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Thursday, June 30, 2022

ALA 2022: Monday Recap

And so we reach the end of my recaps for ALA 2022 and this day was heavily tilted in favor of RA with some hopeful IF at the end.

Let's get to it. 

The morning began with the Adult Library Marketing Association [ALMA] and LibraryReads presenting  "Your  Morning Is Booked," a Fiction Author Panel. To say I was  excited  about this one would  be  an understatement because out of six authors,  FOUR wrote Horror!

In this report I will present each author, title, and a quick summary as well as share a few comments each of them made. The key here though is that these are all books you should add to your collections, no questions asked. Rebecca Vnuk from LibraryReads was offered any and all authors who would be attending ALA and these are the 6 fiction authors she handpicked.

First up was Ramona Emerson with her book Shutter out August 2 with Soho Crime:

This riveting debut novel with shades of Jessica Jones is equal parts gripping crime thriller and supernatural horror in its atmospheric portrayal of life in the Navajo Nation.

Rita Todacheene is a forensic photographer working for the Albuquerque police force. Her excellent photography skills have cracked many cases—she is almost supernaturally good at capturing details. In fact, Rita has been hiding a secret: she sees the ghosts of crime victims who point her toward the clues that other investigators overlook. 

As a lone portal back to the living for traumatized spirits, Rita is terrorized by nagging ghosts who won’t let her sleep and who sabotage her personal life. Her taboo and psychologically harrowing ability was what drove her away from the Navajo town of Tohatchi, where she was raised by her grandmother. It has isolated her from friends and gotten her in trouble with the law.

And now it might be what gets her killed.

When Rita is sent to photograph the scene of a supposed suicide on a highway overpass, the furious, discombobulated ghost of the victim—who insists she was murdered—latches onto Rita, forcing her on a quest for revenge against her killers, and Rita finds herself in the crosshairs of one of Albuquerque’s most dangerous cartels. Written in sparkling, gruesome prose, Shutter is a blood-chilling debut from one of crime fiction's most powerful new voices.

Some of you may remember that back in April I moderated a panel of PRH Horror authors. Emerson was on that panel, so  I was already familiar with her book. Here are  a few of the comments she made to us in the audience that I wanted to share:

  • Emerson  talked about how as a newly graduated film student the best ajob she could get that used her skills and helped her to hone them was as a forensic videographer. She did this job for a while and even went to police bootcamp for civilians.
  • At the same time she was also writing screenplays with a mentor. Mostly crime based because she knew everything about investigations from her work and the bootcamp.
  • When she went to apply for her MFA, her mentor told her to stop with screenplays and  take her  ideas and turn them into a novel. She did get in to that program but the way
  • In terms of fleshing out the story into a novel, she realized the interest and the part she had to most figure out was Rita's, her protagonist, childhood.
  • As a Navajo [both herselfand Rita] she knows that death is extremely taboo. They fear it and won't talk about it. Rita's gift therefore, would have been very threatening in her community growing up. This drove the story as Emerson was writing it.
  • She also shared that before she wrote this book, she wasn't sure if ghosts existed, but since finishing it she has proof that they do and is a believer.
  • She also told us she hopes that the novel gives us the "freakies" at night.
Next up, Brian Freeman with The Zero Night, out November 1 from Blackstone Publishing.
A woman has been kidnapped.Now Jonathan Stride must decide if her husband wants her back ... dead or alive.

After nearly dying of a gunshot wound, Jonathan Stride has been on leave from the Duluth Police for more than a year. When his partner, Maggie Bei, gets called about a suspicious abduction involving a local lawyer, she tells Stride it's time for him to come back.

Attorney Gavin Webster says he paid $100,000 in ransom money to the men who kidnapped his wife. Now they've disappeared with the cash, and she's still missing. Gavin claims to be desperate to find her--but Stride discovers that the lawyer had plenty of motive to be the mastermind behind the crime.

Even as Stride digs for the truth about Gavin Webster and his wife, he must also deal with a crisis in his own marriage.

His wife, Serena, is struggling after the death of her mother, the abusive woman she hadn't seen in twenty-five years. When she loses control at a crime scene and draws her gun on a fellow cop, Serena finds herself kicked off the Webster case. Alone at her desk, she begins hunting through old police files and starts to ask questions about a mother's death that was written off as suicide. That death haunts Serena like an echo of her own childhood--but her obsession with it takes a terrible toll.

As Serena shuts him out of her despair, and his own investigation grows increasingly tangled, Stride wonders whether going back to his detective work was the right decision. But all he can do is keep moving forward. Because Stride fears the Webster kidnapping may be only one part of a horrific murder conspiracy.

And it's not over yet.

From Freeman's presentation:

  • This is his 25th published novel and the 11th in the Stride series. He also writes standalones and the continuation of the Bourne series.
  • All of his books, no matter the series, feature immersive settings and great characters. This he prides himself on.
  • Also with any series, he strives to write them so that you can dive in anywhere and understand the story but also does not make long time readers deal with long parts of the book that are old news to them. While you can dive in anywhere, he also thinks he writes in a way that makes readers want to go back and read more about the characters.
  • His goal with this series is to write a twisty mystery, a page turner, but also the mystery goes though the lives of the characters.
  • This new one focuses on Stride's wife quite a bit.
  • He calls what he writes, "emotional thrillers."
Next is Rachel Harrison with Such Sharp Teeth out October 4th by Berkley Books.
A young woman in need of a transformation finds herself in touch with the animal inside in this gripping, incisive novel from the author of Cackle and The Return.

Rory Morris isn't thrilled to be moving back to her hometown, even if it is temporary. There are bad memories there. But her twin sister, Scarlett, is pregnant, estranged from the baby's father, and needs support, so Rory returns to the place she thought she'd put in her rearview. After a night out at a bar where she runs into an old almost-flame, she hits a large animal with her car. And when she gets out to investigate, she's attacked.

Rory survives, miraculously, but life begins to look and feel different. She's unnaturally strong, with an aversion to silver--and suddenly the moon has her in its thrall. She's changing into someone else--something else, maybe even a monster. But does that mean she's putting those close to her in danger? Or is embracing the wildness inside of her the key to acceptance?

This darkly comedic love story is a brilliantly layered portrait of trauma, rage, and vulnerability.

From Harrison:

  • She loves Horror because she loves escapism and the supernatural because she uses it to deal with things in her own life.
  • For example, The Return is about how she was upset at how hard adult friendships are. She was mourning the loss of a friend and turning a friend into a literal monster made the whole thing a little easier to deal with.
  • She got the idea for this one in the shower as she was annoyed about having a body and having to care for it.
  • Then she thought about women and being a werewolf and why were weren't more examples of that. It seems like such a direct correlation-- being a woman and not having control over your body.
  • I like to be in control, she said. The two things I hate the most-- anger and vulnerability because both involve a loss of control. And this book is about both.
  • At the end of the event I told Harrison-- whose first 2 books each made the LibraryReads list-- that if Such Sharp Teeth makes it she gets into the Hall of Fame. She was speechless at the idea, and told me not to get her hopes up and that would be a dream come true. 
Next, Alix E. Harrow with A Mirror Mended the second book in her Fractured Fables series and it just came out June 14 from Tordotcom:
A Mirror Mended is the next installment in USA Todaybestselling author Alix E. Harrow's Fractured Fables series.

Zinnia Gray, professional fairy-tale fixer and lapsed Sleeping Beauty, is over rescuing snoring princesses. Once you’ve rescued a dozen damsels and burned fifty spindles, once you’ve gotten drunk with twenty good fairies and made out with one too many members of the royal family, you start to wish some of these girls would just get a grip and try solving their own narrative issues.

Just when Zinnia’s beginning to think she can't handle one more princess, she glances into a mirror and sees another face looking back at her: the shockingly gorgeous face of evil, asking for her help. Because there’s more than one person trapped in a story they didn’t choose. Snow White's Evil Queen has found out how her story ends, and she's desperate for a better ending. She wants Zinnia to help her before it’s too late for everyone. Will Zinnia accept the Queen's poisonous request and save them both from the hot-iron shoes that wait for them, or will she try another path?

  • In between anxiety spiraling of the last few years, Harrow returned to stories from her childhood because it felt good, it felt like going home.
  • For this second one she knew she was going to tell a villain's story. She noted that "witches come in more flavors than princesses."
  • But she also noted that they never get a happy ending for themselves. Even in retellings like Wicked they don't. Their HEA is always taken away. She wanted to give the Evil Queen her HEA.
  • She also struggled with how to retell something that has been retold so many times that is is not a story anymore, but rather just a series of symbols.
  • Se was inspired by Into the Spiderverse and the idea that multiple stories, multiple versions of the same story that we all know, can exists at the same time. 
  • She looks at these books as a way to break fairy tales but in order to make something new. She keeps the good and breaks the bad. 
Next up, a book I just gave a STAR review to in LJ, The Devil Takes You Home and its author Gabino Iglesias out August 1 by Mulholland:
From Bram Stoker, Anthony, and Locus award-nominated author, Gabino Iglesias, comes a genre-defying thriller about a father desperate to salvage what’s left of his family, even if it means a descent into violence--both supernatural and of our own terrifying world.

Buried in debt due to his young daughter’s illness, his marriage at the brink, Mario reluctantly takes a job as a hitman, surprising himself with his proclivity for violence. After tragedy destroys the life he knew, Mario agrees to one final job: hijack a cartel’s cash shipment before it reaches Mexico. Along with an old friend and a cartel-insider named Juanca, Mario sets off on the near-suicidal mission, which will leave him with either a cool $200,000 or a bullet in the skull. But the path to reward or ruin is never as straight as it seems. As the three complicated men travel through the endless landscape of Texas, across the border and back, their hidden motivations are laid bare alongside nightmarish encounters that defy explanation. One thing is certain: even if Mario makes it out alive, he won’t return the same.

The Devil Takes You Home is a panoramic odyssey for fans of S.A. Cosby’s southern noir, Blacktop Wasteland, by way of the boundary-defying storytelling of Stephen Graham Jones and Sylvia Moreno-Garcia.
  • With my fiction I  realized that I could talk about identity politics, racism, etc... and still have my ghosts and demons and haunted houses.
  • I had done it before with two novels, but 2020 gave me time [he got fired] and he had anger. But anger alone is not enough. You also need empathy and grief.
  • He put it all together into this novel.
  • He looks at his genre writing as a cake. The supernatural elements are on top, the icing and sprinkles. It looks great. And you bite into it and you have to digest the anger and political commentary inside.
  • He wrote this book instead of punching a politician.
  • You can also go to my Goodreads review to find a link to an interview I did with Iglesias for the June 2022 issue of LJ for more from him.
Finally, Daniel Kraus with Wrath coming October 4 from Union Square:
In a future much nearer than you think, where scientific experimentation is exploited for commercial profit, unwisely under-supervised cutting-edge technology creates a menace that threatens the very fabric of human existence.

Wrath is the story of a lab rat instilled with human genes whose supersized intelligence helps him to engineer his escape into the world outside the lab: a world vastly ill-equipped to deal with the menace he represents. Modified through advances that have boosted his awareness of humankind’s cruelty in the name of science, and endowed with a rat’s natural proclivity to procreate regularly, Sammy has the potential to sire a rodent army capable of viciously overwhelming the human race.
Okay this one sounds terrifying and also awesome!
  • Sammy is a lab rat with human genes made by a pet company who wants to have a hit product again. He is genetically engineered to be super cute. 
  • All of the science here is REAL. His co-author is an award winning scientist.
  • Just so it is clear, Kraus told us that according to Moalem, in the scenario they describe, the intelligent Rats would overwhelm and take over the humans in NYC in 5 years. 
  • Sammy gets out and knows he will die so he figures, well at least I will procreate. 
  • The book is Jurassic Park meets Flowers for Algernon meets Frankenstein.
  • We create a monster but don't create a world for it.
Next up was the Annual Booklist Read 'N' Rave brought to you by LibraryReads. I have done this one before. It is fun but stressful. Five librarians have 10 minutes each [with a timer!] to talk about as many books from the convention floor that they can. Here is the link with all of the librarians and their titles.

After lunch I went to Read Hard: Get the Most Out of Your Reading Life as a Professional Reader featuring Halle Carlson, Matthew Galloway, and Allison Escoto.

All three are or have been on major ALA award committees and this was about explaining the process of being on those committees. How to get involved, how much work it is, and how they work. They had prepared questions but they also took questions as they came.

They began by sharing how they read so much-- more than 100 books a year. Most said it means having a book with them at all times and in multiple places-- audio, phone, physical book-- but a few specific pieces of advice: Escoto said forcing herself to put her phone down and even putting her phone down near the book she was supposed to be reading so she'd pick the book up instead. Halle said the key was figuring out what her best times of the day were for reading. She found right after work for a few hours was best. All three of them could not read at work.

There was a question about how they got started in awards committees. There was general conversation about getting involved in ALA committees, but also this program was meant to spread the word so people asked to be on committees. Galloway also has experience with his State literary awards and encouraged people to get started that way. I also offered that the writers associations for the genres need award readers as well.

They talked about how the awards application process can be obtuse and people should reach out  to them for help. I can get anyone interested in touch with them or offer my advice as well. 

The good news is the committees are now more inclusive because they no longer require you attend conference in person to be on committees. This was a huge change. I could not be on award committees when my kids were younger for this exact reason.

Virtual meeting have also led to more collaboration and more time for deliberation since they meet more often and don't have to rely on one all day meeting to do all the work. But also Galloway noted how he was on the Reading List before Covid and then during and that when he meetings went virtual everyone shared more, especially those who cared less in person. The entire experience was more collaborative.

How has working on these committees change your reading strategies? Galloway said being on the Reading List [genre awards] Made him appreciate different genres. He thought he liked Thrillers, turns out he did not. He still loves cozy mysteries but he now also loves Romance. Carlson said she use to be a completist and now I am able to set something aside if it isn't working for me. The made her reading life better in every way.

How can you tell if a book rises to the top or not? Carlson noted that each award has its own guidelines but they are fairly loose. For her, she asks if the book is doing something new or interesting. It needs to fit the genre but also be a unique reading experience. But, sometimes she didn't love a book at first, or even set it aside, but a fellow committee member convinced her to try it again and she appreciated it more. That collaboration is key.

Each shared their best experience of their awards work.
  • Escoto: Being on Notables has allows her to explore and enjoy more nonfiction.
  • Galloway:  It has led to more leadership opportunities. 
  • Carlson: I love getting other people's perspectives 
Finally, I ended the day with an event I had been waiting the entire conference for-- An update from the Working Group on Intellectual Freedom and Social Justice.

Here is the official description:
Over the last year, the Working Group on Intellectual Freedom and Social Justice has been exploring alternatives to neutrality rhetoric. In this session, you will have the opportunity to learn about three frameworks that can be used to inform how we work with our communities: radical empathy, trauma-informed response, and cultural humility. This will also be another chance for dialogue about these topics before the Working Group submits its report to the ALA Executive Board. Please join us as we consider these ways to help us build and strengthen trust with our users.
This committee is led by Martin Garnar, Director of the Amherst College Library. Full disclosure here. I am an alum of Amherst, a dues paying member of their FOL, and the parent of a student. On May 25th I met with Garnar at Amherst to discuss the committee and their charge-- to find alternatives to neutrality rhetoric. So I knew what was coming and to those of us engaged in the fight-- Garnar is an ally at the top of the ALA chain.

Garnar began with some background about the committee. It was created after ALA passed a resolution that neutrality is against social justice. The committee was made to have a dialog around where Intellectual Freedom and Social Justice intersect. Garnar edited the IF manual and knows that there is NO ENTRY for neutrality in the index. It is not there in the manual. The problem with the word is that people think it is there and there is NO DEFINITION. It needs to go.

But also to claim neutrality in a system with inherent power differentials is to support the inequities that stem from those differentials and continue to privilege thse in power.

He also said that from their conversations around the country it seems like there is more of a willingness to ditch neutrality language with collections but services are still a sticking point.

The committee will be presenting 3 different frameworks for further explorations in their July report to the ALA Exec Board. This program today was the final presentation and discussion with members that the committee needed before they finish that report.

The three frameworks are Radical Empathy, Trauma Informed Response, and Cultural Humility. 

Radical Empathy was the one they did the most work on:
  • Calls for moving beyond an understanding of others' lives and pain to understand the origin of our biases. 
  • It is a framework for addressing inequities in 6 steps:
    • Willingness to be vulnerable
    • Becoming grounded in who you are
    • Opening yourself to the experiences of others
    • Practicing Empathy
    • Taking Action [moving from rhetoric to action]
    • Creating change and building trust
However, after exploring Radical Empathy it became clear it was not exactly right. So they looked at Trauma Informed Response next:
  • The point here is avoiding retraumatizing.
  • Implementing this approach require change at all levels of the organization and active training. This will be expensive and time consuming in order to be done correctly.
  • This framework has 4 Rs:
    • Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands the potential paths for recovery
    • Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in patrons, families, staff, and others involved with the system
    • Responds by fully integrating knowdedge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices
    • Seeks to actively Resist re-traimatization
  • The key principles are:
    • Safety-- the place is safe as defined by users and staff
    • Trustworthiness and Transparency- Trust means you don't let TERFSS of Nazis in-- said Garnar.
    • Peer Support
    • Collaboration and mutuality
    • Empowerment, voices, and choice
    • Cultural, historical, and gender issues
The final framework they are exploring is  Cultural Humility:
  • It is a concept developed in healthcare and defined as "the ability to recognize our own beliefs and assumptions and to break through commonly held assumptions and stereotypes that get in the way of being "competent" or " sensitive" to another's "culture."
  • It recognizes and challenges power imbalances. They exist and to build authentic and trusting relationships, we need to be aware of the power dynamic and understand the possible impact it has on our relationships with others.
  • To move toward more genuine interactions we have to address the power imbalances in all of our interactions and work towards dismantling those systems at play. 
  • This framework is a life long journey
The committee is going to report back that there is no single replacement for neutrality. That different approaches should be used for different situations and communities. But neutrality is NOT an approach we should continue to use. 

The overall goal here is building and maintaining trust with out communities 

We all had a chance to have discussions in small groups about these frameworks and situations at out  libraries.

We then came back to report out and discuss. These statement are all from Garnar. He is stating where ehe stands and where he WANTS ALA to stand. These are statements from someone at the top of an IF committee, assigned there by ALA Executive Board, and they are STRONG. This is not the official wishy-washy IF language ALA usually engages in. Again Garner said:
  • I want everyone to come to the library and find what they want and be served. BUT if you do not think that everyone is a human and deserves to exists and deserves dignity, then I do not want you there. [This is a strong statement and one I agree with. It also means you can keep out any hate group.]
  •  I will not be complicit in helping you to spread hate.
  • For any of these approaches to work you have to believe in nuance
  • Someone asked Garnar how to get this message out to "difficult" library boards who don't want to protect everyone. He said they know that is needed and they are working on it. She wanted a soundbite. He understands.
  • Get rid of neutrality and focus on trust, Trust is your soundbite. We need to build trust.
  • Someone from DCPL asked about books that spread hate or misinformation and how with the idea of neutrality, many libraries are forced to include these books. And here Garnar had THE BEST advice:
    • Add a statement to your Collection Development policy that explicitly says that you will NOT add items that contain disinformation to your collections.
I knew this message was coming and even I was feeling excited and energized after this program. We have to see what happens after Garnar delivers this strong anti-neutrality message to the ALA Exec Board in July. After the report his committee dissolves. The Board must vote yea or nay. Then the work begins. Either ALA decides to be firm and start fighting for people instead of defending hate or they refuse to change. 

I am hoping the new Board is ready to be strong and to lead. But we will have to wait and see.

Back tomorrow with some overall thoughts about the conference and the Nancy Pearl dust up from my outsider perspective. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

ALA 2022: Sunday Recap

Back to the missing middle days after skipping to the last day yesterday.

Sunday morning I had the HUGE honor to be invited to the Coretta Scott King Awards Breakfast as a guest of Chronicle Books. I got to sit with the author and illustrator I had the discussion with on Saturday. 

I went to the Newbery and Caldecott Awards dinner a few years back and enjoyed that event, but I will be honest here, this was better. First, they all call it the CSK awards, so I will do that here. Second, the joy and community and speeches were all fantastic. From audience to those on the stage, the enthusiasm and positivity was inspiring. But don't get me wrong, the assembled were all aware of and referred to the very real challenges any and all books representing marginalized perspectives are facing right now. They were honest and understand how bad it is, but they chose to use the breakfast as a time to celebrate their joy and on that particular Sunday morning we ALL needed this.

For a full list of the winners and rather honor books, click here.

They also gave all of us an excellent Discussion Guide. They have not linked to it yet, but they will because you can go here to see all of the previous ones. This page is an EXCELLENT resource.

Especially moving was the oldest son of the recently deceased Floyd Cooper accepting his award as the winning illustrator.

And then two pieces of  big news to mark the end of the event, the CSK Awards are moving from a Committee to a Roundtable. This may sound like semantics to some of you, but under the ALA governance, this change is HUGE. The CSK are now going to stand alone and be able to be about more than just the awards. 

And, a representative from Simon & Schuster and Jason Reynolds came up to announce that they are offering $3,000 grants for librarians of color to attend ALA Annual and the CSK Awards Celebration for at least the next 5 years.

I enjoyed it so much, I may continue to buy my own ticket each year. This is a community I want to be a part of, a community that celebrates diversity and the power of books to do good in the world.

Then I went from the CSK Awards to what was the best panel I attended the entire conference:

Fight Censorship in Your School and Public Library

Booklist editor Heather Booth will be joined by Library Media Specialist Shelly McNerney; Newbery Honor and Stonewall winning author Kyle Lukoff; librarian, author, and founder of "Read Woke," Cicely Lewis; Dr. Emily Knox, associate professor in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Kristin Pekoll, Assistant Director at the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom to discuss the recent wave of censorship attempts across the country and offer advice and support for library professionals facing them directly.

Booth is a long time personal friend, collaborator, and a Booklist colleague. I knew she would be a good  voice on this topic as a former teen and tween librarian, a current Public Library Trustee, and just because I trust her as thoughtful and nuanced person. So I was already excited about what could happen here. I was not disappointed. I will go over some of the specifics, but I want to say up front, that what I most enjoyed about this program was that it tackled the shades of gray. Everyone there has experience and everyone there was willing to discuss things openly and honestly. They were also willing to make the BIG STAND to do things to actively battle the specter of neutrality that is being used against us by those trying to remove titles from our shelves.

Okay now on to the details including some language you can use  in your collection development policies to make them less neutral [bolded below].

Booth opened the conversation between these panelists and the audience by reminding us of a statistic ALA Executive Tracie Hall gave at another panel: The rate of books being banned at this moment is surpassing the rate during the McCarthy era.

Booth then did a visual exercise, asking everyone who had ever dealt with a challenge at their work to stand. Then she asked those who "lost" the challenge to stay standing. There were a handful. Both of those visuals were important for the room to see and to frame our discussions. Before beginning, Booth thanked those final standers for being here in this room and for still fighting. This was also important. They have experienced the worst of this topic but are still trying to fight.

Booth then began her questions by starting with Dr. Knox by saying: When we talk about censorship, it is a wide net. When we have these conversations is it important to adhere to a strict definition and if yes, what?

Knox began by helping us frame what we mean when we talking about challenges and banning. There are 4 Rs that make up the constellation of censorship practices:

  • Redaction
  • Restriction
  • Relocation
  • Removal

All are censorship, but most people only consider the 4th R-- removal-- to be censorship. For this reason we have to consider all 4 when we have these discussions.

The bulk of challenges are on books for youth and use words like "harm" as in "this book will cause children harm," but we have to be aware of the potential to cause so much more harm by restricting or relocating these titles. 

McNerney added that from her experience as a high school librarian, that when people say a book causes harm what they mean is that it has ideas different from their own that that the student coming to those ideas will be harmed by this difference. But, McNerney argues, this confusion allows the students a moment of cognitive dissonance, something people experience out in the world all of the time. Learning to interact with new ideas is an important life skill. Also, the books in question are rarely ever a mandatory assignment, so she uses this argument to halt challenges in their tracks.

McNerney also has had success forcing people to articulate what they mean by "harm." The burden is not only on you to defend. They have to be able to articulate why they want it removed-- this gets more discussion later.

Lukoff cautioned that we need to be very careful because all sides say that they are coming from a place of love-- even when they clearly are not-- for example, those who tell hum his books are pronography.

This led to a larger conversation about the non-specific and vague language we have been relying on to defend ourselves and how it allows the other side to gain this massive foothold in censorship. Booth noted that as a Booklist editor they are extremely aware of the fact that those who seek to ban books can use their reviews as "proof." So, they are always being as specific as possible-- not saying something general about the book dealing with "social ills," or "problematic topics." They need to name the issues. They want their reviews to get the books on the shelves and keep them there, not help in getting them removed. Using words in a trusted resource that calls a book "problematic," gives them fuel to ban it, even if those words were there to help.

Dr. Knox also said it is very important to understand that these challenges expose your neighbors for who they truly are-- that they think you are trying to damage their kids' souls. 

She also said-- and this is important-- you need to talk to them about why they want the book removed NOT to agree with them, understand them, or even placate them, but to make them explain. To make them say the hateful things so you know where they stand. Then you can counteract them, both with your policies and to strengthen your policies for further attacks. Without knowing their specifics, you cannot be specific to stop them.

Which led her to talk about policies. [Dr. Knox loves policy.] She reminded us that our policies are there to protect us from litigation. Too often we library workers only see them as something we have to follow. This point that you need them to protect you from litigation is more active. It means you are constantly reviewing them and updating them to make sure they keep protecting ting you. Yo must update your language all the time.

This led Lewis to talk at length about knowing your policies backwards and forwards, stressing that you should not wait for a challenge to be ready for a challenge. She used her own GA state law revisions as an example. She used to be able to handle all challenges, and for the record, she had more from teachers in her school than parents. Now GA law says all challenges go to the Principal. As we all know, administration does not want any controversy, ever. What she fears will happen is that the books will all now be quietly removed-- immediately. And not only will this embolden more people to challenge items, but also there will be no discussion, many won't even know the books are gone, and it could even escalate to administration removing books BEFORE they are challenged to keep it all more quiet. 

She is currently trying to figure out how she is going to handle this new law.

Pekoll stated- not all policy is good policy and people are coming to school and library boards with a desire to change policy. These are the worst intentions. Her advice, and this is among the best, active ways to combat the reality that bad actors are flooding our boards was: Make all new Board members sign something as part of their induction that says that they will follow and adhere to our policies. 

This is HUGE. First, every library has an Intellectual Freedom statement so instead of willfully disregarding policy as soon as they get on the board, if these people pledge to follow and adhere to the organization's policies and they do not, you can impeach them. This means they would have to work to change the policies and not simply start by ignoring them. But this would stop their coming on board and immediately going against IF.

This led back to the point of using the most specific language in policies and a few more things you could do RIGHT now came out:

From McNerney: Remove all instances of the term "age-appropriate" from your collection policy and replace it with "developmentally appropriate." This will stop the "age" based challenges.

And from Dr Knox, and this one is even more important: Remove all instances of the word "balanced." 

She continued, you should replace with the word "representative." You don't need the other side in your library. You  never should have had it but that word "balanced" is being used against us. [In tomorrow report I will talk about how we were told to go even further and add this to your CD policy, "We will not collect titles that promote disinformation." But that's for tomorrow]

Lukoff talked about the harm of "balanced" from his perspective as a trans man and to those he works with. He told the story of how he was an 18 year old working at Barnes & Noble and he actively hid a popular anti LGBTQ book. He knows it is not "right," but not acting was worse. And even recently, he told a young trans kid at another Barnes & Noble who reached out for help about Irreversible Damage [the  anti trans book I use in my training program as well] and told him to hide it. 

Again, this is not ideal. But as he said to all of us: believing that policy will protect you is too much optimism. People are horrible and we cannot trust policy to help us. We need to act! They are already acting. 

Dr. Knox then reminded the group that like the other side is already doing, all of us should seed our Boards with those who will protect IF. For the record, we do this at my library-- actively. There is nothing illegal about this. Don't wait for the bad actors to come, go find allies to run.

Booth asked question: How do we counter the idea that some have, that we are all woke, SJW warriors?

Lukoff: I don't believe neutrality exists. Every choice to add a book to the collection means there is no neutrality. And, he added we should not be adding the books that have the counter opinion to, for example, LGBTQ positivity. He is not worried about the "slippery slope" that some say that we will erase the other side and make collections too woke. He talked about how we have the other side already. We always have. We are trying to make our collections better, more free. In fact, he said until we have it so there is "too much" freedom, this practice is fine.

Booth said, these actions are needed. What can we do to mobilize like the other side? And also, what to do if we get threatened or are afraid of retribution?

Lewis: make sure you yourself are reading woke and providing access first and foremost. Being scared is understandable. When you are a leader in this, you will get attacked, but protest and action is not only out in the streets. Remember this. Having a book club of banned books is activism. Providing books that challenge is activism. Putting up displays is activism. You do not need to be engaged in an argument to be active. Also you won't win. 

Here is some activism that they do at her school. Lewis has encouraged the teachers to participate in "Read Woke" and post the titles and authors of the books that they are reading on a white board hanging on their classroom door. That's it. But here's the thing, kids have come to the library and told Lewis that they see those "Read Woke" boards as a way to identify teachers who are allies, safe places for them to go to talk. That's activism.

Pekoll talked about other ways to be active. You should be thinking more broadly about raising awareness and not only speaking up in relation to challenges. Be a voice all the time- everywhere. The opposition is  already doing that. It is easy to think, well it isn't happening to  me so I don't have the platform to say something. You always do. These groups are talking about the harm and pedophilia, etc.... everywhere they go and yet we aren't talking about our side everywhere. We only engage in the conversation in opposition to them. We need to get our message out all the time as well.

Also, send an email to your  library or  school, thanking them for what they are doing. So thank you for that pride display. Because no one is thanking them or praising them for these displays. They are only getting hate mail to take it down. When that is the only voice it speaks louder than the silence. You email may be the reason a display stays up.

McNerney: Being called a groomer and a pedophile is very scary. There is usually no support from the school or admin when a parent challenges a teen book with, for example, anal sex. First thing she says to do is admit you need help and are uncomfortable even with  how to defend titles. We live in a society that doesn't talk about sex at all, let alone gay sex. She reached out to a sex therapist and works with her regularly to help her articulate to those who want to ban books for being "sexually explicit." She can now  use research and science-- things that do make her comfortable to use as a librarian when making an argument-- to explain why this is not explicit but providing accurate portrayals of sex between two men. She is no longer afraid of being obscene because she has facts and research on her side. She thinks every library should have training from a sex therapist now.

Again, this went back to being specific!.

Booth ended the conversation reminding everyone there to attend their local board meetings-- school and library to be there for support. It helps. And she reminded everyone that they should  consider running for their school or library boards as well. She offered herself and me to answer questions about getting started.

Whew, that was a lot, but  all good. I spent the rest of my day in the exhibit hall supporting Summer Scares authors Clay McLeod Chapman and Gabino Iglesias as they did signings for their new books, visiting a few vendors for my library, and stopping by booths in the exhibit hall. Here are some pictures, which if you click will go to the tweets.

I also attended : ALMA’s Library Family Feud Sponsored by LibraryReads, 1:30pm Marriott Marquis Monument. This was a game of Family Feud with librarians against authors and while it was fun, it also raised money for charity. Tweet and picture by my friend and colleague Alene:

And that was Sunday. I also had dinner with a publisher. In attendance were mostly those of us on Carnegie and Notables committees. It was nice to get to know some new people and catch up with old friends. 

Thank you all for your patience as I get these reports up. As you can see from this report, there is a lot of information that needed to be addressed and doing it quickly while exhausted after midnight each  night was not ideal for me or you.

Back tomorrow with my final recap for Monday. And then Friday's blog post will be a summarization of the entire conference from my perspective. Back after the 4th with regular blogging.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

ALA Tuesday Recap [yes I know these are out of order]

Let's begin with the obvious. Yesterday's post was a "Saturday Recap," and I have not done Sunday and Monday yet. Well, I promise you they will be worth it and they will be long. Those were fruitful days of learning and working, but due to going all; day and all night, there was not time to get those reports done yet. Today, all I had was the closing session, but it was worth it. 

I also made the choice to Live Tweet the conversation between Dr. Nicole Cooke and author and "Professional Troublemaker" Luvvie Ajayi Jones both to share it immediately AND to bot get further behind. 

I am at the airport now and plan to get up the missing recaps this week with the plan of doing a post Friday with my overall thoughts about what I learned and what actions I plan to take.

Here is the Tweet thread for the conversation I created. Thank you to Dr. Cooke for replying to my thread as well. Please follow her if you don't already.

Click here or on the image for the 
full thread

Monday, June 27, 2022

ALA 2022: Saturday Recap

This morning I began my day by having a conversation with author, Brynne Barnes and illustrator, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh about their new picture book, Black Girl Rising on the Diversity in Publishing Stage in the Exhibit Hall. 

I cannot say enough wonderful things about this book, but what I appreciate most about this conversation is how open and honest they were talking about their creative processes and their desire to reach out the black girls directly with their work and art. 

Here are some of my notes from the discussion questions I used to frame our discussion and some notes of what we discussed:

What is the most striking thing about this book, is all of the different audiences you are able to speak to, directly. First, you are able to speak to black girls, young girls but also the adults reading to them and honestly say to them, "I know the world has asked you to dim you light, that it is unfair and awful, and not who you are because you are awesome and let’s see examples but also let’s stop dimming ourselves and shine." This acknowledgment is something most picture books do not do. Rather they focus on the shining, the light the joy. But this honesty is important and this mourning of the injustice is necessary because it has left and still leaves a lasting mark.

And then you are also speaking to all children, of all races and sexes about why black girls are special and awesome. 

And then even more, you are speaking to the well meaning white parents who buy this book or encounter it, and you are asking them to take a hard look at themselves and how they have been complicit in dimming g the light of black girls and women.

And you do it all with text that appears simple— but it is not in anyway simple-- it is complexly built poetry with visual and sound cues, pictures that are so vivid you feel like you can touch them. Can we just talk about this for a bit, and how you approached getting such a complicate message into such a concise book without sacrificing your message?

We talked about the art a lot. And Barnes even read pages as we showed the art. Then Fazlalizadeh explained the art. We spent time on specific pages.

The focus on showing so many different black girls, in different situations, who all look so different. You celebrate all the ways of being a black girl. Let’s talk about that choice. I think it does wonders to underscore what we talked about at the open as well.

I also think it is important to talk about the poetry and how you refer to so many important and inspirational and creative black women but only refer to them by their first names. I like how that makes them accessible, and I think for some teachers and or parents it will lead them to look up more and see who those people are. The curricular connection here are vast.

I truly loved working Barnes and Fazlalizadeh and I sincerely hope their excellent book is read and enjoyed by as many humans as possible. Fazlalizadeh specifically is an immense talent. She did oil paintings that became the illustrations for this book and they are spectacular.

I want to plug her art in general. Here is her website. Please seek her out.

Finally, I want to publicly thank my colleague Stephanie Sendaula [see below for another mention of her in the photo to end this post], who could not make it to ALA. Thank you for trusting me to moderate this discussion, to fill the space that should have been taken up by another Black woman, who was also once a Black girl. I was humbled and honored with your trust.  I also feel very lucky to have met and gotten to know these remarkable women.

After a work related lunch [the details of which will be revealed here at a later date] I attended, Addressing Critical Race Throaty Challenges in Your Library. I have notes, but after going to some similar events throughout the conference I think my time is better spent writing those up. It was not bad, but there is not much here to share beyond the important fact that there will be a CRT Toolkit available soon for libraries facing CRT challenges. The entire program was really a presentation of what the toolkit will say. I will post that when it is available. Anything I would write here would duplicate that effort.

Then I headed to the Ballrooms to see R.L. Stine in conversation with my colleague, Betsy Bird. I live tweeted this one so that my Horror followers would see it [they don't read the library blog]. 

Click here for that recap. Spoiler alert: It was AWESOME!

I always love this event, and have gone ever year I could. However, while Lin [fiction winner], the full magnitude hit me. Knowing that I will be one of the people deciding who gets on that stage next year, it made me start to tear up. I was with 3 of my 2023 committee members and we are excited, but it is now real. In fact, it is so real that at the end of the night they flashed the 2023 committee on the screen [see below] and handed it over to us. 

Great job 2022 committee. We appreciate you and your work. Now we take the baton to keep the legacy of this award going. 

Click here for text list of 
the full committee

Saturday, June 25, 2022

ALA 2022: Friday Recap

First, because people have asked, the Washington Convention Center itself and the ALA Annual Conference are requiring masks. There was concern about this. 

Now on to what I did yesterday.

My ALA began Friday morning with a lovely event, the Booklist Reviewers Meetup. This was a casual event and was just like is sounds, a chance for those of us who review for Booklist to gather informally and catch up. Normally, I would not add this to my report, but I am doing it because my afternoon induced rage [and that was without taking the Supreme Court, only a mile away, into consideration]. I wanted to have something positive in this post sand this event brought joy.

I spent most of the day [1-4pm] at a free pre-conference sponsored by United for Libraries [UfL] entitled, "The ABC's of Preserving Intellectual Freedom: Anticipating, Bridging, and Conversing." I attended with my colleague Kristi Chadwick who is a Consultant with the Massachusetts Library System, but some of you may also know her as the SF/F Columnist for LJ [she also co-chaired StokerCon Librarians' Day in Providence with me]. As a Trustee, I am a member of United for Libraries, but I was also interested in this program as someone who trains Trustees.

The two women running the pre-conference are crisis communication experts who work with libraries through UfL and ALA. 

It all started off okay with the Anticipating portion of the ABCs. They advise you too:

  • Know your library's selection and reconsideration policies and how to find them.
  • Monitor local social media and news
  • Anticipate easy and difficult responses ahead of time.
  • Practice with colleagues and friends to feel comfortable with your messaging points.

This is actually advice my Board has used as troubling events have unfolded around us at other libraries and our high school board. For example, we saw the comment portion of the high school board meetings getting out of control and started instituting the same procedures they do: the board does not respond to any comments at the meeting, only those who live in the service area may speak [other can submit written comments only], for example.

This is advice is excellent. Don't think you are safe where you live. People trying to stop you from offering materials or services are in every community. I have already written extensively about being prepared and Kelly Jensen's excellent coverage on this difficult topic here.

I want to get to the rage inducing part because it was also an eye opener to a lot of the problem Robin and see when we do our training programs and I think, while this made me [and Robin from afar] mad, it might be a turning point in our work.

That rage inducing part was the "B" in their ABC: Bridging

The idea of “Bridging," is how we move from listening to a complaint and turn the conversation toward the message we want to tell. So after someone says [and this is a tame example]. “You need to remove your Pride display from the teen room because it is inappropriate,” you are supposed to use a bridging phrase that turns the tables but center being kind and placating them.

Here are some they suggest: “I respect your views. May I give you another perspective…” or  “We share your concern for the children. Our approach is…”

First of all, I do not respect this opinion and I do not share their concern for our children. Saying we should use those words is enraging and gives their hate power. I won’t do that. 

So I challenged the two [white] women presenters and raised my hand to say, “As a Jewish woman, I will not tell a Nazi who comes to the library and wants to reserve the meeting room that I respect their opinion. Saying that causes me personal harm.” 

Their response: That is fair, chose different words.

But no, I told them, it is harmful to tell marginalized people to respect the opinion of those who think you are less of a human than they are. 

They would not engage with this point.

I texted with Robin about this after the event and she gave me permission to share her thoughts. One statement she made— “It is always about obedience with theses people.”

But here is the main point Robin and I discussed— It is easy for these well meaning white ladies to tell us that we have to lead with civility at all costs, because it is NEVER them on the receiving end. It is always attacks again Blacks [coded as CRT] or LGBTQ or Jewish or Muslim etc…. Not white hetero ladies. They never use examples that include them

Robin suggests if we want to make the majority cis, white, hetero profession feel what we feel this should be the example of the problematic patron:

“I think it should be legal for any incel man to have sex with any woman he fancies. Including your daughter. Including you.”

Now, she said, I want to ask those presenters, can you say you “respect” those views. OF COURSE NOT.

Look the main point here is that we need to STOP using examples that tell OTHER people how to react when they are being demeaned and told they are less than human.  

We need to have the message that we will stand up to bullies, not try to placate them. They have been emboldened to keep using their hate because we are unwilling to stop them. Our “civility” has allowed them to keep marching onward. They are using our unwillingness to engage against us. Our LGTBQ books are being checked out en mass by an organized effort, using our own tendencies and procedures against us.

This is everything that is wrong with our responses to challenges. But what I learned by this program that was supposed to help us to be better at preserving Intellectual Freedom is that everything we are telling people to do is making it all worse. 

We need to tell people with harmful opinions that they are wrong. We need to calmly stand up to them, not listen to them tell us that others are less human. 

As my colleague Kristi said at the end of the day, “Their advice was…. [and she thought about the word for a moment]….neutral.” Yes it was Kristi. And readers here know how I feel about that.

Robin and I will be taking what I learned into consideration as we strengthen our our Actively Anti-Racist Service to Leisure Readers— a program many already deemed “to confrontational” as is it. Well, they have seen nothing yet.

—-Deep Breath——because there is a bit more anger coming, although not as much.

Finally, I attended the Opening Session which featured a conversation between ALA President Patty Wong and FCC Chairperson Jessica Rosenworcel. There was a lot of conversation about things like E-Rate and the Emergency Connectivity Fund, programs that the FCC funds in order to help close the digital divide. And top be clear, Rosenworcel has done quite a bit in her long government career to try to get broadband to all. 

Of course, in ALA style, the conversation was peppered with “happy” stories and even some interview clips with library workers, showing how in terrible situations, libraries worked above and beyond to make sure their patrons got internet access, especially students, so they could get their homework done.

Great, but here is the elephant in the room, the one no one mentioned. Broadband should be a public utility— full stop. 

It is embarrassing that libraries have to scramble to help their community have access to broadband. The ALA has issued a statement confirming that access to high speed internet is a human right. The FCC chairwoman agrees, and yet, we have a system of complicated grant programs that people need to jump through hoops to get money to help their citizens access a “human right.”

Let me put this more simply. Would the room have been nodding along at these “uplifting” stories if they were about libraries helping their communities get access to electricity? No, we would be applaud if this complicated patchwork system was required for the lights to be on. And yet, for broadband we think this is okay. Well at this point, not having access to  affordable or reliable broadband is a detriment to your life as a 21st Century American, the same as not having electricity would be. 

I wish there was a chance to ask questions because THAT is what we should be talking about. We can talk all day about the feel good stories of how the FCC helps close the digital divide, but you know what would bridge it forever? Making broadband a public utility. That is what we should be fighting for, not another grant program that requires mountains of paperwork. 

This is indicative of the entire problem with library advocacy in general. We are too afraid to ask the big ask. We don’t want to cause a stink. We want the feel good stories of helping at the local level, but when we do that, we hurt the cause for all. ALA should be demanding— not asking— the FCC to make broadband a public utility. We can thank them for the grants as a stop gap measure, but we should keep on them— relentlessly— until we fix the problem for good.

Well, that’s all for Friday. Saturday looks to be less rage inducing. But I will say, I am here to be challenged and reckon with the nuance and problems within our profession so that as a Library Leader I can help bring about real change. 


Thursday, June 23, 2022

ALA 2022: My Schedule In Person and On the Blog

My goal here on the blog, whenever I go to a conference, is to provide both info for those attending and an educational experience for those who stay home. I take it seriously. To that end, today, I will discuss my plans for the blog and then give you all a preview of a few key events I will be attending and reporting on.

Tomorrow, the blog will be off. I will be attending my first day of programming. But each night after I come back to the room, I will write up a recap post of what I did that day. That means you can expect a post Saturday recapping Friday, a post Sunday recapping Saturday, etc.... Through Wednesday morning [which will recap Tuesday and have some of my closing thoughts]. After that I may take Thursday and or Friday off, but I will keep you posted.

To see the recap content I provided at PLA for context, click here. I do not live Tweet programs anymore. 

Now in terms of following along with the conference, I suggest using this link to follow #alaac22 on Twitter. Remember, you do NOT need a Twitter account to follow along. Anyone can see it, while only those with accounts can interact. 

If you are attending and want to find me, awesome. I love meeting readers. I will have pens and stickers, so when you find me, ask for some. I often forget to offer because it is so busy.

I will also have coupons for my book which you can order with a discount and the coupon and FREE shipping at the conference. Booth 1833 which is the ALA StoreThis is a VERY good deal for a MUST buy book. So there is even more incentive to find me. 

And here is another guaranteed chance to see me on Saturday morning:

Diversity in Publishing Stage 

DATE: Saturday, June 25

TIME: 10:30 AM – 11:20 AM ET

LOCATION: Exhibit Hall, next to Booth 833 on the cross-aisle

DESCRIPTION: Creators Brynne Barnes and Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (Stop Telling Women to Smile) talk about their newest picture book, BLACK GIRL RISING. In this intimate and uplifting discussion, Brynne and Tatyana will discuss their creative process and collaboration in creating this moving, poetic rallying cry that celebrates and asserts Black girlhood.

I am replacing the irreplaceable Stephanie Sendaula as the moderator of this conversation. I am very excited. The book is AMAZING and I have so much to talk to them about.

I like to reserve the right to not show up for something so I will not list my full planned schedule here on the blog; however, I do have many programs marked on my conference scheduler. I made my profile public so anyone  can see it. The best way to reach me during the conference-- if you are there-- is to either ping me on Twitter or use the app. For the app you click the search magnifying glass on the top right and type my name. [I come up.] I just tested it. And I have it set so anyone can send me a message. 

I would like take a moment to highlight the presentations posted on the LibraryReads Events page as I plan to be at all but the Nonfiction [it is up again R.L. Stine]. Also, these are the most revenant to my readers. Please note below, some need you to register so they have enough books for everyone. 

Saturday, June 25: Nonfiction Author Panel 4pm WCC 145B Panel info and registration: https://bit.ly/LRALANF22 

Sunday, June 26: ALMA’s Library Family Feud Sponsored by LibraryReads, 1:30pm Marriott Marquis Monument (Panel info coming soon!)

Monday, June 27: Your Morning is Booked: ALMA/LibraryReads Adult Author Panel, 8:30am, WCC 146B
Panel info and registration: https://bit.ly/YourMorningIsBooked22

Booklist and LibraryReads Read ‘N Rave, 10:30am WCC 145B

Also check out: Read Hard: Get the Most Out of Your Reading Life as a Library Professional (featuring our very own Allison Escoto!) Monday June 27, 1pm, WCC 158A

Back Saturday with my first recap post from Friday's events. Safe travels to all coming to DC.