Monthly Archives: May 2012

Where I fit as a librarian and reader: not either/or but and

My last few weeks have been incredibly busy as I had three in-person interviews at three quite different independent schools. I’m not going to go into detail about these interviews but they did get me thinking about perceptions of libraries, librarians and books. Then last night I was reading an article in The New Yorker about guilty pleasure reading, which is a phrase I dislike and I wanted to write about the views of books and technology.

Two of the schools I spoke to have iPad programs and I ended up dealing with many questions that were variations on: we have it all on the ipad, what can you do? These questions weren’t too surprising considering the language that the media and the educational world use in terms of these new technology tools, that its all right there at your fingertips and your students can do it all. This seems rather short-sighted because another discussion that swirls around technology is how there’s so much information, it’s hard to know how to navigate it. I found that my best answer was by talking about two quite different aspects-the library has a third place and community gathering point and how I as a librarian can help navigate the resources available. This seemed to make sense and it was fascinating to see the different ideas that being in the library brought about in discussions, I could almost guess the people who grew up spending their time in libraries and those who didn’t. Then in terms of technology, when I spoke of how my job as librarian was to gather and curate the resources to get them prepared and easy so that the focus in classes could be on education, that made sense.

I found these conversations amazing as I was able to get a sense of how the sense of what is a library is in such flux, this was something that came up, again and again in the course of my degree. We were constantly debating and discussing what is a library, sometimes in comparison-what is a library in comparison to an archive or online or in a school? I found the chance to bring see how those thoughts played out in the arena of schools a reminder that I have found the right career for myself.

Now the other aspect I was thinking about was who I am as a genre reader. One of the quickest ways to make me lose my temper is to call any book trash since it adds an element of shame to reading, which is awful. Last night at work, I was reading an article in The New Yorker called “In Praise of Guilty Reading Pleasures” by Arthur Krystal. I would link it but its behind the paywall but if you have access I recommend reading it because the author didn’t do a good job arguing for genre books in particular mysteries and thrillers.

What got in the author’s way from the start is the idea that any book is a guilty pleasure, this brings shame and I shouldn’t be reading it into the equation and is insulting. My view has always been if a book brings you pleasure, its worthwhile. If someone wishes to criticize a book there are many other ways to speak of them that don’t make the reader feel as if they’re not good enough such as talking about the quality of the writing, the characters, the plot, the world-building, the cover or even the editing. All of these elements exist in every type of book and create a level playing field. The author was trying to argue that these genre books can be well-written and are good in their terseness and effectiveness and talked about the fascinating history of the novel, which hasn’t always been the darling of the literary establishment. It was at the end of the article that this all fell apart. I’m going to quote the first and last lines of the final paragraph that I tweeted last night to show what I mean about the author destroying his own point.

Apparently we’re still judged by the books we read, and perhaps we should be.

And, if we feel a little guilty for getting so swept up, there’s always “Death in Venice” to read as penance.

I just don’t get this attitude and its so prevalent that people enjoy that on their e-readers, no one knows what they’re reading. If we’re to continue nurturing readers, we need to make it clear that reading is wonderful and we all have different tastes. I think my biggest issue with this article is how it brings in strong and harmful religious ideas about penance and almost a diet analogy in read your veggie books, do your penance instead of enjoy what you like.

To end on a happier note, today on Tor.com I read an article about genre fiction that completely got it about how genre can be fun and deep and complex called Why Genre is Synonymous with Pop. I also highly recommend Tor’s Genre in the Mainstream series as it looks at why some books are literary and some genre and how the lines blur far more often than we expect. Usually what puts a book on one side or the other is the author or the publishing house and how they’re considered. That’s another longer discussion about how publishers decide where a book fits and best left for another time.

In the end, I see myself as a librarian as someone who connects resources and helps makes sense of all that’s out there. We don’t have to do either e-books or print, its a matter of and. The library is a place to meet as a community and talk about what we love. Just as books aren’t a matter of either literary and good for you or a guilty pleasure, a book that you get lost in is a worthwhile book.

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Accessibility, Joy and Inclusion: My Librarian Philosophy

This entry is something I wrote for an amazing job agency that is helping me explore jobs in the independent school world. They asked me to write a statement about my educational philosophy and this was the end result. I’m posting it here as it brings together a lot of ideas that I have written about earlier on this blog.

a boy sitting on a stool by a fireplace reading.
Image from the University of Michigan Museum of Art website.

On my desk, there’s a notecard of a painting called Boyhood of Lincoln by Eastman Johnson. In the image Lincoln, as a boy of perhaps twelve, is reading by the fireplace and so concerned with his book that he is almost falling off of the stool he’s sitting on. He has moved as close to the fire as possible to take advantage of all the light and is deeply lost in his book. This is an old image of reading but it holds within it many lessons that I believe are still important in the currently changing landscape of books and writing. The boy in the image can read his book where he wants to, he finds a joy in his reading as he borrows the firelight to not miss anything and he’s a part of a community of readers. This image captures for me many meanings about reading and librarianship. Accessibility, joy and inclusiveness are major themes in the way I think of myself as a librarian and educator.

One of the simple powers of a book is that it can be carried everywhere and historically this possibility created a new type of access to information and enjoyment beyond the elites of society. Current technology has increased this accessibility even further. Although not everyone can read an ordinary printed book, there is now an array of digital tools to provide ways for children who might not consider themselves readers to discover that in fact they are. Children with dyslexia can discover how to manipulate the text on an e-reader so that it makes more sense to them thus opening up entire worlds of books. E-books with audio capability are a helpful channel for people with visual impairments, compared to the bulkiness and difficulty of Braille materials. Electronic links to dictionaries can help a student find a word without being pulled away from the book and students can share their thoughts about what they are reading through social media. These are all tools with great potential, but it is the teacher-librarian who must figure out which ones each student needs to succeed in reading.

Once students have been introduced to the most comfortable way for them to read then it’s time for the fun part of helping them learn what to love about reading. A reader is part of a community, now more than ever through social media that allow connections to authors and other readers. A young reader can find out about how a book got started, why it was chosen by a publisher and most important, who else is reading it and what they think about it. The sharing of reading experiences reveals the variety of the lives of readers through the diversity of what they read about and in which formats. This offers encouragement to young people who may not have read what their parents or teachers are most familiar with. Classics have their place but it is also important to let the child who grew to love reading through comic books or fantasy feel that this makes them a reader too.

A sense of inclusion combines access and joy and is another necessity for every reader. A key responsibility I feel as a teacher-librarian is to make sure that every reader knows that they will be able to find books that include characters like themselves. This doesn’t have to be every book but there need to be options; our books need to be as diverse as our students.

I look forward to carrying this image of Lincoln with me as a talisman for my journey as a teacher-librarian, providing access, joy and inclusion to today’s young readers.

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