Posts Tagged ‘librarians’

A little over a year ago, I read this book that was so awful, it turned me off of reading for a couple months. The book was called Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher and I had been looking forward to reading it for several months.

I have an ongoing project involving young adult literature featuring transgender characters (or lack thereof), keeping track of what is out there, creating resources for librarians and encouraging the creation of new & better resources, particularly fiction. I’d been really excited about this book because so few of the books I’d read featured trans girl characters (most had trans boys instead) and also because the book has won the Stonewall Book Award, awarded by the ALA GLBT Roundtable for teen fiction, so it must be good.

The book was actively horrible and I was pretty sure it would do a good job of terrifying any young trans girl into thinking that no one would ever love her and that she sort of deserved to experience violence. It felt like the whole point of the book was to make readers sympathize with homophobic & transphobic dudes who can’t help being violent towards trans women–not explicitly condoning the violence but explaining it as an unavoidable learning moment.

Reading the book made me feel horribly depressed and uninspired to read anything at all for several months (normally I read a few books a month or sometimes as much as a book a week).

Flash forward to a month or so ago when I read With or Without You by Brian Farrey.  It won the same book award as Almost Perfect and I had similarly been looking forward to reading it for months. It dealt with HIV/AIDS, gay teens in a small town & the loneliness & isolation that sometimes brings teens that age to a point of engaging in risky behavior in an attempt to simply belong. It sounded great and like the kind of book that needs to exist much more in the world.

Again, though, the book was actively horrible. It painted poz (HIV-positive) characters out to be anywhere from a jovially irresponsible older man to a young almost-cult-leader type kid who (spoiler alert) literally stabs someone. It paints the kid who is lonely & looking for somewhere to belong as a hopeless case. And, in the one moment where the book had an obvious window of opportunity to at least provide some useful information by informing readers about PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis, kind of like a morning after pill for HIV exposure that they most certainly don’t tell you about in sex ed and about which most adults don’t even know), the author totally drops the ball & sweeps it under the rug, arguably giving inaccurate information about how to deal with an actual HIV exposure. The book was bad. Awful.

Once again, a book which had received this award that is supposed to give librarians access to a few books that are safe to recommend to LGBTQ teens without really closely reviewing them or being knowledgeable about LGBTQ issues has succeeded in being actively bad in a way that I actually fear will hurt teenagers. At this point, I’m not just mad at the authors and their publishers, I’m fuming at the ALA’s GLBT Roundtable, which is probably made up of a bunch of well-meaning librarians who are actually not very knowledgable of LGBTQ issues but who, by virtue of being on this committee, position themselves as experts in the field and put their seal of approval on books that actually hurt the LGBTQ youth who really need them.  I decided to set my sights on becoming a member of the book selection committee within the next few years and also wrote a letter to the chair of the committee expressing my concern.

But as a reader, I was left feeling really disillusioned. Much like happened a year ago after reading Almost Perfect, I have been going through a bit of a period of reluctance to being a reader at all since finishing With or Without You. I just feel frustrated with the publishing industry that it’s set up in a way that the kinds of books that need to be out there (like the books I was hoping for when I cracked the spine of Almost Perfect and With or Without You) don’t get published (because we all know they are being written–the people whose life experiences would lead them to write these kinds of books are vibrant and creative people who are writing amazing books that the world will never see! This is why independent publishers such as Topside Press are so important!) and I figure that if the media I consume is being censored even when it comes in the form of literature, I might as well sit around watching bad reality television instead.  At least “Dance Moms” has never tried to trick me into thinking it provides important or useful information.

I’m sure it will pass soon, I will find a book that’s completely outside of the realm of things I normally read and reaffirm my love as a reader, but for now, I am feeling let down by not only the publishing industry, but by members of my own profession who actually have the power to give a voice to lesser known books that do something great for LGBTQ youth and instead choose to honor books that are sure to make life a little harder for those LGBTQ teens who could really have used the friend they seek to find between the pages of a book the most.

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As a youth services & primarily teen services librarian who happens to be a man the issues of what a professor dubbed “the boy problem” has sort of fallen into my lap as a strong professional interest. I am not a particularly masculine man and more often than not, if I’m wandering the streets of a small town, it’s teen boys who find it incredibly clever and funny to harass and make fun of me for the way I look (teen boys are, of course, great at making fun of pretty much everyone, so it’s no skin off my back). When I got into youth services, I thought this might be something that impeded my ability to connect with boys in the library, but it has actually been quite the opposite. In any library where I’ve worked, I’ve been one of so few male librarians that, while in my personal life I have a hard time being read as anything but gay, people are so unaccustomed to seeing men working in libraries at all they have no one with whom to compare me, so somehow my perceived sexuality and lack of overt masculinity has never come into play in my work in libraries. In fact, libraries are one of the few places in the world where I feel people’s perception of me as a man far outweighs their perception of me as gay.

This has created exciting and unexpected opportunities to embody the literate male role model that experts in parenting, education, child development and emergent literacy amongst boys complain so rarely exists amongst teachers, librarians and other adults who work with children. When I took an interest in running the “Guys Read” book club at one of my libraries, I was welcomed with open arms to take over for another librarian who reluctantly ran the book due to lack of other male librarians willing to run it. By simple virtue of being a young-ish (and even younger looking as I am blessed and cursed to look about ten years younger than I actually am) man with gauged earrings (a regretful & relatively irreversible decision I made as a teen that has surprisingly been the number one thing teens compliment me on and often the thing which allows me to quickly gain their trust) who picks up on enough youth cultural references to seem like the cool older brother they’ve always wished they had, I somehow possess this ability to influence teen and tween boys in this way that so many educators and youth service librarians can only dream of.

me+skippy

Me with one of my teens in the library–used with permission

Given this unique position and my passion for encouraging active literacy amongst youth, how could I resist developing a profound interest in discussions of “the boy problem?” Although, as an advocate for literacy amongst boys, I would argue that the boys themselves are not the problem and perhaps the real problem is, among other things, both the men who fail to model the role of literacy in their own lives to those boys and the North American culture & education system’s limited conceptions of literacy.

So, as a man who has access to youth in one of the most literature focused environments, I am so thrilled to get the opportunity to un-do some of these cultural ideas surrounding reading and boys. As someone who reads fiction for pleasure, I have gotten the opportunity to share this love with boys through book clubs and through personalized fiction recommendations, often hidden within jovial conversations where boys are so absorbed in the topic of conversation that they don’t even realize that I’ve just convinced them to read a book. But one of the problems often raised when discussing “the boy problem” is that reading fiction for pleasure simply does not fit into the types of reading a lot of boys are drawn to doing.

In a lecture given by one of my professors, the line “Reading don’t fix no Chevys” really stood out to me. It struck me because one of the random resources I remember helping patrons with on the reference desk so often was the Chilton’s guides which, for those unfamiliar, are model-specific guides for different makes of cars that literally do inform users on the inner workings of Chevys (and Fords and other cars). While the act of reading them does not necessarily fix the car itself, these resources are pretty necessary maps that give someone with a certain automotive knowledge the tools to translate their knowledge to specific makes and models of cars.

One of the papers that I wrote when I took my Reference class based upon a reference observation was actually based on a reference interview concerning a Chilton’s manual. The library did not happen to currently have a print-version of the manual in question, so the interview turned into an extensive discussion of all the databases to which the library subscribed–including Chilton’s and Alldata, another similar resource, but also so many of our other databases. I got to observe a patron who probably never knew the library offered access to subscription databases walk away really excited about an entirely new set of resources he did not know had been at his fingertips the whole time and that he was excited to use.

I think about boys not having male role models in terms of literacy and wish this gentleman had had his grade school aged son or nephew with him to witness this instance of a relatively gruff, working class man becoming so excited about the ways in which literacy and his library’s resources could help him do one of the most stereotypically manly activities of fixing a car.

These instances in which literacy occurs during our daily lives are not exclusive to men or women or to such stereotypically masculine activities as auto repair, but also occur when we look up recipes in cookbooks or online, when we look up movie reviews & times, when we try to learn a new skill, such as crocheting, and so many other times in the instances of people of all genders and ranges of interest. In fact, in the age of the Internet, we consume instructional information in our daily lives more than ever before.

In imagining the man discussed above (or any other man or woman, for that matter) letting his child help him fix his car, having the child hand him wrenches and other small tasks (though I have done basic car maintenance out of the type of necessity created by poverty, fixing cars is not a skill or interest I possess, so I really can’t elaborate on the details of what minor tasks an adult role model would allow their child to help with while fixing a car, so please use your own imagination), I imagine that there is some piece of literature–the car’s manual, a Chilton guide (either electronic or print) or some other resource present & being used as reference. And I wonder whether the dad or mom or aunt or uncle, who may be the type of adult role model who reads novels to their kids or not, is referencing this Chilton’s manual themselves before asking for that wrench or if the adult is asking the child to come read over their shoulder and tell them what comes next.

Even as an adult man who reads a tremendous amount of fiction for pleasure, I would guess that most of the reading I do over the course of a day or a week, even in my leisure time, is for information. Reading is so incorporated into all of our daily lives and that is why literacy is such an important part of development. But when we talk with youth–particularly those who struggle to enjoy reading fiction–about literacy and reading, do we talk about all those other times in our daily lives when reading comes up? I know that I rarely do and I think this is primarily because reading is so integrated into my life that I scarcely recognize myself doing it when it serves some purpose beyond the purely indulgent act of reading a novel. I think it’s important, especially as a role model to young people, to expand my conception of the act of reading. I think, though, that by being more aware of the ways that literacy impacts our daily lives, we can be more intentional of the kinds of examples we set as literate adults. Introducing the children in our lives to the joys of fiction (and non-fiction) pleasure reading is important and we should continue to do so, but perhaps if we also read to them from our cook books and automotive manuals and some-assembly-required instruction manuals, we will succeed in making readers of those children, particularly boys, who look up to us more for the tasks we accomplish than the stories we tell them.

Library School and 2 library internships have been getting the better of me the last month or so so it’s been awhile since I posted.

In an effort to network in fun and exciting places and cast a slightly larger net in the job search I will begin sometime in the next 9 months to a year, I’ve decided to attend the Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference in Toronto in February.  I am also, incidentally, now a member of the OLA.

What better way to spend my birthday than running around an awesome city like Toronto, trying to choose between a million awesome workshops (like the one about running book clubs for teen boys??!! I get to start running a book club for teen boys in January and I’m so pumped), shmoozing with librarians who have significantly better access to health care than me and are encouraged to spell words in the fancy ways that my spell-checker always tells me are wrong (“cataloguing” just looks way more refined), going to librarian parties where I could drink alcohol if I was 19 and liked alcohol and exchanging fancy business cards with brainy new librarian friends?

Which brings me to two firsts this will bring about:

1) My first librarian conference. I have been to (and even presented at) queer conferences in the past and I went to the Allied Media Conference this year, which was (apart from being fun) actually very professionally relevant for me, but this will be my first librarian conference ever! I’m exceedingly excited to make some new and exciting professional connections, but I’m almost more excited about all the workshops. So many of them seem to be the things I wish I could learn and talk about in school, but that are way too awesome, specific and weird to offer entire classes in.

2) My first business cards! I have definitely never had any business cards for any job I’ve ever had, but I’ve also never had my own made. I’m thinking I will include:

  • My Goodreads url, after reading an article in the October 2011 edition of VOYA about using “Goodreads business cards” to extend readers advisory beyond the library (“Goodreads Business Cards Connect with Readers” by Christopher Koppenhaver).
  • The url for this blog
  • Other basic contact info like phone and email.
  • Beyond that, though, I am not sure what to put–I keep thinking I should include my job titles and school status, but then the list gets out of control and starts to look like a resume instead of a business card.

I’m also particularly excited about finding a cool design for my business card.  Someone having a business card at all and keeping copies with them to give to me is actually enough to severely impress me, but when business cards have really beautiful or cool designs, they succeed in impressing me on a whole different level.  Needless to say, I have already decided my business cards need to be beautiful.  I have found some cool ones, but there are too many cool ones to choose from (there is this Lewis Caroll one that is beautiful and understated, but I’ve ruled it out because he was a total pedophile).  I’d really love one with an illustration from The Little Prince, but I haven’t been able to find one and I lack the graphic design skills to design one I would be satisfied with.

So much to be excited about!

For the last few weeks, I haven’t written much new stuff for this blog and I’m sorry–I do have stuff in the works.

 

In the meantime, though, in my latest article for PrettyQueer I review a book that every teen librarian should have in their collection, so librarians, you should probably check the catalog to make sure you own Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws by Kate Bornstein. Then, you should walk over to the shelf and double check that it’s actually on the shelf. Especially if you are one of the folks who was really on board with the “It Gets Better Project.”

#itgetsbetter