I am often asked, “How do Americans value public libraries in their communities?” A recent comprehensive Pew study answers this question. 90% of Americans 16 and older stated in the study that closing a library would have an impact on their lives, 63% classified it as a major impact. To put this into context, 63% of the Johnson County population equals 346,000 residents. In Johnson county 346,000 residents would feel that closing a library would have a major impact on their lives. When asked what they valued most about a public library the top responses where books, media, quiet safe places and having a librarian help with their questions. 72% of all Americans have either used the library in the last 12 months or live with a family member or child that is an active patron. What is the Return of Investment (ROI) of the public library system to a community? Looking at the ROI only gives you the financial picture of the impact of a public library; let’s look at a couple of recent studies. In 2010, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library commissioned the University of North Carolina to conduct an ROI study. They found that for every $1 spent had a direct return of between $3.15 and $4.57 in benefits. Direct benefits are library services that can be measured, such as circulation and events. Indirect benefits are uses of the library that are difficult to measure, for example, helping create a literate community, increasing property values and stabilizing neighborhoods. When combining direct and indirect benefits their study showed a ROI of between $4.61 and $6.03 for every $1 spent. Salt Lake County Library also commissioned an independent study by the University of Utah in 2013 and found that for every $1 invested in their library it provided an economic return of between $5.47 and $6.07 in direct and indirect benefits. . While the ROI is of paramount importance to a business and can determine its long term success, it is not a guarantee that a community will be successful. I know from the many businesses that support us through our Foundation and Friends that they understand the importance of community involvement and value the quality of life that Johnson County offers. Johnson County Library remains focused on you. It continues to be my goal to offer you the best materials and services that promote education, community building and convenience.
Working as an agency within County Government
I. General introduction
If I was ever granted three wishes, I think my first wish would be that all public libraries have a standardized organizational structure that was simple, functional and that everyone could understand. I would then, of course, ask for world peace because it would just be embarrassing if I didn’t. I am pretty sure I would be granted my second wish but I am unsure of the first, because after all, it is foolish to ask for the impossible. What about the third wish? Well, three more wishes of course!
Let me share the structure of our library system and my thoughts on how a library functions as part of a larger county wide system.
Johnson County Library (JCL) is located in Johnson County, Kansas. The county has a population of approximately 550,000 residents; located south of Kansas City it can be considered part of the larger metropolitan area.
JCL is one of five agencies within the county that has an independent governing/policy board. The other agencies are Mental Health, Airport, Developmental Supports and Park and Recreations. The boards of each agency are appointed by the County Commissioners. The library board is comprised of 7 members each chosen by an individual commissioner.
The remaining county functions are performed by county departments that report to the County Manager’s Office. The County Manager’s Office also maintains oversight over the five agencies, including the library.
JCL’s main source of revenue comes from property taxes, and while the library is considered a separate taxing entity, the millage level is set by the County Commissioners and can be adjusted only at their discretion.
While the library does have a certain amount of autonomy, all library staff are considered county employees and comply with all county HR policies and regulations.
Our annual budget is approved by the library board and then presented to the Board of County Commissioners for final approval. During the budgeting process the library works closely with the County Manager’s Office and it is really a collaborative endeavor.
Our collection policy is set by our library staff, and the County Librarian has final authority over items that will be in the collection, including items that have been challenged. The Library Board only has the authority to ensure that all policies and procedures have been followed.
The Library Board has ownership of all buildings and the land that they occupy. The Library Board is also able to buy and sell land and buildings but must seek approval from the County Commissioners before any transaction can be authorized.
The other interesting dynamic within Johnson County is that we are not the only library system in the county. The city of Olathe has its own library system. Historically, this occurred because Olathe was the county seat, and their system is over 100 years old. JCL and Olathe Public Library (OPL) have formed a consortium, patrons can borrow from both systems using one library card, and this convenience makes the division between JCL and OPL invisible to our patrons. In addition, our ILS is fully integrated and we annually review a shared Memorandum of Understanding that defines our collaborative working relationship.
Alignment, communication and trust are what make this structure work. The interdependences cause us to constantly ask ourselves who the key stakeholders are and who we might have missed.
II. Advantages and Disadvantages
I have spent most of my career at a library system that could be considered completely independent and was categorized as a quasi-governmental entity that had taxing authority, but no overseeing governing political body. Although, that began to change in the last couple of years I spent with the organization.
JCL sits at the other end of the spectrum as a county agency with multiple areas of oversight. I am in the unique position having worked in both environments to look at the advantages and disadvantages.
Being part of county wide government does have some advantages. Economically, we are able to purchase health insurance at a lower cost because the county employs approximately 3,600 employees. The countywide facilities department is a tremendous resource to assist with strategic facilities master planning, and the county has dedicated significant time and resources to develop an outstanding employee performance management tool. These resources are not always available to independent library systems.
Some of the disadvantages are the amount of communication and coordination that goes into moving the library’s goals forward when you are in the arena of competing countywide agendas. One of the advantages of working at an independent library was that the organization as a whole was more agile and the stakeholders are mostly internal. An independent library has more control over staff compensation, and at times this can be an advantage. Communication can be faster, the lines of authority can be clearer and as a separate taxing entity you are one step further removed from political considerations.
I found that both models work and provide outstanding library service to the public. I do not think there is one ideal model. I think excellence is defined locally within your community and the culture you build within your library. I believe the reason communities across this country have outstanding libraries is because they have outstanding librarians.
There are both visible stakeholders and invisible stakeholders in the county system. The visible stakeholders are the Library Board, County Commissioners, County Manager’s Office, Library, Friends, Foundation and patrons. Each of these groups has varying levels of influence and points of view on the direction the library should be heading. Each has a voice, and that voice needs to be recognized and heard. At our monthly Library Board meetings we have representatives from each of these organizations. They are part of the agenda and give a report on their recent activities and issues they are facing.
Invisible stakeholders include the city mayors. Johnson County contains 20 cities and each has their own mayor, personal identity and history. My strategy to understand the larger community landscape has been going to chamber meetings, joining a Rotary club and attending legislative breakfasts. This year my goal is to look for opportunities to include more of my administrative team and encourage them to attend more of these functions.
Internal stakeholders are the staff. Connecting them to the larger organization of the county is an ongoing challenge. This year the administrative team has started visiting a branch location together every month. It is an informal brown bag lunch or breakfast depending on the location’s schedule. It’s an open forum for staff to get to know us and ask questions. It also gives the administrative team an opportunity to talk about the big picture and to give them more insight and information into the decisions that are being made. More importantly, it is a chance for the administrative team to understand the impact of decisions and understand where we got it right and where we might have got it wrong. The meetings are an opportunity for us to work together in creating a more effective organization.
We are committed to becoming a learning organization and understand that this only occurs by creating an environment that listens to the opinions of all stakeholders. We must be open and honest in explaining the rationale for the decisions that have been made, and then have the resilience to listen to feedback and the humility to change.
In order to help me think more about these ideas I have been reading “Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone” by Mark Goulston M.D. and Keith Ferrazzi, and my administrative team just read “The Advantage” by Patrick Lencioni. Over the last year I continue to use both of these books as a reference. They have both strengthened my listening skills and have forced me to question some of my assumptions concerning management and it role within an organization.
I have found that in a self-governing library the lines of authority tend to be simpler and I think this is a result of it being a smaller organization.
Lines of authority in a county wide system are more complex. In Tibetan culture they have the word “Bardo”; it means “the transitional”, this might be the best way to define how authority sometimes works in a county wide system. I do not mean that there are not clear lines of responsibility and authority that are followed, but the day to day workings require that each department and agency collaborate. For this to happen there has to be a high degree of trust and communication. As a result, administrators across the county must be able to work in a state of ambiguity and seek clarity and understanding from each other. This helps break down silos that can naturally form in any organization over time.
I feel that trust is the key component in making this collaboration work. In a recent Ted Talk, Onora O’Neill helped me understand the distinction between trust and trustworthiness. It is helpful to extend trust to others while focusing on being trustworthy. She described the three qualities of trustworthiness as competence, reliability and honesty. These are all behavioral subjects that can be talked about when trust becomes frayed.
Accountability and competence are linked today more than ever. Public libraries are entrusted with public funds; we publish annual reports and have built transparency into the budgetary processes that provide the public a window to ensure that the money is being spent in a wise and judicious manner. It is imperative that we continue to share this story with our communities.
A less tangible measure of accountability is how closely the organization is living up to its values. How is leadership responding to the needs of their staff and the community they serve? How do you measure the health of an organization? How do you become accountable in the areas of leadership, performance, strategy and people?
To answer these questions for JCL, I employed a third party tool that measures the four areas of leadership, performance, strategy and people, through an online survey that asked staff 75 questions. The report provided more than 600 data points and is coded green, amber and red so it is easy to read and understand.
Green indicates that everything is going well; amber is something you need to watch and red is an indication of an issue you need to address. It is proving to be an invaluable tool in understanding where we stand as an organization and where we need to strategically provide training and focus.
What most attracted me to this product is that it not only diagnoses problems but also provides a treatment program that helps move the red to amber and the amber to green in a methodical, systematic manner.
It is also a wonderful tool to use to report back to the Library Board, County Manager’s Office and to share with the Commissioners.
The vision, mission and values are foundational for any organization to attain organizational alignment. In our county wide system is has also been helpful to look at the county’s long term strategic plan. In 2009, the county engaged the community in creating a Citizens Visioning Committee to produce a shared community vision defining specific goals and recommended strategies to guide decisions and actions in Johnson County. The Citizens Visioning Committee was comprised of business leaders, educators and non-profit organizations. They produced a report in 2011, and when we started our strategic planning process we used this document and invited many of its creators to come and talk with us. We listened to their ideas concerning the library and the community we serve.
We also deployed an online community engagement tool to gain feedback from community members. When presenting the completed strategic plan to the library board we could show that we had clearly aligned our goals with the community’s needs.
As a Director it’s important that the Library Board and I share the same vision for the organization and that they have the confidence that I am moving the organization in the right direction. I have found it helpful in my monthly memorandum to share my calendar and to highlight certain events that may have occurred at the county or in the community.
Our yearly board retreat is another way for the administrative staff to connect with the library board, it is the chance for us to look at the last year and make any needed adjustments.
It is also important for JCL to be in alighment with our Foundation and Friends of the Library. The Library Foundation manages the library’s endowment and focuses on fund raising to support the collection and library programs. The Friends of the Library run our bookstores and manage two annual book sale events and handle online sales. We have a yearly Tri-Board meeting that provides an opportunity for the Friends, Foundation and Library boards to meet in a social context. We share what each of us has accomplished and talk about future endeavors. The annual Tri-Board meeting creates a sense of camaraderie and is a chance for us to celebrate our successes together and to get a deeper understanding of how each board contributes to the library.
I hope this has given you some insight into how JCL functions. I know that some of you face many of the same issues. Whether you are running a self-governing organization or are part of city, county or consortium it seems to me to always come back to balance. Can you balance the needs to the community, staff and other stakeholders with the resources you have been provided? Can you clearly communicate your vision and have other share that vision? Can you successfully move your organization forward into the future?
Goulston, Mark. Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting through to Absolutely Anyone. New York: American Management Association, 2010. Print.
Lencioni, Patrick. The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012. Print.
“Onora O’Neill: What We Don’t Understand about Trust.” YouTube. YouTube, 25 Sept. 2013. Web. 13 Feb. 2014.
The information environment is rapidly changing in so many ways; from how we search to how we expect information to be delivered. Libraries and librarians face many challenges, fortunately there is a wealth of information available to help us understand and meet patron’s ever changing needs.
The OCLC 2010 Perceptions of Libraries Report gives us some insight into the rate of change. In 2010, 86% of information consumers were using search engines as opposed to 71% in 2005. . World Statistics reported in 2005, that 69% of Americans had Internet access and in 2010 it had grown to 77%. In 2010, E-book sales grew to $345 million and the New York Times reported on July 19th 2010 that Kindle e-book sales outsold Amazon’s hardcover book sales. In January 27th 2011, Cnet news reported that Amazon’s digital books had outsold its paperbacks for the first time. The trends seem to show that the information industry is still growing and that people increasingly want to seek and retrieve information digitally.
Kevin Kelley the founder of Wired Magazine in his August 2010 Smithsonian magazine article “Reading a whole new way”, makes the point that there are 4.5 billion screens displaying information on cell phones, laptops, tablets, computers, game consoles, televisions and that paper is no longer the primary medium from which information is transmitted. To reinforce this idea, Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that looks at trends, shows in 2010 that newspaper industry is still in decline. Rupert Murdock, the owner of the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal, recently launched “The Daily” in January 2011. This digital publication was created specially for the iPad and is designed to compete for the newspaper reading audience.
There is good news for libraries. This new culture of search combined with the economic recession has increased the demand for libraries. OCLC reported that in 2010, 68% of information consumers in the United States had a library card and this jumps to 81% if the consumer’s job was affected by the recession. The New York Times also reported on August 1st 2008, that a downturn in the economy increases library usage. Patrons come for free entertainment, Internet access and help with gaining employment.
Digital search and retrieval is still on the rise. But what remains unchanged is that libraries still remain a vital part of a community’s information environment, especially when financial times become difficult.
Libraries are a community resource in both the services they provide and the collection of materials that is available. A mission statement defines who you are, who you serve, why you serve them. Collection management and development is about combining the organization’s goals and the needs of your patrons and remains unchanged. As a collection developer, you will also need to understand your collection as it stands today and how it will evolve and change in the future. In the September 1990 Library Journal “Get It in Writing”, Merle Jacobs gives a case study about her experience formalizing a written collection development plan that, up to that point, had only been in the minds of the library staff. Jacobs writes about how important is it to know the needs of all library stakeholders. These are your patrons, business leaders, teachers, board members, staff and anyone else that has a vested interest in your library. Online and offline surveys, community meetings, one-on-one interviews can all help you gather viewpoints and insights to help you formulate a mission statement.
Another way to understand your library clientele is by patron profiling. In the May/June edition of online magazine the article “Creating User Profiles to Improve Information Quality” explains how entering into this process eliminates the idea that we know what patrons want, when they want and how they want it. Its a process of gaining a comprehensive picture of both individual and group needs and setting goals for meeting those needs. The goals might be providing timely and relevant content and services. Understanding the patron’s information needs is an important component in developing a collection. Failure to understand the patron can lead to the situation that Dennis P. Carrigan states in Data Guided Collection Development. The 80/20 rule held true. 80% of a user’s needs were met by 20% of the collection. A good collection development plan can help avoid this situation.
The condition of your present collection needs to be understood, by asking “How does the collection match the mission statement?”. Denise Harbor, in the March/April edition of “The Book Report” writes how “Collection Mapping” is one way to appraise the quantity and quality of the material. Collection Mapping can help in three areas; future selection and weeding, showing the relationship between the collection and the population that the collection serves, and to justify the material expenditures. Another tool a collection developer can use is outlined in the article “Use of Circulation Statistic and Inter-library Loan Data Collection Management”. The authors discuss how circulation and inter-library loan statistics can be employed to make collection management decisions. A selector can look at past circulation trends to make prediction about future needs.
Intuitive or speculative collection management based on professional experience can be another tool, but should not the only tool as organizations are moving towards evidence-based decision models. Ken Haycock, the former director of the San Jose School of Library and Information Science, in a 2010 speech at the Computer in Libraries conference said that he felt the idea of “Public good was dead and what people wanted was public value”. Tight budgets and increased accountability are forcing many collection development managers to look objectively at their collection and employ a more data-driven approach to selection.
These new digital formats allow libraries to create new collections such as e-books, downloadable audio books and music. This is another challenge that faces the collection development. The article “Balancing Act” in the 2005 July Library Journal states that these new services are being created to meet an ever-growing consumer demand. It is clear that mass media and marketing influences consumer tastes and any public librarian can tell you the effect Oprah’s book club has in increasing interest in a specific title. A collection developer needs to keep current with changing trends and shifting formats. It is not enough to just collect the material, the librarian must know how it works on some new devices and not on others. As an example, the e-book services of Overdrive do not work on Kindle e-readers.
New software now helps librarians make faster and better informed decisions about collection development. In the Washington Post article 2007 “Hello, Grisham — So Long Hemingway?”, librarians at the Fairfax library talk about how a new application was able to quickly show them what material had not been checked out in a twenty-four month period. Librarians were able to then make a decision on that item and decide whether it needed to be weeded or could stay in the collection. At Fairfax libraries they are talking about their collection in terms of “Return of Investment” and wrestling with they should be making data-driven decisions or maintaining cultural standards. In the same article, Leslie Burger, the former president of ALA and the Director of the Princeton Public Library, reinforces this idea by saying “I think the days of libraries saying, “We must have that, because it’s good for people are beyond us”. While this is a trend, it is not the only voice in the public library arena. The Director of Arlington County library has an opposing viewpoint and believes that the role of the public library is to create a core collection for the cultural education of the community. In 2011 we are still struggling between “give them what they want” or “give them what they need” outlined in the Nora Rawlinson’s 1981 article “Give ‘em What they Want!”. While technology can help us gather and make sense of information and data, what remains unchanged is that it cannot tell us how to set overall vision and mission. Neither can it tell us how to create a collection that is meaningful to our communities and this ultimately, is up to each library and the community that it serves.
Technological advances now allow vendors to offer services to a collection developer. Companies such as Baker and Taylor and BWI can offer libraries recommended lists and offer selection services. While this can streamline the purchasing process, it does have its pitfalls. This was demonstrated in 1997 and covered by Library Journal when the Hawaiian State Public Library System attempted and failed to outsource its entire collection development process to Baker and Taylor. In the Library Journal 2007 September edition, Phoenix Public Library explains why they did decide to hand over selection to its vendors and Christopher Platt of Queens Library concurs that vendors do a good job of making a first cut in the selection process. Phoenix explains that they would rather have librarians doing collection analysis than selection. Many libraries are uncomfortable with this approach and believe that selection is a core function of the profession.
Plans change, but the need to plan does not. A plan fuses together the mission of the library, the knowledge you have about your patrons and collection and combining them with your material budget and your collection development goals and objectives. Merle Jacobs, in “Get it in Writing”, states that a collection development plan can guide both librarians and patrons by articulating how you are meeting the collection development goals. In the article “Leading Forward by Looking Backward”, Betty Carter outlines that a plan could include the mission statement and general overview of whom the collection is created. It can provide budgetary information which could include both financial and shelving resource availability.
Budgetary information is important in the planning process because some publishing can be seasonable and it is important to have a plan that ensures the latest seasonal titles will be available to your patrons when they want them.
A plan might include a list of print and non-print selection resources and tools a librarian might want to access for evaluating purchases. The plan might include areas where future collection development and retrospective ordering needs might be expanded. Documents such as the “Library Bill of Rights” and other policies and procedures could be included as the process for exclusion and re-evaluation of material and the materials evaluation form to give to patrons. A collection development plan should also outline weeding expectations and define what a well-weeded area would look like. It should have an explanation of why some works are considered timeless and should be retained and others weeded. A plan can also help remove bias, provide focus and reinforce that idea that the library is neutral towards the ideas contained within the material, but strives to provide a wide and varied selection for its patrons. Plan are about taking general goals and making them into specific objectives. Plans articulate thoughtful and deliberate change.
What is the difference between censorship and selection? Lester Ashiem’s article “Not Censorship But Selection” compares the role of the selector to that of the censor and in so doing really clarifies what differentiates selection from censorship. It, in many ways, comes down to perspective. Ashiem believes that a selector is looking for reasons to include an item, where a censor is looking for reasons to have an item removed or banned from a collection. Selection is about looking for the strengths and virtues in the material. Helen Haines, in her “Books for People”, has a framework that a selector might use for judging non-fiction material. Is it accurate, impartial and authoritative? Is the data current, board and deep? Is the topic relevant to your community and organized in a manner that makes access sense? Is it written in a style that is accessible and would this work be of value to the reader? Finally, is the item competitively priced as compared to other similar works? Are you getting value for your dollar? Prizing is another tool for the selector to use. Awards can help focus your selection efforts and save time, especially if the awarding body’s selection process is similar to your own. Lester Ashiem returns to the topic of selection in “Selection and Censorship A Reappraisal” and makes an important point about selection. He articulates that the bias of the selector is to create unbiased collections for the entire community that they serve and selection is about preserving the “liberty of thought” for all.
Censorship is the attempt to infringe on the rights of another, to limit or block their access to information. The principles of Intellectual Freedom come from the First Amendment’s freedom of speech. On the ALA website under the heading Public Libraries and Intellectual Freedom, Gordon M. Conable writes that the role of the public library is to preserves the freedom for people to access information and resources necessary for open, free and unrestricted dialogue on all issues of concern. Intellectual Freedom means that you are able express your ideas and have the right to access the ideas of others. There are times when those ideas are objectionable to individuals within the community that we serve and the library will be asked to have the item removed from the collection. Sandford Berman in “Inside Censorship”, writes that the staff and public have every right to challenge material that have been selected, unless the selector is considered infallible. There are times where an item should be removed. Berman gives the example of a book whose subject was Down Syndrome. The book referred to people with Down Syndrome as Mongoloids. In a historic context this might be kept, but in a public library setting, the book was viewed as inaccurate and antiquated and removed from the collection.
Intellectual Freedom is one of the foundations of democracy and ensures that all voices within a community can be heard. In the 2009 article “Standup! Defending teens right to read at West Community Memorial Library”, Kistin Pekoll shares her experiences of defending intellectual freedom. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Madison Wisconsin, ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Roundtable and the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom were wonderful resources that helped her and the Director face these challenges. Her advice is to stay focused on the specific material rather than being sidetracked into the broader discussion of the library’s role and why they shouldn’t be providing this type of material. Information was the most powerful tool in resolving this issue. The board had an open public meeting especially to talk about the Young Adult collection. They talked about how the collection was developed and the use of professional review journals in the selection process. The public was given a chance to speak and finally the vote was taken. The unanimous decision was to leave the Young Adult collection unchanged and not remove the challenged items.
Dealing with censorship and material challenges needs to be part of every library’s plan. Having a clear and simple process in place where patrons challenge the library’s selection choices is part of dialogue that comes with Intellectual Freedom. It is a certainty that material will continued be challenged and it is part of the library’s role within society to protect intellectual Freedom.
Technology continues to be the force that changes how we search and receive information. New tools allow us to quickly understand large amounts of data, but the role of the library to protect intellectual freedom, fight against censorship, create and organize meaningful collections to our communities, remains unchanged.
This holiday session I was out and about, thinking about buying a book for my brother who was coming down from Michigan to visit. I didn’t know what to get him and thought I would go out to browse around and see what I could find. I wanted this serendipitous discovery moment where I found the perfect book and collected a great story that I could tell him about the discovery process. I wanted to have a gift buying experience that was my own and one that I could share with my brother and make the gift more personal. In the adult world, gifts aren’t really about gifts as much as they are about sharing and relationships.
As I drove by the closed Borders bookstore, I think of businesses as “Internet road kill”. I thought “how might I do this in the future?”. Amazon doesn’t really fill that browsing void for me and I often feel like a digital sheep being herded from a “one you might like” pen to “another you might like” pen until I am digitally slaughtered in the checkout queue and deposited back into the web. I want to roam free without gentle digital guiding hands pushing me towards a purchase.
What story am I going to tell my brother? I went to Amazon and someone that I have never met and who may or may not be real recommended this book? It won an award that I am not sure it merited or was just a marketing ploy so it would be front and center on the webpage I was surfing and I was really in a rush and I needed to get you something? So Merry Christmas, I hope you like it. Well if you don’t like it at least you will have the same book that everyone else has so you can fake it if someone asks you if you have read it. You can say “I just got it for Christmas but I have been too busy to read it”. I love you man and wow, you got me a book too.
That is not the experience I want to have. I want to have the experience of going to a bookstore with my brother, finding a book that I love and buying it on the spot, putting it in his hands and telling him how much I loved this book and telling him this is a pre-Christmas present. That is the experience I just had and the book was “Little Brother” by Corey Doctorow and the experience was awesome.
So as I am driving over to Barnes and Noble and listening to NPR, they talk how the bookstore is “e’ing” its business. I think this is code that means they will become like Amazon. I am thinking about e-books, libraries and my experience and a light goes off in my head. Libraries might be the only game in town where people can still browse. As I read that libraries are embracing this new “e” world and clearing their shelves of material, I wonder if they are missing an opportunity. How might libraries create a richer browsing experience for the patron, knowing that browsing is embedded in our DNA.
As humans, we browse. We pick up, feel, look, touch and scan all the time gathering information about the world and the objects of our interest. This is how we interact with the world and this experience cannot be totally replaced by a screen. So as others lament that the library is dying like some befuddled beached whale caught in the changing tides of e-books, I see us becoming the only game in town where people can browse and make unexpected discoveries and experiences.
What do these three things have in common? They are all things that a parent fears their teenager is going to be exposed to. Teen literature has supplanted rock-in-roll and this is understandable, as Lady Ga Ga does not have the same sinister menace as did Black Sabbath or Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. In the June 4th edition of the Wall Street Journal, Mega Gurdon reports in the article “Darkness Too Visible” on a Mother who was searching for a book at her local Barnes and Noble for her 13 year old. She describes the lurid and dramatic covers covering topics such as vampires, suicide and self-mutilation. Unable to find a suitable book, she leaves the store empty handed and questions the state of teen fiction. The author then asks the question “How dark is contemporary fiction for teens?” In a flash of journalist brilliance she answers her own question by stating “Darker than when you were a child, my dear”. Why ask questions when you already have the answers and why investigate when you can entertain with witty prose.
A quick look at the Barnes and Noble teen webpage shows “What happened to Goodbye” as story about a teen girl experiencing her parents bitter divorce and traveling with her dad as they leave their past behind and discover their new life. Clearly a story of such depravity could not possibly have any place on a bookshelf, and how could a teen possibly relate? “The Warlock” the fifth installment of the Nicholas Flamel series is also shown on the homepage. This is a fantasy story about how Nicholas Flamel has discovered the elixir of eternal life and has had it stolen by the evil Dr. John Dee. Yes, there is “Everlasting”, a clone of the Twilight series and maybe I am missing something but this hardly falls in the category of Ozzie Osborne biting the head off a dove.
Gurdon does state that there are many good teen books available, but doesn’t make any comment about the Mom who is unwilling to ask for help in finding her teen a book, neither does she make any comment about how ignorant the parent is on the topic of teen literature. The Mom appears to be quite content to judge a book by its cover and to leave the store with moral outrage, but without a book.
The author states “If books show us the world, teen fiction can be a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is.” I agree with this statement but from another viewpoint, that this is not bad. Dark is just dark and doesn’t mean that it will cause harm. I would argue that teens and adults like to be scared. It’s the reason we have roller coasters, scary movies and why a monster lives under your bed. If we continue to try and wrap our children in a protective minivan cocoon they will still crave excitement and adventure and it is not a shocking to hear adults protest. Just think of the downward spiral this country has been on since we watched Elvis wiggle his hips.
Yes the language in many teen books is profane, but have you listened to the average teen or American idol judge? This is the language of today’s culture and bringing out the censor’s whip or attempting to return us to the good old days is impossible. What good old days are these exactly? The good old days when women didn’t have the vote, when there was segregation or the McCarthy/Hoover years? Or should we dial the clock back to idealized and formulaic Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I feel that publishers should have the freedom in an open society to publish whatever they choose. The parenting role remains unchanged and limited in its scope in the sense that you only get to parent your own child and not society.
GURDON, MEGHAN COX. “Book Review: Young Adult Fiction – WSJ.com.” Business News & Financial News – The Wall Street Journal – Wsj.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 June 2011. .
You would think that the Internet and Intellectual Freedom would go together like peanut butter and jelly and you would be both right and wrong. The Global Network Initiative (GNI) was formed to protect and advance the freedom of expression but only three of major Internet players have signed up (Google, Yahoo and Microsoft). Those standing in the wings are Facebook, Twitter and pretty much every other Internet social media start up. The GNI was started in 2008 after a human rights organization brought attention to some of the practices of these companies. Yahoo in the past has released information to the Chinese government that resulted in the imprisonment of dissidents. Google and Microsoft have both limited search results to meet China censoring laws although Google has since changed this practice. Facebook exercised its censorship muscles by removing pages and content that it thought was inappropriate. Facebook removed a picture of two men kissing.
The follow letter was sent.
“Hello, Content that you shared on Facebook has been removed because it violated Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. Shares that contain nudity, or any kind of graphic or sexually suggestive content, are not permitted on Facebook. This message serves as a warning. Additional violations may result in the termination of your account. Please read the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities carefully and refrain from posting abusive material in the future. Thanks in advance for your understanding and cooperation. The Facebook Team”
The photo was of two fully clothed men kissing is a public setting. It is interesting to note that the photo does not violate their “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” or their “Community Standards” policy yet it was still censored. As a counterpoint, Facebook has been used by groups to organize protests against the Farc in Colombia and Facebook did help President Obama in his political campaign of 2008. So the answer seems to be, if it is in the interest of Facebook it stays and if it is not, it goes. So, is free speech protected on the Internet? In a recent case, the National Labor Relations Board has stated that an employee is legally protected under the first amendment to post negative comments on Facebook about their employer and that employees have the right to talk about wages and working conditions. They went on to say that not all speech is protected but this finding does show that even though a company has a social media policy that prohibits negative comments, it is not necessary legal to terminate an employee because of those comments. The social software side of the Internet still seems very much like the wild west with companies like Facebook making up the censorship rules as they go along with little real regard to the First Amendment and Intellectual Freedom. As this technology matures it will be interesting to watch how we as a global society deal with these issues.
” Facebook Criticized For Censorship.” All Facebook – The Unofficial Facebook Blog – Facebook News, Facebook Marketing, Facebook Business, and More!. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 May 2011. .
“For Employees, Facebook Counts as Free Speech.” Social Media News and Web Tips – Mashable – The Social Media Guide. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 May 2011. .
“Global Network Initiative.” Global Network Initiative. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 May 2011. . HELFT, MIGUEL. “Facebook Wrestles With Free Speech and Civility – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 May 2011. .
Crisis, real or imaginary, allows for rapid and sometimes drastic changes. Governor Daniels signed an order on his first day on the job that ended collective bargaining with public employee unions and later, Governor Walker of Wisconsin launched his own version of public union-busting. These changes were all possible because of the need to balance state budgets and the economic downturn meant cuts needed to be made. While eating your young and your seed corn to fight off immediate starvation, there are long term effects.
Chelton looks at these changes and wonders of the effects it will have on school librarians. If you feel your job is under threat from both the state house and your local school district, how willing would you be to buy material that is controversial? Might you just duck and cover and wait for the economic storm to pass? Chelton feels that courage is needed and if the librarian is not going to champion intellectual freedom, then who is? While I agree with this idea, I don’t think in a tolerate society we should expect our librarian to gird their loins to do their job. When a librarian is asking the “Should I get this book?” and the motivation is that they want to keep their job then I think we about to take a strange journey down mediocre lane.
We are duplicitous in our desires. We want to have students that are innovative, creative and can think critically and solve big problems but we want them to do this in a prescribed manner. So we come up with code words like “appropriate” for material that is ok and “inappropriate” for work that might get us fired. Why not follow the lead of the Chinese and produce one little red book and have done with it. Economically is seems to be working wonderfully for them and since fiscal responsibility (another code word for I only spend money on things that will get me re-elected”) this is the only thing Governor Daniels and Walker appear to interest in I see this as a workable solution. After all one billion Chinese cannot be wrong.
As a result of this new environment school libraries are becoming more dependent on public libraries to provide a wide range of ideas and thoughts and to be the place where children and young adults can explore and discover. Chelton points out a couple of problems. The first is access. Not all children are able to get to their local library. The second is that many rural communities don’t have a public library. The third issue that Chelton doesn’t state but is the thousand pound gorilla in the room, is that if your kids have to go to a public library to get an education then you have a problem.
On the upside, every day I see the library profession fight against a very vocal minority and win. I see librarians respect the viewpoints of others and listen to their concerns but not waver from providing material that will meet every person in the community’s needs, whether that community is a school system, city or county.