Sunday, January 29, 2012

Comments on Horn Book Magazine Interview with Rudine Sims Bishop

“Teachy, but not preachy.”

In her interview in Horn Book Magazine, Rudine Sims Bishop talks about the purposeful nature of African American children’s literature. This literature is more than just stories, or stories that happen to feature black characters, but stories that encourage a positive self image for African American children. This is done through including African American history and heroes, and stories that celebrate African American culture.

Conveying this message while being “teachy but not preachy,” is important for several reasons. First, the story and art can still be appreciated without being overwhelmed (Horning, 2008, pg. 256). Children’s books are more accessible when it does not feel like homework

Also, I think this allows the literature to be more accessible to nonblack readers. The message may be intended for African American children, but positive images of African Americans are important for other groups to see as well. Unfortunately, negative stereotypes are so ubiquitous in society that children pick up on them at an early age.

Horning, K. (2008). An interview with Rudine Sims Bishop. Horn Book Magazine, 84 (3), 247-259.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sydney Taylor Book Award

Here is my presentation on the Sydney Taylor Book Award. If you would like to view a higher quality video follow the link to the Wimba room. Enjoy!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Asking the Right Questions: Issues of Race in Children's Literature

In Mitali’s article, "Straight talk on race: Challenging the stereotypes in kids’ books," she comments on how books convey race and ethnicity, yet educators do not talk about how it is presented in the books they are reading. This is problematic because for some children, this is their first, or only personal experience with the race being presented, and the book may be inadvertently conveying racial stereotypes.

Mitali provides five questions to help in the analysis and discussion of race in children’s literature:

1. Are the nonwhite characters too good to be true?

2. How and why does the author define race?

3. Is the cover art true to the story?

4. Who are the change agents?

5. How is beauty defined?

First, I think this is a useful method of dissecting the sometimes hidden racial elements in a text. I look back on the early years of my education, and, growing up in a suburb of Detroit, my exposure with people of different races was fairly rare. I think the most contact I had with people of other races was Maria and Gordan on Sesame Street. Thus, being the avid reader that I was, books were significant in showing me other peoples and perspectives in the world.

Very few of the books I read as a child portrayed characters from a different race (which provides a significant point to analyze race in literature in itself), but one series that I read that featured various backgrounds was Ann M. Martin’s The Babysitter’s Club series. In this series, several girls (and an addition of a boy later on in the series) have a club and tell of the members' experiences in their personal and “professional” lives as babysitters. The book series celebrates the unique qualities of each character, which in my opinion, is the series’ best attribute.

When analyzed through the lens of Matali’s questions, Babysitter's Club excels in some areas, but still shows the same tendencies concerning race as most children’s literature. Of the various characters, all are white except Claudia, who is Japanese American, and Jesse, who is African American. Claudia is artistic and wears colorful, funky clothes. She is definitely viewed as “exotic,” and may be another case of “overexoticizing a nonwhite character to appeal to white readers” (Miltali, 2009, pg. 31). Jesse is tall and slender, a good student, knows American Sign Language, and is a talented ballet dancer. “Is the nonwhite character too good to be true?” Yes, I would say so. Jessie does face hardship, however. She was not part of the original babysitters club, having moved to the fictional neighborhood somewhere early in the series. Her family faced racist neighbors, but, luckily, this was mostly cleared up by the end of the first novel she was featured in.

If only racism took the length of one book to overcome.

Although the Babysitter's Club series does sugarcoat many experiences, Miatli’s questions are a useful exercise in examining how it and other books subversively describe race. This can be a great exercise for teachers and librarians. A librarian could use these questions in analyzing literature for a book review, as questions for a book club discussion, or just a way to increase awareness of race in children’s literature.

These questions are a practical guide to discussing race in children’s, but also could be used for adult literature. These stories can may be the basis of a child’s perception of race, and then reinforce that perception. This is why Mitali emphasizes that we must “pay attention to how and why the race of characters is conveyed in a story, because implicit messages matter” (pg. 31).

Mitali, P. (2009). Straight talk on race: Challenging the stereotypes in kids’ books. School Library Journal, 55 (4), 28-31.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Article Reflection

In the article “Trippin’ over the color line: the invisibility of race in library and information science,” Homna uses an interrogative method of questioning to attempt to answer why the issue of race has been neglected in the library and information science field. Specifically, Homna asks in the introduction “Why is the field so glaringly white yet no one wants to talk about whiteness and white privilege?” (p. 1)

I find this question ironic. No one talks about whiteness and white privilege because the field is so white. The privilege of being white is not having to think about race. It is a non-issue, because white is the default, the unmarked, the “normal” category. Thus, whiteness remains unseen, and is not scrutinized to define its purpose, affect, or value. This in visibility is why many do not recognize white privilege is an issue in the 21st century.

The “glaringly white” nature of the field’s demographic is an issue. At a time when libraries are struggling to prove their value, conducting services that cater to the white demographic will not be enough for libraries to increase usage and survive. In catering to the white demographic, the library has aided in “reproducing and perpetuating racist social structures found throughout the rest of society,” p. 2. These issues of ethics and survival are why whiteness needs to be talked about. Librarians cannot ignore the issue of whiteness because libraries contribute to the institutionalized perception of culture and race on a larger scale.

Homna T. (1995). Trippin’over the color line: the invisibility of race in library and information science, InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies, 1(2) (2005), Accessed on June 19, 2007 from

"With their claims of color-blindness, whites are self-exonerated from any blame for current racial inequalities, and thus people of color are blamed implicitly (or explicitly) for their own condition." (Lewis, 1996, p. 636)

I remember the term “color-blind” being used as a catch phrase in the media when I was little. I read an article on what it means to be color-blind in elementary school, and I vaguely remember the concept used as the lesson to learn from a family sit-com. The idea seemed so obvious to me. Of course, everyone should be treated equally.

This concept may have seemed like the solution to the world’s injustices due to my young, idealistic, and na├»ve nature. But adults have hoped for this, so, why not? I do think that color-blindness self-exonerates white people from the blame of racial inequality explicitly because allows one to forget the history of social injustice the current problems that remain. Without recognizing the problem, a solution is not being actively sought out.

I also remember wanting to have a strong nationality or ethnic identity when I was young. Speaking a different language, practicing a custom or tradition, and eating exotic food seemed fun. But it was more than fun that I wanted, I also wanted a sense of identity, a sense of belonging. It is hard to maintain racial and ethnic identities, and the benefits if them, with a color-blind mentality.

These sentiments are also true within the context of librarianship. Having a colorblind mentality does not proactively work toward equality. And, without a multicultural perspective, the collection would not only be unrepresentative of the community, but also bland and boring.

Lewis, A. (2004). "What group?": Studying whiteness in an era of colorblindness.

Sociological Theory, 22(4), 623-646.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Article Review

“They must come to see that, as traditionally organized institutions, libraries help to reproduce existing social inequalities while giving the illusion that such inequalities are natural and fair.” Abdullahi, 2007, p. 455

Many people join the information profession with the hope to empower patrons through the power of knowledge and the opportunity it provides educationally and socially. Thus, many prospective information professionals view libraries as noble institution that should reach out to underserved populations and minorities. Recognizing the cultural differences and how these differences affect the patron and society is essential.

Without this recognition, libraries use the dominant groups cultural view point when serving patrons. This viewpoint affects library operations, reinforcing the dominant groups culture as the norm, and perpetuating the current state of inequality, rather than improve it. It is important for libraries to recognize their role in the institutionalization of inequality, so that efforts can be made to reflect our multicultural society in library services. Libraries collect and preserve books and materials to make up the cultural record. In doing so, they establish what is the accepted culture. The degree of empowerment plateaus quickly when it is met with inequality.

It is especially important for library students to recognize this as an ethical issue. To do this, ethics must be an important part of the curriculum in Master’s of Library and Information Science programs and schools. This may drastically change how classes are taught, but it only makes sense so that students can then practice this multicultural sensitivity during their careers.

Abdullahi, I. (2007). Diversity and intercultural issues in library and information science (LIS) education. New Library World, 108(9/10), 453-459.

“The cultural background of LIS professionals (e.g., cultural and ethnic groups, language, socioeconomic status, the environment) is an important consideration in the process inasmuch as members of minority groups within the ranks may be able to help bridge communication, interpersonal, and cultural gaps.” Overall, 2009, p.18

America’s cultural landscape has changed significantly in the past few decades, and will continue to become more diverse as time goes on. Most libraries, however, do not reflect this change. The typical librarian is white, middle class female. How can we diversify the library landscape, and why does it matter?

Some library science schools have marketed to minority populations specifically to increase diversity in the profession. Thus, libraries can hire librarians that represent a culture or underserved population. These efforts need to be adopted on a larger scale to improve cultural competence in library institutions.

Increasing diversity in LIS professionals increases the degree of cultural competence in library institutions. This is especially helpful when developing a collection that is in another language, answering reference questions to someone in Spanish, or creating programming that reaches out to another ethnicity. These efforts make the library more approachable and accessible for underserved groups. In addition, these LIS professionals are the cultural connection to this community for others working at their library, so other LIS professionals have firsthand experience with someone from that culture, making the library staff more culturally competent as a whole.

For me, being a stereotypically white, middle class female library student, cultural competence is something that I must be aware when working with patrons, but also when fulfilling the library’s mission as a whole. My experiences with other cultures through work, friendships, and travel, along with courses in my undergraduate and graduate studies, also contribute greatly to this cultural competence. Recognizing the importance of diversity, and reaching out for opportunities to serve minority populations and facilitate cultural competency in all populations, is an important step.

Overall, P.M. (2009). Cultural competence: A conceptual framework for library and information science professionals. Library Quarterly, 79 (2) 175-204.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My Cultural Mosaic

Chao and Moon use a mosaic as the metaphor to describe the various factors that form an individual’s cultural identity. The primary identifiers are demographic, geographic, and associative factors (p. 1132). This mosaic is complex by nature, and the relationship between the factors can reveal insight into the individual’s behavior.

When analyzing my own cultural mosaic, the categorization and theories proposed resonated with my struggle to define my cultural identity. Growing up, my identity was simple: white, working class, suburban, Christian, female. As I developed as an individual, this mosaic inherited from my parents was personally conflicting and unrefined. The intersecting and merging of demographic, geographic, and associative factors have evolved into an even larger and more complex mosaic. This evolution has defined my cultural mosaic into a more distinctive picture, and stronger narrative.

When filling out profiles on the latest trend in social networking, I have always struggled in what to put, not for lack of adjectives to describe myself, but because I did not identify with the meanings of these words. Demographically, I am a white woman in my 20’s, but have never viewed this as an identity. I am the third generation of immigrants from Italy, Belgium, Yugoslavia, and Germany ("Euro-mutt," I have always called it) yet no customs from any of these places were practiced in my home.

I was raised in the Detroit suburb of Sterling Heights, and moved to Detroit when I was 18. I have always loved the cultural offerings of cities, and cannot imagine living anywhere else in Michigan besides Detroit. A community of suburban transplants has sprung up in the city, further reinforcing this “Detroiter” identity.

I value individuality, equality, autonomy, creativity, curiosity, and community. I think these values have contributed to or extended into my associative identities. I am a feminist, a liberal, an atheist. Some of my friends are my age, some range into their forties. I am a librarian (to be) and an officer of the Progressive Librarian’s Guild. My family is incredibly important to me, and I am the middle child of 7 siblings.

The contradiction and conflict that Chao and Moon spoke exist in my cultural. My personal values conflicted with the often patriarchal, conservative values my parents taught me and, indeed, have caused much “stress and indecision” (p. 1113). As I broke away from the identity of my parents, my sense of self has become stronger and surer. These tiles, albeit a smaller part, are still a piece of my cultural mosaic.

Referenced Text

Chao, G. & Moon, H. (2005). The cultural mosaic: A metatheory for understanding the complexity of culture. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90 (6), 1128-1140.