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Library as Remembrance

Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Remembrance Day began Wednesday night and goes through tonight. I was struck by the timing of one of my class assignments, and it made me consider the many ways in which libraries are the place for cultural heritage and remembrance.

For one of my classes, I am required to design a text set around Lois Lowry's Newbery award winning novel, Number the Stars. The novel follows a young girl and her Jewish friend at the beginning of the Holocaust. I focused on the ideas of risking one's life to save another person's and the many ways in which people act courageous.

I found a wonderful amount of books, but at my library, they were tucked back in the stacks. There were a small amount pulled in the teen section, but the children books were focused on spring titles. I wonder if children librarians felt that the subject matter was too dark or depressing for young kids. As someone who wants to work with kids and teens, I was surprised by this choice. I think it's important to remember the past.

I'll be spending the day remembering.

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Awful Library Books at the BPL

Rogue librarianship. That's what I discovered this past week and it was glorious.

I recently had the good fortune to meet a librarian who is subject to scandal in the funniest way possible.  While I won't share the librarian's name or identity, I did gain permission to tell you all about my new acquaintance's mischievous antics.

Some of you might be familiar with the blog "Awful Library Books." In case you aren't, the blog showcases found library materials that are out-of-date, offensive, or just plain weird, making it a great site for a daily giggle.  Some recent featured titles include "The Breakthrough Fish Taxidermy Manual" and the curious "The Hospital Doctors, Nurses, and Mystery Workers."  The situation that I share with you began as preparation for this site: as a frequent submitter, the rogue used the Boston Public Library's tagging feature available in their catalog to keep track of strange titles worthy of future "Awful Library Books."  Anonymously, the librarian added the tag "awful library book" to items that they wanted to scan and submit to the site later on.  The tag did not go unnoticed, however.  My acquaintance was emailed (through the BPL catalog) by several librarians at the Boston Public Library who were none too happy about this label, especially as they initially had no idea that the tagger in question was a fellow librarian. 

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Then, a reporter at Boston.com picked up the story and wrote an article about both the "Awful Library Books" blog and catalog tag, explaining the practice of weeding books to the general public.  The BPL librarian interviewed sounds a lot more understanding and light-humored than he allegedly was when he contacted my new acquaintance.  I definitely recommend giving the article a quick read, if only to discover more very strange titles that the Boston Public Library still has in circulation "for research purposes."

While the whole situation is rather outrageous with its anonymous vigilante, angry librarians, and media interest, it definitely brings up real questions about the weeding practices within public libraries.  Specifically with the Boston Public Library, which maintains a massive off-site storage building that supposedly houses these weed-worthy titles and whose main Copley Square building is currently undergoing a massive renovation, it brings up a lot of questions regarding the institution's priorities.  Where do we draw the line between archival significance and materials that are out-of-date, ridiculous, and simply taking up valuable space?  Are titles like "Why Cats Paint" really that important for research purposes? 

Let me know what you think, or at the very least enjoy the cringe-worthy titles in the various links I've shared.

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Kids these days.

Jessamyn West, who lives in Vermont and blogs at www.librarian.net, is really great.  Her most recent blog post details two presentations she gave to local parents, one on apps used by teens and one on internet safety.  There are so many great things about her presentations:

  • A librarian is proactively meeting with members of her community to introduce and discuss issues around technology.
  • She's helping parents keep current with technology used by teens today.  I think it's super important for parents to know what their kids are doing, but I'm sure many parents aren't exactly sure how to go about getting that knowledge.
  • Jessamyn herself had to learn a new technology to give this presentation (Snapchat).  She's a pioneer in library technology (maybe that is overstating it, but she certainly knows a lot) and she still had to learn something new!  It's all about lifelong education.
  • Because of her presentations, local parents talked with each other, shared strategies and ideas, and generally built community.  Look what librarians can do!

One of my classmates in 488 (Technology for Information Professionals) recently made the point that adults have to be authentic and knowledgeable when discussing and using technology with teens.  As librarians (and personally, as a parent) we should make every effort to know about the technologies teens are using.  I'd love to attend a presentation like the one Jessamyn West gave -- anyone out there interested in teaching it? 

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