Dispatches from Library Land!: April 2016

Happy National Library Week! 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.

Have a library tip? Find us on Facebook, Twitter, or email and let us know!

Alison Peters —

The Story: Libraries Create Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

What It’s About: “We need to serve our patrons in whatever form they come in. Patrons need to know that they’re welcome, they’re safe, they’re accepted and not judged.” Creating gender-neutral bathrooms in libraries, which are, after all, open to the public, is a positive step towards inclusion.

Why I’m Talking About It: This is a topic that’s close to my heart: often when I’m out with my wife, who at first glance appears to be a man, we typically have a silent, eyebrow-enlisted conversation about which bathroom she’s going to step into. Depending on the place and people, we make the decision. Will anyone try to stop her from going to the woman’s bathroom, or act aggressively towards her? Will she be totally grossed out by using the men’s room, and if she does, will they look at her askance? It’s a weird spot to be in sometimes, and this solution, and the fact that libraries are considering patron’s needs to this level, makes me happy and hopeful for the future.

Liberty Hardy —

The Story: Library of Congress to Eliminate Terms “Illegal Alien” and “Alien”

What It’s About: Following complaints from students groups and the American Library Association over the use of “illegal alien” and “alien” in subject headings, the Library of Congress will no longer be using the terms.

Why I’m Talking About It: “‘We call on both politicians and media outlets to follow the precedent set by the Library of Congress,’ Dennise Hernandez, Co­Director of CoFIRED, said in a statement. ‘It is way past time that we all recognize that referring to immigrants as “illegal” is an offensive, dehumanizing term and that there is no excuse to continue using it.'”

It’s always great when antiquated, offensive terms are shown the door. Now if we could only erase that ridiculous Genesis song from history.

Alison Peters —

The Story: The Most Important Obama Nominee No One’s Talking About

What It’s About: This should really be titled: the most important Obama nominee no one’s talking about – except librarians. Because we are ALL OVER this one, discussing Obama’s nomination of Carla Hayden to be librarian of Congress. If she gets the post, Hayden would be the first African American to hold this position, and the first woman. Also, an actual librarian.

Why I’m Talking About It: Hayden is a librarian with a long and successful career. As head of Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library for the past 23 years, she has worked to provide a safe space for Baltimore’s residents, holding strong and staying open in the midst of civil unrest. She’s also worked on the technology side, recognizing that technology and libraries go hand in and and that library patrons look to libraries for technology support: the Enoch Pratt Free Library is now home to the largest selection of free-access computers in Maryland. Adding to her claims to fame, this year Hayden joined the ranks of Fortune’s World’s 50 Greatest Leaders, “transforming the world and inspiring others to do the same.”

My own personal reaction? “It’s about time.”

Rachel Smalter Hall —

The Story: The Koch Brothers are Attacking Libraries

What It’s About: Libraries have a fight ahead of them because Americans for Prosperity, the bajillionaire Koch brothers’s super PAC, has started targeting libraries in its anti-tax agenda. (You can donate to EveryLibrary to help fight back.)

Why I’m Talking About It: Here in Kansas, our Koch-backed governor is presiding over a “real-live experiment” of stripping away funds from schools, the arts, and other public services to “shoot a shot of adrenaline into the heart of growing the economy.” Supporters predicted these tax cuts would generate $323 million in new revenue… but they have actually generated a $688 million loss (i.e. their math was off by 1 billion dollars). Now that Kansas’s schools are decimated, I guess libraries are next on the chopping block? Not cool, Brownback. Not cool, Koch brothers. Give me back my books.

Rita Meade —


What It’s About: For better or for worse, politics and libraries are intricately linked (see Rachel’s discussion of the Koch brothers above). Whether or not a library gets funded often depends on the whims of a local politician or a public vote in a community that may or may not be library-friendly. The good thing is, there is now a way that you can help. EveryLibrary is political action platform that focuses solely on library funding.

Why I’m Talking About It: With a major election almost upon us, EveryLibrary urges voters to consider libraries when deciding which candidate is right for them. Right now they are promoting a pledge related to the upcoming primaries and beyond: “When I vote in 2016, I will consider how candidates look at libraries. I understand that from the President to the local town council, these are the people who make funding decisions for libraries. My vote matters this year and for future generations of Americans.” EveryLibrary also provides opportunities for donating, volunteering, petition signing, and training for library activism. You can follow them on Twitter @EveryLibrary.

Molly Wetta —

The Story: She’s A Children’s Librarian, But You Might Be Surprised Where Her Job Takes Her

What It’s About: “‘There is no typical day,’ she said. ‘If you like routine, it would be a hard job.'”

Why I’m Talking About It: Any children’s librarian would agree with Paula Langsam, a Washington, DC area librarian. The new normal for librarians, especially those serving youth, is to be a Jack-or-Jill of all trades: in addition to performing storytimes (not as easy as it looks!) and maintaining collections, children’s librarians like Langsam are leading literacy classes for teen mothers, organizing free lunches for hungry families, leading makerspace workshops, and dealing with challenging members of the public with a grace.

Maya Smart —

The Story: TLA 2016: Deep in the Heart of Texas

What It’s About: The Texas Library Association brings together 7,000 attendees from academic libraries, corporate libraries, public libraries, branches and bookmobiles for its annual conference. Together, they represent an estimated $1.5 billion book market.

Why I’m Talking About It: In this case, the networking, idea exchange, purchasing power and pure bookishness really is bigger in Texas.