Welcome to Library Lions interviews. Raising a Roar for Libraries

Welcome to Library Lions interviews. Raising a Roar for Libraries

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Welcome to Library Lions special edition Banned Books Week.

Lesley James, librarian at Douglass-Truth Branch of the Seattle Public Library is here to Roar for Banned Books Week. Welcome Lesley!

The Skinny: First tell us a little about yourself and your library

We have an awesome after-school Homework Help program at my branch, thanks to the amazing volunteers who spend two to four hours each week helping students of all ages. The students deserve a lot of credit, too, for wanting to learn and for helping each other. I keep things bubbling along by orienting the volunteers, organizing the schedule, etc.

I’ve been a librarian for eleven years. One of my favorite things to do is visit schools to do presentations on information literacy and the research process. Sometimes classes of English Language Learners or special education students visit the branch for a presentation on “How the Library Is Organized.” I also love doing good old-fashioned booktalks and enjoyed working with a nearby school where I taught students how to do their own booktalks so they could share their favorites with their classmates.

Douglass-Truth Library interior

For many years, several branches worked together to hold a “Reading Marathon” that pitted four middle schools against each other to see which could log the most reading time in a six-hour period. Because of budget cuts and staff reorganizations, this year the competition was between the three grades from one middle school and held at just my branch, but the participants still had a great time eating snacks, winning raffle prizes, and, of course, reading.

Tell us about Banned Books Week:

Banned Books Week is that special time of the year when librarians get together and ban as many books as possible…just kidding! (Although teens are sometimes confused by the name.) The serious fact is that every year books are removed from the shelves of libraries when library staff responds to patrons’ official complaints by choosing to censor. Librarians and other educators who consider themselves staunch supporters of the First Amendment want to bring this to the attention of the public so they can appreciate their Freedom To Read. It’s also a great opportunity to examine the issues and emotions that prompt those complaints and the prices we sometimes pay for having the freedom.

It surprises some students to learn that there are books I hate—but I make it clear that I’ll defend the rights of those books to be on the shelves of the library with my last breath. That’s what makes the Freedom To Read so powerful: it’s not a simple or easy thing to defend, but it’s worth it.

Learn more at the American Library Association site:

Can you showcase some more displays for us?
There are great displays at every branch of The Seattle Public Library system.

What do you do to spread the word about Banned Books Week and Intellectual Freedom Issues?
When teachers invite me to do a presentation on intellectual freedom for their classes, I do a lesson on the “competing goods” of the Freedom To Read. I start by showing the students the text of the First Amendment and then I show them a newspaper photograph and tell them this is a picture of the First Amendment in action. We discuss what’s going on in the photograph: an African-American woman is crouched defensively over a white man who became the target of a group of violently angry people who turned up to protest a Ku Klux Klan march. Why would this woman protect a Klan member whose speech is filled with such hate for her race? Because she believes in his right to speak, no matter what he’s saying. The protesters have an equal right to voice their opinion, but not to silence his. It’s a compelling image that helps students understand the gravity of defending free speech, even when you completely disagree with it.

Next, we do an activity that involves small groups of students looking at children’s picture books that have been challenged in the past and guessing what the challengers objected to. We use picture books because they’re easier to flip through than young adult novels, they lead to a later discussion about age restrictions, and they elicit cries of, “But I love the Lorax!” By the way, I want to give credit to the Multnomah County Library System librarians—I observed a version of this activity led by them at a conference and adapted it.
PHOTO cover The Lorax

Some of the reasons for challenging seem silly to the students (such as the bottle of wine in Little Red Riding Hood’s basket for her grandmother leading to alcoholism) but others are more serious (such as the use of racial slurs in Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry). The important thing I want students to understand is that they all represent someone’s personal values. Whatever their personal values are, the students always bring up the point that it’s good to have books that represent different opinions. If we removed every book that offended someone, there would be no books left on the shelves! The students also agree that that depicting a particular behavior doesn’t necessarily condone it and that it’s better to show reality as it is, rather than trying to shield readers from harsh truths.
We do a couple of other activities during this lesson and I’d be happy to share them, as well as details about the activities described above.

Any Banned Books you would like to highlight?
I’d like to highlight some hometown heroes. Three local (Seattle or Seattle-adjacent) authors of books for teens are represented in the American Library Association’s “Books Banned or Challenged in 2009-2010” booklet: Sherman Alexie, Brent Hartinger, and Richelle Mead. Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was challenged but retained on a school summer reading list. (It’s important to note that many challenges fail to lead to a banning.) The objections focused on “vulgar and racist” language. So many teens, especially boys, have read and loved this book.

You could have a great discussion about the difference between being racist and depicting racism with these readers. Hartinger’s Geography Club was retained at a public library despite complaints that it was “obscene or child pornography.” (In 2005, it was banned and then reinstated by a nearby school district, although the focus that time was a scene in which the protagonist arranged to see someone he met online.) This book also provides a great opportunity to talk about the difference between gratuitous sex scenes and sex scenes as an important part of the plot—or, in this case, books in which characters think about sex but don’t actually have it but are still considered “pornography.”

Mead’s entire Vampire Academy series was banned at a junior high school for “sexual content or nudity,” including books which have not yet been written. It’s true that schools don’t have the same responsibilities as public libraries to protect the freedom to read, but that doesn’t mean they should go ahead and ban books without reading them first!

What can Library Lions readers do to roar for Banned Books Week?
Support your local public library! We love our volunteers and appreciate every penny that’s donated, but most of our essential functions can only be funded by the city or county government’s budget. When times get tough (as they are right now), tough decisions have to be made about those budgets. It’s crucial that city and county governments know that public libraries are a vital service to their communities.

Yes, a lot of people get their information online these days, but where do people go when they don’t have computers or the skills to navigate the increasingly complex world of online information? The library, of course. We are actually more needed than ever. Our buildings are bursting with job-seekers, recent immigrants, and students of all ages who need help with their homework. They may be the only places where children hear stories read to them, elderly people figure out how to use a computer mouse, or someone who’s having a bad day sees a smile. And our local governments need to know all this so they don’t put us in the same pile as the parks and the art projects that are awesome but tend to lose their funding more rapidly than the police and fire departments.

One More Library Lion’s Roar:
I’d also like to put in a plug for the profession of librarianship, which seems especially relevant at a time when we’re celebrating the First Amendment. It’s true you don’t need a master’s degree to do a lot of the things we do these days (if I had a dollar for every printer I’ve un-jammed, I could have retired by now) and that what we bring to our work is somewhat intangible. But intangible doesn’t mean unimportant. Librarians hold back the forces of censorship with one hand and welcome everyone—and I mean everyone—into the library with the other. Without us, freedoms would get chipped away, both the freedom of ideas to enter the public space and the freedom to gain access to those ideas, regardless of your skills or resources. Interest in those ideals led me to library school and by the time I left, they were tattooed on my soul.

Let’s Link!Teen

Blog: http://blog.spl.org/yablog/

Adult Blog: http://shelftalk.spl.org/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SeattlePublicLibrary?ref=ts
Thank you, Lesley for your terrific interview!

Love Libraries? Give a Roar in “Comments” below.

Note to Librarians: If you’re a Youth Librarian working in a school or public library we’d love to hear about you and your library. Contact Janet at jlcarey@hotmail.com for an interview slot.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Author Kirby Larson Shares her Library Love

Welcome to Library Lions interviews special Author Edition. Please roar our guest award-winning author KIRBY LARSON!

Kirby is here today to share her Library Love with us.She went from history-phobe to history fanatic while writing the 2007 Newbery Honor Book, Hattie Big Sky.

(She is currently at work on a sequel to Hattie Big Sky.)

Her passion for historical fiction is reflected in The Fences Between Us (Scholastic, September 2010)

And her newest book, The Friendship Doll (Delacorte; May 2011).

In 2006, Kirby began a collaboration with her good friend, Mary Nethery, which has resulted in two award-winning nonfiction picture books: Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival (illustrated by Jean Cassels)

And Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine and a Miracle. They have their eyes peeled for another project to tackle together.

A Leo through and through, Kirby won't rest until she's shared her love of writing with as many people as possible. She's made over 200 presentations, traveling to twenty states and as far away as Germany, Lebanon and Qatar. Kirby lives in Kenmore, Washington with her husband, Neil. When she’s not reading, writing, or walking Winston the Wonder Dog, Kirby enjoys gardening, bird watching, traveling, or drinking latt├ęs with friends.

Tell us About Your Library Love When You Were A Cub

In third grade, my dad took me to the downtown Bellingham public library. I was intrigued by a book called Gulliver’s Travels – full of giants and odd beings and adventures – and wanted to check it out. The librarian was hesitant – “She won’t understand it,” she told my dad. But he told her to go ahead and let me check it out. Of course, the librarian was right – most of the book went right over my head. However, the feeling that two adults agreed I could handle a big book like that was better than being granted three wishes.

Author’s Roar Funding for libraries, especially school libraries, is currently under threat. As an author, what are your thoughts about that?
When I was a kid, I was the new girl in school nearly every year. This was in a time when folks didn’t move around a lot so that made me a real oddball. There were some pretty rough first weeks of school – lots of teasing and excluding. I quickly learned that no matter where I went, I would find a friend – between the covers of a book, in the school library. I would not have grown into the person I am without the salvation of those libraries and am heartsick that it would ever seem like a good choice to cut funding for them. On the other hand, I did serve two terms on our local school board and I am fully aware of the financial pressures facing schools. The bottom line is that we say we value kids and education but our actions as communities belie our words. I honestly don’t know what to do about this societal flaw. What I can do is vote to support school and library levies, which I do, and I also donate books to several local schools.

Hooray for ALA!
My ALA experience in New Orleans was too much fun this year! What's the best part?
Catching up with librarian friends.

My buddy from Bowling Green, Alecia Marcum

Adrienne Yorinks and Jeanette Larson share my love for hummingbirds

Sampling some of the Big Easy's best eating (thanks to my driver for the recommendation of the Ernest Cafe and to Dianne de Las Casas for suggesting Ramblas where my agent and I enjoyed the most amazing scallops served in a cigar box)?

Or being on a panel with super-star Children's Lit prof, Sandy Imdieke and two Silver Sisters, Jenni Holm and Ingrid Law. If they ever tire of writing for children, those two could make a killing as stand-up comedians.

Though there is something overwhelming about the exhibit floor, there is something exhilarating too. All. Those. Books. And all those people who love books. Some love them too much. I saw more than one librarian doggedly dragging heavy bags of books off the exhibit floor and onto the shuttle buses. Some enterprising teens could make a killing hiring out as book caddies during the conference!

A Lion’s Pride of Programs
My energies in the past few years have been focused on school visits, and I have been hosted by some of the most amazing librarians around. I’ve read in a milk jug igloo in Bowling Green Kentucky

Milk jug igloo at Alecia Marcum's school -- I don't generally wear jeans to school visits but my bag had been lost by the airlines!

I've spoken to 850 middle schoolers at a pop in Birmingham, and to the combined student bodies of three rural schools in central Montana; I’ve visited the school just up the street from me, as well as international schools in Qatar

And Lebanon

And Department of Defense schools in Germany. I wouldn’t have had the chance to make these amazing connections without the support of savvy librarians, who not only invited me but also helped prepare their students so that my visit could be as successful as possible. By that, I don’t mean that my every whim was catered to (though librarians do spoil us authors rotten). What I mean is, that kids were so familiar with my work that my presentations truly enhanced and underscored the school’s reading and writing curriculum. I can’t tell you what it means to me to have an adult comment, after one of my presentations, that the student asking the most questions was one who didn’t like to write. And when I get a letter from a student telling me how my visit inspired them to read a book, or to try their own hand at a story or poem – well, there is no joy like that!

Library Lion’s ONE LAST BIG ROAR!
As you know, my passion is historical fiction and I rely heavily on libraries and librarians for my research. I can’t even count the number of books I’ve had access to through interlibrary loan – books I wouldn’t have been able to read without that amazing service. A research librarian in Great Falls, Montana taught me about Sanborn maps so I could see what the cities I place my characters in looked like in 1918 or 1941 or whenever.

My local library systems (King County and Seattle) subscribe to on-line services – like the historical newspaper index, or the Oxford English Dictionary – that I certainly couldn’t afford on my own.

Kenmore Library

And no matter what nutty question I have – I once needed to find out when waterwings were invented!-- some research librarian takes it seriously and helps me track down an answer. My books would not exist without libraries and librarians – which is why I want to roar about how great they are!

Lets Link Up
~Kirby's Blog: www.kirbyslane.blogspot.com

~Website: http://www.kirbylarson.com (readers can sign up at this site for my semi-monthly e-newsletter)

Thanks again Kirby for the terrific interview! You are now an official Library Lioness!

* * *

Love Libraries? Give a Roar in “Comments” below.

Note to Librarians: If you’re a Youth Librarian working in a school or public library we’d love to hear about you and your library. Contact Janet at jlcarey@hotmail.com for an interview slot.