Teens and Tech: Fighting the Bad Rap

Teens and their use of technology, whether cell phones, social media, gaming, or even plain old tv is getting a bad rap in the media and in advertisements.’ ‘  Obesity has been associated with the amount of time a child spends in front of a screen.’  There are studies showing the’  association between technology and sleep deprivation.’  A recent anti-drug campaign’  offers parents help for teens who use their cell phone to access drugs’  (The image of the cellphone on the table is reminiscent of the classic anti-drug ad with the single blunt).’ ‘  Dateline has proved over’  and over again that the Internet is full of predators.’ ‘  I do not argue with any of these findings. ‘  I worry, though, that technology gets too much of the blame.’  Because of these negative associations, I think that teens’ use of technology becomes something that parents, teachers and librarians try to curb rather than try to encourage.’  When we are bombarded with these studies and advertisements, adults can forget how much reading a teen does with technology and the positive influence technology has. As librarians we are in a position to help bring awareness to how technology can be dangerous; however,’  we must remember that we have an equal if not more important role in helping teens use technology to get better information, to socialize, to play games and to read.
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Why Speak is Awesome and Book Banning is Not-some

Recently, a man named Wesley Scroggins wrote an opinion piece in the News-Leader (Springfield, MO) in which he condemns three books: Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer, and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. From the perspective of a teenager, a student, and a person, I have a lot to say about this, especially concerning Speak.

In his own words, Scroggins calls Speak “soft pornography”. This totally freaks me out. If he had chosen the word ‘disturbing’ or ‘terrifying’, I could maybe understand his reaction. His word choice seems to imply that the fact that Melinda (the protagonist) is raped is irrelevant. What’s more important to point out to the school board is that there is SEX in a book that CHILDREN are reading in SCHOOLS. This is one of my biggest issues with book banning. In so many instances a book will be challenged because it mentions something that scares people, whether it is sex or drugs or swear words. It only takes a few f bombs for a book to be placed on the “bad” list. What is pretty consistently overlooked in these cases it the impact of a novel as a whole, mostly because challenged books are so rarely read by their challengers.

Rape is a serious, scary issue that affects the people from whom Scroggins is trying to keep this book. What makes it more relevant, in my opinion, is the fact that Speak deals with date rape: something fuzzy, difficult to define, and largely unreported. In a time where “she was asking for it” and “I was drunk and it’s not his fault” are acceptable explanations, Speak is more important than ever.

When I first read Speak, I was close to Melinda’s age. Reading it, all I could think was: “Why isn’t she saying anything? How can she just let him get away with that?” But then I realized something important; Wesley Scroggins is not my parent. A librarian is. My mother is a librarian who never told me I couldn’t read a book, even if it contained something with which she was uncomfortable. It’s because of this encouragement and this freedom that I could read Melinda’s story and not understand her reluctance to say anything.

Scroggins can keep anything he wants from his children. If he thinks that something is immoral or pornographic, he can choose to prevent them from reading it. What he cannot and should not do is keep anyone else from reading it.

Melinda doesn’t say anything about her rape because she has been taught that sex is something you can’t talk about and rape, especially date rape, is almost worse than that. Speak is, at its core, a beautifully written novel about finding the strength to overcome a traumatic experience and, in doing so, discover what it means to speak your mind and think for yourself even in the face of people who don’t want to listen.

Teenager’s opinions are so often dismissed because of hormones or naivety. Speak teaches us that our beliefs are important and our feelings are honest and worthy of attention. It teaches us that what we have to say matters, that speaking up and speaking out can create positive change, that remaining silent means suffering for something we didn’t deserve in the first place . Speak teaches us that we need to make people listen if we want to be heard.

Banning books teaches us to keep things inside, unspoken, and well contained. It says that rape is pornographic, immoral, and filthy and that we shouldn’t talk about it. That’s why Melinda never said anything, because she was taught that rape was her fault, it was a dirty secret that she should just keep to herself.

On her blog, Laurie Halse Anderson asked her readers to post about what Speak means to them. For me, it has always been about using your voice when it matters and learning to speak up for yourself when it’s clear that no one else will. Speak is about everything, in my opinion, that book banning prevents.

30 Days of Back to School: The Challenge of Intellectual Freedom

“They say there is strangeness too dangerous in our theaters and bookstore shelves…Those who know what’s best for us must rise and save us from ourselves…” – from “Witch Hunt” by Rush

Yes folks, it’s September, and that means two things are certain:’  students are back in school, and potential censors and book challengers are coming out of the woodwork.’  Recent challenges to Sherman Alexie’s “Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak”‘  were just the first to greet the new school year.’  Interestingly enough, this last week of September is Banned Books Week, and therefore the perfect time think about the potential for censorship, and whether you’re ready for that challenge if it comes your way. Continue reading

Choosing Privacy

This week, May 2-8, 2010 the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom sponsored the first ever Choose Privacy Week.’  Check out the official website at privacyrevolution.org
While it may have served better to be posting about this last weekend, it’s never too late to talk about privacy.

I encourage you to watch the Privacy Week video. It’s long at 23 minutes, but stick with it, you will be glad you did.’  Not only does it feature beloved authors with online presences- Cory Doctorow and Neil Gaiman, and ALA president Camilla Alire, it also features an average mother with a teenage daughter who are having an open conversation about privacy. This last one is important.’  While I love public figures who speak out about the things I believe in, honest and open conversations between teens and parents, or other caring adults, are the small places where change can happen.’  Having adults who support them and help them to learn about the world around them is the ideal situation for teens to grow into adults who keep that awareness.

This is information literacy. Online privacy choices require some critical thinking.

Click through to the rest of the post and I will get into a bit of the specifics of this regarding the current stat of Facebook.

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As goes Texas…

‘ If you haven’t heard yet, the Texas Board of Education has approved a social studies curriculum that demonstrates a clear bias toward politically conservative ideology. (Washington Post, NYT)’  In the words of one Board member: “I don’t care what the educational political lobby and their allies on the left say, evolution is hooey.” and, “The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel. Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan — he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last twenty years because he lowered taxes.” (Interview on AlterNet)

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Objectionable Content

It was bound to happen sooner or later.

I had stocked my library with edgy titles. Where once the shelves were mostly full of “classic” YA titles and somewhat aged adult mystery novels, now they’re full of books about queer teens, unexpected pregnancy, parents with drug habits, and graphic novels. (Books with pictures! The horror!)

They’re all appropriately reviewed, of course, and many of them are award winners, some several times over–but when it comes to content, they don’t pull any punches.

So it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that I recently got my first book complaint.

As librarians, we tend to talk a lot about intellectual freedom and defending our teens’ right to read whatever they want. But when push comes to shove, how do we really respond to book challenges in the heat of the moment?

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Banned Books Week: All About Risky Business

Celebrating Banned Books Week is all about risk-taking. By celebrating titles that have been, or might be, banned in a library, those working with teens are saying to the world, “Look, we have controversial books in the library and we are proud of it.” That’s quite a risk and it’s a risk that many teen librarians accept and value.

In this video, Connie Urquhart and Lisa Lindsay (Fresno County Public Library) talk about the risks they’ve taken in collection development and in teen services – Including risks that went really well and risks that weren’t as successful as was hoped.


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The Book of Bunny Suicides

Intellectual freedom is hard sometimes.

As a student of the amazing Ann Curry, I learned a thing or two about dealing with censorship, and in my four years at a public library in a mid sized Canadian city, I have had my fair share of parents complaining about books that are too sexy, too druggy, too violent, too magical, too realistic, too Christian, not Christian enough – the list goes on. And for all of those parents I have brought out my typical line of “I’m sorry that this book offended you, but…”, they have gone their merry way, possibly a little mad and likely to come back and steal the book later just to spite me, but I don’t have a problem with that. Well I do have a problem with it, but it’s out of my sphere of influence, so I can’t do much about it. Also, I will just order the book again. Continue reading