Sunday, June 22, 2014

Wait, How is Your Character White if You are Black? -writing outside of one's culture

In a perfect world, each culture would have its own literature translated for all to read. We would be able to “walk in each other’s shoes” through their stories and writing styles. Everyone would be open-minded enough to gain something, anything out of these stories. However, this is not a perfect world.

So, the question has been raised: can someone write outside their own culture?

Many would say yes, and many would say no; it is quite the divided topic. Those against it say that there is no possible way for someone outside the culture to truly understand what it means to be a ‘part.’ They may study it and learn its history, but they will never feel the culture as a lifestyle because they will never be a true member of it. Those for the idea have different takes on the subject. Henry Louis Gates Jr. says “no human culture is inaccessible to someone who makes an effort to understand, to learn, to inhabit another world.”

It is this quote that made me think past the realm of the ‘perfect world’ scenario I proposed and into reality. There will never be a culturally authentic writer for some cultures. Should these cultures just, disappear then? Or should we make an effort to learn as much as we can and use these highly complex neurons of ours to try and place ourselves in the closest situation we can?

I would also like to add this sentiment. If we are limited to
writing only about our own cultures, where does creative writing come in? Where is fantasy? How am I supposed to write a fanfiction shipping a Klingon character with a Romulan in a heart-felt love story across two warring peoples? I promise you, I am neither Romulan nor Klingon. However, I know an extensive amount about both character’s cultures enough to actually teach a class on the subject.

 Along these lines, should we limit teachers to only teach their own cultures? My cultural anthropology class in undergrad was not taught by someone who was a member of any of the tribes that we studied. Does this mean that we cannot learn from him and his knowledge? Does the fact that he is not a member of this culture mean that he can never understand it?

Which brings us back to the beginning. Personally, I believe people
can write outside their cultures. Yes, I would prefer to read a biography of a black child growing up in the 60’s, but that does not mean that I cannot learn from a Latina woman writing a story of a black child growing up in the 60’s, or a white man writing. If I am unable to learn about the race in the story, the least I can learn is how the author views that race. 

It is why we, as humans, have the ability to think critically. It is why we need to review author’s background while judging authenticity. Did he just watch a show on the history channel and think he knows every black plight? Or did he do extensive research on the subject, talk to people who lived at the time, and still admits to not knowing everything? 

If we were to say that only cultures can write about themselves, well I think that is just lazy of us.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Rupert Giles: How to Slay the School Library Profession

The character of Rupert Giles, played by Anthony Stewart Head, will forever rank among the top of the "fan favorites" list.
This charming, witty, British tongue whips men and women alike into frenzies while his character depth and development leaves not even critics to be desired. Though Giles is a consistently important cog of the Scooby team, he does seem to often leave behind one crucial part of his identity: his profession. I am fully aware of the many complexities of Giles's story arcs, however, for the purpose of this essay, I am limiting the scope to include only Buffy season 1 through 3 in order to reflect his time as the librarian at Sunnydale High School. You know-before it literally became Hell.

Rupert Giles devotes his time and effort as a Watcher and noted Buffy father figure, but how does he measure up to the position of school librarian? For those of you just looking for a bottom line: pretty poorly. Though the American Library Association (ALA) does not have concise criteria for being an A+ school librarian, there are several suggestions and a clear concession by those powers that be within the profession on what makes a good school librarian. The good school librarian must have a good collection development, a professional and friendly reference demeanor, must be up-to-date on the technology of the times, and must engage in teacher collaboration for the good of the students and their literary development.

For those who work for the state in any profession, you are aware of the money binds that are placed like shackles around your neck. Yes, they allow you to buy things for your job, however everything must be justified. For this reason, school librarians spend hours looking for new books and reference materials for their student's age group to supplement their libraries. I am currently in a class in which I am learning how to choose diverse children's books in order to avoid racism and sexism while still portraying the many, many cultures of the student body and the world. If we were to follow this line of thinking, Giles, being a high school librarian, should want to use the school's tax-payer money to find great sources to develop their research skills. Those few that survive high school must be strong so they may want to go to college one day. Well, those students who actually care about their grades and future will be thoroughly disappointed. First, there were obviously few books within the library. Second, whenever they were doing research on whatever paranormal entity was attacking, they were noticeably looking all over the library for information. Are all the books in the Sunnydale Library about the occult? Is there no literature, computer development, SAT Prep whatsoever? John Cullen in his articles, "Rupert Giles, the Professional-image Slayer," said it best when he stated, "Giles stocks his collection with occult works irrelevant to the wider student population he is supposed to serve" (42). Some may say his use of school money solely for Buffy's reference is a good thing, better for the whole of humanity and all. However, those high school students are going to graduate and not know a thing about essay writing, common literature, logical skills, or anything that can truly help them in the real world, through collections or through reference assistance.

One of the most important trends in the modern library is to have a friendly atmosphere and reference. No longer is it the age of buns, shushing, and the anti-social librarian.
In library school today, master's students are taught on being welcoming and social beings in order to assist patrons of all types, ages, and cultures. School librarians are vitally important to the knowledge development of the students. In fact, Topsy N. Smalley, in the article entitled "College Success: High School Librarians Make the Difference," it is concluded that, "Within the last decade, research has provided solid evidence that school library programs- ones with credentialed librarians, where librarians partner with school faculty, and whose libraries have sufficient staffing and collections-contribute to student achievement" (193). Well, Giles, being the only librarian, must work extra hard to give every student his full attention in order to help them fulfill their potential, right? Actually, Giles is never seen helping an average student with a research project. In fact, he is genuinely surprised to see students even enter the library. His reference skills when it comes to Buffy's mission are unparalleled. "He bridges the chasm between the information as it lives in the text and the transfer of that information into a form the Slarerettes and Buffy can actually use" (Wandless, par. 6). This is the definition of good reference work, if he would only use it for more than just Buffy. His Watcher duties would not negate his duties to the other students whom rely on him to be their librarian. Though it is just the 90’s, he should be building students’ knowledge of reference materials and the use of the internet which is obviously the future.

Another staple of the good school librarian is the knowledge of library technology and the willingness to learn more. I realize that for Giles, the idea of using a computer may be a touchy subject given that it would remind him of Jenny and her sad demise. However, he easily perpetuates the male librarian stereotype of being technologically inept, even confessing that computers fill him with “childlike terror” (“I Robot, You Jane”). He is confused that this glass box could be a tool for searching and knowledge just as books and volumes.

Again, I realize that it is not the digitized world that it is today, however school librarians play the role of the best (and sometimes only) source for technological development in the academic sense for their representative school.  He is the only link some teachers might have to the developing technological world around them, and he is not even willing to learn. The few students who graduate and desire forwarding their education are out of luck if they do not know how to use basic search functions.

Lastly, a good school librarian works in conjunction with teachers for the good of the students. They know what each English teacher will teach in a given semester in order to stock the library with guides and assistance. They will promote literacy and library learning through marketing techniques like library fun days, posters, challenges, and alike. They will actually want students in their library. According to the ALA’s State of America’s Libraries Report 2014, “School librarians are highly involved leaders playing a critical role in their schools through consistent and sustained collaboration with other educators” (ALA). Modern librarians even offer classes for teachers and administrators on library instruction, research, and some technological uses. Aside from Giles’s romance with Mrs. Jenny, rarely is he seen interacting with other educators that Sunnydale High School must have stashed somewhere. Though the many principals do make appearances, those who watch the show know that principals are rarely good guys just there to assist the students in their learning futures. They often die grisly deaths as well. The point being made here, however, is that Giles does not even try. Giles does not even seem to care about the student’s learning environment or their lives outside of the school.

I am fully aware of the impact having Rupert Giles as a librarian has done on the profession’s popularity. GraceAnne A. DeCandido says, “Here is a librarian model who is elegant, deeply educated, well (if fussily) dressed, handsome, and charged with eroticism” (45).  However, I believe John Cullen said it best when he said, “We juggle technology, management, customer service, scholarship, and public relations constantly. We require a graduate degree because only the best and brightest need apply. If Giles actually spent one day fighting the battles that real librarians face, all the bloodcurdling demons in hell wouldn’t faze him” (42). Rupert Giles is one great Watcher, but he fails as a school librarian. As he fails, so does his students. 

Cullen, J. Rupert Giles, the Professional-image Slayer. American Libraries31, 42. Retrieved May 15, 2014, from the Academic OneFile database.

DeCandido, G. Bibliographic Good vs. Evil in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. American Libraries10, 44-47.

Smalley, T. N. College success: high school librarians make the difference. The Journal of Academic Librarianship30, 193-198.

School Libraries. (n.d.). American Library Association. Retrieved June 16, 2014, from

Wandless, William. "Undead Letters: Searches and Researches in Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Slayage: The Journal of the Whedon Studies Association 1 (2001) [].

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

How Net Neutrality Bans Could Affect your Library

Those of us who curl up with our fluffy pets and fluffier husbands and watch the evening news (or in my case the Colbert Report)
are aware of this not-so-new concept of Net Neutrality and how it is making headlines. Like the 90% of viewers out there, my first thoughts were not egregious outrage, nor was it clapping approval; no, my first thoughts were..."what is net neutrality?" "uh-oh, should I know this?"

Well, for those of you who don't know what net neutrality is nor why it is in the news, take heart and do not fear for the ALA already has a stance on to tell you how you think! Now, I will ever so lightly explain to you librarians, teachers, and other information enthusiasts what net neutrality is and how it can affect libraries and information presentation. While I will not go on a terrible rant about my personal stance on the matter, it will be pretty obvious how I stand on the net neutrality thingy.

What is Net Neutrality Anyway?????

Net Neutrality (NN) is basically non-discrimination on the online world. "But New Pagemaster, the online world is full of discrimination!" Yes, yes it is. However, in this instance, we are talking more about who can get on what websites and how fast. 

"It is the principle that consumers/citizens should be free to get access to - or to provide - the Internet content and services they wish, and that consumer access should not be regulated based on the nature or source of that content or service. Information providers - which may be websites, online services, etc., and who may be affiliated with traditional commercial enterprises but who also may be individual citizens, libraries, schools, or nonprofit entities - should have essentially the same quality of access to distribute their offerings." -ALA website 

Without NN, the people of whom you pay big bucks in order to get online can charge more big bucks for certain websites. Heck, they can even ban websites from their services if those websites do not comply with money, do not advertise for them, or if they just don't like their face. These big companies will be allowed to give faster service and more bits to those who can pay more.

Affects on Education and Academic Libraries

If NN is banned by the FCC, that gap between the "nice" public school in town and the "not-so-nice on" will grow an amazing amount. This is because of the already stupid law that is in place that basses school funding on the kids test scores.
So, let us brainstorm a bit:  
low test scores = less money, less money + better education websites costing more = less education websites, less education websites = low test scores. 

You get where I am going with this. Those schools that are already having a hard time will have an even harder time getting funding, widening the gap between the educational rich and poor. 

Why would education websites cost more?

Well, this is because these good education websites already provide so much free or low-cost stuff that they cannot pay your bill anymore. What the end of NN will see more of is the rise of already big businesses, just online. Do you like Mickey Mouse? 'Cause you will see a whole lot of him soon. Entertainment websites that already make bank can cozy up with the internet providers. Friends like Friends with money. The Entertainment world has money. 

Affects on Public Libraries

Public libraries could face higher service charges for newly premium online information and services. In a time of tiny budgets, paying more for more internet access would require tradeoffs such as fewer books, staff, and open hours. Hopefully, the public libraries will still be able to offer community services to the lower income (heck even higher income) public. Have you ever looked and seen what your public library can do for you? Look it up, you will be surprised what all your missing.

In Conclusion...

The blog post above is just a taste of the massive complexity that is Net Neutrality and its effects. Some say there are some upsides to it as well. Feel free to look them up, I haven't the time to rummage through the internet garbage. Below are some good links for further understanding if you want to know more. Otherwise, I hope I did explain a bit about what is going on so you can at least sound like you know at your next staff meeting.

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children--Quick Review

Before reading anything given to me for classes, I enjoy doing a bit of background research on the article, its author, its purpose, and
reviews from other blogs and online peoples. “A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children” is a compilation of reviews of children’s literature edited by Doris Seale and Beverly Slapin which is nothing but entertainingly brutal. Don’t get me wrong, everything they say really needs to be said. “A Broken Flute” offers essays, critical reviews and commentary on many books about American Indians for children and teenagers. But A Broken Flute also asks us to understand the pain and the anger that the appropriation and misrepresentation of Native history, culture and values by non-Native writers has caused. (Library Sparks) Like most of these types of books, it really does a great job making me feel guilty for being white.

A Broken Flute will be a valuable resource for community and educational organizations, and a key reference for public and school libraries, and Native American collections. Readers will turn to this volume repeatedly, especially because of the multiple indexes, for help with book evaluation and to broaden their understanding of the community in which they work and live. (Sir Read Alot Book Review)

In class, we are to read “Open Letter to a Non-Indian Teacher,” an opening to the reference book sadly written by An Indian Mother and only referenced by the editors as “whoever wrote it.” I would love a background for the letter while reading it. Did the teacher already make the mother upset or is she coming into this school year already assuming the teacher will be a bigot toward her child? I have taught several kids of different cultures, including native cultures, and I did not act the way in which she is describing. Instead of “rescuing” them, I admired their cultured state, mainly because I really do not have one.

I guess this letter has affected me in a way that it was not supposed to.
Yes, each kid is an individual that needs to be treated as such. Each kid has a right to learn how to read and develop intellectual skills. However, the public school system is not able to FULLY meet with all the standards this mother is laying out. If a teacher has 30+ young children in her care and one gets up to go to the bathroom by himself without telling her, it is against the rules, even if it is that way at his home.

A tiny bit about me, I was allowed to drink wine at an earlier age because of culture. However, I knew not to do it at school, or anywhere else but home. The sad truth is, these overworked teachers cannot accommodate every single individual’s lifestyle into their day. That does not mean to demean or lessen the culture of these students. But if this mother wants her kid to go to a US public school, her child will have to acclimate a bit and create his own, blended culture in the process. He can respect his old culture, speak its language, respect his values, and still ask to go to the bathroom and follow along with a set curriculum even if he does not feel like it that day (like a good amount of school children). Feel free to argue with me! I would love a hearty discussion on the subject.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Importance of Prejudicial Material in the Library

I have always enjoyed the summer classes offered both in undergrad and graduate school because they have always allowed for more interesting electives. One of my current classes is called "Valuing Diversity: International and Intercultural Resources for Youth" taught by Julie Winkelstein PhD
Though I have only been to two classes so far, my mind has been spurred with what it is to have diversity within a children's library and the effects of these books upon the community as a whole. For instance: did you ever stop to look at the pictures in the children's books to see the small details? Are the girls playing with "girl toys" while the boys playing with "boy toys"? Is the mother the one sweeping in the background? These are all things she is teaching us to notice and understand that, while small, these pictures will affect the children's point of view because they are constantly taking in information.

After laying out the criteria for picking diverse and nonprejudicial books for the library, we discussed whether the same criteria should be given to adult literature and to past literature. The class divided a bit on the existence of overtly prejudicial material even being available to children and students given their easy mold-ability. I would like to note: the following is MY opinion only! Though I can find several people higher on the scholarship ladder who agree with me, I will limit the following opinions to my own. *I would also welcome any opinions and comments*

Prejudicial materials should remain in the library. They should be as easily found as other books and should be read just as often. In fact, I would love these prejudicial materials to be involved in classrooms, especially history. We all know the materials I am talking about: Little Black Sambo, Adventures of Tin Tin, Five Chinese Brothers, heck, even Dick and Jane is overtly sexist. One of my favorite childhood series was Babar which I understand now to be very, very racist, just like they were at the time.

But, that is the point, isn't it? These books, no matter how overtly racist, sexist, prejudicial they may be, have definitely taught us something about the time period they were written in. For those of you who do not know, I was a history major in undergrad, and we analyzed many, many photographs, paintings, and pictures to tell us about the time period. These were usually propaganda posters that we used to see how one culture viewed another, but aren't all children's books just small propaganda? They are used to teach children what the author wants taught. If the author, publisher, librarian, and parent agree with the propaganda, then it is read to the child in order to be digested and learned, no matter if we of the future disagree. 

To take out such important historical learning tools would be detrimental to society as a whole.
On the one hand, children reading Huckleberry Finn do not have to read the N-word all the time; on the other hand, they will never know that it was common vernacular of the south at the time, nor will they ever understand how much that word can hurt. By deleting the word, they are diminishing its historical value, even if that value causes pain. Let me put it in a different way....

"The Nazi Propaganda may hurt the feelings of the Jews in which they are portraying. Because of this, we will delete any and all instances of historical Nazi propaganda and make it seem like it never happened." No. This cannot happen. Just because we are embarrassed about past prejudices does not mean we can just make them disappear. We need to remember them and we need to learn from them. Yes, society did harm to individuals by teaching their children that a group of people are less than, even if it is subtle. However, to delete that from history would be detrimental to societies growth.

As my teacher, Dr. Winklestein, said in class, the important thing to do is to balance out your library. Yes, have books that may need to be read with parents and have discussions after (which I understand is a no-go for a good amount of families in America) and also have the books that show little Johnny playing dolls with little Nancy. Have a picture book where it is near impossible to tell the race of the child. Because that is the way our society is. One day, people will be studying our children's books and telling our society's story. What do you want that story to be?