Anti-Black Racism Is Alive In Canada: Resources To Learn From

From my main blog, HideNGoShauna

HideNGoShauna

With the protests happening in America right now, us friendly Canadians may like to think that we are a more welcoming country unburdened by the problems of our neighbor. In school they taught us that we are the mosaic to the US’s melting pot— aren’t we setting a good example of inclusion and diversity? Don’t we have welcoming immigration policies? Aren’t we above what is happening in the United States? It’s a sentiment that I’ve seen being bandied about in recent days. The trending hashtag #meanwhileincanada popped up and at first was being used to contrast us to our neighbors south of the border with viral images and videos like that of a moose taking a dip in somebody’s swimming pool⁠— hah, good ol’ Canada eh?!

Fellow Canadians, talk to your Black neighbors and you may learn that this “friendly Canadian” label is nothing but a dangerously convenient facade…

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Animal Crossing Library Island Tour

For the past few weeks in my self-isolation, I’ve been working on an Animal Crossing island that our library patrons can enjoy from home. I’ve created a YouTube video to highlight the main features of WBRL Isle. Many thanks to the other library folk who helped me collect special items for this island!

#closethelibraries

(The following essay was submitted as a final paper for my LIS 542: Library Preservation, Security and Risk Management course.)


Librarians and libraries are held to extremely high standards by patrons and staff who know their true and immense value. While libraries are often misunderstood and overlooked by those who choose to eschew them, every day libraries prove their worth as essential cornerstones of society. Many libraries have further surprised their communities and surpassed the expectations of even their most steadfast supporters by becoming tenacious strongholds during times of turmoil. While I wholeheartedly believe that libraries should do as much as they can for their communities in hard times, it has taken a pandemic for me to fully realize that we, too, have a limit. Libraries are sanctuaries for everyone in good times and bad, but there are times when staying open to the public is a health risk that can do more harm than good. It is therefore vital for both library staff and users that the right decisions are made when the risk is too high to remain open. During times of crisis, libraries must carefully determine what services can be provided while first and foremost protecting the mental and physical safety of their staff and patrons.

I decided to pursue a career in libraries around a decade ago, drawn to this profession because of my intense love of books and learning. It was not long after that I became familiar with specialized terms and movements like radical librarianship and “never-neutral”. I was inspired to fully realize that libraries are a vital community resource integral to fostering an informed and democratic society. Contrastingly, I also found myself becoming enraged time and time again when oblivious folk who clearly hadn’t stepped foot in a public library in years would make sweeping assumptions about what we do in libraries today. These (usually wealthy and privileged) people hand out ridiculous suggestions such as that Amazon should open local bookstores to “replace local libraries and save taxpayers lots of money, while enhancing the value of their stock” (Mourdoukotas, 2018). These sorts of offhand, dismissive remarks reveal the ignorance of the speaker, who seems to think a library is simply a building filled with books. Such notions fly in the face of what I’ve come to know about libraries: libraries are dedicated sanctuaries for action toward knowledge sharing, and library staff are stewards for their communities, working toward a common good. As Lankes puts it, “I have long contended that a room full of books is simply a closet but that an empty room with a librarian in it is a library… action is at the heart of what a library is” (2016).

Many anecdotes of library staff going above-and-beyond have made me feel proud of our profession and assured of the transformative power of libraries in their communities. The first time my eyes were opened in such a way was during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. After the devastation that Katrina wrought, many libraries that were able to stay open provided essential services for people in need, such as providing accurate information, assisting with forms, listening and supporting, volunteering, and donating (Wilson, 2010). Years later, at the Alberta Library Conference in 2018, I had the privilege of hearing firsthand from Scott Bonner, director of Ferguson Municipal Library, how his library responded during civil unrest after the shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown. When schools were closed, businesses were boarded up, and the streets were clashing with militarized police and protestors, he made a judgement call: “It didn’t matter how bad it got that night, if it’s safe, then I will open the library and have a school for peace” (Bonner, 2016). His inspiring account of working with teachers and students during a dark time in Ferguson’s history further cemented in my mind the potential for librarians to really step up when things get dicey.            

However, I also discovered that librarians sometimes feel compelled to martyr themselves due to the deep values they feel subject to in their profession. This phenomenon, coined by Fobazi Ettarh as “vocational awe”, has real-life impacts on library staff:

In the face of grand missions of literacy and freedom, advocating for your full lunch break feels petty. And tasked with the responsibility of sustaining democracy and intellectual freedom, taking a mental health day feels shameful. Awe is easily weaponized against the worker, allowing anyone to deploy a vocational purity test in which the worker can be accused of not being devout or passionate enough to serve without complaint (2018).

Ettarh goes on to explain how the professional norms supported by vocational awe create class-barriers that restrict diversity in the profession while contributing to job-creep, under compensation, and burnout.

While these professional mores of vocational awe may be present during day-to-day library work, during a crisis they are doubly so. I remember working at my public library in Fort McMurray on May 3rd, 2016: it started out like any other day but quickly escalated into quiet panic as wildfire became visible out the library windows. Even as every one of our staff and patrons were distracted by the wall of flame and smoke visible across the river, and evacuation orders were being called for parts of our municipality, one well-meaning staff member wondered aloud if we should stay open as long as possible as a matter of duty to the community. Thankfully, management made a judgement call to close the library several hours before a city-wide evacuation was called, giving staff and patrons time to get where they needed to be and do what they could to prepare as best as possible before leaving their community for at least a month of sudden, mandatory evacuation. “Abandoning ship” is hard to do, but sometimes it really is the best decision for all.

Right now the world is in the midst of a serious global pandemic, and it has become clear that we must devote ourselves to “flattening the curve” to slow down the spread of the virus (Allain, 2020). As such, the best thing libraries can do right now for the health of patrons and staff is to close their doors for the time being:

Libraries have a chance to be community leaders right now by demonstrating appropriate behavior – staying home. The best way we can help our communities and ourselves is to encourage everyone to stay home. Everyone should act as if they are infected and work to reduce exposing others to infection. (Newman, 2020).

The vastly differing responses of libraries to the global covid-19 pandemic has become a fascinating and sobering example of public health risk vs. vocational awe in action. The hashtag #closethelibraries has accompanied countless pleas for governments and administrations of various levels to listen to the concerns of frontline workers who put themselves and their patrons at risk by working with items and spaces that come into contact with many people each day:

The decision by many city and county officials to keep libraries open during the start of the pandemic entailed particular risks to public library staff and patrons. The very ideals that public library professionals take pride in– welcoming service to all, the more the merrier- is exactly what exacerbates danger during an infectious disease crisis. Closure of schools and enjoinders to “work from home” during the pandemic meant more people displaced from other institutions would flock to public libraries that remained open, compounding the risk (LaPierre, 2020).

Some libraries have been doing a “soft close”, requiring staff to come in to work and offer services such as curbside pickup of items. However, current research suggests that covid-19 carriers may not show symptoms, and that the virus can be transferred on surfaces, such as books, keyboards, or DVD cases (Doremalen, Fauci, & Vaduganathan, 2020). The CDC revealed that covid-19 was found to be active on cruise ships for up to 17 days after they were evacuated (Moriarty et al, 2020).  Even if staff were to follow safety protocols perfectly, “There is no feasible way to sanitize library books, many libraries are running low on cleaning supplies, and personal protective equipment (PPE) should be spared for the use of medical professionals, immunocompromised individuals, nursing homes, and the like” (closethelibraries.org, 2020). Yet, as of April 7th, many libraries are still open to varying extents, even after library staff working such shifts have begun to develop “coronavirus-like symptoms” (Ross, 2020).

Which risks outweigh the others? If we close a library, we risk potentially upsetting some people, blocking access to some services and collections temporarily, cancelling anticipated events, and so on. Yet, if we don’t close a library, or even if we do a “soft close”, we risk infecting our staff and patrons, accelerating the escalation of a global pandemic, increasing the strain on limited hospital resources, and possibly even contributing to a chain of events that could cause loss of life. I know which risks I’m willing, and not willing, to take.

Thankfully, making a responsible decision to close a library during a global health pandemic or similar crisis need not be a cry of helplessness or defeat. On the contrary, we can use these situations to champion some of the excellent online resources and services that we provide, highlighting our flexibility and multifaceted strengths: “Libraries are essential. Now is our time to show how innovative and creative we can be from home” (Newman, 2020).  At the same time, we must also realize that it’s normal for everyone, including library staff, to be less productive during such anxious, stressful times:

For those with the privilege and ability to conduct their work from home, the coming weeks should be a time to focus on ourselves, our communities, and our loved ones. It should be a time to do nothing and produce little without the accompanying feeling of guilt or panic caused by a ping from a higher-up that you should be doing more as the rest of your world slowly cranks to a halt (Martin, 2020).

As one widely-shared text meme puts it more succinctly, “It’s okay to not be at your most productive during a [expletive] global pandemic (2020)”. Staff and patrons alike will face barriers to collection access, resources, and services, but a serious global pandemic is not “business as usual” and we shouldn’t pretend it is. Lives depend on this discretion.

To conclude, library workers must not succumb to the fallacy of elevating our profession toward saintly, self-sacrificing ends. Vocational awe would have us believe that closing the libraries, in any circumstance, shows weakness, misplaced priorities, and a lack of dedication to our profession — these sentiments are false. In closing our libraries during a global health pandemic, we are protecting the mental and physical health of our workers and library users, without which no library can thrive.  We can use these unprecedented times of physical isolation to promote the variety of online resources, databases, and services we provide, taking comfort in knowing that we will welcome our community back to enjoy our full range of services and programming with open arms as soon as it is safe to do so.

References

Allain, R. (2020, March 24). The Promising Math Behind ‘Flattening the Curve’. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/story/the-promising-math-behind-flattening-the-curve/

Bonner, S. (2016). Ferguson Voices: Scott Bonner. Retrieved from https://www.fergusonvoices.org/voices/scott-bonner#more-info

closethelibraries.org. (2020). Letter to State Librarians. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/document/d/1WlSG2eyxJXUDI1sgvIPPgq4otAdWCQoKwCmVxhRA2Hk/edit?pli=1

Doremalen, N. van, Fauci, A. S., & Vaduganathan, M. (2020, March 17). Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1: NEJM. Retrieved from https://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMc2004973

Ettarh, F. (2018). Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves. Retrieved from http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2018/vocational-awe/

It’s Okay to Not… [Digital Image]. 2020. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/vicky_ig/status/1243608158163042309/photo/1

Lankes, R. D. (2016). The new librarianship field guide. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

LaPierre, S. (2020). Resisting “Vocational Awe” During the Pandemic. Retrieved from http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2020/03/resisting-vocational-awe-during-the-pandemic/

Martin, N. (2020). Against Productivity in a Pandemic. Retrieved from https://newrepublic.com/article/156929/work-home-productivity-coronavirus-pandemic

Moriarty LF, Plucinski MM, Marston BJ, et al. (2020) Public Health Responses to COVID-19 Outbreaks on Cruise Ships. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:347-352. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6912e3

Mourdoukoutas, P. (2018). Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/yalsa/sites/ala.org.yalsa/files/content/AmazonShouldReplaceLocalLibrariestoSaveTaxpayersMoney.pdf

Newman, B. (2020, March 27). Why Curbside Pick Up at Your Library Isn’t Safe. Retrieved from https://librarianbyday.net/2020/03/26/why-curbside-pick-up-at-your-library-isnt-safe/

Ross, N. (2020, April 6). Coronavirus: Flagler County library main branch resumes curbside services. Retrieved from https://www.news-journalonline.com/news/20200406/coronavirus-flagler-county-library-main-branch-resumes-curbside-services?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=ghf-daytona-main

Wilson, V. (2010). Public Libraries Can Play an Important Role in the Aftermath of a Natural Disaster. A Review of: Welsh, T. S. & Higgins, S. E. (2009). Public libraries post-Hurricane Katrina: A pilot study. Library Review, 58(9), 652-659. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice3, 59.

Planning a Trip Using Library Resources

My second blog post for WBRL is live now!

My big trip to Japan is coming up swiftly, so in this post I share some ways that you can use FREE library resources and services when making travel plans. Books, of course, but also language-learning software, e-books, and all sorts of other cool stuff.

These resources and/or ones like them are available not only at my library, but many public libraries in Canada and the US. As such, I hope they are helpful for readers who would like to plan and prepare for their trips without digging into their wallets.

http://wbrl.ca/stories/2019/12/05/planning-a-trip-with-wbrls-free-resources/

Happy trails!

-Shauna

Kamikaze Girls

HideNGoShauna

Man, I often get stuck in a reading rut and find myself pushing through books that don’t hold my attention very well, but I’ve been really lucky with my picks recently- they’ve been knocking it out of the park! My last post I reviewed The Beast Player, which is an immersive fantasy. My most recent read, however, is a more everyday sort of story, but it certainly has its share of unexpected moments.

Kamikaze Girls by Novala Takemoto is a cult classic in Japan that inspired a film adaptation. It’s a book about two Japanese teenage girls who live in a rural prefecture and become unlikely friends. Each follows her chosen lifestyle devoutly: Momoko strictly adheres to Lolita fashion and indulgent living, while Ichigo is a full-on Yanki: a member of a motorcycle gang who thinks she’s super tough despite only having a scooter.

Cover Variant

When Momoko tries…

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The Beast Player

HideNGoShauna

Fantasy fans: you need to read The Beast Player.

I picked up Nahoko Uehashi’s The Beast Player because I am visiting Japan again soon and enjoying reading a bunch of Japanese literature before I go. This book blew me away unexpectedly. I came across it in the Teen room at the library where I work, and it’s an excellent read for young readers and adults alike.

Elin’s family has an important responsibility: caring for the fearsome water serpents that form the core of their kingdom’s army. So when some of the creatures mysteriously die, Elin’s mother is sentenced to death as punishment. With her last breath, she manages to send her daughter to safety.

Alone and far from home, Elin soon discovers that she can communicate with both the terrifying water serpents and the majestic flying beasts that guard her queen. This skill gives her great power, but it also…

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Choosing Your Sources: A Basic Guide for Young Writers

I’m currently working on a series of informational guides to have available in the computer areas of our library. I just finished the basic skeleton of the first one, and I wanted to share it freely because I think it’s important information: choosing sources, examining bias, and fighting fake news!

I created this with teens in mind: it’s a very simple and pared-down guide that I hope will be approachable and engaging.

Feel free to download, print, and use for non-profit and educational purposes.

-Shauna

Saga: Quick Spoiler-free Review

HideNGoShauna

It’s been a while since I read Saga Vol 1, but I’m discussing it in my comic course so I gave it a reread and remembered afresh why I love this series so much. The plentiful fantasy and sci-fi elements, plus a beautiful forbidden love story between two complex and flawed badass characters, sprinkled with startling imagery and unexpected humour, makes for a really compelling tale.

saga4

Vaughan’s dialogue throughout feels so raw and real, especially with Alana who pulls no punches beginning with the memorable first page. The world, too, feels very attached to our own despite the whimsical fantasy of it. The story takes itself seriously at its core, depicting the brutal cruelties of life and war, as well as more tender moments. There are some very messed up things happening in Saga’s universe, but these atrocities are closer to the realities of our Earth than we’d like to…

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I READ BANNED BOOKS- Freedom To Read Week Picks

This week in Canada we recognize our intellectual freedom in celebrating the 35th annual Freedom to Read Week (Feb 24-March 2).

Freedom to read can never be taken for granted. Even in Canada, a free country by world standards, books and magazines are banned at the border. Schools and libraries are regularly asked to remove books and magazines from their shelves. Free expression on the Internet is under attack. Few of these stories make headlines, but they affect the right of Canadians to decide for themselves what they choose to read. – freedomtoread.ca

These are just a small handful of some of the titles that have been challenged in Canada.

The Freedom to Read Website keeps track of submitted challenges here (I’ll be quoting some passages below). A challenge indicates that someone sought to limit public access to the title, whether in a school, a library, or elsewhere. Sometimes a challenge results in removal of the title – banning a book is a clear form of censorship. Yet, even when a challenge is dismissed, the resulting controversy may mean that it is quietly dropped from school projects, curriculum lists, and displays, which is an unseen form of censorship that is harder to track.

On the other hand, often efforts to censor a book “backfire” because people naturally can’t wait to get their hands on the title that someone doesn’t want them to read!

I’ve been keeping tabs on the challenged titles in Canada the past few years, and I thought it would be fun to highlight a few of my favorite or noted titles that have been challenged and why (if the record contains a reason, which it often does not).

So here, in no particular order, are some notable works which, for some reason or another, someone tried to restrict access to in Canada:

The Graveyard Book (Graphic Novel edition) by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell

This title was challenged in Edmonton in 2016 and Ontario in 2015. Complaints included that the illustrations were graphic and violent, and a mother said that they made her son cry.

Spooky ABC by Eve Merriam and Lane Smith

Spooky ABC was challenged in British Columbia. Objections: “The letters D and I poems not very appropriate for kids to read, and quite honestly the whole book was not OK to read to a child of any age. I don’t know if it would be useful to another child. Many other alphabet books [are] available. This one just seemed bad all across the board.”

I don’t know, it looks pretty intriguing to me!

Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach

“Offensive language, age inappropriate”- I’m guessing this person didn’t get that this a humour book which is probably more intended for parents than children. There IS an alternate SFW version called Seriously, Just Go to Sleep, but I think it’s missing the magic of the original…

Fun fact! Samuel L. Jackson narrates this book spectacularly in the audio edition.

The Waiting Dog by Andrea and Carolyn Beck

The Waiting Dog was challenged both in 2006 and 2010. Complaints included “revolting, vile”. It’s true! This is a picture book with a warning label on the cover art: “WARNING- do you have the guts to read this book?”

The story *spoiler alert* involves a dog who daydreams about pulling the mailman in through the slot and feasting on his body from top to toes. Its graphic imagery and playful verse are both gratuitously, gruesomely, disturbingly macabre, and while it surely isn’t to every readers taste, I’m certain that some kids as well as adults would gobble it up happily.

The dark humour is played in an exaggerated way- the evil thoughts of the dog contrast so completely with the gentle, wiggly, goofy dogs that I know, so as the violence ramps up it only adds to the hilarity.

I probably never would have stumbled across this book if it hadn’t been challenged, but I am quite fond of it. I actually ordered my own copy on Amazon and the author signed it!

“All Young Adult LGBTQ publications”

It’s alarming to notice a certain trend in the books that have been challenged in Canada in recent years- many of them are LGBTQ+ titles.

In one particular instance in 2016, a mother in Alberta initiated a challenge on all of the LGBTQ book titles that were suggested in the Teen Summer Reading Program pamphlets at St. Albert Library. She found the entire category objectionable, claiming “there is a difference between showing respect for all peoples and using the summer reading program as a place to further LGBTQ propaganda”– she also called LGBTQ+ an unhealthy “lifestyle” contrary to god’s plan and unfit for promotion to youth.

The Teen Librarian did not remove the Queer Lit category from the Summer Reading program, and noted in their response to the patron that it was not a requirement to read from that category to participate in the SRP game. Furthermore, they explained:

“Library patrons have a choice in what they read… The St. Albert Public Library serves all members of the community, regardless of age, race, faith, education level, income, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnic background, or language spoken. We serve LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning) youth, and the library is a safe space for them to visit. Many of these young people, as part of an invisible minority, have learned to be secretive about their sexual identity or gender identity for fear of rejection from their peers or their own families. They experience isolation and are often victims of bullying. For these youth, a realization that there are library materials available to them which address LGBTQ identities and issues can help them choose to become more resilient and to feel that they have a place in society… having LGBTQ material available in the Young Adult collections and on book displays alongside other materials, not hidden away, helps to create an atmosphere of acceptance”.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

This bestselling and award-winning dystopian novel was challenged in 2008 by a parent who was concerned about its use in a grade 12 classroom in Toronto. Concerns included “profane language, anti-Christian overtones, violence, and sexual degradation“.

Hmm, I wonder how an author is supposed to portray a dystopia without depicting the plentiful ways in which humanity can go wrong?

The school board reviewed the title and decided to keep it in the grade 11 & 12 curriculum.

Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling

Back around the 2000’s the Harry Potter series was widely challenged in the US and Canada, mainly by christian fundamentalists, on the grounds that the series contained themes of witchcraft. The books were removed from classroom use in some instances, and some orders for removal were rescinded after public outcry.

“In 2002 the Niagra (ON) District School Board turned down a parent’s request for the removal of the books from area schools. The parent said the books contained violence and promoted a religion (Wicca) which is against the law in Ontario schools. She said that she had not read the books.”

These books still face challenges again and again- I see another challenge recorded in Canada in 2010, but I imagine there are probably so many more challenges happening without being submitted to Freedom to Read.

Rupert Grint, who plays Ron Weasley in the movie adaptations of the books, recalls a sobering moment in his childhood when he realized the truly enormous impact of the series:


I saw a picture in a newspaper of a book-burning in America’s Bible Belt. And there was a picture of my face smouldering on top of the pyre because they thought the Harry Potter films were endorsing witchcraft.

http://www.rupertgrintpress.com/grint-%E2%80%98terrified%E2%80%99-by-book-burning/

Flowers of Evil (Series) by Shuzo Oshimi

The first omnibus, containing volumes 1-3 of this manga series, was challenged in Canada in 2017. No details are listed as to why.

I haven’t read Flowers of Evil yet- it’s on my TBR list- but I am a big fan of Oshimi’s beautiful and haunting vampire series, Happiness.

Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg

Again, no reason given here as to why it was challenged, but in 2017 someone had an issue with Jumanji. Van Allsburg’s works are unique and whimsical. This strange and imaginative picture book was the inspiration for the film of the same name, which was released back in 1995!

Goosebumps (Series) and Fear Street (Series) by R.L. Stine

Speaking of 1995, that’s the year that R.L. Stine’s books were challenged in Nova Scotia! Take a nostalgic look at those gorgeous covers, would you?

“A parent group in Halifax asked that both these series be withdrawn from schools in the Halifax School Board’s jurisdiction. The books were said to convey violence and a lack of respect for parental authority.”

Why do parents always seem to want to ban the books that their kids are desperate to read? What a great way to kill a potential love of reading! Also, wouldn’t you fight back if you were being attacked by relentless lawn gnomes or killer slime? And maybe learning to not blindly trust authority is also an important lesson in life, but hey, that’s just my opinion…

I am a 90’s kid myself, and recently wrote on my personal blog about my obsession with Goosebumps. It certainly gave me chills a few times, but sometimes a kid needs a good scare!

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, and Henry Cole

And Tango Makes Three was challenged in Canada 2006 and again in 2009. This book was inspired by two real-life male penguins at the Central Park Zoo. The Calgary Catholic School District banned the book from a school library after a parent complained, on religious grounds, about the theme of “homosexual parenting”.

This book has also been highly controversial in the United States, facing frequent challenges.


Again, these are just a handful of examples of titles that have been challenged in Canada, and many more titles are challenged every year that likely aren’t reported.

Please check out the Freedom to Read website and Pen Canada 
to learn more about censorship in Canada.

Other excellent resources from around the world include the National Coalition Against Censorship, the Index on Censorship , Banned Books Week and The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, – because you never know if YOUR favorite book will be the next one to receive a challenge!