Wednesday 30 April 2014

An absolutely true story of part-time censorship...

So, through my recent library blog reading, I've noticed that over the past few weeks, Sherman Alexie's YA bestseller, "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" has made the news. Addressing issues of racial discrimination, indigenous identity and disability, alongside the usual fare of bullying, masculinity and emerging sexuality, it won the National Book Award in 2007. 

In this most recent widely-publicised incident, a group of parents lobbied the Meridian District School Board in Idaho on the 2nd of April, to remove the book from the syllabus, where it had been taught since 2010, and rejected the proposal that the book be kept on a supplemental reading list, where students could read it with their parents permission.

It has also been on the ALA's list of ten most frequently challenged books for five years in a row. A challenge has been defined as "a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness."

At this meeting, one of the students from the district, 17 year-old Brady Kissel presented a petition to the board, signed by 350 students, opposing the motion. When word of this decision spread, funds were raised to purchase 350 copies of the novel, which, with the support of the local bookstore, were given away in a World Book Night event on the 23rd of April.

Apparently, though, some concerned citizens felt that distribution of this children's literature was somehow an illegal activity, and the police were called. Unsurprisingly, it was ascertained that this was, in fact, not against the law.

Once the publisher heard word of the incident, they donated a further 350 copies of the book.

Often irreverent and frank, with comic illustrations, this book frames many of the its central themes in a way accessible to middle-school student, of particular appeal to male reluctant readers. As librarians, we stake our reputation on our ability to make good judgements in providing literature to children that they will connect well with and challenge their views in a productive way. And Absolutely True Diary is an excellent example of a book that does this well. 

Furthermore, as librarians, we have professional principles to adhere to when it comes to censoring material in our collection. ALIA's Statement on free access to information states that library services have responsibilities to support the free flow of information, including:
"adopting an inclusive approach in developing and implementing policies regarding access to information and ideas that are relevant to the library and information service concerned, irrespective of the controversial nature of the information or ideas." (2007)
And yet, whilst have a responsibility to provide a collection that meets the needs of students, we also need to maintain the trust of parents, as the legal guardians of the students. By being strident opponents of censorship, we risk alienating the parents of students who need our help, rather than working alongside them to aid their children's development as readers.

One I've learnt from exploring this issue is that censorship is rarely a black-or-white matter. It's one thing to proclaim freedom of information, but offending the cultural sensibilities of clients is most likely a counter-productive course of action! Given the long-standing list of challenged books, this is an issue that most children's and young adult librarians will need to address on a semi-regular basis.


ALA (n.d.). Frequently challenged books of the 21st century. Retrieved from

ALIA (2007). Statement on free access to information. Retrieved from

Gonzales, E. (2014, April 23). Meridian Police show up to free book giveaway. KBOI2. Retrieved from

Hathaway, J. (2014, April 29). Parents Call Cops to Stop Kids From Handing Out Banned Book. Gawker. Retrieved from

Kirch, C. (2014, April 24). World Book Night: Taking a Stand for the Banned. Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from

Roberts, B. (2014, April 2) Meridian School Board votes to remove controversial book from curriculum. Idaho Statesman. Retrieved from

Friday 25 April 2014

Peer pressures...

So, on Tuesday, all of the government schools participated in a PD day, where we congregated with our respective equivalents from neighbouring schools.

Firstly, we were asked to showcase one thing that our library did well. Of particular interest was the presentation on Pinterest by Tania Sheko from Melbourne High School. Tania recognised its potential for creating visually engaging resource lists that could be embedded onto the school library's website. Furthermore, being a social networking tool, she was able to tap into the expertise of other Pinterest users with specialty knowledge.

In 2011, Agosto and Abbas observed that "social networking is a growing trend with teens" citing the statistics that, of the 93% of US teens who go online, 73% of these use social networking sites (p.1). However, at this time, blogging was at a steady decline, and Twitter was only at 8% usage. Since then, Twitter usage amongst teens has grown to 24%, (Madden, et al., 2013) whilst Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest have also become popular for collecting, curating and sharing content. It is certainly a timely reminder that even though we all learnt about the emerging Web 2.0 tools at our disposal five years ago, it's a dynamic environment and we need to continue keep up. 

After morning tea, an open discussion ensued on "the issues" that we faced in our libary. This began with the all-too-familiar concern that students were not making the best use - or any - of the non-fiction print collections. Some possible solutions were:

  • Creating subject-specific pathfinders or "libguides" that included selected print resources alongside the recommended online resources;
  • Shelving the set texts in with the main collection, where students could see other books with the same subject matter;
  • Weeding the collections more heavily to make the collection more accessible and relevant;
  • Focusing on acquiring print material that is appropriate to the age and reading level.

Personally, I felt that instead of asking the question, "Why aren't students reading our non-fiction books?" perhaps the question should have been, "If students aren't using our books, then what resources are our students using for study? How can we support them with this?" 

With this in mind, I posed the question of how we can best develop our online resources to support our students, especially given the expense of such resources. The following suggestions were made:
  • Encourage students to seek out other publicly-accessible online resources, through government websites and public, state and national libraries;
  • Prioritise purchases to resources that aren't already publicly available;
  • Avoid current e-book platforms - they are still not user-friendly enough for use in school libraries;
  • Provide access to the online resources that can be embedded into the online environment that teachers and students use.
I would have liked to have further explored how librarians could collaborate more directly with teachers in embedding this knowledge of information resources directly into the coursework.

Overall, this was an excellent opportunity to meet my peers across the sector. In addition to the formal discussion, there was plenty of opportunity to share ideas over coffee and lunch, and I made many new contacts that I will undoubtedly call upon for their expertise from time to time.


Agosto, D., & Abbas, J. (2011). (Eds.), Teens, Libraries, and Social Networking : What Librarians Need to Know. Retrieved from Ebook Library.

Madden, M., Lenhart, A., Cortesi, S., Gasser, U., Duggan, M., Smith, A., & Beaton, M. (2013). Teens, Social Media, and Privacy. Pre Research Internet Project. Retrieved from


Tuesday 15 April 2014

Wildlife spotted in the CBCA shortlist...

So, last week, the shortlist was announced for the CBCA Book of the Year. I often find myself using the CBCA Book of the Year as a bit checklist to see how well I've kept my finger on the pulse when it comes to reading Australian YA. Others that I keep an eye on are the Printz Award, curated by YALSA, and the Inky Awards, where the winners are voted for by teenagers.

One of my favourites from the list is Wildlife by Fiona Wood. The story follows two characters: Sibylla and Lou. Sibylla is something of a wallflower at her school. That is, until she is featured on a prominent billboard ad, and enters the selective world of popularity.  However, before she is able to make sense of her new status, she is trundled off to a term of outdoor education camp, where there is no escape from her classmates - or the ongoing pressures of a new (and first!) relationship.

Lou, on the other hand, is the new girl. After a year of grieving the loss of a loved one, school camp is her chance to make new friends, and try to come out of her shell again. When tensions grow between Sibylla and Holly, her best friend, Lou is drawn into the drama and the associated risks that come with making enemies with those who are experts at catty schoolgirl politics.

The landscape of the school camp - and venturing into the wilderness - is a not-at-all uncommon theme in children's and young adult literature, particularly in fantasy and fairy tale where the heroes often venture "Into the Woods". In the case of Wildlife, both main characters are on the brink of unfamiliar territory. Sybilla is faced with the realities of sexuality and being responsible about it, as well as learning to stand up against a spiteful and jealous best friend. Lou is confronting the reality that she needs to accept her loss and move forward, even though it feels like letting go. Every student is required to spend a couple of days on a "solo hike", and for each character, this signifies a turning point, where they face their own personal challenges.

Ultimately, this is a coming-of-age story, typical of Young Adult fiction, but is also very funny, with plenty of attitude and quirkiness that teenagers will easily engage with. Whilst the stories themselves aren't hugely original, the landscape of the wilderness in which these teenagers inhabit give the book a compelling edge, and there is plenty of heart and kookiness in Wood's assortment of characters.

In reflection, I've learned that book award lists are an excellent indicator in assessing one's collection, and finding gaps when it comes to new fiction. Being able to review books, and assess their merits and audience is also an essential trait for children's and youth librarians.


The Children's Book Council of Australia (2014). Children's Book of the Year Awards 2014. Retrieved from

Howell, S. (2013). Girl Defective. Sydney: Pan Macmillan.

State Library of Victoria (2014). The Inky Awards. Inside A Dog. Retrieved from

Wood, F. (2010). Six Impossible Things. Sydney: Pan Macmillan.

Wood, F. (2013). Wildlife. Sydney: Pan Macmillan.

YALSA (2014). The Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. Retrieved from

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Being a bit special...

So, I've just finished my first term managing a library in a high school. It was everything that I expected, but not without its share of surprising challenges.

Having performed this role in another high school, many of the basic functions were the same. It's a recreational and educational service for teenagers, and so I work to cultivate a safe and welcoming space that meets both of these needs.

However, there is one vital difference - size. Being in a school that is half the size of the previous school that I worked in, I now have to work with half the resources that I'm used to. That means half the size of the team, half the budget, and less than half the workroom space.

The problem is that libraries don't necessarily work that way. There's a certain minimum "critical mass" of a library that is needed to serve its clients, and it doesn't exist as a ratio of the number of library users! If one collection is a good size for 700 students, it doesn't necessarily follow that a collection half that size is good for a student population of 350 students! Furthermore, taking into account that I work in a selective government school, with a strong middle-class population, there are probably the same number of active readers here as there were in my last school. And half the number of books.

The other problem is that half the student population doesn't necessarily mean half the workload. There are still regular ongoing requests of staff in the library front 8:00am until 4:30pm, and I'm regularly in a situation where I'm trying to work on ongoing projects, but also need to be prepared to stop and drop everything every time somebody comes up to the desk with any of a wide range of reasonable requests. In my previous job, I would have had other staff to be able to roster and allocate tasks to, but now it's up to me to be able to maintain a special level of flexibility, and keep up my customer service chops at times when I'd wish people would just leave me alone and let me work.

It's a challenge, but it's a good challenge. It's very much what I imagine life in a Special Library might be like. Professionally isolated, multi-tasking, working with niche areas of interest, whilst also doing a lot of very mundane tasks. Being a solitary champion for the library, building relationships with colleagues and clients who might not exactly get what your big vision for the place is, and who will second-guess you, given the opportunity - but once you make a connection with them, and show them some value in your service, then it's a step closer to your world being your oyster.

And like Special Libraries, the idea of best practice is a fraught one. It's more about delivering the best services with what you've got, by being resourceful, personable and creative in one's practices.