Arlington Reads Together: Becoming Nicole

Last fall, I was on the selection committee that chose Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt as the 2017 Arlington Reads Together book. Last Saturday, I got to be in the audience to hear Nicole herself, and her father Wayne, speak to the Arlington community for the A.R.T. kickoff event in our beautiful old Town Hall building.

In the weeks leading up to this event, as we have had library displays announcing the book and the related programs this month, I have been pleasantly surprised how many people have shown so much enthusiasm for the book and for the topic. (Transgender issues, unfortunately, have been in the news again lately as the federal government has just revoked protections for transgender students in public schools to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.)

I encourage everyone to read Becoming Nicole, if you haven’t already. My brief review and quotes from the book from when I read it last year are on LibraryThing; I’ll use this space to recap the event.

Nicole’s talk emphasized the need to educate people on transgender issues. When kids know what “transgender” means, they are less likely to bully other trans students; when adults know, they are more likely to support trans people’s rights. She called the recent rollback of federal protections for trans students an “unnecessary backward step” because “people don’t put a face to the trans movement. Who actually is this affecting?” In the Q&A after the talk, Nicole said, “It’s harder to marginalize a human being than a foreign idea.”

Nicole also emphasized the importance of education because “kids know their gender identity early….Parents need to get on board early so kids can get medical treatment.” She spoke about “the importance of having adults support you”; her mother Kelly supported her from the beginning, and her father Wayne eventually got on board as well. Her elementary school supported her at first, but later things deteriorated to the point where the Maines family had to move. Nicole also mentioned Camp Aranu’tiq as a wonderful, inclusive summer camp experience for trans kids.

Though Nicole and Wayne appreciated the supportive Arlington audience, Nicole said, “We can’t keep preaching to the choir”; we have to have conversations with people who don’t understand. “The people in power don’t get it, and they need to.”

During the Q&A, one preschool teacher and one middle school teacher asked for advice. For the preschool teacher, Nicole suggested specific books (including I Am Jazz; there is also Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen), and suggested not enforcing a gender binary (e.g. allowing children to play with any toys in the classroom, not identifying some as “girls’ toys” and some as “boys’ toys”). She mentioned the need to educate parents as well, though she acknowledged the balancing act that might take. For the high school teacher, she said that being available for students to come talk to is important.

This was a wonderful event, and we were so lucky to hear directly from Wayne and Nicole, who were both well-prepared, entertaining, sympathetic, and humorous speakers. You can see photos of the event (taken by librarian/photographer Rob Lorino) on the library blog.

“What is fake news?” informational pamphlet

People from several libraries have asked if they can use the “What is fake news?” pamphlet that I created to go with my library’s January display on this topic. The answer is yes, please feel free to use and share it! I made a new version with a Creative Commons license instead of my library’s logo: 2017-01-fakenewsbrochure-update-2017-03

Indiana University created a helpful LibGuide about fake news as well. If you have similar materials to share, please do. Information literacy and news literacy are more important now than ever.

Libraries in a Post-Truth World, Part III: Afternoon Discussion

See Part I and Part II of Libraries in a Post-Truth World.

Workshop Ideas posterboard with post-its

In the Fact, Truth, and Trust group of academic and public librarians and researchers, we discussed confirmation bias, verifying social media content, emotions vs. facts, and building an information diet. We started with introductions and why we had chosen this group. People expressed interest in:

  • How to separate fact from opinion (“Where does truth lie in a society that’s all about opinion and rhetoric?”)
  • How to have programs in libraries and schools without political slant or agenda
  • Advocacy for funding for librarians in schools
  • Teaching/encouraging critical thinking skills
  • Information-seeking behavior and narrative theory, how people construct narratives
  • Trust in/use of data (what people talk about when they talk about data; presentation of data)

One participant commented that “Uncovering bias is one of the highest-order thinking skills we have…it can be almost invisible.” As one of the panelists had pointed out earlier, confirmation bias affects people on both/all political sides. Two people mentioned the site allsides.com (“Don’t be fooled by bias. Think for yourself”), which offers left, right, and central perspectives for real news stories. 

Eventually we came to the idea of “building an information diet” and spent most of our time discussing how we might use that idea to offer library programs on information literacy. The diet analogy will be immediately familiar to most people: a healthy information diet, like a healthy food diet, should be varied and mostly wholesome. There are many ways to approach this:

  • Read/watch/listen to a news source that has the opposite perspective from your usual source(s). Expand/broaden your news-universe; whether or not you agree with it, know where the other side is coming from. Begin to build a bridge from your emotional comfort areas to increase empathy. You may not change your mind, but understand where others are coming from.
  • Debate whose responsibility it is to curb “fake news”/ propaganda/misinformation/disinformation. Social media platforms? The government? Individuals?
  • Incorporate international media sources: look at international coverage of world news and U.S. news. If teaching a class or workshop, international examples are less political, as are sports and entertainment/cultural coverage.
  • Affirm belief in truth and facts: encourage people to be skeptical, but convince them that verification is possible.

As for specific program ideas:

  • Include it in existing summer reading programs.
  • Use the “Whole 30” model, or modify it to a day- or week-long challenge. Those who want to participate can meet at the beginning and end to discuss their strategies and results.
  • Create a game aspect with competition and prizes. Tracking down original sources can be like a mystery or a treasure hunt.
  • Try a version of the Human Library to encourage discussions across political differences. A conversation with a real live person is more likely to change someone’s mind (or create that empathy bridge) than reading an article.
  • Checkology from the News Literacy Project can be used in public libraries. It’s designed for students in grades 6-12 but some parts are appropriate for adults as well.

It’s important to maintain the trust that people already have in libraries, and strike a balance between advocacy and alienation. Be aware that the term “fake news” itself is very polarizing. (But “propaganda” is even more so.) Frame information literacy programs as helpful for “brushing up your skills” instead of teaching something entirely new. 

The information diet idea isn’t original to the Libraries in a Post-Truth World conference; a NYT article has been published since the conference on the same topic (“Fatigued by the News? Experts Suggest How to Adjust Your Information Diet,” Christopher Mele, The New York Times, February 1, 2017). This article was somewhat short on actual suggestions, however, beyond (1) seeking out positive news as an antidote to the barrage of negativity, (2) reading a print newspaper instead of Internet sources, and (3) not reading or watching the news before bed. It also links to an article that cites Dan Gillmor, who popularized the “slow news” movement, partly as a reaction to the 24-hour news cycle.

I used to read Dan Gillmor’s blog regularly, and actually did an activity he assigns to the students in his media literacy class at ASU: to track your own media consumption for one day. It was interesting to do, and could easily be adapted into a library program if patrons were interested in sharing their experience.

I’m grateful for the experience of attending this conference, and hope to put some of the ideas to work here in my library.

“Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains taken to bring it to light” –George Washington

Libraries in a Post-Truth World

On Thursday, January 26, I attended a one-day conference hosted by Phillips Academy in Andover called “Libraries in a Post-Truth World.” There was some helpful pre-conference reading about fake news and hoaxes, information overload, and media literacy:

Why America is Self-Segregating” and “Did Media Literacy Backfire?” by danah boyd, January 9 & 10, 2017

Many Americans Believe Fake News Is Sowing Confusion,” Pew Research Center, December 15, 2016

The Real History of Fake News,” Columbia Journalism Review, December 15, 2016

At Sea in a Deluge of Data,” Alison J. Head and John Wihbey, The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 7, 2014

Mike Barker, Director of Academy Research and Library Services at Phillips Academy, introduced the morning’s panelists:

John Palfrey, Head of School, Phillips Academy, and author
Mary Robb, Teacher, Media Literacy and Democracy, Andover High School
Adam Schrader, Former Facebook editor and news fact checker
Damaso Reyes, Program Coordinator, The News Literacy Project
Melissa Zimdars, PhD, Assistant Professor of Communication at Merrimack College
Catherine Tousignant, English Instructor, Phillips Academy
Alison Head, PhD, Project Information Literacy
John Wihbey, Assistant Professor of Journalism and New Media at Northeastern University
Claire Wardle, First Draft News
Ben Sobel, Fellow, Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University

The panelists were all informed and articulate, experts in their fields; they could have spoken for much longer, but we used the rest of the day for two presentation sessions (Damaso Reyes on The News Literacy Project and Checkology, Alison J. Head on Project Information Literacy), identifying areas of focus for the afternoon discussion, reforming into discussion topic groups, and reporting our results to the other participants.

“Librarians are good at ferreting out what exists and good at making partnerships. Librarians are in the right position to make an impact.” -Alison Head

I attended Damaso Reyes’ presentation on Checkology (“how to know what to believe”), a news literacy program designed for 6th-12th grade students. Reyes showed us videos created for the program (Peter Sagal was in one!) and guided us briefly through the four modules: (1) Filtering news and information; (2) exercising civic freedoms; (3) navigating today’s information landscape; and (4) how to know what to believe. Some key takeaways:

  • “Information literacy is not what it should be in our society, and that’s a threat to our democracy.”
  • When reading/listening to/watching news, ask: What is the primary purpose of this information? (To inform, to entertain, to convince, to provoke, etc.)
  • Consider the role of algorithms and personalization. The information you’re getting is filtered – think about how and why.
  • Trying to teach students to be skeptical, not cynical.
  • Critical thinking & skepticism is an important skill, and should not be outsourced to technology even if it could be (e.g. plugins). “We shouldn’t depend too much on technology to save us.”
  • What you share online has your credibility attached to it.
  • We are all susceptible to confirmation bias.
  • Society stops functioning if we can’t agree on some things (i.e. facts). A fact is something we can all agree on but it is also something we can independently verify.

After the presentation, we talked in small groups to come up with discussion topics for the afternoon. Two of the Phillips Academy librarians sorted our ideas into loose categories:

Partnerships & Collaboration with Faculty
Partnerships & Collaboration with Community
Professional Development
Fact, Truth, & Trust (I was in this group)
Access to Information
Lesson Plans
Teaching Approach
“Other”

I will be writing another blog post (or two) soon about the morning panel and the afternoon discussion. In the meantime, I’d like to share a handout I made for my library to accompany our display on media literacy. Here is the PDF of the tri-fold pamphlet: updated 2/16/17, 3/1/2017 – I have made a new version without the Robbins Library logo, with a Creative Commons license. Please feel free to use and share: 2017-01-fakenewsbrochure-update-2017-03

Advice for 21st Century Libraries

Recently, a trustee from another library in Massachusetts contacted me to ask for some thoughts on the future of libraries, and how best to design for that future. She said her library was “at a crossroads,” but may soon have the opportunity to renovate their current building or build in a new location. She was taking the wise step of seeking information and opinions from a variety of perspectives before launching any action. Here, then, is some of my advice for libraries looking to the future:

  • If you’re lucky enough to get a building grant (or another source of funding to make changes to a current building or build a new one):
    • Consider the way that patrons are using your library now, but also consider other ways people might use the space. Make it as flexible as possible, with modular furniture and movable stacks.
    • Get as much natural light as you can. This includes basement levels (children’s and teen departments are often downstairs, as are meeting rooms, and staff work space).
    • When choosing an architect, make sure they have designed libraries before. Talk to staff – not just directors, but all staff, from circ to reference to children’s – to see what they like and dislike, what works and what could be improved. Staff on the “front lines” have a lot of valuable knowledge that an architect should consider: the importance of sight lines between desks, the location of bathrooms, the varying temperature zones in different areas of the library.
  • Have places for people to meet: large meeting and program rooms, smaller study rooms, open areas with tables for group work. Study rooms are in demand at most public libraries, and larger rooms can be used (for free or for a fee, depending on library policy) by community groups, which may lead to partnerships between those groups and the library.
  • Make the space welcoming. Natural light, comfortable furniture, perhaps some bright colors or a particular visual element – like a mural in the children’s area – encourage people to come in and stay for a while.
    • And if you give a mouse a place to stay for a while…he’s probably going to ask for milk and cookies. Do you have (or can you add) a coffee shop or cafe? At the very least, consider scrapping policies against food and drink in the library, at least in some areas.
  • Who uses the library? Are you missing certain demographics (age, income, race)? How do you encourage those people to use the library?
  • Where are the teenagers? Talk to teen librarians. In my experience, they are some of the most enthusiastic and creative librarians in the profession, bubbling over with outside-the-box ideas, and they have incredible problem-solving skills. How can you support them to make the teen space inviting, either in terms of furniture, materials, technology, or programming? Teen space in the library should be distinct from children’s space and adult space.
    • Is there a good library in the middle school and high school? Support your teen librarian’s efforts to connect to teachers and school librarians. Consider offering programs that are more fun than educational – games, arts and crafts, movies.

The two most important things I hope that library directors and boards will take into account when planning for the future are the following:

Get buy-in from library staff, library users, and people in the community who don’t use the library. (Why don’t they come in? What could you offer that would attract them?) Not everyone will be excited about change, but if you can get a few “early adopters” on board, they will bring others with them. Bottom-up change is usually more successful than top-down change, so get input from every level.

Design for flexibility. We can’t see the future, but we can safely assume it will be different from the present. Make your space as flexible as possible so that you can make changes to meet unforeseen needs and wants: renovations and new furniture are expensive, so make them count. And remember to prioritize accessibility, not simply to fulfill ADA compliance, but because the library should be welcoming and easy to use for everyone.

Do you work in a library? Are you a library user? What do you think are the most important things to keep in mind when planning for the future of a library?

Caitlin Moran discusses her Moranifesto

Cover image of MoranifestoOn November 30, journalist and author Caitlin Moran (pronounced CAT-lin mo-RAN) spoke in conversation with Boston Globe columnist Meredith Goldstein at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, hosted by the Harvard Bookstore. It was dark and rainy, but good to be in a room full of feminist librarian types. I haven’t yet read Moran’s newest book, Moranifesto, but I loved her book How to Be A Woman and her previous essay collection, Moranthology. I initially discovered her via her essay “Alma Mater” in The Library Book, and I still think of a passage from it often:

“The shelves were supposed to be loaded with books – but they were, of course, really doors….A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination….They are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead.”

-“Alma Mater,” Caitlin Moran

Like most of the audience, I was prepared for Moran to be her unselfconscious, energetic, hilariously uncensored self, and she launched in right away about having just gotten her period and being on codeine (which I’m pretty sure you cannot get over the counter in this country) and coffee. The coffee was winning, I think, because she was talking faster than Lauren Graham.

In shifting from writing about pop culture and feminism, Moran said that at first she had felt “ill-qualified” to write about politics, but gained confidence when she realized that many political figures were former journalists. She stated, “Politics does not work anymore,” and said that we need to form new political parties in the U.K. and U.S. Moran believes in action: “If you started complaining three minutes ago, you should’ve started doing something two minutes ago.”

Of certain of our current political figures, Moran said, “These are not politicians, they are agents provocateurs.” She said that the tone of politics has been set by the Internet, which is  largely young, male, and lawless – “like California during the Gold Rush.”

“EVERYTHING is going to change in the next twenty years.”

Moran believes the left’s biggest enemy is itself. Whereas the goal of conservatism is to keep things as they are (the status quo), the left has two goals: to redistribute power and to invent a future. It is far harder to create something new than to preserve something, which leads to greater dissent, even among those who agree on a progressive agenda.

Moran read from one of the essays in Moranifesto, “Advice to Teenage Girls.” Some of her advice:

  • “‘Yet’ is a very useful word.”
  • “When in doubt, listen to David Bowie.”
  • “Go out there and change the world so it works for you.”

“I think everyone should write a manifesto,” Moran said. What will her next book be? How to Be Famous. “Celebrities are the Greek gods of our time.”

Q&A

The questions from the audience were mostly serious, but the answers ranged. In one case Moran’s answer skittered so far from the topic of the question so quickly that the only possible explanation is a tesseract. Suffice to say that Moran has clearly given the issue of Muppet sex some thought. Her answer offended an audience member; Moran listened to the complaint and responded that she was glad the person had spoken up: “I try to make everyone feel like they can say anything.”

Another audience member asked how we can encourage a cultural shift so that sexual violence and rape is taken seriously? Moran’s idea is to drop the word “sexual” in front of the word “assault”; “physical assault” sounds more serious.

Moran also talked about the online environment and social media. She said, “If you had a town planner, they’d never build the Internet the way it is. There are no safe public spaces….We need to find a new way [of designing and using social media]. This is a “problem of culture, not politics.” There is more money in argument and dissent than in agreement, thus “the world becomes angrier and more afraid.” The U.S., Moran pointed out, will never be invaded – our biggest danger is ourselves (internal dissent).

Ending on a serious note, Moran said that the Brexit vote and the Trump election are part of the same phenomenon, dating back to the 2008 crash. Neither approach of the current political systems – austerity or stimulus – brought anyone to justice for the events of 2008. Instead, the strategy of those in power to stop a revolution was to create a sub-class so people’s anger was directed down instead of up (to the elite).

And back out into the rainy night we went.

How the MA eBook Project became the Commonwealth eBook Collections

Information Today logoBack in March (which seems much longer than three months ago), I wrote a feature article for Information Today, and now it has been published! If you are one of the librarians who helped, either by providing your feedback or proofreading, you have my sincere thanks. Here it is: “Ebooks in Libraries: Equal Access to Digital Content?” (Hint: no, not yet. But we’re working on it…)