Wednesday, March 28, 2012

GLBT Websites Unfiltered in Missouri

Until recently, students in Camdenton, Missouri schools who were looking for information on the internet that was affirming to GLBT individuals found those websites blocked, even though the filtering software allowed sites that promoted "reparative therapies" or otherwise had an anti-gay agenda. The district has agreed to purchase new software following a lawsuit brought by American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). More information from this article in The New York Times.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Library Diaries - by Ann Miketa

This book has received a lot of buzz in Libraryland. Author Miketa (aka Sally Stern) lost her job as a library assistant at the Mason County District Library following its publication. The "tell all" book about the residents of Ludington, Michigan, does paint a rather nasty picture of the town and its residents. According to this article from the Detroit News, the book humiliated the town, and put the library "in the awkward sport of explaining why it fired someone for writing a book." The author published it as fiction, but residents of the town say otherwise. The book has no storyline or plot, rather it is a series of essays, each one disparaging a different person or family. I have to say I agree with the Amazon reviewer who said of the book:
Excruciatingly badly written prose plus very mean-spirited accounts of patrons and ultimately bad taste all around. This book is a blight on the profession (library science). I liked the cover.
Miketa disrespects the mentally ill, anyone with a religious viewpoint, those who cannot afford to eat or live as well as she can, as well as just about everyone else she can think of. If I were to write a description of Miketa using her own stlye it might look something like this:

Dear readers, Miketa thinks she can write, you know the type, a holier-than-thou, psuedo intellectual, who actually can't come up with enough metaphors to fill her short 142-page book. She writes 'their combined IQ might be 100' to describe at least three (possibly four) families who don't meet her intellectual expectations, and "a frog peering through ice" on two occasions to describe men who use glasses. Miketa also claims to be able to predict the future, and apparently, can tell just by looking at a child whether he or she will grow up to be a criminal. Additionally, she can tell within 10 minutes of looking at a group of people which ones are perverts. Well, librarians are said to have super powers, after all.

The book is poorly edited, and contains grammatical errors as well.

I have been blogging about books for about 3 years, and it is very rare that I will come out and say I didn't like one. This is one of those rare exceptions. I think it may be my least favorite book of all time.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rebecca Nurse: Saint but Witch Victim - by Charles Sutherland Tapley

I have always been fascinated by the Salem Witch Trials. When we moved to Massachusetts there were two things on my "must do" list: visit Plymouth Rock, and see the Salem Witch Trials Memorial. Several years ago my cousin Cheri, who studies genealogy, informed me that one of the most famous victims of the trials, Rebecca Nurse, was, in fact, our great great great great great great great great great great (that's 10 greats) grandmother, so the next time I was in Salem I made sure to place a flower on her memorial stone (she was not allowed a church burial) and picked up a book about her at the Salem Witch Museum. Originally published in 1930, Tapley's book recounts Nurse's life, and trial, as well as providing some insight into the morés of the time. The final page of the book tallies Nurse's descendants at a total of 15,203. I imagine that now that we are almost a century past the publication of the book, it would be difficult to find anyone who isn't one of her descendents!

An important thing to note about the story is that since a belief in witchcraft was pervasive at the time, any unexplained phenomenon could be attributed to black magic. Some examples of the things blamed on witchcraft included illness and mysterious death, as well as this "thing worthy of observation" where we find the only place that a library is mentioned in the book (this was long before Ben Franklin, so it is a private library).
Winthrop the younger had in his library a volume in which the Greek Testament, the Psalms, and the Common Prayer were bound together, and that he "found the Common Prayer eaten with mice, every leaf of it, and not any of the two other touched, nor any other of his books, though they were about a thousand."
Sounds like witchcraft to me. Of course, it also sounds like hearsay, which comprised much of the evidence at the Salem witch trials.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Walden - by Henry David Thoreau

I think the biggest obstacle I have to becoming a hermit (my long-time dream) is that I would miss people. I have suggested to my husband that we build a log cabin and go be hermits together (my friends point out that such a dwelling is more properly called a "love shack", rather than hermitage) but he likes being a New England professor too much to give it up. We have, however, visited Walden pond a number of times since we moved to Massachusetts and I often ponder Thoreau's deliberate residence there, although I had never read his book about it. One of the most interesting things I  learned from  this work is that my fellow Unitarian Universalist actually had plenty of company, and not just of the wildlife / varmit type either. Turns out folks frequently stopped by, and he made his own way in to town on occasion. It seems he found the perfect way to be a hermit, without being lonely.

Walden is divided into 18 thematic chapters. The first two "Economy" and "Where I Lived, and What I Lived for" were rather long, but the rest were shorter essays. One of these is on "Reading" and the importance lifelong learning and reading books, but not just any books, not the "Little Reading" of "several volumes in [the] Circulating Library" that will not help to expand our minds, but rather will keep us as children by keeping "our reading, our conversation, and thinking...all on a very low level, worthy only of pygmies and manikins." As a society we should "not stop short at a pedagogue, a parson, a sexton, a parish library, and three selectman because our pilgrim forefathers got through a cold winter once on a bleak rock with these." Thoreau advocates for villages in New England to "act collectively" to "hire all the wise men in the world to come and teach her (New England)."  Instead of noblemen, let us have noble villages of men."

Thoreau eloquently speaks to both my passions - of reading, and of learning for its own sake. I am afraid that the educational assessment craze will cause colleges and universities to become less effective at teaching students to learn as they (the universities) are forced, through political motives, to move toward "measuring outcomes".

My daugher, Paloma, in deep thought at Walden Pond - Halloween 1999

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

ttfn - by Lauren Myracle

In my research on censorship I have read a lot about Lauren Myracle, but had not actually read any of her books before. She is often compared to Judy Blume, I think as much for the fact that putting her name on a book will almost guarantee a challenge, as much as for her ability to speak so well to the generation she writes for, and about.

I must admit that I had a bit of trouble reading this, as the book is written entirely in text messages. My late-baby-boomer self was distracted by the shorthand, and creative spellings. The messages are between three high school friends Zoe (a.k.a zoegirl); Maddie (a.k.a madmaddie); and Angela (a.ka. Snow Angel). This book, along with others in its series, is among the top ten most challenged books of the new millenium. Reasons cited include references to oral sex, sexual experimentation, drug experimentation, and nudity - top it all off with a runaway teen and you've got yourself a bestselling book that's guaranteed to be challenged by parents all over the country! I have to say that none of this bothered me so much, though, as the fact that these girls were hardly ever at the library, and when they were there, they were NEVER looking for books or doing research. In two of the three cases where libraries are mentioned in this work, the girls specifically say they are in the school media center in order to IM each other (and here I have to admit that I almost missed these library references because of the use of the term "media center" instead of library). The other use our heroines come up with for libraries is for finding an electrical outlet to facilitate hair styling! Ah, well, at least they weren't using the library for their sexual hook ups or drug dealing.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Well, I always knew it was cool.

In its most recenty issue of  UMBC Magazine, my alma mater, the University of Maryland Baltimore County, recognizes a librarian, the University Archivist, as having one of the five coolest jobs on campus! Also featured in the current issue is a fascinating story about censorship during the university's early days.

Friday, March 2, 2012

March 2 is Read Across America Day

In honor of Theodor Geisel's (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss's) birthday schools and libraries across the country celebrate Read Across America Day to encourage children to read. I am not sure if any Dr. Seuss books feature a librarian as a character, but a web search brought me to "We Love Sam" (go to p. 236 - it is very hard to read) an essay by children's librarian Starr LaTronica, which is included in the book Your Favorite Seuss, a collection of 13 Suess books, each with an introduction by someone whose life was changed by the story. LaTronica is, of course, referring to "Sam I am" from Green Eggs and Ham, a book so ubiquitous that when I read the Spanish version to my first-year students on the first day of the semester virtually all  identify it as a book they recognize.

Little Changes: Tales of a Reluctant Home Eco-Momics Pioneer - by Kristi Marsh

Little ChangesIn conjunction with Bridgewater's One Book One Community Read program, Marsh came to speak at the Bridgewater Public Library to talk about "Goin' Organic with a Budget Friendly Attitude". After a diagnosis of breast cancer, Marsh set out to discover how the chemicals we "smother" on, and "devour" into our bodies, by way of health and beauty products and food, might be playing a part in rising cancer rates.

Marsh began her presentation by saying it was appropriate for her to be speaking at Bridgewater Public Library because some of the research she did for her (very recently published) book was conducted there. While she does not specifically mention Bridgewater Public Library in the book, she does describe "constant trips to the library...[seeking] to fill [her] brain with information." And she does specifically mention Bridgewater State College (now University) as the place where she was first awakened to the reality that the abundance of chemicals in our "health" and beauty products, and our food, could be contributing to the the high rate of breast cancer in the United States. Library as gathering place and community center is made clear in this book when Marsh describes giving her first presentation to a group of other mothers at a local elementary school library. She uses a library methaphor to describe the quietness of the conference room at the Massachusetts Department of Health, where she gave testimony against the use of BPAs in food in beverage containers, and again to illustrate how her her mind worked upon hearing about the President's Panel on Cancer "my mind raced like fingers running through an old library card system." Well, Krisit, you certainly date yourself, here!

Although the message is similar to the one in Michale Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, this was a much easier and quicker read. If I have any qualms about the book, it is this: I don't think Marsh tried to reach a big enough audience. It is clear that her target is other "Moms", which not only excludes fathers, but also anyone who is not a parent. My husband and I attended the presentation together, and based on what we heard have already begun making changes to our food purchases. And although he has not yet read the book, he did look through it to find out what it had to say about chemicals in hair dye, after our teenage daughter left a mess made of the most unnatural pink color on our bathroom walls, floor and countertop, some of which will never come out!

Marsh's message is clear, upbeat, and encouraging. She is realistic about what kind of changes can be made, without being discouraged by setbacks. I was particularly interested in what she said about school fundraisers, and how so often the rely on selling junk food, or cheap products, belying what we otherwise try to teach children about healthy eating and sustainability. I think about annoucements in my church where it would not be unusual to hear about a book discussion of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, followed immediately by an annoucement that one of the kids is selling (preservative laden) cookie dough.
For more information see Kristi Marsh's Choose Wiser website.