Tag Archives: Library News

From Library Land: Is Dr. Seuss Tired?

The world is a fraught place, dear readers.  And in such a world, it can be really, truly difficult to avoid seeing the world as an exclusively polarized place…as black/white, good/bad, right/wrong…and forget that very few things in human society are that simple.*

A few weeks back, there was a bit of a brouhaha in Library Land over a letter written by a children’s librarian in Cambridge, addressed to the First Lady of the United States regarding the donation of several children’s books to the school at which she worked.  The letter is still posted on The Horn Book website.  You can read it, if you so choose, and form whatever opinion you chose.  The letter and its author have become the target for so much public debate, acrimony, and verbal bile that it doesn’t seem particularly useful for us to wade into the whys, wherefore, and whataboutisms.

However, I would like to bring up one point in the letter that many people have tended to overlook: that line that calls Dr. Seuss  “a bit of a cliché, a tired and worn ambassador for children’s literature.”

Now this is a subject that requires a lot more scrutiny.  This is especially true in light of a recent announcement by the Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield recently ordered a mural at The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum to be removed because it contains an illustration of a Chinese man with chopsticks.  This was in response to a letter written by author and illustrator Mo Willems and two other authors, Lisa Yee and Mike Curato stating that they would not be attending an event at the Museum, first, because of a mural on display there that depicts a scene from Dr. Seuss’ first book, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, and secondly, because, when contacted, the administration of the  museum “replied that it was the responsibility of visitors to contextualize the oversized painting of the ‘Chinaman’ for their younger wards, not theirs.”

The image depicts the reference in the story to “A Chinese man who eats with sticks“.  The image itself is of a very stereotypical Chinese caricature, with a pointy hat, and slanted eyes.

So what are we to do with this information?  What good librarian patrons do…get more information before making a judgement call.

Ted Geisel was absolutely a man of his time.  He frequently reproduced cultural and racial stereotypes in his work without questioning their validity, their effect on others, or the harmful mentality that produced them–the Chinese man (or Chinaman in the original text) is just one example.

And, because it’s not a stereotype that is as widely discussed today, the image of the slant-eyed Chinaman with the pointed hat originated during the late 19th century.  Chinese immigrants were associated with opium dens and often accused of ‘polluting’ British and American men (and women) who visited these dens.  Around the turn of the century, it was quite normal to see highly stereotyped Chinese villains in books and films.  They were portrayed as something other than human, and a threat to all “good” people.

To provide a few examples: Philip Nel, who wrote the endlessly fascinating and extraordinarily thought-provoking book Was The Cat In The Hat Black?, points out that Geisel wrote and performed in a blackface minstrel show in high school, called “Chicopee Surprised”.  When he was drawing the initial sketches for the Cat, in The Cat and the Hat, Nel observes,  Geisel was “inspired by blackface performance, racist images in popular culture, and actual African Americans.  Now, in 1920-1 when this show was performed, blackface was a very popular, highly visible form of caricature and entertainment.  It was criticized as racist, demeaning, and offensive by some, but you don’t have to look any further than Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer to see how well-known and generally unquestioned it was.  (The photo to left is Geisel in 1925, when he was a student at Dartmouth College in Massachusetts, via Today In History).

Following the bombing of Pearl Habor, Geisel, who drew a large number of political cartoons in the course of his career, drew a cartoon of a line of Japanese people, captioned the “Honorable 5th Column” waiting in a line to receive blocks of TNT, while one (highly racialized and stereotypes) figure looks eastward with a telescope “Waiting for a Signal from Home“.  The cartoon supports Japanese interment camps, which were being established on the west coast, and in which American citizens of Japanese origin and heritage were treated with brutal inhumanity.  This was not, by any means, the only racialized cartoon he drew to represent the Japanese during the Second World War.

None of these facts are pleasant or easy to discuss.  It’s hard to accept that a person whose books you grew up cherishing was a human person with ugly, unquestioned prejudices.

But the story doesn’t stop here.  Because Geisel was also a human being in the very best sense–he was able to grow, and to change.  As Willems, Yee, and Curato wrote in their letter, “The career of Ted Geisel, writing as Dr. Seuss, is a story of growth, from accepting the baser racial stereotypes of the times in his early career, to challening those divisive impulses with work that delighted his readers and changed the time.”

Geisel began Horton Hears a Who in 1953, after a postwar visit to Japan, when he was researching a piece for Life magazine on the effects of the war and post-war efforts on Japanese children. With the help of Mitsugi Nakamura, dean of Doshisha University in Kyoto, Seuss went to schools all over Japan and asked kids to draw what they wanted to be when they grew up.

Having met Japanese people, and seen the effects of the war on everyday human beings there, he realized just what kind of harm caricatures like his earlier political cartoons had provoked.  The book is dedicated to Nakamura, and the message, about embracing everyone’s humanity, regardless of whether they look or sound like, marks not only a huge moment in children’s literature, but also an enormously revelation for Geisel himself.  The Whos are saved by one small Who, named Jo-Jo, makes his “Yopp!” heard–as Kelly Smith points out in this sensational blog post, “Dr. Seuss is stressing the power of a single voice making all the difference for a people and, with it, showing how he should have used his voice to protect the Japanese, rather than denigrate them.” 

via Dr. Seuss Wiki

He more explicitly apologizes when he puts himself in his rightful place in history with the previously skeptical kangaroo, who says “from now on, you know what I’m planning to do?… From now on, I’m going to protect them with you” (page 58 of Horton Hears a Who)

Following Horton, he wrote The Sneetches, another book about how individuals are punished for the way they look, and the harm it does, not only to them, but to their whole society, as well.  In 1973, he changed the text and the images in And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street.  He removed the “Chinaman” reference, changing the wording to “Chinese man”, and made the character’s face the same white color as the rest of the figures in the story.  It’s not the everything.  But it’s a huge sign of change.

We need diverse books.  We need to have children from all backgrounds and experiences to be able to see themselves in the stories we tell.  Therefore, Dr. Seuss should by no means be the only books we read.  However, neuroscientists have proven, through the marvels of science, that Dr. Seuss’ use of repetition, rhythm and rhyme help children in crucial ways to process the speech they hear, and fine-tune the connections between auditory and language networks in the brain.

But, maybe more importantly, Dr. Seuss’ own story teaches us a powerful lesson: people can change, and they can change for the better.  Children, just like grown-ups, are faced everyday with people who are scared, who are angry, and who are resistant to change.  We cannot protect them from that.  But we can show them what positive growth and change looks like by talking to them about Dr. Seuss, and how he grew as a person, an author, and a spokesperson for humanity.  This lesson is as important today–perhaps even more important–as it has ever been.

Portraying Seuss’ illustration of “the Chinaman” without talking about how it changed, and how he changed, really isn’t fair, either to Dr. Seuss or his readers.  Portraying him as “tired” does enormous dis-service to the energy with which he combatted stereotypes and xenophobia in his later career.  For that reason, it’s important not to forget Dr. Seuss’ inspiring contributions, even as we work to fill our shelves with a world of diverse books that tell even more powerful stories.

Because a person’s a person, no matter how small.

Via Dr. Seuss Wiki

 

 

*Some things are that simple.  Things like “be kind to others”, don’t drive if your motor skills are impaired”,  “mosquitoes buzzing in your ears at night is awful”, or “raccoons are terrifying”.

On Libraries and Hurricane Relief Updates

None of us need a reminder that this year’s hurricane season has been historic and, for many of our friends in Texas, Florida, and the US Virgin Islands, life-changing.  And with even more hurricanes moving closer to Puerto Rico and the other Leeward Islands, it doesn’t look like life is going to be getting easier for many of those good people anytime soon.

But even as we in Massachusetts prepare for what is now Tropical Storm Jose, and send all our good wishes to our friends in the CLAMS Library Network, it’s really important that we don’t forget the clean-up and rebuilding efforts that all those affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are undertaking.  Because they will be taking years.

Downed trees outside the Miami-Dade Public Library System’s Coconut Grove Branch after the storm
Photo courtesy of Miami Dade Public Library System

So, having said that, here are some updates from the wonderful people at the Texas Library Association and the Florida Library Associations, with some additions ways you can help!

Our first update comes from the American Library Association’s  #LibrariesRespond page, that not only advocates for disaster preparedness, but also offers a number of resources for helping Florida’s and Texas’ Libraries:

Florida Libraries Disaster Relief Fund

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, the Florida Library Association is working with the State Library of Florida to coordinate a response to damage caused to libraries across the state.  We have already begun receiving requests to help.  Anyone wishing to assist Florida libraries with their recovery efforts is urged to donate to the Florida Libraries Disaster Relief Fund.  Donations can be open to assisting any library affected by the storm, or can be directed to assist a specific library in need.  We will update our website frequently as we learn details about specific libraries and their needs.

There is also the inspiring “Rebuilding Florida Library” page on the Florida Library Association page, that is being consistently updated with needs and offers of help from libraries across the country.  Donations are being accepted through any of the links posted here.

Secondly, American Libraries Magazine has posted an update on the rebuilding efforts in Texas.  This article features some of the horrible circumstances that Houston’s Libraries faced, but also their incredible resiliency and determination to reopen as quickly as possible:

Nineteen of the 26 branches of the Harris County Public Library reopened on September 1 for emergency relief purposes only—for residents to fill out FEMA forms, use computers or internet, charge cellphones, or make use of a quiet, air-conditioned spot. Four branches are closed until further notice: Baldwin Boettcher, Barbara Bush, Katherine Tyra @ Bear Creek, and Kingwood. The library opened a pop-up library at the NRG Stadium to give evacuees some diversion with books for all ages, storytimes for kids, a 3D printer for informal edutainment, and a bank of laptops with internet access.

Texas Libraries begin cleaning up from Hurricane Harvey

For those looking to help, the Texas Library Association (TLA) and Texas State Library and Archives Commission are working together to assist damaged libraries across the Gulf Coast region. TLA has a disaster relief fund that is actively seeking contributions. Hundreds of individuals and companies have donated to the fund, and offers of books, furniture, volunteer assistance, computers, and preservation services are coming in regularly to TLA. The two organizations have also set up the Texas Library Recovery Connection, an online sharing system to bring together assisting organizations with libraries needing help.

The thing that consistently surprises me about these sites is the Google Spreadsheets.  On these documents, libraries post their needs, from computers to bookcases, from books to supplies.  And other people/groups/institutions can (and do) respond.  For all the complications and trouble that the Internet has brought into our lives, there is something genuinely awe-inspiring about the way that it can also bring people together and accomplish lasting good.  So feel free to check out these sites, contribute in whatever way you can, and appreciate the good that our species is capable of doing.

Access The New York Times Online! (Yes, you can do that with your Library Card)

In our quest to bring you ever better service, and even more nifty digital tools, we are proud to announce, beloved patrons, that you can now access The New York Times online with your library card!

You will need to have a current Peabody Library Card in order to access the NYT, but if you have that, the process is quite easy:

You can click on the banner on our homepage, which looks identical to the image above.  Alternatively, you can click on this link to get started.  Alternatively (again), you can click on the “eLibrary” section of our homepage, select “Articles/Databases”, and, finally, select “New York Times”

Any of these options will take you to a registration/login screen, where you will be asked to enter your Library barcode and “online catalog password”, which is the pin number you use to log into your Library Account.  If you aren’t sure what you pin is, give us a call at the Library and we can sort you out.
(Again, you can click on these images to enlarge them)

Click “Login”

You will be taken to a screen that has an offer code.  Mine is below, but that code won’t work for you:

Click “Redeem”

This will take you to a screen where you can complete your NYT account:

Enter your email address and create a password.  When you click “Sign Up”, you may see one of those pop-up windows where you have to prove you’re not a robot by clicking on picture, like this one below:

Once you’ve proven your humanity, you will be taken to a welcome screen from which you can access the New York Times.  An email confirmation will also be sent to the email you provided.

*An Important Addendum*:  When you redeem your offer code, you will see a message that says your account is only good for three days, like this one below:

Please know that this 72-hour window applies only to the amount of time you can access the portal without having to log back into your account.  Once the 72 hours expires, you can access it again by re-entering your Library Card Number and password.  When you see the registration screen, click “Log In”, where you can enter your email and password.  You will then be given another 72 pass. This allows the good people at The New York Times to monitor usage of the service.  Our apologies to anyone who may have found this part of the process confusing or misleading.

If you have any questions, or need some help with the set-up process, please give us a call or stop in and chat with one of your friendly Information Librarians.

We hope you enjoy this new digital resource!  Please let us know if there is anything else we can do to serve you best!

 

Yes, You Can Do That With Your Library Card!

Do you enjoy reading ebooks?  Do you enjoy listening to e-audiobooks?  Do you enjoy downloading titles from the Library?  (You probably should…we have oodles and oodles of titles, and are eagerly adding more regularly!)

If you answered ‘yes’ to these questions…Have you met Libby?

Libby is the bright, shiny, surprisingly easy-to-use and comprehensive app designed to help you access all the fantastic e-titles available from the Library!  It (she?) was developed by the good people at Overdrive, and allow you to access all the phenomenal titles available via Overdrive in just a few easy clicks.

Check it out:

Here are some of the neat things Libby can do:

If you have a card from more than one Library system, like the Peabody Library and the Boston Public Library, you can save both your card numbers in one app for easy use.

You can keep track of your reading history to remember authors or narrators you particularly enjoyed.

Libby also allows you to read zoomable graphic novels, or a picture book with read-along audio.

And the best part is that it’s really, surprisingly easy to down-load and use…take it from me, who openly bickers with computers on a regular basis.

We have lots and lots of information on Libby and on Overdrive–just come in and ask!  And for those of you looking to get started, click the links below to get the Libby app for your phone or tablet!

Click to access the Apple App Store

Click to access via Google Play

Click to access Microsoft (for Windows 10)

Consumer Reports Now Available Online!

We here at the Library are always looking for shiny new items, services, and technology for you, our beloved patrons.  And this week, we are delighted to tell you about just one of those terrific resources: Consumer Reports!

Consumer Reports has been published since 1936 by Consumers Union, a nonprofit organization dedicated to unbiased product testing, consumer-oriented research, public education, and advocacy.  They deal in reviews and comparisons of consumer products and services based in part on reporting, but mostly on results from its in-house testing laboratory and survey research center. The magazine accepts no advertising, pays for all the products it tests, and, as a nonprofit organization has no shareholders.  So, essentially, you can count on what they say.  Take it from me.  I bought the washing machine they told me to.  I love it.

So if you, too, are looking for some product advice, here’s a quick guide to accessing Consumer Reports via the Library website.

Start at the Library’s homepage.  Click on the “eLibrary” tab, then “Articles/Databases” Note: Click on any of these pictures to enlarge them for easier viewing:

From there, navigate down the list to Consumer Reports:

The list is alphabetical

When you click on Consumer Reports, you will be redirected to a page where you will enter your Library Card number Note 1: This page will not appear if you are using a Peabody Library Computer.  Note 2: This service is only for Peabody residents with Peabody Library Cards.   Sorry about that one!

From there, click on “ConsumerReports.org”:

This will launch the Consumer Reports website.  From here, you can utilize all the resources that Consumer Reports has to offer, including a product-specific search option, articles on home improvement and DIY projects, news, and product comparisons that can help you with purchases from digital cameras to dryers, from laptops to blenders.  Click on the three little lines in the upper left-hand corner of the Consumer Reports home page to see all the super features they offer!

 

We truly hope this feature proves helpful to you, beloved patrons.  Feel free to give us a call, or stop in and chat with one of us at the Information Desk to see how Consumer Reports can help you, and about all the other terrific resources on offer!

 

Reading Without Walls

Like many of you, dear readers, I read a lot of books.  Moreover, I spend a lot of time reading things about books…indeed, some of the links on the left-hand side of this page will bring you to our favorite places on the internet for reading about books.

Some of these readings make me very happy, like the Children’s Book Council’s “Reading Without Walls” Initiative, which encourages younger readers to explore books of diverse voices, genres, and formats.  Here is the poster that the CBC produced for the challenge:

How cool is this?!  Helping readers to realize just how many options are available to them, how many voices, how many format, and how many genres, is a terrific way to foster a lifelong love of reading.  Moreover, studies have shown that reading, particularly reading fiction, helps build up empathy.  And Heavens knows that this world needs as many empathetic people as it can get.

I also really appreciate that this challenge also focuses on different formats of books.  I’ve written about my own struggles reading graphic novels, which I attribute, in large part to the fact that I didn’t realize they even existed until I was a lot older.  And as much as I hate to admit it, it is more difficult for an older brain to adapt to new stuff.  So getting readers’ minds and eyes (and ears!) adapted to as many formats as possible as early as possible ensures that they can enjoy All The Books as they continue to grow.

But the real importance of this project wasn’t driven home for me until I saw this article on BookRiot, entitled “A deep dive into Goodreads Top 100 Mysteries and Thrillers“, and discussed the diversity of the authors listed.  As you will see in the graph below, which we borrowed with respect from BookRiot, the Mysteries and Thrillers market is dominated by white men:

Now, I have a number of issues with Goodreads (much of which I blame on you, Amazon), which we can talk about in-depth later, but the gist of it is that their numbers, and especially their ratings, are seldom based on actual living-in-reality fact-based statistics.  If anyone followed the vicious, misogynistic movement to make the new Ghostbuster’s movie the lowest-rated on IMBD, you’ll know to what I am alluding here.  Indeed, Goodreads admitted this was a popularity contest, stating “every one of these books has at least a 4.0 rating from the Goodreads community.”  In order for a book to make it onto Goodreads’ radar like that, it has to be read by a lot of people (admittedly, who had to then have enjoyed their reading experiences–which is terrific.  Yay reading books you enjoy!)

But what we are actually seeing here is a reflection, not of the best books, but of market trends.  No one was asked “what is the best mystery book you ever read”.  Instead, the aggregate ratings of a website that is A) Owned by Amazon* B) Reliant on user input.  If you don’t have internet access or a Goodreads account, you can’t play this game.  More than likely, you are only going to list books read in the last decade or so.  I know that two of my favorite mysteries as a younger reader was The Westing Game and The Haunting of Cassie Palmerbut I never listed them on Goodreads because I didn’t get a Goodreads account until I was in my late 20’s, and if I tried to list all the books I had read to date at that time I’d have starved to death before I finished.

So what we have is a market that isn’t designed for people who are reading without walls.  And that’s where you come in.

Because while this survey can show us very broad changes over time–for example, that there are more authors of color on the list now than there were in 2000 (see the graph below)–it can’t show us how individual reading trends have changed.  If everyone and their mother and their father and their Aunt Rose are reading James Patterson, then the fact that Aunt Rose also went out and discovered Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season means nothing to Goodreads.  But I can guarantee you that it will mean something to Aunt Rose.  And I bet that being exposed to different cultures, different voices, different ways of telling stories, will mean something to you, too.

So come on into the Library and check out our “Reading Without Walls” Display for grown-up readers, and try something new.  I’ll be giving it a whirl, too, beloved patrons, so we can compare notes as we explore all the stories this big world (and even bigger universe!) has to offer!

 

*For the Record: There are aspects of Amazon that I think are terrific–namely, that they have opened the book world to millions of readers who live in book deserts, and opened an e-book market that has made reading (and writing) easier for millions more.  Amazon Smile also lets you donate to NOBLE, which is great.  However, it has also, and continues to do a lot of harm to authors, to independent bookstores, and to readers.  So while I respect the good the corporation has done, I’ll always be a wee bit skeptical of it.  

Getting MORE out of your Library

You’d be surprised the amount of terrific stuff you can find at the Library.

It’s true.

And I bet you’d be surprised by some of the neat things that you can find on our website, as well!

A few days ago, one of my favorite Circulation Staff Members asked me to help her access newspapers online with her Library card–and together, we discovered the glory of the “eLibrary”, and the magic of “more”.  And now, you can discover it, too!

From our homepage (www.peabodylibary.org), click on the “eLibrary” tab at the top of the page (underneath “information”)

This will open up a menu that gives you access to a whole bunch of features available through that Library that you can access with your Library Card.  Not only is there a link to the Library catalog and the Free For All (yay!), but you’ll also find links to Overdrive (e-books and e-audiobooks), Zinio (digital magazines), and Hoopla (streaming videos).

Even more than that, if you click on “Articles/Databases“, you’ll be taken to our menu of newspapers, magazine, academic journals, and a whole bunch of other databases, including Massachusetts driving tests, citizenship test prep, and homework help.    Though a number of these resources are available only to Peabody residents with Peabody Library cards, there are still plenty of resources here that all our patrons can access, totally free of charge.

But you know what?  It gets even better.

If you click on “More” from the “eLibrary” menu, you’ll be taken to a screen that will give you even more options for your digital delectation.  Here you’ll find Pronunciator, which can help you learn more than 80 different languages at your own pace.  You’ll find handouts for downloading material from Overdrive, and links to our YouTube page…why yes, we do have a YouTube page!

We here at the Library are always trying to keep up-to-date on the latest databases, resources, and technology to make your life easier, your learning more comprehensive, and your leisure-time more fulfilling.  So feel free to have a look through our e-resources, and be sure to click on “More”.  And let us know if you have any questions about how to use any of these resources!