Friday, October 23, 2015

The Privilege of Serving on Heavy Medal

I've got a guest post over on Heavy Medal today. The post started germinating for me when Nina Lindsay and I chatted about representation (or its lack thereof), and its effects, on award selection committees last winter as part of her SLJ piece on the 2015 youth media awards.

My post today is on the privilege of serving, and what I feel those with that privilege have a responsibility to do: to recognize their privilege in whatever form(s) it takes, and to challenge themselves to read and discuss outside the confines of their particular experience in a deep manner that is as cognizant as possible of the existence of bias.

And, if you have found yourself here on The Show Me Librarian after following a link from the Heavy Medal post, and have any interest in my previous writing on this topic of privilege and youth librarianship, I've got two additional posts for you:

Thank you, also, to Nina and Jonathan at Heavy Medal for having me to guest post.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Problematic Trust: Why We Can't Just "Trust Child Readers"

There have been some conversations happening recently, both with substantial bits taking place on SLJ's A Fuse #8 Production, on a couple of topics that you might have thought wouldn't be connected. First there's Monday's "Are Historical Heroes Allowed to Have Prejudices in Children's Literature?" which responds to and expounds on conversation at Heavy Medal about Laura Amy Schlitz's The Hired Girl, out this year. That one, as the title suggests, explores the topic of characters in historical fiction having and/or expressing racial (and other) prejudices contemporary to their time period. Second is Tuesday's "Hands Off, Hussy! Hot Men of Children's Literature Under (Too Little?) Fire"--blogger Betsy Bird's take on how a recent New York Magazine piece harkens, in some ways, to her past Hot Men of Children's Literature series on her blog.

Like I said, you might not expect there to be any connection between the two. By all means, I think you should read them both--and that specifically includes the thoughtful discussion in the comments as well. But what I want to respond to here is the common thread in these pieces: the idea that we should simply "trust child readers."

The implied argument is that, if we "trust child readers," the problematic aspects of prejudices and sexism in literature can't really be that bad or have much of an impact. This, to me, is a milquetoast argument ignorant of the world in which we live.

You see, I do trust child readers. I trust them to take what they read in books and understand it within the larger context of what they read and know and experience. The problem here lies in that the context available to children who live on this planet, and specifically in this country, is fundamentally prejudiced and sexist. And we simply cannot trust anybody, youth or not, to independently reject a prejudiced opinion or sexist construct when the very reality of day to day life perpetuates these opinions and constructs. It may happen some of the time, but that's not a probability I want to trust.

I think it is irresponsible for people who aim to get books into the hands of children to "trust child readers" all on their own, because readers cannot trust entrenched societal norms and constructs to give them an unbiased, equitable view of the world to have as a baseline. If the world you live in is rife with microaggressions and revisionist history where it comes to First/Native Nations--which is the case here in the United States--it is unreasonable to suggest that we can "trust child readers" to understand the nuance and historicity of a passage in which a protagonist thinks:
“It seemed to me–I mean, it doesn’t now, but it did then–as though Jewish people were like Indians: people from long ago; people in books. I know there are Indians out West, but they’re civilized now, and wear ordinary clothes. In the same way, I guess I knew there were still Jews, but I never expected to meet any.” -The Hired Girl, Laura Amy Schlitz
We cannot "trust child readers" to use other books and what they know about the world to understand the underlying prejudice or sexism of a passage/character/plot device. We cannot trust because other books and what readers know about the world reinforces such underlying prejudice and sexism, rather than assisting in debunking or even pointing out the problematic aspects.

Basically, we do not live in a world in which we can "trust child readers" because our world is one in which prejudice and sexism are so very entrenched that they affect all aspects of a person's life, from their education to what they see in their entertainment to who runs, and wants to run, their government.

We also do not live in a world in which we can feel confident that the next book that a child picks up, or the one after that, or even the one after that will offer a different perspective, a less prejudiced or biased one. We know that the representation of people of color and other types of diversity in books for youth is consistently dismal, and often problematic when it's there at all. We know that publishing isn't getting any more diverse, so we're not going to suddenly get a pool of better diverse books by diverse authors who know what they're talking about as opposed to representation that is frequently stereotypical and rife with tokenism.

So if children cannot rely on what they see in the world, and what they see in other books, can we responsibly say that trusting child readers is sufficient? I say, resoundingly, no. It's not sufficient. It's not okay, and in fact it contributes to these persistent and systemic problems of racial prejudice and sexism.

What I do think is that, instead of affirming that we should just "trust child readers" and all will end well, we need to work harder. Authors need to work harder to make sure that when they include moments of prejudice and sexism, they do so because it is necessary to the story and they do so with nuance. Journalists need to work harder to consider the impact their pieces will have--because satire that perpetuates sexism isn't really satire, it's status quo. And librarians and others who want for children to read and enjoy great books need to work harder to demand that the books available to children in the first place are better, are representative, are respectful and not microagressive.

It is very easy for all of us to shirk this work. That's what the establishment, which runs on privilege oppressing the "other," would have us do.

I think we can be better. But I'm not just going to trust us to do better. I need to actively see and live it. Don't you?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Librarianship on YouTube: How to Hack a T-Shirt

Folks have been actively ramping up our YouTube content here at my library, and this initiative has recently begun to include showing what takes place in the BOOMbox, our STEAM space. This September through December is all about textiles in the BOOMbox, and the first of our YouTube videos highlighting a textiles activity is available online. So take a few minutes to see how you can hack a t-shirt into a tote bag! Featured is my colleague Amy Holcomb, who runs the space. But be on the lookout for a cameo from yours truly.

And a note: while we filmed this video as a way to highlight an activity that kids and adults can do in our BOOMbox, it's an activity that anyone can do pretty much anywhere. All that's required is a t-shirt and scissors. Our in-house goal for these videos is that Skokie residents who cannot visit the BOOMbox can still participate in activities around our theme. A benefit for everyone with the internet? You can do this activity, too! No makerspace or real expertise required. So get hacking! Seems like a possible project for DIY holiday gifts...

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Star Wars Sticky Note Mosaic Murals

We celebrated Star Wars at my library this weekend. It was my first time being immediately involved in a big Star Wars program since my spring break programs in my former job, and while my current library has celebrated Star Wars for a few years now, the goal is to always add some new elements to the festivities. Of course we had some of the expected: trivia; a light saber craft; and a seek-and-find scavenger hunt. We also repeated using the green screen in our youth Digital Media Lab to take family photos and insert them into Star Wars backgrounds.

What was totally new this year, however, was the main activity taking place in the BOOMbox, our STEAM space: Sticky Note Mosaic Murals.

My colleague Amy Holcomb, who runs the BOOMbox, emailed me a few weeks back with a news article about a paper company, Viking Direct, that created such murals on their office walls. I looked at those pictures (and looked harder), and from there I created a 25-by-25 sticky note grid template in Excel, on which I designed Darth Vader and Yoda images. The individual grid templates are pictured below if you're interested.

To make this activity work, one of my program assistants broke each 25-by-25 mural into 5-by-5 squares; these squares each had a designated spot on a grid, allowing a child/teen to take one grid square "map," gather their requisite sticky notes, and place their sticky note mosaic squares into the proper section of the full grid, which was measured out with string and tape on the glass BOOMbox windows. We had a grid on one window for the Light Side of the Force, and another on the opposite window for the Dark Side. The grid square "maps" are linked here if you'd like to use them to do this collaborative mosaic wall activity yourself (Light Side link; Dark Side link).

To create both the Vader and Yoda mosaic murals, you will need:
  • 7.5'x7.5' wall or window space for EACH mural
  • string, tape, and a measuring device to mark out your full grid, as well as paper or sticky notes to label the rows and columns (picture of the grid set-up below)
  • Sticky notes for Yoda: 295 blue; 219 green; 54 yellow; 34 orange; 16 gray; 7 black
  • Sticky notes for Vader: 304 black; 243 blue; 78 gray

As kids and teens came into the BOOMbox for the activity, they could choose if they wanted to help with the Light Side or the Dark Side. From there, we gave them a grid square map that would be within their reach--that is, lower squares for shorter, younger kids, and higher squares for taller teens. We were able to help explain the map-to-wall process as needed, but most kids jumped into the activity with a decent understanding of how to read their maps and add to the wall.

Our Vader mosaic mural in progress.
Note: because of the height at which our windows begin, I chopped the bottom row off of both grids for our particular activity. Were we to repeat this activity on a bare wall, however, I'd start with the bottom of the grid touching the carpet and build up from there. I just didn't want the grid to get too high for our activity--no ladders allowed.

Kids really liked this activity, and their caregivers got pretty excited about it, too. It was great fun to overhear conversations about what kids thought the murals would be while they were in early stages--each mural got pieced together one square at a time, making it a cool puzzle to solve.

Once our mosaic murals were completed, kids were welcome to come in the space to admire them and to create origami Yodas under the gaze of sticky note Yoda himself. Quite a fun way to weave our current BOOMbox theme--textiles--into our larger Star Wars Extravaganza!

Have you done any of these cool sticky note murals before? Care to share your plans?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Upcoming Workshop in South Bend, IN, on Unprogramming & Maker Activities for Youth

Later this month, I'll be taking the train back home again to Indiana--specifically, to South Bend, Indiana, where I'll be offering a workshop for the St. Joseph County Public Library. SJCPL has opened the workshop to folks outside of their library system, too, so if you're from northern portions of my home state (or southern bits of Michigan, even) and are interested in new ways of thinking about youth programming, come on over!

The kind folks at SJCPL have put together a flier, at right (click on this link to see it larger), with all the relevant details, which I'm also sharing here:

Unprogramming & Maker Activities for Youth
Thursday, October 15, 2015
10 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Main Library, Humphreys Media Room (304 S. Main Street, South Bend)

Participants will be able to receive 3 LEUs for the workshop, which will include a hearty mix of some of the theory behind programming for youth, sample programs and activities, and hands-on experiences to get everyone comfortable with the unprogramming and maker concepts. If you've been looking for ways to invigorate your program calendar, or if you simply like getting to learn and swap ideas with colleagues IRL, email the workshop organizer, Theresa Horn, at