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Sunday Reflections: The Truly High Cost of Childhood Trauma

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I first ran across the research regarding the long term effects of childhood trauma last year, and have commented frequently on how important I think this research is. As someone who works with teens, and even though they don’t like being called children in many ways teens are in fact children, I have felt compelled to read as much as I can about the long term effects of childhood trauma. And, I suppose, as an adult and a parent who has lived with childhood trauma, I have been interested to learn as much as I can about it. As parents, the long term effects of childhood trauma can very much effect how we parent. It turns out that the sins of the father can in fact be generational, not because of familial curses or a retributive god, but because the effects of childhood trauma can be passed down from generation to generation.

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I wrote about the long term effects of childhood trauma earlier this week in discussing THE FALL OF INNOCENCE by Jenny Torres Sanchez, a book that looks at a teen who suffered a traumatic event as a young child. She believes that she has learned to deal successfully with her trauma, but a variety of events that happen in high school illustrate that she clearly has not.

There is a huge emotional and mental burden that exists when we discuss the long term effects of childhood trauma. It can effect bonding and stability. It can mean the adaptation of unhealthy coping mechanisms which are then passed on to the next generation of children. But because I am writing this in America and America no longer seems to care about the emotional or physical or mental health of its citizens, not even its children, let me discuss the high cost of childhood trauma in terms that many Americans do seem to care about: cold hard cash.

Child abuse and neglect costs our nation $220 million every day. – Source: http://www.preventchildabuse.org/images/research/pcaa_cost_report_2012_gelles_perlman.pdf

Childhood trauma is wildly expensive, both immediately and in the long term. It’s not just expensive for the child or the family of the child, but it comes at a great cost to us all.

There is a high monetary expense that comes along with the long term effects of childhood trauma.

But first, let’s take a moment to discuss childhood trauma. Childhood trauma can occur in many ways: physical and emotional abuse, sexual abuse or assault, divorce, observing parental domestic violence, loss of a home, natural disasters, food instability, sudden death of a parent or sibling, chronic illness, and chronic bullying are just a few sources of childhood trauma. Childhood trauma is an event that effects the emotional or physical well being of a child and effects their stress levels.

Of course not all children will respond to childhood trauma in the same ways. Personality is a factor, as is personal resilience. Children with more stable homes and supportive parents will have different responses to childhood trauma. When we talk about privilege, we must acknowledge that some children are more privileged than others and this privilege can help insulate them from the same traumas and impacts how they respond to said trauma. The point is, not all children will respond in the same way to the same trauma because no two children are the same.

So what, in fact, are some of the long term effects of childhood trauma?

Mental Health

Mental health issues can be caused by childhood trauma and can effect children long into their adult lives, especially if they do not have the resources necessary to help deal in effective ways with the childhood trauma. We know that 1 in 4 adults in America struggles with mental health issues, and there is a real financial cost for society that comes with these mental health issues. In particular, many adults who have experienced childhood trauma can experience PTSD, depression and anxiety.

Physical Health

Many adults who have experienced childhood trauma also have higher rates of obesity, eating disorders, and heart disease. In addition, many adults experience addiction, which we will discuss below. These physical effects all come with a cost.

Addiction

Addiction can also be caused by childhood trauma. As we wrestle here in America with the opioid crisis and we talk about doctors over prescribing pain killers, I think it is important that we acknowledge the role of mental health issues and self-medication in addiction. Back in 2006 when I had a very traumatic pregnancy that ended in a loss, I was prescribed a pain medication to help me with the physical pain that resulted. I was surprised when taking that medication also helped to dull the emotional pain that I was feeling and remember calling my cousin and saying, “You know, I understand now why people get addicted to this stuff.” I was in a very bad emotional place and that medication that I was prescribed really dulled that emotional pain, which is why I personally decided not to take it. But I had other factors in place that helped me through that difficult emotional time and helped me with the pain. I stood at the edge in that moment and realized how easy it would be to fall into substance abuse and addiction.

Incarceration

Reason studies indicate that there are high rates of sexual abuse among incarcerated individuals, especially incarcerated females. It is believed that the high rate and long term effects of sexual abuse among women is directly impacting the higher number of incarcerated females, and we know that there is a high societal cost to incarceration.

Job Instability

Mental health issues, addiction, low self-esteem and poor coping methods can all impact job stability. And high job turnover means higher training costs for businesses. And although I believe there are many factors that are contributing to the need for families to rely on housing and food assistance, including a lack of full-time jobs that pay a livable wage, I also believe that it is possible that one of the long term effects of childhood trauma is job instability, and it contributes to the need for government assistance.

I believe that we, as a society, should do everything we can to help decrease the amounts of childhood trauma happening. In addition, I believe that we should do everything we can to help our children deal with this trauma in healthy ways to help our children heal and develop healthy coping strategies. This would include seriously addressing issues like childhood hunger and health, including providing affordable health care, and improving every American’s quality of life by creating a country with more stable jobs that provide a truly livable wage. I believe that we should do this because it is the humane thing to do, because these are our children. But if that argument doesn’t work for you, I also believe we should do this because it saves us more money in the long term.

As a society we can choose to invest in public education, affordable healthcare, and creating systems where families can thrive and maintain a healthy work/life balance or we abandon our children now and pay in the future by funding prisons, watching our workforce dwindle to a handful of privileged few who have earned an education that can sustain our future, and having to find knee-jerk reactionary ways to handle things like the opioid crisis. One approach seems to make more sense than the other because it invests in healthy children and a healthy society. Investing in happy, healthy children today will minimize the amount of money we have to spend cleaning up our mess tomorrow. And clean up always seems to cost more than just doing the right thing from the beginning does.

Childhood trauma doesn’t just effect the child, or the immediate family of the child. It ripples out in both space and time causing a myriad of effects that have a lot of repercussions for society as a whole. When one part of the body is sick, the entire body is sick. When our children are sick, when they grow up to be sick adults, then we as a nation are sick. No man is an island; what happens to the most vulnerable of us happens to the whole of us. I can’t help but look around at our world today and see how truly sick we are, and I think one of our first steps in healing and finding true health has to be doing a better job of caring and providing for our children, not just because it is the humane and moral thing to do, but because all of society will benefit from it. If we don’t invest in the health and well being of our children now, we’ll just be paying for it in different and more negative ways in the future. I think we should chose health.

Sunday Reflections: What if we are our own worst enemies? A reflection on librarianship.

I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy; we fought ourselves. And the enemy was in us.” – Platoon

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When I was a teen, I was obsessed with the movie Platoon, in large part because Charlie Sheen was one of my James Deans. Yes, I know it turns out that he was absolute trash, but we didn’t know it at the time. But because of this obsession, I had purchased the Platoon soundtrack – on vinyl thank you very much – and memorized the closing speech which contains the line above. The line above has always stuck with me and I keep thinking about it lately in terms of the MLS and the devaluing of libraries, in part through the devaluing of the library profession by none other than librarians. Hear me out.

Before I begin, let me just take a moment to say that I have the utmost respect for paraprofessionals. I myself started out as a paraprofessional YA associate before choosing to go on and get my MLS. Some of my best friends are paraprofessionals, including my best friend who happens to be a nondegreed director of a small, rural library. Our very own Amanda MacGregor, who is my most trusted reviewer and someone I go to frequently for advice and information, is not an MLS librarian, though I believe you all know I love, value and respect her fiercely. This is not a diatribe against paraprofessionals or anyone who works in the library; it is, however, a reflection on how we talk about the profession and the lingering effect it has and how people perceive the value of the library.

Time and time again, I hear many people talking as if the MLS no longer matters in any way, shape or form, and this concerns me. There is even, recently, a vote discussing whether or not the director of the ALA – the American LIBRARY Association – should hold an MLS. And I was surprised by how many people felt that this prerequisite was an obviously absurd idea. I feel quite differently about this; I believe that the director of the ALA should be a person who holds an MLS from an ALA certified school. To me, to forgo putting someone with an MLS as the director of the ALA would be like putting someone who doesn’t have a background in psychology in charge of the APA or someone who isn’t licensed in medicine in charge of the AMA. I want someone who has the education, knowledge and experience to be directing the organization.

But it’s not just about whether or not the director of the ALA should hold an MLS. More and more, I hear professional librarians talking as if the MLS education is completely unnecessary, and I would argue that this is harmful to our profession. What we say and do matters and transforms how people think about our profession. If we ourselves devalue our profession, than why shouldn’t our public, including community boards and legislators? I think of it somewhat as branding, and we are hurting our brand.

One of the last library systems I worked at went from having a staff of around 80 people and 12 MLS librarians to around 40 employees and only 2 MLS librarians. All specialists, including children’s librarians, were done away with. But of course, none of the services or programming were, so now fewer and less invested people are tasked with doing the same responsibilities. At another library, the retiring MLS director was replaced with the city’s marketing manager who had never worked in the library. The benefit is that the library gets a lot of good marketing, but the daily business of the library – it’s philosophy and foundations of the library in the community – was no longer at the core.

In contrast, at one system I worked at an individual from the business world was hired to be an operations manager, but this person worked closely with the library director, an experiences MLS librarian, to keep the foundations of librarianship at the center while blending those ideals with that of the business world to keep the library moving forward in terms of budgeting and HR practices.

But what happens when we start saying that librarians and librarianship aren’t really necessary in libraries? What happens when we devalue professional librarians? I would argue that those outside the library community see this and take that discussion one step further. If librarians aren’t important, if the education and experience isn’t important, then perhaps libraries themselves aren’t that important?

How many times have I, an MLS librarian, been asked if I am a volunteer? Too many too count. How many times have I been asked why I need a degree to do my job? Again, too many to count. The truth is, we don’t do a very good job of informing our public about what we do, why it matters, and why having educated and professional librarians involved in the library is important. And if it doesn’t really matter, then why should our communities support them with their tax monies?

Have you ever worked at a library where it has been suggested that staff could be let go and replaced by volunteers? I have, and it’s very disheartening. But I also think, we do this to ourselves in some ways. When staff are reduced, workloads are not reduced in kind. We replace retiring professionals with paraprofessionals to reduce staffing costs and the library is populated with fewer and fewer librarians. Sometimes, there are no professional librarians to be found.

This conversation gets tricky because not all libraries are the same. For example, there are a lot of small, rural libraries out there being well run by passionate paraprofessionals and a just a handful of staff to cover the circulation desk. You can not compare a small rural library with a large urban library system, it’s like comparing apples to oranges. But when even our largest library systems begin to do away with professional librarians, it definitely communicates a message to the larger public about the value of both librarians and libraries. And I would argue that this message is not in our favor.

These past few weeks we have seen public school teachers fighting for respect and pay that matches their job. We demand of our teachers a degree and hold them to a standard, and yet teachers are another maligned profession. We do not culturally value teachers, in part I would argue because it is seen as a feminized profession, much as librarianship is. But these past few weeks, teachers have united together and demanded to be fairly compensated for their work.

In comparison, I continue to see librarians degrading the profession in the ways that we talk about our field, in the ways that we don’t demand adequate compensation for our jobs, or the ways in which library directors eliminate professional staff and professional development when forced to make budget cuts.

As I mentioned, I was a paraprofessional before I became an MLS degree holding librarian. I have been dedicated and passionate about my job every step of the way. But getting my degree changed who I was as a librarian. My education really helped me understand so many aspects of both my job and my teens. It made me a better librarian.

The irony is that today, when I hear people say that they want to get their MLS, my knee jerk reaction is that I want to tell them not to do it. Not because I don’t believe in it, I think it has tremendous value and I think it helps establish us as a profession. No, I want to tell them not to do it because I understand that the job prospects for MLS librarians are shrinking. Libraries now hire fewer and fewer librarians, and we are often inadequately compensated salary wise for our level of education and experience. Many libraries now only want to hire degreed librarians in management positions, though it is hard for MLS librarians to get the experience required for those positions because we aren’t hiring librarians in non-management positions for them to get the necessary experience.

So yes, I would like the director of the American Library Association to hold an MLS degree from an ALA certified school. To me, that helps communicate the value of the library profession to the public that we serve. I would also, for the record, like the ALA to spend part of its financial resources marketing the idea of libraries to the general public in much the same way that you see the AMA marketing the medical field to the public. And for the record, I am not an ALA member because I can’t afford the fees.

But this post isn’t really about the director of the ALA, as I mentioned, I’m not an ALA member and I don’t get a vote. But what this post is, I hope, is a reflection on how I worry that we librarians have become our very own enemies when it comes to branding and marketing of libraries. If we continue to devalue the educational foundation of our profession, does that not in some way devalue the idea of libraries themselves? I would argue that it is possible that it does and we see that in the ways our boards ask us to replace full-time professional positions with 2 part-time paraprofessional positions and the ways in which our legislators slash our hours and our budgets.

The conversation is, of course, bigger than this post. For example, do we need age specialists? I would argue that we do. I know that my teens are better served because they have a librarian who has taken the time to study adolescent development, just as babies are better served by someone who has studied early childhood development. And of course, there is something to be said about paraprofessionals who have worked with and trained with good, quality librarians. And there is something to be said about how overwhelmingly white our profession is and about how in a profession dominated by women men rise to leadership positions faster and more often. These are all valid conversations that we need to be having.

My point is this: I would like us all to consider the ways that we talk about our profession, our education, our experiences, and the very concept of a library and to consider the ways in which we may be undermining our very own profession. I want us to consider whether or not we are being our own enemies and to make the changes necessary to be advocates instead.

Sunday Reflections: This is What Happened When I Took My Teen to See Love, Simon

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Last night I took The Teen and a friend to see Love, Simon, the movie based on Simon VS. The Homo Sapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli. I have never been in a movie where the audience whooped and hollered and audibly gasped and applauded so loudly. And it was a pretty full theater. It was an epic, joyous experience.

I also had a very profound and personal conversation with The Teen about this movie afterwards. And no, this is not a post where I will share with you that she came out to me, because if the movie taught me anything it’s that that information would not be mine to share. My revelation is about me.

But first, some background.

I became a Christian when I was in high school. I’m a 45-year-old woman who grew up right as the AIDS crisis was being discussed in the news. In all fronts of my life I was constantly being told that about the “gay agenda” and how abhorrent the gay lifestyle is.

I then went on to college and got my degree in youth ministry from a conservative Christian college, a Nazarene university. The Nazarenes consider themselves a “holiness” denomination. At the time I went to a Nazarene university you couldn’t go to the movies, you couldn’t dance, and The Mr had family members who wouldn’t even let cousins go swimming in the same pool because it was considered mixed bathing and inappropriate.

But I also found a safe sense of self and place in the conservative Christian church. I knew I belonged, I knew what I believed, and I knew I had a purpose. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged somewhere. I felt safe. I felt at some type of internal peace that I hadn’t known I was lacking.

This was all at the height of the Christian Evangelical movement. I only listened to Christian music, I went to Christian concerts, I frequented Christian bookstores. I often wrestled with what it meant as a teen librarian to give teens access to materials that were against my personal beliefs.

But I also began to notice a growing disconnect with the message of love I heard preached from the pulpit and the absolute anger, violence and hatred I heard spoken by my fellow Christians regarding marginalized groups, particularly the GLBTQ community. And as I my heart filled more and more with hate for the other, I felt less and less Christlike, and further away from my God.

At the same time, I had become friends with several members of the GLBTQ community, and couldn’t help but notice that they did not have this same level of hatred in their hearts. In fact, they were often more loving, more kind, and more accepting of others than my Christian peers. They seemed, in fact, more Christlike in that the way they lived their lives modeled more truly the lack of judgment, the lack of hate, the abundance of love that Jesus preaches over and over again in the Bible that my faith is supposed to be based on.

Slowly, over time, I began to believe that if we were to say that God loves, saves and forgives anyone, then that has to include everyone. And over time as my understanding of who I believe God is changed, I started to go to a more progressive church that better reflected my understanding of my faith.

But it came at a great cost.

I lost friends, family, and that very sense of place and security that had brought me out of some of the darkest places I had ever known. I had to start all over again, and in my 40s, and that was . . . hard, to say the least. Not as hard, of course, as it is to be a member of the GLBTQ community in a world that actively seeks to dehumanize you, but it was still amazingly hard.

So last night after Love, Simon, The Teen looked at me and asked me what I thought of the movie and I surprised even myself because I started crying as I explained my answer. You see, I really care about people, I really care about teens in particular. I have dedicated my life to serving and advocating for them in libraries this past 24+ years. It has been challenging and I have learned and grown a lot. But I am also in a state of constant tension regarding my beliefs.

I want teens to feel radically free to be themselves because I hate that identifying at GLBTQ puts a teen at a higher risk of suicide and homelessness because of how much our world hates them. I don’t want to in any way contribute to that. But I have also been taught for most of my adult life that to accept someone as GLBTQ is to lead them to sin and eternal damnation, and as someone who cares about them, I don’t want to contribute to that either. It often feels like no matter what I do or believe, I am hurting teens. That’s the power of indoctrination, it’s so very hard to shake.

I now identify as Methodist, a Christian denomination that is very much wrestling with the issue of being a member of and accepting members of the GLBTQ community. For the past few years, the church has been in a constant state of possible split over these very issues.

I explained all of this to The Teen in the best way I knew how: I’m a 45-year-old woman who grew up in a time where the GLBTQ lifestyle was completely demonized and I come from a conservative Christian background that is slowly changing as I come to better understand what it means to be a follower of Christ and to live in alignment with the simple commandment: Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.

I’m a work in progress. As a human. As a librarian. As a mother. As a friend. As a Christian.

I’ve lost a lot on this journey. I’ve gained a lot on this journey. The journey is just beginning, every evolving, never ending.

I’m trying to raise my children differently as Christians. I believe that they are more loving, more accepting, more Christlike. My prayer for them is that they will be.

But I’m not going to lie, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat because there are those that tell me I am leading them to hell by raising them to be so loving, and as a parent that terrifies me.

I am glad that we went and saw Love, Simon, not just because it was a triumphant and joyous movie, but because it helped us to have a conversation I think we really needed to have about who I was, who I am becoming, and why it is sometimes so very hard for me to embrace things that are so much easier for her. I want her to know that the journey of faith isn’t a smooth, straight path, but a rocky one that is challenged again and again and that sometimes, you have to make hard decisions to stand up for what you believe in.

I also want her to know that I love her with a fierce passion and that I believe God does too, no matter what happens in this life.

Sunday Reflections: It’s Okay to Sit a Moment in Your Pain

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Vague spoilers for A Wrinkle in Time appear in this post. If you are totally unfamiliar with the story, read at your own risk of being spoiled.

At the beginning of A Wrinkle in Time, Meg Murray’s father has been missing for 4 years. It’s the 4 year anniversary in fact as she sits in the prinicipal’s office and he tells her that it’s time to move past her hurt and be the good girl Meg that they all miss, in part because that Meg was easier to deal with.

Around the 1 year anniversary of a very complicated pregnancy loss that almost took my life my pastor told me the same thing.

People like to put limit on other people’s pain.

You see it time and time again on social media. Smile, be happy, put it in perspective. Those constant memes with glorious sunsets that remind us all that these are First World Problems, that someone somewhere definitely has it worse, and if you just think positive thoughts and choose to smile then life is really awesome.

It’s a Lego Movie mentality.

Everything is Awesome.

Except, of course, when it’s not.

The truth is, it’s okay to sit for a moment in your pain. It’s actually important that we do so. We have to take the time to really and truly grapple with our life experiences and the emotions that they cause in us. The way that those moments change the landscape of who we are.

Because that’s what they do, moments of pain can change who we are. When a piece of us is stolen, when we learn a horrific truth about the reality of life, when we are betrayed or let down, or when we betray or let down others. It changes you. And yes, that changing doesn’t have to be some permanent hardship, but it’s okay if you sit in the darkness of your soul for a while and really wrestle with what it means to be hurting and human.

“Everybody loves you when you’re easy,” sings Sarah McClachlan in the song Black and White. That lyric has always stuck with me because I recognize the truth of it. Sitting with someone as they sit in their pain is hard.

For a while, Meg Murray sits in her pain. She steeps herself in it. Her father is missing. She doesn’t know what happened to him or what it means. She is entitled to her pain. She is entitled to her anger. No matter how uncomfortable it makes us.

But she doesn’t stay there, because one of the things A Wrinkle in Time is ultimately about is hope. And love. And healing. Meg finds hope and in finding that hope, she learns more about herself and her place in the world. Meg Murray takes a grand adventure and moves from anger to hope, but she does so in part because she learns that the source of her pain can be found, her questions answered, her world righted again. Not every child gets that chance. For every found father there are fathers who have no desire to be found. For every sister screaming into the darkness I love you and I always will, there are sisters who won’t answer the phone and haven’t talked to their siblings in years. Meg Murray is one of the lucky ones.

Lots of our kids are not, in fact, Meg Murray. Breakfast will not magically appear tomorrow morning. A loving Dad will not be rescued from the darkness. Bullies won’t reconsider the harm they are causing to those that they bully.

Yesterday I sat in the movies with my two daughters and I watched a childhood favorite come to life, and I was profoundly moved to share this inspiring moment with my girls. I looked over at them and I wept as they saw a family come back together in love and heard time and time again the affirmations made to our dear Meg.

But I also thought about every one of my kids who won’t get that, the happy ending and the words of affirmation. And my heart also ached. But also I thought about this: it’s okay that Meg needed to sit for a while in her pain and anger. Sometimes that’s where we need to be. And we need to allow our kids and teens to be honest with themselves and with their pain while also giving them hope that they can move out of the darkness. And that, ultimately, is the hope that A Wrinkle in Time provides. We can fight the darkness, but it is, indeed, a fight.

Sunday Reflections: If We Want to End Sexual Violence, We Have to Change the Way Adults Talk About It

Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence, Rape

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Some weeks (months?) ago, the news broke out that a high school near me was embroiled in a horrific sexual violence case. At first, the media kept referring to it as “hazing”. After a lot of push back, the media and community have started to use the terms sexual assault. Hazing in itself is not okay and can often be deadly, but by calling it hazing the language was minimizing the sexual violence that was taking place. This is just one of the many ways I have seen this case discussed that have caused a lot of concern for me.

Before I begin talking about the fall out, let me share what I can about the case. Originally, five students from a team sporting event were arrested for “hazing” fellow team mates in the locker room. This “hazing” involved male team mates violating other male team mates in ways that are too clearly sexual assault and rape.

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I’m not here to talk about the case, because at this point it’s an ongoing investigation and what I have heard is all media reports, speculation and rumors. But I am here to talk about the way adults in the community talked about it after the news broke. As often happens, we learned about this via the media and people began to share the news on Facebook. Soon, the comments started flowing and, as always happens, the comments reveal how much of a problem adults and the way that adults view and talk about sexual violence contribute to the problem. We can’t change the culture of sexual abuse until we change the way adults talk to and about sexual violence.

Of course one of the first statements that started pouring out was: BOYS WILL BE BOYS. This is a false and harmful statement. A vast majority of boys and men never sexually violate others, because they can in fact practice self control and restraint. Make no mistake, sexual violence happens a lot, but this idea that “boys will be boys” is a harmful beginning point. It excuses male behavior by suggesting that men are primarily oriented towards violence and that they lack the ability to learn, grown and practice self control. Not only is this statement untrue and harmful, but men should be angry at what this presupposes about them. Men can and should be held accountable for their actions. These boys made a choice to violate others, they should be held responsible for that choice.

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Many other respondents tried to excuse the specifics of this case by suggesting that THIS HAPPENS EVERYWHERE. While I hope that is statistically untrue and that a majority of high schools don’t have rampant sexual abuse happening in their locker rooms, I want to know why the adults felt comfortable shrugging this off as ‘it happens everywhere” instead of demanding to know if it does, in fact, happen everywhere, then how can we stop it because it’s not okay. Even if it happens somewhere else, why are we willing to accept it as happening in our communities and to our children? If it does happen at other communities, what can we do in our local community to change the culture and make our kids safe? A child who wants to participate in sports should not have to be willing to submit themselves to abuse in order to participate. That is an unacceptable starting point. Students involved in extracurricular events should be held to a higher standard, not a lesser one.

Many commenters reported that this had in fact been going on in this specific school for years and others wanted to know if that was true, then why hadn’t someone spoken out sooner. WHY DIDN’T THEY REPORT IT SOONER is a very common talking point. Well, it turns out that some may have but, as frequently happens when reporting sexual violence, their complaints were ignored. But the comments themselves reveal why those who are victims of abuse don’t come forward. Revealing abuse in this type of setting often puts the victims in an even more dangerous position. Now they must navigate the hallways of their school with a target on their back as the investigation happens and the popular kids – and the abusers are often the popular kids – harass, bully, and vilify them. Or they are pulled out for their safety and everything about their lives is suddenly upended. And if their families stay in the community, they are forced to live among a life-time reminders and triggers. There are so many very real systemica barriers to victims of sexual violence coming forward and reporting. And that doesn’t even get into the shame, guilt, self-blame and questioning that can happen before a victim is even ready to come forward. There are both personal and systemic barriers that can cause a delay in when an event happens and when it is reported. And truthfully, statistically we know that a large number of victims will never report because those barriers are very real.

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Especially when a sports team is involved, the victim who comes forward can be seen as a traitor because the sad truth is, we live in a culture that puts winning and sports above individual suffering. A lot of wrong doing is swept under the rug to keep the momentum of a winning sports team going because they produce revenue and positive PR. And make no mistake, PR is very important to schools and communities. The rating and success of local schools helps to attract new business, and new business equals growth, and growth equals money. The book MOXIE by Jennifer Matthieu does a good job of highlighting what can happen when students try to change the culture of sexual violence in a high school.

There has also been some question of which adults knew what and when, and whether or not things were covered up. A lot of people have come to these educators defense and suggested that this is a one time mistake and overall, they are good people. This is something we see again and again when we talk about racism and sexual violence, the explaining away of abusive behavior because overall, this person is really a good person. I can’t speak to what these adults knew and when, but if they knew and failed to act to protect the victims immediately, then they failed these children and may have engaged in criminal behavior (teachers are mandated reporters) and they don’t deserve to be in this position again. When I and other parents send their children to school, we need the full confidence of knowing that teachers and staff will protect our children, respond to their concerns, and follow the rules of the district and the law that has been established to help keep our kids safe.

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As someone who works with teens, I am frequently put in the position of having to determine how to respond when I have concerns about a teen’s safety. It is, in fact, a hard position to be in. As a public librarian, I’m not a mandated reporter and I often don’t have enough information, but I have gone to my administration frequently and said here’s my concern and we worked out how to respond and report. I have made many a call to either the police or the children’s protective services. I do not in any way seek to diminish how hard it is to be put in these positions because I have been often and it is no easy task. There are situations that I have been involved in that will probably haunt me until the day I die as having to wrestle with the safety of others is a hard position to be in. But I’m also a mother and a sexual violence survival and I want our go to response to always be: protect the children immediately.

As I read through the comments on several articles around this case, I was continually appalled by the way the adults talked about these events. My heart broke for the victims that might wander into these online forums and read what others were saying about this case (and I really hope that they don’t). And as always happens when I read the comments on reports of sexual violence, my heart broke again and again for the way that we blame and talk about victims, the way we fail to understand the hurdles that victims must face to come forward and be taken seriously, and the way that their life is shifted not just by the abuse itself, but by the way that others respond when they do come forward and ask for help to make their world safer. Sexual violence victims are abused over and over again by the ways that we talk about sexual violence in our culture.

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And in this post, I continue to use the term victims as opposed to survivors because these teens are in the thick of it. They are victims. One day, they will work through the events of what happened to them and may choose to label themselves as survivors, but this is new and real and raw and we are just learning that they are victims. They are victims that by all accounts this community has failed and is continuing to fail.

I have worked with teens in public libraries for 24 years and this is the first time that I personally have heard about a case like this and so close to home. This school is not my child’s school nor is it a school in the district in which I work and serve, but it’s not a story in a YA novel – it’s a very real community that affects the lives of people I love and respect. And as I read through the comments all I could think was this: we still have so much work to do to break down the toxic ways in which we respond to and talk about real life sexual violence. Yes, talking about it with our kids and helping to change it for the next generation is an important part of the process, but we have to also do the work of changing the way that adults talk about and respond to reports of sexual violence.

Some of my friends did a really good job of doing this work. They went online and repeatedly used the term sexual assault every time someone tried to downplay this as merely playful hazing. Many others reminded commenters that boys will be boys is an unacceptable statement. And these are the things we must do, over and over again. Use language and challenge others to use language that speak truth to the horrific nature of crimes of sexual violence. Call the language out, redirect the language, make sure that headlines and comments focus on the true nature of these crimes. We must do the work to continually challenge the way that we talk about sexual violence to help change the culture (when and if you can, I know that if you are a survivor yourself that this can be challenging.)

Things we can do:

  • Call out problematic language
  • Call out slut shaming
  • Call out victim blaming
  • Tell our family, friends and coworkers that jokes about rape and sexual violence are not okay. When someone tries to make a joke, point out that the joke is not acceptable.
  • Contact the media immediately when we see problematic headlines or reporting. For example, make sure they use active voice which highlights that sexual violence is a choice of the abuser instead of focusing on passive voice.
  • Redirect any questions or comments about the victim back onto the abuser. If someone says why were they there, re-direct and ask why did the abuser think it was okay to abuse someone.
  • Arm yourself with facts from RAINN and other organizations. Facts are important when discussing issues.
  • Familiarize yourself with the issues surrounding reporting, the obstacles for victims, and the many reasons why victims postpone or choose to never report. Knowing this information helps when people ask why they didn’t report right away.
  • Understand and remind others that everyone responds to sexual violence differently and no one owes us their story or their advocacy. Many survivors will choose to become advocates, but others don’t and that is also okay. Everyone gets to heal and talk about their experiences in their own way.
  • Make sure where you work has a solid sexual harassment/violence policy in place and that all staff are trained on the policy.

Systemic change calls for systemic solutions. We have to address the issues on as many fronts as possible. Lots of people are doing great work writing for and talking about these issues with kids and teens, but it’s not enough. We as adults have to change the conversation among ourselves.

Sunday Reflections: When Adults Fail, the Teens will Save Themselves

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On February 14th, there was another school shooting. This was the 18th school shooting in 2018 and 17 people were sadly and tragically taken from this mortal coil too soon. But this school shooting, or more precisely what is happening after this school shooting, is different. This time, teens are stepping up to the microphone and demanding change. When the adults in power have failed to save them time and time again, the teens have decided to demand change. The teens are going to save themselves, and save us all in the process.

Soon after the Parkland shooting, TLTer Heather Booth shared this important thread on Twitter with her own high school experience with tragedy and how the adults responded to it are different than how the adults respond to school shootings:

And she’s right, when it comes to school shootings, we have failed our kids time and time again. Currently the CDC is legally barred from even studying the epidemic of gun violence. At the same time, lawmakers are already talking about how to stop teens from eating Tide pods.

Author Maureen Johnson asked teens on Twitter to share with her how adults are failing teens, and they responded:

So the kids – teens in this case – have been very vocal. They are demanding action. They are using social media and the access they have to a platform and demanding that we listen. And listen we must.

Listen to teens like Emma Gonzales, Kyra and more. I am providing a link to one tweet each so you can find them on Twitter and read what they have been saying, how they are demanding that we act. They are writing their elected officials, asking us to sign petitions, and staging protests.

Emma Gonzales on CNN

Huffington Post: Teens talking about gun control after Florida shooting

Buzzfeed: Student texts during shooting

Many are also in the midst of organizing a National School Walkout. I am the parent of a teenager who has already twice had to debate whether or not to send my child to school in the midst of a social media threat of gun violence at her school. I have told her that I support her participating in the walkout if she chooses and she will not get in trouble at home for standing up for what she believes in.

I will say that I have noticed since the 2016 election that my teens are more politically involved and active then they have been in past years, and I’ve worked with teens for 24 years. Something has shifted. We need to be listening.

Sunday Reflections: That Delicate Balance Between Quality Patron Services and Employee Personal Boundaries

Please note: This post will share a bunch of stories of patron interactions in public libraries and no names or locations will be shared. Some of them are stories from friends, social media, and my own. None of them will reveal that communities in which they occurred to help protect all parties involved.

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The man sits at a public computer and when he sees the staff member that usually helps him isn’t around he yells out, “hey, where’s my woman?” You know that she hates how he refers to her as “my woman”, you also know that she is afraid to say anything to him because all it takes is one patron complaint. We live in fear of patron complaints, especially if they get to the board of directors. It’s hard to fully explain a bad patron interaction and in many libraries, the patron almost always wins. And sometimes, you have learned, what one staff member feels is a derogatory statement others feel the staff member should just accept as a compliment. This is part of the tension you see happening in public discussion about sexual harassment at work. Many women want to be able to go to work and not have their looks/sexuality/desirability/etc commented on. They just want to feel safe, supported by administration, and able to successfully do the job they love without being objectified.

She sits behind the reference desk, swollen, pregnant belly announcing to the world that she is expecting. But what the world doesn’t know is that this pregnancy follows a devastating loss and she is full of anxiety, doesn’t like to talk about her pregnancy with family, let alone strangers. So a man asks, “do you know if you are having a boy or a girl?” And she does, but she doesn’t want to engage. This is not a conversation she should be expected to have with a total stranger, so she tries to deflect and asks, “how can I help you?” Later that day, he calls to complain that she was impolite and wouldn’t engage in normal daily pleasantries.

A staff member walks through the library carrying a donut to their office, found in the staff lounge. Library staff lounges are famous for all kinds of goodies. But a patron sees this staff member with the donut and, noting their body size, comments that they shouldn’t be eating it. They are lectured about food and body and health. If the staff member tries to shut the conversation down or to simply just walk away, they risk a patron complaint.

Another patron walks in and asks if you’ve had your flu vaccine yet. It’s a personal question, what you choose to put into your body, and you never know where the topic of vaccines is going to go. So again, you try to deflect, but the patron is enraged when you try and suggest that this is a personal issue that you would prefer not to discuss. You hear them stop by the circulation on their way out and complain about how rude you are.

Another patron calls you sexy.

Another patron asks you if you are saved.

Another patron asks you if and where you go to church.

Another patron asks you if you have kids.

Another patron tries to talk politics with you.

Another patron wants to know what you think about transgender people using the restrooms.

Another patron asks you how you feel about Black Lives Matter.

Another patron asks you about the border wall.

Another patron asks if you think we should drug test welfare recipients.

Another patrons tells you that they think libraries shouldn’t have LGBTQ materials, that the library shouldn’t support the “gay agenda”, and that gay people are sinners who should be shot so they can just go ahead and go straight to hell because that’s where their headed anyway. They then ask you what you about “the gays”.

And each time the questions are asked, staff are faced with hard decisions. In some libraries, there are clear policies in place forbidding talking about personal politics or religion. But those policies won’t stop angry patrons, patron complaints, or the call into your manager’s office where you are forced to defend your right to help the public without making every moment of your interior life public; your right to have personal boundaries.

In many libraries, we become familiar with our patrons. For many patrons, they come almost daily to escape boredom and loneliness, just trying to find a friendly staff member to talk to. But this need is one of the trickiest parts of the library profession to balance. Sometimes, patrons reveal too much about their own personal lives, try to monopolize staff time and take them away from other patrons. Other times, they ask invasive questions and make judgmental statements. Working with the public is emotionally hard, fraught with not often discussed mine fields, and the customer is always right mentality that has permeated our society makes it difficult and terrifying to know when and how to draw and clearly articulate those personal boundaries.

The Important Emotional Labor of Librarians

There are certain entitlements that exist in our world. Men feel they are entitled to women’s minds and bodies in ways that they shouldn’t. Patrons feel that they are entitled to library staff in ways that they shouldn’t. Good customer service in public libraries shouldn’t and can’t involve asking staff engage in discussions about their personal lives or to accept inappropriate comments or conversations from the general public. But anyone who works in public libraries knows that this is tricky. Patrons have expectations in libraries that they don’t have in any other businesses. For example, patrons would never tell someone to call them at the bank, but they will tell someone to call them at the public library on the public library phone line. Because of the type of organization that a library is, it can be difficult for patrons to understand that there are still policies and procedures in place that everyone should be expected to follow. These policies and procedures should include protecting employees just as much as they care about protecting patrons.

Good patron service is not dependent on a patron knowing what staff members eat, about their health or medical decisions, about their family or family life. Good patron service is not dependent on accepting rude, belittling, or sexist comments from patrons. Good patron service is not dependent on library staff listening to patron stories about their sordid affairs, their deadbeat husbands who don’t pay child support, or about their neighbor’s nephew’s second cousin who just landed in jail – again – because of drugs.

Friendliness and approachability are not the same thing as we must be social workers and counselors and personal truth tellers. In truth, most staff members don’t have the training and knowledge they need to be those things and their attempts to do so can put the library itself in a capricious position. All it takes in one miss-step and the library can find itself in the midst of a very public PR nightmare. Respecting employees and developing and enforcing consistent policies, procedures, and expectations can, in fact, minimize patron dissatisfaction and complaints and help keep the library from those very PR nightmares we want to avoid.

Professional social pleasantries do not mean that a library employee has to discuss with patron what they did on their day off, their personal political opinions, or their thoughts on the state of the world. Sometimes, a polite no I’m sorry I don’t want to discuss that with you how can I help you IS in fact the right answer. Though we have all had patrons who have taken great offense at this. Sometimes the delivery doesn’t matter, there are many people who just don’t like to hear the word no.

But it’s a delicate balance trying to navigate these types of patron interactions, especially in smaller communities and library systems. The reality is, we are closer to some patrons than others. Employees and patrons are people with personalities and we click with some and not with others. And each employee has their own personal boundaries, which can be difficult for patrons who don’t understand why staff member A will discuss with them what they did over the weekend but staff member B just wants to have a polite, small chit chat conversation and help you find the book that you want. If you’re the staff member who doesn’t want to discuss their high risk pregnancy with a patron after another coworker just did, you are now the bitch who gets complained about. This is where it’s important for managers to do the work of standing up for employee rights and differences. Neither employee did anything wrong, the patron just didn’t like being denied the personal information that they sought and did not receive.

It’s also true that we don’t know what’s going on in a person’s personal life. I will reveal to you now that I am the person who had the pregnancy experience. Not all of the above experiences are about me, but that one is. I have been pregnant three times and have two living children. I was pregnant at the same time as some other co-workers. My last pregnancy was high risk, followed a loss, and was a nightmare for me. I did not talk about it, even to my family. So I certainly wasn’t comfortable talking about it with patrons. And when a patron asked me about my pregnancy and I refused to answer, they were angry and reported me. The complaint was simply that I was rude and thankfully, in that instance, I was able to fill in the details about what happened and what I had refused to discuss that had made that patron call me rude. I also happened to be on the Reference desk with another staff member who could corroborate my side of the situation, which is not always the case. Other library staff members may be perfectly willing to discuss their pregnancies with you, and that is certainly their right, but I couldn’t and I wouldn’t. I was just trying to make it through with my baby and I alive. It was one of the most difficult times of my life and it was not open to discussion with strangers or even regular patrons.

It’s true, we often to get to know our regular patrons in different ways. But just because a patron likes staff and likes being in the library, that doesn’t mean that they still don’t get to have personal boundaries about what they will and will not disclose, who they will disclose it to and when, and what type of abusive behavior they have to deal with.

Staff should never have to:

Deal with any type of sexist, racist, offensive or demeaning conversations

Discuss their personal health

Discuss their families

Discuss how they spend their time outside of work

Discuss how they think or vote

Discuss their personal spiritual choices

Be asked to accept violent or offensive comments and language

If a patron gets angry because a staff member refused to engage in these types of conversations, then the administration should back their staff members and remind patrons that staff are allowed to have personal boundaries.

So what does good customer service look like in a public library?

Staff should be friendly, polite and approachable.

Staff should answer any patron questions about successfully using the library and any of its resources or services to the best of their ability or refer them to someone else who can.

Staff should performs their duties as assigned to the best of their abilities with a positive attitude and take any concerns to the appropriate supervisor.

And what does library administration owe their employees?

Clear policies that outline their expectations and training on quality customer service.

A clear statement against patron harassment or abuse of any nature.

Their assurance that they understand, respect and value their employees rights to personal privacy.

An opportunity to discuss any patron complaints to make sure that a full investigation is done before any action steps are taken.

A formal process for and training on how to handle and report any patron incidents.

We’re having a lot of very public discussions these days about sexual harassment in the workplace, about racism and sexism in our culture, about human rights and more. I feel it’s important that we be having these conversations in public libraries as well. No two libraries are the same. Each community is different, the culture of the library is different, and the ways in which they train their staff to work with patrons is different. But one thing that should not be different is that we maintain and assert our employees rights to personal privacy, personal boundaries and personal safety in the workplace. The balance between good customer service and employee privacy and rights can be a difficult balance to maintain, which is why we should never stop having these conversations, never stop listening to staff, and never stop training.

So, You’ve Just Tweeted That Nobody Uses Public Libraries Anymore . . .

Hi There,

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So, you have just tweeted that nobody uses public libraries anymore and we don’t need to fund them, but I’m going to stop you right there.

First of all, I’m going to assume that what you really mean is that you don’t use your public library anymore so because you don’t, you assume that nobody else does. Either that, or you really look down on the type of people who do use public libraries, which is an issue in and of itself because there is not one just type of public library user. Both of us are doing a lot of assuming here, and you know what they say happens when you assume. But the facts are, people do in fact use their public libraries, so I’m not sure why you are stating it as a fact that they don’t. But because I’m a librarian and I believe in facts, not just broad generalized statements, let’s discuss this further.

To begin with, I want to acknowledge that not all public libraries are created equal and there is a chance that your local public library isn’t widely used. This could be for a lot of reasons. One, some smaller communities have underfunded, under developed and under staffed libraries. A small town rural library often doesn’t have the same type of resources as say a branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library and it does no one any favors to compare apples to oranges. So your experience with your public library is not a universal experience. No two libraries are the same and no two library users are the same.

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Second, if you’re argument is no one uses public libraries anymore because of technology, you are either speaking from a place of privilege or with a gross misunderstanding of what all is available via technology. In the first instance, it is important to note that not every person has the same access to technology, and a lot of this has to do with finances. Technology and the access to it requires money, and in a country where 1 in 5 children goes to bed hungry, it is important for us to acknowledge that the digital divide (or digital gap) is very real. So no, not everyone has equal access to technology.

10 Reasons Why the Internet Is No Substitute for a Library

Digital Divide | Pew Research Center

Digital Divide: The Technology Gap between the Rich and Poor

It’s also a mistake to believe that because of the Internet all information is available at our fingertips with just the click of a button. The truth is, something is only available online if it has been uploaded and made available on line. Historical data, for example, is not as readily available as current data. Not every book, resource, etc. is available with just the click of a button. A lot of the data is only available behind a paywall, which brings us once again to finances. So while there is a lot of information available to us via technology, it is important for us to recognize that the whole of human knowledge is not readily accessible via the Internet. It is a tool, an important and a good one, but it isn’t the only one and it’s important that we keep it in perspective.

No, Not Everything is on the Internet

Why Everything Isn’t Available Online and Free – Cornell University

I’m also going to assume that your lack of support for public libraries either means that you are not a big recreational reader or that you have the means to purchase whatever book you want, whenever you want. I realize that I am again making some huge assumptions, but hear me out. It is recommended that children read around 1,000 books before the begin Kindergarten in order to have the brain development and access to vocabulary that they need. These books will usually be picture books, which cost on average let’s say $15.00 a book to make the math easy. This means a family trying to reach this goal would need to spend $15,000 on picture books before their child started Kindergarten. It also means they would have access to a book store, transportation to get to a book store or the financial means and a credit card to buy the books online. Granted, most kids are going to read some of the same books over and over again, so let’s cut that number in half; that’s still $7,500 dollars in books in the first 5 years of your child’s life. Plus there is the nonfiction they will need to do school reports, the books they’ll need throughout 12 years of primary and secondary school, and then whatever they books they may need to successfully get a college degree. And this is just for kids, it doesn’t even cover adults trying to fix their cars, trying new recipes, trying to figure out how to garden, or just plain reading for pleasure. Most people don’t have the individual financial means it would take to create a personal library that matches that of a public library.

Public Libraries Help People Save Money

How Americans Value Public Libraries in Their Communities

How public libraries help build healthy communities

So to be clear, public libraries have great community value. They provide for the educational and recreational needs of a community. They uplift the intelligence of a community, they support democracy, and more. Plus, a good public library will provide a variety of programming that brings members of the community together in additional fun and educational ways. There are storytimes, after school programs, teen programs, music programs, lectures and more. These types of programs help keep our youth engaged and off the streets while providing adults with a chance to get together to learn from and support one another.

So public libraries have intrinsic community value, but does anyone still use their local public library? According to current research, the answer is an overwhelming yes. Most librarians could get on here and give you anecdotal data from their own libraries, including circulation statistics and yearly visitors numbers. I can tell you that just teen circulation at the library that I work in went up around 5% last year. We can give you data about how many people use our public computers, visit our storytimes, or walk into our makerspaces. For a broader picture, you can access a variety of readily available data sources:

Explore Public Libraries Survey (PLS) Data | Institute of Museum and Library Science

Public Library Use | Tools, Publications & Resources

The 2017 Public Library Data Service Report

Pew Report on Library Usage

It’s interesting to note that Millenials, accused of killing diamonds, chain restaurants, and whatever else, are actually among the highest public library users.

Public library use in U.S. highest among Millennials | Pew Research

Also, your state library will probably have state specific data available for you. For example, you can find the data for Ohio here:

Ohio Public Library Statistics – State Library of Ohio

However, even this data is suspect because if anything, public libraries tend to both under count data and use ineffective measuring tools. For example, one of our biggest means of evaluating use is through circulation statistics. This means we do an electronic count of items checked out of the library. These figures do not, however, count for all the items that people come in and look up the answer to a question in and then place back on the shelves. They don’t count the teens that come in and sit in the corner and read a pile of graphic novels and then stick them back on the shelf. They don’t count all the newspapers and magazines that get used in house. It is, as a measuring tool, a pretty fairly inaccurate one because there is a lot of material use that it doesn’t count.

We also try to count for the number of people who walk in our doors, but this number doesn’t tell us about things like, how many questions they asked, how long it took us to successfully answer those questions, and what level of service we provided for them. So again, it’s a data point but it doesn’t tell the entire story.

Many libraries will work on building more complex pictures of who is using their local public library and why, but this information is hard to collect and even harder to convey in a way that easily transmits to a society that wants quick facts and figures. It doesn’t tell you the story of the teens who come in after school and learn to use technology that they have no other way to learn about because they lack access to it. It doesn’t tell you about the woman who researched how to find out if her family survived hurricane Katrina.  It doesn’t tell you about the numerous men and women who were able to apply for and find employment when they were barely surviving and could not afford the technology to do it at home. It doesn’t tell you about the elderly couple who came to every single brown bag chat so that they could learn, grow, stay engaged and not sit at home alone. It doesn’t tell you about all those kids who were able to read 1,000 books before Kindergarten and got that head start on their education. Facts and figures don’t tell you anything about the impact that public libraries have on individuals and local communities.

You could also read the testimony of others who responded the last time someone said nobody uses libraries anymore:

People on Twitter drag reporter who claims nobody goes to libraries

Dispelling Some Myths about Public Libraries, One Tweet at a Time (TLT)

But what I highly recommend is that, before you make a universal declaration, you take some time to visit your local public library. Visit in on a variety of different days at a variety of different times. Really look around and see what all your library has to offer, how it helps the people in your community, and how they respond to it. And if you have concerns about your local public library, instead of simply declaring that no one uses libraries anymore, maybe take some time to express your concerns to the people who run your local public library. Maybe you can help them lobby for better funding, maybe you could donate your time and expertise for a program, or maybe you can help them spread the word because marketing is, in fact, a huge challenge for a lot of libraries.

Return on Investment for Public Libraries – Library Research Service

But even if you don’t use your public library because you personally don’t need to or don’t desire to, please know that many of the people in your community do and it helps make their lives and thus your community better overall, with a high return on a very small investment. Supporting public libraries is a win-win situation for everyone.

Sunday Reflections: Seven Words

Diversity

Entitlement

Vulnerable

Fetus

Transgender

Evidence-Based

Science-Based

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When The Teen was four years old, she became inexplicably sick. I will never forget when on the fifth or sixth day in a row we saw a new doctor and he said to my, “I think I know what she has. I need you to put her in the car and take her straight to Children’s hospital. Do not even stop to go home and get clothes. But first, we have to do a test on her heart to make sure she will be okay to transport.”

I sat there stunned and terrified.

Our child had Kawasaki Disease. We went immediately to Children’s Hospital where they hooked her up to a machine that spent the next 24 hours cleaning her blood. We spent the next year having periodic EKG’s to make sure the disease didn’t damage her heart.

Today she is a living and thriving 15-year-old thanks to evidence-based science. She is my love, my light, my joy, and I have science to thank for it.

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CDC gets list of forbidden words

According to recent reports, in the past few days the President of the United States of America told the CDC that they could not use any of the 7 words I mention at the beginning of this post. The words were banned by the executive branch of our government.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

The CDC is a scientific organization whose job it is to help keep the citizens of the United States healthy and thriving. They study diseases. They compile data. The use that information to help guide research, influence policy, and maintain the health and well being of the citizens of the United States of America. It is an organization that is steeped in the world of science, and the President of the United States has just banned them from using the terms evidence-based and science-based. HE WANTS TO PREVENT A SCIENCE-BASED PART OF OUR GOVERNMENT FROM USING THE TERM EVIDENCE-BASED AND SCIENCE-BASED.

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I know, love, value and care for no less than 5 people who are transgender. Some of these are the teens I serve in my library and some of them are beloved children of beloved friends who are regular and welcomed guests into my home. They live with the constant discussion of them as something less than human permeating our cultural conversations. They are growing up with the full knowledge that a large portion of the world sees them as less than human and wants to deny them basic human rights. They understand the threats that they face daily. This weekend their identity was banned from the United States government, their existence was erased and declared vulgar and offensive. The government is trying to erase their very existence. We’ve seen this before and we should not stand for it.

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A large portion of the community in which I serve is vulnerable. They live in extreme poverty. Their health care is being threatened. They live daily with food insecurity. They don’t have access to the technology and tools they need to support themselves and their families in the ways that many of us take for granted. They are, in every sense of the word, vulnerable. And they depend on so-called entitlements to try and exist. These entitlements are the only means many of them will have to raise themselves out of poverty, if they can manage to maintain a daily existence.

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In the novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, they burn books. The government burns books because they understand that knowledge is power. Those without knowledge have less power and are easier to control and manipulate. That is part of the reason that the ancient Catholic church wanted to keep the Bible in Latin only; they wanted power.

“We have everything we need to be happy but we aren’t happy. Something is missing…
It is not books you need, it’s some of the things that are in books. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”
Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

In the novel 1984 by George Orwell the government systematically tries to manipulate thought by controlling the access to information.

“Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.”
George Orwell, 1984

“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”
George Orwell, 1984

In the YA series The Blood of Eden by Julia Kagawa, it is vampires that rule the land, and they do so by outlawing reading and burning all the books.

“Words define us,’ Mom continued, as I struggled to make my clumsy marks look like her elegant script. ‘We must protect our knowledge and pass it on whenever we can. If we are ever to become a society again, we must teach others how to remain human.”
Julie Kagawa, The Immortal Rules

Every good novelist knows that one of the first steps to a authoritarian government is to control language, thought and knowledge. Knowledge is power. If you want power, you have to control the information. You have to shape it to your will. You have to control the narrative.

In 2017 America, no one would wake up one day and say we’re going to ban all the books. They would have to start slowly and systematically. They would start by constantly demeaning the free press and trying to instill a fear and lack of faith in the press. Then they would try and make protest and free speech illegal. Then they would ban words.

Not all the words, not at first.

But slowly, they would ban the words.

Then they’ll ban the books.

Our government is already trying to ban people.

Now, by all accounts, they are banning words.

As someone who believes in the power of words and recognizes the value of information and access to that information, this news terrifies me in a way I have never before been frightened in the United States. I do not recognize my government. I do not feel served and protected by it. I am afraid. And yes, I know it is a sign of my privilege that I was able to be unafraid in ways that many marginalized groups have never been.

I am no historian and am the first to admit that history has never been my favorite subject. I do not read tons of historical fiction (although I read tons of Dystopians, which is handy in this scenario). I can’t help but think some very dark days of history are starting to repeat themselves and I am afraid.

If you, like me, are afraid of the implications of this 7-word ban, I have some recommended reading lists to share with you. If you don’t understand why I’m afraid, you should definitely read these recommended books. But read them quickly, because time feels like it is running out.

The Steps of Authoritarianism

  • Systematic efforts to intimidate the media
  • Building a government media or network
  • Politicizing the civil service, military, National Guard, or the domestic security agencies
  • Using government surveillance against domestic political opponents
  • Using state power to reward corporate backers and punish opponents
  • Stacking the Supreme Court
  • Enforcing the law for only one side
  • Rigging the system
  • Fearmongering
  • Demonizing the opposition
    •  (source: http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/07/27/top-10-signs-of-creeping-authoritarianism-revisited/)

And if you are a public librarian, like me, now more than ever we must be passionate about our call to protect our patrons, to promote access to authoritative information, and to stand against censorship. The time has always been now, the time will always be now, but the time is most definitely now.

10 Books About Authoritarianism To Educate Yourself On The Political Ideology

Why Americans are reading dystopian classics to understand Trump’s presidency

Uneasy About the Future, Readers Turn to Dystopian Classics

Sunday Reflections: Why I Like Being a Cybils Judge and You Should Consider It

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Today a box of books has shown up at my doorstep and I have another group of books I have to read sometime before December 20th(ish). All in all, between the beginning of October and the end of December I will have read over 130 YA speculative fiction titles. This is Cybils time.

Cybils-Blog-Header-2017The Cybils are an online Children’s and Young Adult awards list put together by bloggers of all sorts; librarians, teachers and readers. To become a judge you submit an application after the call for judges goes out and you hope that you get selected. The judging process is divided into two parts. The first round is a group of panelists who read all of the nominated titles and make a shortlist. That shortlist is sent to another group of judges who then select the title that they feel best represents the best of the best of that category for the year. Titles are nominated during the early part of October by the public. Yes, that means you.

I have been honored for the past few years to participate as a first round judge, primarily in the YA speculative fiction category, though once also in the YA contemporary fiction category. It’s one of my most favorite times of the year. Here’s what I love about being involved in the Cybils.

1. It forces me into an intense period of reading

Granted, I’m a reader. I love to read. But there is something magical that happens when you take an intense deep dive into a particular category. And because I am on a deadline, I can’t let myself make excuses not to read. So it doesn’t matter how much I want to binge watch the new season of a show on Netflix or go shopping and spend money I don’t have, I have to stay focused and on deadline. I’m participating in an activity that I’ve made an important commitment to and honoring that commitment is paramount, so I better manage my time and my reading. Participating in the Cybils helps me develop some discipline and organization around my reading.

2. Finding Out About Books I’ve Never Heard Of

My job is very much about YA literature, both in my library and on this blog. I make lists and check them twice. I attend professional conferences to learn about upcoming titles. I read professional review journals, online blogs and more. But no matter how deep into the world of YA literature I go, and I feel like I go pretty deeply, titles are always nominated that I have never heard of. I am fascinated every year to look at the final list of nominated titles to see what’s nominated (and what’s not). I am always forced to read books that I may have missed (or skipped) and find treasures that were until that moment unknown to me. The joy of discovery is always found on the nominated titles list.

3. Behind the Scenes Book Discussions

As we read books, there are behind the scenes discussions that happen and I value. I think each group may handle their discussions differently, but the speculative fiction category has always used a tool called Basecamp (similar to Slack) that allows you to have threaded discussions. Especially towards the ends, these discussions can get very specific and passionate. And because the panel that is put together is diverse, I get insights into books quite different than my own. For example, one year there was a book that I was passionately defending to be on the shortlist until another participant raised some issues about problematic content. I hadn’t noticed the content and didn’t feel quite the same way about it, but with discussion came to understand another point of view and that was valuable to me. It changed how I read books from that moment on.

In these discussions you are also forced to be able to really defend the titles you are championing. We talk about things like world building, character development, stereotypes and tropes, etc. Because of these conversations, you learn to read more critically and to discuss titles with more complexity and awareness. My understanding of and ability to evaluate YA literature grows each year that I participate, and I’ve been a Teen Services Librarian for 24 years now.

4. I am Forced to Make a Shortlist

I have never been very good at “best ofs”. If you asked me to name a favorite book, movie or song, I will give you ten. I like a lot of things about a lot of things. But participating in the Cybils forces me to narrow down my reading and create a shortlist which is then discussed with others who have created their own shortlists. There is value in having to sit down and really examine a body of work and say, “this is what I think is the best of the best and here are the reasons why.” It’s an exercise in discipline, which has value.

5. I Grow as a Reader and a Teen Services Librarian Each Year I Participate

I want to be both the best person and the best teen services librarian I can be. I feel like that is an important personal goal, and participating in the Cybils helps me to achieve that goal. Reading helps me achieve it. The discipline required to participate as a Cybils judge helps me to achieve it. And the deep dive into YA literature helps me to achieve it. Being forced to discuss – and listen – to other points of view about the books I read also helps me to achieve it. There is, for me, no negative part of being involved in the Cybils. I mean, my kids sometimes want me to cook them dinner more during the month of December, but I hate to cook so that is also a win for me!

Here’s the dates you need to know:

  • August 21: Call for judges
  • Sept. 11: Deadline for judging application
  • Sept. 18: Judges announced.
  • Oct. 1: Nominations open
  • Oct. 15: Nominations close
  • October 16-25: Publisher submissions
  • Oct. 1-Dec. 29: Round 1 reading period
  • December 1: Round 1 review copy deadline
  • Dec. 29: Short lists due from judges
  • Jan. 1: Finalists announced
  • Jan. 2-Feb. 12: Round 2 reading period
  • Feb. 12: Winners list due from judges
  • Feb. 14: Winners announced

If you are not familiar with the Cybils, you can find out more here. Check out this year’s list of nominated titles and keep coming back to learn more about what the judges think. You WILL learn about titles you probably haven’t heard of yet, no matter how much you read.

While you’re waiting for the 2017 Cybils to be announced, check out School Library Journal’s Best of 2017 Lists here