While You Were Away…

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:13 am

Well.  Exciting times in the ol’ homeland.  Of course, we would have a leadership spill that results in a new Prime Minister – and Australia’s first female PM – the one time I’m overseas for a holiday.

I’m still trying to catch up on all the news; my husband Stuart and I returned home yesterday, and most of our time was spent sleeping off jet lag.  I mostly kept up with what was happening while I was away through text messages and emails from friends, and Twitter, with the occasional peek at the Age website.  Hooray for living in an age of digital communications!

So I’m not as well informed about Julia Gillard’s rise to the role of PM as I could be, but since that’s never stopped anyone from forming an opinion about anything, I’m going to post about it anyway.

I am…cautiously optimistic, but I’m witholding full optimism until a Gillard-lead Labor government is put into place by the people of Australia.  I think it’s worth noting that, even though we don’t directly elect our PM in the way that Americans elect their President, a lot of people seem to consider that we do.  And I don’t think that’s just ignorance of how the Westminster system works (although that probably accounts for some of it) – both Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd have referred to the Australian people electing their PM, and one would think that they’re both pretty well-versed in how the system works.  It’s an acknowledgement of how much Australian politics is a game of personality, of good-old-boyness and appearing to be a Top Bloke.  John Howard played that game well enough and long enough that he had a enough voters convinced of his Top Blokeness, even as he put actions into place that would shaft a large proportion of the public.

So I guess that Gillard still needs to convince voters of her Top Nonblokeness, although there seems to be a lot of goodwill aimed her way.  I am certainly excited at the prospect of having a female, unmarried, non-religious Prime Minister.  I don’t think Gillard’s success is necessarily a blow for feminism though; if women getting into positions of political power were always a sign that we’ve achieved all the goals of our movement, then Margaret Thatcher would be a feminist icon. 

That said, part of the Top Blokeness of the past has relied upon pollies convincing voters of their squeaky-clean, upstanding personal lives, with faithful wives and 2.3 kids and blah blah whitepicketfencecakes.  The fact that we’ve got a leader who quite openly does not have those things, and who has weathered criticism from her opponents about not having those things with a great deal of grace, makes this recently married but cheerfully “deliberately barren” woman quite happy, because I think it’s a step forward regardless of gender.  Yes, we want our elected representatives to be upstanding people, but a person’s upstandingness does not hinge on whether they’re a “family” man or woman who’s done the marriage and children thing.  I’d like to think that maybe, this is a small step forward in moving away from so much political pandering to families at the expense of others.  I’d also like to think it’s perhaps part of a cultural shift away from traditional values about a person’s worth, when the Shadowy Figures who helped support Gillard’s rise to the top think that an unmarried, female, childless atheist with a unionist background is what the country wants.

Personally, I’m waiting for What Gillard Does Next (presumably not become a professional travel companion).  I’d like to see the internet filtering shenanigans ditched once and for all, because as a person who likes freedom of information and, for that matter, as a professional librarian who likes the same thing, DO NOT WANT.  I’d like to see a government that doesn’t pander to Big Mining (you may say I’m a dreamer…), and I’d like to see Gillard use her status to work towards improving the status of all women, which is what would make hers a feminist Prime Ministership.  And about a million other things.  I don’t ask for much.

In the meantime, I will continue for now to enjoy the little frisson I get when I’m listening to the radio and hear the words “Prime Minister Julia Gillard”.


Conference Aftermath

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:52 pm

I’m currently sitting on a couch at SLQ’s The Edge, and had every intention of writing a comprehensive rundown of the 12s-24s@ Your Library conference while it was all still fresh in my mind.  I even have my bulgingly full notebook with me.  However, several weeks’ worth of sleep deprivation are getting the better of me (although I’m going to try to sleep away as much of the Sydney-LA flight as possible to make up my sleep debt).  I am feeling distinctly manky, at least in a mental sense, although the cold I’ve been having an off-and-on affair with for the last few weeks is threatening to settle in, right in time for the long-haul flight to DC.  Lovely.  So an actual meaty entry about all this will have to wait until I’m in a better mental state to unravel things (not to mention read my own handwriting, which is so appalling that I’ve been accused of writing with my feet in the past).

Presenting and attending the conference were wonderful experiences (and now I think I’ve got a taste for this kind of thing, which would bring the percentage of people in my household who write papers for and present at conferences up to 100%).  Leonee and I have met so many wonderful people and had such a good time.  It was great to meet new faces, and put faces to names I’d seen on e-lists or heard glowing things about.  It was also fantastic to be in an environment with so much enthusiasm and energy for library youth services provision; an absolute blessing, in fact.

There was a reasonable amount of live Tweeting happening (although I didn’t get around to much of it myself); if you’re curious, the hashtag is #12to24.  Leonee has also finally bowed down to the pressure to join Twitter; you can find her at @LeoneeAriel.

One of the things I’m planning to do when I get back, along with writing up a report about it all and thinking further about how I can turn what I’ve learned this weekend into concrete planning for my own library service, is to make a page on this website with the collection development information we shared in our presentation.  The slides we had were only a small sample of what we use for youth-focused collection development, but several people suggested that it would be a great thing to have easy access to, so I figure it will be good to have it as a working document here for anyone who’s interested, perhaps with a broader focus than our rather Melbourne-centric one.  If you’d like to have some input, feel free to contact me via email or twitter.

I jump on a plane tomorrow afternoon, and it looks like I’ll be meeting with the youth services manager of the DC Public Library while I’m in town, which is very exciting.  No rest for the wicked(ly nerdy librarian).

One of the things I find embarrassingly exciting about flying overseas is picking which books to take to read on the plane.  I’ve got a fair bit of YA on my TBR pile at the moment, including Karen Healey’s debut novel Guardian of the Dead, which I’m ridiculously excited about reading.  Expect some further reviews when I get back.


Presenting at the Auslib 12s – 24s Conference

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:49 pm

I’m about to head off to Brisbane (well, Logan City via Brisbane) with my colleague with whom I’ve co-authored a paper on engaging urban youth with public libraries.  After months of preparation, it seems strange that it’s finally come around, to be quite honest.  This is my first conference paper, and also my first time presenting anything like this (although I like to think various public speaking arrangements across the years, and my regular Storytime gig have prepared me somewhat – at least none of the conference delegates are likely to tickle my knees or express affection by drooling on me).  Hopefully, however, it won’t be the last, in either case.

Our paper is second up tomorrow morning, the first day of the conference, and I will be bringing my best game face and trying not to talk too fast (quite the challenge as I normally speak at a rate of kilometres per hour at the best of times).

After I get back from the conference, I head off almost immediately to join my husband in Washington DC, where he’s also presenting at a conference, and then we’ll be taking a small holiday in New York City.  Posting may be thin on the ground around these parts until we return, but I’ll see how I go.

I’m planning to visit the Library of Congress in DC and the New York Public Library at the very least; there may be some others in there too.  I take my duties as a professional nerd very, very seriously.

See you on the other side!


Censorship, Gossip Girl, and the Function of Reading

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:17 pm

So there’s been a bit of stuff in the news lately about the mother from Florida who decided she didn’t want her daughters reading the Gossip Girl books, and decided that the best, smartest and most sensible option to go with was to steal the books from her local library and keep them.  For three years.

Tina Harden is on record as saying “It’s not that I lost the books or I didn’t feel like turning them in,” she said. “I want us to work together. Hopefully they have the same goals as I do.”  I think she’ll probably find that libraries rarely have the same goals in mind as censorship-happy wowsers who steal public property.

The sense of entitlement in her comments boggles my mind.  Sure, parents can and should play a role in deciding what they want their children exposed to (although I’d argue that, by the time they hit their teens, you should be giving them a liiiiittle bit of freedom to make some of these decisions themselves).  How on earth can someone possibly think they have the right to decide what other people’s children should read?  As a librarian, I should probably be used to this kind of thing by now, given that I’m an avid fan of the ALA’s Banned and Challenged Book Lists, although fortunately my own career has so far been free of these kind of challenges.

She is also on record as saying that she hopes the library will waive the paltry $85.00 in fines she accrued while making her point.  I think she’s lucky she’s not being charged with theft; a similar stunt from a bookstore would no doubt result in charges, regardless of whether the stock was recovered, and rightly so.

On a similar note, Dan Gutman, the author of the My Weird School series of short children’s novels, has a great article about novel content and censorship.  Gutman’s starting point is a letter from a concerned/outraged parent who accuses him of committing a “literary abomination”, which is a little harsh, and also makes me suspect that the parent in question has never read any of Dan Brown’s books.

Gutman makes many excellent points in his article, most strikingly to me:

“Nearly all the complaints I receive inform me that it’s my responsibility as an author to promote positive messages and moral lessons in my books. Honestly, that never even crossed my mind. I always thought it was the parent’s responsibility to raise their children.”

Well played, Mr Gutman.  The idea that every book for children and young adults should contain Important Messages or moral guidance is well-meaning but completely misguided, and has lead to the publication of some bog-awful books.  Children and young adults read for the same reasons that adults do, and should be allowed to do so without the wringing of adults hands concerned with whether they’re learning something or gaining moral guidance from everything they rake their eyes over.

The idea that we should ban or keep books away from children and teens because they might “get ideas” is a furphy.  The whole thing with books is that they’ve got ideas in them – it’s like banning them on the basis of that humourous euphemism “contains language”.  Of course it contains language.  It’s a bloody book.   But worrying that books alone will Corrupt Our Youth ignores the positive functions of literature, while ignoring that you can’t control the host of other factors that will influence children and teens, like, oh I don’t know, being a member of society.  One of the functions of literature is that has the potential to both complement and expand our experiences of the world.  Censoring books takes away people’s freedom to engage with that experience.  It generally doesn’t work in the long run (does Tina Harden really think that her daughters couldn’t read Gossip Girl anywhere else, or that the library couldn’t replace its copies of the books she stole?), and on the rare occasions when it does work, we are all poorer for that lack of intellectual freedom.  Especially those of us whom censors would seek to protect – children and youth, for whom books can be a fantastic tool for making sense of the world.