Monday, December 20, 2021

Idiocracy - the movie

I learned about this film through the Librarian Memes Facebook Group. I also learned that it was available to watch for free on YouTube - albeit with ads, which I very much try to avoid. I bit the bullet though and my husband and I watched (with the occasional short interruptions). This film stars Luke Wilson as Joe Bauers (the librarian) and Maya Rudolph as Rita (a sex worker). Joe and Rita agree to be part of a top secret military experiment on suspended animation. Scheduled to be awakened after one year, instead they wake up 500 years later, to a world where these two rather average people are the smartest in the country. 

A few comments about this work:

  • It miserably fails the Bechdel Test.

  • Joe's title as a librarian is questionable - he works in a library which means he may or may not be a librarian. According to his supervisor he doesn't do anything but sit on his ass. Library stereotypes will live forever.

  • While Joe is given the title as the smartest person on earth when he wakes up, I expect it was actually Rita. Joe takes an IQ test which Rita is never given the chance to do. But, anyway, he must be smarter, right? Because he's a man, right? 

Friday, December 17, 2021

Melvil Dewey - by Fremont Rider

December 10 was Dewey Decimal System Day  The date was chosen to coincide with the birthday of the system's namesake Melvil Dewey. In honor of this day I checked out a biography of Dewey from the library where I work (which does not use the Dewey Decimal System). I noticed that his birthday is mentioned several times throughout the work, starting with the first page, and including the fact that he was appointed to the New York Board of Regents on December 10, 1889 (this was included without highlighting the fact that it was also his birthday). 

The book, simply titled Melvil Dewey, was published in 1944, and mostly has praise for the man we now recognize as sexist, racist, and anti-Semitic. Although there is some mention in the work of these latter two identities they are downplayed. His clear bias toward Christianity can be found in the Dewey Decimal Classification system itself. The 200 range of the system is where books on Religion are found. Christianity is covered in the range of 220-280, and "other religions" are relegated to only the 290s.  

His sexism is disguised in the book with passages such as this one: 

All through his life, women were more congenial intimates with him than men; he was more at ease with them; he worked more to more purpose with them; he played with them with greater zest. 

While he did admit women to the Columbia University, essentially forcing the University into co-education, when he started the Library School, we now know that his reasons were less than altruistic. While he believed that well-educated women would make jim-dandy librarians he also left a legacy of low pay as women "were also more likely to get sick or leave the profession to pursue 'home life'". Furthermore, male librarians deserved more pay than women because they "could also lift a heavy case, or climb a ladder....There are many used for which a stout corduroy is really worth more than the finest silk." (See the link at the end of the post for more information on this.)

About 20 years ago the then-president (a man) of my university actually told the librarians (all of whom at the time were women) at a meeting to discuss salaries that we knew when we went into a female-dominated profession that we would make less money - that it was "societal". And that, after all, he couldn't be expected to solve this "societal problem". Why he couldn't try to solve it on our campus is another question. That president's sexist legacy lives on here as well. Librarians continue to work a twelve-month contact for less money than our faculty colleagues who work a ten-month contract. 

Melvil Dewey was also obsessed with simplifying things, especially spelling. He learned and taught shorthand, and changed the spelling of his first name from Melville to Melvil. As well, he attempted to shorten his last name to "Dui". 

An example of his writing included in the work reads

In skool in Adams Center I rebeld agenst compound numbers. I told the teacher that jeometri taut us a strait lyn was the shortest distance between 2 points & that it was absurd to hav long mezur, surveyor's mezur & cloth mesur; also absurd to hav quarts & bushels of difernt syzes & to hav avoirdupois, troy & apothecari weits, with a pound of feathers hevier than a pound of gold. I spred out on my attik room table sheets of foolscap & desyded that the world needed just 1 mezur for length, 1 for capasiti & 1 for weit, & that they should all be in simpl decimals lyk our muni.

He very much liked the metric system and advocated for the United States to adopt it. I remember when I was in Junior High in the mid 70s that we had to learn the metric system in math class because it was coming to the United States, and soon! President Gerald Ford and after him President Jimmy Carter were going to make it happen. Then Ronald Reagan was elected and just like that people stopped talking about the metric system and we are left only in the company of Liberia and Myanmar as the only countries not to have adopted the metric system as the standard system of measure.

While we cannot deny the legacy Dewey has left on the library profession, we are also experiencing a reckoning of the damage his legacy has left. Two years ago the American Library Association changed the name of the Melvil Dewey Medal to the ALA Medal of Excellence. More about Dewey's sexism and racism can be found in this article from 

Thursday, December 9, 2021

The Time of Green Magic - by Hilary McKay

When Abi's father remarries and they move, along with her new step-mother and step-brothers, to a tall, narrow, ivy-covered house with colored glass in the windows, and an arched front door with a lantern "straight out of Narnia" her grandmother in Jamaica tells her "So much ivy, so much news! What a time of green magic". Abi and her new siblings soon discover that there is magic in the house as they begin to experience things they are reading in books. Abi gets wet reading about a raft, and animals from the stories begin to appear. 

Abi seeks the help of her father, Theo, a nurse to find out if books can be magic.

'At the hospital', said Abi, 'do people ever come in because of books?'

'They'd be disappointed if they did,' said Theo. 'We're a bloodbath-and-counseling service, not a library. We've got a few kids' picture books and Willy-the-mop keeps a stack of newspapers for emergency puddles, but that's about it.'

'Yes, but do people ever come in because they've had accidents with books?'

'Ah...Right, got you! Yes. Yes they do. Books are dangerous things'.

And Theo goes on to explain how people hurt themselves by reading while walking, or dropping books on their toes, or getting locked into libraries after they close and "get injured breaking their way out". Frustrated, Abi tries harder to explain that she is more interested in magic. Theo then describes how children have hurt themselves by "trying to get through the backs of wardrobes...or "running trolleys into brick walls..."Sitting on broomsticks and launching themselves out of bedroom windows! Bothering dragons!"

Of course books are magic. But are they dangerous? Current events would tell us that they are. Right now, all over the country organized groups are attempting to have whole categories of books removed from school libraries. Books with LGBTQ themes or race or racism are being especially targeted. It is important to note, however, that there are attacks are coming from the left and the right. It seems that the word "harmful" has become a catch-all term for any book that someone doesn't like, and is afraid that someone else might.

Although this was about the magic of books there was only one  other place, near the very end of the story, where a library was mentioned. Abi's stepbrother Max goes to the library to find a book that he hopes will help recreate some of the magic he had experienced with their French nanny. 

I found this one in a Little Free Library. It was a quick fun read.  

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

America for Beginners - by Leah Franqui

Recently widowed Mrs. Pavil Sengupta of Kolkata, India decides to venture out of her bubble and travel to the United States in search of answers about her deceased gay son Rahi. She employs the First Class India USA Destination Tour Company to hire her a tour guide (Satya) and a traveling companion (Rebecca) for her trip. The three set off on a cross-country trip and learn not only about the United States, but some things about themselves as well.

One of the stops on their trip was the Corning Museum of Glass in New York. Mrs. Sengupta asks her guides if  there were "many places like this...places where things can be studied"? To which Rebecca responds "Oh, yeah. Tons. My dad always said growing up he learned more in museums and libraries than anywhere else".

Mrs. Sengupta does make a stop in a library at the end of her trip, at UC Berkeley, where she reverently "touched the pages of [Rahi's] thesis, printed, bound, and carefully stored in the university library".

I marked one other passage of this book while I was reading it, although it had nothing to do with libraries. This is my only book blog, so I have no where to vent on this particular topic but here: 

During a regrettable night of drinking in New Orleans' French Quarter Rebecca refuses "to have sex in a public bathroom for reasons of hygiene, good taste, and physical comfort." I have noticed recently that a public bathroom sex scene seems to be de rigueur in twenty-first century television and movies. Every time it happens I roll my eyes and make a snide comment to my husband about "here we go again". For the exact reasons that Rebecca gives, I am having a hard time believing it is as common as pop culture might lead us to believe. I can only hope that this tired trope, along with  "making up your bed to look like you're sleeping in it", and "crawling through an air duct to escape a locked room", has a  screen time to real life ratio of something like a bajillion to one.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Let It Rain Coffee - by Angie Cruz

My husband (James) and I learned about this book and author via the National Anti-Racist Book Festival this past spring. The title of this book intrigued us as James teaches several classes about coffee and often does community presentations and tastings. The author takes the title of the book from the song "Ojalá que llueva café" by Juan Luis Guerra, a song that James often plays for his students.

Cruz's novel tells the story of the Colón family, immigrants to New York City from the Dominican Republic. Most of the story takes place in 1990s New York, but there are also flashbacks to 1960s Los Llanos, DR and stories of the resistance.

In their crowded New York apartment the Colón family faces challenges of debt, death, incarceration, and racism. When a young, pregnant friend (Hush) moves in with the Colóns young Bobby learns lessons in community and love. Hush passes her time confined to the Colon's couch propped up on pillows and reading books from the library. Bobby is glad to pay her overdue fines, and to pile "the books on her left to the library" and pile "the books she was about to read on her right...He fed her books in exchange for seeing her thank him with a half smile."

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Paris Library - by Janet Skeslien Charles

Numbers floated round my head like stars. 823. The numbers were the key to new life. 822. Constellations of hope. 841. In my bedroom late at night, in the morning on the way to get croissants, series after series - 810,840,890-formed in front of my eyes. They represented freedom, the future.
So begins the story of Odile Souchet who thinks in Dewey Decimal numbers. She is thrilled to get a job at the American Library in Paris in 1939 where she can put both her library degree and her ability to speak English to good use. She has always loved books and the library, a place she frequented with her aunt as a child.  

Her job becomes a lot more challenging when Nazi's occupy her beloved "city of readers". The subversive librarians (including the aptly named Miss Reeder) find ways to continue to provide books and services to their Jewish patrons, even after the library is closed to them. Nazi's also looted libraries as well as the private collection of "prominent Jewish families" Additionally, censors regularly blacked out news from the daily papers making the sharing of knowledge that much more difficult. "Fake news" in the form of rumors also shakes up the library as a "sanctuary of facts" as patrons share misinformation with each other. 

Shushing is of course a time-honored tradition in libraries (at least as far as popular culture is concerned). While I will admit to having shushed a few exceptionally loud library users (usually university administrators) I have also, ironically, been shushed myself by people trying to study in the library, just as librarian Odile was shushed when she "screamed with joy" after returning to the library after 10 days of being away and seeing her brother's girlfriend Bitsi (who was also the children's librarian). In one passage Bitsi is described as "holding an open book over her head, like it's a roof" as if she is telling "the children that books are a sanctuary".

The story oscillates between Paris during World War II and Froid, Montana in the 1980s. Virtually all of the passages I marked while reading this are in the sections that take place in France. The only exception comes very late in the book. Lily, Odile's young neighbor storms "Dad's wife took away Forever!...She said Judy Blume writes 'smut'.' Censorship is wrong!" To which Odile responds "So is throwing a fit instead of sitting down to have a conversation...You should ask Ellie what she fears." She goes on to explain that "Ellie's scared the book will put ideas in your head, scared you'll want to experiment with sex." Lily retorts "I read Out of Africa and disn't establish a coffee plantation in Kenya!" I of course agree that censorship is wrong. I also agree that having a conversation is better than throwing a fit.

Friday, September 10, 2021

My Brilliant Friend - by Elena Ferrante

This coming of age story follows best friends Elena and Lila as they grow up outside of Naples, Italy in the 1950s. The two girls are the smartest in their class at school. While Elena is provided the opportunity to continue with her formal schooling beyond grammar school, Lila realizes that she must continue her education at "the people's university" - the public library. She figures out that she can borrow a lot more books than would normally be allowed by procuring library cards for everyone in her family, and then using them only for herself. Everyone in Lila's family is later invited to the library to be honored for being such avid readers. It would appear that Lila, her brother, mother, and father have come in first, second, third, and fourth for the most books read. Elena is also invited to the recognition ceremony for coming in fifth. No one from Lila's family (including Lila) comes to the ceremony and Elena accepts the awards for all.

The first book in a four-part series. This has also be adapted for television  - currently available on HBOMax.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Monday, August 30, 2021

Too Much and Never Enough - by Mary Trump

Beyond a "tell all" the forty-fifth president's niece provides a deep insider's knowledge of the Trump family through a psychological lens in this bestselling book. Not surprisingly, there was no mention of the young Trump family heading to the public library for story hour, in fact the only library mentioned is the one in "the House" (the residence where Donald and his four siblings grew up in Queens, New York). I probably wouldn't have bothered at all to create a blog about this except that the description of said library is so telling. About halfway through the book Mary provides this tidbit

When the family was together, we spent most of our time in the library, a room without books (emphasis mine) until Donald's ghostwritten The Art of the Deal was published in 1987. The bookshelves were used instead to display wedding photos and portraits.

Well there you have it. A whole room that could have been dedicated to books but wasn't. I must say, I'm not surprised.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

A Ride to Remember: A Civil Rights Story - by Sharon Langley and Amy Nathan

When I was very young my family and I enjoyed visits to Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Baltimore, Maryland. Hurricane Agnes destroyed the park in 1972 and it was not rebuilt. Rather than an amusement park, it now is a park of the type one might go for a picnic, or to fly a kite. 

Gwynn Oak Park opened in 1893 and like many amusement parks at the time it was segregated.I was unaware that the park had not been desegregated until 1963 when I heard about this book and attended a webinar about it last year. You can watch the webinar here.

My parents moved to Baltimore from the midwest in January of 1962 and started their family. My older sister was born in late September of the same year which made this story, about a girl who was 11 months old on August 28, 1963, especially relevant for me. Sharon Langley was the first African American to ride the Carousel at Gwynn Oak Park on the day it was desegregated. 

Langley explains segregation in this work via a conversation between herself and her parents about her family's role in desegregation.
For a long time, black and white kids couldn't do many things together. They couldn't go to the same schools or to the same restaurants and libraries or even sit together at the movies. It was the law.
    "Why didn't somebody do something about those kinds of laws?" I asked.
    "They did," said Mama.
    "We did," said Daddy.
    Many people - both blacks and whites - knew that segregation was unfair and just plain wrong.
    Some people said, Just wait. Times will change.
    But others said, Why wait? What's wrong with now? They held protests at restaurants, stores, and movie theaters. They tried to get officials and courts to make new laws to create a better city - a place that would welcome and include all people.
    By the time I was born, some unfair laws had changed in Baltimore. Kids could go to the same schools and libraries, restaurants, and some movie theaters, too - no matter the color of their skin. "But the amusement park just wouldn't budge," said Daddy. 

Beautifully illustrated by Coretta Scott King Award winner Floyd Cooper this book tells a story of segregation and desegregation appropriate for young readers.

Monday, August 16, 2021

The Book of Joy - by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams

The One Book One Community selection for the fall 2021 is The Book of Joy. After so much time on lockdown (with only virtual connections) the time seemed right for a book that explores what is joyful in life. Co-author Abrams follows these two religious leaders during a week-long meeting in which they discuss how they remain positive despite their experiences living under apartheid (in the case of the Archbishop) and the extreme difficulties of living in exile (in the case of the Dalai Lama). The Dalai Lama left Tibet for India in 1959 at the age of 24. He describes how during the Cultural Revolution China pledged to wipe out the Tibetan language 
so they burned books, such as the three-hundred-volume Tibetan canon of scriptures translated from India, as well as several thousand volumes written by Tibetans themselves
On a more joyful note however, the week wraps up with a party in honor of the Dalai Lama's eightieth birthday. And what better place to have a joyful birthday celebration than in a library! The party takes place in the Tibetan Children's Village school

As our motorcade approached, we heard the children's soaring voices, their welcome song high-pitched and plaintive, yet indomitable and joyful. It was a song they had composed...The choir and school staff lined the road. All around them sat waves of students in their school uniforms...The car finally arrived at the library and the children were still singing at the top of their lungs.

This was, ironically, a rather challenging book for me. As I read news of building collapses, an earthquake, the Taliban, raging wildfires, all while facing a pandemic that won't slow down because of deliberate manipulation of truth, perhaps remaining hopeful is the best I can do for now. Joy will have to wait.

Cruising the Library - by Melissa Adler

I noticed the title of this book while I was looking for something else in our library catalog. (I don't remember what I was originally searching.) The author begins with a discussion of the Library of Congress catalog subject term "Paraphilias" - a word I had never heard of before reading this book, which is exactly her point. Very few people know this word, and even if they could guess its meaning, they probably wouldn't think to search for it in the library catalog even if they had heard of it. Using the word as a subject heading effectively hides the work even as it is available on the open shelves of the library.

(At the time of this posting my own library had six titles listed under the subject heading Paraphilias.)

Through the exploration of this term Adler demonstrates that how we classify books has more to do with librarians determining what is "normal" (rather than simply reflecting it) especially when it comes to sex. Furthermore, the Library of Congress 

disciplines sex and sexuality by privileging scientific domains and text, granting such disciplines authority while obfuscating the humanities, popular literature, and emerging interdisciplinary and local knowledges.

She also demonstrates how whiteness and heterosexuality are presumed "normal" by searching the catalog for specific terms.

Much of this book is an exploration of the now defunct Delta collection of the Library of Congress - a little known collection of erotica, works deemed obscene, or those containing information about "perverse" or "aberrant" sexual practices. The Delta collection was restricted - those wishing to use it had to ask. By putting certain works in the Delta collection librarians had power in determining what was considered obscene or "aberrant". Now long gone, Adler discovered that even finding information about the existence of the Delta collection was hard to come by. An excerpt from her book about the collection was published on Literary Hub (which you can read here).

Those of us who work in libraries are no strangers to the use of the library as sexual space. Many a library worker can tell you a story of coitus interruptus or of finding post-coital evidence while straightening books the stacks. Adler also sees the library itself as a sensual and seductive place

The library is an erotically charged space. Some might even regard the pleasurable experience of browsing and losing and finding oneself in the stacks as an exercise in sadomasochism. The classificatory apparatuses in the library, with their disciplinary divisions and regularizing and shaming techniques, often bar opportunities for cross-disciplinary play, prohibit the intermingling of bodies, and cut the perverse from the normal (as if such an act was actually possible). In the library space, submission to and enactment of technologies of control facilitate and inhibit promiscuousness in browsing, perverse reading, and bodily pleasures.

I am always interested in what people have to say about book banning. Adler quotes President Dwight D. Eisenhower who had this to say about it in 1953

Don't join the book burners. Don't think you are going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they never existed. Don't be afraid to go into your library and read every book. 

Be like Ike.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Stacked - by Aviva Blakeman

Well, here we are once again in Read-a-Romance Month. As with last year's choice of romance this one was mostly about the sex. In this case wildly unashamed sex between bad-boy biker Oscar "Mags" Magellan and super sexy librarian Imogene (who prefers binding vintage clothing to the practical outfits most of my denizens elect to wear to work). As with every librarian-themed romance I've read the librarian in this one is not only sexy, but competent in their job as well. I do like that. 

A point is made in this work of the importance of  "cycling books out of the collection" (aka "weeding") to make room for new books, as well as to curate the collection. Removing damaged books and those with outdated information not only makes room for new books it provides library users with the best information. Imogene decides that "a complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica that was written when Russia was still part of the USSR" is "definitely getting donated". I do wonder, though who she thinks wants such books. While donating the books may make weeding more palatable to certain taxpayers, some things really just need to get recycled.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Burning the Books: A History of the Deliberate Destruction of Knowledge - by Richard Ovenden

Censorship and book banning are a long-time interests of mine. My father was a "first amendment fundamentalist" and I internalized his beliefs with respect to free expression of ideas, even ideas I disagree with (or find abhorrent). Repression of ideas we don't like is a paternalistic response. Ovenden's book looks at the long history of deliberate book burning across time and space.

He begins his book, not surprisingly, with a discussion of the importance of libraries, and sounds an alarm as to the threats against them including reduced funding and attacks from individuals and authorities "motivated to deny the truth and eradicate the past". Furthermore he states that "the significance of of books and archival material is recognised not only by those who wish to protect knowledge, but also by those who wish to destroy it." Ovenden explores the sequestration of knowledge from the earliest clay tablets to more recent news events and "alternative facts". Rulers have always known that knowledge is power, and keeping knowledge from others increased their power.

South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission was "hampered" by the fact that the apartheid regime had "destroyed documents on a massive scale" in order to silence voices, "remove incriminating evidence and...sanitise the history of oppressive rule."

In 1992 library staff at the National and University Library in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina "formed a human chain" around the library in order to remove materials from the recently bombed building. The Library was the "sole target" of the bombs - a deliberate attack to annihilate the "recorded memory not just of a nation but the culture of the entire region, one that had a significant Muslim population".

During World War I Germans burned down the library at the University of Louvain in Belgium - a clear violation of the Hague Convention of 1907. The Germans again burned the rebuilt library during World War II.

World War II of course also saw the destruction of libraries, Jewish archives, and other books and documents at the hands of the Nazi's.

The persecution of the Jews of Europe under the Nazi regime fell with terrifying force not just on the People of the Book (as Jews have self-identified for thousands of years)  but also on their books. It has been estimated that over 100 million books were destroyed during the Holocaust, in the twelve years from the period of Nazi dominance in Gemany in 1933 up to the end of the Second World War.

The Reformation can be blamed for quite a bit of archival information loss. Records were destroyed and  libraries in catholic monasteries were lost as Henry the VIII questioned papal authority and started the Anglican church.

Of course any discussion of "burning books" needs to include the Library of Alexandria. There are so many versions of the blaze and legends surrounding the destruction of the library it is impossible to know what is true. "What all [the] myths and legends have in common is that they mourn the library as a victim of barbarity triumphing over knowledge."

This book had an interesting take on self-censorship. I generally think of it in the way that Judy Blume has expressed it

It's not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.

However, Ovenden's work includes a chapter "To Be Burned" which describes self-censorship as a way for author's to "curate" their own writings - writers destroying their own drafts, notes, and diaries. Interestingly, I recently heard Judy Blume discuss in a webcast the fact that she had disposed of many of her old journals and diaries because she didn't want her family to find them after she died. Writer's are controlling their own legacies.

I enjoyed learning a little library history while reading this work 

The first sense of a university library in Oxford had emerged four centuries  [before the Reformation] with the concept of loan chests: where money could be borrowed in return for books - valuable objects- being deposited.

The first substantial library catalogue to be published was that of Leiden University Library, in 1595, which also marked the opening of their new library building....the collections were arranged under seven categories: theology, law, medicine, mathematics, philosophy, literature, history.

I end my post with this important message from the author.

"Libraries [are] necessary for the future because of the knowledge they collected from the past."

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children


At the turn of the 20th century a young woman named Anne Carroll Moore enrolled in library school and got a job at the Pratt Free Library in New York City. When Moore was growing up children were restricted from using libraries. "People didn't think reading was very important for children - especially not girls." However, Miss Moore thought otherwise. After she was put in charge of all of the children's sections in New York City's thirty-six branches Moore was tasked with designing the Children's room at the new grand library that was to be built at Fifth Avenue and Forty-Second Street. The Children's room was designed especially with children in mind with special furniture, bright colors, and artwork and "new children's books in many languages". Once the room was built music programs, author talks, and other special events kept the children coming back. Her ideas have been adopted in libraries around the world.

A beautifully illustrated work.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Heart Berries - by Terese Marie Mailhot

I learned of this book when the author gave a Zoom talk at my University earlier this year. True to form the organizers of the event neglected to alert the library of the author visit, but I ordered a copy of her book when I saw the announcement flier.

This slim memoir provides a glimpse into Mailhot's story. Some pieces are left out, and it is told in a non-linear format. One thing we do learn is that her single mother "destined to die of exhaustion" knew when to use the library. Her near miss with the "miracle of fortune and justice" involved Paul Simon (yes, that Paul Simon) who contacted Maihot's mother in order to get some correspondence he needed for a play he was writing about Salvador Agrón. Mailhot was concerned after the two spoke on the phone that Simon was on his way to becoming her stepfather.

I began to suspect they were flirting when I went with Mom to the library to look up if Simon had a wife. I didn't want Paul Simon to be my new father. I saw an album cover once. He wore turtlenecks. He was pasty. He had beady eyes.

After reading a biography and looking at some news clippings it was determined that Simon was "married to some redhead...".

Monday, June 14, 2021

The Future of Academic Freedom - by Henry Reichman

I found out about this book when I signed up for a Zoom event with the author (Henry Reichman) through the American Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Round Table

In the book’s foreword Joan Wallach Scott says Reichman "embraces the idea that education exists to advance the common good, measured not in economic terms but as an enhancement of the human spirit; and he is adamant about the importance of protecting the political rights of students and faculty alike to protest inequality and injustice on campus and in the larger society." 

Protests are of course an expression of free speech, as are counter protests. Likewise questioning authority, confronting invited speakers, and challenging those with opposing viewpoints are all legitimate forms of free speech. Exercising one's first amendment right does not prevent others from doing the same.

We are indeed living in interesting times. As librarians are debating the removal of Dr. Seuss books from the shelves, we hear terms like “cancel culture” as well as questions about whether people are even allowed to protest anything anymore. Trigger warnings are expected on syllabi and in presentations. 

Do all University students have the right to feel comfortable at all times? Has social media and political correctness taken away our ability to speak freely in academic settings? Do faculty even have academic freedom anymore? 

What exactly is academic freedom? 

The American Association of University Professors' 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure included three basic elements: freedom in the classroom; freedom in research; and freedom in extramural utterance. Reichman discussed all three elements in the book and in his Zoom talk.

The focus in any discussion of academic freedom ultimately seems to be on students. As Reichman points out:
Colleges and universities have traditionally been places make people uncomfortable. Education can and should be joyful, but it should also be challenging, difficult, and sometimes unsettling. Yet increasingly we hear that the faculty's right to academic freedom must be limited by the "right" of students not to be "offended" or unduly disturbed by material or ideas they encounter in and out of class.
The Association of University Professionals’ (AAUP) statement On Trigger Warnings rejects the idea that people have the right to not be offended. "The presumption that students need to be protected rather than challenged in a classroom is at once infantilizing and anti-intellectual.” 

I would also argue that Administration often acts in a way to infantilize faculty and other university employees as well. Reichman quotes Greg Lukianoff to drive the point home.
Campus administrators have been successful in convincing students that the primary goal of the university is to make students feel comfortable. Unfortunately, comfortable minds are often not thinking ones.
Furthermore, ensuring that all students are “comfortable” is an impossible standard. White Supremacists and Black Lives Matter activists cannot both expect that they can speak about their views “comfortably” in the same space. In fact, no one participating either actively or passively in such a space can expect to feel comfortable. That is no reason not to have the discussion.

It is worthwhile to note that students don’t necessarily want a sheltered learning environment either. A Gallup poll on free speech in 2016 found that 78 percent of students favored an "open learning environment" as opposed to a "positive learning environment" that "opposed free speech". 

Free Speech

I liked the idea set forth by Historian L.D. Burnett, who considers her classroom a "rehearsal space" where students can "work through ideas" without worrying that they will "unwillingly be part of someone's snarky narrative". Students and faculty should be able to explore difficult topics in class, and expect to feel uncomfortable doing so, without worrying that they will become the next victims of targeted online harassment campaigns which may threaten their jobs, families, and lives”. 

I find it ironic that social media, which gives us all a platform to express our views, is simultaneously making it more difficult to speak freely. Any mistake, misstep, misinterpretation, or misunderstanding in the classroom (or in research) can be recorded and posted online and literally create life-threating situations for those involved. However, it is equally important to note that the offended students do have the right to express their grievances. "Toleration does not imply acceptance or agreement. The freedom to speak does not give one the right not to be condemned and despised for one's speech." 

Students also have the right to protest speakers they don't like, so long as they don't interfere with the ability of those who do wish to hear them and are free to invite speakers whom they would prefer to hear to campus. They are also free to enter into discourse with any speaker with whom they disagree. It is important to note, however, that there is no requirement that each speaker be "balanced" with one of the opposing viewpoint. 

Should free speech ever be curtailed on campus? 

Reichman discusses the right of faculty to speak freely about political and social issues outside the classroom.
Faculty members who speak as citizens often speak about topics far from their academic specialty. Physicists or engineers, for example, may express controversial views on political or social issues that have no bearing at all on their fitness to teach or conduct research in physics or engineering. 
He gives the example of two engineering professors (one at Northwestern University and the other at California State University, Long Beach) who "publicly advocated Holocaust denial but retained their positions without challenge so long as they did not inject those views into the classroom". 

If however, they had been history professors and expressed those views in class there is an argument to be made for dismissal. In Reichman's presentation he made the ironic statement that "the less you know about a subject the freer you are to talk about it". 

The Problem with Administration 

It is not uncommon in the ivory tower to hear arguments that a university ‘needs to be run like a business’. This is hogwash. I agree with Reichman who sees University Administration and the “students as customers” model as the biggest threat to academic freedom. 

Administration is more concerned with "institutional image" than with truth seeking, even as Administration has the right to express disapproval of faculty speech. 

Moreover, Administration should not "be trusted with the truth-seeking institutions with which they've been entrusted. They are to promote the college as a place of teaching. But they are not teachers." 

This point is illustrated in the book that treats the topic of adjunct (contingent) faculty who do not have the protection of tenure, and who often are left to "cobble together the semblance of a career from a series of part-time jobs". Relying on these workers is a threat to academic freedom, and paradoxically, "adversely affects graduation rates 'with the largest impact being felt at the public master's level institutions'.
Administration at my own University may wish to take heed. 
Academic capitalism's stress on measuring, assessment, and quantification has yielded what David Graeber colorfully calls 'the bullshitization of academic life: that is, the degree to which those involved in teaching and academic management spend more of their time involved in tasks which they secretly - or not so secretly - believe to be entirely pointless. 
So, what are universities for, anyway? 

Well, it’s not “work force” preparation, but lately that has been hard to deny. 

Reichman points out that "most Americans...recognize that colleges and universities play many roles beyond helping graduates obtain a good job". Furthermore, college graduates are likely to change careers several times during their lives, making preparation for specific, narrowly defined jobs a bad administrative decision. 

University of Wisconsin Milwaukee professor Christine Evans explains the importance of a liberal arts education:
The humanities train critical thinkers and citizens. That may be inconvenient for politicians who see their constituents as merely 'work force' but it is definitely good for our democracy, as well as our economy.
Reichman continues with the University of Wisconsin system as a case study. “The University of Wisconsin - Superior suspended nine majors, fifteen minors, and one graduate program in 2017. Affected programs included theatre, sociology, journalism, and political science. Other programs were placed "on warning" and told to make curricular changes to "meet regional needs" and be more "attractive for students". Students protested with sit-ins and gathered over 5,000 petition signatures to overturn the suspensions”. 

Meanwhile, Administration at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point threatened thirteen majors including several in the humanities. At the same time they proposed sixteen new programs "with high- demand career paths". These included marketing, management, graphic design, fire science and computer science. In response the campus Save Our Majors coalition organized the campus' biggest protest since the Vietnam War.

To counter the point, my own alma mater, the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), recently published this story in which the student profiled (computer science major Jordon Troutman) specifically expresses the importance of the humanities on his studies.
His computer science and math courses have prepared him for the work; so have courses in the liberal arts and his experiences with campus engagement. 
Elective courses in philosophy “helped me understand broadly how to articulate these non-quantitative concepts,” such as fairness, Troutman says. A particular Honors College course about how the media uses faces and how we internalize what the faces represent stuck with him. 
 Reichman quotes Stefan Collini in his work What are Universities for? in explaining that universities are a public good and that knowledge is worth pursuing for its own sake.
A society does not educate the next generation in order for them to contribute to the economy. It educates them in order that they should extend and deepen their understanding of themselves and the world acquiring...kinds of knowledge and skill which will be useful in their eventual employment, but which will no more be the sum of their education than that employment will be the sum of their lives.
Also important to note is that public colleges and universities get only a small percentage of their budget from the state governments, even as the state legislatures attempt to exert ever more control over teaching, learning, and research. 

Reichman memorializes the book to Free Speech Movement activist Reginald Zelnik as well as to Judith Krug - founding director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom. 

I leave my post with this thought (paraphrased from Louis Brandeis): 

More information is better than less information. More speech is better than less speech.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

This Much I Know is True - the television series

In a spectacular execution of every librarian's nightmare Thomas Birdsey (Mark Ruffalo) has a psychotic break in the Three Rivers Public Library as he wields a carving knife and then cuts off his own hand. The aftermath leaves his twin brother Dominick (also played by Ruffalo) to navigate the mental health care system, social workers, doctors, and family, as well as the break down of his own personal life. 

The six-part mini series tells the story of the two brothers and the abuse they suffered, their regrets, and their troubled relationship with each through a series of flashbacks narrated by Dominick.

This series was based on the book by the same name by Wally Lamb. Although I had not read this work, I have read several of his other novels: She's Come Undone; I'll Take You There; and We are Water (which also takes place in the fictitious Three Rivers, Connecticut).

The Writer's Library: The Authors You Love on the Books that Changed their Lives - by Nancy Pearl and Jeff Schwager

My husband and I listened to the audio version of this work, which features interviews of writers about books, reading, and writing. I had never heard of many of the interviewees, and my book and author ignorance was magnified when they began discussing other books and authors I'd never heard of. Which is not to say it wasn't a good listen. It was a bit stilted though since Pearl and Schwager were simply reading questions that had already been asked and answered in real conversations with the authors, and the responses were read by people who were not necessarily the original responders. Nevertheless, we enjoyed listening to enthusiastic discussion about books and reading, and the many responses that indicated a love for libraries and librarians. After each conversation Pearl and Schwager would read a list of some of the books and authors in each interviewee's library. I was struck by how many included Richard Adams' Watership Down - a book I have never read, but at least I've heard of it.

From the website

The authors interviewed in this work are: Russell Banks, TC Boyle, Michael Chabon, Susan Choi, Jennifer Egan, Dave Eggers, Louise Erdrich, Richard Ford, Laurie Frankel, Andrew Sean Greer, Jane Hirshfield, Siri Hustvedt, Charles Johnson, Laila Lalami, Jonathan Lethem, Donna Tartt, Madeline Miller, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Luis Alberto Urrea, Vendela Vida, Ayelet Waldman, Maaza Mengiste, and Amor Towles.

Friday, May 14, 2021

The Midnight Library - by Matt Haig

Full of regrets, recently unemployed, and grieving the death of her cat Volts,  Nora Seed decides to take her own life. In the twilight world between the life and death Nora is surprised to find herself in a library and face-to-face with Mrs Elm, her school librarian from many years before, the person who had told her that her father had died when she was fourteen years old.

The Midnight Library is filled with green books, each one represents a life Nora didn't live in the multiverse. She can pick out any book and find out what her life would have been like if she had made different choices at each of her turning points. There are many possible lives that Nora is given the opportunity to visit. Would she like to be a rock star? a pub owner? a glaciologist? a vintner? What if she had married Dan rather than canceling at the last minute? What if she had just gone on that coffee date with Ash, where would she be now? Is there any world in which Volts is still alive?

Nora also meets other "sliders" - those like her who are moving between lives not lived. Each "slider" has their own guide and space in which to explore their lives. Not all sliders travel via library books - Hugo travels through old VHS tapes in a video store, with his deceased uncle as a guide, for instance. 

In the aptly titled chapter "God and other Librarians" the omniscience of Mrs Elm as Nora's guide is made abundantly clear, as is her role as a librarian. She explains to Nora that "The library has strict rules. Books are precious. You have to treat them carefully." 

The librarian stereotype is on display as well when Mrs Elm admonishes Nora to "Please be quiet...This is a library".

Ultimately Nora wishes to escape the Midnight Library, especially when she realizes that it is about to self destruct, but how does one do that when there are no doors? Mrs Elm to the rescue: "Who needs a door when you have a book?" she asks.

A new spin on an old theme. Anyone who grew up watching The Wizard of Oz won't be surprised by the ending.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library he Built - by Angela Burke Kunkel


¡Feliz Día de los niños/Día de los libros (Children's Book Day - a.k.a Día)! Each year on April 30 librarians and educators celebrate diversity in children's books. This year I celebrated by reading Kunkle's book about a trash collector in Bogotá, Colombia who started a library with books that had been thrown away. The book is also available in Spanish (which I also read) as Rescatando palabras. An excellent reminder that one person's trash is another one's treasure. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on my Face? - by Alan Alda

The subtitle of Alda's book is "My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating". He begins his book by telling a story about some miscommunication between himself and his dentist which resulted in Alda not being able to do his job as an actor effectively. The dentist was unclear when telling Alda about the procedure and Alda was too intimidated to ask for clarification. Alda wraps up with the book by explaining the importance of storytelling. Stories make information sharing more relatable, and are more interesting than lectures. In between he tells a lot of stories to illustrate his points and to engage the reader as he explains how people can better understand each other.

While Alda does mention looking up some information in the Stony Brook online library, this brief library reference isn't what prompted me to write a post about the book on the "Library Books" blog. It was instead, what Alda discusses near the end of the work in the chapter called "Jargon and the Curse of Knowledge". Here he explains not only that we shouldn't use professional jargon when speaking to lay people (meaning anyone outside of our own profession - whatever it may be) but also why that can be hard to do. "Once we know something it is hard to unknow it, to remember what it's like to be a beginner. It keeps us from considering the listener". 

I thought a lot about what Alda said in this chapter in light of how my job as a reference librarian has changed in the last year since I do most of my work remotely. Virtually all reference questions are now asked and answered "virtually" via live chat text messages. When someone chimes in with a question I often feel as if I am coming into the middle of a conversation. It is not uncommon for a a question to start with something like 'I can't find any information on my topic'. Here I am at so many disadvantages. I don't know the person's topic; I don't know what kind of information they need; I don't know where they have already looked; I don't have nuances to help me such as body language or voice tone. Most importantly I don't know if they've ever even used the library search engines before. I have to keep this in mind when I start asking questions myself (e.g. "What is your topic?"; "Do you know how to get to (X) database?"; "Do you know what a database is?"). I have to do all this knowing that the person asking the question doesn't have benefit of reading my body language or voice tone, either.

As a university librarian I have noticed miscommunication on many levels. Professors miscommunicate between themselves because they use jargon from their own field without thinking that the words or phrases they're using may have different meanings in other fields (or to laypeople). I often help bewildered students who need assistance finding "peer-reviewed" articles. Their professor has told them they need to use them, without explaining what that means. The student often assumes that I don't understand it either. Since they'd never heard of it, why would they think I had. The professors have forgotten that once upon a time they didn't know what a peer-reviewed article was either. They had to learn it, but it is now so ingrained as part of their work that they don't remember what is was like to not know.

I recommend this book for everyone. It is easy to read, jargon free, and based on scientific evidence.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Episodes (the television series) Seasons 1-5


I do love me some metafiction. 

Mircea Monroe isn't a librarian, but she plays an actress (Morning Randolph) who plays one on TV. 

This smart, witty, irreverent comedy stars Matt LeBlanc playing a fictional version of himself who stars in a comedy about a hockey coach at a boys' boarding school. The show (Pucks!) was imported from the UK where it was a hit, but is a bomb in the US due partially to LeBlanc's involvement.

This series has some clever twists (along with a few clichés which I think we can overlook). 

There is some interesting character development in this. Each of the characters (even the minor ones) has some depth. Monroe's character who on the surface appears to be just another plastic Hollywood type is also warm, funny, and likable. We don't see a lot of her as the librarian, other than getting made up in her stereotypical "sexy librarian" costume. 

This is a fun series. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Ready to Fly: How Sylvia Townsend Became the Bookmobile Ballerina - by Lea Lyon and A. LaFaye

This week is National Library Week and today is National Bookmobile Day. Ready to Fly tells the story of Sylvia Townsend who grew up in a segregated America in the 1950s. She desperately wanted to take ballet lessons, but her family could not afford them so when the bookmobile rolls into her town she asks the librarian to help her find books on ballet. She checks out new books each time the bookmobile comes and helps the other girls in her neighborhood to learn ballet too. Young Sylvia learns to dance so well that a teacher offers to pay for her ballet lessons. However, her dreams are almost crushed when she is denied a place in the "whites only" classes. Ready to give up she is given another chance to take classes when she and her friends perform in the school talent show and learn that a famous dance instructor was in the audience. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Steeped in the Blood of Racism: Black Power, Law and Order, and the 1970 Shootings at Jackson State College - by Nancy Bristow

Just after midnight on May 15, 1970 two young black men, James Green and Phillip Gibbs, were killed by police fire on the Jackson State College campus in Mississippi. Several other students were wounded and a women's dorm at the historically black college was left riddled with bullet holes. 

While often likened to the killings at Kent State University (see my post on When Truth Mattered by Robert Giles) on May 4 of the same year, the shootings at Jackson State were not the result of a Vietnam War protest, 

but rather another chapter in the long history of state violence against African Americans, a story inseparable from their identities as students attending a black college in the capital city of the nation's most racially repressive state.

 Roy Wilkins the national director of the NAACP stated in 1963 that 

There is no state with a record which approaches that of Mississippi in inhumanity, murder, brutality, and racial hatred. [It was] absolutely at the bottom of the list.

Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act six years before the shootings little had changed in Mississippi. And at Jackson State where "the administration, controlled by the state's all-white Board of Trustees of Institutions of Higher Learning, worked hard to keep the campus quiescent" even as a growing number of students and faculty were starting to protest. 

While there was local and national coverage of the event at the time, including reports in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and even an article in Playboy magazine the tragedy has largely been forgotten since, even as the shootings at Kent State University which happened less than two weeks earlier are remembered each year on its anniversary. There are other parallels with the Kent State shooting, including false reports of rock throwing and sniper fire before police opened fire.

Bristow's book places the shootings within the historical context of a state founded on enslavement, racism, segregation, and white supremacy.

Of particular interest to this blogger was that in 1961 students from another historically black institution, Tougaloo College "attempted to desegregate the downtown's white library with a 'study-in'" as part of a protest of the city's Civil War Centennial celebration.

The students began by visiting the local black library to request volumes they knew the branch did not hold before entering the white library to request those same books. The police were quick to arrive, arresting nine students...They spent the night in the city jail before being released on bail...On the evening following the "study-in" youth from around the city protested the arrest of the group they dubbed the "Tougaloo Nine". At Jackson State College perhaps as many as 800 students gathered outside the campus library...President Reddix attempted to disperse the students and was undone when they resisted. Eventually he was seen just "snatching students at random and shoving them toward a [campus] policeman or deal with orders to expel them".

Documents about the shootings can be found at the College archives, and on display at the library, but "they do not captivate attention as they once did". Even annual memorial events draw low attendance. Although largely forgotten by society at large, the victims still remember. They remember the loss of friends and family, and they live with their own wounds both physical and psychological. There was no justice for the victims of the Jackson State shootings. There were no indictments against any member of law enforcement present that night, and a civil case brought by five of the victims and their families found for the defendants. Although the decision was appealed and a three judge panel found that "the barrage of gunfire far exceeded the response that was appropriate" it was further determined that "despite their guilt, the state and local governments, their officials, and their law enforcement personnel were insulated by 'sovereign immunity', the doctrine protecting the state and its representatives from suits or any penalties that could result". This same doctrine is still in place today and what still allows law enforcement to murder people of color with impunity.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Beyond the Bright Sea - by Lauren Wolk

In the early twentieth century twelve-year-old Crow lives on an isolated island off of Cape Cod with Osh, who found her as a newborn in a boat. Their neighbor Miss Maggie is one of her few other companions. Curious about where she came from Crow asks questions and wonders why others decline to shake her hand, why she is refused admittance to the local school on Cuttyhunk, and why the librarian told Miss Maggie that if books were meant for Crow's hands then she could keep them rather than returning. Crow ultimately unravels the mystery of her origins and discovers her legacy when she learns about the patients in a hospital that was once located on a nearby island. 

The public library does have some information in its archives that Miss Maggie uses to help Crow do some research. They also find an address for a doctor who used to work in the hospital. Crow posts a letter for the first time when she writes to the doctor to see if she can find out more about where she came from.

While this is not a book I would normally pick up, it is the current selection for our One Book One Community program and I am looking forward to hearing the author speak next month.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Labor Day (the movie)

On Labor Day weekend 1987 a mysterious wounded man, Frank (Josh Brolin) coerces Adele (Kate Winslet) and her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) into bringing him into their home. When Adele and Henry learn that Frank is an escaped convict they are understandably quite fearful at first, but as Stockholm syndrome kicks in the predictable love story ensues. Once Adele and Frank's lust takes over they manage to get Henry out of the house by sending him to the library to look up information on Prince Edward Island. Adele has heard it's lovely there and so they make a plan to escape New Hampshire together to build a life in PEI. (This is of course in the days when one didn't need a passport to go to Canada.) 

I have been unsuccessful in verifying that the gorgeous interior library scenes were filmed in Fairhaven, Massachusetts' gorgeous Millicent Library, but my husband and I are both convinced that they were. The imdb page for this film lists seventeen filming locations for this movie, sixteen of which are in Massachusetts.

We did not watch this movie on Labor Day, but we did watch it from our Fairhaven home on Pi Day (3.14). This film has a wonderfully sensuous peach-pie-making scene. I found out about the movie by googling "movies about pie". The library scene was a bonus.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

When Truth Mattered - by Robert Giles

Published last year for the 50th anniversary of the Kent State Shootings author Robert Giles describes how the Akron Beacon Journal (the local paper that covered the protest and the shootings as they happened) worked to ensure that the reporting was accurate and true. 

On May 4, 1970 four students at Kent State University were murdered and nine others wounded when National Guardsmen fired on a peaceful demonstration against the Vietnam war. Of course in 1970 there was no internet, and no one had a cell phone, so newspaper reporters and photojournalists who were on the scene were entrusted to report the events. Live reports came in via landline telephones to the newspaper offices, that were then turned into stories by news writers. What is clear from this work is that misinformation, and indeed the deliberate spreading of disinformation are not new phenomena. Stories that two Guardsmen were among the dead who were "taken to the hospital, but someone switched their uniforms for hippie clothing" resonated with contemporary rumors that antifa dressed as Trump supporters in MAGA hats were really responsible for breeching the Capitol last month. Of course this book was published prior to the events of January 6, and as I was reading I couldn't help but wonder how the events would get reported if they happened today. I was not alone in questioning this. The final chapter of the book "The Meaning" explores this.

Initially the crush of digital information would be unmanageable for editors and news directors to sort out...Before long, though, differences would emerge. Common facts would no longer be universally accepted. The cultural wars of the time would twist reason and truth in the emerging search for blame. Each witness would possess personal evidence they would carry with them for a lifetime.

The digital images would shape memories; some would become weapons for taking sides, framing opinions, and inserting bias.

Algorithms would create a moment in which hundreds, maybe thousands, would be clicking, trying to tell the story...

The Beacon Journal had resources to quell some of the early rumors. Early reports indicated that a sniper among the protesters had shot at the Guardsmen prior to their opening fire. Evidence in the form of a bullet hole in a metal sculpture on the campus seemed to corroborate this.

To the untrained eye, the shape of the bullet hole - about the size of a penny - affirmed the sniper theory. Metal from the hole splayed in the direction of the Guardsmen as they fired their rifles. The smaller smoother edge was on the other side of the sculpture, away from the soldiers. This seemed to clinch the sniper argument...

The newspaper, however, had the resources to perform its own forensic testing and demonstrate that a metal plate when shot by an M-1 rifle and .30 caliber ammunition "identical to that used by the National Guard" caused the metal to splay out "from where the bullet had entered the the steel plate, rather than from the exit" thereby providing evidence that the bullet came from the direction the Guardsmen were firing. 

I can't imagine that a local newspaper today would have the resources to conduct this kind of investigative journalism. Where the Beacon Journal had a staff of hundreds, contemporary newspapers may employ dozens. Furthermore, I wonder whether providing this kind of evidence would even matter. When Obama produced his long-form birth certificate (exactly the evidence that "birthers" claimed would stop the madness) those same deniers refused to believe what they saw.

Of course no discussion of Kent State would be complete without mentioning of the Cosby, Stills, Nash, and Young song "Ohio". For this blogger the most relevant information I learned about the song from Giles' book is that it was initially censored after it was recorded. When it was released in June 1970 some AM radio stations refused to play it. It did, however, find a place on the air on some underground FM stations and ultimately became the well known protest song it is today.

The Beacon Journal received a Pulitzer Prize in 1971 for its reporting of the events at Kent State. Giles describes his visit (in 2018) to Colombia University's Rare Book and Manuscript library, where the Pulitzer Prize Collection is housed, in order to do research for his book. The reverential tone of this passage makes clear the importance of librarians and archives in keeping our history and telling our stories.

Getting access to the Pulitzer Prize newspaper files was an elaborate process. We were accompanied to our destination in the University's Butler Library. Our first task was to establish our identity. The librarian explained the limits on material that could be taken into the "reading room". This was even quieter than most library spaces...Glass doors gave a full view into the reading area

The librarian gave each of us a pair of white gloves to wear in our search of the material. She explained that we each had to use a No.2 lead pencil to write notes from our research...

On a final note I have this story of my own to tell. Five years ago I was in Nicaragua and spoke to a muralist who was touching up an outdoor painting. The artwork depicted a shooting on a college campus with four students dead. I asked him about it and he told me it was an incident from the 1950s in which the government brought in the military to a student protest. I told him about Kent State Shooting and pointed out the striking comparisons between it and the event he described. He told me he hadn't heard about the Kent State shootings, but he really wasn't surprised to learn about them because since he'd created the mural he'd spoken to people from all over the world who had described similar events in their own countries.

In an age of fake news, and misinformation this work makes clear the importance of a free press. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Rufus M - by Eleanor Estes

Back in September I attended a webinar with the librarian's librarian Nancy Pearl. She was doing a virtual book tour for her most recent work The Writer's Library (which I have not yet read). She said something that I wish more people would take to heart: "Any book your haven't read is a new book". I have never understood the obsession some people have with buying some hot new book, as if there aren't literally millions of other things they could be reading while they wait for their turn on the waiting list at the library, or until the book is available in paperback. During the Q&A someone asked about library-centric books and it was here that I learned about Rufus M

Pearl specifically said that the first chapter was especially worthwhile for demonstrating the magic of getting a library card. Although the book was published in 1943 this was indeed a "new book" to me. And I imagine even almost 80 years after its first publication that the first chapter will still resonate with anyone who has earned the privilege of getting their first library card. I wonder how many people remember that moment? 

Rufus is tasked with making sure his hands are clean, and learning to write his name before he can get his own card and check out a book. The librarian makes clear both that she wants Rufus to have a card, and that having one is a serious responsibility. She is kind yet firm in her insistence that Rufus learn to sign his own name in order for him to get his own card. 

There is a bit of "shushing" action in this chapter as well. 

There are a dozen other episodic chapters in this work, the library is mentioned again in a few of them. This work will likely appeal to those who enjoy Beverly Cleary's works.

Nancy Pearl discusses her book The Writer's Library

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Not a Scientist: How Politicians Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science - by Dave Levitan

The title of this work comes from a quote made by Ronald Reagan as he was campaigning against Jimmy Carter during his Presidential campaign in 1980. He was speculating that Mt. St. Helen's volcano, which had erupted a few months earlier, was responsible for emitting more sulfur dioxide than were human sources. Reagan was wrong in his assumption, but as the author points out he doesn't get a free pass simply for prefacing his comments with a disclaimer that he's "not a scientist", nor do any of the politicians who have uttered it since whenever they want to dismiss climate science.

There are many other examples in the book of politicians cherry picking data, and sometimes even facts, to make their cases about things from why we should stop undocumented immigration to why Planned Parenthood should be shut down. What I found most interesting in all this was that in some cases they apparently did understand the math and science enough to know that they had to look for very specific data points (in some cases only one) which ironically meant that they did understand, but were counting on their audience not to. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Everything All at Once - by Katrina Leno

About to graduate from high school Lottie is mourning the death of her favorite aunt (Helen) a famous children's book author. Aunt Helen's books are about a pair of immortal siblings (Alvin and Margo Hatter) and are wildly popular among people of all ages. There are of course those who do not like her books "the Anti-Hatters [who] burn the books on YouTube...They say the idea of immortality is a sin against God".

Aunt Helen donated half of her estate to "various charities and libraries of her choosing". She clearly understands the importance of libraries to authors. Some authors seem to think that libraries are somehow stealing royalites from them.

Aunt Helen also had owned the "most expansive private library" of anyone Lottie knew. Helen was even "featured on the front page of Libraries International twelve separate times". Lottie is emphatic in her instance that "Libraries International was an actual magazine". I, however, could find no evidence that such a magazine exists.

We don't actually see much of Lottie using the library although she does meet her friend Sam at one. Sam travels a lot and tells her that he gets a library card wherever he goes "that's important" he tells her.


I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter - by Erika L. Sanchez

Living in the shadow of her dead older sister (Olga) Julia Reyes navigates high school, family, first love, and friendships. Although she is indeed not perfect (but it turns out neither was Olga) she does at least understand the importance of libraries. 

She uses the old standby lie of "I'm going to the library" so she can instead interrogate Olga's best friend Angie about a hotel key and sexy underwear she found among Olga's things.

Julia gets into trouble quite often and by her own account "between the ages of thirteen to fifteen [she'd] spent about forty-five percent of [her] life grounded". She further explains that sometimes when she punished she isn't even allowed to go to the library "the cruelest kind of torture". She also claims she "can't get pregnant at the library" but she obviously has never worked in one and discovered the kinds of things that library workers all to often find indicating that perhaps someone did get pregnant.

Julia really does love books and dreams of becoming so rich someday that she has "a library so big that [she'll] need a ladder to reach all [her] books".

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes - by Susanne Collins

 I read the first three Hunger Games books some years ago. I don't remember if I read them before or after I started this blog, but I somehow doubt any of them would have made the cut to be included here. So I was surprised when this one did. This prequel tells the story of Cornelius Snow and is set decades before the original series - during the 10th Hunger Games.

My husband and I listened to the audio version of this and I didn't download the text so I only have my faulty memory to aid me in writing this post. I recall students being sent to the school library to work on a group project. Disdain for group work appears to be a universal truth.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Close Enough to Touch - by Colleen Oakley

Jubilee Jenkins' allergy to people has kept her a recluse for nine years. Following the death of her mother (who had been supporting her) Jubilee takes her first tentative steps outside of her house. Rather remarkably she almost immediately lands a job in the local public library. She also falls in love and begins a long journey towards living a more regular life.

Jubilee comes to like her job at the library and even comes up with a plan to get more people to use it when budget cuts threaten her job. 

It is sometimes harder for me to write about library-centric books than it is to write about books in which the library or librarian is only a minor part of the story. Where do I start? What do I leave out? In this case the passages I marked mostly seem to indicate things that are especially un-librarian like behaviors.

On her first day she is asked to reshelve some books "according to the numbers on their spines". I think we can safely assume these are Dewey Decimal Numbers. The Dewey Decimal Classification system isn't especially difficult to learn, but I cannot imagine that anyone would be expected on their first day of work to understand it so thoroughly as to need no training whatsoever before being asked to reshelve books. I have seen people with plenty of experience make mistakes in shelving, especially when the decimal place gets past a few digits.

There are some other very obvious places that indicate that the author perhaps doesn't fully understand library work. For instance when Jubilee is asked to fill in for the children's librarian during story time she panics a bit but her co-worker Louise assures her that "it's easy. Roger left the three books on his desk and I think you give out candy and sing a song or something. Over in thirty minutes." Jubilee does manage to get through the program and she "silently thank[s] Roger for at least picking out the right books." I can assure you that Roger didn't simply "pick out" some books. He planned a program.

Besides having Jubilee do the more difficult task of leading the story time while she staffs the Circulation desk, Louise also manages to have Jubilee do her "dirty work" for her when she decides that a patron needs to be told that she can't have "private parts up on computers" because "what if a child walks by". The fact that the website didn't appear to be porn, but rather was likely a medical site made no difference. The patron needed to be told it was "against the rules". I thoroughly disagree with this. Everyone has a right to find the information they need in the library. If there are concerns that others might see something then the library needs to figure out a way to ensure privacy. It is the bedrock of our profession.

Jubilee's love interest, Eric, discovers that the library is the perfect place not only to see Jubilee, but also to check out YA books that interest his estranged teenage daughter in the hopes that if he reads them he can get her to at least get her to return his texts. He checks out The Bell Jar, Twilight (he's Team Jacob), The Virgin Suicides, and The Notebook. He also enlists Jubilee to help him understand the works so that he can better discuss them with his daughter. The library (and Jubilee) also help him with his 10-year old son when he realizes that he cannot leave him home alone after school, and no babysitter wants to stay with the disturbed child. The provision of after-school care is a real issue for public libraries. Many families have no other options except to send their children to the library until they can be picked up when their workdays are done.

Despite its shortcomings in describing the library work, I very much enjoyed this book. It was a good, easy read during the holiday break.