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Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

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

Sunday Reflections: The TLT Gift Giving Guide

tltbutton5This is the time of year when people start thinking about buying gifts. In particular, communities will do drives like Toys for Tots and Angel Trees to make sure that needy families in local communities have presents during this holiday season. So today I want to talk with you about donating gifts.

As we are a blog of librarians, you are probably expecting this to be a list of recommended books, but it is not. Make no mistake, I have a list of books that I recommend, we all do. I myself will be giving copies of The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas and Moxie by Jen Matthieu and Ghost by Jason Reynolds and more. But I don’t want to share with you a list of specific titles, instead I want to share with you a list of TYPES OF GIFTS I recommend for donating and sharing and why I recommend them.

1. Diverse Books

So not surprisingly, my list does begin with books. I am a librarian after all. And the gift of reading is a profoundly important one. Many kids don’t own their own books, and I can not stress enough how profound a gift a book can be. But not just any book, diverse books. Books written by and about people of color, people from marginalized religions, books that feature characters with a disability. Books are not just about education and vocabulary, but about develop complex worldviews and compassion, and we need diverse books on our shelves to do that.

Reading by phone flashlight in an empty apartment Christmas 2014. #Resourceful #DedicatedReader

Reading by phone flashlight in an empty apartment Christmas 2014. #Resourceful #DedicatedReader

And I want you to discard any notions of gender when it comes to books. There are no girl books or boy books. There are just books. In fact, buy the boys on your list a book featuring a female main character, let them know that girl’s stories have meaning by making sure the books on their shelves are diverse and non-gendered.

So yes, buy books. Diverse ones. There are lots of great lists out there to help get you started.

2. Dolls and Action Figures of Color

If you pull that family off of an Angel Tree or donate to a children’s home, you’re probably going to be buying dolls of some sort: baby dolls, Barbies, action figures. They are a popular holiday staple. But before you buy, make sure you aren’t just buying white dolls. It doesn’t matter who the doll is going to, buy dolls that have skin that isn’t white. And, buy dolls that have different body types (Barbie has a new line of dolls that help fill this bill). And maybe even buy dolls that don’t reinforce other conventional body standards. Say, instead of a doll with make-up and high heels, buy the dolls that are doctors or scientists. Instead of buying Captain America or Thor, buy the Falcon or Black Panther.

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I heard last year while listening to NPR that a majority of dolls donated to Toys for Tots are white, but not all of the kids receiving are white and they want to have dolls that look like them. And white children need dollars of color as well, to help broaden their world view. Diversity in all things is good. Diversity, inclusion, a realistic world representation – whatever you are buying, especially if you are a white person like me, make the choice to buy dolls and action figures that don’t look like you. The world is not white, it’s not even predominantly white, so it’s time that we start decentering the white normative.

3. Arts and Crafts Sets

When money is tight, arts and crafts can often be neglected. It is usually the first thing that administrators cut in financially strapped schools, and the same is true for our homes. A box of crayons can be purchased for under a dollar, but arts and crafts is about more than just coloring. Some art sets can be purchased for around $20.00 and include things like paints, small canvases, and a variety of different mediums. And specific craft sets can be purchased for $5.00 and up. These sets include things like bracelet making, jewelry making, painting bird houses and more. They help teach concepts like planning, problem solving, sequencing, elements of design, and more. They also give kids and teens and outlet for creative self expression.

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One of the best Christmas gifts I ever gave to my kids was an old train suitcase purchased at a thrift store and filled with a variety of craft supplies found on $1.00 shelves. I called it their Maker Kits. It came with no instructions and no examples, just a bunch of stuff and the freedom to create. Each of my kids still has their train case and when we get new stuff, they put it in there.

4. STEM Kits

STEM Kits are basically arts and crafts kits with a specific science focus.Like arts and crafts, science kits are often not found in the homes of families that are struggling financially. I’m not going to lie, these can be expensive, though they don’t have to be. Snapcircuits, for example, have quite a price range. Sphero now makes a mini-robot (though please note you need some type of device like a smart phone or tablet to make this work). But there are also things like make your own volcano kits, slime kits, and more, that fall into the less expensive range. They give kids and teens the opportunity to explore basic science concepts and develop an interest in science that many won’t have in their homes.

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As an added bonus, a cooking kit is a STEM kit (cooking is chemistry!) that produces food that a family in need can consume.

Like the maker kits I mentioned above, you can make your own STEM Kit. Take, for example, a slime kit. Just today Thing 2 received a Nickelodeon Slime Kit for her bday that I am pretty sure cost $30.00 (not from me I might add). As a librarian who does programming and runs a MakerSpace I knew immediately that I could buy a couple of tubes of glitter, a bottle of glue, contact solution, little containers, and Popsicle sticks for stirring and put together a cute and less expensive kit pretty quickly.

5. Movie Gift Cards

This past Friday I took my girls and The Bestie to see the movie Wonder. For the four of us and popcorn and a drink which we shared, it cost almost $50.00. A few years ago, when our money was much tighter, we almost never went to the movies. We still tend to go about 20 minutes away to the dollar movies, but on occasion we will treat ourselves. For a lot of families, a treat like this is not in the picture. If you can’t afford to put food on the table or gifts under the tree, the movies can be a real stretch. And in this day and age when we talk about making memories as opposed to buying more stuff, a trip to the movies can be the best memory we can give a family. Just make sure if you purchase a gift card to the theater in the community in which you are giving that you include enough money for snacks at the theater, it’s an indulgence that many have to skip and it can be the highlight.

While your giving gift cards, I also recommend gift cards to the local grocery store to help stock the shelves or to the local Target or store for those moments when you have to buy a kid new shoes and the money just isn’t in the bank. Unwrapping a big present can be glorious, but for a family in need an emergency gift card can mean a night of escape or food on the table.

Whatever you may or may not be celebrating this year, give when you can. Giving doesn’t have to be just this time of year. Give as often and as much as you can when you can, and know that we all have to ask for help sometimes. My family has had to ask for help in years past and I can’t promise that we won’t again in the future, so while I can, I give. And I’m trying to teach my kids to give as well. And make no mistake, they are very much aware of the times when we have had to ask for help, because I think one of the greatest gifts I can teach my kids is that we are all better when we work together to make the world a better place.

Sunday Reflections: Where Have All the Sunday Reflections Gone?

Every Sunday morning I wake up and think, what will I write about today? But for the last few weeks, I keep coming up blank.

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No, that’s not exactly right. I don’t keep coming up blank. I keep coming up with so many issues that we need, or that I want, to talk about that I feel overwhelmed. I can’t figure out how to pinpoint where to start, where to focus my energy.

Sexual assault, the assaults on women’s bodily autonomy and healthcare, a walking back of ADA protections, tax cuts, corruption, health care, education . . . to name just a few of the many issues that have been weighing heavily on my mind. I literally can’t figure out what – or how – to talk about these things. Which one is the most pressing? Well, they all are.

Politically, it feels like we are in chaos. A few corrupt and selfishly motivated individuals have taken hold of the reigns and they are leading us into a downward spiral that will have long term effects. I wake up every morning and look at my children and my heart beats faster: what kind of world are we creating for them? Spoiler alert: It’s not good and it won’t be for a really long time unless we start holding them accountable now.

Early this morning I woke up and saw a fun little game on Twitter: Now type “I died” and let your Predictive Keyboard write your epitaph, it said. So I did.

This is what came up:

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It seemed a little to on the nose, quite frankly.

So this is my shallow attempt at getting back into writing my Sunday Reflections. No promises, the world is really still very overwhelming.

Sunday Reflections: When You’re a Teen and a Friend Threatens Suicide

Trigger Warning: Suicide, Suicidal Ideation

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We spent all of 2016 talking about teens and mental health and it occurs to me, we never talked about what happens when you are a teenager and your friend threatens to commit suicide. This point became painfully clear to me this past Friday night when this very event happened to The Teen.

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The #MHYALit Discussion Hub – Mental Health in Young Adult Literature

At about 3 a.m. I received a text from The Teen – I’m in another state at the moment – where she said, “Mommy, I need you. I don’t know what to do.” A friend of her was texting her that they were going to commit suicide because the world would be better off without them. I jumped up immediately and called my daughter because I understood that this was an emergency, for both her and her friend. So I called and my daughter could barely talk through the crying. She really didn’t know much about this person except for their name and phone number, they just met this year at school and they are friends in the way that many teens are in 2017. They hang out at school and text, but they don’t they’ve never been to each other’s homes and they don’t really know much about each other.

So, not knowing how to get a hold of the parents, I did the only thing I could think to do and I called the local police and reported that a teenager was considering suicide and asked them to make sure this person was okay. This bit was tricky because we couldn’t answer any of their questions. A name and number is all we could provide.

I will be honest and tell you that I was motivated not only for concern for this teen and his well being, but for my own. I knew and understood that if we did nothing and it turned out that this teen did end up harmed in some way, my daughter would never be okay. I have mentioned here before that almost two years ago my high school best friend died by suicide and it will never not haunt me. Unlike my daughter I had no idea, but I still wrestle with guilt and wondering what signs I missed. I want more than anything to spare her this burden. So I did the only thing I could think to do.

My daughter has grown up in a home where we talk about mental health issues and she knows that they are real and serious, but not shameful. I myself struggle with depression and anxiety issues. I myself have had some periods of suicidal ideation. She is aware of all of this. So when this friend reached out to her, she understood what was happening, she just didn’t know what to do. And to be honest, I didn’t either. When I am in my darkest places, I tend to shut down and turn inward. But I recognized that this teen was issuing a cry for help, we just didn’t know how, exactly, to help them. And I reminded her again and again that she, a mere teenager herself, was not equipped to help him.

Afterwards, we talked a lot about what it means to be a friend to someone struggling with a mental health issues. We talked about responsibility and saving, and how in the end, we are not and can not be responsible for another person’s mental health and happiness. It’s a harsh truth that I have come to understand for myself, I and I alone am responsible for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t cherish the support of others (because I genuinely do) and that we shouldn’t give it to others when we can (because we can and should), but at the end of the day no one else can save or heal me. I needed her to understand that although she can and should be a good friend to this person, that if something ever does happen to them it is not her fault.

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So here’s the take away of what I told her and think we should tell all teens regarding a friend who expresses suicidal ideation. Please keep in mind, I am not a legal or medical professional and this is what I did and some research (links at the bottoms) indicate that I did a pretty decent job of handling the situation.

1. Tell an adult immediately. Even if you promised not to tell, tell someone.

2. Always, if it is an emergency, call 911 immediately. If you have reason to suspect someone has just done something that is life threatening, call 911.

3. The adult should contact the parent of the individual if they know how. Otherwise, they should contact the police in the area where the teen expressing suicidal ideation resides. Let them know that you have a child who has been in contact with someone who has expressed that they may commit suicide and ask that they do a safety check.

4. Have as much information as you know ready about the individual when you contact the police. Name, number, address, parents, etc.

5. Afterwards, remind the teen that telling an adult was the right thing to do. Help them understand that telling an adult was the right thing even if it has negative consequences (for example, their friend may get in trouble with their parents). It is possible that this person will be upset and angry, it may even end the friendship. Do not feel guilty. You are doing what you can to help someone who has just expressed that their life is in jeopardy, that is never wrong.

6. Let your teen know that if the friendship does continue moving forward, it’s okay to set boundaries for yourself. For example, while being an engaged and supportive friend is encouraged, they are not allowed to put you in this position again or use guilt against you. Being in a friendship with a person who struggles with depression and anxiety is hard, and I can look at a lot of my past relationships and see ways in which I have harmed my past friends – it’s part of the illness that can take a while to figure out and learn to better navigate – but the person on the other side of the friendship 100% gets to have their own personal boundaries to maintain their own emotional health and well being. Always, always talk with teens about healthy relationships and personal boundaries.

More Resources:

Suicide Prevention: How to Help Someone who is Suicidal

My Friend Is Talking About Suicide. What Should I Do? – KidsHealth

Helping a Friend Who is Talking About Suicide | Psychology Today

Sunday Reflections: Reconnecting with My Teens as Adults to Help Houston

Last week I had the honor and the privilege of reconnecting with some teens that I used to teach and I have never been so proud.

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I’ve talked before about Mark Morrison, who helped organize a group called Little Lobbyists to help children with complex medical needs. This past week Little Lobbyists teamed up with The Parker Lee Project to help get truckloads of supplies to medically complex kids in the Houston area affected by Hurricane Harvey. So I spent some days last week receiving and sorting and packing medical supplies with another former teen who is now going to graduate school in the DFW area. It was amazing to reconnect with her, and while doing such important work.

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The Parker Lee Project was started by a woman who lost her child with complex medical needs, Parker Lee. She is working to help make sure that kids get the supplies that they need. They take donations of both medical supplies, which are sent out to families in need, and money, which helps pay for the shipping costs. Everyone who comes to the warehouse to help with the supplies is a volunteer. Most of them have children with complex medical needs themselves so they are all too familiar with the challenges of what it is like to care for a child that needs feeding tubes, trachs, breathing equipment and more.

In fact, these parents really helped me better understand what it would be like to have to escape a critical situation, such as Hurricane Harvey, while caring for a child with complex medical needs. When my home flooded and I had to get my children to safety, all I had to worry about was my children. These families rely on a host of medical equipment to keep their children alive and safe, which would further complicate the rescue efforts.

As I mentioned, three of my former teens are now involved with both Little Lobbyists and The Parker Lee Project, and I am so proud. I am proud of the adults they have become and I would like to think that maybe, just maybe, I played a small part in helping them become the awesome, compassionate and thriving adults that they are.

Little Lobbyists: About Us

The Parker Lee Project

Sunday Reflections: Boyfriends, Breakups and Blocking – Oh My! Talking with teens about a different type of access

tltbutton5As a librarian, I spend a lot of time talking about teens and access. Access to books. Access to information. I’m all about access. And then a new discussion of access came up and I had a decidedly different message for my teens.

The Scene:

Three of my teens are sitting in the Teen MakerSpace and each one of them have recently been broken up with. One of them felt sudden and without explanation to the heartbroken teen. Not only was said teen “dumped”, but the boy blocked them on all social media and asked them not to talk to them at all.

The Conversation:

So here sat these teens, discussing how unfair that was and what the rules to blocking someone on social media were. Their argument was that there had to be some reason, some explanation, and some type of real violation.

It was here that I interjected as someone that they were talking with that just because you want access to a person, their time, their social media, did not mean that they owed it to you. People can block people or decline social media requests for whatever reason they wish and, though it may be difficult to deal with, they don’t owe us an explanation. We are not automatically granted access to other people’s time, space, thoughts, or attention. No matter how much we may want it.

And no matter how much it may help us deal with the loss and heartbreak, we aren’t even owed a reason for why someone is breaking up with us. They just get to opt out because that’s what they want to do. And yes, it hurts and it’s hard, but it’s the truth. In the end, I hope everyone breaks up with kindness and preferably in person, but we can’t control the actions of others. And we’re left to deal with our pain on our own.

The summer after I graduated high school my long term boyfriend broke up with me and the reason was simple, I just wasn’t “fun anymore.” Dagger to the heart. It burned, it truly did. I did not cope well with this loss. But the young man who broke up with me owed me nothing. He was kind enough to answer a few calls from me, and I’m not sure if that made things better or worse, but it was a kindness he did not owe me.

This idea, however, that there are rules about who gets to block whom were interesting to me. But at the end of the day, I don’t think you automatically get access to someone, and I bet there are a lot of teens (and adults!) who need to be having these discussions in this era of social media.

So for possibly the first time in my life as a librarian, I found myself arguing in favor of the right to deny someone access. Welcome to 2017.