiety spiral, reading is hard. Full, immersive reading that requires a type of physical and emotional investment can be hard for people struggling with mental illness. Let me explain.

For a lot of us with depression and anxiety, the most basic of functions can require an amount of energy that can be hard to muster. Your body can feel heavy, weighed down. You’re tired a lot. And if you are in an anxiety spiral, there is a lot of negative self talk that is happening in your head that takes a very dominant position. All of this is a type of clutter in the mind and body that makes everything else so much harder. So your goal is to survive and, if possible, dull the static noises inside of you. For me, and many others like me, scrolling through social media and looking at pictures or reading fluff headlines while watching fluff tv in the background can sere as a means to try and help drown out the noises. It’s a type of survival technique to help get you through the moment. I personally find that Food Network or mindless comedies are great for this. They’re not heavy, they don’t require invested attention, and the fluff of it helps me to cope. And the act of scrolling and reading on the Internet takes up a space that darkness is trying to occupy.

These are coping techniques. I’m not saying that they are healthy ones, but I find them to be employed by a lot of my fellow depression and anxiety sufferers. For many of us, there are periods of time when reading for pleasure is just simply not an option.

In the height of my worst depressive episode, I went three months without being able to read a book. I typically read about 3 books a week, but there are often times when I can read no books at all because I can’t get my mind settled enough to commit to the act of reading. I have reason to believe that I am not the only person that this is true for.

Yes, it is different for some people and for them, reading is the escape that they need. Reading can be the coping mechanism that some need while for others it is an insurmountable hurdle. No two people struggle with the same mental health issues in the same ways. But I think it is important that we acknowledge two things when considering a decline in reading:

1. We live in a world where many people are facing increasing struggles with depression and anxiety.

2. For some people, un-managed mental health issues can result in the loss of the ability to read for periods of time.

I believe that it is important that we talk more about and provide better treatment and support for mental health issues in our world. I also think if we truly want to explore things like education and reading for pleasure, this is another reason we need to look into mental health more closely. Not every teen who chooses not to read is struggling with mental health issues, but I believe that some of them are and recognizing that will help us better understand the problem and get us talking about mental health, coping strategies, support and treatment. What if part of the reasons teens are reading less is because they are hurting more? It’s a question we should investigate.

Sunday Reflections: Classroom Libraries are a Stark Reminder that Not All Schools are Created Equal

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Tomorrow I will get up and take my daughters once again to their first day of school. The Teen will be starting her Sophomore year of high school and Thing 2 will be going into the fourth grade. So like most parents, I’m feeling reflective and contemplative. I am, as they say, having the feels.

There are pictures going around Twitter of people setting up their classrooms and stuffing them to the gills with a wide variety of books for kids to pick out. These pictures are being hailed as examples of good teachers who create rich learning environments that inspire reading. How can kids not want to read in a classroom that looks like this?

Let me start by saying this: I agree, this is an amazing looking classroom that would definitely encourage reading.

But most teachers and school districts can’t afford this.

My oldest child started her public school education in the state of Ohio in a city that is struggling financially in the year 2008. Here’s a thing you should know about the state of Ohio, for 20 years they have been supporting public schools with a financial model that was deemed unconstitutional. That’s right, the way that the state of Ohio funds public education was declared unconstitutional 20 years ago and they changed exactly nothing. This funding model has a lot to do with local property taxes, which means that poor kids living in poor neighborhoods go to poorly funded schools while rich kids living in rich areas go to richly funded schools. We were a poor family living in a poor neighborhood going to poorly funded schools. In fact, for the last few years that district has given free breakfast and free lunch to every single student because more than 80% of the students qualified.

One of the surrounding districts closed their school libraries due to a lack of funding. Those students will never get to know the joy of popping into their school library during the day to pick up a book to read. And in a world where the research has shown time and time again that school librarians help ensure higher student success rates, these schools have closed their school library doors. These students are starting their education journey at a severe disadvantage.

Poorer districts tend also to have lower paid teachers. This can also mean that they have higher teacher turnover as teachers leave to go to higher paid districts. But you know one thing that lower paid teachers in lower funded public schools can’t do? Set up a classroom library full of books and books of shelves. Those books have to come from somewhere and they cost money. To have a wide variety of new, engaging titles to line the walls like this, you would need a lot of money from either the district or your own personal bank account. I admire any teacher or librarian who wants to invest personally in this way, but I’m also not going to shame any teacher who can’t or chooses not to.

Teachers and librarians work in service oriented professions, and we are asked to sacrifice a lot for the noble good. We’re supposed to care for our students, patrons and communities so much that we are willing to make personal sacrifices that we don’t ask other professionals to make in order to be successful at our jobs. Our unwillingness to make those sacrifices are often interpreted as not being good at our jobs or lacking compassion. Failure to make the noble sacrifice is seen as a negative, whereas I would argue that being asked to make the noble sacrifice to begin with is the true negative. I fully and proudly maintain that everyone should refuse to make those personal financial sacrifices so that the public understood what the cost of a real, quality public education truly was and agreed to fund it. Teachers and librarians deserve to make adequate salaries and students deserve to go to stably and fully funded schools.

I’m tired of already underpaid teachers and librarians being asked to take one for the team because no one wants to truly support and invest in our children. Public education is an investment. It’s an investment in our children, it’s an investment in our here and now and it’s an investment in our future. The return on investment is high: we get educated citizens who take care of us and our country. Failure to invest in public education has other disastrous and expensive results as we end up with higher rates of crime and lower health rates which means higher costs for incarceration, health care, and more. We end up paying one way or another, and I think we should pay up front by investing in better education as opposed to paying in the end by building more jails and trying to find ways to solve health, mental health and opioid crisis.

I am a public librarian and I have never worked in a school library. I do, however, know a lot of school librarians and I know that some of them barely have money to buy new books during the course of a school year. It is not unusual for a school library budget to be as low as $3,000 per year. If you break that down into a discount rate of about $10.00 per book, that’s roughly 300 books year. I most cases this would not even mean 1 new book per student per year, depending on the size of the school. My high school had a graduating class 330 students which means that with a budget of $3,000 per year at roughly $10.00 a book, my high school wouldn’t even have been able to afford 1 new book per year for the graduating senior class, let alone the entire school.

As this new school year begins we have already seen a ton of Donors Choose requests asking for donations to help teachers to fund projects in their classrooms, asking to buy books for book discussion groups, and asking for money to buy books to place on almost empty school library shelves. These requests for funds get tweeted and retweeted and we celebrate each other when they are filled because look at us, we’re doing a great job supporting one another. And while I appreciate that a thing like Donors Choose exists and that these teachers are getting the funding they need through it, I resent that we live in a world where this has to happen. It’s not a good thing, it’s a statement of how much our public education system lacks funding. This is not stable funding, this is not a solid investment in our children, it’s a patchwork attempt to fill gaps that is dependent on being seen and the generosity of those who see your request. It’s a hope, it’s a request, it’s a pleading with the general public to fill a financial need in a world that has abandoned their children by refusing to invest realistically, solidly, stably, and consistently in public education.

Last week alone I read stories about someone having to get donated sick leave to fight their cancer, an employer who bought their employee a car so they didn’t have to walk to work, etc. What if, instead, we demand that that employer pay their employee a livable wage so that they could buy their own car and consistently feed their family? What if we demanded that all employees no matter how many hours they worked received benefits such as sick leave and vacation time? What if we demanded more of each other. What if we choose to truly invest in livable wages, public education, work/life balance, and general overall health?

What if we demanded that every school was properly funded and teachers were adequately compensated and we truly invested in and supported public schools? What if we had real school library budgets and classroom library budgets? What if we didn’t have to beg each other for books?

I do not write this post to shame any teacher setting up a classroom library in any way. In truth, those classrooms look excellent. I imagine as a student it would be awesome and inspiring to sit in one of those classroom. I do, however, want to make sure we aren’t using these classroom as a barometer to shame other classroom teachers, because those classroom libraries are not cheap and there are a lot of reasons why every classroom doesn’t look like those. Actually, there is one main reason, and that’s money.

As we go into this school year, it’s important that we all remember that not all schools are created equal. Our children aren’t all being given the same opportunities, the same resources, or the same investment to achieve. Children born into poverty face a lot of obstacles that are designed to keep them there, one of which is a poorly funded public education. They will rely on the generosity of strangers and Donors Choose campaigns to meet even their most basic education needs in their school systems because they live in areas where adults can’t or choose not to invest in them.

Classroom libraries are awesome, but until we live in a world in which every classroom can look like those pictures, we must continue to advocate for better and consistent funding for public education. Our children desperately need us to.

Sunday Reflections: Wrestling with Local History

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This weekend, the city of Mount Vernon, Ohio is awash in the arts as we celebrate the annual Dan Emmett festival.

2018 Ohio Festival Schedule | OhioFestivals.net

If you’ve never visited the Midwest, the local small town festival is a glorious affair that celebrates, well, anything. In Fredericktown the celebrate the tomato, in Marion it’s popcorn, and in Circleville it’s pumpkin. But throughout the summer and fall, you can finally find a small town festival somewhere to celebrate something and it’s really quite charming. You wander from booth to booth, there are a few rides here and there, local talent shows, and my personal favorite, fried fair food.

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In Mount Vernon, we celebrate the arts and our local artistic claim to fame, Dixie song writer Dan Emmett. Dan Emmet is said to have written the popular anthem Dixie, though there are also claims that he stole the song from a local black family, the Snowdens. He also was a regular participant in minstrel shows, which were popular during the time but now (most of us) recognize that black face is unacceptable and that a lot of the popular art that we celebrate when we celebrate Dan Emmett is, in fact, really quite racist.

The first day of the Dan Emmett festival this year, a man came in asking for a print out of lyrics to the song Dixie because he wanted to prove to his wife that the song was racist.

Civil War songs: Dan Emmett’s legacy in Knox County

At the library, we have a display case up with a variety of items celebrating the life of Dan Emmett and the Dan Emmett festival. One of the items in that display is the very old sheet music to the song Dixie, which has a picture of four men wearing black face on its front cover.

Earlier this year, a local group exploring the issue of racism in our community met to discuss whether or not having a Dan Emmett festival is racist in and of itself.

Mount Vernon’s Blackface Minstrel – The Collegian Magazine

I currently work in a community which is 97% white. I previously worked in a community that was much more diverse, but was also at one time considered the headquarters of the KKK. That’s a lot of local history to wrestle with.

This weekend, White Nationalists met to reconvene one year after the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlotesville. Although they may not recognize it yet, this community too will have a lot of complicated local history to wrestle with.

The truth is, most towns in this country have a lot of local history that they have to wrestle with, and in the year 2018, we see this happening on a national level. I never imagined that I would actually live in a time where we discussed race riots as something other than in the past, but these past couple of years we have seen the resurgence of white nationalism, neo-nazis, racism, hate crimes and more. Make no mistake, these things have always been present, they have just been more well hidden in my lifetime to white people like me than they are now. Today, these issues are once again front and center, making it harder for comfortable white people like myself to pretend that we live in a just world or that racism is anything other than it is: real, hateful, and deadly.

Public libraries serve their local communities. We are steeped in local culture and history, we preserve, protect and celebrate it. But what happens when that history is full of racism?

In Mount Vernon, there are people who want to rename the Dan Emmett festival. Some people want to adopt a new name that incorporates the history of the Snowdens into the festival as well. Some people just want to drop any human from the name of the festival at all. I’m not going to lie, as we reflect on our country’s history and discuss things like statues named after Confederate soldiers, I see the wisdom in celebrating tomatoes and popcorn as opposed to people. People are complicated and even the best of us are not perfect.

I have walked the streets of the Dan Emmett festival. I have watched friends sing. I have eaten funnel cake and buckets of fries. I have felt that sense of community as I nodded hi to people that I recognized from the library or stopped to pet that cute dog on the leash. There are lots of charms to living and working in a small, rural Midwest community. In fact, Mount Vernon, Ohio has a rich and thriving arts community and it is definitely something to be proud of.

There’s also a lot of ugly history to wrestle with, as there is everywhere. And you would be surprised how often librarians are asked to do this. How do we preserve that local history? How do we talk about it? How do we present it or display it? Should we include Confederate flags or figures in our local history displays? Should we put up sheet music with black face characters on the cover? Should we ignore it? Pretend it didn’t happen? Put it on display without comment?

Working with local history can be a complex challenge because people are invested in their local communities. On a global scale, we have never figured out how to talk about the violent and racist past of United States history. We can’t do it on the macro level, and we certainly haven’t figured out how to do it on the micro level. This falls under the umbrella of things I never learned in library school. Where are those conversations about how to deal with local history in local public libraries?

Four years ago, on August 9, 2014, Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson. Protests broke out in the surrounding community. The Ferguson library became a haven for the local community, staying open. They are now tasked with preserving the history of that time in the local community. What they do in this project of preservation matters.

‘In This Together': Ferguson Library Stays Open Amid Violence

When we talk about the Nazis and World War II, we often reflect on how we personally might have responded. Racism today is no less urgent, those conversations are happening. I think often about what I want the history books to say about me, about who I am right now and the choices I am making. I want to be on the right side of history.

History, it turns out, doesn’t stay in the past. It’s time once again for public libraries to think about what it means to be neutral or not and how we engage in current events by how we talk about and present history in our libraries.

We have to wrestle with our local history because our local futures depend on it.

Sunday Reflections: Sometimes, If You’re Lucky, You Find More Than Books at the Library

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It is Friday night and I have just packed up all my stuff after sitting outside in the baking sun for a public library outreach event. I am pulling a wagon up a hill to load up my car and go home to binge watch some TV when I see them walking around town, a group of my library teens. I look over and say hi and they say hi back from across the street. As I see them there, this tight nit group of friends, my heart swells with pride.

Let me go back and explain.

This teen space would soon become our Teen MakerSpace.

This teen space would soon become our Teen MakerSpace.

A little over 3 years ago, I first met a teen who would soon become one of my library regulars. At this point and time, there was no Teen MakerSpace, but proposals were being written and plans were being discussed. I didn’t realize at the time, but the TMS would change everything.

A view into the Teen MakerSpace through the windows. That's TLTer Robin Willis making something in the Teen MakerSpace!

A view into the Teen MakerSpace through the windows. That’s TLTer Robin Willis making something in the Teen MakerSpace!

In January of 2016, the Teen MakerSpace opened. This one teen soon began coming quite regularly. Another teen started coming, he liked making stop motion movies and would frequent the stop motion animation station. And soon after, a teen here and a teen there started coming. Many teens have come and gone, but this small group of teens started coming quite regularly. And sitting in this space, conversations began.

Over time, this regular group of teens began forming close friendships, the kind of friendships you read about in YA books. They started coming basically daily to the library and hanging out in the Teen MakerSpace. A few of them create art quite regularly. Some of them come in and read while waiting for the others to show up. Then they gather around a table, some creating art and some not, and they talk. They talk, they laugh. On occasion, they have fought. But what friendship has ever existed without the occasional fight? They have loved, laughed, cried and raged together. They are a bright light in a darkness that has existed in a world being torn apart by hatred and political discord.

I watched this summer as they came to the library every day and made stuff or read or just hung out. At some point each day they would get up, walk downtown together and share a $5.00 pizza. Then they would come back and hang out some more. Their friendship is the stuff of YA novels and John Hughes movies.

One day I sat with them as they planned meeting up the next day at the river to go swimming and tubing. One of the teens wasn’t permitted to go, but she brought sunscreen and made sure they all put it on before leaving for the river. She also packed them each a snack bag, making sandwiches cut out to look like butterflies. A couple of days later I got to hear them all talk about their glorious summer day at the river. It was, in a word, epic, the type of summer memory that many kids only dream of.

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Several of these teens have had a really rough summer. I can’t tell you what those challenges have been, because patron privacy is a real thing. But in the midst of this epic friendship, there has been a lot of heartache and very real life challenges. They have been there supporting each other through them all.

To be quite honest, they haven’t always liked me. One summer push came to shove and I had to kick one of the teens out of the library for a couple of weeks because they were being hostile to my staff and creating an unwelcoming library environment for all. I have had to enforce library policies and ask for changes in behavior that haven’t always been appreciated. But I always made sure to let them know that it wasn’t them I had an issue with, but specific behaviors. They kept coming back and I kept welcoming them back, because the truth is, I like my teens.

The truth about working in a public library is that it can be mundane. You know the work you do is important, that public libraries are important, but the day to day tasks of working in a library are, well, work. You put together collections of books to buy, you straighten shelves, you do research behind the scenes to plan programs, you buy the daily supplies you need. There is not a lot of glitz and glamour. There is politics and budgeting and helping the 100th person print off a paper or make a photocopy. There are opening and closing procedures. There are meetings and discussions and the gathering of statistics to discuss in these meetings and discussions.

But then there are the moments . . .

The moment where someone tells you that a book they read because you bought that book and put it in your collection changed their life in some way.

The moment where someone comes to a program and tells you that they had a good time or learned something new.

The moment where you see a group of friends walking around downtown and you realize that that group of friends exists because you created the exact right environment at the exact right time for them to come together and get to know one another.

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For three glorious years I have watched this group of teens grow close, support one another, and help each other find their voice in a world that often doesn’t want to hear what they have to say. I am proud of who they are, who they are becoming, and the very small part that I was honored to be able to have in all of that.

No matter what else has happened or will happen in my career, I will never forget the moment when I watched this group of teens walk down the street and I realized that in whatever small way, I helped them find what they needed at the library – It wasn’t a book or a movie or a computer, it was each other. And it happened at the library.

I am thankful that I got to be a part of this and so very proud of these kids, their friendship, and the small part my library played in bringing good into this world.

Sunday Reflections: The Reality and the Myth of Just Get a Job and Its Impact on Kids

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This Saturday marked a monumental moment for us in the Jensen household. For the first time in Things 2’s life – and for clarity, she is 9 and 1/2 years old – the Jensen family was able to get up together and have a family breakfast together around our table. The Mr. woke up and made waffles, eggs, bacon, and toast – yum. We then spent the day lounging around our house. We had friends over on Saturday night for a little BBQ and then we sat around and played games.

It was glorious.

Saturday morning breakfast as a family!

Saturday morning breakfast as a family!

This may seem mundane to you, but I have to emphasize an important point: this was the first time in my second child’s lifetime that we are able to have what is considered a boring and typical Saturday afternoon as a family. You see, The Mr. has been stuck working a weekend nights job for the entirety of her life. He spent the weeekend afternoons sleeping so that he could get up again and work from 5 PM to 7 AM. And if you have school age kids, you may understand what it means to have your 2 days off a week be during the regularly week and work every weekend. Here is just a short list of the things my second child has never gotten to do because of work schedules:

Go on a weekend camping trip

Go to a theme park on a Saturday with her entire family (we’ve gone, but I take them while The Mr works/sleeps)

Go with her entire family to a weekend movie, play or sporting event

Go to church with her entire family

Go out to dinner on a weekend evening as a family (sometimes early on he wasn’t so exhausted he could get up and eat lunch with us, but as the years progressed he needed more sleep and we also ate lunch alone)

I have strongly held opinions about work/life balance and work schedules because of the way that The Mr.’s work schedule has negatively affected our life. When he originally took the job that we moved here to Texas for, it was to get off of nights. But soon after we moved they put him on nights and just refused to take him off. Even after he started having extreme health issues. Even after new people were hired. Even after they knew he was looking for a new job. He made the night shift awesome and they rewarded him by never taking him off the night shift, and it hands down sucked for our family.

Look at us, snuggling on the couch and doing nothing on a Saturday!

Look at us, snuggling on the couch and doing nothing on a Saturday!

So look for a new job he did. For over 4 years. He has applied for thousands of jobs. He had a first interview for probably around 100 of those jobs. They always were for significantly less money than he currently made. They almost always told him that he was overqualified. They never resulted in an offer and he kept looking.

I am so excited and happy to announce that one month ago, he finally got a new job! And this weekend, we are laying around as a family doing absolutely nothing. But loving every minute of it. I have missed him. I have missed us. I had forgotten what family feels like.

I’ve been thinking about jobs a lot because I have a lot of librarian friends who are looking for new jobs. The library profession has been changing a lot over the last ten years and I can see that shift in the stories they share about their job searching.

For example, now, very few libraries are hiring YA/Teen librarians. In the early 90s that was a huge push to give dedicated teen services, but that dedication is eroding and teens are being pushed aside and absorbed into either youth or adult services once again. If you have paid attention to the name of this blog, you’ll know I have strong feelings about this. YA librarians are actually some of the most well versed librarians I know because they must work with both youth and adult services in ways that other librarians don’t because we get stuck any and everywhere and our patrons read up and down their age just as frequently.

Many libraries are posting job opportunities for MLS librarians with experience but only offering part-time hours.

Many of these people are going on job interviews and then hearing . . . nothing. They never hear one way or the other, they are just left dangling in the wind.

Like in other fields, there are a lot of applicants for very few jobs and it is very competitive. You’re either under qualified or overqualified. Or you don’t have the exact same set of skills needed for the job, as though potential employers have forgotten how much a librarian has to be a jack of all trades and how most of us can do a lot of things and how those skills can easily transfer to a different skill set.

For the last 4 years, my life has been all about people getting a new job. The Mr. desperately needed a new job because we wanted to be able to do something – anything – on a weekend as a family and because we wanted to put him in a position where we didn’t keep going to the doctor with a variety of bizarre health issues that no one could figure out except that honestly sir, working nights takes a toll on the human body and you should get a new job.

Just get a job. Just get a new job. Just get the right job.

We live in a capitalist society that favors the rich and the corporations, not the people doing the labor that keep those corporations operating on a day to day basis. Many employees today lack benefits, work/life balance, career mobility, livable wages, and more. Yes, even in libraries.

This weekend, my family is celebrating because The Mr got a job that is better for his health and allows him to be home on the weekends with his family during the school year. This means that for the first time ever, we’ll be able to do those things that many people take for granted, like sit around on the couch on a Saturday night and watch a movie with the family.

I am a huge and vocal proponent for a variety of issues because I see the way they impact our kids today, and here I mean kids in the universal sense not just specifically my biological kids. Though I obviously care about my biological kids a lot. Ask any teacher or youth services librarian and we will be able to tell you about how hard it is in today’s world for a family to be a family, for a parent to parent, and the impact it is having on our kids.

And the lack of livable wages, that is devastating to our families. 1 in 5 children goes to bed hungry each night, even in homes where parents are working 2 and 3 part-time jobs.

Remember when we cared about kids and understood that working together to take care of our children helped to ensure us a bright and promising future? I miss those days. We have never been perfect, but we’ve been better. Though there are whole other posts about what it means to grow up as a child in a marginalized group and you should read those. However hard it has been and is for us, a privileged white family, it is so much harder for people of color.

I don’t have a great wrap up for this post. No pithy punchline or searing sentence that sticks the landing. I’m just both grateful and angry for the jobs situation in the United States. I’m personally grateful that The Mr. got a new job and I got to have the type of Saturday I could only dream of for years, and personally angry because I know how hard it was to get to this point and how many other people are still struggling to get there themselves.

I am also not unaware that it can be ripped away from us at any moment. There is a lot of instability in the world of employment today.

We’re supposed to be a great and rich nation full of wealth and opportunity, so why are our families struggling so hard just to barely survive? Maybe that’s the only wrap up I have. We need to do better for one another.

We went to church together as a family this morning!

We went to church together as a family this morning!

Now if you’ll excuse me, we’re off to go to church together as a family.

*Please note, for the purposes here I am referring to a family as any family unit, not just a family with two kids and two parents. Single parents raising their kids are a family. Single people. It doesn’t matter what a family is made of, all families deserve health, wellness, and the opportunity to thrive.

Sunday Reflections: Let’s Talk About INSATIABLE, Fat Shaming and Eating Disorders

TRIGGER WARNING: THIS POST TALKS ABOUT SEXUAL VIOLENCE AND EATING DISORDERS

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I am a 45 year-old anorexic inhabiting a fat body. Even though I am fat and I eat daily, I must admit that I am still an anorexic because I suffer from body image issues, disordered eating and the anorexic mindset. My therapist once explained to me that eating disorders are much like addiction, you don’t really recover so much as we learn to manage our issues. Mostly. There is no cure for an eating disorder, but there is learning to live well with one.

I present this image not as inspiration, I was unhappy and unhealthy in this body.  I have spent a lot of time trying to undo this toxic mindset and find ways to be happy and healthy in my body.

I present this image not as inspiration, I was unhappy and unhealthy in this body. I have spent a lot of time trying to undo this toxic mindset and find ways to be happy and healthy in my body. I was, quite literally, dying here.

My anorexia began for me in middle school. Middle school, high school and the college years are pretty ripe for developing an eating disorder. My eating disorder, like many, is tied in to many factors, including the fact that I was also sexually abused in my middle school years. There is a high incidence of eating disorders among sexual assault survivors. I also had some family members who were anorexic and not only modeled the behaviors, but practiced the fine art of body shaming. All of these factors came together in the perfect melting pot that produced Karen, anorexic extraordinaire. I would never wish any of this on anyone, which is why I have such a strong, negative opinion about Insatiable.

I spent all of my teenage years and a great deal of my twenties not eating. I was ravenous with hunger, but eating was my personal enemy. As I said, I have some very disordered eating patterns and the ways in which I think about food and my body are truly twisted and toxic. Living in a culture that both sexualizes and scrutinizes the female body does not help. We harm women every day in the ways we talk about the female body.

This is my family. They are a blessing. I try hard every day to guard these girls, my heart, from the toxic messaging of our culture.

This is my family. They are a blessing. I try hard every day to guard these girls, my heart, from the toxic messaging of our culture.

I am also the mother of two amazing daughters. I love them. A lot. I have 3 main parenting goals:

1) Raise happy, well adjusted daughters that contribute positively to society

2) Keep them safe from sexual abuse

3) Help them learn to love their bodies in ways that I never could

As you can imagine, these are not easy goals and it is frustrating to learn not only how much of it is out of my control, but how much of the world actively works against me to achieve these goals. Our culture is toxic when it comes to how we view, talk about, look at, and incorporate the female body. This is especially true when you consider media.

If you or someone you know is struggle with an eating disorder, please contact

Eating Disorder Information | The Center for Eating Disorders

or

NIMH » Eating Disorders: About More Than Food

Which brings me to Insatiable, a new movie debuting soon on Netflix starring Disney star Debbie Ryan, a girl that my girls grew up watching. As it has not yet debuted, I can’t speak about the movie itself. I can, however, talk about the trailer for the movie, which goes like this:

The MC is a fat girl who is bullied in school by her peers. She suffers a broken jaw, has her jaw wired shut and comes back from summer break newly thin, confident, and seeking revenge.

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It takes a pretty standard approach to how women are portrayed in the media:

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1. Initially fat, the MC is ugly, rejected – a loser. And in order for Debbie Ryan to portray this character, she has to wear a fat suit. Because fat suits are funny, get it.

2. She goes away for the summer and can’t eat (because she was injured and has to have her jaw wired shut, also funny and definitely has never been done before), so she has the magical makeover. This magical makeover, which includes her losing a ton of weight, changes everything for her. Losing weight magically changes everything. Tada!

3. Now everyone loves her, she’s confident. She struts through those same hallways that she used to wish she could disappear from.

It does add the revenge fantasy twist, and who doesn’t love a good revenge fantasy? I would, except for what it takes for our main character to get to the revenge part. I’m so sick of the way we present and talk about fat bodies. I mean, I would love to get some revenge on some of the people who were awful to me in life, I am down with a good revenge fantasy. But this trailer is toxic in an already toxic culture in the way it presents the female body.

What if we changed the way we presented fat bodies in the media? Here are some suggestions.

1. Include fat bodies and not have the stories be about how fat they are or their weight loss journey. Let fat people just exist because, well, they do. We can tell stories about fat people without it ever being about their weight.

2. Don’t make being fat be the joke.

3. Abolish fat suits.

4. Don’t let fat be the ugly before and thin be the beautiful after. Fat people are beautiful. Thin people often aren’t. The size and shape of your body is not the end all, be all of who you are.

5. Let’s move away from physical transformation stories to personal transformation stories, stories that show characters learning and growing and choosing to be something new and different not in how they look, but in how they approach the world and their fellow human beings.

My daughters are at the ripe age for developing an eating disorder. The teens I work with are as well. In fact, my youngest was in Kindergarten the first time she came home and cried because someone had bullied her because she was “fat.” I’ve seen both of my girls stand in front of the mirrors, turn sideways, lift up their shirts and examine the size of their bellies. I’ve heard my black belt teenager talk about how big her thighs are, as if muscle is just as toxic as the fat our society has taught her to fear. Trust me, our kids are picking up on all kinds of messages when it comes to their bodies, both the explicit and the implicit ones. They pay attention to the unspoken as much as they do the spoken. That’s why even this trailer is harmful, it is reinforcing all of the negative messaging they are already receiving.

I’m not sure what the overall message of this movie is, though I do know that those involved in making it say it is a dark comedy that calls out the way our culture talks about the female body. I do not think this trailer does what they claim it does. I feel it fails and is toxic. I do know that the trailer for this movie is harmful in that it perpetuates those very things that those involved in making the movie say they are wishing to address. The trailer engages in fat shaming. The trailer does harm in that it reinforces the message that fat is ugly, thin is beautiful, and all you have to do to get thin is stop eating for a couple of months.

Do you know what happens when you stop eating or eat too little? Your body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs to thrive. Your hair thins. Your teeth decay. Your nails become brittle. Your skin does weird things. You sleep more. Your attitude and outlook on life changes. Your body starts to eat itself from the inside out. You will, eventually, die. Slowly at first, but then quickly.

As I mentioned in my introduction, those who develop eating disorders are never considered truly cured. They will spend a lifetime battling toxic body self-loathing, doing the work and then doing it again and again again. You don’t wake up one day and say, I’m done with this and I’m going to start eating normally and loving my body – tada! The work of healing is never done.

We have to change the way we talk about the female body in our world (and yes, men are body shamed and develop eating disorders at high rates as well). A great first step would be not making movies like this. It has the potential to trigger an eating disorder in a large number of pre-teen and teen girls who are already standing on the brink as they wrestle with what it means to inhabit a female body in this world. Insatiable is one Netflix movie that won’t be played in my house or any of my devices.