Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

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

makerspaceeditorial2

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

teenprogram

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.

areyoutheregod

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

Things I Never Learned in Library School: Dealing with Minors and Pornography

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolDoes your library have a plan for what to do in case a patron is caught viewing child pornography on your public computers? What about if you suspect that a child or teen in your library is being subjected to pornography, such as receiving nude pics?

In my library career, I have had a couple of extreme instances that I have had to deal with. In one, we caught a patron using our public computers to search for and view child pornography. In the other, we learned that an adult was sending inappropriate pictures to one of our teens. Here’s what I’ve learned from the police and legal counsel about dealing with these situations. Please note, this is not legal advice.

Both incidents occurred in different libraries and we were told both times that we were not only right to call and report the criminal activity, but that there would be severe consequences for us had we not (Duty to Report Suspected Child Abuse Under 42 U.S.C. § 13031). Those statements have always stayed with me. To be honest, I wasn’t clear what to do because I never imagined being in these type of situations. So I’m sharing with you what I have learned in order to help you better prepare. Although to be honest, I hope that you never have to face a situation like this if you already haven’t. If you have additional thoughts or experience, please share them in the comments. And again, let me stress, this is not legal advice, I’m just sharing with you what I was told and what I have learned.

1. You need to have a plan and train staff BEFORE something happens

Our staff made several missteps along the way because we didn’t know what we should do. Both times we went back and formulated policies and trained staff, but it would have been better for everyone involved if we had already done this. In order to create your policies and plans, consult with your local police and legal counsel. Know what your legal obligations are.

2. Know that pornography involving minors is a crime and you are legally obligated to report

This is not the same as being a mandated reporter. This is about being aware of criminal activity and failing to report. And since your library devices are used for the transaction of criminal activity, you can become complicit if you fail to report. Not only is pornography involving minors against the law, but it is my understanding that so is viewing pornography with minors or sending/receiving pornography to and from minors. But I can not stress it enough, talk to your local legal counsel to help staff better understand what is illegal activity and what to do about it.

Citizen’s Guide To U.S. Federal Law On Child Pornography

3. Preserve the evidence

It’s uncomfortable, but staff needs to preserve the evidence. This means taking screen caps, printing pictures, etc. If you can, unplug the device and remove it from the public so that the police can investigate it. Do not log out of any accounts if it can be avoided.

4. Have staff fill out a detailed incident report ASAP

The police will show up pretty promptly, but you’ll want to make sure that you have as much detail as you can to give to the police. You’ll have to make sure and understand your state’s privacy laws and incorporate that into your policy and staff training, but there are often exceptions in the laws regarding criminal activity.

Defining Child Pornography | Stop It Now

5. Take detailed notes during the process

Get the name of any reporting officers. Ask for case numbers. Keep in contact with your library’s legal counsel.

6. Advise staff on how to talk with the public/press

Should the information get out into the public, you’ll want to make sure and advise staff in how to handle the situation. Give staff a scripted response that basically says, “You’ll have to talk to our library director about this.” Let them know that they should avoid talking with other patrons or the press about the situation. Also, you’ll want to remind staff not to talk about the situation in a public space where patrons can overhear. Your goal here is to protect any victims, prevent misinformation from getting out, and to prevent staff from making any statements that can be misconstrued and garner negative PR for the library. And again, your goal is also to keep the library free from any legal issues.

Sexting & Child Pornography Laws in the United States

7. TRAIN YOUR STAFF

After you have written a comprehensive policy and procedure on what to do in the event of pornography involving children, train your staff on how to implement it. Have all staff and department meetings, especially for those departments that work directly with children on a regular basis. Make sure all staff understands what to do, who to contact, and when in the case of suspected pornography involving children. For example, do you want staff to contact their immediate supervisor or call the police themselves? That should be made clear. I think that in this type of scenario you always want to make sure the director is contacted ASAP, this should also be made clear.

8. Invite the police and your legal counsel to come train your staff

Get the people who deal with these situations on a more regular basis to come do the training and answer any questions. They best can explain the law and your library’s legal obligations. And I can’t say it enough, train your staff.

Guidelines and Considerations for Developing a Public Library Internet Policy | ALA

9. If you have an incident, do a postmortem

If you have an incident, meet with staff to make sure that all of the steps in your policy and procedures manual were followed. Also, use this as an opportunity to clarify any questions and refine your policies and procedures.

10. Know that you may never know what happens after the fact

In the case of the minor who had been sent pornographic images from an adult, there was not follow up with the library. We reported it to all the appropriate authorities and then we just had to trust that they were doing what needed to be done. Because of privacy issues, they don’t really come back to you and say x, y and z happened. In the case of the patron caught viewing child pornography, they had enough evidence that the library wasn’t really involved.

I will be honest, it is scary and stressful when this happens. And I definitely hope it never happens again. But having policies and procedures and a well trained staff in place can help staff should a situation occur. And although I’ve mentioned that this isn’t legal advice (seriously, I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice), I do want to give you this one piece of advice: don’t wait until it happens to figure out what you’re supposed to do.

Before You Ask “Where Are the Parents?”

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschool

Where are the parents?

  1. Before you start complaining, “where are the parents?”, I would like to remind you of a few things 1/?
  2. Some parents work swing or night shift. This requires that they sleep during the day. They have no choice. 2/?
  3. Some parents gets forced into mandatory overtime. They have no choice. 3/?
  4. Some parents are juggling 2, 3 or more part-time jobs to barely make ends meet. They have no choice. 4/?
  5. We have created a business friendly environment that offers low-wage, part-time, no benefit, family busing dynamic. 5/?
  6. So where are the parents? Well, they are often at work. Or trying to find work. Trying to survive. 6/?
  7. So before you start complaining about kids today or parents today, ask yourself, what are we doing as a culture to support families? 7/?
  8. We don’t have livable wages for a large portion of our workforce.
    We don’t have benefits 4 a large portion.
    We don’t have work/life balance
  9. And no, they can’t often just go and get a better job.
    And no, they can’t often just move and get a better job.
    There are no better jobs.
  10. Or there are no good support systems.
    Or there is no good childcare.
    Or there are no good school systems.
    So they struggle & make do.
  11. And you think it won’t effect you, but it does.
    It effects us all.
    Because when a part of the body is sick, the whole body is sick.
  12. They are bone weary tired and stressed out and even sometimes depressed and fighting anxiety. They feel shame, fear…  https://twitter.com/i/web/status/780840344648880128 …
  13. What are some things that public libraries can do to help families?
    Offer a variety of programs a variety of different days and times.
  14. If you only have Storytime on weekday mornings, that means a lot of the kids who need it most can’t come, their parents are working.
  15. Try setting up rotating activities in the open spaces of your library as drop in activities. Puzzles, hands on STEM, etc.
  16. If you can find the $ and space, set up a small Maker or Craft center. Anyone can come & do hands on when it works for them.
  17. Consider circulating maker kits & book bundles on specific themes. Again, allows people to engage and explore on their own time.
  18. Repeat programs. If someone can’t come the first time, then maybe they can catch it on another day or at a different time.
  19. Consider dropping fines for overdue materials. Many people don’t have reliable transportation. As long as you get the materials back, why?
  20. Let’s just all think before we judge parents & kids. There are a lot of forces working against them.

Saying goodbye to a successful program

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolLast month I hosted another Career Conversation event at my library. I really enjoy these evenings. I’ve learned interesting things at every single one of them, even when the jobs that the panelists hold are nothing like the kind of work that suits me. The same has seemed to be true of the teens who attended. Those who came to the events because the topic (Politics, Arts, Engineering, Education, Sports, Health Care) is something that they want to pursue got practical advice and information. Those who came because their friends were interested still learned and were entertained. There’s nothing quite like listening to people who are passionate about their work share their love and encouragement with teens.

So it is with mixed feelings that I decided that November’s panel on careers in the Sports world would be our last. The series ran for a full year, and there wasn’t a stinker in the bunch. So why would I pull the plug on a good thing? Several factors come into play. And while I’ll miss hearing about the varied life experiences our panelists offered and we haven’t covered all of the areas of work that our teens are interested in, I feel confident that this is the right choice. Why?

  • The planning and coordinating of the event had become unwieldy.

I ran this event every other month, which means that before one panel had happened, I was already contacting panelists to come to the next one. Schedule-wise, this was difficult and time consuming but not out of the ordinary for programs. What made the planning of this really stressful though, was that I’d begin seating the panel by contacting my top four or five hopefuls. And then I’d wait. And sometimes then I’d wait more. And more. And then I’d contact another few people. And wait. And wait. And by the time I was a week or two ahead of the event, I’d still sometimes be scrambling to find one last person, or replace someone who had an unexpected schedule conflict. Working with one presenter poses some difficulties. Working with unpaid presenters poses others. Working with four or five unpaid presenters? Well, you can imagine the stress involved. This is not to say that anyone I worked with was difficult! It was just the process and the worry and the unending schedule coordination that really started wearing on me.

  • I had limited support in recruiting attendees.

Sometimes, the panel had a clear audience with community and school partners who were happy to promote it. For example, when we hosted engineers, I contacted the high school’s GEMS club and the word spread like wildfire. For others, like our event focused on politics and political science, there wasn’t as clear a link between school organizations who would promote the event. And our education panel – which I thought would fill to capacity – had the lowest attendance of all. After the fact, several regulars commented that they “already know what teachers do all day*,” so they figured the panel wouldn’t be useful. I’m not averse to running programs for the same core group of teens–there are lots of benefits that aren’t just numbers based. But in this instance, given the amount of adult involvement and goodwill from community members I was dependent on, I felt it needed to pull a wider audience to continue.

  • There’s a better way to do it.

It occurred to me that part of the hurdle in getting teens to come to an event like this is the social nature of teen programs. Would the teen who wants to go into archeology come to an event on engineering just because her friend was? Maybe, but more likely than not, she’d find other ways to occupy her time. But what if this event got bigger so that it could encompass the future archeologist and her engineer-hopeful friend, and their buddy who has no idea what to do after high school? I’m hoping that after a bit of a hiatus, I’ll be able to bring Career Conversations back, more in the spirit of a job speed dating event. This would bring groups of teens together, and would allow for one (albeit large and probably unwieldy) planning season. It would also be less dependent on individual presenters as I’d hope to bring in a lot of different folks who love their work and want to share about it. It could also serve as a community bridge building event by inviting the local community college and trade schools to be present.

  • The teens who originated the series were ready for new challenges.

This was a teen-generated program idea. Last year’s Teen Board came up with the idea and the first few topics, and had been a help in recruiting participants. This year, several of our movers and shakers have graduated and the new group of teens is interested in other events and programs. And this is what it all boils down to: programming by teens is going to change as teens change, and we have to be open to that and willing to change course. Even when by outward appearances, it’s all going well.

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Brad Pitt laughing

Right?!