Reflective Essay #1: The Challenge of Participation, #WNDB, and Bias

When studying, I am more tortoise than hare.  Deliberate and slow, I have these techniques I use for assigned readings. I open a Word document, and I write down everything I think is important in the reading, along with any questions I might have.  This is labor intensive; but it helps me to actively read and understand main arguments and themes—sometimes it even allows me to make connections among texts.
But I often struggle to make the transition from personal understanding to more active modes of collaboration and participation.  This does not mean I discount the value of blogging, social media, active participation and collaboration, or learning communities as a whole; in fact, I hold these values paramount.  But I am a mule, and I can’t make myself participate unless I am confident in my understanding.  This is my biggest challenge this semester—along with finding a balance between formal and informal modes of communication.  So far, I have managed to keep one step ahead.  I’ve really enjoyed posting on the Titanpad, checking out everyone’s blog and twitter accounts, and learning about new media.  I am pleased with my participation so far.  Maintaining my own blog has been a revelation; I think the creativity of it is a fun and exciting new way of learning.

Although I am not too far along in my thinking, I would like to develop my final project around last year’s #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign. Check out this video:

 

This is an issue that seems so fundamental and important.  I thought last year’s social media campaign—which included photos of people from all over holding signs explaining why we need diverse books—was very powerful and moving.  This type of grassroots, active participation and collaboration seems not only intriguing but kind of exciting.  It also points to a key concept in all of our readings that I find very interesting: bias.  Bias seems like the hinge on which everything pivots in the information age—especially within the context of providing information resources for young adults.  I am including a mini-essay within my essay: my thoughts on this are down below.

fifty shades of Bias2

Fifty Shades of Bias

It is probably not a good idea to start an essay or a blog post by stating the obvious: we live in a changing information landscape.  But it is exactly this element of change that positions librarians—and young adult librarians in particular—as pioneers.  Change affects not only the complexity of librarianship, but also our understanding and awareness of all of the issues. This is exciting news; as future librarians, we now have greater knowledge and better tools at our disposal to fulfill the professional ideals and principles of librarianship.  Consequently, I don’t think there could possibly be a more important word this semester than bias.  The concept of bias runs like a thread through all of our readings.  As Lester Asheim (1983) writes, “the librarian’s bias is that the collection should be unbiased” (p. 180).  If we are truly going to serve the needs and interests of all teens—or motivate and engage them in the classroom–than we need to recognize and understand bias in all its myriad forms.  Bias can be as simple as a preference for studying classic literature in the classroom, rather than incorporating quality young adult texts with the potential to motivate and engage adolescents and promote independent reading.
According to the YALSA report on The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: a Call to Action (2013), technology is the most pervasive element causing a need for a shift in young adult library services.  In terms of collection development, the proliferation of available formats not only adds a layer of complexity to the selection process, but also impacts the ways in which the collection is used: “Teens–many of whom have at their fingertips information and resources that just 25 years ago were only available in physical library spaces—need widely different types of service, access, collections, space, and staff than ever before (YALSA, 2013, p. 4).  Technology has even changed the meaning and definition of literacy.  In order to meet these challenges and serve today’s teens, we need to align the service mission, goals, and objectives of our individual libraries with the real (not imagined) needs and interests of our service populations.—and we need to do this in a way that respects and protects the rights of teen library users, as codified in ALA’s Library Bill of Rights.  This is not always that simple; as Pattee (2014) writes, “the way we (adults) think about and conceive of young adults has a bearing on the assumptions we make about their abilities and capability for understanding and complexity, the rules we enforce on their behalf, and the decisions we make about the material to which they will have access” (p. 3).  That is, our personal biases have the potential to constrain our efforts to meet the needs and interests of young adult library users.
The idea that young adult library services exist to serve the unique needs and interests of teenagers takes on greater urgency when you consider that 46% of children under the age of eighteen in the United States are children of color (YALSA, 2013).  This not only introduces access divides/gaps, but also signals the most radical demographic shift in U.S. history.  In order to meet the needs and interests of these service populations, we need to design our young adult library services to fit our modern-day context.  I think Lester Asheim’s essay “Not Censorship but Selection” is very instructive here.  Asheim (1953) argues for an approach to selection that is positive rather than negative, seeking out values, strengths and virtues as opposed to “vulnerable characteristics.” Asheim goes on to explain:

the librarian, if he is truly a selector and not a censor, does not succumb to irrelevancies—introduced either by the prejudices of his own background or the pressures of his library’s patrons. He admits the right of the reader to take issue with the writer, but he is swayed by arguments only where they have relevance to the book itself, and to the book as a whole. (para. 25)

Although Asheim was writing about censorship within the context of the selection process, I think his approach is applicable to young adult library services today.  If we broaden the definition of collection to include today’s broad array of formats, and we think not only in terms of collection, but also access, services, programs, and educational contexts—a positive approach has merit.  Librarians make judgment calls every day.  But if the focus is squarely on the unique needs and interests of young adults, aligned with our institutional mission, goals and objectives—and we couple this with a positive orientation to our work—than we might reinvent a better version of library services for teens that not only promotes independent reading and active learning, but is more inclusive and idealistic.  For many reasons, young adult library services are often contested; there are a lot of opinions about what these services should be.  A positive orientation provides not only a defense against the prejudices and biases of stakeholders who are not teens, but also ensures the interests and needs of teens are placed above our own.

Works Cited

Asheim, L. (1953). Not censorship but selection. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/censorshipfirstamendmentissues/notcensorship
Asheim, L. (1983). Selection and censorship: A reappraisal.  Retrieved from http://courseweb.lis.illinois.edu/~katewill/maybe/asheim%201983%20selection%20a%20reappraisal%20bfj.pdfcensor
Pattee, A. S. (2014). Developing library collections for today’s young adults. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press
Young Adult Library Services Association. (2014). The future of library services for and with teens: A call to action. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/yaforum/sites/ala.org.yaforum/files/content/YALSA_nationalforum_final.pdf
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