Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Self Directed Programming: Book Fight!

Self Directed (or Passive) programming can be anything you want it to be. They can be as intimate as filling up a jar full of Legos or Skittles and having patrons guess the number in the jar, or printing out a variety of cubee creatures and setting out tape and kid scissors for an hour, then counting how many are left at the end.

Or, you could create your first ever Book Fight/Battle/Challenge/Madness…..

Plenty of people have done this, but I’ve never attempted this at any of my libraries before. Part of it is due to the intimidation factor- you think, OMG, this is a HUGE undertaking, what if the books I pair are ridiculous, what if no one gets it, what if it fails??!?!?!?!?!?!?!

I have to remember that I actually have logic behind this.
First, I figure, worst comes to worse, I have a very interesting display for a month.  And these are all popular titles that have circulated well, and I paired them with similar interests in mind (at least in the first round, The Hunger Games is not going up against The Selection). I have prizes for the preliminary rounds (donated YA books that I’ve saved), and a planned grand prize (winner gets the winning book) so there’s stated rules for the contest.

And, my staff and I can sell it to the teens.

So here’s my pairings for the first round:
  • Vampire Academy Series vs House of Night series
  • Boy Nobody vs I Am Number 4
  • Matched Series vs The Selection Series
  • Iron Fey Series vs Wicked Lovely Series
  • Chronicles of Nick series vs Mortal Instruments series
  • Throne of Glass series vs Prophecy series
  • Hunger Games series vs Divergent series
  • Legend series vs Testing series
My teen wall display:
My brackets so teens can keep track:
And my flyer that is going everywhere around the library and the center:
Fingers crossed and we’ll see how it goes!

Dirty Little Library Secrets: We forgot to tell the staff not to ban the books

I never liked it when Technical Services called down to my office because it usually meant I had done something wrong: ordered a duplicate, maybe ordered book 2 when we didn’t have book 1, or a book came in covered in green astro turf (that really happened once).  But no, this time it was a staff member calling to tell me that she refused to put a graphic novel I had ordered into the collection because she thought it was inappropriate.  My jaw fell to the floor because, well, that’s not really how we do things.  I order things all the time that I would never personally want to read, because my job is to serve EVERYONE regardless of my own personal beliefs.  So, after picking my jaw up off of the floor, I informed said staff member that she would have to add the book to the collection and go through the formal book challenge procedure as outlined in our policy book and I hoped that would be the end of that.  She did of course go directly to the director, but he backed me up.  As far as I know that book is still in the collection to this day; although since it’s a graphic novel, it has probably fallen apart.  Today, TLT blogger Heather Booth tells her about an internal book challenge that happened to her.  And yes, there really are internal book challenges.
Most of us leave library school all het up about Intellectual freedom and determined that our role in the community is, in part, to save the world by providing free and open access to books of all types.  We learned that we’re the champions of Democracy – free access to information is the cornerstone of our society right?  And that applies to everything and we all agree about it, right?

 Actually, no.  Well, not exactly.

The interplay of nuanced of community expectations, individual perspectives, and institutional culture became clear to me when I dealt with my first book challenge, fresh out of library school.  I thought I knew what to do: have a formal complaint process in place, listen to the complainant, and work with your administration to move through and resolve the process.

But my challenge came from a coworker, escalated to a supervisor, and was largely resolved levels above me, behind closed doors, without going through traditional channels.  It was an extremely difficult situation that left me shaken and questioning many of my assumptions about my role in the community, in the library, and about our profession’s dirty little secrets.

Having encountered an internal challenge exactly once, I’m no expert on the topic, but if you find yourself in a similar situation, here are some things to do:


Report it

Whether an official complaint is filed or not, report the incident to ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom.  The OIF keeps a database of challenged material, with entries collected from newspaper articles and from individual reports.  Since an internal challenge will likely not make it to the papers in the same way a challenge initiated by a community member would, it is up to you to report it.

Ask for help

You can speak to the OIF for guidance, but aside from pointing out what I already knew to do and wishing me luck, which was helpful, doing this didn’t make me feel especially empowered.  What did was seeking out other libraries that have the material that is being challenged.  I had the immensely good fortune of finding a more experienced librarian who had the item in question and was able to talk to me about the book, the process, and helped me understand how different communities might meet needs in different ways.  She also helped me see that not all libraries respond in the same way to their librarians.  More on that later.

Collect your research

Just like you would for an external challenge, if you intend to defend your material, you need to collect every review, article, circulation statistic and testimonial that you can.  The difference is that you’ll likely be doing this on your own.

Make the big decision

In library school, I was taught, emphatically, that all challenges, all challenges, should go through formal channels: the request for reconsideration form, the meetings, the hearings, whatever path your institution has in place.  But as a new librarian just starting out, putting most of my paycheck into food, gas, and car repairs, I felt I had neither the institutional support nor the personal financial freedom to challenge my superiors in such a way.  When I brought up the issue of a formal complaint the first time, it was clear to me that it should probably also be the last time.  The stigma associated with going against the institutional flow is significant.  You’ll see I haven’t named the material or discussed the resolution here, many years later.  It’s not a very big profession, and we are loath to burn bridges.  I have much admiration for those librarians who do force the issue despite the perceived risks.

Take heart

No matter how the situation resolves, know that you are not alone.  In general, librarians like things to go smoothly.  We’d rather not deal with an awkward silence and simmering glares at staff luncheons.  So these things may not be issues that are shared between in-house mentors and up-and-coming librarians. 

But from my experience, I learned a lot, and I gained a lot.  I had my first communication directly with an author about her work, I got some lovely words of wisdom from a librarian across the country, whom I subsequently had the privilege of working with through my involvement with YALSA, and ultimately I made the decision that my interests and focus were better suited to a different organization, where I flourished and grew into my own as a librarian.

 The ideals we leave library school with are laudable.  But they are also ideals, not practicalities.  Sometimes, even when we do our best, things will go sideways.  Sometimes flexibility, diplomacy, and hard choices will need to carry you through. It’s no walk in the park, but it’s not the end of the world when you find material in your care challenged internally, and both your career and your material can survive.  Take solace in knowing that you’re fighting the good fight, and that your intention to serve your community can become even stronger after such an experience.
Train staff
It’s easy to think that everyone who works in a library clearly understands the role of the library, but that is clearly not the case.  Remember our circulation clerks, pages, etc. don’t go to the library schools that we go to and learn about the importance of – which is why staff training and communication are so very important.  We need to tell our co-workers, often, about the importance of libraries and intellectual freedom.  Don’t assume because you live and breath it that your co-workers do also; you do know what happens when you assume, right?  And this is a good time to remember how to make champions of co-workers and the “Be-Attitudes” of communicating with staff.
Have you ever had to deal with an internal challenge?  Tell us about it in the comments.