Archive for the ‘ Commentary ’ Category

Librarian 2.0

This semester I’m taking a class focusing on libraries and Web 2.0. This week, one of our readings was a paper by Helen Partridge entitled “Librarian 2.0: It’s All in the Attitude!” We were asked to reflect on our readings and I wanted to share some of my reflections here.

Last semester I took a Transformative Learning and Technology Literacies class where we addressed Learning 2.0. That class (and I suspect this one, as well) was an eye-opening experience for me, but not in the way I expected. I was in high school when blogging, Myspace, and personal websites began to become popular and college when Facebook, Youtube, and Wikipedia began. I, and those around me, integrated the idea of the read/write web into our lives fairly easily and I often have a difficult time remembering the time before it. Therefore, I often forget that this isn’t necessarily the case for many people involved in the library and information fields or many of the library users. Learning about the issues surrounding Web 2.0, defining it, and figuring out how to incorporate it into the field has helped me not only better understand Web 2.0, but also the experiences of those whose background is different from mine.
This is partially why I found the Partridge article so interesting. It was fascinating to read the various responses concerning “Librarian 2.0.” Seeing how professionals in the field defined it and viewed their participation in it prompted me to think about several things I hadn’t before. I could discuss the entire article easily, but for the sake of space I wanted to touch on a few items from it that really struck me.

The first was the section that stated “One participant commented on the fact that we do not insist that all librarians like to read, so why than [sic] should we insist that all librarians have a Web 2.0 presence?” (Partridge, 2011, p. 258). This is an interesting point and I both agree and disagree with it. I don’t think it’s necessary that every librarian have a large Web 2.0 presence. Though the field is evolving, Web 2.0 is certainly only one aspect. However, that’s greatly simplifying the situation. A lack of love of reading won’t necessarily negatively affect a librarian’s ability to do is or her job. For example the ability to sit down and enjoy a novel isn’t necessary to provide good reference service. Focusing solely on Web 2.0 would be to the detriment of the field, especially since a large part of the user population doesn’t need or isn’t able to access that type of service. However, the lack of willingness to adapt to Web 2.0 could negatively affect a librarian’s ability to do his or her job as we move towards a more digital culture. It’s not necessary to be an expert, but an attempt to understand is definitely a benefit not only to the patron, but to the librarian. After all “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less” (General Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff, U. S. Army).

A second section that struck me was the idea that “Participants unanimously agreed that the 2.0 librarian should possess a complex array of personality traits. One participant even declared that personality traits were more important than skills” (Partridge, 2011, p. 260). While I certainly don’t agree that personality traits are more important than skills, the idea that Librarian 2.0 should be flexible, adaptable, and willing to try new things is something I agree with. In fact, the idea that the library and information field is one that is changing, and in many cases changing rapidly, is part of why I’m so excited to be a part of it. It’s one of the few fields where we have the ability to experiment with new platforms and different subjects, while still working with the users to best serve them.

Hunger Games Fashion

I, along with most of the rest of the world it seems, am eagerly awaiting the release of the Hunger Games movie. It seems like there is a new article, photo, or video every day to help build up the hype. Recently I became aware of the existence of two very interesting marketing tie ins.

The first, announced a few weeks ago, is China Glaze’s Hunger Games Nail Polish line. It’s a collection of colors supposedly based on each of the districts, with names like Electrify (for District 5 – power), Foie Gras (for District 10 – livestock) and Smoke and Ashes (District 12, of course).

From Hollywood Life

The second is the online Hunger Games fashion magazine, Capitol Couture. The magazines masthead states:

Whether you’re a Capitol fashionista seeking inspiration for your latest look or a District citizen tracking rumors about the Tributes and other celebs, Capitol Couture is the only place to turn for pictures and news reports on the fashion, trends and lifestyle that make Capitol living so grand.

While I fully admit to reading the magazine and I would certainly wear that nail polish, the whole idea of them leaves me with mixed feelings. I understand the idea behind marketing tie-ins and with a series that does comment on fashion quite frequently it’s an obvious choice. It seems like every day there is a new post or photo about the costumes. Capitol Couture, especially, seems exactly like something the residents of The Capitol would read. Using these tie-ins to bring attention to the movie and the book is to be expected. They could even be an excellent way to comment on the attitudes of The Capitol and their obsession with extreme personal appearance. However, I wonder if focusing so much on the fashion is causing everyone to forget what these books are ultimately about – a totalitarian government forcing children to kill other children for entertainment. Where’s the nail polish color for that?


Dead White Men Aren’t The Only Authors Worth Reading

Today, the fantastic Maureen Johnson linked to this article, the latest in the attacks on what kids are reading. The author’s argument is…odd, to say the least, especially for an educator of at-risk youth. The first thing that struck me was how this article was simply dripping with disdain for his students. Obviously, I don’t know Nazaryan or really know anything about him, but if I were to base my view solely on this one article I would guess that not only did he not understand his students, but he felt he was above them. This is not an appropriate attitude for a teacher to have. It’s a pretty harmful one, in fact. His disdain for his students isn’t the point of the article, however. He compounds this harmful attitude with the opinion that (with the apparent exception of Sappho) long-dead, white, male authors are the only ones worthy of reading. To quote:

We need less Myers and more Homer – and not in Cambridge and Oxford, but in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Southside Chicago. …Do I congratulate myself? Very well, I congratulate myself. I hit upon an idea – with plenty of help from my colleagues at the Brooklyn Latin School – and I want others to emulate it. I want them to put away the Walter Dean Myers and dust off Homer, Virgil, Sappho, all of Beard’s bemoaned lot.

I have two problems with this stance. First, while I agree that teaching classic and “literary” literature should be a part of the high school curriculum, why must primarily works by privileged white men be all that’s taught? There was no mention of the myriad of excellent writing by authors of color, authors without privilege, or other female authors. This could have been merely an oversight on his part instead of intentional, of course, but wouldn’t an English teacher who really valued those other works have made sure to mentioned them? Academia has a history of ignoring minority and female writers, but many schools are attempting to remedy this. Instead, it seems Nazaryan would have us move in the other direction. This would be bad enough in a school full of upper-class white students, but to do so in a school full of underprivileged minority students it’s pretty shameful. Actually, you know what, no. It’s shameful in either case. All students should be exposed to a variety of authors and their viewpoints, not just those of the privileged white male. By telling students that white males are the only authors worth reading, he’s telling every one of them who isn’t a white male that their own opinions and contributions and experiences are somehow less.

My second problem is with his view that young adult literature that mirrors the lives of the students is not worth reading. As I’ve written before, I believe that YA literature can and should hold an important place in the classroom. Since I’ve covered it recently, I won’t expound on that view again here, but, suffice it to say, his view that non-classic literature is not worth reading does not improve my opinion of his argument.

He also espouses the idea that literature’s sole purpose is to elevate. He says:

I think that because I am an unashamed, unapologetic believer that the purpose of literature is to elevate. Not to entertain, to problematize or to instruct, but to take what Hamlet called our “unweeded garden” and revel in its thorns. Not to make the world pretty, but to make it true, and by making it true, make it beautiful. All real art is high art.

This, in essence, makes him a literary snob. Having been an English major at a small liberal arts college, I am very familiar with this particular brand of literary snob. Now, despite disagreeing with their opinion, them holding said opinion isn’t a problem. Having high standards or preferring a certain type of literature is perfectly valid. To each his own. However, when that opinion is thrust upon another, particularly students who are still trying to form their own opinions, that’s when it becomes a problem. Nazaryan wasn’t lamenting that his students weren’t reading. He was pointing out that they were reading the “wrong” types of literature. Wrong, of course, being determined by his own standards. Standards which are seemingly based not on educational value, but by personal opinion.

The other problem with this is that he doesn’t seem to realize all that’s contradictory in his claim. He states that the purpose of literature is not to entertain, but then uses the fact that it entertained his students as reason for his methods to be valid. He claims that it shouldn’t instruct, but seems unaware that much of the classic literature he loves did have instructional purposes. He wants literature to make the world true, but doesn’t understand that the classics aren’t the only works that can do that. He seems to have a very narrow view of what is the truth of the world. Why couldn’t the truth of the world be the one the students are experiencing? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to read about their own truth instead of his? Why should their experiences be silenced, while those he believes are right are emulated?

One of the most common complaints of young non-white readers is the dearth of literature that imitates their own lives and experiences. I’ve heard and read time and time again of complaints by readers that there aren’t enough narrators that look, sound, or act like them. If there are books by a well-respected, award-winning writer that the students not only relate to, but devour, who is Nazaryan or anyone to tell them that they shouldn’t be reading them? That they’re not worthy? I am of the opinion that any reading is good reading. The fact that the students – some of whom, as he said, had “a 5-year-old’s command of the English language” – were reading at all is what’s important. To try to stop them from doing so simply because he thought the books they were reading were “insipid” (And really? Insipid? Is he serious?) is irresponsible. Encouraging them to expand their horizons and exposing them to more difficult literature is one thing. But claiming that it should only the classics and nothing else is ridiculous. Why can’t it be both? Why can’t a student enjoy Virgil and Meyer? Why couldn’t he, as a teacher and authority figure, show his students that literature is a diverse field to be explored and enjoyed, instead of yet another clique filled with only the “right” people?

I’ve not doubt that Nazaryan had the best intentions, but that doesn’t excuse his misguided viewpoint. I admire his drive to push his students to go beyond what was expected and beyond their situations, but, unfortunately, his methods in doing so just took them out of one box and put them in another.


The Literary Merit of YA

A few days ago I came across an article entitled Beyond Relevance to Literary Merit: Young Adult Literature as “Literature”.  In it, the authors argued that YA literature should be accepted as legitimate “literature,” especially by high school teachers. They state:

We have found, both in our teaching and in our personal reading, that a considerable body of young adult literature can withstand the test of close literary scrutiny. We consequently argue that the next move is to engage those who might otherwise question young adult literature’s literary merit in what Peter Elbow describes as a “believing game”, thereby helping them become more receptive to the possibility that young adult literature is not only about subjects and themes that are relevant to adolescent readers, but that its treatment of those subjects and themes reflects a level of sophistication that invites serious interrogation on the part of readers eager for a marriage of intellectual and affective engagement.

They go on to note a few examples that suggest that our definition of literature and what has literary merit is not clearly defined and often simply based on the fact that a certain book is canonical (and taught), while another is not.  The test one professor conducted asking literature students to identify whether quotes were from adult books or YA is pretty telling:

They freely admit that when they identify an excerpt as coming from a young adult text, it is usually a guess based on inferred clues about a character’s age or circumstances…What is important to note, however, is that they rarely make a selection based on style—that is, they do not argue that one excerpt is more simplistic in its portrayal of character, setting, or perspective.

As someone who has read, and loved, a great many YA novels, I’m often disappointed by the lack of respect they receive. They tend to be dismissed based almost solely on the fact that they are written for a teenage audience, without regard for any other facet.  It’s true that there are some terrible YA novels out there, just as there are terrible adult novels.  It’s also true that some of these terrible novels become inexplicably popular, again as with adult novels.  But, while fiction written for adults isn’t dismissed simply because there are a few books out there that shouldn’t have made it past the query stage, YA fiction isn’t offered the same treatment.

I’ve heard it said that YA novels simply do not lend themselves to analysis and that’s why they aren’t taught or used in schools more.  I would argue that perhaps the reader isn’t looking deeply enough in the text to see the possibilities.  Many YA novels contain the same themes that canonical literature do and can be more relatable for the students.  In Salon’s recent article asking readers which books they would ban from schools, the author suggests that some of the literature taught in schools isn’t effective because students can’t fully comprehend the context surrounding them. Whereas they can easily recognize Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother as commentary on Post-9/11 America and oppressive government, understanding A Tale of Two Cities and how it relates to the French aristocracy’s oppression of the peasants pre-revolution can be difficult for many students.  This isn’t to say that canonical literature shouldn’t be taught, but why only teach it?  Why not teach Doctorow and Dickens together?  Or Maureen Johnson’s Devilish with Faust?  Or Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games with Greek and Roman mythology?

Anyway, check out the original article for a really great argument in favor of teaching YA, as well as some good reading suggestions.