Monday, April 27, 2015

Globalnews.ca: 10 books most likely to be pulled from library shelves in the U.S.

By Hillel Italie
April 13, 2015


Common complaints about books on the list include explicit sex, 
violence, references to drugs and alcohol and offensive language.
NEW YORK — It turns out at least one part of publishing has a diverse slate of authors: The books most likely to be pulled from school and library shelves.

The American Library Association on Monday released its annual list of the 10 books receiving the most complaints from parents, educators and others in the local community. Sherman Alexie’s prize-winning, autobiographical novel of school life, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” ranked No. 1, followed by Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel “Persepolis” and the picture book about two male penguins raising a baby penguin, Peter Parnell’s and Justin Richardson’s “And Tango Makes Three.”

Others on the list include Toni Morrison’s debut novel, “The Bluest Eye”; Khaled Hosseini’s million-selling novel “The Kite Runner” and Jaycee Dugard’s bestselling memoir about her kidnapping, “A Stolen Life.”

The remaining books cited by the library association were Robie Harris’ “It’s Perfectly Normal”; “Saga,” by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples; Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”; and Raina Telgemeier’s “Drama.”

Several of the authors listed were either non-whites, even though just a small percentage of books released each year are by non-whites, or writers of books with gay, lesbian or transgender themes. According to a study compiled last fall by the website Diversity in YA, which advocates diversity in young adult literature, around 20 per cent of books that appeared on the library association’s challenged books list since 2000 have been by non-white authors. Over half of the books included content about non-whites, non-heterosexuals or disabled people.
“Diversity is slim throughout all genres of books and across all age groups — except when it comes to book challenges,” wrote the report’s author, Malinda Lo, herself a young adult novelist.
Reasons for books being challenged ranged from “cultural insensitivity” in Alexie’s novel, in which the author draws upon his experiences as an American Indian at a virtually all-white high school; to “promotes the homosexual agenda” in “And Tango Makes Three.” Common complaints include explicit sex, violence, references to drugs and alcohols and offensive language.

The “Harry Potter” novels were frequent targets a decade ago and the “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” series also began appearing on the ALA reports as their popularity surged. Older books that have been frequently challenged include “The Bluest Eye,” Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The library association defines a challenge as a “formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that a book or other material be restricted or removed because of its content or appropriateness.” The ALA counted 311 challenges last year, roughly the same as last year and well below the levels of the 1980s and ’90s, when the rise of the Moral Majority led to widespread efforts to have books pulled.

Barbara Jones, director of the library association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, told The Associated Press that the ALA has long believed that for every complaint registered, four to five go unreported by libraries and that some librarians may restrict access in anticipation of objections.

The list is based on press accounts and reports from librarians, teachers and “concerned individuals.” The ALA does not have precise numbers for books actually censored, but notes several incidents in 2014, including the removal of Alexie’s novel from some schools in Idaho.

The challenged books list is part of the ALA’s 2015 State of America’s Libraries Report.

You can find the ALA’s full list below.

The 2014 Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books include:

“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”
“Persepolis,” by Marjane Satrapi
Reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions”
“And Tango Makes Three,” Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “promotes the homosexual agenda”
“The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues”
“It’s Perfectly Normal,” by Robie Harris
Reasons: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group. Additional reasons: “alleges it child pornography”
“Saga,” by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Reasons: Anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group. Additional reasons:

“The Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “date rape and masturbation”
“A Stolen Life,” by Jaycee Dugard
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group
“Drama,” by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: sexually explicit

From: Globalnews.ca

Sunday, April 26, 2015

U~T San Diego: When libraries weren't free

Conference in La Jolla celebrates membership libraries

By John Wilkens

April 20, 2015

Libraries in America weren’t always free. Before they became tax-supported fixtures in the civic landscape, they were financed by members who paid dues to borrow books, hear lectures, exchange ideas.

Benjamin Franklin started the first membership library in 1731, in Philadelphia, and at the height of the movement, in the mid-1800s, there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of them spread across the land.

Now only 16 remain.

One of them is the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla, which has been around in one form or another at the corner of Wall Street and Girard Avenue since 1899.

It will be the site this weekend for a gathering of the few: Directors of the nation’s nonprofit membership libraries are coming here for their 25th annual conference. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the historical significance of their facilities and to share ideas aimed at keeping their numbers from dwindling even further.

This is the third time the group has met at the Athenaeum, the youngest of the membership libraries. No library has hosted the gathering more often.

That’s a tribute both to the pull of La Jolla as a destination (all of the libraries except two are located east of the Mississippi) and to the Athenaeum’s reputation for broadening its appeal and remaining relevant in the digital age.

“These meetings are a way for the librarians to talk about what’s working and what isn’t,” said Erika Torri, who’s been executive director of the Athenaeum since 1989. “We’ve learned a lot from each other over the years.”

Membership libraries arose when there were few public gathering spots for people interested in reading and research. Franklin’s idea was to open a place for anybody willing to pay dues to help finance the operations: buy books, rent space, hire librarians.

These “social libraries” spread for more than a century, with many of them named Athenaeums (after Athena, the goddess of wisdom). In some cities, business leaders opened their own mercantile libraries.

Then, in the 1880s, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie began donating what would eventually be more than $40 million to build almost 1,700 public libraries across the country. He wanted study centers available to everyone.

People now had a free option, and were less likely to play dues to membership libraries. Their numbers began falling.

To be considered a membership library today, a facility has to be supported by dues-paying members; it has to have a circulating library; and it has to be independent, not part of a larger institution. Many of the ones still operating have important collections of rare books, maps, photographs and prints and are used often by scholars.

The Athenaeum in La Jolla has about 2,200 members who pay at least $40 annually in dues. The library is open to the public – about 100,000 people visit every year – but only members can check out items.

Its collection, devoted to art and music, includes books, periodicals, CDs, DVDs, and a rare set of Bach’s published works. It also has a respected collection of artists’ books (limited-edition volumes created as art pieces) and is known for its eclectic mix of events: concerts (jazz is a specialty), art exhibits, art classes and lectures.

From its origins as the La Jolla Reading Group, the library has gone through numerous changes. Physically, it’s grown and shrunk and grown again. A major renovation in 2006 tied together three historic buildings.

People who visit for the first time often have two reactions, Torri said. “They say, ‘This is beautiful.’ And they say, ‘I didn’t know you were here.’”

Membership Libraries
  • Redwood Library and Athenaeum, Newport RI (est. 1747)
  • Charleston Library Society (1748)
  • New York Society Library (1754)
  • Boston Athenaeum (1807)
  • Salem (MA.) Athenaeum (1810)
  • Athenaeum of Philadelphia (1814)
  • Maine Charitable Mechanic Association Library (1815)
  • Portsmouth (NH) Athenaeum (1817)
  • Mercantile Library Center for Fiction, New York (1820)
  • Institute Library, New Haven, CT (1826)
  • Mercantile Library, Cincinnati, OH (1835)
  • Providence (RI) Athenaeum (1836)
  • Mechanics Institute Library, San Francisco (1854)
  • Lanier Library, Tryon, NC (1890)
  • Timrod Literary & Library Association, Summerville, SC (1897)
  • Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, La Jolla (1899)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Star Journal: Librarians are search engines, without the cookies…

By Virginia Roberts, Rhinelander District Library Director

Friday, April 10, 2015

"Rarely does any search engine return exactly what you want without exposing you to advertisements, mining your data, looking at the contents of past searches..."

Library Director Virginia Roberts looks through a collection of art books. She is spending her first weeks in Rhinelander, among other things, letting community members know that if they want to learn something, the library is the place for them.

Library Director Virginia Roberts looks through a collection of art books. She is spending her first weeks in Rhinelander, among other things, letting community members know that if they want to learn something, the library is the place for them.

Someone asked me the other day if you can’t get everything you need to know from Google. Actually the question—which was more of a statement, was more along the lines of—“Who goes to the library anymore; everyone finds what they want on Google, right?”

Actually no, the answer is no. No, they don’t. In fact, rarely does any search engine return exactly what you want—exactly what you are looking for—without exposing you to advertisements, mining your data, looking at the contents of past searches and emails to place data cookies and notes on your computer attached to your social media which will haunt you until the end of your days.

Trust me—I am still being followed by those boots I wanted so badly nearly two Christmases ago. Look for one style of boots and you’re branded for life—or until you clean your computer and all similar devices out with a scrub brush.

”But—But”, you say—“I always find what I am looking for!” You do? After how much time—and looking for what exactly? And in the words of Google do you “get lucky” or did you just settle?

Because, “Google is not a synonym for research,” –Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol. And “Google can bring you 10,000 answers, but librarians can bring you back the right one”—Neil Gaiman.

And that of course, this being a library column, and all, is exactly what I am getting at. Librarians are trained information professionals. Most of us have built in keyword dictionaries. Librarians know the best resources to go to for the most accurate information in both the wild search engine (Google, Dogpile) and the reviewed and vetted databases that the great state of Wisconsin makes available through Badgerlink as part of Your Library funding.

Badgerlink, by the by, isn’t just for school children or that college kid, either, although many of them learn about it and learn how to navigate it—many with the help of their school librarian—there. Hunting down your family history? Start on Badgerlink—and then meet with our local historians who can help. Car giving you trouble?—Do a little research before going to your mechanic. Badgerlink’s  got amazing resources on engines—from auto to boat (not to mention snowmobile, atv, and tractor) Planning on getting your GED or taking another test, working on a resume, writing a business plan, or even learning how to work with the newest version of Photoshop—Badgerlink has resources to guide you through. Consumer Reports, newspapers, and all kinds of government resource links are right there on Badgerlink.

 But you’re not good at computers? Don’t like them? Fine. You don’t need a computer. You have a public library. And the librarians are here to help you get the information you need. And if you want and need it in print—the library has that, too.

And what about those printed materials? Well, there are more of them being printed and read more widely than in any other time in history. As many of them as possible are made available either right here or delivered from somewhere else at Your Library.

Your Library, in addition to tech help, printed materials, genealogical research assistance, and general information, offers specific subject expertise, programs for all ages, meeting space, free computer access with either a library-provided computer or your own device, and diverse collections for children, teens, adults—more specifically in genealogy, local history, DVDs, music, audio books and entertainments, large print, and the Bump Art collection.

So, in answer to the question—who goes to the library anymore? Everyone could. Anyone who wants to is welcome. The library is the collection of the community, for use by the community. And Your Librarian will bring you the best answer possible, without having to sift through 10,000 links—or give up your secrets (or shopping habits) to get what you need.

So, if you haven’t been here in a while—it’s time to stop in. Your Library offers a great deal, and you might be surprised what it holds for you.

From: The Star Journal

Friday, April 24, 2015

GoodEreader.com: Library staff Parodies Taylor Swift

By Michael Kozlowski 
April 20, 2015 



National Library Week occurred from April 12-18 and the emphasis for many locations was driving new people into their branches and promoting their book collections. In order to reach a younger generation  Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library of Kansas produced a perfect Taylor Swift parody, transforming “Shake It Off” into “Check It Out,” an ode to library membership.

I have noticed a big trend with librarians all over Canada and the US in the last few years. They are actually young and hip! Gone are the days where old ladies in cats-eye glasses would shush you at every turn and instead fresh faced kids rock tattoos, neat haircuts and Beats headphones.

The premise of the video is demonstrating how you can save money by borrowing books, magazines and newspapers from the library. By the end, the group is actually doing a coordinated dance number. I think you all have to agree, this is a fairly cool library.





Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Washington Post: The Story behind Jar'Edo Wens, the longest-running hoax in Wikipedia History

By Caitlin Dewey
April 15

(Reuters/Yves Herman)

 Jar’Edo Wens is an Australian aboriginal deity, the god of “physical might” and “earthly knowledge.” He’s been name-dropped in books. Carved into rocks.

And, as of March, conclusively debunked.

There is no such figure, it turns out, in aboriginal mythology; instead, Jar’Edo Wens was a blatant prank, a bald invention, dropped into Wikipedia nine years ago by some unknown and anonymous Australian. By the time editors found Jar’Edo Wens, he had leaked off Wikipedia and onto the wider Internet.

He had also broken every other Wikipedia hoaxing record. At nine years, nine months and three long days, Jar’Edo Wens is the longest-lived hoax found on the free encyclopedia yet.

Ask any diehard Wikipedian about hoaxes, of course, and they’ll call them a natural byproduct of the Wikipedia project: Since the day the open-sourced encyclopedia opened for business in 2001, pranksters, vandals and other saboteurs have done their best to disrupt it.

But in the past year, Wikipedia hoaxes appear to have grown far more frequent — or at least far more visible. Editors have uncovered 33 major hoaxes since January, including several about fake bands and fake political parties. Of Wikipedia’s 16 most egregious hoaxes, 15 were discovered in the past six months. There’s no telling, of course, exactly how many hoaxes we simply haven’t yet dug up.

“There’s a lot of nonsense on Wikipedia that gets papered over,” sums Gregory Kohs, a former editor and prominent Wikipedia critic. “Wikipedia is very good at catching obvious vandalism, like swearing and caps-lock. But non-obvious vandalism?” — not so much, he says.

To understand how misinformation spreads on Wikipedia, you must first understand how the site works. Anyone can edit Wikipedia, of course: More than 130,000 readers have done so in the past 30 days. But because wide-open editing is an obvious recipe for disaster, the site is undergirded by a vast volunteer bureaucracy. These editors and administrators aren’t paid, and they aren’t technically affiliated with Wikipedia or Wikimedia, the aloof nonprofit that oversees the site. But whether because they believe in Wikipedia’s mission or they like the power or they’re bored, they spend hours policing the site’s new changes, checking links and tweaking grammar and arguing on internal message boards.

Their success rate, by all accounts, is a pretty high one; in a recent interview with “60 Minutes,” Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales boasted that he no longer saw vandalism as much of a problem. And yet, critics like Kohs and his colleagues at the Wikipedia watchdog Wikipediocracy maintain that there are untold errors that editors don’t even know about, let alone fix.

On Monday night, Kohs wrapped up an experiment in which he inserted outlandish errors into 31 articles and tracked whether editors ever found them. After more than two months, half of his hoaxes still had not been found — and those included errors on high-profile pages, like “Mediterranean climate” and “inflammation.” (By his estimate, more than 100,000 people have now seen the claim that volcanic rock produced by the human body causes inflammation pain.)

And there are more unchecked hoaxes where those came from. Editors only recently caught a six-year-old article about the “Pax Romana,” an entirely fictitious Nazi program. Likewise “Elaine de Francias,” the invented illegitimate daughter of Henry II of France. And the obvious, eight-year-old hoax of “Don Meme,” a Mexican guru who materializes at parties and mentors hipster bands.


Googling "Don Meme" turns up a YouTube video, This cartoon indicates that the poster is trolling. (YoutTube)


Just this week, the librarian and writer Jessamyn West uncovered the origins of a long-running urban legend involving neckbeards, Louisa May Alcott and Henry Thoreau: The story was invented in a Wikipedia article eight years ago.

“I think this has proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that it’s not fair to say Wikipedia is ‘self-correcting,’” Kohs said.

There is, surprisingly, not much data to conclusively confirm or deny this. While Wikipedia’s accuracy has been a favorite subject of study for Internet-minded academics, the usual methodology compares articles from an authoritative reference work with their Wikipedia equivalents. Since the Encyclopedia Britannica doesn’t have articles on Jar’Edo Wens or Don Meme or Elaine de Francias, most studies that have trumpeted Wikipedia’s accuracy haven’t accounted for intentional hoaxes.

According to Wikipedia’s own, self-admittedly spotty records, once a hoax crosses the one-year mark, it can be expected to survive for another three years.

Chasing Jar’Edo Wens

No one knows who started the Jar’Edo Wens hoax, but I have one (admittedly spotty) guess. On May 29, 2005, an anonymous editor created that page, and another page, from an Australian IP address. The editor never returned to Wikipedia, but a pseudonymous, Melbourne-based avant-garde writer did refer to the “god” on a message board in 2009. The editor’s pseudonym, like Jar’Edo Wens, was an odd amalgamation of a first and last name. The editor hasn’t posted on that alias since 2012, but my money’s on him all the same.

It’s easier to see the Wikipedians who came after: Wikipedia logs every change to every article page on a tab called “history,” just as it logs discussion of every article on the so-called “talk” page. Editors didn’t stop by Jar’Edo Wens’s page too frequently — it was, after all, pretty obscure — but someone did make a quick grammar fix in 2006, and someone flagged the page for lacking sources three years later.

A mask carving of “Jar’Edo
Wens” by the French artist Noyo.
(DeviantArt/Creative Commons 3.0)

In November 2014, an anonymous user tagged the page as a possible hoax: “Not found in several [reliable sources] on Aboriginal religion,” the user noted. The page still wasn’t immediately taken down; it’s Wikipedia policy to debate articles, sometimes at great length, before deleting them.

“Lacked sources for almost a decade,” one editor argued.

“The letters D, J, O and S are not used in the Arrente [Aboriginal] language,” another said.

On March 3, prompted by a Wikipediocracy post that made fun of the long deletion process, veteran Wikipedia administrator Ira Matetsky deleted the “blatant and indisputable hoax,” calling it an “embarrassment.”

And yet Matetsky, like many of his fellow Wikipedians, counts the incident less as a loss than as a win. In the end, the system worked; the hoax was deleted. The growing number of hoaxes could suggest that Wikipedians are getting better at uncovering them.

“Wikipedia is uniquely vulnerable to deliberate mistakes,” Matetsky said. “But Wikipedia is also uniquely gifted at its ability to fix misinformation.”

Dozens of sophisticated, automated programs crawl the encyclopedia and delete vandalism, according to an evolving (and overwhelmingly accurate) algorithm. On top of those bots are the editors themselves, many of whom keep an eye on controversial articles or watch for suspicious additions to the “new page” feed.

Wikipedia's "New Pages" feed where editors can watch for hoaxes in real time. (Wikipedia)

As of this writing, there were 5,476 unreviewed pages in the English Wikipedia, the oldest of which had been around 111 days. I spotted a probable hoax — an unsourced article on an otherwise un-Googleable “new world religion” — within minutes of loading the page.

It’s not perfect, exactly. But Matetsky points out that newspapers and books and GPS systems also make minor errors every day.

“The question is not whether Wikipedia is more or less reliable than a day at the New York Public Library,” Matetsky said. “The question is whether Wikipedia is more or less reliable than whatever other results top Google search.”

When there are no other Google results, of course, it’s hard to call either way. Or worse: When the other results spring from a Wikipedia error, a phenomenon named “citogenesis” by the Web comic xkcd. For years, the Internet record has claimed that “chicken azid” is another term for the dish “chicken korma,” and that Amelia Bedelia was inspired by a Cameroonian maid.

Even Jar’Edo Wens managed the leap from Wikipedia fiction to something approaching reality: The fake god is name-checked in a book about atheism and the falseness of religion — which is pretty ironic, considering.

Wikipedia’s big problem

But even given the growing awareness of hoaxes, what's a Wikipedian to do? There are 4.8 million pages on the site’s English version, but only 12,000 veteran editors. That works out to roughly 400 pages per volunteer — far more than at any other time in the site’s history.

“Wikipedia could acknowledge that by now it contains hundreds of thousands of articles on marginal topics that its volunteer system is simply unable to curate responsibly,” said Andreas Kolbe, another contributor to the watchdog site Wikipediocracy. Instead, he says, the Wikimedia Foundation has taken an alternate approach: Dismiss each hoax as a one-off deception, and “lament how terrible it is that someone abused their trust.”

Reformers, both within and outside the site, insist there are other ways. You hear frequent references to a feature called “pending changes,” which was promised by Wikimedia in 2010 and again in 2012. The feature would hold new edits in a queue until an experienced editor could review them. On German Wikipedia, where “pending changes” has long been the norm, that little speed bump seems to work quite well.

Wikipedians have proposed other reforms, too. The Wikimedia Foundation is funding research into more robust bots that could score the quality of site revisions and refer bad edits to volunteers for review. Another proposed bot would crawl the site and parse suspicious passages into questions, which editors could quickly research and either reject or approve.

Still, none of this changes the numbers problem at the core of Wikipedia. The site’s editor base has atrophied since 2007, and today’s editors are largely young, white, Western men. It’s no coincidence that, in Kohs’s vandalism experiment, an error on an obscure New York canal was corrected, while lies about Ecuadorian customs, Indian legends and Japanese history were not. Likewise the Wiki-troll Jagged85, who meddled with articles about Islamic history for years; it was only when he messed with a video game page that he finally got kicked off.

“If the Jar’Edo Wens hoax had been about Greek or Roman or Norse mythology, it would’ve been found faster,” Matetsky admits. “If we had more indigenous Australian editors, it would’ve been picked up and fixed.”

And yet, there’s some suggestion that even that wouldn’t have helped, that even snazzy new initiatives and more moderators couldn’t save the Internet from itself. For years, a group of interested editors waged an organized campaign to improve articles about indigenous Australians, including a page on “Aboriginal deities” that listed Jar’Edo Wens.

They added a photo and changed the page title. They grouped the deities under regional headings. Gradually, the campaign broke up, all without anyone noticing the invented aboriginal spirit: god of earthly knowledge — and its inevitable limits.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.

From: The Washington Post


A.V. News: Librarian discovers Yoda in medieval manuscript, proves Star Wars was a documentary

By Sam Barsanti

Apr 19, 2015

The Empire Strikes Back
There has been a lot of exciting Star Wars news over the last few days, but this might be the most exciting thing yet: irrefutable proof that Yoda existed in medieval France. Julian Harrison, a curator for the British Library, made the shocking discovery—as reported by The Telegraph—when he was examining a manuscript that dates back to the 14th century for his Medieval Manuscripts blog. Ostensibly depicting the biblical story of Samson, the document in question shows a robed man with greenish skin, big ears, long hair, and claw-like hands. It is, without a doubt, Yoda.


Alright, so that’s pretty far from irrefutable, but Harrison himself isn’t sure who or what the character is supposed to be. He says it’s obviously not Yoda, just a thing that looks like Yoda, but we think he’s just covering up for the fact that Yoda’s existence in medieval France throws everything we know about history into disarray. This proves that Star Wars is real, and that there were Jedi walking around in France a few hundred years ago. That’s a pretty monumental revelation, and the impact it will have on how we think about the world around us is almost impossible to overstate.

For example, does this mean that midi-chlorians are also real? Is Harrison Ford a distant descendant of the real Han Solo, and if so, how does Indiana Jones play into that? Also, was the real Jar Jar as goofy as the one in the movies, or did George Lucas just make him into more of a caricature for the sake of comic relief? Hopefully, Star Wars: The Force Awakens will answer some of these questions, and if you want to see what other fictional characters really existed in medieval France, the entire Yoda manuscript is viewable online.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Washington Post: BDSM and beheading videos: the evolving role of the librarian

Libraries change, but librarians keep helping people find the weird information they need.

By Hammad Rauf Khan
Hammad Rauf Khan is the Head Librarian at the Art Institute of Houston-North.

April 8 , 2015

Courtesy of David Merrett. 

No job is without its perils, and for a college librarian today, one of those just might be having an associate dean overhear you explaining to a student how to create a more accurate BDSM scene for a photo shoot inspired by “Fifty Shades of Gray.”

“So BDSM is all about control and in part humiliation, you might want to put a collar and a ball gag in her mouth,” I was explaining as the dean walked by. She stopped and looked at me.

It was awkward, but part of my job as a librarian is to help patrons research a topic, whatever that topic might be. Google has many people convinced that librarians are no longer necessary — probably the same people who predicted our demise when the personal computer was first introduced. Yet we librarians are still here, providing free resources, information and computer access to our communities. The profession is evolving, of course: adapting to new technology and, more significantly, being reshaped by culture.

Which is why I have fielded an inordinate amount of requests at the reference desk for information about BDSM, and why I have seen job postings for positions including Hip-Hop Librarian and Wine Librarian. When it comes to the subject material of “Fifty Shades,” none of our librarians have the background to easily service such requests (or at least none of our librarians care to admit they do). We could easily send them out to the darker corners of the Web for information, but it’s our duty to find our patrons legitimate Web sites and resources they can cite, without judgment or embarrassment.

I always enjoyed the atmosphere of the library and being surrounded by the greatest work of fiction, science, poetry and art. I began volunteering at my local library during high school and was promoted to circulation assistant while I attended college. I discovered that, beyond being around books, I was passionate about research, helping people find information and promoting information literacy. Although libraries have changed, this part of being a librarian has not.

After “American Sniper” was released in theaters, numerous young men approached us for information on Navy SEALS. Legal hypochondriacs lurk in almost every library, usually wanting to know how to get divorced, but sometimes seeking legal opinions on polyamory or the age of consent. When the recession hit in 2008, we learned to become résumé-builders. Many people laid off in the following few years were from a generation not born and raised in the era of LinkedIn; we provided free classes on how to write résumés, create LinkedIn pages and use online job boards. When Obamacare passed Congress, many people came to us with their questions or sought our opinions. Later, we helped people get online to sign up for coverage.

Things do get weird. I’ve had visitors to my desk explain that they are “new” to town or just “passing through” and could I please tell them where they could get some weed? (“Try Colorado,” is my usual reply.) One of my coworkers was once asked by a middle-aged woman where she could find real beheading videos to watch. When I worked at a public library, a swingers group began borrowing one of our meeting rooms — the rooms, funded by taxpayers, are open to anyone who lives in the county as long as the program is open to everyone in the community. I guess they were.

The thing I love about my profession is that I am always learning. A patron approaches me with a question, and in helping them I discover worlds I never knew existed. I was introduced to the world of trampling by an older gentleman who was seeking resources on learning Russian, so he could communicate with his Russian girlfriend online. He told me she was into trampling, which I misunderstood to mean “trampolines.” He cleared up my confusion by explaining that it’s a type of sexual behavior in which a woman wears high heels and walks on top of a submissive man. It’s not the sort of thing I learned while getting my master’s in library and information science, but it is interesting.

Librarianship is not, as some would have you believe, outdated, boring or routine, and Google is not a scholarly source. I don’t mind the changes to my profession. This is a customer service job, designed to help people, and as long as the public has questions, I will be here to answer them.

From: The Washington Post