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Things I Never Learned in Library School: Toxic Masculinity and Teaching Boys to Accept No for an Answer, Even in Our Libraries

The first time I ever learned what can happen when you tell a boy no and was afraid, I was a Sophomore in high school. A friend has asked me out and I told him no, I didn’t have those types of feelings for him. Later that night I did go out on a date, with someone else. I know he knew because he called me later to tell me in terrifying and no uncertain terms that he knew because he had sat at the end of my street. He could tell me when I left, who I was with, and when I returned home. He told me what he saw as he sat outside my house and I realized that this boy, whom I thought was my friend, was angry and that I was in danger.

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It happened again at the age of 17 when I got my first job at a movie theater. This time it was my boss, a man over the age of fifty.

It happened again in college.

We live in a world of toxic masculinity which tells boys that they are entitled to women and that women don’t get to say no. We live in a world where men get angry when women say no.

You can search the Internet and find story after story after story of how a woman came to harm because she told a man no.

A couple of years ago, two local boys took something from my then 7-year-old daughter and they held her down. She came home crying, full of fear, as she explained to me that they had asked to play with her toy, how she had told them no, and they had taken it any way. I went to the home of one of the boys and explained what had happened to one of the moms and she looked at me and said, “my boys would never do something like that.” I went home and told my husband that she was raising a rapist. And sure, it seems like an extreme reaction to what can be construed as a normal childhood interactions, but it’s also what happens when we raise boys to believe that they can take whatever they want and that there are no consequences for their actions.

It’s what happens when we try to wave away entitlement and bullying and abuse with a simple expression: boys will be boys.

There is a lot to dismantle in that phrase. In it is the idea that we think that boys have no self control. That rough and abusive behavior is just the way that boys are. That of course a boy should feel entitled, that’s just how boys are.

Part of it is patriarchy. I come from a deeply religious background. I have an undergraduate degree in youth ministry from a conservative Christian college. Many denominations actively teach both boys and girls that girls are less than boys and that the female must be subservient to the men. That they can’t say no.

In Utah, the recently held a school dance where the girls were told they can’t tell a boy no if they asked them to dance.

In a recent discussion on the Teen Services Underground, there was a discussion about a boy asking a girl out in the library and how she had said no and he retaliated. The story is complex, but in the comments one commentor even suggested that the girl should say no but soften the blow by saying something like, “I’m just not interested in dating right now.” The thing is, though I don’t advocate being outright rude, girls don’t have to justify their no. They don’t have to explain it away and make it better. No is a complete sentence. And honestly, sometimes trying to soften the blow does more damage than not because the messages can get mixed up.

We have to teach our boys to learn to accept no as an answer.

This is something the media is horrible about, even the YA books that we read. We romanticize the notion of pursuit, of wooing. If a girl says no, you pursue her until she says yes. We celebrate those stories.

When I was young and just started dating my husband, we used to argue about Romeo and Juliet. It’s so romantic I would say. But they both died he would say. But they died because they loved each other I would say. But they’re both dead he would say.

I understand more now what it was he was arguing for. What we are taught is romantic is often part of the problem. I internalized those messages for a really long time. But then the behavior of the men I said no to really started to terrify me. I realized it wasn’t romantic, it was scary and my well being was in jeopardy.

You become afraid to say no because sometimes what happens after the no is worse than what happens when you just give in and say yes; sometimes saying no is more dangerous than saying yes.

This is part of the nuanced conversations people are asking us to have about sexual harassment and sexual violence.

But at the foundation of all of this is toxic masculinity and how men internalize rejection.

For more on toxic masculinity, please check out Amanda MacGregor’s excellent post here.

This is one of the reasons as a teen/YA librarian I am an advocate for having policies and procedures in place and enforcing them. The policies and procedures should be reasonable and help everyone receive a maximum benefit from and safety in the library. But having rules and failing to enforce them, that can do more damage then having no rules at all. It’s a delicate balance enforcing rules and knowing when to let them slide and give grace, but letting them slide can be damaging. The thing is, we have to do the work of making sure we have the right rules, for the right reasons, and consistently enforce them.

Having and enforcing meaningful rules and boundaries helps our teens learn to accept a person’s no, even in libraries. Sometimes, our failures to have and consistently enforce meaningful boundaries for our patrons can contribute to our cultural problems. Sometimes telling a patron no and holding them accountable is the right answer. That’s not something we always like to talk about in libraries, but we should.

Sexual Harassment in KidLit

As a librarian, I don’t often feel genuinely a part of kid or yalit. I’m not an author. I’m not a publisher. I’m not an agent or an editor.

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But I am someone who regularly talks about books and puts them into the hands of kids and teens. So these last few days, I have really sat with and thought about what is happening with the MeToo movement in kidslit. And more importantly, what is my response as a human being and as a librarian.

If you need some background, Anne Ursu wrote a post on Medium sharing the results of a survey she did regarding sexual harassment in kidlit publishing. (Sexual Harassment in the Childrens Book Industry Anne Ursu)

In addition, School Library Journal, with whom this blog is networked, shared a piece about sexual harassment in kidlist as well. Then sometime yesterday the comments exploded and people began naming names of their harassers and there were a variety of discussions had regarding sexual harassment. (http://www.slj.com/2018/01/industry-news/childrens-publishing-reckons-sexual-harassment-ranks/#_)

We as a nation and, really, as a culture, are wrestling with sexual harassment. It’s a discussion we should have been having all along, and it’s an uncomfortable one. The most necessary and most difficult conversations often are. But just because it’s messy and uncomfortable doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be having it.

Previous Posts:

MeToo: Teens, Libraries and Sexual Harassment

Things They Don’t Teach You in Library School: Sexual Harassment in Libraries

As a general rule of thumb, this is where I stand on the issues.

1. Believe the victims

As a survivor myself, I can assure that there is nothing to be gained by coming out as a victim. Even in the midst of the MeToo movement, victims are still shamed, ridiculed, questioned and reviled.

2. Practice the fine art of listening

This past week I have spent a lot of time reading and listening. Yes, even as a survivor myself, it’s still important to listen. Not everyone reacts the same way, not everyone feels the same way, not everyone thinks the same way.

3. Keep in mind that anyone can be a harasser and anyone can be a victim

Although it is true that women are victims far more often then men, and men are abusers far more often than woman, it is also true that anyone can be a victim/survivor and anyone can be a perpetrator. Sexual harassment happens regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, and religion. It happens regardless of where a person is, what they are wearing, or how much they have had to drink.

4. The abuser is always responsible for their behavior

When talking about sexual harassment and violence, it’s important to remember that ultimately, the abuser is always responsible for their actions, their choices. At some point, the abuser must make the decision to engage in the behavior. They and they alone are responsible for their choices.

5. Survivors don’t owe you their stories

If, how and when people choose to share their stories of harassment and abuse are totally up to the victims/survivors. We do not get to demand of them their stories. They have already been violated once, we do not need to violate them again by denying their personal autonomy and demanding that they answer our questions, share the details, etc. Even if their abuser goes on to abuse 100s of other people, they don’t owe anyone their stories and they are not responsible for any subsequent abuse. They get to process their trauma on their own terms and in their own time.

I also have seen some discussion about what this means for us as librarians who work with kids. And I think that it is a good question, one with which we will wrestle with for quite some time. I know that what I may choose to do personally or as a blogger is different than what I will chose to do as a professional librarian. I purchase and put in my collection every day books that I don’t agree with by people I don’t like because I am a public employee and as such I am not building a personal library, but a community one. To hold the title of public librarian comes with a lot of responsibility to a community that is larger than just me. I am bound by community standards, board adopted collection development policies, and the teens in which I have chosen to serve. So while someone may be named as a serial predator and I will personally chose to believe the victims, I will probably not be able to stop buying their titles for my library. It also means that if I have reason to suspect that my teens will not be safe in the presence of said author, I will chose to invite someone else to an event as a speaker.

As a librarian and a reader, I believe in the power of words. I believe that what we say and what we do matters and helps shape the world that we live in. I believe that every person deserves to walk through this world with a reasonable expectation of respect and safety. I am keeping all of this in mind as I listen to the conversations we are having and trying to figure out when, what and how to say something.

I also want to remind us all that teens today have access to these conversations that we are having. They are connected in ways that previous generations never were. They are connected with authors, with the larger kid/yalit community, and with the news. They see and hear us talking about consent, sexual violence, and sexual harassment. They are listening. They are learning. Now, more than ever, what we say and how we say it matters. We are not just reckoning with our past, but we are helping to shape the future in terms of these issues. What is happening matters.

Everything I Thought I Knew About Furries is Wrong as I Learned from My Teens

I started to notice my teens’ interest in furries when one of my teens showed up to a downtown event wearing a panda suit she had bought online. She had scrimped and saved and was the very proud owner of this new suit that allowed her to walk around town looking like a panda character you might see at an amusement park.

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Then in October, right around Halloween, Wal-Mart and Target started selling full on furry heads.

And I noticed that my teens were talking a lot about the furry community.

I’m going to be honest here for a moment: Everything I thought I knew about furries I learned from an episode of CSI over ten years ago. The other day, I had a discussion with my teens about why this episode of television is so offensive. You see, in the episode, the furry community is shown as being all about sexual kink. The reality is, less than 20% of furries engage in sexual kink and there is, in fact, a large under the age of 18 furry community. The furry community is a safe haven for a lot of outsiders and does have a large population of LGBTQ youth, but it is also predominantly a creative community. In fact, part of the appeal is creating a character and telling their backstory. The identities that they create are called fursonas. As teens wrestle with their place in the world and try to figure out who they are, they find themselves drawn to this accepting community that is safe, welcoming, and creative.

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I have spent a lot of time recently asking my teens questions about what it means to be a furry and really trying to listen as they explained it to me. It’s very much about the magic of story and the ability to become someone else, in this case an anthropomorphic animal. Before you consider that weird, keep in mind that a lot of our favorite books, tv shows, cartoons and movies are all about anthropomorphic animals. Zooptopia, Mickey Mouse, Duck Tales . . . these are all stories where animals are given human characteristics and we have loved them for decades. One of my personal favorites is Winnie the Pooh. He’s a silly, willy nilly old bear that I love.

There are a couple of really popular furries on YouTube that all of my teens are watching, including Majira. There are furry conventions that have safe spaces and meet ups for teen furries. And there are online youth furry communities. Many of them make great attempts to keep their youth furries safe. In fact, that Austin teen furry page has a FAQ for parents.

Make no mistake, if you do research on furries you will also find a lot of anti-furry groups, particularly the parents of teens. And I think it’s important to read and do research on that point of view as well. I may be a teen services librarian, but I also work with parents and I have to be respectful of their points of view as well.

I have been doing a lot of reading and researching about the teen furry community and here are a couple of articles you may want to read:

What’s the Deal with “Furries?” | Psychology Today

How the Furry Community Became a Safe Space for Youth – VICE

If, like me, you are learning that your teens are into the furry community, I recommend doing a lot of research and really just sitting down and listening as they tell you who they are and why they like being a part of this community. It’s really just another type of fandom or con community. As someone who greets every stranger I see wearing a Tardis t-shirt with the you are my people exclamation, I can begin to understand what this draw to community means to my teens. And whatever your personal point of view may be, we still have to be respectful of the teens we serve. Also, let this be a reminder to us all, a television show is not a good source of information about any community.

Teen Politic: The True Politics of Being a Teen Services Librarian in Our Public Libraries

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolTeens, as a culture, are pretty maligned and misunderstood. They’re loud, they’re lazy, they’re disrespectful, they’re dangerous – pick your stereotype. They like to travel in rabid packs, that’s my favorite. I believe lots of adults sit around and visualize teens as actual packs of wolves in their minds.

Teens get a bad rap. In the media, in community planning, and yes – in our libraries. I am a teen services librarian. I have been for 24 years. And I love public libraries, hands down. But I’m not going to lie, there is a lot of politics in being a teen services librarian in part because we are always fighting against stereotypes and a general dislike of teenagers. Yes, even in our libraries.

A group of teens can come in after school talking, and it feeds into the rabid pack of roving disrespectful teens mythos. They can be standing right next to a group of mothers with loud toddlers who have just run into each other at the same entrance, one is leaving just as the other is walking out and they then proceed to have a loud “oh hey how are you” reunion right there in the doorway. But only one of them will be called out for it, because the actions are only reinforcing one type of stereotype. That’s part of the politics we have to deal with and navigate.

Kids throw themselves on the ground and have tantrums, adults fume and threaten and yell at the circulation desk over ten cent fines, but one rude teenager continues to reinforce the firmly held belief that all teenagers are rude. It’s that one rude teenager that staff will often fume about behind closed doors (and it must be behind closed doors, never in a public space). That’s part of the politics we have to deal with and navigate.

Being a teen services librarian is a constant struggle against harmful stereotypes, the personal prejudices of your coworkers, and a fight to get support and funding when, if we’re being honest, a lot of coworkers want you to fail because they don’t like having teenagers in the library. It breaks my heart, but it’s true. That’s part of the politics we have to deal with and navigate.

When we talk about advocating for teens, what we often mean is that we have to advocate for teens inside the very public institutions which are supposed to serve them. We have to continue to put teen behavior in perspective, to highlight the positive, to cheerlead, to pep talk, and to re-form those damaging stereotypes. That’s part of the politics we have to deal with and navigate.

It often feels like our successes have to be bigger, our numbers have to be higher, and our teens have to be angels in order to justify the existence of teen services. Teens and teen services often seems like it is viewed through some type of skewed lens, in part because I believe that it is. 24 years, 4 library systems and 2 states have taught me that the hurdles are higher, the support is harder to gain and retain, and often our biggest enemies are not politicians or parents, but our very own co-workers.

So, what do we do? As we do in all jobs, we play politics. But what, exactly, does that mean in the library world? We have to be advocates, not just for public libraries, but for teens and teen services within our public libraries. And here are some of my tips for doing that.

1. Keep good facts and figures. At all times.

Be prepared to answer questions at the drop of a hat. I like to do a yearly infographic to help create a visual of what we did the previous year in youth services. Even if no one asks you for this, do it anyway so you have the information and can make it appear when someone questions teen services or when asking for increased funding. I kept separate YA circulation statistics for years in one position even though the library system I worked for didn’t. This information really helped when we got a new library director who was not very teen services oriented and helped me to get the support I needed from a director who was not predisposed to giving that support.

I even like to do a TLT Infographic to help us know how we're doing

I even like to do a TLT Infographic to help us know how we’re doing

Some of the statistics I recommend are: YA book circulation figures, YA program attendance, YA visits (if you have a way to measure this, we measure teen visits to our Teen MakerSpace), total spent on YA services, money spent on YA services broken down by category, money spent on YA services averaged to a per capita amount (so even if it’s a high total number, saying you spent $1.22 per teen visit helps it seem less daunting), and percentages of overall totals (What percentage of overall circ is YA circulation? What percentage of the overall budget is spent on YA services?).

If you can, find comparable numbers of other departments and other libraries. Numbers in themselves can be easily judged, but comparing them to other departments or libraries can help put them in perspective. Network with other area teen services librarians and share data to help tell your story and put it into perspective.

2. Share success stories

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And here I’m not talking about those facts and figures, but the personal stories we all have in our pockets about that one teen who said we made a difference, the one teen who we helped raise, the one parent who came in and told us what a difference the library made in the lives of their teenager. Everyone loves a good success story, and we’re full of them. If you don’t have success stories to share, then you are doing something wrong and should re-evaluate the what, why and how of what you’re doing.

3. Know key facts about adolescent development

Serving Teens in Libraries Infographic

When a staff member claims about behavior, help them put it in perspective. The teen brain is literally different then an adult brain, know how and why and be able to talk about it. We can talk about toddlers throwing temper tantrums because they lack freedom and choice over their lives and the communication skills to express themselves fully, and we should be able to do the same for teens. Understanding the why of teen behavior can often help us accept and deal with it.

4. Speaking of perspective, help staff maintain a positive one

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If I have 24 teens that come into my Teen Makerspace on a Monday and 1 teen gives staff attitude, I remind them that 23 teens did not. It is human nature to hold on to and emphasize the negative, but we can help remold the way we view our patron experiences, even the teen ones. Be their cheerleader. If you can’t be their cheerleader, you’re in the wrong job.

5. Share what other libraries are doing

Again, this is about perspective. The truth is, people compare libraries and library services in the same way that we talk about Target vs. Wal-Mart or Amazon vs. Barnes and Noble. Help put your teen services in perspective for co-workers and admin by talking about surrounding and comparable libraries, the reactions to those services, and the positive impact on local communities. This is where networking and being up to date is really important. Don’t work in isolation, spend part of your time each week reading about other libraries. It will inspire you, and it will also help you help your admin and co-workers keep what you’re doing in perspective.

6. Be intentional in what you do as a teen services librarian and be able and willing to talk about it in professional terms

Tada: The Stupendously Amazing TEEN MAKERSPACE MANUAL

Tada: The Stupendously Amazing TEEN MAKERSPACE MANUAL

Have measurable goals and talk about the impact of your services and programs on teens, on the library, and on the local community. Don’t do a program just to do a program and check it off of your to do list, do a specific program and be able to talk about why you did THAT program. Be able to answer the questions why? how? how much? and what did you accomplish? Talk about impact.

7. Have a strategic plan and a budget

Again, this goes back to intentionality, but having a plan and being able to talk about your plan is vitally important. Be able to talk about what you’ve done, what you are doing, and what you are looking to do in the future. How, what, why, when and how much are great questions to keep in mind and be able to answer. If your admin don’t ask, tell them occasionally any way.

8. Be a team player, but thoughtfully

At the end of the day, we all work for the library and are working towards a lot of the same goals, so being a team player is important. Support your colleagues as you ask them to support you. However, I have been in situations where I kept getting pulled into other departments, in part because the work of teen services isn’t seen as valuable, and it can be hard to know when to draw the line. But sometimes you have to remind admin that if you keep getting pulled into other departments and projects, then knowing is doing the important work of teen services. Finding balance is hard, but stand up for your teens by insisting that they deserve qualified, dedicated services.

9. Don’t donate your time or money

I know this seems weird to say as someone who is saying we must advocate for teens, but donating your own time or money is harmful in the long term. Remember up above where we talked about having good facts and figures? Donating our time or money skews those facts and figures and harms teen services in the long run. Administrators making budgets and determining staffing levels need to know how much teen services actually requires to be successful, so don’t skew those numbers by donating your time or money. If you leave and a new person is hired, you are setting them up for failure because they will be expected to do the same with what you had not realizing that a lot of it came out of your own pocket and on your own time. Just don’t do it, be the opposite of Nike in this one instance.

10. Take pictures

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People respond to visual images, so make sure you have images to share. Do an annual report and include positive pictures of teens using the library, attending programs, making art and more. Do a highlights reel, share memos after big programs or dramatic changes, and yes, even take pictures of teens just reading that graphic novel quietly over in the corner. A picture really is worth a 1,000 words. The pictures don’t even have to be public or have names attached to them, sometimes you just need a visual to share with admin or the library board. Be sure to follow whatever your library’s policies are regarding pictures, but take and use them to help tell your story.

In truth, you’re not just doing this for your admin and you’re coworkers, you’re doing it for you. Sometimes the politics of being a teen librarian can be overwhelming and discouraging, so use this information to not just advocate but to motivate. Keep yourself fueled for the fight. You’re doing great, keep going.

What other tips do you have? Please share them with me in the comments. And keep advocating.

Things I Never Learned in Library School: Menstruation is a Biological Function and the De-stigmatizing of the Female Body

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolOn Monday night I sat at a table with other moms and one single dad while our 9 and 10 -year-old daughters attended a Girl Scout meeting in another room.

“When do you start telling your child about her period?”, one mother asked.

“25% of girls now start their period when they are nine,” I pointed out. “So now, now is when we start telling our daughters about their periods.”

This isn’t a problem in my house, because I am the mother to a teenage daughter and we are not squeamish about periods. Even her dad will talk about her period with her. Not in an I understand what you’re going through way, because he doesn’t, but in a this is a part of who you are and it doesn’t bother me at all way, because there is no reason for it to. She will lament when she is on her period. She will discuss her feelings about having a period. She will ask for love and support and, yes, ice cream and chocolate, when she is on her period. And her father has gotten up and gone to the store and gotten her chocolate or pads because he’s a good dad. He’s a weird dad, but he’s also a really good dad.

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The thing is, society is horrible about the way we talk about and deal with the female body. We can laugh and joke about male erections and wet dreams and take male masturbation as a basic fact of life, but girls are supposed to hide their period supplies in secret containers and walk with their head held down to the bathroom in the middle of the school day.

As the mothers all sat around and talked about their periods, the single father to a daughter squirmed like he was caught in some type of trap. I felt for his daughter because I had a dad like this. He couldn’t look me in the eye and ask me when he went to the grocery store if I was going to need any feminine hygiene products. I remember having to walk to the local corner store once after scrounging around in the couch cushions to find enough money for a small supply when my period came one day in the 8th grade and I had run out of product at home. My dad, a single dad, would always ask me if I needed any “stuff” in the most awkward way possible.

Once every few months someone will ask on Twitter why the girls in YA never have their periods, and this is a really good question. A couple of weeks ago when someone asked, I retweeted the question with a “yes, let’s talk about this more to de-stigmatize it” and was met with some push back. Periods, someone pointed out, are boring. So is driving a car, walking down the hallway, doing homework, eating dinner, and yet another a boy woke up with some morning wood scenes, but they all appear in YA literature. However, we can read entire books about girls and never once do they lament that it is their time of the month. Girls can be stranded in an arena (the Hunger Games), stranded in the past (Historical fiction), or even just spend day after day in high school, and never once do they mention their period or wonder how they are going to find the products they need.

There are exceptions, though. Thank goodness there are always exceptions. Though in the case of periods, they are few and far between.

Period Fantasy: On Mentions of Menstruation in YA – Book Riot

No Not the One in Sentences, Talking About a Different Kind of Period – TLT

7 Amazing YA Books About Periods That You Have To Read | Gurl.com

Once Upon a Bookcase: The Lack of Periods in Fantasy Novels

PERIODS in YA – Queen of Contemporary

Why Menstruation in Young Adult Texts Matters. | canyafiction

It’s That Time of the Month — @lizb A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Are you there, YA readers? It’s me, your period. – Stories are Good

Things Never Mentioned in YA Books – Book Bratz

One of the biggest examples, and most classic, is Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. This book was invaluable to me when I was in middle school. It talked to me about this thing when no one else would. I remember all of my friends reading it and being anxious about starting their periods.

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Of course the female body is about more then just periods and menstruation. Over at Book Riot, Elena K. Arnold shares the story of an encounter she had with an older male at a recent book event. In it, she reads a snippet about a pap smear and the man asks why he should read about that. The why is simple, the human body is not a shameful thing and things happen to it. Woman have pelvic exams and pap smears. It’s just a thing that happens. Men have prostate exams, I know because I have read about them in fiction and in papers and talked with the men I love about them. It has to go both ways, men should know about women, their lives and their bodies, in the same way that women are expected to know about men, their lives and their bodies.

This week our healthcare is once again under attack. I won’t get into the specifics or the politics of it except to say this: time and time again recent healthcare plans want to almost criminalize the female body. Women, legislators proclaim, can be charged higher healthcare costs because of pregnancy. Pregnancy can be considered a pre-existing condition. Maternity care and even new born care is being put out the curb with the rest of the trash, in part because we are taught and been taught for generations that there is something icky and gross and sexual and less than about the female body. And this is where that dangerous rhetoric has left us.

The other day a teenager was telling me about a gross discharge she was having. I asked her if it looked like cottage cheese and she said yes. Don’t worry, I said, you have a yeast infection. Go home and tell a parent and there are some really easy things you can do to take care of it. She had no idea that a yeast infection was possible. No one told her because we don’t talk about the female body. Well, we do, but only in really objectifying and sexual ways. We’ll rate them. We’ll catcall them. We’ll talk trash if they don’t meet our standards. But in the meantime, girls are suffering from yeast infections and shame because we can’t even be bothered to mention the basics of what it means to have a vagina in a book about people that have vaginas.

Maybe that should change.

Check out the hasthag #YAHonest on Twitter for recs of YA lit that deals honestly with menstruation

Things I Never Learned in Library School: That Time Someone Asked for Help Printing out Swastikas

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolThese are charged political times. A little over a week ago, a group of white supremacists walked down the streets of an American town carrying Nazi flags. As a counter-protestor, Heather Heyer was killed by a white supremacist who drove his car into the crowd. The events of Charlottesville are being discussed everywhere, as they should be. But I was in no way prepared for the text I got from my co-worker the other day: I just had to help an older gentleman print off a bunch of swastikas.

My knee jerk reaction was: Wait – do we have to do that? Followed by, I imagine it’s a 1st Amendment issue. It’s a question I haven’t really stopped thinking about in the current context. And make no mistake, context is everything.

So I went to my friends on Twitter to get a feel for the crowd and the responses ranged from everything to:

1. No, I would no do that.

2. Yes, I would do that because I am the only white person at work and I would not want to make a poc co-worker be put in that position.

3. Yes, I would do that because it’s a free speech issue.

4. No, I would not do that because hate speech is not protected speech.

5. Can you ask them why they need it? (The answer to this question is that no, we can not. We don’t ask patrons why the are requesting the information they are requesting. It crosses important ethical boundaries regarding the freedom to seek information without judgment.)

Let me be clear here, my co-worker did help this patron. And I think in the end, it was probably the right thing to do from a librarian standpoint. And it’s not the first or last time a librarian has had to step outside of their comfort zone to help a patron. For example, I have had to hand many a patron the book Baby Wise which advocates baby training in a way that has been linked to the possible death of some babies. I personally loathe and detest those books, but I still have to help patrons find them in the library.

As a private citizen, I am staunchly anti-Nazi and white supremacy. But what are the professional boundaries we must follow? I have a personal answer to this question, but I am not sure what my administration would say. It’s not a conversation we’ve ever had to have before in our library. And make no mistake, Nazi flags and symbols are hate speech. They are symbols used by people to denote the superiority of the white race. Nazis literally support at a minimum the violation of the civil rights of people of color, people of non-Christian faiths, women and people with disabilities. In the extreme, they are advocating for genocide. These symbols make many people in our community unsafe and legitimately terrified, especially when they are used for anything other than educational purposes such as a lecture on these are what Nazi symbols look like and mean.

But as I mentioned, we have no way of knowing what a patron’s intent is. And does intent matter?

In many other countries, Nazi symbols are explicitly outlawed. That is not the case here in the United States.

This is entirely new territory for me, and I have been a librarian for almost 25 years now. It’s a question I’m personally wrestling with. And I am going to my administration to ask for clarification on what any future actions moving forward should be. I think we should all be having these discussions as we move forward and get all staff on the same page.

Things I Never Learned in Library School: The Best Made Plans . . . Still Sometimes Fail

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschool

On paper, it’s the perfect program.

Con Con Flyer

An afternoon spent making as we help teens learn various tasks they may need to participate in cosplay? Sounds like a great idea. It was an idea sparked by a comment made by a presenter at ALA in 2016. And we ran with it because 1) we have an awesome Teen MakerSpace and 2) we have on staff a pretty spectacular cosplayer. We called in the Con Con, the convention to help teens learn about and get ready for conventions. Con Con wasn’t just a fun program idea, it’s fun to say.

So we started to plan. We experimented with ideas, spacing, layouts, staffing and budgets. The ideas were not a problem, but space, staffing and budgets really were. I developed a program planning worksheet to help us plan this program. A lot of time, thought and energy went in to investigating how we might be able to make our program idea a reality. As you can see, we even made flyers promoting our event, although they never were made public because we didn’t promote the event. We postponed it – not once, but twice. Then we cancelled it. Now we’re working on modifying it in ways that work realistically for our library.

Obstacle #1: Staffing

Our Teen MakerSpace is staffed by 2 part-time people, both of whom are both excellent with teens and enthusiastic about our cosplay con idea. But pulling them out of the Teen MakerSpace to do a program of this magnitude would leave the space unstaffed on another day and time, and this would be a problem for both our regular teen users and the circulation staff. The circulation staff is right across from our Teen MakerSpace and when the TMS is left unstaffed, which it sometimes is when an emergency or illness comes up, there is an increased burden on circulation staff who are left answering teen complaints about the TMS and dealing with the behavior issues of bored teens who came to the library to use the TMS only to find that it isn’t available on this day.

In addition, doing a program of this magnitude would require more than the 3 staff we have available to us. We were looking at sessions and stations and more. It’s a pretty big program idea to pull off with a small amount of staff.

Obstacle #2: Money

But staffing wasn’t our only issue, space and money were issues as well. Having a program of this magnitude would have ended up using a large portion of our yearly budget in one pop. This meant that we may have been forced to forgo important TMS supplies later in the year. And as I have mentioned before, our TMS is popular and well trafficked, I would hate to find ourselves without the supplies we needed later in the year because we spent all of our financial resources on one big program.

Obstacle #3: Space

And then there is the issue of space. If you have attended any conference or convention of any kind, you know that space is a huge issue. If we wanted to have multiple sessions for people to choose from, we needed multiple locations. We are a small library with one decent size meeting room. The demand for this space, both internally and from the public, is high, so finding a day and time that is available is already a challenge – that’s how we landed on a Sunday. We could have, in theory, also used our small genealogy room to host a class, but we know that we have many out of town visitors who come to use these resources, so if they happened to show up on that day then our plan would be a bust.

We discussed the pros and cons of having the program after hours vs. during normal operating hours so that we could have more space, but then we came back around to staffing. Each concern looped back into another concern. If we had the program after hours, we would need more additional staff but couldn’t afford to pull the additional staff off of the normal operating schedule.

The Value of Questions, Instinct and Experience

We postponed the program twice as we felt uneasy about some of the kinks we kept spotting in our plan. In the end, we decided that the negatives far outweighed the positives for our library at this time and we decided to scrap our plan for a large, one day con. Although it’s a great program, it’s not the right program for a library our size with a staff and budget our size at this time. I think all parts of that sentence are important – it wasn’t the right plan for OUR LIBRARY at THIS TIME.

Failure is Not Always Failure

But it’s not all a failure.

We are now working on adapting the sessions to fit into our TMS program model. You see, we rotate themes and ideas in our Teen MakerSpace. In April, for example, we will be celebrating National Poetry Month by hosting a variety of poetry related activities. We will be hosting Star Wars STEM activities the week of May the 4th. As part of our TSRC, we will be having Mod-A-Tee Mondays (I’ll be sharing more about that with you soon). This allows us to have drop-in programs that teens can come to at their convenience as opposed to ours and keeps our TMS new, fresh, and invigorating. So we’re breaking the Con Con sessions into modules for the month of October. October seems like a good time to learn some cosplay skills. This IS the right plan for OUR LIBRARY at THIS TIME.

We have a program model that is currently working well for us. It works for our library staffing, space, size and budgets. It’s working for our teens. It’s working for our community. It’s working for a small library with one public meeting/library program room with high demand. It just works, so instead of fighting against it we are embracing it. We took a step back, evaluated where we are at right now, and made what we feel is the best decision given all of the data we possess.

This is not the first time I have had a program idea fall through, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. But it is a reminder to myself that planning is essential, and that even the best made plans sometimes fall through. I’m glad we listened to our gut about our concerns and pulled the plug and re-evaluated before we had an epic public failure (though yes, I’ve had those as well). We planned and we couldn’t make our original plan work, but that’s okay because we’re working on making a plan that works better for us. That means we’re good at our jobs.

So You’re a Librarian (or Library), What Do You Do Now? Librarianing in the Time of Political Turmoil

Sometimes inspiration comes in the strangest moments. Yesterday on Twitter I was thinking about what it means to me now to be a librarian. So I started tweeting and ended up with a long string of tweets highlighting the things that I think we – and that we includes me – can do now in light of current events. These thoughts are inspired in part by my mentor who asked me the other day, “okay, so now what do we do?” This question was asked in part because, if we’re being honest, a lot of not normal things are happening at this moment and people are concerned about privacy, about civil liberties, about the quality of and access to information. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about that. So here are some of my thoughts. You probably has some great ones as well, so please add them in the comments.

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschool



  1. So my fellow librarians, here we are. What can we do:
    1) Print off or create an evaluating media sources page & put it everywhere


  2. 2) Buy diverse books. A lot of them. Put them everywhere. Flood your library with them.
    3) Host diverse or dystopian book discussion groups


  3. 4) Make a super easy bookmark for your local community. Put contact info for reps/senators on it. Websites. Understanding how govt works.


  4. @TLT16 4.) Use a canary for government requests about borrower records.
    5.) Delete all borrower records when the material is returned.


  5. 5) Go right now & make sure your collection is balanced left/right, progressive/conservative Christian, etc. Order accordingly asap.


  6. I mention #5 because as a progressive Christian I can almost guarantee you your collection skews overly conservative.


  7. 6) Don't pretend kids/teens don't know/care about what is happening. Put up a so you want to understand govt. page/display/booklist


  8. 7) Make sure all staff knows phone #/web addresses for things like ACLU, be ready to answer reference questions for help & referrals


  9. 8) Train staff ASAP - again - about freedom of information, censorship, collection development, patron privacy, what to do if records


  10. are requested or books are challenged.
    9) Don't keep patron records. It's a privacy issue.


  11. 10) Don't have a collection development policy or materials challenge policy? Get on that ASAP.


  12. @TLT16 6.) Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. Kids need to understand data collection and surveillance.


  13. 11) Remind staff AND public the value, duty and role of the public library. Stress Democracy, education, freedom of information.


  14. 12) Make sure staff knows who to refer public/media questions to, what they can/can not say. Write out a script. Bad info hard to retract.


  15. 13) Keep business cards of PR person and/or director well stocked at every public desk. Tell staff to refer all questions/concerns there.


  16. Our goals:
    Patron access to info
    Patron privacy
    Patron safety
    Library, patron, information advocacy




  17. Remember, education of local communities doesn't mean protecting people from info, it means providing it. How democracy thrives.


  18. @TLT16 Don't forget historical fiction!! We protest today because we know what happened when people didn't in the past.


  19. @TLT16 Community discussion focusing on historical works and why history and historical memory are important. Create oral history projects

 

Criticism, Boycotts, Free Speech and Censorship – Oh My

What do Abrams Books, Carve the Mark, The Continent, When We Was Fierce and more have in common? This year they were all challenged for having offensive and harmful representation of marginalized people. Things exploded this weekend for Abrams Books. It’s being discussed all over Twitter and in the news, so I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty details. What I want to do, however, is talk about the idea that any or all of these are acts of censorship.

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschool

First, let me just recap it real quickly for you. Earlier this year, Abrams Books published a “satirical” piece of literature called Bad Little Children’s Books. Kelly Jensen pointed out over at Book Riot that this wasn’t just bad satire, it was flat out racist. Many people read the article and asked, “Holy Crud, how did this even get published?” In particular, marginalized voices stated that not only was this book offensive, but that it was actively harmful to their well being and safety, particularly in the year 2016. They criticized Abrams Books. They stated they were going to boycott the book and the publishing house.

So what did Abrams books do? Well, first they doubled down and said we stand by this book and against censorship. Debbie Reese has a running commentary on this all here, including links to articles and Abrams Books various statements. It’s important to point out, censorship is not actually a part of this story. Then a couple of days later they released a new statement saying man they really hated censorship but were going to be censored so they were pulling the book. (Edited: They are not pulling the book, they are just not doing a second publication run according to Publisher’s Weekly.)

So let’s break this down.

bannedbooks

First of all, citizens and consumers have a right to criticize any art, product, action, etc. This includes calling a book racist and asking the publisher to consider the harm done with the book and yes, asking them to reconsider publishing it. They have the right to call for a boycott. This is how both free speech and the free market economy work. Abrams didn’t have to pull the book, but in the end they VOLUNTARILY chose to respond to those expressing complaint by opting to pull the book. This is not censorship.

In fact, this is no different then the Target corporation releasing a statement saying they support the GLBTQA+ community and Christians calling for a boycott against Target. Or Kellogg’s announcing that they will no longer advertise with Breitbart and the conservative party calling for a boycott of Kellogg’s. They are the exact same principles at work. Neither one of these are censorship. The same principle is at work if someone decides to drive 30 miles to the next town over to buy 8 boxes of Kellogg’s cereal at Target. Not that I know anyone who did that.

Censorship is when the GOVERNMENT tells someone that they can’t speak or publish a book. Or when the GOVERNMENT pulls them out of circulation and burns them. Or when the GOVERNMENT issues fines or imprisonment for saying a thing. See the difference there. Censorship is a very real threat, however. Censorship is when President-Election Trump says we should shut down part of the Internet or more closely control the press or when he – now an elected official – blocks the citizens he is supposed to serve on Twitter because they don’t agree with him. Well, blocking people on Twitter is probably not censorship, but it’s not a good move on the part of an elected official. How can he serve the people if he isn’t even open to hearing from them? That is not what Democracy looks like.

There are exceptions to free speech. Hate speech (Edit: hate crimes) is not a guaranteed right because it puts people in jeopardy and infringes on THEIR human rights. Likewise, calling fire in a theater or bomb in an airport, not covered because they can incite panic and harm.

Some hateful speech is unprotected if it crosses over into conduct — such as the use of a racial slur to threaten or intimidate someone. And hateful speech in the workplace can create a “hostile environment” that the courts have treated as a form of discrimination.- LA Times Opinion Piece on Hate Speech

Sorting out what freedom of speech is, and isn’t | First Amendment

Limits on Free Speech: United States Courts

Schenck v. United States: Defining the limits of free speech

Image at xkcd comics

One is censorship, but what we have seen time and time again this year regarding offensive books is not. It is, I believe, free speech and consumer activism. I’m not entirely sure I didn’t just make up the term consumer activism, but if it’s not a real term I claim copyright. (Edit: Heather Booth assures me consumer activism is a real thing. Darn.)

“One answer is that the First Amendment creates a marketplace of ideas in which everyone can participate. Everyone can try to sell his or her ideas to the marketplace and the buyers in the marketplace eventually decide which ideas have value and which do not, which ideas are truthful and which are not. We are all sellers and buyers in this marketplace.” – Know Your Constitution 5: Free Speech and Hate Speech

So let’s add parental rights into the mix, shall we.

In Illinois, a parent is asking for removal of a book for all kids because she objects to its sexual content. This is different. One, she is not imploring the content creator – the author or the publisher – to reconsider their actions or their book. She is asking an already published book by a third party content creator to be removed from access for all people because she objects to it. The problem here is that she is involving an innocent group of people that she has no right to influence or control – in this case other minors that are not her children – in her personal protest. She should direct her issues and concerns with the content creators and ask them to respond, or not, to her concerns. What she doesn’t have the right to do is make those types of decisions about access to available material for children who are not her own. I get to decide for my children, she gets to decide for hers. Though to be honest in reporting, in this case her “child” appears to be 18-years-old, a legal adult who can go see rated R movies and buy porn online.

It seems like splitting hairs, but it’s not. They really and truly are two distinctly different situations.

Book Censorship Toolkit – National Coalition Against Censorship

Abrams could have said nope, we’re going to publish the book any way. And then consumers would decide on an individual basis if they would support it by reading/purchasing it on their own. They, as the content creators, have the right to decide or not whether to respond to direct criticism of their work.

Criticism is not censorship. Boycotts are not censorship. Both are protected free speech. If you as a content creator or publisher voluntarily decide to pull a book because you are receiving intense criticism, that is not censorship, though it is commonly considered a good business practice.

The flip side to all of this is that of course words have meaning. If you are in the writing, publishing, teaching or librarian profession and you don’t believe this, then you are probably in the wrong business. We know from study after study after study that reading can increase intelligence, compassion and stronger world views. So of course representation matters. It matters if we continue to portray people of color as savages in tale after tale; of course that feeds into the cultural narrative that has people chanting build that wall and Muslims are terrorists (For more context, Justina Ireland discusses The Continent, Carve the Mark and the dark skinned savage trope here). We keep telling them this with our art. And that’s why marginalized groups keep speaking out and challenging the tropes and asking us to do better. Words matter.

I will fight with all that I have to stand up against censorship, especially when it comes to having books pulled out of libraries. I feel like that is a professional responsibility. But I also support the rights of individuals to criticize and boycott and call on content creators to write better books. I’m complex that way.

Finally, and perhaps most important, think about how the marketplace of ideas functions: even if hateful ideas are communicated, the theory (hope?) is that counter-speech will emerge to rebut it and to fight it. In other words, more speech rather than less is the remedy. – Know Your Constitution 5: Free Speech and Hate Speech

When readers speak out against what is published and challenge the publishers/creators to cease publication, that’s what they are doing – being the counter-speech trying to fight the hate speech.

Note: This post was edited to fix a couple of typos and to add a couple of clarifying points on 12/07/16, including the two quotes from Know Your Constitituion.

Things I Never Learned in Library School: On Being a Teen Librarian 2 Weeks After the Election of Donald Trump

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschool

I knew eventually something like this would happen, I just didn’t think it would be so soon. The call came on Friday. A co-worker, her nephew took his own life. He was both black and gay and he saw the writing on the wall and he was scared. He read the news, he heard the hate, and he saw no future for himself. Just days later Trump supporters were seen praising the election results while making a Heil Hitler salute. (See: At White Supremacist Meeting: Nazi Salutes, Heil Hitler Chants ; White Nationalists Quote Nazi Propaganda, Salute Donald Trump)

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Last night I went for a walk with The Teen. We walked long and far as she told me how sad she was about the racist things she was seeing and hearing in the middle school.

Why don’t you go back to where you came from? . . . .

I can’t wait until we build that wall . . . .

You are a terrorist . . .

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Another friend reported that last week there were 2 sexual incidences at work. In one, an employee asked maintenance to get them a garbage can and they replied, “No, I’d rather see your tits.” In another, someone said a sexually assaultive remark and replied, “That’s just how men talk.” (See: Trump’s ‘locker room talk’ ; Donald Trump, ‘Locker-Room Talk’ and Sexual Assault)

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In the meantime, Donal Trump has met with the press and is already attempting to attack Freedom of the Press. He has tweeted out about the New York Times 7 times, stating that they are “not nice.” He has tweeted about Hamilton the Musical. You know what he hasn’t tweeted about? He hasn’t tweeted about the rising incidence of hate crimes, many of which are being carried out in his name. This is Trump’s America now some say, as they taunt, harass, and intimidate others. (See: Donald Trump Personally Blasts the Press – The New Yorker ; Billionaires vs. the Press in the Era of Trump ; Trump Says Freedom of the Press Must Go Because He’s ‘Not Like Other People ; Donald Trump’s War on Press Freedom)

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I was a librarian on 9/11. It was a scary time. I was in the library, working, when the towers fell. I remember the fear of not knowing what comes next. But there were some things that brought me comfort. The press, for example, was not under assault and being intimidated by our elected leaders.

This feels like scary new territory.

Freedom of the press and speech, those were things a lot of us took for granted. That fight had already been fought and won, I thought. As a librarian, it was – to me – a given. Now suddenly it is something I have to keep reminding myself and others to be vigilant about.

gloryobrien

A. S. King is one of my favorite teen authors. She writes surreallism. In her novel, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, “from ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions–and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying: A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women’s rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she’ll do anything to make sure this one doesn’t come to pass.” The book was written in 2014, and here we are in 2016.

The Hunger Games was a warning my friends, not a guide book. Dystopian literature was not meant to be a sounding board for government leaders, but a warning call to world citizens.

And yet here we are, 2016. Freedom of the press is being assaulted in the nation that felt so strongly about it that they made it the first item in the Bill of Rights. The very Nazis we once applauded Indiana Jones for defeating our saluting our newly elected leader. Men are talking about sexual assault and proclaiming, “that’s just how men are.” And our children are lining up to call each other racial slurs.

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At a recent conversation over at School Library Journal, YA author Michael Grant suggested that now was not the time to worry about little things like representation in kidlit and cultural appropriation. But the truth is, maybe we are here because we didn’t worry about it sooner.

See also: Spending the Day After the 2016 Election with Teenagers