And we experience that reality in the libraries where I work.
What does that mean? It means that people sleep outside of the library doors in anticipation of opening. That there are uncomfortable bodily smells (of varying intensities) throughout the library. It means that people come in laden with bags and carts and animals, which take up extra chairs, tables, and computer space. That often the root of homelessness is connected with mental illness and/or addiction, and this means behavioral issues in libraries are not uncommon.
The Houston Chronicle recently reported that a group of activists (who refer to themselves as “Christ Followers”) rallied outside the federal courthouse the afternoon of October 19th, making the announcement that they are suing the Houston Public Library. For what? For violating their freedom of religion by hosting the city-sponsored Drag Queen Story Hour program.
Per the article:
The library director and Mayor Sylvester Turner are named as defendants, accused of being recklessly entangled in “LGBT doctrine.” The lawsuit says the storytelling sessions advertised as appropriate for patrons of all ages at the Freed-Montrose Neighborhood branch should not be funded with taxpayer dollars since the library would not host a “man-woman marriage storytelling hour.”
First, I want to emphatically make the point that I think it’s important that everyone has a venue through which they can express themselves, especially in regards to the work public institutions like libraries are engaged in doing. These card-carrying library patrons do not approve of this particular program on a very fundamental level and I agree with their right to speak up about that disapproval. I come from a very conservative family, so I can emphasize with the perspective that the moral “other” are forcing the spread of their agenda through government programs.
In worldviews that endorse a specific and absolute moral narrative, it can be difficult to appreciate that vital to a public library’s purpose is welcoming multiple perspectives and moral narratives. Literally, the most fundamental concept of a public library is diversity – imagine visiting a public library with only one book on the shelf, or with all books by only one author. Different authors, different books, different ideas, different voices. The theme for this year’s Banned Book Week was “Banning Books Silences Stories.” The same individuals who do not approve of the Draq Queen Story Hour program probably do not approve of the content in MANY of the books that their tax money is also used to purchase for the library shelf. Quite frankly, I know I personally do not approve of books at the library! But I have appreciation for the idea that public libraries are intended to represent the larger human experience – much, much more than my narrow slice of life. The presence of materials I object to in this tax-funded space do not signify my personal endorsement of those materials – only my stake in the mission of the public library as a whole.
Second, – setting aside ideologies and discussing this situation specifically – I am curious what this group’s understanding of drag culture is. Specifically, if they understand that not all drag queens are gay? Equating Drag Queen Story Hour program to a “man-woman marriage storytelling hour,” I can’t help but wonder if the lawsuit was as confused…
Overall, it will be interesting to see what happens to this case in the courts and how that reflects on Houston’s library programs. I can’t imagine that the case will make it to trial, but I hope that perhaps it inspires the Houston Library to sponsor educational events to help the public better understand drag culture itself (any culture that is unfamiliar can seem intimidating and scary, especially one with a long history of negative stereotypes and bias) to supplement the fun of experiencing drag performance during Drag Queen Story Hour program.
The New York Times recently published a piece called “Just Don’t Call It Privacy,” and I think it helps to explain a fundamental misrepresentation in the United States of what’s really at issue when we talk about personal data.
Data collection giants, such as Amazon and Google, currently have pretty free reign over the information they collect on individuals who use their services. Even when headlines announced a huge data breach at Facebook, there was no mass exodus away from the social media platform. After all, what does a data breach even mean? Everything related to the conversation about user data is termed using oversimplified vocabulary attached to abstract definitions, so of course it’s easy to get lost.
Being a future librarian, I can’t help the impulse to index and collect! Here’s some interesting library-related (and information-related, since the two go hand-in-hand) things that I saw in the news this summer I want to save for future reference…
Working for a library this year has meant my first exposure to one of the biggest library events of the year, the summer reading program! Librarians work on these programs for months, planning and preparing. Many library systems participate in the Collaborative Summer Library Program, including the library system where I work (the King County Library System, or KCLS). This means that the themes for summer reading programs are often the same across the country. The theme this year was “Libraries Rock!” and the reading charts my system used embraced a retro interpretation with cassette tapes, vinyl records, and boom boxes. Even before the summer program began, I was excited to be participating on the peripheral from my role in circulation (I’m a Library Technical Assistant, which means I check out books, help patrons, and manage circulation tasks – I act to support library programs, but no work related to the building and developing of those programs). Listening to the librarians it sounds like all their planning and preparation left them exhausted by the time the program actually started. And, now that it’s all over? Relief!
This year was a stand-out year (at least, I was told it was) for two reasons: first, KCLS was offering a summer reading program for adults, which they did not do last year (in the years prior, I am unsure). Second, the halfway finishing prize (for all age levels) had a pretty significant monetary value: two free tickets (per patron) to a popular local water park called Wild Waves. For an adult, these tickets are worth over $30.00 each (so two are potentially worth over $60.00). To participate and receive two free tickets, all someone had to do was bring in one of the tear-off coupons from a reading log stating that they were eligible for the prize. No registration, no showing identification, not even a requirement of proof that the individual possessed a library card – literally, just handing in a coupon from a reading log freely available in any KCLS library. Unfortunately, this “honor” system created an opportunity for the program to be exploited for valuable free tickets – and it was.
I haven’t updated here in a while – and so much has happened! So now, it’s time for an OVERDUE post – let’s just say that this post is to pay my dues and settle that account 😉
In my last update, I discussed how I quit my full-time job working at Green River College and had applied for a part-time job at a library (actually, I applied for a couple). Part of why I’ve been so busy is that I got the job (as I hinted I thought I had)! Actually, I got BOTH of the library jobs I applied for (different locations, same work), but I turned down the one with less hours. I now am working around 25 hours a week. Somehow my time is still incredibly pinched, even working so much less than when I was employed full time, but I have been really glad for my new job (even if I haven’t made it up to campus for any extra offerings or events, as I had hoped). Working in a library space feels like a natural extension of learning about libraries in school – plus, there are lots of very human realities that just aren’t included in classes. Libraries are one of the last truly public community spaces, which means we see a variety of populations (and problems).
I’m now in the last third of my second year in the program – which means I’m approaching the last year of classes before graduation! I’m very nervous about my last year of grad school, especially making sure I meet all the requirements to graduate (there is a special Capstone Project you must complete as part of graduating, I guess I should probably figure out what that is).
Funny side-story: I also accidentally joined the leadership for the Society of American Archivists – UW branch. On the student Facebook pages they were saying that a club needed a graphic designer to do publicity stuff and I signed up before even checking what club it was. So I made sure to become official and actually join the Society (which means $$), but I’m honestly fascinated by archival work so I’m not sorry it worked out as it has. I’ve learned a lot working with this club and hope to maybe get a chance to do some archiving experience – unfortunately, the University of Washington (where I attend) does not offer very much in the way of archiving classes.
That’s essentially the life update! Also, I’m hoping to get back into doing some circus classes again in the somewhat-near future….timeline isn’t set, but there are opportunities on the horizon. I’ll also do my best to not be so “overdue” with a blog update next time and keep updating!
In Catholic and Orthodox Christian versions of the Old Testament in the Bible, there is a small book called the Book of Judith.
The story is simple but powerful – her Israelite town under siege, a widowed woman named Judith – described as wealthy and “very beautiful, charming to see” (8:7) – demonstrates the brute force of her faith. She charms and ingratiates herself to the general of the enemy army (named Holofernes) by providing “insider” information, acting as if she is a traitor while slowly building his trust. One night she uses this trust to gain access to the general’s tent while he is drunk and utilizes the moment of weakness to her advantage – by decapitating the general.
She then takes the head and returns to her people, brandishing it as proof of God’s ability to deliver. The story notes that although she is courted afterward, she remains unmarried for the rest of her life – a powerful widow who will not be coupled again.
This story has been illustrated through classical paintings time and time again. Although I have an art background I had never honestly given these paintings or this story much thought until I recently read the graphic novel “Becoming Unbecoming” by Una (a pseudonym chosen because it is the Spanish feminine form of the word “one” – “one of many” as the book explains). The graphic novel – which deals with themes of misogyny, rape, and the objectification of women – points out something about the artwork telling this story that I found incredibly fascinating.
My first year of school was many things, such as inspiring and engaging. But also incredibly BUSY!! Being a 2/3rd time student while also maintaining my full time job – and also remodeling and moving into an apartment – got to be very overwhelming. Towards the end of the last quarter of my first year back in school, my partner Katie and I made the big decision that I couldn’t keep juggling everything. So I gave my notice at work.
Leaving my full-time job was terrifying. However, despite the financial challenges, I know we made the right choice. I have had the summer off from school but kept incredibly busy doing finishing work around our basement apartment – we were in the middle of moving when I left my job as well as in the middle of actual construction work on the apartment itself. The apartment is in the basement of my girlfriend’s family home (her sister is living in the main house and is acting as our landlord), so we’ve had a hand in the physical work that needed done to make the space livable (as well as design decisions, since Katie’s sister doesn’t care as long as it doesn’t cost more). Unpacking and moving us in definitely took its share of time as well. I’ve barely noticed that I’m unemployed – my days have usually been very, very occupied.
Lately, as we’ve become more settled and the necessary work at home has lessened, I’ve also applied to several part-time library jobs. Speaking of which, recent events suggest that the latest interview is going to result in a job offer! Fingers crossed!! Katie meanwhile has changed jobs herself and is now happily working more hours for higher pay closer to home. She’s doing fantastically at her new job and finds that she truly enjoys the work.
School starts again towards the end of this month, and I am happy to report that I am feeling quite settled and prepared to start digging in to learn again. I loved my first year of school and the experience of my classes. And I am really, really happy that during this upcoming quarter my new schedule will allow me to take advantage of some of the many extracurricular opportunities offered to students, like listening to guest speakers or attending networking events. I’m hoping to update here more frequently as well with the thoughts and ideas that grow out of these experiences, as well as (remember, fingers crossed!) hopefully the experience of working in a library itself. Change is risk, and risk is scary. But sometimes, risk is necessary for growth…
Well, I did it! Somehow, despite how terrified of online classes I secretly was (I did an online class back in my BYU days, circa 2008ish, that didn’t instill much confidence in that format), I got through my first quarter and I actually feel really good about how well it went (I got As in both classes!).
I even got the chance to create some artwork for an assignment, which made me feel even happier. After all, any excuse to create art 😉
My classes were Research Design (basically, an introduction to reading and writing research papers) and Resources for Digital-Age Children (a children’s literature introductory course, I really enjoyed it and all the children’s books I got to read as part of the coursework).
When I first read that Bob Dylan received a Nobel Prize in Literature, I was a bit surprised. I confess, I can’t say that I usually keep tabs on the world of Nobel Prizes – it seems if I would have had my finger more on the pulse of that world, I would have seen hints of this coming (for example, this article and this article, which I discovered thanks to user Pangloss_ex_machina on Reddit). But a musician winning an award designed for literature?
My initial reaction to hearing a popular music name get a Nobel Prize in Literature is frustration. Music has its own vast variety of awards and accolades, none of which I imagine could interchangeably be awarded to those who solely pen the written word. Make no mistake, Bob Dylan is being awarded for is his songwriting. Quoted from the Noble Prize site sourced above: “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”
I was born and raised in the Mormon religion. I grew up a firm believer and never imagined that I would eventually leave the faith. I had doubts, certainly, but to me doubts were a part of the experience of having faith, of believing. It wasn’t until I was an adult and fell in love with a woman that my beliefs (which taught me that physical expression of my attraction to this woman was sin) began to crumble away.
I remember the security that I had in faith. Religion gave me all of the answers . I knew where I came from, I knew where I was going. Death didn’t even frighten me – the first person who was close to me that I lost passed when I was an adult, so I grew up seeing death as a distant misunderstood friend. That first death changed my view, but that’s a story for another day.
Religion meant that I knew the grand plan and my place in it.
Now, what does that have to do with early literacy?
Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community; librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types, in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.
By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.
I have a librarian friend in Texas who has posted pictures of what she and her fellow librarians have put together for their patrons to raise awareness and celebrate this week, which has made me curious to see what libraries in my area are doing for this event.