Unexpected Connections through fact-checking

The kind of fact-checking I do where I sit at my computer and research for reference books can be fairly lonely work.  I’ve rarely come across many other people who know too much about fact-checking, whenever I meet someone I find myself reminded of other experiences of mine with places not everyone knows such as my small all woman’s college or New Zealand. There’s this moment of mentioning something like that where I don’t expect any reaction except curiosity, which can be nice as I can talk about what I love. The best though is when another person says, ‘Yes, I know about there or that.’ Suddenly I realized I’ve found another connection to one of the many communities I’m a part of and it has me beaming. This happens more quickly online where you can search out your people but in person, there’s still a great rush to that moment of connection.

In the last two months, I had two wonderful connections where I met someone who had worked in fact-checking and I was struck by how through this unexpected job, I’ve acquired another community of people. The first meeting happened when I was in the midst of pursuing my other profession, at an interview for a school librarian job. I arrived at the school early and started to talk with the administrative assistant who had fact-checked for her local paper. We had this lovely conversation about how when you’re fact-checking, you start out learning the sources you need and then they become comfortable and in her case, people she knew. For me, its been more learning the ins and outs of various sites particularly government then sometimes finding a whole other realm is needed. I had to do this with my latest job that was taking on a book about a foreign country, all my knowledge of United States government sites wouldn’t work, I needed to make sense of another government. I loved that discovery aspect which was something she shared as well, the joy of finding what you need.

Then the second conversation happened at a family party where I was actually working on my fact-checking while all the cooking was being done. Once I reached a finishing point, I met a cousin of my sister-in-law who turns out to be a librarian who has also worked as a fact-checker. His fact-checking was from a different angle as he worked on copy that was connected to historical collectibles. He also gave me hope that I would find the library where I fit as it took him a couple of variations on the library world before he found a job that worked for him. I appreciated that reminder as I keep myself open with substituting, fact-checking and applying to various library jobs, but it can get hard at times.

Next week, I’m going to get a chance to do one of my favorite local library activities as I’m running the first story time in the Lewes Children’s garden on Monday. This story time is wonderful as its set in this beautiful vegetable garden run by Lewes in Bloom on the edge of Stango Park. That means that families bring picnics with them as there are always lots of vegetables, everyone goes home with something fresh along with the fun of hearing a story outside. The focus will be on strawberries as a local jam maker will be there, I only hope that the weather isn’t too hot.

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ALA Midwinter

Since leaving Chicago, there’s been a great deal of snow in many places. In some ways, that’s been wonderful, as after I left Chicago, I went to visit friends and stayed inside just reading. Sadly though where I live in Delaware, a lot of snow isn’t the norm and its made life a complicated. This has made substituting a little confusing but workable. I’ve been thinking a lot about Midwinter since leaving and now feel ready to write up my thoughts.

My Midwinter this year felt as if it was all about connections across the library world and the various worlds that I inhabit from seeing my childhood on stage with LeVar Burton’s speech to talking classics at an exhibit booth. One of my absolute favorite parts of Midwinter or Annual is the exhibit hall, because its possible to understand how diverse and huge libraries truly are. It feels like every time I go to a conference, the diversity of people and interests is brought more to the fore and it makes me happy. This year it was made explicit in wonderful ways such as the Day of Diversity, I wasn’t able to attend any of the events but followed a number of attendees on Twitter. A favorite panel that I went to combined a lot of my loves and why I enjoy the exhibit hall since I hadn’t planned on going to it but found myself sitting there. This was the Dark Fantasy panel at the Pop Top Stage which featured Fonda Lee, Ken Liu, Auden D. Johnson and Sabaa Tahir, which was thoughtful about why we read fantasy, what makes fantasy dark, how nice it is to have a fandom and how the authors write. It felt hopeful to hear authors comfortably discussing fandom, how its working within their lives and how they hope their works will fit into fandom. Also to hear them talking about the role of diversity especially within fantasy worlds. All of their books are high in my to be read pile.

Seeing LeVar Burton on Sunday morning was a powerful reminder of why I’ve chosen to be a librarian as he’s proof of the reach of books and reading. He spoke about his mentors from his mother to Alex Haley to Fred Rogers, through them it was possible to see how he grew and changed through his life and is still learning. Part of his talk was presenting a new book that he’s written called The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm. Its an amazing book about dealing with loss and how depression can hit everyone and to hear it read by him was a gift. I found his reading and talk inspiring as he spoke about how he’s still learning and finding ways to make sure that children everywhere have access to books. During the question period, every person spoke about how he inspired them and taught them from helping with a second language to seeing some of their own life reflected up on Reading Rainbow. When I left, it was with the reminder that touching someone’s life can be done in a lot of ways and as a librarian, I can open doors.

It felt like perfect timing that after hearing him speak, I went to the ALA Joblist Open House which was one of the biggest I’ve been to in my three years of conferences. The set up was more relaxed as well since the libraries were at small tables which made it easier to talk and not feel as if there was such a clear line in the form of a large table. That can be intimidating at times as I’ve found myself not always at ease to approach but with this set up, it felt informal and welcoming. I had a great number of wonderful conversations and again was struck by the simple diversity of what a library can mean from academic libraries to independent schools.

Speaking of school libraries, another strange intersection was when Carney Sandoe, the independent school job agency I’m connected to had a booth next to YALSA and there was also a booth of wonderful child friendly furniture. This meant that after I volunteered at the YALSA booth, which is always a pleasure to interact with fellow youth librarians, I could talk to my Carney Sandoe connection. After that I walked one more booth over to pick up a catalog full of furniture possibilities for the new Lewes’ library children’s section. Moments like that are why I adore the exhibit hall, how sometimes just by chance, disparate elements of my library experience are suddenly right next to each other.

I ended Midwinter with the Morris’ awards which were slightly subdued due to weather so only four out of ten authors were actually present. The rest of them had video presentations which were fascinating. A lot of my reading directly after Midwinter on the train to Michigan was from the Morris and Nonfiction awards. I’m going to end by recommending a few of the books that have truly stood out to me of the ones I’ve read so far from my Midwinter haul. All links go to my Goodreads’ reviews.

The Story of Owen and its sequel Prairie Fire. Owen’s world is one of the finest alternate histories that I’ve read with dragons inserted in such a way that the process of history all makes sense. These books remind me of when I read Seraphina and how I wanted to give a copy to everyone I knew. That’s how I feel about these because the characters are complex and real, the setting is fascinating and the language of the writing is beautiful.

Tommy: The Gun that Changed America was an interesting read about gun violence and gun control in American history. Before reading this book, I hadn’t realized how many gun laws were tied to particular issues with gangsters and times of violence. An aspect that impressed me a great deal about this book was how the back was organized to make it easy for the readers to find and understand the sources used. Its something I would like to see done more often as it makes the idea of reading a bibliography less daunting when the author presents the sources under useful headings.

The Port Chicago 50 about a time when racism in the armed forces put a number of men behind bars. This is one of those books that wasn’t easy to read because it deals honestly with the segregation and racism that went on during World War II and the cost of it to America. A cost that we’re still paying the price of and dealing with. An aspect of this book that has stayed with me is how its a reminder that history is never a simple starting point, the discrimination during World War II helped to give tools that made it possible for the Civil Rights Movement to achieve what it did. Also that the tools of change haven’t altered that much through the decades.

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Upgrading and new angles

I’ve begun this new year with the sense of upgrading as I prepare to head to Chicago for ALA Midwinter with a new phone and shoes, which allow me to clear away what isn’t working. As I improve what I can, I have a moment to reflect on what’s been coming together for me and what is to come. A major theme in my last couple of months has been the chance to approach the world from new angles. ALA Midwinter will be another wonderful opportunity to do that and if any of my fellow librarians who follow me across social media will be there, drop me a line on whatever platform works best for you and let’s see about meeting.

In November, the Rehoboth Beach Film Festival was held and I had the chance to experience a number of films where I as an American wasn’t the primary audience. This is one of my favorite parts of going to film festivals and reading books that focus on experiences outside of my own. I saw two films that stuck with me and that I’ve been recommending since November which I want to mention here.

The first one is Lilting, a beautiful and complex film about the death of a young man and how his mother and his partner try to process it through difficulties of language and experience. I recently discovered through NPR that this film was actually financed by Film London’s Microwave Project that works to promote diverse films.


The other film that stayed with me was about Simon Bolivar and called The Liberator, its a glorious, epic movie, but what made such an impression to me was how little I knew. So much of the history it was assumed that the audience simply knew in the same way that would be true for an American watching a film like Lincoln. I love coming out of a film with a desire to learn more and see how much I don’t know and I look forward to reading more about Simon Bolivar.


I’ve also fact-checked a few more books and along the way found some great resources. I love fact-checking because it gives me a chance to go down fascinating research pathways that are incredibly site specific and find ways to learn the information from the primary sources. A type of site that I’m always happy to find are tribal websites for Native American tribes such as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, which allow me to find their history without the bias that comes from an outside source. For a book, I was able to explore the journals of all the members of the Lewis and Clark expedition, they’re posted here by the University of Nebraska. The internet provides wonderful examples of ways to connect to the original sources as much as possible which in terms of history is key as history is constantly being reexamined.

The other area of my life that has provided some new angles is that I’ve begun to work part time as a substitute teacher in the local school district. My first assignment sent me into an elementary school classroom which is a world I’m not completely familiar with. It turned out to be exciting and I realized that it was a place that I understood better than I realized. I found that from storytimes, I had a good sense of how to keep busy children on topic and that the rushing and then pause of the day felt like when I had worked as a school librarian. I’m eager to go into more classrooms and perhaps a few libraries since teaching has always been a part of my life. One reason is because that sense of helping a child or a patron understand something they hadn’t before never ever gets old. The moment that happened in the classroom was teaching a young boy how sentences fit together into paragraphs.

I know that in Chicago, there will be many moments of finding unexpected ways to look at what it means to be a librarian and a reader. An added benefit is that I’ll be traveling by train and so will see the country from a new angle.

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Censorship close to home: Cameron Post and Cape Henlopen School District

Recently I had the odd experience of learning about something occurring in my own neighborhood from the online young adult world and then watching it play out online and in the local paper. I’m referring to the Cape Henlopen School District removing The Miseducation of Cameron Post from a summer reading list. A lot of great posts have been written about how misguided this choice was and I’ve found it inspiring to see how the YA community worked with the local community to get the book into the hands of kids who want it. Here I’m going to speak about the latest development a writing contest that gives teenagers a chance to say their thoughts about the book as well as provide a sense of the local context.

To start, the wonderful coda that is the essay contest. To quote the text of the flyer which is currently hanging over the new young adult books section at the Lewes Library.

The adults have had their say. Now it’s your turn. If you’re a high school student in Delaware, you’re invited to:

  • Get a free copy of The Miseducation of Cameron Post from Browseabout Books (student ID required)

  • Write a 250-500 word essay about what you think board members should know about the book before deciding whether it belongs on a school reading list

  •             Submit your essay to ncac@ncac.org by September 1st

I love the idea of this because one of my main complaints as I read through all of the articles that kept appearing in the Cape Gazette, the local paper, was how there weren’t enough student voices.

Now to get into a little explanation of where all of this happened since Sussex County, Delaware is currently in a great deal of economic and demographic flux. Sussex County and especially the area which Cape Henlopen serves is compromised of a number of different social groups and they don’t all fit together. Along the coast in towns like Lewes and Rehoboth Beach, retirees with liberal backgrounds from major cities such as Philadelphia, Washington DC and Baltimore have second homes and many live year round. Rehoboth Beach is known for being a welcoming place for the LGBTQ population.

A little further inland, farms and developments vie for land with places that conservationists have saved carving out their own spaces. According to the Sussex County Economic Development Office, the three main industries are manufacturing such as PATS Aircraft, Agriculture/Food Processing with the Mountaire Farms, mainly known for poultry the largest and then the three main hospitals; Beebe Medical Center, Bayhealth Medical Center and Nanticoke Health Services. Tourism and educational services also provide jobs through a University of Delaware Campus, Sussex Tech and a branch of Wilmington University. This means that the area can sometimes feel split between those who’ve been here for a while and tend to be more conservative and the newer and older residents that can be more liberal as well as immigrants that move here to work. A good explanation of how this looks politically comes from a write-up of Delaware around the 2012 elections from The New York Times:

“Almost all of Sussex County is rural. It is the top poultry producing county in the country. Along its coast, however, more than two decades of investment has cultivated a string of resorts, Mr. Pika said, and now liberal pockets can be found there. Rehoboth Beach, for example, has a substantial gay community.”

My family came down to this area to retire into one of those liberal pockets and they’re steadily making inroads into changing the political climate but it’s not easy to do.

All of this background is to show how in a place where same-sex couples are common a book can be banned for bad language with underlying homophobia. One aspect that I found fascinating was how little thought apparently went into choosing the list as it was apparently the first year it was done. It’s good that they trusted the Delaware Library Association to make intelligent choices, but the fact that most of the School Board and parents didn’t know much about these books wasn’t. Also none of this went through the normal process for challenging a book, which in the majority of libraries I’m familiar with requires the one challenging to read the book. All of the books were from the Blue Hen list which is selected by the Delaware Library Association, these books were then offered to incoming ninth graders to read. The way it all played out was strange too, the book was banned, then put back on the list and then the entire list was pulled. An interesting aspect was how a major part of rallying around the School Board came not from any thought on the book itself but more supporting the local government.

One letter that stood out for me was from someone who grew up in the area, was proud of not reading the book and fully backed the board; “I would like to commend the board on its decision to remove the above mentioned book from the summer reading list for incoming freshman. I hope that you are able to stand by that decision. I have not read the book.”

In a recent article from July 29th, a number of locals are quoted which gives a good sense of what happened.

“She’s promiscuous, drinks all the time and does drugs,” Hesson said. “Are we pulling students up, or are we just handing them stuff?”

While the Metcalfes and Hesson represented about half of 50 people who attended the meeting, just as many continued to support the book and the message it offers for gay students.

Recent Cape graduate Madison Bacon said gay kids are bullied in school, and “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” could help them handle adversity.

“It is a wonderful book. When I heard you removed it, it made me very sad,” she said.

Looking back over what happened, I think that the entire area has been surprised by how involved the outside world became in the book banning. I know that Browseabout Books is still giving books away as they’re provided for part of the contest and according to a librarian friend, Emily Danforth is going to give a Skype talk to a LGBTQ book group that meets at the library. The entire experience feels like its reflected a lot of the cultural conversations in the country as well as the power of connecting in as many avenues as possible.

I feel proud to be a librarian, a reader of young adult literature and someone who can add a few words to this conversation. For my own part, I read The Miseducation of Cameron Post at the end of 2012 and enjoyed it immensely.

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#Weneeddiversebooks and dangers of genre

Last week the Weneeddiversebooks campaign ran on Twitter, Tumblr and other social media outlets, it was inspiring to read and see all the different voices. For my own small part, I read more diverse books and tried to be more conscious of what I was reading. As a white, privileged youth librarian, its important for me to listen and do all I can to promote authentic voices so that new readers can see themselves in the books that they’re reading. A company that is doing an amazing job of promoting diversity and listening to all the voices is Lee and Low Books who on their blog and other social media highlight other publishers and the discussion around the need for diverse books. One of the interesting side effects of this campaign was that it drew me to a number of thoughtful movies on Netflix that look into how key representation is and I would recommend them. To begin with, a movie about a singing group from Australia called The Sapphires, this movie is a wonderful mix of gorgeous music, the pain of racism and the Vietnam war. A shame of how its been promoted is that Chris O’Dowd, who is the manager in some cover art is highlighted when he’s very much a co-star to the four women.

Then the other two that I want to highlight are documentaries that deal with who is presenting the voice of a marginalized people. Sholem Aleichem: Laughter in the Darkness about the Yiddish author who’s stories inspired Fiddler on the Roof and helped the diaspora of Jews from Eastern Europe see themselves within literature. The documentary is wonderful in its use of archival photographs and footage along with actors reading Sholem Aleichem’s works in character. Watching it happened to coincide with a copy of The Golem and the Jinni finally becoming available at the library and the documentary gave me a greater understanding of the background for the Golem’s world.

Lastly I watched Reel Injun, a film about the harm caused by movie portrayals of Native Americans in film. The director Neil Diamond travels across the United States connecting with places and people to understand what was behind the choices made about Native Americans in film and what’s being done to change the ideas. It’s a clever use of the road trip format to go through history and enlightening.

At the moment all of these movies are available on Netflix Streaming along with other outlets.

Recently a matter of stereotyping in terms of books especially Young Adult novels featuring women happened with my father and I wanted to share it as it shows how books can be lost. When I was at ALA Midwinter, I picked up a copy of Expiration Day at the Tor publishing booth, because I had seen it mentioned on their website. I didn’t read it until I was on a plane and then I blew through it, amazed and fascinated. My review is here.

When I finished it, I knew that I had to recommend it to my father who has been reading science-fiction since he was a boy and this was one of the most thoughtful books about robots and artificial intelligence that I’d encountered in a while. Science fiction is a genre I enjoy but I tend more towards fantasy, but this book completely pulled me with the characters and set up. My parents in the last week had been getting ready for a trip and that means lots of clearing up, so my father has been looking over books and magazines. He saw Expiration Day, skimmed the back and decided it wasn’t for him and I got annoyed, because the cover with the back of a young woman’s head and the description which reads like a different book, he wasn’t convinced. I told him to not judge it on how it looks, gave him a synopsis of the story and then a few days later, I found him sitting and engrossed in Expiration Day. I was glad that I was able to change his mind, but it worries me how many people who consider themselves science fiction readers will pass over a book that has a girl or a YA feel to it.

I don’t know what the best answer is to this, because the strange aspect is this book was written by a man and its one I’d recommend to teenagers. I thought it did a masterful job covering the complications of growing up, but it doesn’t fit perfectly into either box. So going by the norms of science fiction writing culture, it should do better than a woman writing about robots yet because it’s portrayed as more YA, it won’t be. The best answer I have for now is to promote Expiration Day and link to The Book Smugglers’ review of it and keep pushing against the dangers of judging too much by genre. Genre to me is a place to begin, but shouldn’t be the first and last way of choosing to read a book. I know what I prefer in a book and of late I find it more in YA, fantasy and romance, but I don’t want to miss any book since it doesn’t stay in one of those boxes.

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Busy days-Fact-checking and the School-Librarian as Goalie

The past month and such has been incredibly busy for me in wonderful and interesting ways. I discovered that my love of research translates into an ability to do fact-checking and I’ve had great conversations at two Carney Sandoe Forums. During one of these Forums, one of the best ways to describe a school-librarian in terms of hiring and schools came up, the librarian as Goalie. In this entry, I’m going to talk about these two points which have been on my mind and with the fact-checking taking up a great deal of my time.

On my grad school list-serv, there was a mention of a publisher of children’s books needing fact-checkers. I emailed them, because I’m always looking for ways to connect to the world of children’s literature. It took a few weeks from when I emailed to when I was sent a PDF of a reference book on a state for Middle Grade kids. Then I had three weeks to work on the book checking everything from the obvious facts such as statistics to the statements in the text. I found it a pleasure to research for a job, to find and explore sites to discover how trustworthy they are and think about what information is out there. It was an intense job as I only had so long and had to cover every piece of data presented on the book’s pages, which meant I wasn’t doing that much else during it.

Along the way I discovered thoughtful historical sources in places I hadn’t immediately thought of such as websites put together for National Historic Sites by the National Park Service. Though as I thought about it, it made perfect sense to find strong scholarship put into easily accessible formats from the National Park Service, which exists to make history and nature closer. One of the challenges was that because I was fact-checking, I was searching for particular nuggets of facts, which meant at times having to pull up three different biographies of one person to cover all that was mentioned. Along the way, it was a pleasure to do my best to eliminate some common historical fallacies that sound nice but aren’t always true as well as learning a great deal about how many Native American tribes choose to be referred to. Whenever I found an error, it was important to have either the correct fact to replace it with or something else. In many places, I found myself disagreeing with some of the author’s choices in terms of the sorts of numerical facts that were put down. Those facts were usually the hardest to find as they tended to be created by combinations of sources and thus I couldn’t always find confirmation. In those cases, I would try to find more information that presented the same idea which was usually about the scale of a historical event, the size of a geographic feature or the size of a part of the economy. The experience brought together many facets of my knowledge and life since my friends know that if they wonder about something, I’ll go and find the answer. Fact-checking also reminded me of how much I enjoyed my internship at the Independence Seaport Museum as I was reading logbooks to put together archival descriptions and had to do research to understand their times and context. The process taught me too of various ways to approach research so that its not just something to do for class, but enjoyable. Now I have more ideas about bringing more of that joy of finding the fact that puts an event into context into the library and classroom. As its so key to make looking for information interesting and remind students that research comes in many flavors and what counts is understanding where a fact comes from.

The Librarian as Goalie came from a conversation I had at a Carney Sandoe Forum where someone I spoke said that librarians were like goalies; schools normally didn’t need more than one or two but it was key to get the right one. This resonated with me as a concise way to show how key a librarian is to a school but how librarians also don’t fit in the normal boxes. A hockey or soccer team might have two goalies, who they have to have to keep the team working as it should but they won’t be replaced as often as other members of the team. A school hopes to not have to hire librarians too often as they want them to be the goalies who are dependable and there to provide a foundation for the rest of the school. With a good librarian, a school can build on research and technology basics allowing teachers to experiment in ways they might not have first thought of. Its a way of talking about school librarians that I plan on using in the future as its simple and effective.

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Shapes of Creativity

An interesting benefit of living as I do in coastal Delaware with my retired parents is being aware of how many ways creativity can be nourished. For me, creating has meant writing in classes or online and performing in the theater, at the moment, the main one is my writing. Sometimes though the words don’t come easily and I’ll have ideas that feel like they’re dammed up in my mind waiting for something to unclog them and then they flow free. Of late, this has been an interesting contrast to my father who recently discovered writing as a new avenue of creativity for him. Most of my life, his main artistic endeavors have been wood sculpture and photography, the sculpture has grown more prominent as he has the time and space to stretch himself. The photography has always been there but since he began thinking about writing a memoir and taking classes suddenly he’s writing an hour or two every day. Its been fascinating to talk with him about writing and hear him finding the joy in shaping the right words as well as exploring how to capture his own experiences for our family.

My mother has always been a writer, when I was younger she was working on a novel and from her, I learned a lot about editing and how important it is to get the words down. Since her retirement, her creative shift has been a return to music and rediscovering photography. There’s a wonderful camera club in this area which has competitions, trips and various other programs. For my mother, its become a teaching course where she’s learned to approach what she sees through the lens differently.

All of these interactions with creativity have at their heart a balance of a desire to create for one’s self and choosing how to best share them. My father has found a small gallery where he displays his work alongside another friends’ prints, my mother plays piano with friends and enters her photos in the camera club competition and now my father shares his work with a writing group. Most of my words are shared online through this blog and the various fanfiction sites that I participate in but the heart of all of these interactions is finding that welcoming and familiar audience. I look forward to the day when in a library, I can discuss with students what they make and who they want to share it with.

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