Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Shushing Stereotype and Communicating with Heart

As part of my MLIS ePortfolio work, I am now writing about Competency C: "Demonstrate oral and written communication skills necessary for professional work including collaboration and presentations." My post that follows is adapted from my competency reflection.



When thinking about this competency related to communication, I reflected on how ironic it is that the stereotype of the shushing librarian is so common since it conveys the very shutting down of communication. With a ghostly apparition shushing in Ghostbusters and a gargantuan tentacled librarian in Monsters University hunting down mischief-makers, one might think that librarians are downright scary when it comes to enforcing silence.



However, let us consider the case of the Nancy Pearl librarian action figure. First released in 2003, the product description includes the following marketed feature: "Pull her arm down, then press the button on her back and the arm will move up to her lips with 'amazing shushing action!'"(Archie McPhee, 2017). Amazing shushing action! The thing is, the toy's producer Archie McPhee highlights the story of the librarian that the toy is modeled after: Nancy Pearl. Looking at Pearl's work, it is clear that she is far from obsessed with shushing. Perhaps best known for launching the first One City One Book program in Seattle in 1998 (S., 2005), Pearl is so busy communicating - whether writing books, teaching classes, or speaking on NPR - that "to use a singularly appropriate word, this woman is booked" (Broom, 2005).

Source: slgckgc
Worth noting, Pearl did address opposition to the figure's shushing action: "There are too many other things in the world to be shocked and outraged about...As librarians, we need to take our work seriously, but we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously" (Broom, 2005). My philosophy is similar in terms of simply combatting stereotypes through the work that I do. In addressing this competency, this means consistently communicating in effective ways, whether the communication is oral or written, and whether I am helping an individual person or addressing a large audience. And, in terms of effectiveness, I want to emphasize the importance of communication being greater than just the message and the messenger. As we can learn by looking at communication theory, communication is dependent upon the receiver, as well.

When thinking about ways to account for the receivers of messages, I love to learn from the field of User Experience (UX) and an article that has inspired me this past year is "Good Design is Humble" by Austin Knight (2016) who writes:
If there’s anything that design has taught me, it’s that my assumptions, while generally well-founded, are almost always wrong. No matter how much of an expert I become, I will never be able to represent the collective mass that is a user base. This is why humility in the design process is so important...the designer is not designing for themselves; they’re designing for the user. It’s simply in the nature of design: whenever you’re creating for someone else, the creation can’t be about you. And as such, designers must take a humble approach to design, or risk being handicapped by their own egos.
Knight uses terminology related to design, but his ideas are helpful when applied to communication in general. When communicating, it cannot be about me as the messenger, but about the users I am trying to communicate with. If the majority of my users do not receive messages the way I intend for them to, I cannot blame them. Instead, I must reflect on ways to improve how I am communicating. For instance, over time, I have learned to improve my library signage by using fewer words and more visuals. With printing in my library, I started off by creating detailed step-by-step instructions about how to print. The instructions were accurate, but students never read them and so they failed to effectively relay information. Rather than berating students to read the instructions, though, I have experimented with making new versions of guidance that are much simpler. While I have omitted details, I have left the markers that are most essential and highlighted those with visuals. Through trial and error and by observing the way that users interact with information, I constantly seek to refine my delivery to ensure messages are being received as I hope they will be.

Finally, since the example about printing instructions is unidirectional with information flowing from me as the messenger to my students as receivers, I want to insert that my most powerful communication experiences are actually those that are multidirectional. More than lecturing, I thrive on conversation. More than leading alone, I gain strength from collaboration. Along these lines, I think the most effective communicators are those who observe, listen, and are open to receiving from others as much as they are to delivering to others. Activities such as listening may be assumed to be passive by some people, but as expressed with the Listen With Intent slide from Elgan (2013) below, listening is more than hearing and involves considering our own personal biases and seeking to understand others. Effective communication requires being present with undivided attention and heart, and this is how I aim to show up as a communicator in my work.

Source: Anthony Elgan
References

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Libraries, Diversity, Inclusion, and (No) Neutrality

As part of my MLIS ePortfolio work, I just finished writing about Competency C: "Recognize the diversity (such as cultural and economic) in the clientele and employees of an information organization and be familiar with actions the organization should take to address this diversity." My post that follows is adapted from my competency reflection.



This week, I received an email about an American Library Association (ALA) press release, “ALA opposes new administration policies that contradict core values,” that current ALA President Julie Todaro issued in response to recent actions of the Trump Administration. Below are some excerpts from the statement.
Our nation’s 120,000 public, academic, school and special libraries serve all community members, including people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities and the most vulnerable in our communities, offering services and educational resources that transform communities, open minds, and promote inclusion and diversity.
ALA believes that the struggle against racism, prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination is central to our mission. We will continue to speak out and support efforts to abolish intolerance and cultural invisibility, stand up for all the members of the communities we serve, and promote understanding and inclusion through our work. (American Library Association, 2017a)
Todaro ties her remarks to ALA’s core values and she asserts how promoting diversity and inclusion is in fact integral to the work of library professionals. ALA’s proclaimed value for diversity may indeed be traced far back: “Since 1936, the American Library Association has been actively engaged in combating any and all attitudes, behavior, services or programs which amount to the exclusion or restriction of a targeted group of people based on a designation of race, skin color, ethnic origin or descent” (American Library Association, 2017b).

Have libraries perfectly lived up to these values over the years? Certainly not perfectly. Just consider the story of Congressman John Lewis who, when accepting the National Book Award this past year, shared his experience of being denied entry to a public library in 1956: “When I was 16 years old, some of my brothers and sisters and cousins [were] going down to the public library trying to get public library cards, and we were told the library was for whites only, not for coloureds” (Flood, 2016).

Have libraries improved since then? In many ways and with the promise that, as may be seen with this competency itself, professionals entering the field learn about how libraries may better address diversity. Also, as a positive addendum, librarians are now some of the biggest fans of John Lewis, with ALA hosting him as a speaker at its 2016 Annual Conference (Albanese, 2016) and recognizing his graphic memoir March with multiple book awards (Neary, 2017).

Nevertheless, promoting diversity is not as straightforward as it may seem at first glance. What complicates matters is how efforts to address the needs of diverse and marginalized groups have become politicized. As long as acts promoting diversity are deemed to be partisan, there arises a conflict with claims that libraries should be neutral institutions.

Supporting the standard of library neutrality in general, Hart (2016) writes, “Keeping yourself and your collection politically neutral ensures that you are in good ethical standing…” He cites Section 5 of the IFLA Code of Ethics for Librarians and other Information Workers: “Librarians and other information workers have the right to free speech in the workplace provided it does not infringe the principle of neutrality towards users” (International Federation of Library Associations, 2012).

But, is it really possible for libraries to be neutral? Perhaps it depends on how you define neutrality. Teller (2016) suggests:
…libraries can and should be neutral, in the sense that they provide curated information to as many groups as possible in the pursuit of serving all possible patronbases (carrying books by Queer Theory scholars on gay liberation, along with Christian theological works that write from the perspective that marriage is a spiritual union between a man and a woman, and on and on) and also the sense that they are there for everyone, not just for those in favor of (for example) Black Lives Matter, but also for law enforcement officers and police supporters who are critical of the movement.
As Teller continues, supporting Black Lives Matter – whether it is by creating diverse book displays or establishing safe spaces – is really just “public libraries being public libraries. It’s public libraries fulfilling their mission more fully, more honestly, more expansively, with an eye to serving underserved communities and making everyone feel welcome and valued in the library, and thereby hopefully, in the broader community in which the library exists.”

By centering library values of diversity and democracy, support for movements such as Black Lives Matter may be considered as falling within the bounds of neutrality. Some people, however, view such promotion to be political and thus wholly unneutral. As a result, librarians may choose to avoid engagement and use what Mclain (2016) calls the “non-partisan card.” Even though librarians might otherwise support various social justice movements due to their alignment with professional values supporting inclusion, inaction may be favored to avoid controversy.

This raises the question, is avoiding controversy really a neutral act? Eckert (2016) posits, “all your decisions shape your library.” As follows, deciding to not act in support of a social justice movement has an impact as much as deciding to support it. Maintaining the status quo may not cause controversy, but it is just as unneutral as deciding to challenge it.

“Neutrality can obfuscate injustices and the possibilities for active contributions. Often, neutrality is not a defense of the controversial, but rather an avoidance of it.” — Pat Schuman

Furthermore, when writing about the critical librarianship movement – a movement that promotes “examin[ing] and fight[ing] attempts at social oppression” – Farkas (2016) cites a key tenet “that neutrality is not only unachievable, it is harmful to oppressed groups in our society.” She explains that “in a world that is fundamentally unequal, neutrality upholds inequality and represents indifference to the marginalization of members of our community.” In other words, choosing to uphold the “neutrality” of a status quo in which inequalities exist is actually a hurtful act since it perpetuates those inequalities. Farkas owns that “we are not being neutral when we advocate for our patrons,” but she asserts that when we do so, “we are being good librarians.”

Taking a stance against neutrality may raise concern with some, but it is important to carefully understand how people are choosing to use and define terminology. For instance, while Eckert (2016) asserts that libraries are not neutral, she pointedly emphasizes that she simultaneously stands behind creating “balanced collections, where people can freely research information and come to their own conclusions.” These stances are not mutually exclusive.

Similarly, when Sonnie (n.d.) debunks the idea that libraries “cannot and never have been spaces of neutrality,” she positively affirms that “what libraries offer our communities, and will continue to offer our communities, are spaces to learn, debate, listen and engage. We advance a public commons for inquiry, empowerment and freedom.” The goal is just as much to “provide the greatest amount of access to as much diverse material as possible” as Hart (2016) argues is his intent behind supporting neutrality.

Moving on from debates about terminology, where should we start? While there are a number of ways to address diversity, I will close by sharing this simple advice from Bourg (2015):
One way we might do better is simply by being aware and by asking the questions… Who is missing? Whose experience is being centered?
When we become aware of who is missing, we can strive to find ways to include them. When we see whose experiences are being centered, we can expand our focus to be shared with those on the periphery. And, another important point raised by Bourg is that we also consider the intersectional aspects of identity, not simply defining diversity in terms of any one factor (e.g., race, economic status, sexuality, etc.), but by looking at serving our patrons with nuance that recognizes their whole, multidimensional selves.

[My review of evidence demonstrating competence continued here.]

Conclusion

In my introduction to this competency, I shared the ALA press statement asserting the long-standing tradition of libraries valuing diversity and inclusion. Historically, libraries and librarians have not been perfect in this respect. Still, I am excited that the professional community is actively engaging in conversations about ways to improve. Regarding libraries and neutrality, a Twitter thread posted by Storytime Underground in July 2016 – captured here – garnered considerable attention and inspired a general #noneutrallibraries discussion, which continues to carry momentum.

While I am passionately curious to follow and participate in these discussions, I also hope that the promotion of diversity remains a value that people support regardless of where they fall on the debate of libraries being neutral or not. Rhetoric aside, I believe that we must not let differences in definitions detract from and discourage the work of diversity that we should be doing. In my everyday work, I prioritize taking actions that are inclusive and I commit to continually improving the ways that I support all community members.

References

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Librarians as Human Hyperlinks Rather Than "Search Engines"

When reading for my INFO 254 Information Literacy and Learning course this week, there was an article about advocacy in which the author shared her personal favorite marketing slogan of: "The ultimate search engine is your librarian." I have seen this before, and it always makes me cringe. I also wince when seeing librarians proudly recite the Neil Gaiman quote: "Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one."

Don't get me wrong. I love libraries and I love librarians. I work in a library. I am a librarian, I am married to a librarian, and many of my friends are librarians.

But, I also worry when I see advocacy efforts that appear to be self-congratulatory or pre-emptively defensive. To me, the slogans above fail because they play into the false binary that people must choose between technology OR libraries rather than technology AND libraries.

I worry, because I feel that non-library observers may interpret these slogans as librarians being dismissive of technology rather than as embracers and champions of positive and wise use of technology. I think these statements do not recognize the true value of librarians as humans who additively complement technology rather than replace or compete with it. And, to be frank, if we choose to compete with Google, we will lose.

I strongly feel that we librarians will fail if we insist on selling ourselves as “all-knowing” or at least more knowledgeable than others. While I hope people may find helpful the unique training I have and purpose that I serve, I think that it is important to find messaging that simultaneously respects the expertise and capacity of others in a way that teachers are similarly shifting from roles as “sages on the stage” to “guides on the side.”

I'm still thinking about what I would propose as alternative marketing, but one idea that comes to mind is libraries and librarians as embodiments of hyperlinks rather than as search engines. Instead of being gateway keepers to information or the sole or "best" means for access, how may we emphasize the way libraries facilitate unique opportunities for connection and librarians as humans who help other humans discover and develop connections?

What marketing slogans do you like?

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Exploring a Youth Literature Trend: My Intro to Wattpad

In INFO 268 History of Youth Literature, our challenge this week has been to explore a trend that we do not have much experience with. We could, for instance, read a graphic novel or an e-book, or try out a book-based app.

My immediate thought was to pick a graphic novel from my reading wish list. But, having taken a course on graphic novels just this summer, I decided that since I already have a collection of reviews about various graphic novels, I should challenge myself to explore something else.

Racking my brain about what to look at, I then thought about my recent interviews with teens regarding reading and was reminded of Wattpad! Although I have had basic awareness of Wattpad as a way for students to share their creative writing works and read those of others, I have not previously spent time exploring it in depth, and so I used this week's assignment as an opportunity to do so.

First of all, check out this "Did you know?" blurb from the bottom of the Wattpad website. I'd say it is definitely about time that I check it out!


For my exploration, I looked at both Wattpad's website on my computer and also the app on my phone. When logging in, I noticed that there are a number of ways to browse and search for content:
  • Browsing by genre/category
  • Searching by tags - Below are currently trending tags. I have traditionally thought of Wattpad in terms of fan fiction related to anime and manga, science fiction and fantasy, and popular entertainment. It was fun to discover there is such variety, including how the election has caused #politics to trend with stories such as Dernie~ A Donald Trump x Bernie Sanders FanficHillary Clinton X reader, and Fifty Shades of Republican.
  • Following specific users - Of note, there is no delineation between who is a reader and who is a writer. A user's profile features lists of what they have read or are reading, plus works that they have written. As an educator, I find it exciting that students may simultaneously participate as consumers and creators. This makes me think about my students who are aspiring writers. They can write now and share their works now. They do not need to simply aspire.
  • Exploring lists - The sheer volume of content may be overwhelming, but Wattpad helps by including lists of what's new, recommended reads, related reads, user reading lists, and more.
  • Considering user rankings - Stories may "rise to the top" based on the number of people who read them and how many times they are starred. Below is a story that has been read 47 million times and has 1.7 million starred ratings!
  • Checking out Watty Award winners - Notice "She's With Me" pictured directly above is tagged #Wattys2016. The Wattys are annual awards that recognize works entered into the writing contest. To enter this year, writers simply had to tag their stories with #Wattys2016. The winners haven't been announced yet, but you can check out the 2015 winners who were selected out of over 75,000 entries. Works were recognized by genre (e.g., LGBT+, Urban, Fanfiction) and category (e.g., Hidden Gems, Best Use of Visuals, Cover-to-Cover), and there are even international winners (e.g., Filipino Winners, Turkish Winners, Russian Winners). In addition to the Watty Awards, Wattpad also encourages writing throughout the year by featuring shorter-term writing contests and challenges



When actually reading a story, what I found to be most striking is the way that they are so conversational. Besides connecting with an author on their profile's Conversation page or in club discussion boards, the story text itself facilitates embedded opportunities. As you read, you may make comments and read the comments of other readers. Reading thus becomes a shared, social experience.

The screenshots below show what it looks like when reading a story on the Wattpad app. The comment icons located in the right column may be tapped to reveal reader comments.


Now that I've entered the world of Wattpad, I can definitely see how addicting it can be as both a reader and writer; and as a teacher librarian, I want to start thinking about possibilities for integrating it into my programming and literacy efforts.

Even if I don't immediately integrate Wattpad, I am glad to be reminded that my students may be reading and writing in ways that I am not as familiar with. As adults, it is easy to assume that students are not actively engaged if we only look at traditionally prescribed channels. However, this exercise illustrates how, if we take the time to explore our teen's worlds with more curiosity, we may be pleasantly surprised - if not humbled - to learn that they are involved and innovating in remarkable ways on their own. If you haven't checked out Wattpad before or recently, I recommend you try it out!

NOTE: If you are not familiar with Wattpad, check out some concerns about it such as those shared in these Common Sense Media reviews. To balance concerns, though, also check out The Guardian article "The Tales Teens Tell: What Wattpad Did for Girls."

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Original Cinderella Was Chinese! And a Bilingual Version, Too

Cinderella is one of those fairy tales that has likely been written about a lot since there are countless versions of it, and so I wouldn’t have chosen it on my own. But, after reading and writing about Captain Underpants in honor of my son, I decided to dedicate this INFO 268 History of Youth Literature assignment to my six-year-old daughter. I asked her what her favorite fairy tale is, and she immediately answered: Cinderella. As I have learned, she's not alone in her love of Cinderella.

In order to identify two different Cinderella versions to compare, a resource that I found helpful was “Multicultural Cinderella Stories” by Mary Northrup. Northrup (2000) cites “more than 500 versions have been found--just in Europe!” and her look at this is nowhere near new since, as far back as 1893, Marian Roalfe Cox published the book Cinderella: Three Hundred and Forty-Five Variants. While there is a preponderance of Cinderella versions from Europe, it was interesting to learn that the original version is generally considered to be the tale of “Yeh-Shen” from ninth century China. Learning this, I decided to start by reading a modern retelling of Yeh-Shen.



Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China 
Retold by Ai-Ling Louie
Illustrated by Ed Young
Originally Published in 1982

In this book, Ai-Ling Louie has adapted the Chinese tale of Yeh-Shen, which is believed to have originated during the T'ang dynasty (618-907 A.D.). As is common to Cinderella stories, the protagonist Yeh-Shen is a stepdaughter who is subjected to abuse by her stepmother. Yeh-Shen shows kindness to a fish, sharing her meagre food portions with it until her stepmother finds out and ends up killing and eating the fish. All that Yeh-Shen has left are the bones, which grant her wishes. Yeh-Shen wishes for humble things such as food until there is a spring festival where people meet to marry. This time, Yeh-Shen wishes for nice clothes to attend the festival and is provided with an outfit, including beautiful golden slippers for her tiny feet. Unfortunately, at the festival, Yeh-Shen's stepsister recognizes her and so she must run away, and in doing so, she loses one of her slippers. The king, while not having seen Yeh-Shen, is intrigued by the slipper that was left behind, and he becomes intent on finding out its owner. He conducts a search and eventually discovers it belongs to Yeh-Shen. He believes he has found his true love and asks Yeh-Shen to marry him, but he forbids her to bring along her stepmother and stepsister since they had been unkind to her in the past. The story abruptly ends with them left in their cave home where "they were crushed to death in a shower of flying stones."

As with the Disney version of Cinderella that my daughter is accustomed to, there are similar familial relationships, magical wishes, a party, a lost shoe, and a wedding at the end. The story, however, is darker with the fish getting killed and eaten and the family members being stoned at the end. It also stood out to me that when Yeh-Shen comes to retrieve her shoe, the king initially thinks she is a thief. It is not until "he caught a glimpse of her face" that he is able to see past the rags that she is wearing. His interest is piqued by her tiny feet, "the tiniest feet he had ever seen," and then when she is transformed into her beautiful outfit once again, it is "her loveliness" that "made her seem a heavenly being" and "the king suddenly knew in his heart that he had found his true love." Much like the Disney version of Cinderella, it is Yeh-Shen's beauty that causes the king to fall in love.


My six-year-old daughter's review: [Thumb's down] Bad, because it's creepy that people get killed at the end.

My nine-year-old son's review (since he ended up listening in as well): It was darker, but it was a good story. Some parts didn't really resemble the Disney version of Cinderella, but the fish was an interesting addition.

NOTE: While Ai-Ling Louie retells one version of Yeh-Shen, Smith (2013) traces variants of the story of Yeh-Shen, and even cites research that a Tibetan version may predate the ninth-century version commonly referenced. Smith also interestingly connects Yeh-Shen with validating the practice of footbinding.



Also inspired by my daughter, I selected the second Cinderella version Little Gold Star / Estrellita de oro: A Cinderella Cuento Retold in Spanish and English since she is currently studying Spanish at a full immersion school, and the story is a bilingual retelling.

Little Gold Star / Estrellita de oro: A Cinderella Cuento retold in Spanish and English
Retold by Joe Hayes
Illustrated by Gloria Osuna Perez and Lucia Angela Perez
Originally Published in 2000

In Little Gold Star / Estrellita de oro, Joe Hayes tells a version of Cinderella that evolved from Spanish settlers in the Americas. Told in both English and Spanish, this version "that is popular in the mountain communities of New Mexico" features Arcía as the Cinderella character who convinces her father to marry stepmother Margarita, who initially seems to be "sweet," but turns out to be "bitter." The story departs from the Disney version of Cinderella much more since there is no lost slipper, and instead what distinguishes Arcía from her two stepsisters is a gold star on her forehead that she is given by a hawk after acting respectfully toward it. In contrast, her rude stepsisters are marked by the hawk's alternative gifts: a donkey ear on one stepsister's forehead and a green horn on the other's. Like the Disney Cinderella, there is a prince who hosts a party to find a bride, but Arcía does not transform herself to attend. Instead, she dutifully helps her stepsisters prepare for the party and only ends up sneaking there to peek in at it from outside. Marked by her goodness, though, Arcía's gold star on her forehead shines brightly and catches the attention of everyone, including the prince. Arcía runs off, and the prince goes in search of her. Like other Cinderella tales, he eventually finds her, falls in love immediately, and asks her to marry him. Unlike Yeh-Shen, though, even the stepmother and stepsisters are invited to the wedding party.

When looking up information about Little Gold Star / Estrellita de oro, I was pleased to be introduced to its publisher, the independent small press Cinco Puntos, which was started in 1985. I enjoyed the following statement on their About Us page:
We come to publishing as writers. We aren’t educators. We think it’s important to note that. Manuscripts are really interesting to us when the writing is amazing or the voice of the author is unique or the book opens up a door into a culture or a people that hasn’t been opened before. Or when the writer is someone whose work we’ve just plain admired over a long period of time. There are so many fine publishers who understand the educational needs of children and what kids should be learning at what age, but that’s not how we approach publishing.
Also linked on their website was a teacher's guide, which included a moving story about the co-illustrators, mother and daughter pair Gloria Osuna Perez and Lucia Angela Perez. Mother Gloria started off creating paintings for the book, but as she had ovarian cancer, she only finished three. Her daughter who was caring for her ended up finishing the rest:
While Lucia was taking care of her, Gloria talked to her about the colors she was using and what she wanted for each of the scenes she had sketched out. After her mother died, Lucia painted the twelve remaining scenes, always with her eye on the work her mom had begun, always remembering her mother’s words. The result is truly remarkable, a tribute to the powerful relationship between a mother and her daughter.

My six-year-old daughter's review: Good! Since they [the stepsisters] were always making her [Arcía] do all the work and she thought of helping her dad first, she got a star and the others got a cow horn and a donkey ear. They really did deserve that.



References
  • Hayes, J. (2000). Little gold star / estrellita de oro: A Cinderella cuento retold in Spanish and English. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos.
  • Louie, A. (1982). Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella story from China. New York: Putnam.
  • McMillie, K., & Rivera, L. (n.d.). Teacher's guide: Little Gold Star / Estrellita de oro. Retrieved from http://www.cincopuntos.com/pdf/Little%20Gold%20Star.pdf
  • Northrup, M. (2000, May). Multicultural Cinderella stories. Book Links, 9(5). Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/offices/resources/multicultural
  • Smith, T. S. (2013, May). Cinderella's lessons on footbinding: How tiny feet found their way into the Chinese Cinderella story. Transnational Literature, 5(2), 1-8. 
Further Reading