Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Caution: These Books May Be Dangerous

For many years, the American Library Association has designated the last week of September as Banned Books Week,
"an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment . . . Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States."
Most of the books highlighted weren't actually "banned," but the alliteration of banned books week sounds much better than banned or challenged books or books somebody tried to get removed from the library week.

So this is Banned Books Week! I've created an eye-catching display of books in the library's collection that made ALA's "Top Ten Banned or Challenged Books" list at least once in the past five years. Lots of students, parents and teachers have stopped to read the information, and several have asked more about it.

I'd say we proudly own about 75% of the 40 or so books in those lists (a few repeat often, as they get challenged somewhere every year), and many many more that have been challenged somewhere. Many of them are popular books for teenagers -- a subversive group if there ever was one, and only the popular books (the Twilight series, Lauren Myracle's TTYL series, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and good ol' Catcher in the Rye) get enough notice to inspire opposition. The most recent firestorm erupted just last week over Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, popular since its publication in 1999.

The nature of our school is such that (knock wood) we've never had a formal challenge to any of our materials, though from time to time a parent will question why a certain book is in the collection, or why it's taught. We do have a materials collection policy that states why and how we add items to the collection, and should it ever be needed, a formal challenge policy and procedure.

The whole issue of censorship, the Freedom to Read, and the First Amendment is complex and tricky. As a private school library, we have a lot of freedom to select and not select, and a specific, well-defined community to serve. I spend time thinking about the "right" mix of ideas and viewpoints for our students. The Paideia community and approach to education means that many of the books challenged in more conservative communities are books that are perfect for our collection, such as those that present sexual orientation and identity questioning in a positive light. Author Lauren Myracle, whose TTYL books have hit the banned big time (on the Top 10 List 3 years running, #1 in 2009) has twice visited Paideia to talk to students.

But we don't have a collection of Christian fiction, or memoirs of notable conservative politicians, or more controversial and "other" side books like Holocaust denials or anti-global warming treatises. Should we? Where is the line between the librarian's responsibility to create and maintain a diverse range of viewpoints, and the responsibility to develop a collection that reflects the community's values and information needs? Many many kids have checked out The Geography Club, but not once have I ever had a request for Ann Coulter's books. Is it an appropriate use of school resources to buy a book if it won't ever get checked out?

This last week of September is a good time to be thinking about the freedom to read widely and diversely, how best to serve a diversity of opinion among a community, the courage to confront opposing and possibly repellent points of view, and the challenges of supporting everyone's Freedom to Read with the responsibility of upholding the rights and safety of the community.

Some of the library's most recent additions will be available in the Library Donation Sale this Saturday during the Fall BBQ & Dance. Please come visit, or browse the entire library collection using the online catalog. See you there!

More Banned Books Week reading:

15 Iconic Movies Based on Banned Books (Huffington Post)

Twitter: Banned Books New Best Friend
(NY Times)

Banned Books: Does Censoring a Kid's Book Remove Its Prejudices? (Huffington Post)

The Dirty Dozen: Twelve Books Guaranteed to Turn (Almost) Anyone into a Censor

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Read This Book:
Into the Beautiful North
by Luis Alberto Urrea

Into the Beautiful North is one of my favorite books from the last school year. It was on the 2010 Rainbow List, which is where I first heard about it, and was nominated for the 2010 Alex Award list. It also came up when I was looking for Latino novels for a class.

I'll tell you about the book using the question prompts from the School Library Journal I wrote about earlier:

Into the Beautiful North features a cast of eccentric characters, including a couple who live in a Tijuana dump, a young American missionary worker, and a burned-out immigration officer, but the central story follows four friends who travel from their tiny village in southern Mexico to the United States (the "Beautiful North" of the title). Having realized that all their men, her father included, have abandoned their village to go north for work, 19-year-old waitress Nayeli, with Tacho, Vampi ("la Vampira," the only goth girl in town), and Yolo, sets out on a quest. The plan is to find seven worthy Mexican men in Los Yunaites, and smuggle them back across the border to reclaim Tres Camarones from drug bandits. We meet all the main characters before page 25, and the plot moves steadily along throughout the book. They meet many colorful characters along the way, the good ones more fleshed out than the bad, but not so many that your head begins to spin.

The novel reads almost like a fable, but never quite crosses the line into the mystical. The telling style is low-key, with wonderful dry humour (or maybe it's just me that thinks a wildly boastful dump warrior with a deadly staff and a Hello Kitty backpack is hilarious?), some sad bits and some wacky bits (but they could happen). There are surprises and disappointments, for the characters and for the reader.

What I like most about this book is the characters (including some amazing women), and how the good guys ultimately triumph through inner strength and the kindness of strangers.

There are other themes along the way, of race, discrimination, poverty, hope & dreams, the differences between north and south of the US-Mexico border. The Rainbow List included the book because of Tacho, gay taco shop proprietor and Nayeli's boss, a steadying influence who experiences his own epiphanies during the journey.

Read this book! I recommend it to everyone in high school and older, male and female. Rejoice in the inspiration of the noble quest, and proudly proclaim "I am Atómiko!"

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cool Class for Teens
at Decatur/DeKalb Public Library

So, smart kids use all the resources available to them, right? You may go to a private school, but your family still pays their taxes. And taxes support one of the greatest inventions of the modern world -- the free public library! If you're a DeKalb County Public Library card holder, take advantage of this one hour class on using a new presentation software product called Prezi. It's on Wednesday afternoon, September 22, from 4:30-5:30 pm at the downtown Decatur branch (on Sycamore Street next to Decatur Rec).

I, for one, would be thrilled never to see another boring PowerPoint presentation as long as I live. Especially one where the presenter gives you a paper copy in advance (thanks for the handout, and now can I leave?). I've heard about Prezi but never seen it in action until now. Check out this presentation by Elisabeth Harris, Decatur branch Youth Services librarian (and Paideia parent).

I can't take the class (it's for teens aged 13-17), but I will definitely be exploring the possibilities of this software. PowerPoint, beware!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Readers' Advisory:
How to Talk About What You Want
When What You Want Is a Good Book

One of the best parts of any day is when I get to help a student find "a good book." In the library biz, this process is known as "Readers' Advisory." I often call it a "personal consultation," and have a bunch of questions that help me get an idea of what the student is looking for.
What kind of book do you have in mind?
(fantasy, realistic fiction, non-fiction, adventure, mystery . . .)

Robots or dragons (two main branches of sci fi/fantasy)?

Funny? Happy, sad?

Long or short?

If you think of the perfect book for right now, what would be happening in it?

Even when a reader can name a favorite book and wants one like it, it's helpful to go deeper with questions. Two students who love the same novel (say, I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter) may like it for different reasons -- one may enjoy the action/adventure, and the other likes the characters and the touch of romance. In that case, the Gallagher Girls reader in it for the gadgets and adventure might like Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series or Jennifer Barnes' The Squad books, while the reader who loved the strong female characters and the romance might instead go for a Chloe & Levesque mystery, novels by Joan Bauer, or a fantasy like Graceling.

A recent article in School Library Journal has given me a handful of additional questions that I can use to really get at the heart of student reading preferences.
"Are the characters and plot quickly revealed or slowly unveiled?

Is there more dialogue or more description?

Is the story's focus on a single character or on several whose lives are intertwined?

Is the focus of the story more interior and psychological, or exterior and action oriented?"
The answers to these questions give me additional insights into what the student finds appealing in favorite books, so I can suggest books in different genres, fiction and non-fiction, that have similar qualities. Also, just asking the questions encourages students to think about the books they like, and why.

At least one junior high homebase class is planning to develop a group of "class librarians" to coordinate the class book collection and be able to recommend titles to their classmates. I'm looking forward to working with them, teaching them a tool kit of "appeal terms" to hone their Readers' Advisory skills.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wednesday Website:
Open Culture

This one is for all the life-long learners out there. Subtitled "the best free cultural & educational materials on the Web," Open Culture is a project of Dan Coleman, the Director & Associate Dean of Stanford's Continuing Studies Program. As he describes it:

Open Culture brings together high-quality cultural & educational media for the worldwide lifelong learning community. Web 2.0 has given us great amounts of intelligent audio and video. It’s all free. It’s all enriching. But it’s also scattered across the web, and not easy to find. Our whole mission is to centralize this content, curate it, and give you access to this high quality content whenever and wherever you want it. Free audio books, free online courses, free movies, free language lessons, free ebooks and other enriching content — it’s all here. Open Culture was founded in 2006.

There are other sites that pull together great educational materials. Many top notch colleges and universities such as MIT and UC Berkeley post readings, syllabi, and video or audio lectures for many of their most popular classes through Open CourseWare projects or iTunes U. TED posts videos of its inspiring and thought-provoking talks on its website for the world to view. Free Technology for Teachers is an award-winning collection of all kinds of freely available websites, with ideas on how they can be used to benefit student learning. I love them all, but a very nice thing about Open Culture is that it's very inclusive in topics and formats, which makes it an awesome place to start.

Students who want extra help, or to learn a language not taught at Paideia, there are links for you. Want to go further into Roman Architecture than you did in World Civ? Learn from a professor at Yale. Psyched to travel, or catch up on the classics of literature? Open Culture links to 20 different top quality travel podcasts and dozens of free audiobook classics you can download to your iPod. And the blog has daily posts that link to all kinds of just really cool stuff -- on Monday it led to a transcript of a 1939 lecture by Alfred Hitchcock on the art of suspense, a great find for all film buffs with hungry minds.

Being a school librarian is a great outlet for a hungry mind. As we work to satisfy student learning needs, we get to learn at the same time. And then pass it on. If Paideia students graduate into a vocation as life-long learners, we'll have done our jobs well.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday Poll:
Junior High Summer Reading Bowl Favorites

Here it is -- the first Friday Poll of 2010-2011! This one is for Junior High students. Y'all, if you haven't read at least 3 of the following books so you can participate in the Summer Reading Bowl, there's still time. The library has copies of each book, and most of the homebases have copies as well. Send me an e-mail if you'd like to get one from the library.

So, of the six books on the Summer Reading Bowl list, which one was your favorite? Vote in the poll, and if you want to elaborate (or let us know which were your second and third faves, or even if you absolutely hated one of them), go ahead and leave a comment below.

Details about the Summer Reading Bowl will be posted as soon as we figure out the date.

After you vote you'll see the poll results so far.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wednesday Websites:
For Journalism Students (and everyone else)

On Tuesday I talked with the staff of The Forum in Jennifer Hill's journalism class, about Internet research, finding reliable web sources, and fact checking. As I prepared, it occurred to me that all of these skills are the same techniques that all students should be using for their classes and for their personal information needs. Teachers and other grownups would benefit from researching like a journalist as well.

In class we went over a few main points:
  • using websites dedicated to verifying (or debunking) political and social rumours, urban legends, chain mail claims, and the like (Snopes.com, PolitiFact.com, and others)
  • Google is fine, but use the power tools (+, - and "") to get better quality searches. Consider that Google hits may be weighted in various ways, and go beyond the first few to find more solid sources. Use clues from blogs or Wikipedia to lead you to the information in quality sources. Double-check all facts by finding the same information in one or more quality source (CNN, US government website, primary source, etc).
  • make sure that multiple sources are actually different sources (not just the same Wikipedia article in different websites). Do your sources all quote the same primary source? Find the primary source yourself.
  • use the Paideia databases (SIRS and ProQuest) as a way to find sources (reports & articles, including AJC archives back to 2002) that have been through some sort of filtering process before being included. CQResearcher has comprehensive reports on current social and political issues
  • questions to ask of any website in deciding whether it's reliable enough to stake your journalistic reputation (or grade) on its content

Links to all of the websites mentioned in the session are on PiLibrarian's Recommended Websites list, with the tag Journalism.