Using Language as a Professional & Other Arbitrary Musings

When I was in library school, I had the opportunity to take a course with Dr. Emily Knox, one of the world’s experts on intellectual freedom and its cousin, censorship. It was, and remains, one of the most foundational courses I have had the opportunity to take. Intellectual Freedom & Censorship is the sort of class that provides those who take it (particularly if, like me, they are consumed by anxiety and overthink absolutely everything and always assume that the Worst Is Coming™) endless opportunities for reflection.For example, would our profession be a profession without intellectual freedom? Dr. Knox argues that it is our support for access for all, and our stand against censorship, that has made us a profession.2

Why am I obsessing over Dr. Knox’s class right now, in particular? Oddly enough, it’s less because of current challenges (there are a lot of them) than because of language use, word choice, and the obligations of being a professional (in these cases, of being a librarian or a teacher/instructor/professor). Darned if I can find exactly when we discussed this one, but it was made clear to us as librarians (and, thus, guardians of the First Amendment) that we did not “like” or “love” or “hate” books when we were at work.3 (Similarly, we were told in Adult Popular Literature not to use the word “recommend” but rather “suggest”; if you ever deal with me in person, you will probably notice that I do, indeed, avoid “recommend” at work.) Why must we avoid these words, or these value judgements? Because we cannot impose our values on our patrons.

And I am, indeed, not! But I can ramble about professionalisms anyway. C’est la vie!

So, obviously, we’re imperfect, and this is a hard line to toe—but I’d also argue it’s an important one. It’s not for us to press value judgements on our patrons, to tell them that their romance or their space opera or their western is WRONG, or even that it’s the BEST THING EVER—after all, if they hate that damn book, we want them to feel safe coming back to find another (which is why I tend to end readers’ interactions with some variation of: and if this one doesn’t work, come back and we’ll find another!). And, of course, the only places thus far I’ve found fellow dyslexics and people with chronic pain, who exist as humans in space rather than inspiration porn, are in genre fiction (usually romance—thank you Tessa Dare and Courtney Milan and Anne Brockaway!) and young adult (here’s to Leigh Bardugo!), which, I think, should hopefully underscore the importance of not automatically discounting something because it’s written for teens or, you know, has a happy ending.

but I AM a librarian!

So, maybe because people almost never take me all that seriously at first glimpse, and maybe because ever since I was young I’ve run into Men who Explain Things to me (and also get angry when it turns out I’m not as stupid as I apparently look), professionalism is incredibly important to me. There’s a reason I swear like a Victorian gentleman at work, and it is definitely not because I can’t tell you to go F yourself in three languages (I totally can). So, for instance, when I was a teacher, I was always very careful about how I gave feedback. What a ghastly piece of shite usually became something like what an interesting concept, let’s work together to make this better!

Remember: social media is pretty constant, too! And easily searchable!

Having grown up a dyslexic I am, perhaps, a bit touchy about words, and what they can do—that’s probably even one of the reasons I am so careful when providing feedback. So, as a dyslexic, and as someone who often ponders how to be a better professional (gotta hide all my judginess in public forums, yo), it’s been bothering me to watch some of the discourse, of late, on assistive technologies.4 Basically, a lot of assistive tech is super unpopular with a lot of instructors and professors. For an excellent example of this sort of crappiness, see the prof at UIUC who not only refused to provide accommodations5 for a student but then emailed the entire class about it—because why stop at denial when you can achieve public humiliation, too?

Aethelwold is up to something.

In any case, I have been running into some unnervingly similar comments in my own life. (I even get to be the Inspirational Disabled Person sometimes!) Now, I totally understand that, say, computers in classrooms are not a drama-free topic (kind of like the 4,000 Patterson novels that are published every year! or what makes it to the top of the NYT Bestseller list!), but it’s one of those things that needs to be discussed with, as it were, one’s professional language, and with the understanding that people are always listening—or, as dear old Aethelwold reminds us, a written thing is rather constant. Put it out there that laptops are the devil’s work and no one should use technology in a classroom as it will make them stupid, and, well, not only will I remember forever (and let’s face it, Slytherins suck at forgiveness), but a whole lot of students are realizing that they can never ask this particular person for help. And that’s a huge problem.

Gotta have your porn.

Acquiring safe and non-judgemental readers’ advisory might not be quite as important as finding professors in whom one can confide, but I would certainly argue that it is, indeed, important—and it’s important that the library professional not judge either what’s being read (Patterson ahoy!), or the method of reading (or consuming) said material. Prefer to listen? Excellent! Read only on eReaders? Let’s help you set up Libby6 and Hoopla! We all have our favorite genres, we really, truly do. And that’s fab, and okay, and it’s fab and okay that we have our preferred methods of consuming said genres, whether those are by listening, reading a print book, or utilizing an eReader. (Ironically, I’ve noticed that for the most part, librarians care infinitely less about how people consume literature than the general public. Así es la vida or something, I guess.)

So, in this assortment of obsessive musings, I guess I am trying to say something very simple, and very fundamental: when we are in helping professions (or any profession, really), what we say has a fundamental impact upon those we serve. In a profession such as mine, I need to be safe and available for my patrons, regardless of their literacy level, or their ability to read Cien años de soledad, or their preference for reading erotica on their phones. (I only read my smut on Kindle, personally. Can’t stand that tiny phone screen.)  I don’t always assist my patrons in finding books that I personally like. Honestly, readers’ advisory for People Who Read Like Me is very, very rare, and that’s okay. If I can’t do readers’ for people with different tastes than mine, then I am a piss-poor excuse for a librarian, indeed. Honestly, if we the helpers can’t help without making people feel like garbage, then I think we might need to rethink our professions, or at least our commitments to them. Because we’re really not here to make people feel terrible.

1 Or obsession. Anxiety is weird.
2 Emily Knox. “Intellectual Freedom & Censorship,” 4 February 2014. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
3 At home we can do anything we want, up to and including making book arches or book clutches or book art.
4 What the hell is assistive technology? Check these out:

5 There’s also an interesting comment from a student who screenshot emails from the prof, including notes he sent in prior terms.
6 Libby is the current Overdrive/Media on Demand platform. It was also named one of the Google App Store’s best apps of 2017, which is pretty darn cool.

I am very often tempted to say this! But because I Value Professionalism™ I’ll say say gosh darn instead. And then at home I’ll tell my pillow to f off in three languages, because I damn well can. Also, every novel I will someday publish will probably end up banned for vulgarity, because #yolo.

2 Cold, 2 Logical: 2017 Highlights

Olaf provides a roughly accurate depiction of 2017.

I’m not much a one for New Year’s Resolutions: I guess that my chronic presumption that The Worst Is Coming™ (kind of like Winter is Coming, but definitely more unpleasant!) might make them difficult. But, as another burning year ends, I can stop and take stock of where I’ve been, and where I might be bound.

Or, more accurately, 2016 and 2017 were both on fire, and 2018, unfortunately, probably will be too. #AlwaysExpectTheWorst

I rarely talk about my profession here, for a lot of reasons—I really do prefer to keep it separate—but I’ve had a few (no doubt small-scale) professional triumphs this year. A coworker and I collaborated on a civil rights-themed display that made it to a local Facebook page (they liked it!). I got up my list of diverse literary awards for the second year in a row, earlier this time—so maybe it was even in time for holiday shopping! And, finally, I participated in a well-received panel at my state library association.

Well, you know, I am. And I’m not even hammered, because I don’t drink.

Presenting in public is not my thing—I prefer to hide behind words, rather than present my little and unimposing face to the world. But I can do it all the same, and sometimes do. So, even as I try to decide whether or not to renew what is theoretically my main professional membership, I am proud to have accomplished at least some things this year.

Like, you know, my grandfather, and my grandmother, and my aunt, and maybe 10 cousins on the other side. 🤷🏻

If I made any New Year’s resolution last year, it was probably to read diversely, to step aggressively outside my comfort zone (largely genre fiction, in particular romance, because even if I believe in the worst, it’s lovely to read about things ending happily sometimes), to push myself to be more and better—and, for that matter, to listen more. Now, listening better is an act in progress, always, and I will continue to work on listening. My reading has been a little more, well, entertaining.

Always the perfect gif. Also, I have never read anything even close to this, but 🤷🏻

Oscar Wilde once wrote: All women become their mothers. That is their tragedy. I have no idea if it’s a tragedy, but, as I sit surrounded by piles of books about the history of racism and the history of white people and sexism through the years and other rather depressing pieces of sociological research, I think it can be accurately said that my reading list is turning into my mother. Perhaps that’s my tragedy: I have no idea. But, hey, thanks for the tendency towards dark literature, Mom!

Let’s face it: a lot of this past year felt like running on a hamster wheel.

Now, I did other things this year, some of which were more important (those pertained, often, to my creative work), and some that were less. I had the opportunity to attend my union’s conference, which turned out to be incredible for me, less because of all the amazing pointers (there were a lot of those) and much more because, for whatever reason it may have been, I came away reminded that I have worth, that my labor has worth, and that, no matter what my professional or personal situation may be, I still have value, as a person and as a professional. (And there’s one of the reasons to belong to a union, folks.) Occasionally I’ve stepped away from my comfort zone on TV (that would be action, mostly); I’m slowly watching Juana Inés on Netflix, and it is alternately brilliant and frustrating (the third episode, “Lágrimas negras de mi pluma,” mostly just frustrated me: I would love to see middle-aged women allowed to be strong and powerful and brilliant and not, you know, prone to hysterics and dying and things like that).

It seems appropriate, somehow.

I finally took the Pottermore Sorting Hat quiz1 and got sorted into Slytherin and was so happy that I danced and all but sang, which is not really a thing that I do, but, you know, sometimes you’ve got to celebrate getting into the green-draped house of ambitious, manipulative water-lovers. (I love green, like, presumably, all other good Irish-Americans.) So, since I work with the public, I now have a lovely pair of Slytherin earrings to go with all the green I’ve worn for years. I also got what was probably one of the best complimentary insults I’ll ever receive. When one works with the public one hears some amazing things, and I am—proud? pleased? amused?—to report that it is just as well that I purchase for science and math, because I am a cold and logical person. It was not meant as a compliment but I am going to wear it with pride, because honestly, logic is a beautiful thing.

Here’s to 2018! But a lot colder than this gif. Because (thankfully) Winter is Coming. Or, rather, it’s here.

I’m not really going to sign off with resolutions, or even with a lot of hope, because I don’t want to jinx anything by, you know, assuming that something good will happen. (This is, apparently, where logic fails for me—I assume it’s all those thousands upon thousands of years’ worth of ancestors who feared the dark and raided each others’ cattle, coming out and forcing me to knock on wood.) But here’s to hoping for a year a little less on fire: for something good, whatever it is or may be or shall become, and for a whole lot of good books, because they always make things better. Even the dark ones.

Here’s to whatever that something more that we all need is, or will be, or shall become in 2018!

Happy 2018!

1 Note that I also took this one, which is supposedly scientific (probably about as scientific as my INTJ from Myers Briggs! 😂😂😂), and also got into Slytherin, at least when I’m being honest about not liking danger. I really don’t like danger, guys. Also getting my hands dirty is only really acceptable when I’m working with my plants.

Beyond the Caldecott & the Nobel: Diverse Literary Award Winners 2017

Last year, I compiled a list of the diverse literary award winners I found in a scouring of the internet—and then I decided to make it an annual excursion. We know that diversity in publishing is sadly underrepresented: that, even now, precious few of our books show something close to the world many of us recognize as our own. Thus, while these are hardly the only books out there—and they really aren’t!—these winners of diverse literary awards are an excellent place to start, and a great way to help show publishing that we want (as well as need) diverse books.

We need diverse books for kids, but we also need them for adults, and I’m glad to say that the awards covered here celebrate literature for kids, adults, and everything in between. They run the gamut from popular literature and genre fiction (big genre reader, here) to scholarly works, works in translation (some of them are popular works, too!), and poetry. In short, no matter what your tastes, I think you’ll find at least something here to read.

If I find additional awards before the end of 2017, I will add them. If there are typos or errors (which are, alas, quite likely, since I am the compiler), I will fix them as I notice them—and I apologize in advance. In the meantime, since every book is its own journey—bon voyage!  Continue reading


But the Night is Hallowe’en

A long, long time ago, after Christianity came to the Isles and turned old gods into saints or devils or knights of a Round Table, a boy toy from the Scottish side of the borderlands had gotten himself into a bit of trouble. He’d gotten his lover, Burd Janet, into trouble too, but since she was ever so much smarter than he, one guesses she would, in the end, be fine. And so, whether he cared more about her or about his own hide, he told her: “‘But the night is Halloween, lady, / The morn is Hallowday, / Then win me, win me, an ye will, / For weel I wat ye may.'” The boy toy, who hung about Carterhaugh on the Scottish Borders, was, of course, Tam Lin; his words come from Childe Ballad 39A, verse 29—probably my favorite of all the many Childe ballad versions, though I do have far more than a passing fondness for them all. And the day on which he was to pay a tiend to what he called hell was our Halloween.

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Reading for Alt Columbus Day

My plan, for today, was to write about resistance to Christóbal Colón and his crew of marauders; unfortunately, when one has a headache, one is not in the mood to re-read those old diaries—or even de las Casas’ Brevíssima Relación, which always makes me angry1—one is not quite in the right frame of mind to write anything engaging. However, thanks to my librarian superpowers, I can literally always churn out a booklist.2 So here are some books for, you know, Indigenous Peoples Day, and Alt Columbus Day.

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Labor Day 2017: The Camaraderie of a Union

I doubt it’s a secret that I am a fan of labor unions, or that it runs in my blood—that my grandfather encouraged his staff to become the first unionized library in Wisconsin, that my great-great granddad Carl the Commie had to leave Prussia for his unionizing (Von Bismarck, it seems, didn’t approve), that my mother’s been a union member for 50 years (or maybe more), that I have been and am involved in unions.


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Reading for Charlottesville I

Back in the day (which was not actually all that long ago), people used to figure that the sun disappearing behind the moon was, you know, the work of darkness and demons. Given what’s happening in the world of late, I am starting to wonder if perhaps they had something right. In any case, rather than provide a list of funny and engaging books about astronomy, I am presenting reading for Charlottesville, ranging from novels to nonfiction, and from the Holocaust to America’s long, dark history of race relations. Surely, if we understand the horrors of the past, we are better equipped to go forward, not back.

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