In the spirit of Banned Books Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with our friends in the literary world. BBW is the American Library Association’s annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States. We hope you enjoy reading about these different points of view! We really enjoyed putting this series together!
Our guest today is Joyce Valenza, a teacher-librarian at Springfield Township High School in Pennsylvania. She also writes a blog for School Library Journal, NeverEndingSearch, which won the Edublog Award for Best librarian/library blog of 2009. Joyce speaks internationally about issues relating to libraries and thoughtful use of educational technology.
We are extremely grateful that Joyce has taken time out of her busy schedule to join us today. Welcome Joyce!
We understand that the ALA advocates against all forms of censorship, but do you ever feel pressure as a teacher-librarian to withhold certain books from your library or your students? If so, where does the pressure come from and how do you deal with the situation?
I suppose that I am lucky that I don’t have any stories to share with you. In twenty years as a school librarian, in three schools, I can’t remember a single book challenge. Over the course of those years, I do remember parents questioning titles on our summer or curricular reading lists. And in most cases, when parents questioned a title, their students were assigned an alternate read. So the rest of the class continued to read the selected titles.
In my other life, as a public librarian, members of our community questioned the inclusion of James Baldwin in our collection. “Why would we need books by black authors in our white neighborhood?” It was easy to defend Baldwin. And our Materials Selection Policy process worked.
It is essential that teacher librarians be able to point to and share an up-to-date Materials Selection Policy to explain how collection development works and to inform the community about the principles of intellectual freedom upon which libraries make selections, and to establish a clear process to work through any potential challenge.
ALA offers a wonderful group of resources, a workbook for developing such a policy. http://www.ala.org/Template.cfm?Section=dealing&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=11173
We revised ours last year
One of the very old sayings in the library world is that you can’t really have a collection that doesn’t have something to offend anyone. That’s likely true.
But, in my mind, however offended, no one community member, no one family should impose their individual preference to deny other community members opportunities to discover library resources selected for the larger community.
What is your greatest concern about the continued practice of banning and challenging books for young readers, particularly for your own high school students?
I worry that outside organizations might exert even greater influence on communities that might otherwise not question materials. Libraries are now globally transparent. You no longer need to visit a library to find that objectionable something. You can easily search any catalog from your kitchen and make a decision to make a challenge.
But censorship reaches far beyond book issues. Librarians who’d fight to the death to keep a well-reviewed title in their collections need to fight with the same passion for student access to web resources they believe in. Access to the tools learners need to create and communicate is as much an intellectual freedom issue as access to books. It’s also a serious equity issue and a banner every librarian must wave in his or her school. No one else will take this stand. We own this one.
AASL recently designated Wednesday, September 28, 2011, as Banned Websites Awareness Day and I am delighted about that.
Our students deserve the opportunities to ethically and productively use, communicate, create, and discover a new audience for their work with new and emerging social media tools. The fact that we invest so heavily in hardware and block learners from tools and content is a great irony. In some schools, filtering decisions are not made by educators at all. In some schools no process exists for challenging filtering decisions.
How do you feel the school library’s role has changed for students in the digital age and how do you continue to keep those students engaged? How has the shift to virtual learning impacted your role as a teacher-librarian?
I suppose I’ve always been into technology. If you are an information professional in your school building, you must be the technology scout and you need to figure out how to harness the latest information and communication tools to make sense for learners and learning. We’ve been trying to offer our students choice in how they want to communicate their new knowledge and creative projects.
It’s so much more complicated now. In the short span of just over 20 years, we’ve migrated from information deserts to information tsunamis. There is so much more to learn. There is so much more to teach. I have never loved my work more. Libraries have evolved, or they should have. The role of the teacher-librarian has shifted from one who gathers, stores, and indexes resources to a educator and collaborator who guides learners as they ethically and effectively filter, evaluate, and use information and then do something with it, ideally to communicate in powerful and creative ways with authentic audience. The librarian becomes an even more critical player in new learning landscapes where information and communication options continually shift.
The Web makes research a far more independent effort, but with the use such platforms as blogs or wikis or Google sites, the process can now be transparent and interactive. Teacher-librarians help move the research process online and intervene in positive ways using strategies some are calling knowledge-building centers.
The library is not merely a place to get stuff. It is participatory. It is a place to invent, to create, to make stuff, to collaborate on stuff, and to share stuff. It is more kitchen than grocery store. More transformational than transactional. Research can be transparent, interactive, meaningful, original. Student research can make a difference. Our connections can be global. We now Skype with authors and activists.
My colleagues and I are here to ensure that all students have equitable access to the tools they need to learn and create. Access to tools is as much an intellectual freedom issue as access to books.
Evaluation of information sources has become more important, more sophisticated, more contextual, and more subjective. Each of us must develop the ability to triangulate the flood of information and media available to mediate truth.
Our learners’ information and communication choices have grown exponentially. Learners can construct original research with new survey tools. Depending on the context of the information task, students must consider whether they have the right balance of a growing array of sources in traditional and emerging media.
I hope that their work makes a difference. I hope that my work makes a difference. It’s never been a more exciting or rewarding, or more important time to be a librarian. Learners have never needed us more.
How would you describe your blog and what topics most inspire your writing?
I make discoveries with my learners nearly every day and I try to share my discoveries with my readers. I discuss what I am proud of, as well as what frustrates me. Along with several of my geek-tribe colleagues, I think I function as a mentor, perhaps a scout, for other school librarians. In our schools, we exist as kind of lone wolves. Our blogs, twitter, and networking tools give us space to share. And we’ve been growing together as a “tribe” more powerfully than ever before.
For me, my web presence is only partially my blog. I communicate with my learners through our Virtual Library. And I am working with a number of others librarians, teachers, and students, to archive what I learn in a variety of curating tools.
One platform is these Guides:
Okay, a confession, I haven’t read as many of the 2011 YA titles as I should. When I went back to my recent faves, I realized they were 2010 titles. But I have a whole new stack waiting for me. Among the titles I read and loved this spring: Stolen by Lucy Christopher and Hush by Eishes Chayil, Annexed by Sharon Dogar, and Numbers Book 1 by Rachel Ward. (I just started Book 2: The Chaos).
In general, I am a sucker for vampire and werewolf stuff and historical fiction and chick lit and strong female characters. I love Sara Zarr and Sarah Dessen.
My teen book club and I can’t wait to see the Hunger Games movie together when it comes out this spring. My kids have been stalking John Green for years. One was so excited when he was mentioned in the Nerdfighters blog. We all have John Green’s The Fault in our Stars on preorder. (He’s promised to autograph.)
This year, we are looking forward to connecting our book club with Shannon Miller’s club in Iowa. We’re hoping to have the kids plan readings together and Skype in authors when we can. Are any authors reading this?
Thanks for stopping by, Joyce, and for sharing your experiences with us! To read more from Joyce, be sure to check out her blog.
StorySnoops thanks you for visiting us for our 2011 Banned Books Week interview series. We’ve had a great time putting these interviews together and hope you’ll check here to read them all and let us know what you think.