On March 2nd, Dr. Seuss Enterprises released the following statement:
Today, on Dr. Seuss’s Birthday, Dr. Seuss Enterprises celebrates reading and also our mission of supporting all children and families with messages of hope, inspiration, inclusion, and friendship.
We are committed to action. To that end, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, working with a panel of experts, including educators, reviewed our catalog of titles and made the decision last year to cease publication and licensing of the following titles: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer. These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.
Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families.
After this announcement was made, conversations began in the library world about what to do with the six Dr. Seuss titles that would no longer be published. The KCLS system made the decision (it wasn’t a larger conversation, unfortunately) to keep the six books (we have about 50 copies of each, now with LONG waiting lists – with how much these books are selling for, I’m curious how many will actually be returned?). Which then begs the question – shouldn’t something done to educate readers about the content, especially if the publisher themselves are no longer publishing the books due to how they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong” ?
So, before we dive in to the meaty subject of this post – a COVID-19 update on the librarian front. I’ve filled my work-from-home time becoming a new publisher for the KCLS website (writing blog posts, creating content, etc.), volunteered as one of the judges for the adult entries in the Rhyme On! poetry contest (lots of very emotional poetry, it was more taxing than I anticipated), finished captioning and editing a video interview I was lucky to conduct earlier this year with Alson Kelen, am co-leading a KCLS collaboration with the Seattle Public Library for a new service they are pioneering, stepped up to lead planning for a series of LGBTQ+ community conversations as part of Pride, I’ve created video tutorials that have been shared with all staff instructing on the process of close captioning videos posted on Facebook….I’m sure I’m missing a ton of stuff, but the joke is that my name keeps popping up everywhere recently. Librarians all worried for a while we wouldn’t know what to do working from home, but I’ve definitely been filling my days.
Something I’ve learned about myself on this journey of landing in a library career is that I’m very passionate about the work of libraries. And I can’t help myself – if I feel like the library missed the mark, I say something about it. Bless the eternal patience of my manager, who probably had NO IDEA when he choose to hire the lowly Library Technical Assistant as a temporary Librarian what he was actually getting himself into. He listens to me, he laughs with me, and then he helps me speak up when there is room for my voice to be heard.
And something I can’t help but speak up about quite a bit lately is the disappointing way that the King County Library System leadership has responded to recent events. I’m referring specifically to how we have failed to step up for our Black patrons, Black staff members, and Black communities right now in any way that feels meaningful.
There’s no way I thought, so soon after graduating earlier this year with my MLIS, that I would have news like this – BUT! – I have actually been hired for my first librarian job! It’s a full time, temporary position as an Adult Services Librarian for the Auburn Library in Auburn, Washington (yes, the same city I wrote about here) and was open only to applicants within the King County Library System. It’s kinda the perfect job to serve as a stepping stone into a librarian career.
I feel incredibly, incredibly lucky. The staff at the Auburn Library seem like an excellent team and I think I will have a set of fantastic mentors to help guide me. In September of next year the person who occupied this position previously will have the option of taking the position back – and my old job as an LTA will be saved for me, although everyone already knows I’m not planning to come back.
My specific job duties will include:
providing reader’s advisory
answering reference questions
managing parts of the collection
maintaining and creating community links
develop/design/host adult programs
And, frankly, I’m so excited I struggle to express it in words.
A career was never part of my life plans – I was raised in a conservative religious environment where women were actively discouraged from becoming career-oriented (luckily, there has been some progress in recent years regarding this attitude). I had zero professional guidance from my parents – my mother hasn’t worked since getting married and my father joined the Navy after high school, taking various jobs to support his growing family until he landed a job at Boeing (where he’s worked ever since). My siblings and I are all first generation college students, and I’m the first and only to earn a master’s degree and also to be employed in a field requiring a degree. But while I’ve worked hard, I know I have also been fortunate – fortunate that my random job-jumping landed me at Green River College, where I talked with the educational advisor to flesh out ideas for my future. I got hired on to KCLS as an LTA, not a Page – everyone tells me that rarely happens. And now I’m jumping from LTA to Librarian – again, incredibly rare as mentioned to me more than once!
I feel very grateful and equally determined to prove myself worthy of the rare opportunities I’ve been afforded. My start date is December 16th, so in the meantime I think I’m going to put together some ideas for “tools” I can use in my librarian role.
In the debate over the 13 murals that make up “The Life of Washington,” at George Washington High School, one side, which includes art historians and school alumni, sees an immersive history lesson; the other, which includes many African-Americans and Native Americans, sees a hostile environment.
Following the “Continue reading” cut below, I’m going to share a few images of the murals as taken from the article. Content warning for depictions of violence and historical racial oppression.
While creepy fiction is fun this time of year, personally I enjoy creepy nonfiction even more. In the spirit of Halloween, I’ve picked one of my favorite local true crime stories to share. These murders happened in a city near where I live, and part of why I find this particular crime so fascinating its connection to public libraries and one of their core foundational principles in the United States: intellectual freedom.
The city of Auburn, Washington was originally named the city of Slaughter back when it was settled by non-indigenous residents in 1893 (1). The city hotel was even named the Slaughter House (1) – side note, with a name like that I would definitely want to stay there!! Little would anyone have guessed that the city’s original name would become prophetic over a hundred years later. Most who think of killers in Auburn would point to the obvious: Gary Ridgeway, called the Green River Killer after Auburn’s Green River where he hid many of his victims’ bodies. However, in 1980s Auburn there also was the much lesser-known case of two murders which sparked worry of a nationwide poisoning…
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.
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.
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.