Read to See, Me and You

This post is written in response to several posts (one example is Gina’s found here) and the general discussion among librarians about appropriate content in school library collections.

singleshardI enjoy reading because I get to see and experience new people, places, ideas, religions, and theories. Through books I have been an American soldier Vietnam (Meyers, Fallen Angels), an “ape girl” trapped on Earth while my family gets to explore the galaxy (Edwards, Earth Girl), a nurse in England in the early 1900s (Worth, Call the Midwife), a queen of the Nile, a slave in Boston, a potter in southern China, a ballerina in Russia. . .

Part of what draws me – and many others – to be librarians is the hope and thrill of sharing the worlds within books with others. However, as teacher librarians (TLs), we must be judicious in our recommendations and collection development. We must practice a form of censorship, though we resist calling it that. Books, magazines, websites, podcasts, etc. should meet the developmental, social, academic, intellectual, and cultural norms appropriate to the students.

“What?” you may shout at me. “Appropriate to their ‘cultural norms!’ Are you kidding me! They need to experience other cultures from around the globe!” Yes, my friend, as a TL I live with looming anxiety about book challenges, about school strife amongst students and staff and administrators and parents. Let me give you an example:

Most American students study at least once in grades 6-12 Greek mythology and culture. You expect your school library to have materials on these topics: if students have a research project, the library can help; if a student is fascinated by the culture, the library should be able to help nurture that student’s interest. Now, here’s one potential issue of hundreds possible. Soldiers in ancient Greece frequently practiced what is labeled in American cultural, “homosexual behavior.” Library materials may contain Greek.urn.Dionysosreference to these practices – in either word or illustrated form. Want a different example? The Greek god Zeus married his sister Hera and fathered her children. He “cheated on” her frequently and hundreds of stories  (or myths) exist with details about sexual encounters with other females. Okay, we just won’t have stories about the soldiers’ sexual behavior or about Zeus’s adultery. Fine and dandy: what would you like me to do with all of the books, websites, and articles containing photos of Greek art? Classic Greek vases are frequently, what American’s term, “graphic,” meaning they show nudity.

books.tightropeMy “graphic” point is that TLs walk a tightrope of prudence, free access, community tolerance, and curriculum. In Gina’s post – which I referred to at the beginning of this piece – she talks about the need for students to read items that reflect themselves, as well as items that provide “windows” to other cultures. I wholeheartedly agree. So here’s to pulling back the blinds and opening the window, to dusting off the mirror and hanging it in the light.

American Library Association’s Readers’ Advisory of book selection resources

The Atlantic article on high school book censorship and selection

School Library Journal article on self censorship

National Coalition Against Censorship article “The First Amendment in Schools”, including links to censorship policies from national, professional organizations (i.e. ALA, NCTE, ASCD, NEA)

 

Are You in a 21st Century Library?

In my current MLIS course, School Media Centers, we read, discuss, research, and promote the use of technologies in the school library. In fact, the increased order for more and newer tech in school libraries is pushing the facilities in a new direction: the Learning Commons (LC). An LC is like a student union building on a college campus that has been combined with the library. It is a place for socializing, generating ideas, learning, seeking guidance, and more. LC’s started appearing in the 1990’s, but have really taken off in the past ten years. Ever heard of one? I hadn’t until last fall.

Why hadn’t anyone ever told me about a learning commons? Why hadn’t the library conferences I attended had sectionals on LCs? Why hadn’t my coworkers in schools and libraries shared the idea of these new student exploration centers with me? I propose it is because most people do not know about them, especially in regions that have an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. I believe that a second cause is the aspect of technology. If a school district lacks the funding to implement a new LC program and library renovation, most librarians will shy away from the project.

The high school I work in does not have a learning commons. To be succinct, the library at my current school has a 20-stations computer area, a digital projector and whiteboard – which I have only seen and known of teachers using, comfortable chairs around a TV – though not enough seats for a class, and a table and chair setup for classroom use. All of this has bookshelves at the periphery. Are there tablets? No. Is there a 3D printer or laser cutter? No. Is there a general area for creating? No. Do student clubs meet there? No. Do teachers or mentors every hang out there to help students? No.

I question – as do my peers in INFO 233 at SJSU – what exactly a 21st Century Library is (see Jeana’s or Lydia’s post). If your library does not possess the newest printing technology or have instruction available for the latest websites, you may not be a 21st Century Library. However, perhaps a better assessment for your library is whether or not your staff adhere to using and teaching to the 21st Century Learning Standards. I invite you to reflect upon and implement necessary changes according to what you learn. What does your library do well? How and where can you improve? Enjoy the journey!

It’s All About Comfort. . .According to a Teenager

School libraries are an ancient tradition. The Great Library of Alexandria hosted the great thinkers of the Mediterranean region for over seven hundred years.  Legendary scholars such as Euclid, Archimedes, Eratosthenes, Hipparchus, and Hypatia studied the available materials at the library, as well as gave lectures there with students. And when the erudite gathered at the library, they walked the verandahs and reclined upon cushions in the gathering areas. You see, they were comfortable, prepared to spend hours thinking and debating and listening in one place.

Library-of-Alexandria

The Library of Alexandria, an artist’s rendering according to historical accounts

When Christian monks and priests became the most educated people of Europe, they began collecting literary works. Most of the works were letters from the saints of the early Church, but there were also treaties, land rights, family genealogies, diaries, and theological treatises. The letters from the saints were sorted, debated, compared, and thoroughly analyzed, eventually having a few of the hundreds selected to become the Christian Bible. To conduct this mentally strenuous work, the men of the Church had to be physically comfortable: have food to eat, light to see clearly by, and furniture to hold their bent bodies over the texts for long hours.

Minisature.JeanMielot.MiraclesDeNostreDame

Miniature from Jean Mielot’s (died 1472) Miracles de Nostre Dame

Eventually, monasteries began teaching local children how to read and write so that the youth might spend time reading the Christian Bible. The classes grew into schools and universities, and much of the European and American educational format is based upon the monastic model. Throughout the development up to our current standard system, libraries have sat at the ready for inquiring minds to enter the doors.

Libraries today stand on what many view as an apex of change: books are available via internet, so a physical library is less necessary for access. However, libraries are valuable beyond their literary collections – they are places of gathering, of idea sharing, and of reflection. As long as libraries provide this space and encourage these purposes, the institutions will be preserved.

While that seems like a simple statement, libraries cannot sit idly by, assuming all is well. The spaces must be available when people seek it, the areas must be comfortable, the voices of opposition and discourse must be welcome, and the tools for sharing ideas and gaining knowledge must be present.

So what does all of this have to do with “It’s all about comfort. . .according to a teenager”? I was visiting with a high school senior about why and when she uses the school library. Her response:

teenzone.seating

Comfortable teen seating includes a variety of options for personal preference

I go in there when I want to be someplace quiet. I like to sit in the comfy chairs and use my phone [for internet access] or study for a test. I wish they would get more nice places to sit. I’d probably go in there more if there were more comfortable seats.

Uncomfortable.library.floor

What’s Up with All the Gloom and Doom in YA Lit?

Has anyone wandered through the young adult section at your local bookstore? If yes, did you notice a common trend in the books? Something like vampires, teens save the world, angels, teens save the world, life stinks, teens save the world. . . Young adult literature used to be pretty “soft” content, with occasional hard hitters like Go Ask Alice and Catcher in the Rye. Subsequently, not many authors sought to publish YA novels; the material was generally boring and did not resonate with teens. Now, though, the walls aren’t padded and writers are bashing the proverbial walls of YA literature with monsters, drugs, post-apocalyptic societies, contrived dictatorships, and all of it with teens saving the helpless – or should I say hapless – adults.

YA.dystopia.booksSome lit critics believe that the attacks on the USA on Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent culture storm changed the collective psyche of young children at the time (this is a fairly common theme when “lit crit” folk gather to discuss contemporary literature)(Ryan, p. 1). In 2008 Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games was published and teens grabbed the story, its theme, and its characters and begged for more. Since that time, dozens of best sellers have been released under the YA genre. Literary critic Devin Ryan explains why teens are drawn to violent, morbid stories with young protagonists: “trends such as conformity, rebellion, and personal identity allow adolescent readers to acknowledge that there are others going through similar transitions, and helps them to uncover the truth in their lives and the world” (Ryan, p. 15). When authors create believable characters that teens can relate to and that live out emotional turbulence, young adults respond with enthusiasm. Scholars Scholes and Ostenson state that “protagonists [. . .] [are] questioning the underlying values of a flawed society and their identity within it—who they are going to be and how they are going to act. Every choice the characters make can carry enormous consequences, often to the point of significantly altering the world they’ve always known. Teenagers connect with these protagonists as they feel a similar weight on their shoulders.” Stories that show young adults creating positive change in adult situations are especially popular because teen readers empathize and seek similar recognition and power in their own lives.

Most of the “gloom and doom” titles that are currently published for teens fall under the genre classification of Fiction/Young Adult/Fantasy/Dystopian. Dystopian novels have been around for a long time – remember reading Gulliver’s Travels in high school or college? “Dystopia” comes from classical Greek and means “bad place.” And, yeah, these teen novels are usually set in “bad places,” like Panem in The Hunger Games, where the government is a dictatorship and the people live in extreme poverty; or in The Maze Runner, where boys are mysteriously delivered with no memories to a farm surrounded by an evil, monster-filled maze; in The Lunar Chronicles series, where an evil queen mind controls anyone she can, kills those she can’t, and plots genocide so that she may take over the earth.

The following list is from Wikipedia: Utopian and Dystopian Fiction

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utopian_and_dystopian_fiction#Dystopian_fiction

I enjoy the current trend in YA literature, but I’ve always enjoyed dystopian stories and monsters. In the late ‘90s Christopher Pike wrote a vampire series about Sita, “the last vampire.” I read and reread the books, but had to wait over a decade for a new young adult story – that of Katniss, Gale, and Peeta – to grab me in a similar fashion.LastVampire.cover

The Last Vampire, The Hunger Games, and many other YA fantasy books have more than just “bad places” and monsters in common, though: they contain content that may not be appropriate for all readers. In Prof. Buchanan’s San Jose State University lecture on the “many hats” of a teacher librarian (TL), she describes the need for school librarians to carefully select materials for the collection. Furthermore, items that may be challenged by parents, students, or community members will need logical rationales available for why the library possesses them. My hope is that writings – such as this blog – will help TLs to understand why young adults desire fantasy books, especially those with mature content, and assist TLs in providing solid rationale for library materials.

I feel as though the YA dystopian literature is in a golden age and wonder how much longer the genre will thrive. For the past few years I have heard grumblings about series being “just a Hunger Games knock-off.” I, too, am a bit tired of the plot line, but continue to enjoy the strong young characters and interesting fantasy worlds.

References

Buchanan, S. (2016). “Teacher” librarian. San Jose State University. Online lecture.

Ryan, D. (2014). Emerging themes in dystopian literature: The development of an undergraduate course. Western Michigan University, Honors Program. Honors Thesis submitted April 23, 2014.

Scholes, J. and Ostenson, J. (2013). Understanding the appeal of dystopian young adult fiction. Alan Review, 40(2). Retrieved from https://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/v40n2/scholes.html

Utopian and dystopian fiction. (n.d.). Retrieved March 13, 2027 from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utopian_and_dystopian_fiction#Dystopian_fiction.

Teacher Librarian Disposition

As a little girl, I watched my mother bustle around her middle school library. She turned computers on and loaded CDroms, watered plants, shelved books, and greeted each student that walked through the door. I saw her chat with kids about new books, outdoor magazines, how to use the electronic card catalog, and where to find research about the US Civil War. In my mom’s day, I could see fun and adventure and variety and people and books. With these images, my desire to become a librarian was planted. “There are many foundations to an interest in school librarianship. There are however dispositions that school librarians cultivate that lead to success” (Harlan 12).DontForgetToBeAwesome

According to the American Association of School Librarians’, “school librarians are expected to be teachers, instructional partners, information specialists, and program administrators” (as cited in Elkins, Wood, & Mardis 137). My mother had the desired disposition for school librarianship. A disposition is not the same as a personality, though they are similar. Dispositions are characteristics an individual chooses to pursue or puts effort into exhibiting and practicing, while personality is natural proclivities and traits that do not require conscious effort to demonstrate. The desired disposition for a contemporary teacher librarian (TL) is one of caring, love of knowledge, enthusiasm for learning institutions, an open mind to hear others, and advocating for students and education.

To become a TL in the next few years means being energetic, informed, and active in promoting the contemporary library’s mission. These characteristics can be tough to live out in the context of library promotion. San Jose State University (SJSU) library professors Harlan and Buchanan repeatedly discuss the need for self promotion in regard to the library facility, collection, and staff. Prof. Buchanan gives a number of “strategies” for promoting a school library as a TL: gain authority through school data, market the library and librarian in newsletters and at meetings, collaborate whenever possible with other school professionals – especially in classroom settings, and conduct professional development sessions.

SchoolLibrarian.ManyHats

Yes, I have concerns about some of my personal dispositions with library work. But I have many strengths! For example, the NCATE disposition “fairness and a belief all children can learn” is my educational philosophy pillar. I am dedicated to student learning, certainly expecting the definition of “student” to include an person seeking to know more. Along these lines, I like to explore the logic and patterns of knowledge, including how and why and when and where different people learn the best and the worst. I understand many education subjects, and love to learn more about them with the company of a fellow student; well, except for calculus. I’ll leave that for a different TL. And I do all of this within a community of peers, students and teachers and readers and thinkers and explorers who want to know more!

I enjoy being social and sharing ideas. As someone who naturally learns and discusses, I lead by example and enthusiasm. When I listen to a parent or administrator, I am advocating for the positive experience of working with a TL. When a group of students and I natter away in book club, I advocate for the equal expression of ideas, opinions, and understandings. When teachers discuss content units in the faculty lounge and I mention some useful library resources, I shine light on the unique benefits our learning commons possesses. As Harlan points out, “In building relationships, you build the capacity for leadership within a school” (p. 9).  My primary focus as a TL will be welcoming students and staff, building relationships, and promoting the joy of knowledge. Researchers Jones and Bush eloquently state it this way: as a TL, you must care to change, care about your students and their success, care about creating a welcoming environment, and care about becoming an “exemplary school librarian.”

SchoolLibrariesEmpower.aasl

References

Buchanan, S. (2016). “Teacher” librarian. San Jose State University. Online lecture.

Elkins, A., Wood, J., and Mardis, M. (2015). School librarians’ roles: Preliminary results of a national survey of priorities, performance, and evaluation in the context of professional guidelines. The School Library Rocks: Accepted Papers IASL 2015: Volume 2: Research Papers. 136-155.

Harlan, M. (n.d.). School library programs: Text for 233. San Jose State University.

Jones, J. & Bush, G. (2009). What defines an exemplary school librarian? An exploration of professional dispositions. LMC, 27(6), 10-12.

 

Autism and Computer Coding

Last week a high school senior with moderate autism started asking for help with coding. Well, the student “Fred” actually wanted help making animated cartoons like he sees on TV, but what he really sought was coding. I shared a list of coding programs for the young man to learn from online.

Fred’s one-on-one worker knew that coding would be an awesome skill for the student. As Huffington Post blogger Vidcode writes, “Coding builds confidence in one’s ability to learn and create, as well as pride from actually creating something,” an important benefit for students like Fred who may not feel empowered by typical American education. Fred likes routine, patterns, limited social interaction, and visual stimulation; as some of you may know, these are pretty typical traits for people with Autism. By studying coding, Fred may acquire a lifelong job skill, plus entertain himself for hours.

Thanks to Temple Grandin and other successful autistics, the tech world is opening its doors to people with autism (Grandin; Silverman). Irena Uk, a Harvard tech graduate, wrote a superb article on this development and gives a list of tips for coding instructions for individuals with autism (see http://blog.stageslearning.com/blog/a-new-education-teaching-coding-to-students-with-autism).

scratch-homepageThere are a number of free online coding/programming websites. A very popular one is Scratch (https://scratch.mit.edu/) created by MIT graduate students. The program offers bright colors, simple instructions, and hundreds of accompanying resources. To introduce students with disabilities to computer coding, Scratch is a great place to start. Also, check out the comment from site administrator Wilhelmina Peragine for links to articles/posts about using Scratch with students who have autism or other disabilities (Peragine).

 As I read articles about the tech industry training more people who have autism, I felt excitement. A common statistic is that 80% of autistics are unemployed. Students like Fred lack the social skills needed for most jobs in the US, but will happily sit in front of a screen and create new digital worlds for themselves and others to enjoy. As my thoughts branch out from here, I wonder what “disabilities” can positively impact other career fields.

References

Grandin, T., & Panek, R. (2013). Temple Grandin: What’s right with the autistic mind. Time, Oct. 7, 2013.

Peragine, W. (2015). Scratch for autistic children. From Scratch Ed. Sept. 1, 2015. http://scratched.gse.harvard.edu/discussions/teaching-scratch/scratch-autistic-children

Silverman, L. (2013). Young adults with autism can thrive in high-tech jobs. NPR: Morning Edition, Apr. 22, 2013. http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/04/22/177452578/young-adults-with-autism-can-thrive-in-high-tech-jobs

Uk, I. (2016). A new education: Teaching coding to students with autism. Stages: Learning Materials. Blog. http://blog.stageslearning.com/blog/a-new-education-teaching-coding-to-students-with-autism

Vidcode. (2016). Coding allows learning disabled students to shine. Huffington Post: The Blog, April 1, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vidcode/coding-allows-learning-di_b_9586838.html

To Buy or Not to Buy: Are E-Readers Valuable in School Libraries?

Stephens, W. (Dec. 2011). What teens have to say about ereading. In YALSA Academy Youtube Channel. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtKWWBSV3RU.

ereaders

Summary

In the fall of 2011, Buckhorn High School launched a trial program to see if e-readers would be a beneficial addition to their school library. In this brief video, several students report on their experience with using e-readers instead of hard copies of books. The students said that using e-books was different and required some cognitive adjustment, but ultimately enjoyed them. Students listed benefits including having a constant light source, smaller object for transport than many physical books, and easy return and checkout of digital library books.

The video is part of the YALSA Academy, a YouTube channel for 5-10 minute videos supplied by school and library professionals on a voluntary basis. The channel is meant to promote continuing education and a resource for personal learning networks in the field of young adult library services.

Reaction

I often ponder the feasibility of school and public libraries checking out digital reading devices. When e-readers first became available, they were rather expensive and the ebook market had not exploded to the massive size it has evolved to. Now, ebooks are available for purchase, free download, and temporary download from digital checkout systems (i.e. via libraries). As I worked in a public library for three years, I watched people develop an addiction to digital books and audio books. The number of library patrons seeking digital checkouts grew at an amazing rate. I bought a tablet and started checking out ebooks, too, but still preferred holding a physical book.

My concern with e-readers, however, has not disappeared. The devices’ breakable screens, delicate circuitry, necessary internet access, and appeal for theft (small and valuable, easily nabbed, hard to distinguish from mass production) make me uneasy when considering them for large-volume student distribution. As I pursue knowledge for running a school library, I have questions about e-readers for my fellow librarians:

  • What ratio of e-readers to students does your school have?
  • At what age/grade level can students borrow an e-device?
  • How do you individualize content on the devices for age and developmental appropriateness?
  • What brand and model of e-reader does your library check out? Why?
  • What are pros and cons of checking out digital books?