Monday, September 19, 2022

Banned Books Week - The New American Censors

The American Library Association recognizes Banned Books Week each September to celebrate our freedom to read. This year, however, the “celebration” is more strained than usual, as teachers and librarians across the United States are facing unprecedented attacks and threats for selecting books that represent the diverse experiences of the communities they serve. Our First Amendment rights are under attack as never before by censors and politicians who wish to limit our ability to choose reading material for ourselves.

In the decades since the American Library Association has been keeping track of book challenges there were typically several hundred reports. 2021 there were over 1500 book challenges in the United States. And challenges in 2022 may well outpace those of 2021.

Although a minority of the population, these new censors are well organized and have shown up at school and library board meetings not only demanding that books be removed, but also starting recall campaigns against board members. Rather than challenging individual titles, censors are requesting the removal of categories of books. Lists of “offensive” books are shared among the censors so that often the complainants have never read, or even heard of the books prior to filing the challenge. Librarians and teachers have been targeted on social media with misinformation campaigns that have falsely called them pedophiles, and “groomers” for keeping books on sex education, and those with LGBTQ themes on the shelves. Tactics involving reading out-of-context passages aloud at board meetings, insisting that the books are obscene or pornographic have become commonplace. As well,  some citizens have filed police reports against librarians,  calling for their arrest. Books by and about people of color are also being targeted as “woke” and “divisive”.

More information about books that have been targeted, organizations that are fighting for your right to read, and how you can help can be found on my Banned Books Week guide

Friday, September 2, 2022

Amelia Bedelia's First Library Card - by Herman Parish


September is Library Card Sign Up Month!

Something that will make me (and my library colleagues) cringe is hearing patrons say they want to "rent out" a book. We do understand that they want to borrow the book, or check it out, nevertheless we correct them. This isn't because we want to embarrass them, it is because we want to ensure that there are in fact no misunderstandings, since so many people also confuse the campus library with the campus bookstore (which does "rent out" books). And because some people actually do not understand that they can borrow the books for free from the library.

In this story Amelia Bedelia joins her class in a trip to the town library in order to get a library card and check out her first library book. And even though she uses the phrase "checking out" when referring to the book in her hand she discovers that in a library that means she wants to borrow the book to take home, not that she is simply looking at the book. The misunderstanding means she goes home with the wrong book. One misunderstanding leads to another, but in the end lovable Amelia Bedelia makes a friend in the librarian.

Monday, August 8, 2022

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid - by Bill Bryson


While on a short vacation in Niantic, Connecticut friends introduced us to The Book Barn  - a delightful (and huge) used bookstore with books for every interest. I walked out with six books, and my husband left with five, all for about $50!

Bryson's memoir about growing up in the 1950s was the perfect beach vacation read. Light and funny it also mentions libraries about half a dozen times. 

When he failed to produce a signed permission slip in order to go on a school field trip he spent the day in the the school library which he 

actually didn't mind at all. It's not as if I were missing a trip to the Grand Canyon or Cape Canaveral. This was Des Moines. There were only two places schools went on trips in Des Moines-to the Wonder Bread Factory...and the museum of the Iowa State Historical Society, the world's quietest and and most uneventful building...

We can deduce from this that the library was not a quiet and uneventful place. Apparently young Bill Bryson understood that the library was full of adventure! 

His parents, who were " a slightly vague and distracted way" sometimes went to the movies together, or to the library. I have always held that libraries are good places for dates. There are often programs, lectures, or book discussions to attend together. Or a couple could simply go and pick out a book to read together.

Bryson spent much of his childhood obsessing on how and where he could see naked women. One place was his

father's small private library of girlie magazines in a secret place known only to him, me, and 111 of my closest friends.
However, for a real live experience he set his sights on the strippers' tent at the Iowa State Fair where the twelve year old was denied entry because one needed to be thirteen to enter. So the following year he
assembled every piece of ID I could find-school reports, birth certificate, library card, faded membership card from the Sky King Fan club...

only to be thwarted once again when the minimum age for entry was changed to fourteen.

He laments that his old elementary school "lost its wonderful gym and make way for a library and art room...". Myself, I'd much rather be in a library (or an art room for that matter) than a gym. 

On the very next page of the book he laments the loss of the "enormous photo library" housed at the Des Moines Register and Tribune newspapers. He is (rightly) surprised and disappointed to discover that they were all destroyed and "recycled for the silver in the paper".

Bryson writes of one bit of urban lore that he, like most people, have no reason not to believe, although it is utterly false. As an information literacy specialist I feel I must set the record straight on the subliminal advertising study in Ft. Lee, New Jersey in which

patrons were shown a film in which two clipped phrases -"Drink Coca-Cola" and "Hungry? Eat Popcorn" - were flashed on the screen for 1/3000 of a second every five seconds, much too fast to be consciously noted, buy subsconsciously influential, or so it seemed, for sales of Coke went up 57.7 percent and popcorn by nearly 20 percent during the period.

Life magazine is cited as the source of this information (although a full citation with volume, issue, date, etc. is not provided). In fact, it turns out the data from the experiment was never able to be repeated, and some question whether the experiment even ever took place at all. Nevertheless the legend will not die. More information about the Subliminal Advertising study can be found on

I did find the rather elusive Life magazine article. Those who want to look it up will find it in the March 31, 1958 issue (v. 44 no. 13) pp. 102-114. It's called "'Hidden Sell' Technique is almost Here".

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Deceived by the Gargoyles - by Lillian Lark


August is Read-a-Romance month. As a genre, I rarely read romances, but when I do they feature a librarian. Lucky for me this list of 10 Romances about Magical Librarian Love from Book Riot appeared on my Facebook feed in late June. I selected Deceived by the Gargoyles because the description indicated it was a polyamory romance, and not having read any such before, I was intrigued.

Grace is a witch who works in a library archive for both magical and non-magical artifacts. Grace's special magic allows her to "read" feelings and emotions via paper (especially books). She is also looking for love.

After some unsatisfactory dates she heads to a matchmaker (Rose) who suggests that Grace consider dating a "non-witch". Grace is open to this and answers that "the type of paranormal shouldn't matter." She is sent on a date to meet Elliott, who appears human (wearing a "glamour") when they meet, but who is actually a gargoyle. Elliott, is gracious and offers to get his car so Grace doesn't have to walk to the nearby restaurant in her "sexy" high-heeled shoes. As sensible-shoe-wearer myself I immediately questioned Grace's choice of footwear. What kind of librarian is she, anyway? In any case, however gracious, Elliott hadn't been completely honest with Rose when asking for a match. While Grace was expecting to be matched with someone single, Elliott, in fact, already had two (2!) other mates (Broderick and Alasdair), both male, and both gargoyles. They all lived together with the rest of their clan in Bramblewick Manor.

After a bit of getting to know each other, some confessions, a lot of sex, and a lot more sex, and the gifting of an entire library in their home to Grace - a la Beauty and the Beast(s) - they all fall in love and live happily ever after.

Broderick appeals to Grace's intellectual curiosity in order to entice her to try some new things with him
You're a librarian who has knowledge sitting before you. I'd think you'd...jump on the opportunity to explore.
Among the gargoyles Grace has the hardest time connecting with Alasdair, who had never been with a woman before. They initially find kinship through reading together. Alasdair suggests that Grace select a book that she would like for him to read to her on her Kindle. Together they discover a special intimacy through this otherwise chaste act. 

Reading together is one of the things that my husband and I have been doing consistently since we started dating 37 years ago. Sometimes we read books, other times magazine or newspaper articles (or Dear Abby). Deliberately making and spending this time together gives us a chance to slow down, and take a break from whatever else is happening. We often laugh together, or chance upon a new topic of conversation.

The crazy four-way sex in this work was more than I'd expected, even knowing that it was a polyamorous romance. Much as I'm all for life-long learning, I won't be reading the rest of the series.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Kim Jiyoung: Born 1982 - by Cho Nam-Joo

This short novel explores the universal expectation that women sidestep their own desires in favor of men's wishes. Girls may be denied educational opportunities in favor of their brothers getting better opportunities. Men are praised for the work women do (both at home and in the office). Women are expected to do errands at their workplace that men are not asked to do.  Husbands continue with careers while wives quit or go to part-time work when children arrive. Sexual harassment is also a theme of this work.

Libraries get two nods in this book. Jiyoung studies with her boyfriend at the university library, and at a client dinner for Jiyoung's division (where she was plied with beer) her division head, after drunkenly making inappropriate comments to her 
hired himself a chauffer over the phone..."My daughter attends university right here. She was studying late at the library and wants me to come pick her up because she's scared to go home by herself".
A worthwhile read for Women in Translation Month, or any month.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Anything's Possible (the movie)

Kelsa (Eva Reign) likes animals and flowers. She is smart and pretty and loves her friends. She is also trans. Khal (Abubakr Ali) is smitten with Kelsa who is in his art class. He is not sure how his family would take it if he dated a trans girl, and he is sure he would lose his best friend Otis (Grant Reynolds). 

Ultimately, this is simply a sweet teenage romance with a standard boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back arc. The boy-loses-girl piece takes place in the school library, where Kelsa and Khal's loud argument earns them a severe "shushing". 

Khal also has some old card catalog drawers in his bedroom. It is not clear what he uses them for, but they do look cool.

Director Billy Porter's heart shines bright in this one.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Stranger Things 4, Episode 3 "The Monster and the Superhero"

In a library research scene reminiscent of Margot Kidder's in The Amityville Horror our heroines Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) and Robin (Maya Hawke) review some old tabloid newspapers on microfilm surrounding the Creel murders. The possibility of a house possessed by demons further analogizes the classic horror film. See also Stranger Things 2 Episode 3 "The Pollywog".