Our librarian staff and contributors have hand-picked some of the most interesting topics affecting libraries at this very moment — cool projects, innovative programs, awesome people, important news — and gathered them here in a handy digest for everyone who hearts libraries as much as we do. It’s our monthly open love letter to libraries.
The Story: Why Do Libraries Have So Many Toys?
What It’s About: A mom disparages her local library and libraries in general for putting out gross, allegedly disease-ridden toys for young children to play with at the library, because she’s just there for the books, yo.
Why I’m Talking About It: Because it fills me with rage and sadness. Yes, libraries have traditionally been about quiet spaces for books, but increasingly, they are community centers that support all types of learning and provide access to all kinds of information and resources, including, yes, toys. This is for a few reasons. Early literacy and child development is about learning more than words. Play is an important part of that, as it helps develop cognitive, emotional, social, and fine motor skills. While this privileged mother may have other tools and spaces for her child to play, this is certainly not true for all families, who may not be able to afford expensive toys (have you seen how much Legos cost?!) let alone have a designated playroom. What particularly annoyed me is that the author claims it was these “dingy plastic hot dog buns” that gave her child a virus her doctor said was transferred through saliva. As if the BOOKS she cherishes aren’t also handled by children (let’s be honest, kids put books in their mouths, too). Libraries clean and sanitize toys just like they do books, but anything shared (ie, the entire outside world) could be contaminated with germs. What this mother needs to recognize is that the library doesn’t cater to her, it serves her entire community. As it should.
The Story: First Seed Library Sprouts in Palestine
What It’s About: In the occupied West Bank, Palestinians are working to reclaim their heritage through a project to collect native seeds and refresh their agriculture, cultural memory and hopefully combat the loss of native fruit due to climate change.
Why I’m Talking About It: As a gardener, I just love the idea of a seed library. The Palestinian Heirloom Seed Library takes this a step deeper by getting Palestinians to talk to their elders, hear stories about what agriculture was like back in the day (before country-altering wars, before machines, before climate change), preserve rare seeds, and learn about farming practices in the process. It’s awesome. The seed library captures the true spirit of the lending library: you can “borrow” a packet of seeds, learn about what the fruit/veggie needs in order to thrive, and hopefully give back some seeds later, when your garden grows. I’ve seen the way the children in my life blossom (sorry) when they get to work with the land, plant and grow, get their hands dirty. It makes me happy to think of bringing this kind of joy to the people of Palestine, who will gain knowledge, and a little of their history back, with each plant they cultivate. And hopefully generations will benefit from this one small seedling step.
What It’s About: Every year in June, grassroots advocacy organization Urban Librarians Unite (otherwise known as ULU) holds a 24-hour reading marathon on the steps of the New York Public Library (and at Brooklyn Public Library in past years). This year the Read-In was held on June 4th-5th and had reading guests of all varieties: librarians, authors, local politicians, and more.
Why I’m Talking About It: While not all attendees stay the full 24-hours, it’s a wonderful opportunity for NYC residents to show their support for libraries and share some great literature
What It’s About: After receiving a complaint from an elementary school parent about inappropriate content, the librarian, the principal, and the superintendent of Henning School decided to pull This One Summer from the shelves, claiming that “vulgarity permeates” the book.
Why I’m Talking About It: Henning School serves 390 students from preK to 12th grade, and the superintendent deemed the book “inappropriate” for the library. Not a portion of the library. The entire library, which is meant to serve students as old as 18. Now, although the content of This One Summer may not be appropriate for every student at Henning School (topics include unplanned pregnancy, suicide, and oral sex), it is still a quality, award-winning coming-of-age graphic novel targeted towards teenage readers. Why not just make sure the book is shelved in the young adult section, away from the picture books and beginning chapter books? What about the other YA titles in the library? Are these suddenly going to come under intense scrutiny because they are too mature for a portion of the student body? This is a knee-jerk reaction to a situation that could (and should) have been handled much more reasonably. On June 2, The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund updated the situation and reported that This One Summer had been returned to school shelves under two conditions: that it should be shelved in a separate section away from the elementary school materials (understandable), and that students in grades 10-12 had to have a signed permission note from their parents in order to check it out (are you f*^%#$@ kidding me?!). Not only does this impede the students’ free access to information, but it also eliminates their right to privacy, which is just as important as an adult’s right to privacy in a public library. And although I am grateful that the book was returned to the shelf, I am extremely worried about what kind of a precedent this will set for future book challenges. Will all YA titles eventually require a note from parents? Will a handful of upset parents set the standard for age-appropriate materials? There are too many unanswered questions here, and I think the school’s solution causes more problems than it solves. For the full CBLDF article, see here.
What It’s About: Libraries around the country are serving as sites for summer meals programs, offering free, healthy lunches to kids and teens.
Why I’m Talking About It: I love stories that show libraries as active community centers responding to needs of the people they serve. Libraries have always been about feeding people’s hearts and minds with stories and information, and now they can also feed their bodies.This is my library’s second year serving as a lunch location, and it’s been a great. Especially for teens who are basically on their own for the summer and hang out at the library, it’s an easy way for them to get a free, healthy meal. My library is located right across the street from the community pool, so it’s a big hub for kids during the summer. Not only is it convenient for regular patrons, it also attracts new people less familiar with the library.
Remembering the quality of my own school lunches growing up, I was skeptical of the quality, but what my location is serving is actually fantastic, with fresh, tasty ingredients. It’s great that it’s free for every kid, which relieves some of the stigma associated with free and reduced lunches at school. It’s not as big of a deal to grab a free lunch where you’re already hanging out and there are other fun activities going on versus going to a special location just because it has free food, and doesn’t emphasize that it may be a kid’s only way of getting a lunch.
What It’s About: Christchurch Library in New Zealand celebrated its website and online catalogue coming of age this week. Its website and online catalogue launched on the 7th of June, 1995, making it one of the oldest in Australasia (if not the oldest!)
Why I’m Talking About It: The digital component of public libraries is one of their most important parts. Libraries stopped being just about printed books and printed media a long time ago, and their digital resources and digital access are fundamental to what libraries do now. It’s a great milestone for Christchurch Library to be celebrating.
What It’s About: The California Library Association (CLA) and public libraries across the state are teaming up to challenge libraries to step up their summer programming, and encourage all readers to get out the books, and read. The goals of public summer reading and library programs are four-fold:
- The programs foster communities of readers and library users,
- help prevent summer learning loss in children and teens,
- they’re entry points for community members to learn about the library’s resources, and
- help adults model good reading habits for youth.
This program is promoted by one of my favorite people, journalist-turned-librarian Greg Lucas, California’s State Librarian, who continues to help California libraries by gaining support in the state capitol, with a primary goal of making sure all California libraries are online and connected, reaching out to communities with a focus on the underserved.
Why I’m Talking About It: I remember summer as the bliss of a cool library paradise filled with all the books I couldn’t read during the loooong school year. I’m currently doing a millionth re-read of the Anne of Green Gables series, just because, and absolutely loving it. I’d love if everyone had their own favorite summer reading to pick up and continue to learn and grow with. Public libraries are always a safe community haven, and envenmoreso in the summer, when reading slacks off. Get back to the library, and pick up a good book! There’s something for everyone, and everyone can find something. #onemillionreaders