Category Archives: Rants

Strategic Retreat or Shake Shit Up?

During Resolve to Rock, a lot of people wrote about trying to find balance. Trying not to overdraw their emotional energy professionally so that they have space and energy in their lives for. . .the rest of their lives. Brytani wrote about coming to terms with not having to do all the things, change all the things, win awards, be THE BEST LIBRARIAN THERE IS.


You’re already the best, pumpkin.



Brytani’s post struck a chord with Bryce, who blogged about how Librarian is what you do, not who you are.



All of this got me thinking about professional engagement as activism (of course it did. This is me).


To recap: Here at SU our objective has always been to make big changes by agitating on a grassroots level from within the bounds of our professional organizations. We see that children’s librarians don’t get paid particularly well, don’t get a lot of respect from other librarians, don’t get offered fancy speaking gigs, and aren’t seen as being on the cutting edge of librarianship. We wanted to change this. Why? 1) We deserve to get paid commensurate with our expertise, our hard work and the value we add to the community and the library. 2) We actually need that money for like, rent and student loan payments it turns out. 3) It’s pretty exhausting to be called to a vocation, or even put a lot of work into a job, when you’re not respected or paid well or taken seriously. In terms of winning awards or getting our names out there, look, a lot of people have to move for jobs. Shouldn’t they be able to live in a city they like? Doing a job that’s a best fit? Having a known name gets your application up to the top of some long lists.


TL;DR: It’s not about our egos. It’s not about throwing a fit because the library world prefers white dudes in tech to LITERALLY ANYONE ELSE no matter what they’re doing (I WILL THROW THAT FIT FOR YOU ANY TIME ANY WHERE. JUST ASK).


We’re not the only people worried about the system of awards and accolades in librarianship, BTW. Erin Leach (FOLLOW HER ON TWITTER YOU WON’T BE SORRY @erinaleach), who co-writes the brilliant blog Unified Library Scene with the equally brilliant Rachel Fleming (FOR THE LOVE OF GOD FOLLOW HER ON TWITTER @RachelMFleming), has written a couple of posts on being respected and acclaimed, and the whole. . .rockstar. . .thing. If you Google “Rockstar Librarian” you will come across many well written, thoughtful articles (and at least one HILARIOUS one by one of the worst offenders of everything terrible about rockstar librarianship). This article is talking about putting on the middle class white costume for library interviews, but with very few tweaks it could be about trying to get “known” on the larger library scene. Also it’s so fracking incredible and you should stop reading my article and go read that one and if you don’t come back oh well. There’s a lot wrong with the system and there are a lot of us talking about it.



So, we agitate for change. It’s basically the point of the existence of this blog, although many other amazing things have come out of it. It’s not what everyone does.


Many people look at the system of professional accolades and think, as we do, that it is outdated, driven by the wrong priorities, racist and sexist. Their choice in the face of this is to refuse to participate in the profession at large. This has its benefits as a tactic. If everyone who is excluded stops trying to participate, The Profession is just a bunch of heterogeneous blowhards handing themselves the same awards over and over in a circle jerk. Eventually. Not that long from now. And then, what power will they really have? (I think a lot actually but I’ll get back to that)



Maybe you already have a great job that you love and are great at and you’re making enough money and you’re changing the lives of kids and families and you’re like, hoss, just being a children’s librarian is social justice activism and also I am knitting a sweater and baking scones and raising feminist kids and catching up on Parks and Rec so basically as a woman/queer/PoC/human defying the expectations of the racist heteronormative patriarchy and living my best life I am doing all the activism I can stomach so I’ll be over here DOING 8 STORYTIMES A WEEK if you need me. To that I say, amen and also, where do you find energy to finish sweaters?



Maybe you’re just fucking tired of it and you want to spend more time with your spouse/cats/fanfic than you do arguing about the seemingly insurmountable odds facing us as a profession. After all, it seems pretty straightforward until somebody argues with you against the Code of Conduct or Team Harpy or your pretty reasonable stance that your colleagues are professional equals and not simply a pool of potential sex partners.



So, people strategically retreat. They refuse to engage. They do great library work in their libraries and they go home to their lives and they don’t send any VERY LONG TEXT MESSAGES to their colleagues about how NO PROFESSIONALISM IS NOT FUCKING RUINING THE PROFESSION. I know y’all don’t need me to validate your life choices, but for real. This is legit. There are Reasons. Many people I love and respect and think are killer librarians are doing this and I don’t think it’s a worse choice than mine, or a better one. You ARE changing the profession. No, strike that, reverse it. You ARE THE PROFESSION.*


*(Here’s the thing: So are Those Guys. And Those Guys get speaking engagements and book deals and newspaper articles and professional magazine covers and that’s what the public and potential babylibs think we are and that’s why I think we need to, to quote Julie Jurgens out of context, burn it to the ground. Even if it’s a puppet monarchy circle jerk it still affects us. And that whole mentality has a certain glittery allure that convinces a LOT OF PEOPLE that we’re just having fun, y’all, and work should be fun and boys will be boys and blah blah blah repurposing rape culture language.


Rape culture.



“But while the Clubs fiddle, Paris is burning, and will soon have no moments to even laugh at good intentions out of place.” (source)


The Romanovs fell, but they starved a lot of people first while their supporters threw lavish parties. Louis XVI lost his head, but Louis XVIII was welcomed back to Paris with open arms by those who wanted back into Versailles. So that’s maybe why I’m not sure disengagement will get the job done in the end. After all, the Romanovs had Rasputin to help them over the cliff. I just want a chance to be Rasputin.



This isn’t one of my traditional rants because I don’t really have a side (Except against Those Guys. That’s my side. Also pro-tacos. And black eyeliner). I notice that a lot of people are making a thoughtful choice that is different from the thoughtful choice I’ve made and I’m interested in that and I want to talk about it.


Also this is a pretty black and white portrayal of the options but there are a whole lot of other paths (at the library we have more than 50 shades of grey! Badum ching). Yes, John and Paul, I DO say I want a revolution and I DON’T want to just free my mind instead. But I also want happy, whole colleagues who can go into the trenches every day with clear eyes and open hearts. This means we each must follow our own paths to our best possible librarianship. Like God, all paths to revolution are equally valid. Whether we focus solely on our local community (which we MUST focus on) or also on our larger professional one, whether we conscientiously object to professional organizations or jump feet first into them and do a lot of obnoxious splashing, whether we limit our librarianship to work hours or spend more time than is good for us interacting with our PLN in our off time, or anywhere in between, we are in mutiny. We are evolving the profession and the world.



Save Your Outrage

So, we’ve ranted about a lot in the past year. Giving credit for other’s ideas. Not giving yourself enough credit for amazing work. Privilege. Imposter Syndrome. All of these topics provoked numerous reactions, both in agreement and disagreement. Then, Kendra decided to rant about the holidays. Not even the holidays themselves, simply holiday celebrations in the library. Are we atheists? Communists? Do we hate Santa? The answer is that it doesn’t matter.


The holiday rant has provoked some intense reactions. SLJ picked up the article. Someone from Horn Book wrote a response. Blogs reacted. Rude things were said on social media. Some people had extremely intelligent arguments that made us examine the issue again. Others made us shake our heads in disbelief. Some of the comments took our collective breath away with their ignorance.


We started asking ourselves, “Why did this strike such a nerve in our library community?” Then, we starting asking, “Why is this such a big issue at all?” Frankly, why can’t we get people this riled up about more issues? Serious issues. Issues that affect a child’s development and education. Issues that affect an entire community. Issues like literacy, poverty, racism, hunger. All very HUGE issues. REAL issue. (Maybe people feel they’re too huge for “us” [children’s librarians] to talk about? Maybe people think their community is exempt from these issues? Maybe people simply want to ignore them?)


Why are people willing to get so publicly upset about someone asking them to rethink their holiday celebrations?


But, really, our bigger point is: why is this even an argument? Does someone believe they will be recognized as Librarian of the Universe because they defended or fought against holidays? Do they think new ALA policies will be written because of holiday action? Do they think their community is being served to the best of their ability right now while they’re talking about Santa? This is an example of a time it’s easy to dismiss Children’s Librarians. While the world around us is being burned, we’re arguing about Santa Claus.


NOT EVERYONE. Not by a long shot. Look to Angie Manfredi. She saw a huge issue and tackled it the best way she knew how. The whole country is seeing this amazing thing Angie is doing and continues to do every day. She’s just one example of many. However, not as many as there should be.


So please, let’s have meaningful discussions about holidays when we need to, but let’s save our outrage and shock for things that truly matter.



Librarians- Check Your Holidays at the Door

Every year, about this same time, youth services staff start asking the same kinds of questions. “Do you do a Hanukkah/Christmas storytime/program in your library? If so, what do you do?” or “Do you decorate your library for the holidays?” or “Is it important to represent ALL the holidays in the winter?” And so on, and so forth. And every year, I get ranty and ragy about this. Usually just to friends and colleagues, and this year, you are all counted as such. Lucky you!


Let me just cut right to the chase. I am vehemently against holding holiday programs in any library, especially when the holidays have religious foundations. Frankly, even if they are more secular holidays (think Halloween and Valentine’s Day) I believe in approaching them with caution. Even these holidays cannot be celebrated by some of your population (Jehovah’s Witnesses, to mention one group) and you are denying them access to your resources by holding a program based on a holiday of any kind. Try focusing on pumpkins and other festive, fall topics rather than trick-or-treating and Halloween. How about love and pink and red and glitter in February? No need to mention the holiday in order to satisfy your patrons’ desires for some fun festivities — if you really can’t stand to let go of the holiday celebrations, that is.


I’d like to challenge you to do just that, however. Let it go. There is absolutely no need to hold a holiday celebration in your library. You may say, “It’s fun! People want it!,I want it!” and I will say to you, “Lots of things are fun! People will get it for free in lots of other places! And I don’t care what you want–programs are for your patrons (ALL patrons), not for you!” If you love Christmas so much, use your programming expertise and plan something for your church, or friends and family–all willing participants who likely feel the same way you do.


Allow me to explain why you should not provide holiday programs this winter, or ever.


You are not an expert on holidays of all kinds. You cannot accurately explain the meaning behind Hanukkah, Christmas, or any holiday, when a young patron asks about them. If a young patron asks you to explain the birth of Christ, you would not sit them down and tell them what you believe to be true. Rather, you would show them the wide variety of materials explaining this from many points of view. You would do a reference interview to make sure you are answering their question as best you can with the resources you can access. Likewise, if someone asks you about a holiday, you should provide them with information and not share your personal knowledge, or lack thereof, of any holiday. Unless you plan on having someone come in to talk about the various holidays of their culture, and you plan on doing this all year round, just don’t go there. You run the risk of deeply insulting someone who celebrates a certain holiday if you present it inaccurately, and honestly, you just shouldn’t try to teach people about things you don’t know about.


In my opinion, this falls under the same category as offering medical or legal advice–just don’t do it! Even if you are an expert in some religion or another, you should present about your expertise outside of work time if you so desire, but not on the taxpayer dime. You are representing the library when you present a program on work time. And unless your library is coming out as Christian, you shouldn’t be presenting programs about Christian holidays (or any holidays; this is just an example).


Stop thinking from a traditional, privileged point of view. I sometimes get the impression that anglo tradition is screaming “It’s not fair! I want to do Christmas in the library!” in a Veruca Salt tone, stomping its privileged feet. It is not your right to celebrate Christmas in a public institution. It is your right to celebrate whatever you want on your own time and help patrons find places, outside the library, that offer celebrations or events around any holiday in which they might be interested. As Angie mentioned on the Storytime Underground Facebook page, those who celebrate holidays during the winter have plenty of places to go to celebrate (churches, etc.). They don’t NEED the library to help them celebrate. Conversely, those who do not celebrate Christmas, specifically, have very few places (basically just their own home, if they have one) where “holiday spirit” isn’t in their face constantly. The library should be one of these places.


We are NOT being diverse by including a holiday like Hanukkah in our themed programs for the winter. We are being narrow minded. Ask yourself, “Why Hanukkah?” Did Jewish patrons ask for this type of programming? Have you spoken with leaders in the Jewish communities? Muslim communities? Native Peoples? Indians? And on and on and on? Have you even connected with any of these groups in your community? If you answered no to any of these questions, maybe you should spend time building some relationships instead of planning Santa’s visit. Don’t ignorantly and selfishly pick holidays from these non-anglo cultures that happen about the same time as our precious Christmas. Not cool, people. Celebrate diversity by allowing ALL people to participate in ALL library programs. I really like what Angie (yes, I’m quoting her again, because duh) said in regards to inclusive, diverse programming:


There’s a lot I exclude from programming because of the simple fact I have limited time. Because here’s what it comes down to for me: do you have a Yule storytime for your pagan patrons? Do you have a storytime with no themes but lots of crafts for your atheist patrons? Do you have a Eid al-Fitr storytime? Last year I found out lots of international patrons, particularly those from Italy and Spain, were upset about all the holiday focus on Santa and presents, they wanted books and themes with more focus on the birth of Jesus. Where do I fit that in? If you leave out one of these, or a dozen others I could name, then, hey: why do you hate diversity?

OK, you say to yourself. But I have 10 pagan patrons and 100 Christian ones. Doesn’t it make more sense for me to have a program for the 100? But ya know? I don’t want to provide services and programs to the 100 people at the cost of 10. It’s that simple to me.


Still not convinced? Let me paint you a picture. It’s Wednesday and you’re 9. You come to the library every Wednesday for the library’s craft program. This Wednesday your mom says you can’t go. This Wednesday they are making Santas and Reindeer in the craft program and your family doesn’t allow you to participate in such activities due to your religion. The one place in the world that is still supposed to be open and inviting FOR ALL has just excluded you. And as librarians, we have all failed for allowing this to happen.


Step outside yourself this year, get creative, and offer programs in which everyone in your community can participate. And if you are having a hard time explaining to some patrons and staff why you are leaving Santa out of the library this year? Channel Angie once again: “I have books for everyone, I’ll be happy to help you find them and even recommend some favorites. Please feel free to share them with your families and children and in your churches and ceremonies. But we are a public institution and we’ll be programming around snow so that every kid can feel welcomed, not just the majority.”


I’ll leave you with this quote from Mark Twain. “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

For the Children: A Rant

You know what I hate? When people argue something is wrong with the library/school/any public space children frequent, but they’re only bringing it up (concerned face) out of concern for THE CHILDREN.


It goes something like this (with my commentary in the footnotes):


“I read somewhere (1) that X is bad for kids. And I think it’s pretty clear (2) that X is going to lead to Y. So I don’t want kids doing X, and lots of other people (3) agree with me. So you should change the collection/layout/schedule/rules (4) of the library/school/etc. so that kids aren’t damaged by X.”


(1) “…in a news source that I read because it reinforces my own views”

(2) Inner debate club cheerleader: If I say something is ‘pretty clear,’ you seem irrational not to agree with me, even if I’m being hyperbolic, reductionist, or using a straw man argument.

(3) “…whom I’m friends with because we share values like THE CHILDREN”

(4) “…because it’s totally rational to expect any old library employee to be able to snap their fingers and change things into the library of my dreams” (5)

(5) If we could snap our fingers and have the library of OUR dreams? Obviously we would do that. Is this library perfect? No? Ergo…


Sometimes, I have the sneaking suspicion (6) that arguments like these aren’t really about the children at all. They’re about being right. And I think it is a huge mondo problem that we all want to be right all the time, instead of having thoughtful discussions in which all parties listen; all parties learn; and all parties grow. What happened to actual discourse, y’all?


Yes, let’s do things for the children.


And yes, let’s challenge the status quo and how things are done.


But for Pete’s sake (7), can we take a rational tone and be open to actual back-and-forth discussion? And the fact that maybe not all taxpayers share your exact same values (8)? And maybe take some time to do a bit of research (9), then reconvene and figure out what’s best and how to move forward realistically?


LIBRARIES CARE ABOUT THE CHILDREN, TOO. We are not just making decisions and buying stuff because we think it’s cool or shiny. We are doing everything we possibly can to give children the best experiences and advantages with the knowledge, resources, and mission that we have. We want to hear your input. But for this relationship to really work, you have to want to hear ours, too.


(6) sarcasm

(7) and Sophie’s, and Aiden’s, and Asa’s, and Samir’s, and Claire’s, and Zia’s, etc.

(8) or are privileged (10) enough they they can choose to utilize only specific library services because they have access to books/computers/science camps elsewhere

(9) actual research

(10) and, frankly, the fact that you’ve got time to a) come to the library once and see something you don’t like, b) go home and find a blog or online article that agrees with you, c) email your friends for support, and d) come back to complain probably denotes a fair amount of privilege to begin with


Tracking the Conversation on Giving Credit

Last Thursday, I wrote a little post on making sure you credit the folks who have inspired your library work, or whose library work you have borrowed from. That post has spurred a substantial conversation–a great thing, if you ask me, as our profession could benefit from more critical, respectful conversation on hard topics that affect us all.


Since this particular conversation started here on the Storytime Underground, I want to set up a post that will link to all the pieces that are contributing to the conversation. I’ll keep updating this list, so if you know of a piece that should be linked, let me know in the comments.


Happy critical reading!


1. “How to Not Be An Asshole: Or, Citing Your Colleagues’ Work” by Amy Koester on the Storytime Underground (June 5) — The post that got this discussion rolling


2. “Avoiding Additional Asshat-tery” by Marge Loch-Wouters on Tiny Tips for Library Fun (June 5) — The first response, opening the discussion for considering the scaffolding inherent in library creation


3. “Further Considerations on Citing Your Colleagues, and the Detrimental Effects of ‘We'” by Amy Koester on the Storytime Underground (June 5) — My response to Marge’s response, aiming to unpack the potential damage of the “we did it together” statement


4. “I v. We” by Marge Loch-Wouters on Tiny Tips for Library Fun (June 6) — Marge’s clarification of her original point: that citing colleagues is integral, but we need to recognize that nothing is created in a vacuum


5. “School Carnival: A Library Outreach Report” by S. Bryce Kozla on Bryce Don’t Play (June 6) — At the end of her post, Bryce weighs in on the discussion, including her rationale for using Creative Commons licensing for her work and personal examples of when her work has been used both academically responsibly and not


6. “Inspiration, Citation, and Collaboration: Giving Credit Where Credit is Due” by Molly Wetta on Wrapped Up in Books (June 8) — Molly shares her personal experience with her work being used by another library without citation, finishing up with a reminder that claiming your work is not bragging, it’s part of a culture of responsible sharing