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?

2016 Year-End Reading Wrap-Up

Number of books read in 2016: 201

Picture books: 90

Partially read books: 8

Books read in 2015 minus picture books and partially read books: 103

YA/children’s books read: 40

Average number of books read per month (including YA, excluding picture books and partially read books): 8.58

Audiobooks: 11

Nonfiction (adult/YA): 22

Total page count: 27,536 (This seems suspiciously low, given that the last two years my page count was just over 50,000, but exporting the data I want from LibraryThing is frustrating, and honestly I don’t have the patience to dig into this. It’s still a pretty good chunk.)

Male or

Female/male authors: Tipping female for the second year in a row but still pretty close to 50-50.

Five-star ratings: 23, including re-reads; lots of childhood favorite re-reads this year, including The View From Saturday and Ella Enchanted. And Greenglass House, again.

Previously: 2015 Year-End Reading Wrap-Up

Again, no specific reading resolutions for the year. I have continued to winnow down my book collection at home, and have just a few books on the shelf that I’ve been meaning to read; one of these is The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, which I suppose would be appropriate to check off the list.

I have enjoyed reading without the lurking feeling of each book being part of a “to do” list. I’ve discovered (and revisited) many, many picture books, from my own childhood copies (One Woolly Wombat!) to the brand new and delightful (too many to name). I’ve ventured more into children’s chapter books and met Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine.

Like many others, I’m also trying to read a broader variety of perspectives: books by women and people of color and other minorities, books whose subjects or main characters are something other than straight, white, middle-class Americans. There have been some spectacular collections of scathingly funny and serious feminist essays (Lindy West, Caitlin Moran, Mindy Kaling), and Rebecca Solnit has a new book coming out in March). And YA authors have been at the forefront of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks charge from the beginning, which means we’re growing a generation more open-minded than any before it.

“And so to read is, in truth, to be in the constant act of creation.” -Caitlin Moran, Moranifesto

Best books I read in 2016

There were many books published this year that I was looking forward to eagerly, and which I devoured as soon as I could get them. Other books sneaked up on me (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!), some were recommended by friends or librarian-friends, others discovered serendipitously (my toddler pulling them off the library shelf), some a combination of the above. Links go to my LibraryThing reviews.

Cover image of My Real ChildrenAdult Fiction

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne, John Tiffany, and J.K. Rowling

My Real Children by Jo Walton

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson

“And we can’t know the lives of others. And we can’t know our own lives beyond the details we can manage. And the things that change us forever happen without us knowing they would happen. And the moment that looks like the rest is the one where hearts are broken or healed. And time that runs so steady and sure runs wild outside of the clocks. It takes so little time to change a lifetime and it takes a lifetime to understand the change.” -Jeanette Winterson, The Gap of Time

Adult Nonfiction

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

“Shame is a tool of oppression, not change….You know what’s shameful? A complete lack of empathy.” -Lindy West, Shrill

Teen/YA

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando

My True Love Gave to Me (short stories, edited by Stephanie Perkins)

Cover of I Am the Wolf...And Here I ComeChildren’s board books and picture books

Wow! Said the Owl by Tim Hopgood

There Is A Bird On Your Head by Mo Willems

I Am the Wolf…And Here I Come! by Benedicte Guettier

I Kissed the Baby by Mary Murphy

One Was Johnny by Maurice Sendak – I can’t believe I missed this one as a kid. It is the perfect counting book for introverts.

How to Cheer Up Dad by Fred Koehler

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Children’s chapter books/series

Cover image of ClementineThe Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker – I listened to all seven of these audiobooks (narrated by Jessica Almasy) and loved every single one. Clementine reminds me of Ramona Quimby (especially when adults tell her to “pay attention” and she says that she was paying attention…to something else. Perfect kid logic). The parents are great characters too.

Coming soon…2017

I haven’t looked too far ahead into 2017, publishing-wise. The book I am most anticipating, of course, is the sequel to The Time Traveler’s Wife, but there is no new news about it, as far as I can tell, and the last I heard, it was looking like ballpark 2018. I’d be excited to read anything new by David Mitchell or Nick Hornby, but they each had books out in 2015 (Slade House and Funny Girl, respectively). I’d love to read whatever Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus) is cooking up next, too. I’m sure plenty of wonderful new books will come along while I’m waiting for these…what are you excited to read this coming year?

What Makes a Good Book Club Book?

I refreshed my “What makes a good book club book?” blog post from 2012 for the library blog. See the “What makes a good book club book?” 2016 edition.

My own book club is still forging on with a small but devoted group of us that meets monthly, give or take. Some of our recent books include:

  • The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (a bit longer than our usual choices, but excellent historical fiction/mythology/magic)
  • The House of the Spirits by Isabelle Allende (no one read this who hadn’t already)
  • Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (a delightful take on Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice)
  • My Real Children by Jo Walton (a Sliding Doors-style split narrative, easily one of my favorite books I’ve read this year)
  • Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer (a children’s book, a song by The Cure, and a good choice for those who like historical fiction and time travel)
  • Becoming Nicole: the transformation of an American family by Amy Ellis Nutt (this was on the my library’s community read shortlist – and indeed, is the 2017 Arlington Reads Together book! – so I was reading it anyway for that committee)
  • Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld (a re-read for a few of us, and most of us empathized more with protagonist Lee Fiora the first time around)
  • Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, a tale of love & fallout by Lauren Redniss (our December book, and our group’s first graphic novel)

Has a book club helped you discover any books that you might not have read otherwise? Which books have lent themselves best to discussion? What’s your best advice for book clubs?

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.

Books enjoyed and anticipated in 2016

In terms of politics and world events, 2016 has perhaps not been the best year. But in terms of books, it has been stellar. I’m going to combine two Top Ten Tuesday topics: favorite releases so far this year, and most anticipated releases for the rest of the year. As usual, Linda has beat me to it and we’re anticipating many of the same titles.

Once again, this has sat half-finished in the draft folder for so long that several of the titles I was anticipating I have now read. When I started this, the two categories were more evenly balanced. Well, now you know what I was doing while I wasn’t writing blog posts.

Looking at this list, it’s almost as if all my favorite authors got together and said, “We know she has a baby (now a toddler) and reading time is precious, so let’s each publish a book this year and see if she can still read them all.” Challenge accepted! (Just one question: Why wasn’t Audrey Niffenegger invited to the party? I am going to have the teaser section of “Alba, Continued” memorized by the time she publishes the rest of the novel. Come on, Audrey…)

The Pharos Gate by Nick Bantock: I thought my precious boxed set of Griffin & Sabine books was complete, but – surprise! – there is a new one. I received a copy through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program and am happy to say that it fits in perfectly with the other six books; the magic remains intact.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave: Chris Cleave is one of my favorite authors, and I love historical fiction. This is a good book, but there is so much WWII fiction that the bar is quite high, and I think Cleave’s contemporary fiction is stronger. This one didn’t stay with me the way that Gold did.

The WonderThe Wonder by Emma Donoghue: Donoghue switches fluidly between contemporary and historical novels, and she excels at both. The Wonder is the story of Nightingale-trained English nurse Lib Wright, who takes a two-week job watching Irish eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell, who claims not to have eaten in four months. Is it a miracle or a hoax? Lib is sure it’s a hoax and that Anna is a liar, but she quickly comes to care for the girl, and concern at her deteriorating condition compels her to ask not how Anna is maintaining her fast, but why she feels the need to fast at all. The answer is a tangle of religious beliefs and a dark family secret.

Leave Me by Gayle Forman: A mother of four-year-old twins can’t get a break even when she is recovering from a heart attack, so she simply leaves town to find the rest and recovery she needs. Difficult to read at times, but Forman (If I Stay, Where She Went, Just One Day, Just One Year) has such compassionate for and empathy with her characters; she makes the transition from YA to adult seamlessly.

The TrespasserThe Trespasser by Tana French: I’ve been devoted to Tana French’s psychological suspense novels since In the Woods, and I’m always eager to read her new books, though I think The Likeness will always be my favorite. The Trespasser takes place largely in the police office and interview rooms rather than out on the scene; it was a touch long but never felt sluggish, as Conway and Moran dug into what was apparently a domestic murder but turned out to be more complicated than that.

The View from the Cheap SeatsThe View From the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman: This one sneaked up on me; it was not preceded by a lot of fanfare. I’d read a few of the pieces already but enjoyed them again, particularly “Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading, and Daydreaming: The Reading Agency Lecture, 2013.” Nearly every piece in the collection is quite short, and I browsed rather than read straight through in order, so there are some pieces I missed.

Something New by Lucy Knisley: Relish is still my favorite book of hers, but this story of engagement and wedding planning is perfect for those who are in the same stage of life, particularly those with an artsy-craftsy hipster DIY style.

This Must Be the PlaceThis Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell: O’Farrell is another of my favorite authors and I read an e-galley of this novel in a few huge gulps, the result being that I don’t remember it as well as if I’d read it more slowly. It’s the story of Daniel Sullivan and his various family members, in various parts of the world (Donegal, Paris, California, New York, Chile), at various times (from the 1980s to 2016). O’Farrell has a genius for character; I would read this again and probably enjoy it just as much.

CommonwealthCommonwealth by Ann Patchett: On my admittedly long list of favorite authors, Patchett is firmly in the top five. Commonwealth is the story of two families who break apart and combine, leaving the children to cope with divorce, cross-country moves, and a singular tragedy. Various family members (but not all of them) narrate over a long time frame, during which their personal tragedy is made public in a famous author’s thinly fictionalized account.

On Bowie by Rob Sheffield: I was a Bowie fan without realizing it; when he died, I checked a greatest hits CD out from the library and discovered I knew plenty of Bowie songs, I just hadn’t known they were Bowie songs. Sheffield’s book is somewhere between a Bowie biography and a personal memoir – an fan’s extended paean to a cultural idol.

EligibleEligible by Curtis Sittenfeld: I had high expectations for this book (Curtis Sittenfeld! Pride & Prejudice!), and though some reviews were negative or mixed, I thoroughly enjoyed it, as did the other members of my book club. Sittenfeld brings the P&P story and characters into present-day Cincinnati, and she does it very well: with cleverness and wit and invention. She makes one or two significant changes from the original plot and characters, but remains true to the heart of the story.

Last Painting of Sara de VosThe Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith: I do love a good art history story, and this one didn’t disappoint. It takes place in three time periods: Holland in the 1630s, when the painting is created; Manhattan in the 1950s, when the painting is stolen and copied; and Sydney, Australia in 2000 when both the original and the forgery arrive at a museum show. Suspenseful and satisfying, a good choice for those who liked The Art Forger (B.A. Shapiro) or The Miniaturist (Jessie Burton).

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefavater: I have inhaled each of these four books, reading them so quickly it’s hard to remember the details. This was a satisfying conclusion to this uniquely magical quartet.

Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down by Anne Valente: The title snagged my attention, and the description and comp titles were enticing, so I requested and received the e-galley. For a story about a school shooting and a series of subsequent fatal house fires, I found it to be pretty slow-paced, and ended up skimming the last third just to find out who/what was causing the fires. On a political note, stories like this make our lack of national legislation on gun control even more frustrating.

Father’s Day by Simon Van Booy: Yet another of my favorite authors, Van Booy never disappoints: his poetic language, beautiful settings, and gift for bringing characters together in unexpected ways is delicate and touching.

Anticipating

The Muse by Jessie Burton: The second novel by the author of The Miniaturist takes place in Spain in 1936 and England in 1967. I like historical fiction in general, and Jessie Burton’s writing, and Spain in the 1930s is particularly interesting. I’m hoping to pick this up in the next month or two.

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple: Plenty of buzz about the new novel by the author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? A library copy just came in so I’ll be giving it a try soon.

A Gentleman in MoscowA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles: I loved Rules of Civility so much that I was doubtful his next novel could be nearly as good, but my library colleague raved about it and it’s gotten very good reviews. I’ve just started reading and am enjoying it so far.

See also:

Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far in 2015 (7/1/15)

Best Books I’ve Read in the Second Half of 2016 (12/25/15)