Butterfly in the sky ... I can fly twice as high

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Banned Book Week--Banned Websites Awareness Day: A Contrast

Banned Book Week has become a mainstay cause and publicity event for libraries across the country. It is an important week to advocate for the intellectual freedom that author and librarians seek to support and uphold in public spaces. I can't help but feel, though, that some of our advocacy can feel rather antiquated today and often puts a softened veneer on the face of censorship. Many of the displays I have seen often highlight books that have been banned in the past, but are in most cases  deemed culturally acceptable now. Even displays that discuss more recent books, such as Harry Potter and Hunger Games, fit into this category. This approach presents censorship  as something fading into obsolescence, and thus takes the urgency out of the message.

Now not all programs follow this model, many have found great ways to better connect children to the issues, whether through viral readings, book clubs, or more, but I think it is hard for children to grasp the concept of banned books if we discuss books they can read. Perhaps the brave, but scary challenge is to discuss those books that continue to be challenging to today's culture. I have seen some great physical displays placing books behind bars, or police caution tape. What if the books behind these barriers were books that actually more relevant to children today? What if books that had actually recently been challenged in the district were displayed and openly discussed? What if web resources were the primary examples used?

I think too often we treat Banned Book Week as a remembrance week. "Remember all the awful things we used to do, but look at how much better we are now." By oversimplifying and antiquating the story of censorship we risk removing the emotion that is central to such cases today. Children are motivated by their own engagement in an issue and librarians miss an opportunity to gain young fervent advocates in this way.

A second concern is the medium we focus on. We spend a whole week discussing banned print books, but only one day advocating for Banned Website Awareness. That inequity does not match the relative role we have placed on these tools in the modern library. As librarians, we have made massive strides over the past decade to better incorporate digital materials and technology initiatives. We have gone so far as to make these standards of our profession. However, while we have been aggressively forward-thinking in providing users access to and information about new mediums, we have fallen behind in defending everyone's right to access information via the internet.

For children, I think this is an even bigger area where we can engage them to become participants in their own advocacy. This ascribes to the active-based learning that teachers and librarians are seeking to promote everywhere. A great Banned Website Day project I saw on the New York Times' Learning Network blog asked students to explore if there were restrictions and filters placed on their school computer use, and to challenge these practices by examining their effects. Such programs appeal to kids through the technologies that they are using, present the urgency and presentness of these issues, and allow for direct student advocacy. This type of contemporary engagement is too often missing from Banned Book Week. I think we need to shift the focus in our advocacy against censorship in the same ways that we have shifted our focus in our libraries.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Blog Comments

Here are my comments on professional blogs:

School Library Monthly: Share the Wealth

What a great post. We all come up with so many great ideas in development, but they do not mean much until we place them in practice. I think the question you ask and the framework for answering it are great.
But Barbara Jansen’s question is a great one: “what will you do on Monday based on what you learned and contributed this weekend.”
You really took this to heart and the graphical answer does a great job at getting down to brass tacks. That is an approach I am going to steal myself. The more we can do to think about these great ideas and approaches in the context of our own situations and our own users, the more effective we will be. Thanks for your insight!
PS: Isn’t it funny that those forms we fill out can include such rote questions, when we work so hard in our everyday lives to design inquiry-based assignments with thoughtful questions? Always seemed ironic to me!


You could not be more right.

This is such a real issues, and one that everyone needs to continue to help grow awareness about. It is something that librarians can help not only with information and resources, such as the ones you provide, but also by being the adult and intervening.  Particularly when we as librarians often oversee the more informal interactions of students, we have to stand up against bullying, or even the hint of it right away.

But this bullying extends well beyond the school halls today, as the two examples you cite mention. The role of technology and web 2.0 have changed the nature of bullying, and we must be cognizant to the confrontations students can face online. This is where libraries and information literacy can continue to help. Children no longer "turn off" their social selves when they get home but have to learn how to effectively and safely enmesh these technological tools with their own self-development. Its challenging.

The more adults can help in this process the better. But bullying is an ongoing problem, and one we cannot ignore, even after its month in the spotlight.

Thank you for continuing to highlight this issue!

YALSA: Connect, Create, Collaborate: The Next Big Thing in Teen Spaces

 I love the great discussion here.

As to what Megan, Fernando, and Mark reference, space is going to be an ongoing issue. In some ways, those long "banks of desktops" play a significant role, no matter how much we dislike them; they often physically define the space for teens or other users. But if technology is moving us away from that, it has serious ramifications. I believe it is because librarians have fought so hard to find spaces in their libraries for teens, that it is crucial to start thinking about the future of these spaces now.

If the physical space of a library is changing, there will be renewed battles over claiming that space for different library users. If youth service librarians don't have a plan--whether it is the beautiful and creative ideas that Linda Braun suggests, or something more appropriate for your district and community, it is important to begin that conversation now so that as change continues to come, librarians are prepared to protect the teen spaces we have worked so hard to carve out. Finding more square footage can be a huge blessing to everyone in the library, but can only be fully realized if a long-term plan is developed to seamlessly move into that imagined future. 

Pew Report: Young American Reading Habits

A few weeks ago, the Pew Internet and American Life project published their results concerning the reading habits of young Americans, age 16-29. Linda Braun, at the YALSA blog has published a 3-part posting commenting on this report. Her posts were built through the Storify web tool, that allows you to amalgamate social media context into a more linear sourced story. This is not only a fantastic new tool that I have discovered, but Braun's postings really get at the ways that youth service  librarians can interpret and apply the Pew findings.

Much of the discussion in Braun's postings focuses on digital reading and e-books in the library. The Pew study presents some pretty compelling evidence for the possible benefits of expanding such programs for teens. While teens still remain one of the least likely age-groups to utilize e-readers, evidence seems to point that this is more an issue of access, than interest. Pew mentioned that 58% of those who do not have an e-reader would be interested or very interested in pre-loaded e-reader borrowing. There is a strong desire amongst young readers for instant access, and digital material offers this. Its also why Braun notes how essential it is for libraries to build up their web presence with strong usability options for teens. Her postings provide a good overview of the Pew findings.

In offering some advice going forward, Braun recognizes that expanding e-reader programs can be very expensive for libraries. She offers a number of sources including the ALA's Digital Content Working Group, with resources and information for librarians. I would go a step further, though, and emphasize another Pew statistic: those under 30 were more likely to read off of their cell phone or computer than an e-reader. Instead of focusing so much on the devices, we can find ways for more people to access digital materials with the devices they already have. Encouraging e-reader growth is good, but should be second to the content.

While Braun and I might disagree slightly as to the importance of e-reader devices, we would agree that content is the biggest factor.  Braun finishes her 3-part conversation by offering some further reading about the convoluted and contentious world of e-publishing. I think changing the nature of the library-publisher relationship concerning digital content will be critical going forward as the nature of "ownership" begins to take on new meanings. The Pew research shows that teens are reading, they are reading for pleasure, and they are using the library. These are all great. But we can do an even better job of giving young adults instant access to content, and access to sources of interest for their age group.

Finally, I'm also really compelled by the storify.com tool. It appears to be almost a more dynamic version of wikipedia, where one can directly follow the tweets/blogs/links to additional content. The storify board serves as an organizational tool to connect these different sources towards an overarching message. This is the first time I have seen this tool and will be sure to explore it further. Let me know if any of you have used Storify and how you like it.