Queer Library Alliance at Children’s Literature Hawai‘i

You may remember a post from the time my friend Rae-Anne Montague—professor of library and information science at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa—and I presented on developing queer/library alliances at the American Association of School Librarians National Conference in November. On June 6, Rae and I again spoke on some of the same topics at the Children’s Literature Hawai‘i Seventeenth Biennial Conference at Chaminade University in Honolulu during a session called “A Queer Library Alliance for Young People: Using Books with LGBTQ content.” We wanted to provide information about that state of queer issues and materials—especially in libraries and especially with regards to local concerns in Hawai‘i—and how libraries, community organizations, teachers, and parents can select materials and work with community partnerships to improve the lives of young people whose lives are impacted by discrimination of LGBTQ folks.

The conference was absolutely fantastic. We attended other sessions at the conference, including a paper presentation about the ways that picture book adaptations of mo‘olelo from the 1970s both subvert and reinforce settler colonial lenses, a talk introducing works that blend elements of Japanese manga and Native Hawaiian culture, and a workshop on teaching peace and social justice to kids using books. CLH does some pretty amazing work, and we were happy to join them.

Here’s the abstract from our talk:

This session includes three sections. Firstly, we review options for selecting materials with Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning (GLBTQ) content to support personal and community goals. Secondly, we look at challenges to providing access to queer materials. Finally, we consider possibilities to develop collections and programming with GLBTQ content aligned with emerging needs of children and young adults. Presenters will offer ideas and incorporate examples to encourage participants to share knowledge and engage in open discussion throughout the session.

Slides from our talk (PowerPoint and PDF), as well as a nonfiction bibliography handout generously provided by Christine Jenkins and Michael Cart, are available for sharing! I think our talk was useful for several people who attended the conference, and we hope that you find the slides useful, too. We’ve also got a photo of us from our session, sharing books that we’d particularly wanted to recommend.

Our session

Rae and I at our session

A hui hou kākou!


Toward a History of Children’s Libraries in China: An Interview with Yang Luo

Yang Luo is a PhD student at GSLIS UIUC who studies the history of children’s libraries in China. Ever since she successfully defended her dissertation proposal last spring, I’d been anxious to hear more about the work that she’s been doing. Plans for an interview (conducted under the auspices of the Center for Children’s Books) were put on hold when I found out that Yang would be conducting field research in China this past summer. I’m delighted to say that I’ve finally had a chance to speak more thoroughly with Yang about her research to feature it through the CCB. Though it’s slated to be released with the CCB newsletter on December 2, you can read the full interview with Yang on the CCB website. Here are some highlights from the interview:

Yang says of her research, “I’m specifically looking at the time period from 1912-1937. I begin with 1912 because that year marks the foundation of a new Republic of China after hundreds of years of imperial rule. I end with 1937, at the dawn of the Sino-Japanese War. I’m interested in the development and genesis of children’s libraries during this time, and my initial investigation has found several factors during this time period—modern education reform, the public library movement, the Republic’s investment in child welfare, influence of Western librarianship, the appearance of children’s rooms and children’s literature—that converge to form children’s libraries in the early twentieth century.”

She says, “As China pays more attention to youth services today—we’re seeing more programs and libraries for young people being opened—I hope my research will answer the first question we should ask: ‘Where did we come from? How did we get here?'”

Yang says she draws her inspiration from Hu Shi, an advocate for education reform and young people in China during the time period she’s interested in. He was greatly influenced by John Dewey, and I think he’s someone I’d like to draw inspiration from as well. Yang shared this quote during our interview:

“It is not a disgrace for a nation to lack a navy or an army. It is only a disgrace for a nation to lack public libraries, museums, and art galleries. Our people must get rid of this kind of disgrace.”

Again, please check out the full interview with Yang to find out more about her wonderful work.

Queer Library Alliance Goes to School

On November 15, I had the opportunity to present alongside Rae-Anne Montague, currently assistant dean for student affairs at GSLIS University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign/soon to be assistant professor at the LIS program at University of Hawaii Manoa, at the American Association of School Librarians 16th National Conference. Our session examined incorporating materials and programming with LGBTQ content into school libraries. Here’s the abstract from our presentation:

This session includes three sections. Firstly, we review options for selecting materials with Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning (GLBTQ) content to support curricular and personal goals. Secondly, we look at challenges to providing access to resources. Finally, we consider possibilities to develop collections and programming with GLBTQ content aligned with community needs. We will offer ideas and incorporate examples to encourage participants to share knowledge and engage in open discussion throughout the session.

You can check out slides from our presentation in both PowerPoint and PDF format. We also provided a handout of YA nonfiction with LGBTQ content generously provided from a work-in-progress by the wonderful Christine Jenkins and Michael Cart. Our presentation also was written up in School Library Journal, if you’re interested in audience reception.

Rae and I had a lot of fun at the conference, and I believe our session went well. Here’s a picture of us spooked by some not recommended materials.

Rae and I spooked by Not Recommended materials

the frightening nonrecommendations

E99.P85, Or: The Case of Pocahontas in the Library

The library where I work has recently been working on a large project converting from the Dewey Decimal system of classification to the Library of Congress. It’s been taking us a while, but we’ve finally moved on to the last phase: our large collection of media, including DVDs, video games, audiobooks, etc.

It’s understandable that with such a large undertaking, mistakes will be made. I would hardly expect every single item to be correctly catalogued during the conversion process. And I’ve been proven right, from minor technical errors (the misplacement of a decimal point) to major categorization flubs (‘Why is The Flintstones filed under “Celtic languages”?’), I’ve come across a number of labels that have had to be changed. It’s not a difficult process–if something doesn’t seem right, I just hand it off to our local staff person who works in cataloguing (we have a separate cataloguing branch as well; they assigned the call numbers in the first place), she looks it up and decides whether it needs to be changed. The other day, I was shelving a batch of DVDs, and came across a call number mistake that wasn’t just odd–it made me angry.

Disney’s Pocahontas was assigned a main entry of E99.P85. For those who don’t have LoC call numbers memorized (which I’m assuming is most people), E is the broad heading for American History. Numbers in the range around E90 are specifically American Indian History, and E99 is for History of Tribal Groups. The P85 specifies further the tribe the book is about.

Pocahontas was being classified as a historically accurate documentary.

I’d like to think this was some sort of mistake. But according to OCLC Classify, there are 1242 holdings of this film classified under this call number in libraries that submit data to OCLC. Pocahontas was deliberately assigned a call number such that it could pose as Native history.

I doubt I need to convince you that this film does not accurately represent the history of the woman who was Matoaka, but just in case, here’s a statement from the Powhatan Renape Nation, as well as information from multiple other sources. What I’m concerned about is the carelessness that librarians have taken in curating information about people.

I would argue that librarians have a social responsibility to the public they are trying to serve. Part of that responsibility is to make sure that information about people is not only available and readily accessible (via good classification schemes) but also that such information is curated in intellectually honest (and, I would suggest, socially just) ways.

Native peoples have had not only their lands and their lives, but also their histories taken away from them and misrepresented for hundreds of years. The colonialist imaginary has justified what is essentially genocide by taking indigenous stories and twisting them to fit a destructive mold that permits the violence of colonialism. Pocahontas is one of those stories. Kids who grow up knowing Pocahontas as their story about American Indians grow up knowing lies about who American Indians are and the history surrounding the colonization of America, and very specifically, grow up learning lies about the Powhatan tribe, John Smith, and the founding of Jamestown. I was trained in the academic study of children’s literature by Debbie Reese, who documents extensively the dangers of the misrepresentation of American Indian lives and cultures in her wonderful, wonderful blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature. (I specifically use the plural, because there is no one “Indian culture.” That is another colonial myth.) I will leave the more in-depth discussion about representation specifically to her and others like her, more qualified than I to discuss such matters.

What I am concerned about here is the fact that fiction posing as truth is allowed by the field of library science to continue to do so. Even if you are quick to dismiss my rant on Pocahontas as left-leaning polemics (an accusation I’d be proud to bear), you must admit that it is intellectually dishonest to call an animated film with talking trees “history.” Debbie has written elsewhere about The Education of Little Tree, which was passed off an an autobiography before being exposed as a fraud. Many libraries still have the book classified as a biography.

It is critical that if we wish, as information professionals, to right some of the wrongs that have been perpetrated in American history against marginalized groups, that we not allow such things to happen. Indeed, classification in this way only perpetuates this kind of misrepresentation and oppression.

I refused to put Pocahontas on the shelf as history, and I requested that we find another classification for it. It now resides alongside other feature-length, fictional films. But it is critical that we continue to ask ourselves the same kinds of questions. The ways libraries present information matters. I cannot help but think of a tribally enrolled member of the Powhatan nation coming into our library and seeing that film on the shelf, posing as their tribal history. How are cataloguers acting as the arbiters of saying what counts as authentic information? I think of the ways that books on Native religion are often classified as “folklore” instead of as genuine religion, or the ways in which films with a queer protagonist are automatically classified under “sexuality,” while heterosexual softcore porn with names like Pleasure Party masquerade as being about “relationships.”

When we recenter our analytics outside of the dominant (white, cis-masculinist, able-bodied, and heterosexual) viewpoint, what does our method of knowledge classification look like? This is a question I wish to continually ask myself as a librarian, and I want to make central to library science. Let’s not be dishonest about people’s lives.

Becoming Info-Friendly

I’m becoming more wired. I guess it was unavoidable. They don’t call my (hopefully) future field library and information science for no reason. So, I’m keeping this blog, I’ve joined the Twitter-verse, and finding lots of things online that I enjoy and are actually useful.

But I’m processing all of this, too. I just got back from a brownbag discussion of a TED video about how the Net can actually help support dictatorships. The link is here. And the resulting discussion with a psychology professor and a librarian I work with led me to start thinking about what it means to be a good user of information technology.

Until recently, I’ve resisted a lot of informatics advances. (I like books. They don’t crash.) But I don’t think that’s helpful. My goal in life is (I think) to help connect people to information in ways that are socially conscious. Librarian-as-social-justice type stuff. And it’s information technology for a reason. The information comes first. And then the technology.

One thing that really struck me in the video is the Hierarchy of Cyber-needs. Modelled on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it purports that we can become self-actualized users of technology (as another TED talk-er has put it, “cyborgs”) by moving up categories of entertainment and sharing to actually becoming socially conscious users of info tech. My question is, now: How do we do it?

Don’t get me wrong. I like watching funny videos of cats sometimes. But making info tech into entertainment and cyber-sharing has done more harm than good. I like people too much to become walled-in by that. But how can I, as someone invested in the use of information technology, use it as a tool to connect people to information they need? It’s not an easy question. It’s probably the biggest question in all of LIS anymore. I don’t have the answers. But I’m glad to be joining the conversation. Even if it’s on Twitter.