Sounds of Life. Sounds of a Library.

*This is a response to an assignment for my MLIS program wherein I contemplate what I believe to be true about libraries.*

 

Listen.

Padded footsteps on a carpeted floor.

Clickity clack go the toy trains on their table tracks.

Whispers.

Teenage jabber.

Tap, tap, on the keyboards.

The clanging of the return slot- closing.

Toddlers bleating in a corner.

Swosh, doors open, swosh, doors close again.

Angry Birds, a theme song for iPad children.

The closing of a hardcover novel, fhwip.

A conclave of creativity.

Thank you, have a nice day.

 

These are the sounds of a library.

When I think of my experience with libraries, my own personal story collection, no tale is particularly quiet. From my days as a teenager sitting at the upstairs corner table, looking out over the harbor, the ships sailing in and out, the sun setting, I think of the stories I wove for my English class, the inspiration I got from the view of the city across the water, and the reading aloud of my work, editing with my peers.

I think of the first day I took my toddling son to explore the shelves and the worlds within. As he clambered to reach the texts that were too high and as they fell around him in a crash on the floor, I was met with smiles and squeals of delight from the staff who leapt into action to help me re-shelve the fallen tomes. With open arms and eyes brimming with delight, my son learned that a library was a welcoming haven. Somewhere he could be adventurous, mischievous, and greeted with smiles.

As he and I continued to visit the libraries in our community, I was struck with the plentiful program offerings for all ages, all manner of interests. My son learned to glue candles on a paper cake, shake an and get his sillies out, while I found free university lectures and met like minded mates at a graphic novel book club. Four years later their friendship, conversation, and shared interests contribute to the best nights of my months.

Every second month, as the new program guide is delivered, I wait patiently to pick up my copy. I circle dozens of programs. Some I will attend: book club, kids craft days, baby stories and songs. Others I will strive to make, astronomy 101, palm reading, laughter yoga- but in the end, I will concede to joining another time. There is not enough time to learn about all the themes the library provides through programs, but there is something for anyone who wants to learn. And this is the great purpose of our libraries today- to provide a place where people can learn, create and meet like-minded individuals. A library can be the setting for the forging of great friendships, as it can be a place to access and unlock information.

In that regard, librarians are no longer the gatekeepers of intelligence; they appropriate wisdom, share their knowledge and ensure their patrons are informed. Librarians guide their patrons to the information they seek, helping first to clarify and fully comprehend what is needed, then teaching how to access and unearth the information buried deep within electronic networks or between the dusty pages of a book. Librarians no longer shush us. They encourage us! They point us towards the answers we seek and sometimes, often times, they enjoy learning right along with us. They cheer on our desire to read and learn. They applaud our curiosity. They invite our questions.

The image of the library is changing, this I believe to be certain. Libraries are a powerhouse for innovation and creativity. They are no longer about amassing quantities of books (though the books are there for those who cherish them), neither are they there to provide a reserved, muted space for study (though these rooms do exist). When someone asks, Will there be need for librarians in the future? Shout a resounding, Yes! and explain their role in the creative community, their role as information harbingers and providers. Librarians are there to help you connect with information; the library is there to connect information with the community. Walk into a library with questions, with curiosity. Shuffle your feet through the aisles and drum your fingers along the stacks. Tap out your questions and print your findings. Raise your voice and ask a question.

Libraries are bustling. They bustle with knowledge. They bustle with information. They bustle with creativity. They bustle with life. Gone are the days when libraries were places of quiet, contemplative solitude. There is very little shushing in a library now, though a rowdy crowd might warrant one, from time to time. The library of today, on the precipice of the year 2015, is alive with ideas, people and noise! It is the epicenter of creativity; a place one can research business ventures of the past, flops and successes; a place to discuss and debate ideas; a safe haven of inclusion for those who need it most. Ideas are being exchanged and these ideas are making noise in the branches of their communities.

It is a wonderful feeling, knowing that I don’t have to hover over my children when we step into the library. They scuttle towards the children’s section, bumbling and fumbling as they make their way, and as they become chefs, conductors, puzzle masters, and elocutionists of fairy tales, I know they will not be silenced. They will be encouraged to play and create. They will be prodded into conversation by staff, and once and a while they will be listened to as they read their favorite books out loud. And as they grow they will learn to use the library and its staff as a soundboard for ideas, sounding their barbaric yawps, waiting to create and discover. Making beautiful noise as they go.

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Wonder Woman’s Short Shorts are Not a Problem, But Focusing on Them Is.

Wherein I respond to a troubling segment of Fox and Friends.

http://comicbook.com/2014/09/22/fox-news-upset-popeye-isn-t-smoking-thor-is-a-woman-and-wonder-w/

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I don’t care that Wonder Woman wears short shorts and a strapless top. I don’t care that Emma Frost always looks cold because she lives in nothing more than lingerie. I don’t care that Ms. Marvel is often in danger of getting a wedgie from her body suit when she blasts off into space. I don’t care about these things because I don’t think about them. When I read a comic I actually read it for the content. Not the outfits. After a disturbing segment of Fox and Friends, I urge others to consider doing the same.

The blatant mockery of the unfinished editing of Sony Animation’s film, Popeye (for creating a title character without his trademark pipe and tattoos) is unfounded as the comments were made about test footage. We have no way of knowing yet if either of these things will make the final cut, but if they don’t, what is the hurt of having a protagonist who doesn’t smoke? What will it matter to kids of a new generation if Popeye’s arms are simply muscular? If an American icon is neither tattooed nor a smoker he should not be branded a “wuss,” and he should certainly not be emasculated. I grew up with Popeye, too, and his tattoos made very little impression on me. I remember the importance of eating spinach. 🙂

As for Thor, and the issue of Odinson now being unworthy so a woman has taken up his mantle, I say it is time to embrace change.  Thor is no longer worthy of Mjolnir, and this is not the first time, either. Remember when he used to carry around Jarnbjorn? (If not, Jarnbjorn is a really big axe.) True comic book fans should be able to at least make peace with the situation and greet the new Thor as a potential hero in her own right, not a new “bustier” Thor with “two additions”. Even in comic books women can be more than big breasts. At no point was her physical strength mentioned, which is hard to miss given that she is not much smaller than Thor Odinson. Also, women can be superheroes without having overtly female names like Thorina. In an age where we are striving for gender equality, it is important that female heroes have their own names. As all women should.

Many fans are upset because Marvel is making so many changes of major characters, many have been outspoken against a new Thor (even I wish Odinson could be Thor and Marvel would highlight a female character in her own right), but to regale her to the size of her breast plate is inappropriate. If we are going to cast her aside, let’s at least have substantial reasoning for it.

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Now, for the points about Wonder Woman. The truth seeking Amazon princess, Diana, who battles for justice alongside some of the greatest heroes ever written has been reduced to her short shorts and halter top. First, let me just say a halter top has a strap that goes around one’s neck. Wonder Woman’s top is strapless, just a fashion FYI.  I love Gadot’s costume in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, which I know strikes a nerve  for not being patriotic enough, but as a reader of comics let me point out that she is coming into a film that has been said to be heavily influenced by Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Saga, so dark tones will prevail. Also, she looks tough. Much tougher than the bright red and blues. Perhaps an icon like Wonder Woman deserves a costume better than that of a “roller skating” outfit. I wonder if anyone is offended by the changes to Superman’s costume, or can male superheroes undergo costume alterations and still be taken seriously?

We live in an age where women and men should be treated equally. The comics industry is making strides to accommodate this, so I would hope daytime television personalities would strive to do so as well. A true fan, I would hope, appreciates heroes for their abilities, cunning, wit and skill. They also love comics for the content, and yes, they probably enjoy the costumes, but the costumes can change without changing the integrity of the person who wears them. And as for Thor, let’s at least give her a chance. If she is good enough for Jason Aaron, she should at least be worthy of us.

Instead of focusing on the superficiality of character clothing, I encourage everyone to pick up a comic and read it for its originality and content. But if you cannot, try not to insult those of us who do.

 

 

Parents and Teachers: Superhero Responsibly

* This post is an extension of a radio interview that I participated in addressing the presence of superheroes in the classroom.

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The board and faculty of a private school in my hometown has, with the support of many parents, endeavoured to ban superheroes from its halls. As both a teacher and mother I cannot condone these choices. It goes without saying that as a comic book enthusiast I am deeply disappointed. To the parents and teachers willing to censure superheroes I have this to say: please, superhero responsibly.

With the advent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) And recent DC films, superheroes are at a cultural peak. Those who do not understand the broad scope of superhero literature, its many facets and depth, choose to select this medium as a scapegoat for undesirable behaviour and disinterest in reading. Superheroes are not the problem; disrespect for the power of comics is the problem.  Arguments against superheroes in the classroom and hallways of schools range from being too violent, addressing only very basic story lines, and stamped with the label “bad” literature. There are many adults in the education system who still devalue the worth of the graphic novel as a medium for teaching literature. It is not only a question of misunderstanding superheroes, but of graphic storytelling and art as a whole. A paradigm shift needs to occur to eradicate this archaic perception.

I do not, under any circumstances, want my six year old son watching violent television, film, or reading violent books. So he doesn’t, but he watches and knows all about superheroes. As the responsible adult in our relationship, I monitor what he reads and watches to ensure its age appropriateness. The popular films from the MCU, along with the Christopher Nolan Batman films and DC’s burgeoning Justice League films are not for children. Nor are the majority of graphic novels and weekly and monthly single issues at your local comic book store. Superhero comics are largely targeted towards young adults and adult audiences. The characters are targeted to children. Books, comics and films for children do not touch on the same themes as the films you watch or hear about in popular culture. The Superhero Squad, for example, treat themes of friendship, teamwork and personal growth. Doctor Doom is always bested, sometimes with Iron Man’s blasters, but more than the fighting are the plot driven discussions about why the problem at hand exists. Often the show ends with a moral. My son can watch this show. He is not violent as a result. He uses his words, not his actions when faced with a disgruntled friend. He wants to be as good a friend as Wolverine and as strong a leader as Iron Man and Captain America are. It is ok that he doesn’t know exactly what Wolverine is best at, but when he does find out later on he will already know that Wolverine is a character that can be counted on- a leader who makes tough choices. Wolverine will become more believable as my son’s world becomes more real. My son lives in a violent world. He doesn’t need comics to teach him that. If anything, they can help him escape it.

Superheroes are only written into simple story lines in the minds of the uneducated people who don’t read comics. I would argue they are full of substance, figurative language, advanced vocabulary and rich plot detail. I have a degree in English Literature, a degree in education, and soon I will have a degree in library sciences. I know good literature when I see it, or read it; and I read A LOT.

As a teacher I would often use superhero story lines in my English and senior history classes. For example, Superman: Red Son is the story of Superman’s crash landing in Russia. In my History 12 Global Studies class, we consider the outcome of the Cold War if Superman had been raised in the Soviet Union. The purpose is to encourage students to think outside of the box. To buoy their curiosity as they consider what they take for granted as normal and look at it from another perspective. Our role as teachers is not to indoctrinate our beliefs and ideas, it is to inspire youth to acknowledge their own. If I use Superman as a vehicle to get them to think of the world from a soviet lens, then I have granted them permission to reject, momentarily, what they know for what could have been. Similarly, in an effort to make Hercules more interesting to a disinterested World History 10 student, I suggest All Star Superman, where our protagonist takes on Herculean trials as the student realizes his hero is a flawed being; god-like, but not a god.

Superheroes are flawed. Stripped bare of their powers and technology they are flawed men and women who do not conform and fit into conventional society. The X-men are spokesmodels for the marginalized. Batman is constantly seeking an outlet for dealing with the death of his parents. Captain America struggles in vain to ensure morality, ethics and values in a world saturated in corruption. Readers, every single one of us, are flawed beings. Each of us longing to belong. Why not let our young readers engage with the stories of their cultural icons and heroes who reflect the very struggles they endure?

The role of the parent, the teacher, and the educational system is to provide mentorship for our students. To enlighten a future society to appreciate and concede to the perspectives of others. Teaching them that the literature and the characters they admire and love are not appropriate, unacceptable, or rubbish is teaching them to censure what they do not understand. Censorship is fundamentally backwards in a society where we value free thinking and education.

I will continue to teach with superheroes. When my students walk into my classroom they will be greeted with a poster of Spiderman and a collection of comic figurines lining my desk. I will discuss the movies they watch, the comics they read, and in turn students will continue to ask to be in my homeroom; the space they feel safe to express who they are and where they see their interests proudly positioned on the walls around them. My son will be encouraged to learn more about the superheroes he loves, he will be praised for the comics he himself creates, and when the time comes, with his mom and dad as excited as he is, he will watch superheroes on the big screen.

Banning superheroes is an act akin to the malevolence of super villains.

Don’t be a villain. Superhero responsibly.

Something to Reference…

** This post is taken from a discussion I posted to a course site in my Masters of Library Science Degree.

But I thought it might merit sharing on my blog.

 

Terri is amazing.

That is what I thought the first day of my Bachelor of Education. We were going through the motions of orientation and stopped to learn about the CRC, otherwise known as the Curriculum Resource Centre. It was a safe space for all teachers-to-be to gather, collect, brainstorm and learn; and at the heart was Terri.

Terri is a librarian who lives to learn and to help others learn. She is always open to questions and queries, eager to help locate information, but not without teaching her patrons how to locate it for themselves. She asks all the right questions, helps you to understand your subject better and guides you to the information that you need.

The question we are meant to answer is what was a memorable reference experience that you had? I cannot think of a specific moment with reference services or reference librarians, but I can clearly remember many moments with Terri; a single librarian catering to hundreds of students, providing answers, empowering others to learn and realize they have the power to search for themselves. Our studies stress the importance of the reference interview, the role of the reference librarian, the need to encourage and mentor others in the acquisition of knowledge, encouraging literacy and creating a warm and safe space for learning- Terri did this everyday. I spent all of my degree in the CRC, not because I could do my work there, but because I felt safe there. Safe to explore my own boundaries and knowing that someone was there to guide if that was what I needed.

After getting to know her (within a mere two or three months of my degree), I knew teaching was only a part of me, that the person I was meant to be mirrored the person she was. I want to be a librarian. I think part of me already is one. I long to offer the kind of mentorship that she showed me to others. That is one of the many reasons I want to be a librarian.  I am not sure if this answers the question I was assigned, but if it were not for the reference services of a lone librarian in a small library I probably would not be here today, and I wouldn’t be there to help others tomorrow.