• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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Ruthless rhymes*

British children’s author Terry Deary, of Horrible Histories and Truly Terrible Tales fame, has in recent years made a second career of curmudgeonly, controversial statements. The Guardian once called him “proudly anti-establishment”. A bigger cynic than I might smell a regular effort to drum up publicity to sell more books.

Deary, a one-time teacher, told The Guardian 10 years ago,

I’ve no interest in schools. They have no relevance in the 21st century. They were a Victorian idea to get kids off the street. Who decided that putting 30 kids with only their age in common in a classroom with one teacher was the best way of educating? At my school there were 52 kids in the class and all I learned was how to pass the 11-plus. Testing is the death of education.

Kids should leave school at 11 and go to work. Not down the mines or up chimneys, mind, but working with computers or something relevant. Everything I learned after 11 was a waste of time. Trigonometry, Boyle’s law: it’s never been of any use to me. They should have been teaching me the life skills I was going to need, such as building relationships, parenting and managing money. I didn’t have a clue about any of these things at 18. Schools need to change.

In 2010, the author, who writes children’s history books, took on historians, whom he called “nearly as seedy and devious as politicians”: “They pick on a particular angle and select the facts to prove their case and make a name for themselves… . They don’t write objective history. Eventually you can see through them all. They all come with a twist.”

Then, he spoke out against the use of his history books in schools: “Horrible Histories writer Terry Deary said he does not want teachers to recommend his books, and would prefer children to discover them themselves. … ‘I shudder when I hear my books are used in those pits of misery and ignorance’.”

Latest up on Mr. Deary’s hit list, and also Vilely Victorian, are libraries. In Sunderland, where Deary was born and where libraries now face the threat of closure as councillors get ready to vote on proposed service reforms, last week Deary told the local newspaper, The Sunderland Echo, that the future of reading belongs to ebooks. And a few other choice words, unlike the other Sunderland authors who spoke in favor of saving library services:

Libraries have had their day. They are a Victorian idea and we are in an electronic age. They either have to change and adapt or they have to go.

I know some people like them but fewer and fewer people are using them and these are straightened times. A lot of the gush about libraries is sentimentality.

The book is old technology and we have to move on, so good luck to the council.

Left here, the matter might have raised eyebrows. But The Guardian picked up the story, with Alison Flood speaking further with Deary, whose additional comments have raised a furor,

I’m not attacking libraries, I’m attacking the concept behind libraries, which is no longer relevant. Because it’s been 150 years [since the passage of the UK’s Public Libraries Act in 1850], we’ve got this idea that we’ve got an entitlement to read books for free, at the expense of authors, publishers and council tax payers. This is not the Victorian age, when we wanted to allow the impoverished access to literature. We pay for compulsory schooling to do that.

And of course we know how he feels about that.

People have to make the choice to buy books. People will happily buy a cinema ticket to see Roald Dahl’s Matilda, and expect to get the book for free. It doesn’t make sense. Books aren’t public property, and writers aren’t Enid Blyton, middle-class women indulging in a pleasant little hobby. They’ve got to make a living. Authors, booksellers and publishers need to eat. We don’t expect to go to a food library to be fed.

Enid Blyton seems a curious choice, and possibly one of the worst examples to choose. In fact, it’s hard to come up with an English children’s author in the past century who was more ruthless about her own writing success, willing to throw husbands and daughters under the proverbial bus. Which seems rather apt, under the circumstances.

Getting back to The Guardian article, Alison Flood notes,

As one of the most popular library authors – his books were borrowed more than 500,000 times during 2011/12 – Deary will have received the maximum amount possible for a writer from the Public Lending Right scheme, which gives authors 6.2p every time one of their books is borrowed, up to a cap of £6,600. “If I sold the book I’d get 30p per book. I get six grand, and I should be getting £180,000. But never mind my selfish author perception – what about the bookshops? The libraries are doing nothing for the book industry. They give nothing back, whereas bookshops are selling the book, and the author and the publisher get paid, which is as it should be. What other entertainment do we expect to get for free?” he asked.

This is probably where all the American authors’ heads’ whipped around. Public lending right? What public lending right? Because the concept doesn’t exist in the United States.

(By the way, and because I can never leave well enough alone, I hopped over to Deary’s website, where actually he seems quite pleased to announce,

Stop Press …
The Public Lending Rights figures for 2012 have been released. They list the number of times books are borrowed from British Libraries. Terry Deary is the 12th most borrowed author last year and the 7th most borrowed children’s author. His titles are more borrowed than Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton in childrens’ books or Lee Child and Harlan Coben (Terry’s own favourite writer) in the combined lists.

Take that, Enid Blyton. And now back to The Guardian article,

Bookshops are closing down, he said, “because someone is giving away the product they are trying to sell. What other industry creates a product and allows someone else to give it away, endlessly? The car industry would collapse if we went to car libraries for free use of Porsches … Librarians are lovely people and libraries are lovely places, but they are damaging the book industry. They are putting bookshops out of business, and I’m afraid we have to look at what place they have in the 21st century.”

Deary is calling for a public debate around libraries, and for an end to the “sentimentality” he believes has framed the issue so far. “Why are all the authors coming out in support of libraries when libraries are cutting their throats and slashing their purses?” he asked. “We can’t give everything away under the public purse. Books are part of the entertainment industry. Literature has been something elite, but it is not any more. This is not the Roman empire, where we give away free bread and circuses to the masses. People expect to pay for entertainment. They might object to TV licences, but they understand they have to do it. But because libraries have been around for so long, people have this idea that books should be freely available to all. I’m afraid those days are past. Libraries cost a vast amount … and the council tax payers are paying a lot of money to subsidise them, when they are used by an ever-diminishing amount of people.”

On the one hand, Deary is asking for a public debate about libraries. And yet. And yet…

On the other, he seems to want an end to “giving away” “free” books, which sounds more like an edict than debate. As he told The Sunderland Echo after The Guardian article appeared,

 I never attacked libraries, I said we need to think about people’s access to literature. I don’t see poor people in libraries, I see middle class people with their arms stuffed like looters.

It rather sounds as if he wants that £173,400 back, doesn’t it? Well, that and, erm, maybe the renewed health of the British bookselling industry? Yes! That!

Not surprisingly, the article had 364 comments last I checked. Not nearly as much fun, though, as the comments over at Mumsnet, which are veddy, veddy British and veddy, veddy funny.

Then there’s this, a sort of agreement cum apology cum explanation, from British illustrator Shoo Rayner who once worked with Terry Deary,

Terry is a Card-carrying, old-school renegade. He’ll make a stand against anything that looks like authority just to make a bit of noise. I’m afraid that Terry, is just “being Terry.” You have to remember that Terry is an actor first and foremost and he loves a bit of drama.

Terry is more a manufacturer of commodities than what one imagines an author to be. At the height of the Horrible Histories fame, he set his researchers going at a new subject on the first of each month. Then, together they cobbled up a new book with a snappy title and added it to the production line. Librarians loved them, bought them in droves and promoted them like nothing else. Now they don’t have the funds to buy more of Terry’s books, Terry rails at them for lending out his books. He claims to have lost £180,000 a year in lost book sales because Libraries lend them out! Well, of course that’s not true. People who borrow books for free wouldn’t go out and buy them. And it’s a little ungracious of him, he would have to spend that much every year in marketing and publicity just to buy the promotion that Libraries have given him for free all these years.

But all the same Terry is expressing the little voice of doubt that nags away at all authors and librarians. Authors, publishers and librarians don’t know what to do. The Tsunami of the internet, for so long a problem that would have to be dealt with one day, is building a giant wave in front of our eyes and it is starting to crash all around us. Libraries let the computers in a long time ago. Appeasement hasn’t worked – it never does!

Ah, so it’s just Terry being Terry, the manufacturer of commodities, making a bit of noise. But there are consequences when one is a best-selling author, and when councillors, cabinet meetings, and consultation periods are seeking informed advice. Do they really need to be distracted by “noise” at this important time, with some of the city’s 20 libraries on the line?

And perhaps another round of Blitzed Brits is in order as a refresher course, since libraries accommodating to the internet in the 21st century are in no way akin to Neville Chamberlain on the road to Munich. Sometimes, an umbrella is just an umbrella. (Does a reflex appeal to horrors of appeasement still work with Britons, 75 years on?) Yes, the world, and libraries, are changing. Budgets are smaller. But the answer isn’t to do away with libraries entirely. Moreover, in another bit of news, many keen readers check out books at the library and then do buy them, having ensured they’re something we’d like to spend money on. We just don’t like buying a pig in a poke.

No, I’m not going to use any more space and time here to explain how I feel about libraries, other than to say, we are not amused. But I will mention something else interesting I found on his website, under “Latest News”, which does indeed make me smell a publicity ploy: the tidbit that at the beginning of this month, as of February 1, “Terry start[ed] a new career — as a writer of adult books. He has been contracted to publish an entertaining new series of history books for adults. Over the next two years he will be writing the first four books in the series, starting with The Roman Empire to be published this November.”

Is this the part where we congratulate Mr. Deary and wish him every success on his latest endeavour? Or just wish him well with the gladitorial combat…

* with apologies to Harry Graham (1874-1936), author of the “cheerfully cruel” Ruthless Rhymes

A gift to home schoolers and all learners: Michael Hart (1947-2011)

Michael Hart, the founder of Project Gutenberg and the inventor, in 1971, of electronic books, died of a heart attack this past Tuesday, September 6, at the age of 64. His obituary at Project Gutenberg is here.

Some excerpts from his obituary, which is in the public domain:

Hart was an ardent technologist and futurist. A lifetime tinkerer, he acquired hands-on expertise with the technologies of the day: radio, hi-fi stereo, video equipment, and of course computers. He constantly looked into the future, to anticipate technological advances. One of his favorite speculations was that someday, everyone would be able to have their own copy of the Project Gutenberg collection or whatever subset desired. This vision came true, thanks to the advent of large inexpensive computer disk drives, and to the ubiquity of portable mobile devices, such as cell phones.

and

Michael S. Hart left a major mark on the world. The invention of eBooks was not simply a technological innovation or precursor to the modern information environment. A more correct understanding is that eBooks are an efficient and effective way of unlimited free distribution of literature. Access to eBooks can thus provide opportunity for increased literacy. Literacy, and the ideas contained in literature, creates opportunity.

In July 2011, Michael wrote these words, which summarize his goals and his lasting legacy: “One thing about eBooks that most people haven’t thought much is that eBooks are the very first thing that we’re all able to have as much as we want other than air. Think about that for a moment and you realize we are in the right job.” He had this advice for those seeking to make literature available to all people, especially children: “Learning is its own reward.  Nothing I can say is better than that.”

*  *  *  *

To read more about Mr. Hart’s life and mission:

Richard Poynder’s 2006 blog post on Michael Hart on “preserving the public domain”, with a link to an interview with Hart

The Washington Post’s obituary, from which: “ ‘There are two things in the world that are truly, totally free with an endless supply,’ he told the Chicago Tribune in 1999. ‘The air we breathe and the texts on Project Gutenberg.’ ” And:

…other friends recalled that Mr. Hart’s house in Urbana was stacked, floor to eye-height, with pillars of books.

The man who spent a lifetime digitizing literature lived amidst the hard copies, which he often sent home with visitors. It was one more way for him to share his books.

“The Legacy of Project Gutenberg Founder, Michael S. Hart” by Rebecca J. Rosen, at The Atlantic

In praise of quiet places to think and be inspired

Last weekend, Canadian writer and sometime CBC Radio host Ian Brown wrote a marvelous opinion piece on the future of libraries for The Globe and Mail, “Don’t Discard the Librarians”. He began with the decision of the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board to shutter its school libraries and dump all but four of its library technicians, and moved on to discuss a recent symposium at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, on the future of academic libraries,

Discussion whirled around the radical proposals of McMaster’s university librarian, Jeff Trzeciak. Mr. Trzeciak is the mad dog of research librarians: His deeply digital vision is one in which shrunken libraries are staffed not by librarians, but by information technologists and (much cheaper) post-doctoral students. Those aren’t just ideas, either. The University of Denver library recently put 80 per cent of its books in storage.

Brown also took The Globe and Mail itself to task for its recent editorial,

Even a Globe and Mail editorial called for the death of libraries as “book-centred and quiet places” and their resurrection as “noisy digital hubs” – all to save money, because no one uses libraries any more. “Libraries should not be content to live in the 20th century,” the Globe declaimed, “as it were.”

That might be an interesting point if it were accurate. A couple of hours at local libraries in Toronto proves otherwise. Physical libraries and actual flesh-and-blood librarians seem to be more necessary than ever.

If you have been reading this blog even for a week, you know that my first thought to the something like the foregoing is, what on earth is wrong with book-centred and quiet places? I would have been miserable in both elementary and high school without such places.  Doubtless even in the 21st century there are still children like this, who grow into adults who enjoy, and need, such places.  And in this 21st century world, I, and my children, need fewer noisy digital hubs in our lives, not more.

And why are librarians even more necessary now? Brown’s answer:

Here is the case for human librarians: You, the information consumer, don’t want to go insane.

Human knowledge is now thought to double every five years. The need for a guide through that morass, for a knowledge concierge, as even Mr. Godin admits, is critical. Anything but old-fashioned, librarians addressed the problem before anyone else. Peter Clinton, a reference librarian and director of the University of Toronto’s information technology services, started his job in 1986, when there were five people in his department and the laptop didn’t exist. Today, with 45 staffers, his is “the only growth area in the library.”

The system his computers oversee is massive. The Scholars Portal provides the technical infrastructure that saves, stores and provides access to all theinformation resources shared by Ontario’s 21 university libraries. That means 20 million scholarly articles, and counting; half a million digitized books, and ditto; plus all the catalogues and surveys and geospatial data the human race feels it might need so far, all available to anyone who needs it.

The need is great beyond academic libraries, and in public libraries, as well:

Not only academic libraries are complex. The Toronto Public Library is the world’s busiest urban public library system. Walking into Toronto’s main reference branch is like stepping into the centre of a very large brain crossed with a large mall.

Nearly 19 million people visit its 99 branches every year, and borrow 32 million items (which means every item goes out about three times). Nearly 90 per cent of recent immigrants stop by the library. Many can’t speak English.

None of that works without human librarians in the equation.

The physical library is often dismissed as replaceable, on the theory that digitized material takes up less space than books, and can be accessed from anywhere. That would be possible, maybe, if the people accessing the material were also digital, and had no need for a human community of thinkers.

“People who don’t have offices really value libraries as places to learn,” [Carole Moore, chief librarian at the University of Toronto’s Robarts Library for the past 25 years] told me the other day. More than three-quarters of U of T’s students live off-campus. All those students need a free Internet connection and a place to work when they aren’t in class. If you open the library and make it useful, people use it.

Ms. Moore speculates Windsor’s weren’t open when students needed them.

“I think it’s the idea of a library as a place to think that inspires people. And the fact that there’s a community of other people there, also trying to think,” Ms. Moore said. She was trying to explain the appeal of working in a library surrounded by others.

The life of the mind is a daunting, solitary, often lonely existence: A library gives a mind a home, companionship, and “one of the few places where you can escape advertising,” Mr. Darnell added, as well as “a freedom and an anonymity in that setting that’s really important and that doesn’t exist in other spaces.”

Jacqueline Appleby, a newly graduated librarian now working for the Scholars Portal, objected to relocating books to classrooms – as the Windsor school board plans – for the same reason. “It takes away from the experience of a vast collection in a place where you can decide what you want to read.”

Read Ian Brown’s entire opinion piece here.

The full impact

Pulitzer and Griffin prize-winning poet and essayist Charles Simic has a moving and thought-provoking blog post at the New York Review Blog this week, “A Country without Libraries”, from which:

All across the United States, large and small cities are closing public libraries or curtailing their hours of operations. Detroit, I read a few days ago, may close all of its branches and Denver half of its own: decisions that will undoubtedly put hundreds of its employees out of work. When you count the families all over this country who don’t have computers or can’t afford Internet connections and rely on the ones in libraries to look for jobs, the consequences will be even more dire. People everywhere are unhappy about these closings, and so are mayors making the hard decisions. But with roads and streets left in disrepair, teachers, policemen and firemen being laid off, and politicians in both parties pledging never to raise taxes, no matter what happens to our quality of life, the outlook is bleak. “The greatest nation on earth,” as we still call ourselves, no longer has the political will to arrest its visible and precipitous decline and save the institutions on which the workings of our democracy depend.

I don’t know of anything more disheartening than the sight of a shut down library. No matter how modest its building or its holdings, in many parts of this country a municipal library is often the only place where books in large number on every imaginable subject can be found, where both grownups and children are welcome to sit and read in peace, free of whatever distractions and aggravations await them outside. Like many other Americans of my generation, I owe much of my knowledge to thousands of books I withdrew from public libraries over a lifetime. I remember the sense of awe I felt as a teenager when I realized I could roam among the shelves, take down any book I wanted, examine it at my leisure at one of the library tables, and if it struck my fancy, bring it home. Not just some thriller or serious novel, but also big art books and recordings of everything from jazz to operas and symphonies.

How Simic’s library made him a more interesting, and interested, person:

In Oak Park, Illinois, when I was in high school, I went to the library two or three times a week, though in my classes I was a middling student. Even in wintertime, I’d walk the dozen blocks to the library, often in rain or snow, carrying a load of books and records to return, trembling with excitement and anticipation at all the tantalizing books that awaited me there. The kindness of the librarians, who, of course, all knew me well, was also an inducement. They were happy to see me read so many books, though I’m sure they must have wondered in private about my vast and mystifying range of interests.

I’d check out at the same time, for instance, a learned book about North American insects and bugs, a Louis-Ferdinand Céline novel, the poems of Hart Crane, an anthology of American short stories, a book about astronomy and recordings by Bix Beiderbecke and Sidney Bechet. I still can’t get over the generosity of the taxpayers of Oak Park. It’s not that I started out life being interested in everything; it was spending time in my local, extraordinarily well-stacked public library that made me so.

Simic on those who downplay the importance of libraries in our communities, our society:

I heard some politician say recently that closing libraries is no big deal, since the kids now have the Internet to do their reading and school work. It’s not the same thing. As any teacher who recalls the time when students still went to libraries and read books could tell him, study and reflection come more naturally to someone bent over a book. Seeing others, too, absorbed in their reading, holding up or pressing down on different-looking books, some intimidating in their appearance, others inviting, makes one a participant in one of the oldest and most noble human activities. Yes, reading books is a slow, time-consuming, and often tedious process. In comparison, surfing the Internet is a quick, distracting activity in which one searches for a specific subject, finds it, and then reads about it—often by skipping a great deal of material and absorbing only pertinent fragments. Books require patience, sustained attention to what is on the page, and frequent rest periods for reverie, so that the meaning of what we are reading settles in and makes its full impact.

How many book lovers among the young has the Internet produced? Far fewer, I suspect, than the millions libraries have turned out over the last hundred years. Their slow disappearance is a tragedy, not just for those impoverished towns and cities, but for everyone everywhere terrified at the thought of a country without libraries.

Read the entire post here. Read the NYRblog here, where you can find posts by everyone from Margaret Atwood, Diane Ravitch, and  Mary Beard to Harold Bloom, Michael Chabon, and Joseph Lelyveld.

Support your local library.  Visit often, with your children. Get library cards for the whole family, and use them. Join your Friends of the Library group to help with much-needed fundraising. Take boxes of chocolates and plates of homemade cookies to your librarian and the staff. Join your local library board.  Become volunteer or library page at your branch. Read deeply and widely. Imagine your town, city, or neighborhood without a library.

*  *  *

Earlier Farm School handwringings about libraries:

Those pesky outdated and inaccurate books

Ray Bradbury on libraries

The latest book buzz, or, For whom the bell tolls

A hub for home schoolers

Those pesky outdated and inaccurate books

Oh, Canada.

From today’s Globe and Mail,

Today, many Canadian children have never even seen a school librarian and never will. Nova Scotia has none, and the full-time equivalent of just three are left in all of New Brunswick. At least one school board in Ontario hasn’t had a teacher-librarian in 15 years, and numbers have declined in Alberta and British Columbia as well [certainly in our part of Alberta].

Spring is a hard season for bibliophiles, as school boards across the country set their budgets for next school year. In recent weeks at least two Ontario boards have decided to cut library staff.

Teacher-librarians have been among the first to be sacrificed when boards make cuts, and the digital innovations they help students navigate are now being used as the justification for eliminating their jobs, and Canada is bucking an international trend of investing in school libraries.

People for Education, an Ontario advocacy group, will release a special report on the decline of school libraries on Monday.

The study shows that less [erm, fewer…] than 12 per cent of Ontario elementary schools have a full-time librarian, and small communities, particularly in the north, are most likely to go without. Today, barely half have even a part-time librarian, down from 80 per cent in 1997/98.

The group’s concerns are about more than nostalgia: School libraries and librarians have been linked to several measures of student achievement, including standardized test scores and a love of reading. Most studies have come out of the United States and Australia, but Canadian researchers confirmed in 2006 that these benefits transcend borders and remain strong in a post-internet world.

“It’s not surprising that when you’ve got engaged teacher-librarians, they’re going to engage the students more and the more they engage our children the better they learn,” said Donald Klinger, the Queen’s University professor who led the new study.

What did surprise Prof. Klinger was the strength of the association between students’ performance on standardized tests and the presence of school librarians: His study showed scores were boosted by as much as 8 per cent.

If reading all of that makes you sad, this will make you even sadder [boldface mine]:

In April, declining enrolment forced the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board in southern Ontario to make up a projected $8-million to $10-million reduction in provincial funding. Trustees voted to lay off 16 secretaries, several teachers, and nearly all 39 library technicians. At the same time, Peterborough’s Catholic school board, east of Toronto, also said it is cutting library staff.

“We have to get past the old concept, the old tradition of what libraries used to be…” said Cathy Geml, associate director of education for the WECDSB. Books quickly become outdated and inaccurate, and the board is focusing its resources on internet research.

“We have people in various capacities in the secondary schools that are teachers and administrators who could support and teach digital literacy throughout the day.”

It gets worse.  According to The Hamilton Spectator, the decision was made behind closed doors and with no public input:

In a controversial decision — which even some students are protesting — the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board has laid off all but four of its library technicians and is dismantling all its libraries.

It has started to divvy up the library books in its elementary schools and distribute them to individual classrooms instead.

Among the board’s reasons, according to Ms. Geml:

schoolchildren spend time walking to the library, choosing books and returning to class. “That’s lost instructional time,” she added.

Lost, indeed. I’m not quite sure how much anyone in the Windsor-Essex Catholic school district has been learning over the past few generations if school board members believe that that books are purely for research, reference, and information. Whatever happened to wisdom, knowledge, and a great story?  How disappointing that there are trustees who think it comes down to Stephen Leacock vs. Google, Jane Austen vs. the current edition of the World Almanac, Billy Budd vs. Bing.  Am I really surprised to find that there are school board members who believe this?  No.  It’s one of the reasons we home school, and one of the reasons we’ve made a good home library a priority.

The good news, if there is any, is that not everyone in Windsor agrees:

“We believe students’ physical well-being is important, so we have a gym. As a Catholic school, we believe religion is important, so we have a chapel. If we believe literacy and reading is important, why wouldn’t we have a library?” said Windsor-area parent Donna Tonus, who is banding together with others to fight the board’s decision. A student protest is also planned on Monday.

Interestingly, one of the links provided by The Globe & Mail in a sidebar is for a story last December about Victoria, B.C.’s booming public libraries — because, as reporter Tom Hawthorn wrote, “The Greater Victoria Public Library embraces technology while respecting the time-proven value of that fine medieval invention, the printed book”.

Your own private writing seminar

with John McPhee, via the Spring issue (now online, thank goodness) of The Paris Review.

For example, the importance of using an outline, from the interview with Mr. McPhee by Peter Hessler, “The Art of Nonfiction No. 3”:

INTERVIEWER
Where did this method come from?

MCPHEE
It goes back to Olive McKee at Princeton High School, and the structural outline that we had to have before doing any piece of writing. It came up again when I worked at Time. My first cover story just floored me. It was five thousand words, and I really struggled with the mass of material. I was pretty unhappy. It was just a mess—a mess of paper, I didn’t know where anything was. So I went back to Olive McKee and the outline, sorting through this matrix of material, separating it into components and dealing with one component at a time.

INTERVIEWER
Is there ever a risk of it becoming too mechanical?

MCPHEE
It sounds very mechanical, but the effect is the exact opposite. What it does is free you to write. It liberates you to write. You’ve got all the notes there; you come in in the morning and you read through what you’re going to try to write, and there’s not that much to read. You’re not worried about the other ninety-five percent, it’s off in a folder somewhere. It’s you and the keyboard. You get away from the mechanics through this mechanical means. The spontaneity comes in the writing, the phraseology, the telling of the story—after you’ve put all this stuff aside. You can read through those relevant notes in a relatively short period of time, and you know that’s what you want to be covering.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Also in the Spring issue, Ray Bradbury interviewed on the Art of Fiction, by Sam Weller, from which,

INTERVIEWER
You’re self-educated, aren’t you?

BRADBURY
Yes, I am. I’m completely library educated. I’ve never been to college. I went down to the library when I was in grade school in Waukegan, and in high school in Los Angeles, and spent long days every summer in the library. I used to steal magazines from a store on Genesee Street, in Waukegan, and read them and then steal them back on the racks again. That way I took the print off with my eyeballs and stayed honest. I didn’t want to be a permanent thief, and I was very careful to wash my hands before I read them. But with the library, it’s like catnip, I suppose: you begin to run in circles because there’s so much to look at and read. And it’s far more fun than going to school, simply because you make up your own list and you don’t have to listen to anyone. When I would see some of the books my kids were forced to bring home and read by some of their teachers, and were graded on—well, what if you don’t like those books?

I am a librarian. I discovered me in the library. I went to find me in the library. Before I fell in love with libraries, I was just a six-year-old boy. The library fueled all of my curiosities, from dinosaurs to ancient Egypt. When I graduated from high school in 1938, I began going to the library three nights a week. I did this every week for almost ten years and finally, in 1947, around the time I got married, I figured I was done. So I graduated from the library when I was twenty-seven. I discovered that the library is the real school.

INTERVIEWER
You have said that you don’t believe in going to college to learn to write. Why is that?

BRADBURY
You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught. The library, on the other hand, has no biases. The information is all there for you to interpret. You don’t have someone telling you what to think. You discover it for yourself.

Read the rest of Mr. Bradbury’s interview, especially on why he refused to write the screenplay for War and Peace, here. (I wrote about Mr. Bradbury and libraries last year here.)

And don’t miss the Review’s interview index, with gems from 1953 to the present.

*  *  *

Books by John McPhee, wonderful wonderful stuff and the perfect living books to include in your home school studies with older children, especially for science.  If you have to choose only one, make it Annals of the Former World, Mr. McPhee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of four books on the geological history of North America, published in a single volume in 1998.

The magic of reading aloud

Michael Winerip writes about a remarkable nine-year-plus readaloud streak in “A Father-Daughter Bond, Page by Page” in this week’s New York Times:

Their shared reading provided a shared language. When Mr. Brozina asks if Kristen’s absolutely sure, she’ll answer, “Certain there’s a jertain in the curtain” (Dr. Seuss). If Mr. Brozina orders a hamburger, Kristen will say, “I am a great eater of beef and I believe that does harm to my wit” (Shakespeare, “Twelfth Night” ). By high school, Kristen had a busy social life. “I’d be out with friends, and say, ‘It’s 11:30, we need to stop back at my house.’ A carload of teenagers would come in. They’d play some game or cards in the living room. I’d go upstairs to Dad’s room and he’d read to me.”

“Then she’d go back out with her friends and I’d go to bed,” Mr. Brozina said. …

Like all earth-shattering acts, there was more to The Streak than met the eye, although for years it was unspoken. About the time The Streak started, Kristen’s family shrunk from six to two in a year’s time. Her two surviving grandparents died. Her sister, who is seven years older, went off to Yale. And her mother left her father. “It was just the two of us,” Kristen said. “The Streak was stability when everything else was unstable. It was something I knew would always be there.” ..

Her father felt that, too. “With a family of two, I wanted her to be absolutely sure in her mind that I was here for her,” he said.

But he had other reasons. At 61, he’s part of a generation that held reading as an almost magical ticket to upward mobility. He’s been a school librarian here for 38 years, knows most everyone in this modest blue-collar town, and whenever he bumps into one of his former students, the first thing he asks is, “Are you reading?” followed by his mantra: “If you love to read, you’ll probably go to college, maybe for free. You’ll get a better job, get a higher income, live longer.”

Over the years, he has built a collection of 700 of the best books he and Kristen read together. “I don’t have much money to pass on,” he said. “But these books, she’ll read to hers and they’ll read to theirs. And they’ll read to the generations down the lines. It’s a means for me to touch generations I’ll never see. They’ll all be smart. I can’t imagine these books will never be used. Every single one of them is so good.”

Read the rest, aloud or to yourself, here.

A woman’s wit

Lady Russell had little taste for wit, and of anything approaching to imprudence a horror.”
from
Persuasion by Jane Austen

If you happen to find yourself in New York City between this Friday and March 14, 2010, head over to the Morgan Library & Museum for their new exhibition, “A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy”.  As The New Yorker noted recently, “If you blanch at the idea of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, take solace” at the Morgan’s exhibit:

This exhibition explores the life, work, and legacy of Jane Austen (1775–1817), regarded as one of the greatest English novelists. Offering a close-up portrait of the iconic British author, whose popularity has surged over the last two decades with numerous motion picture and television adaptations of her work, the show provides tangible intimacy with Austen through the presentation of more than 100 works, including her manuscripts, personal letters, and related materials, many of which the Morgan has not exhibited in over a quarter century. A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy also includes first and early illustrated editions of Austen’s novels as well as drawings and prints depicting people, places, and events of biographical significance.

The exhibition is organized into three sections — Jane Austen’s life and personal letters (one-third of all of her surviving correspondence are at the Morgan), her works, and her legacy — and also includes a documentary-style film directed by Francesco Carrozzini with interviews with Fran Lebowitz and Cornel West, who may or may not be Janeites.

And if you find yourself in NYC with children, bring them along.  On Saturday, February 6, the Morgan offers the Family Program, “Paper Dolls at the Ball: Jane’s Fashion for Kids”.  Then again, if you can’t make it to NYC and still want paper dolls at the ball, try this Dover book or Donald Hendricks’ Paper Dolls website for Miss Austen herself as well as many of her characters, including a jazzy Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey, an elegant Emma, and Anne Elliott and a very dashing Captain Wentworth from Persuasion.

Ray Bradbury on libraries

In yesterday’s New York Times, legendary author Ray Bradbury on why, at age 88, he is campaigning hard to save the HP Wright Library in Ventura, California, from state budget cuts:

“Libraries raised me,” Mr. Bradbury said. “I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

According to the article, Mr. Bradbury “spends as much time as he can talking to children in libraries and encouraging them to read.”  As for the internet,

Don’t get him started. “The Internet is a big distraction,” Mr. Bradbury barked from his perch in his house in Los Angeles, which is jammed with enormous stuffed animals, videos, DVDs, wooden toys, photographs and books, with things like the National Medal of Arts sort of tossed on a table.

“Yahoo called me eight weeks ago,” he said, voice rising. “They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? ‘To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet.’

“It’s distracting,” he continued. “It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.”

Read the rest of the article here. For a different view, here’s a January 2009 post on closing the library from the Ventura City Manager’s blog.

Two different schools of reading

in England.

UK children’s laureate Michael Rosen wonders, in The Guardian Book Blog, “just how difficult would it be to get schools currently teaching ‘literacy’ to teach a genuine love of reading instead?”  Mr. Rosen is hoping, with the help of the BBC, to spark a “reading revolution”, beginning with a school in Cardiff, Wales.  According to a related Guardian article [links added by me],

… Michael Rosen is set to do for books what Jamie Oliver did for school dinners, with a new BBC show in which he attempts to get a Cardiff primary school to fall in love with literature in just 10 weeks.

The hour-long show, Just Read with Michael Rosen, is due to appear in February. It will see Rosen, author of Mustard, Custard, Grumble Belly and Gravy and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, giving staff at the school permission to shake up their timetables in an attempt to get classes reading for fun. Many of the children at the school have few books at home, and have never visited a library. …

With teachers under pressure to deliver a “reading curriculum”, Rosen said that schools have developed what he dubbed “excerpt-itis”, where classes read an extract from a book and are immediately asked questions about it. “It’s absolutely pathetic – they don’t even tell the whole story,” he said.

And, finally,

“It’s not rocket science – it’s just doing all we can and doing it with enthusiasm,” he said. “It’s about putting books at the centre of the curriculum, getting children engaging with worlds beyond their own, reading about complex ideas in an enjoyable way.”

“Just Read with Michael Rosen” airs tomorrow evening, Sunday, February 8, on BBC Four at 9 pm.

A world of difference from the news reported last autumn that a secondary school (high school) in Chesterfield, England, would be turning its library into a “virtual-learning environment” in this new year; the librarian would lose her job.  Author Philip Pullman, alerted by author Alan Gibbons (founder last autumn of The Campaign for the Book) joined in to try to save the school’s library,   sending a letter to the headteacher.  From which,

I am deeply dismayed to learn, from the Campaign for the Book, of your decision to close the library at your school and make the librarian redundant. This simply cannot be in the best interests of your students. A
library, with a dedicated and professional staff, should be at the very heart of any institution devoted to learning. Nothing can replace a proper library, with its resources centrally available, and with the expertise of a qualified librarian to guide the students in the best and most productive ways of research.

As for the idea that fiction is not worth looking after properly and can be relegated to “break times and after school clubs”, and does not need a qualified librarian to deal with it, that runs contrary to every experience I have ever had as a teacher, as a pupil, and as a writer. …

Have you no idea of the richness and depth of modern (and classic) children’s fiction, and the profound importance it
has not only in the classroom but in the hearts and minds of the pupils in your care? Have you any idea how valuable the knowledge and experience of librarians is in this field alone? Are you going to relegate the whole activity of reading fiction — novels being, in the words of Jane Austen, “work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its
varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language” — to the status of a trivial and innocuous activity like stamp-collecting or playing with a frisbee?

I urge you to think again. Do you really want your school to be a by-word for philistinism and ignorance? I can assure you that that will be the result of your present policy.

Or, as Mr. Rosen might put it, it’s not rocket science, is it?

*  *  *

Interestingly, while looking for the links to Mr. Rosen’s books, the following came up at Amazon.com:

Promoting Reading for Pleasure in the Primary School by Michael Lockwood, originally published in the UK last June.  Not surprisingly, Mr. Pullman offers the following blurb, emphasis mine:

This book is first class. It puts the matter very clearly and succinctly, and presents a great deal of evidence to support the argument that pleasure is not a frivolous extra, but the very heart and essence of what reading is about. It also gives readers plenty of ideas for carrying the principle into the classroom, and for justifying it… This is an excellent piece of work, which I hope will find a place on every staffroom bookshelf.

Then again, it’s not rocket science, is it?

Then again, we’re at the point where the idea that “pleasure is not a frivolous extra, but the very heart and essence of what reading is about” requires justifying.

“To oblige him”

According to The Boston Globe,

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum said it will display, as part of a weeklong celebration of Presidents’ Day, a 1930 biography of Abraham Lincoln that was apparently borrowed by Kennedy, or a member of his staff, when he was serving in the Senate in the 1950s.

The Library of Congress book, “A. Lincoln” by Ross F. Lockridge, was found in Kennedy’s pre-presidential papers. It has been listed as missing in the Library of Congress online catalog, and will be returned to its collection after the display.

And from that book, through the magic that is the Internet:

“One day a man who was migrating to the West drove up in front of my store with a wagon which contained his family and household plunder. He asked me if I would buy an old barrel for which he had no room in his wagon, and which he said contained nothing of special value. I did not want it, but to oblige him I bought and paid him. I think, half a dollar for it. Without further examination I put it away in the store, and forgot all about it. Some time after, in overhauling things, I came upon the barrel, and emptying it upon the floor to see what it contained, I found at the bottom of the rubbish a complete edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries. I began to read those famous works, and I had plenty of time; for during the long summer days, when the farmers were busy with their crops, my customers were few and far between.

“The more I read the more intensely interested I became. Never in my whole life was my mind so thoroughly absorbed. I read until I devoured them.”

From A. Lincoln by Ross F. Lockridge, World Book Company, New York, 1930, p. 110

Repost: Christmas on Huckleberry Mountain

I found the following a couple of years ago when I was looking for a review of the then-new live action movie of Charlotte’s Web.

*  *  *

While at the website, I happened to notice on the sidebar a link to a special Holiday Posting of Lois Lenski’s memories, entitled “Christmas at Huckleberry Mountain Library“, published by The Horn Book in 1946, the year Miss Lenski won the Newbery for Strawberry Girl:

Huckleberry mountain library — the only rural library in Henderson County, North Carolina — is open for two hours every other Sunday afternoon to the mountain children, and was to be open on December 23. Packages of books from three of my publishers arrived on the 22nd, just in time for library day.The library is a small log building, with a rock chimney at one end, sitting at the foot of the mountain, shaded by long-leafed pines. There had been three deep snows — more than this locality experiences in an entire winter — so the low-hung branches of the pine trees and the roof were white and glowing in the bright winter sun.

The children always come early, the young librarian, an educated mountain girl, said. The hours are from two to four, but often they are there by one-thirty. She has to open the door as soon as she gets there and keep it open, even at the risk of being very cold because the open door is a sign of welcome. If the children see the door closed, they may turn around and go home!

Through the weekdays, the building is unheated. So we went over early, to put up some greens and a little Christmas tree, and to get a fire started. Some young pine trees had been cleared out of the woods near by, and these Stephen chopped up. We had brought some dry wood, kindling and newspapers with us. The fireplace was filled with snow, and the chimney was very cold, so in spite of all our efforts, we never did get what you would call “a roaring fire” or any noticeable amount of heat in the room. …

The children looked so pretty as they came down the road across the snow. They were all dressed in their best — their coats and caps and mittens of bright colors — and had their hair neatly combed. They did not look ragged or tousled as they usually do at home. I was struck by the beauty and sweetness of their faces. Their natural shyness and quietness make their sweetness all the more appealing. There is a large proportion of redheads among them, evidence of a strong Scotch strain. They are apt to be small for their age. A boy, who looked to me to be about six, told me he was ten and in the fifth grade. Their clothes were pretty but not warm. The girls had thin cotton dresses on under their light summer-weight coats. Some (especially a group who had come all the way down the mountain) came in shaking and shivering, and their bare legs were blue with the cold.

Read the rest of Lois Lenski’s holiday account here. A warm holiday thank you to the folks at The Horn Book for rekindling and sharing the memories.

Banned Books Week: Day 8: The tale of the trial balloon

Banned books came up early last month even before the usual reminders of the annual weekly commemoration, thanks to the Republican vice presidential nominee. Now, for all of Sarah Palin’s faults, it’s worth mentioning one more time that the lists of books she has supposedly banned that are circulating — I’m aware of two — are fake. The first one, making the rounds of the blogs, is a joke; just read the titles. The second one, addressed by the Huffington Post and Snopes among others, has been lifted wholesale from the Adler & Robins “public service report”, as anyone who has checked banned book lists this week knows. Both lists have continued to circulate in all seriousness, which I find rather distressing, from the standpoints of both humor and truth, both of which seem to be lacking.

However, Gov. Palin’s early history as Mayor of Wasilla does seem to have something to do with the rumors’ lingering lives. Back in 1996, when Palin first became mayor, she asked city librarian Mary Ellen Emmons if Ms. Emmons would “be all right with censoring library books should she be asked to do so”, as reported by by Rindi White in last month’s Anchorage Daily News [I’ve added the various links, and the emphasis]:

According to news coverage at the time, the librarian said she would definitely not be all right with it. A few months later, the librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, got a letter from Palin telling her she was going to be fired. The censorship issue was not mentioned as a reason for the firing. The letter just said the new mayor felt Emmons didn’t fully support her and had to go.

Emmons had been city librarian for seven years and was well liked. After a wave of public support for her, Palin relented and let Emmons keep her job.

It all happened 12 years ago and the controversy long ago disappeared into musty files. Until this week. Under intense national scrutiny, the issue has returned to dog her. It has been mentioned in news stories in Time Magazine and The New York Times and is spreading like a virus through the blogosphere.

The stories are all suggestive, but facts are hard to come by. Did Palin actually ban books at the Wasilla Public Library?

In December 1996, Emmons told her hometown newspaper, The Frontiersman, that Palin three times asked her — starting before she was sworn in — about possibly removing objectionable books from the library if the need arose.

Emmons told The Frontiersman she flatly refused to consider any kind of censorship. Emmons, now Mary Ellen Baker, is on vacation from her current job in Fairbanks and did not return e-mail or telephone messages left for her Wednesday.

When the matter came up for the second time in October 1996, during a City Council meeting, Anne Kilkenny, a Wasilla housewife who often attends council meetings, was there. …

“Sarah said to Mary Ellen, ‘What would your response be if I asked you to remove some books from the collection?” Kilkenny said.

“I was shocked. Mary Ellen sat up straight and said something along the line of, ‘The books in the Wasilla Library collection were selected on the basis of national selection criteria for libraries of this size, and I would absolutely resist all efforts to ban books.'”

Palin didn’t mention specific books at that meeting, Kilkenny said.

Palin herself, questioned at the time, called her inquiries rhetorical* and simply part of a policy discussion with a department head “about understanding and following administration agendas,” according to The Frontiersman article.

Were any books censored or banned? June Pinell-Stephens, chairwoman of the Alaska Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee since 1984, checked her files Wednesday and came up empty-handed. Pinell-Stephens also had no record of any phone conversations with Emmons about the issue back then. Emmons was president of the Alaska Library Association at the time. Books may not have been pulled from library shelves, but there were other repercussions for Emmons. [According to a School Library Journal article, Pinnell-Stephens, also noted as a friend of Emmons’, said that “[Palin] essentially forced Mary Ellen out … She all but fired her.”]

Four days before the exchange at the City Council, Emmons got a letter from Palin asking for her resignation. Similar letters went to police chief Irl Stambaugh, public works director Jack Felton and finance director Duane Dvorak. John Cooper, a fifth director, resigned after Palin eliminated his job overseeing the city museum.

Palin told The Daily News back then the letters were just a test of loyalty as she took on the mayor’s job, which she’d won from three-term mayor John Stein in a hard-fought election. Stein had hired many of the department heads. Both Emmons and Stambaugh had publicly supported him against Palin.

Emmons survived the loyalty test and a second one a few months later. She resigned in August 1999, two months before Palin was voted in for a second mayoral term. …

From The Frontiersman article from December 1996 mentioned above:

In the wake of strong reactions from the city’s library director to inquiries about censorship, Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin on Monday was taking pains to explain her questions about censoring library material were “rhetorical.”

Library Director Mary Ellen Emmons last week said Palin broached the subject with her on two occasions in October – once Palin was elected mayor Oct. 1 but before she took office on Oct. 14, and again in more detail on Monday, Oct. 28. Besides heading the Wasilla City Library, Emmons is also president of the Alaska Library Association.

The issue became public last Wednesday, when Palin brought it up during an interview about the now-defunct Liquor task Force. Palin used the library topic as an example of discussions with her department heads about understanding and following administration agendas. Palin said she asked Emmons how she would respond to censorship.

Emmons drew a clear distinction Saturday between the nature of Palin’s inquiries and an established book-challenge policy in place in Wasilla, and in most public libraries.

“I’m not trying to suppress anyone’s views,” Emmons said. “But I told her (Palin) clearly, I will fight anyone who tries to dictate what books can go on the library shelves.”

Palin said Monday she had no particular books or other material in mind when she posed the questions to Emmons.

Emmons said in the first conversation, before being sworn in as mayor, Palin briefly touched on the subject of censorship.

But on Monday, Oct. 28, Emmons said Palin asked her outright if she could live with censorship of library books. This was during a weak [sic] when Palin was requesting resignations from all� [?] the city’s department heads as a way of expressing loyalty.

“This is different than a normal book-selection procedure or a book-challenge policy,” Emmons stressed Saturday. “She was asking me how I would deal with her saying a book can’t be in the library.”

Monday Palin said in a written statement she was only trying to get aquatinted [sic] with her staff at the time. “Many issues were discussed, both rhetorical and realistic in nature,” Palin added.

Emmons recalled that the Oct. 28 conversation she pulled no punches with her response to the mayor.

“She asked me if I would object to censorship, and I replied ‘Yup’,” Emmons recounted Saturday. “And I told her it would not be just me. This was a constitutional question, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) would get involved, too.”

Emmons said Palin asked her on Oct. 28 if she would object to censorship, even if people were circling the library in protest about a book. “I told her it would definitely be a problem the ACLU would take on then,” Emmons said

Asked who she thought might picket the library, Palin said Monday, “Had no one in mind … again, the issue was discussed in the context of a professional question being asked in regards to library policy.

“All questions posed to Wasilla’s library director were asked in the context of professionalism regarding the library policy that is in place in our city. Obviously the issue of censorship is a library question… you ask a library director that type of question,” Palin said

“Palin also said Monday censorship issues would not involve any departments other than the library.

Emmons said she has been offered help if it is ever needed on censorship issues from the state library association‘s Intellectual Freedom Committee and the National Freedom to Read Foundation.

Palin called Emmons into her office Monday to discuss the censorship questions again.

Palin also attended Friday’s staff meeting at the library, but without mentioning censorship, Emmons said.

“I’m hoping it was just a trial balloon,” Emmons said, “because the free exchange of information is my main job, and I’ll fight anyone who tries to interfere with that.”

The timing of the issue comes at a time when Emmons is trying to get the book-challenge policies of the Wasilla Library and of the Palmer City Library in line with the Mat-Su Borough policy, revised in December of last year.

Emmons described the new borough policy as “a very good one.”

It is a step-by-step blueprint of procedures for anyone wanting to challenge the selection and availability of library material, Emmons explained. “it is a good process, and almost all public libraries have one.”

The borough’s policy was revised mainly to replace the borough manager as the final decision maker with a formal Reconsideration Committee. Mat-Su Borough Manager Don Moore said Saturday that changes were made, with the blessings, after a dispute that was resolved about two years ago involving a challenged book at the Big Lake Library.

Emmons said the current Wasilla policy, which she described as written in more general terms than the borough’s, also worked procedurally in a book-challenge case last year. Emmons said then-council-woman Palin was distressed about the issue when it came up, indicating she was aware of the city’s book-challenge policy.

Emmons said in the conversations with now-Mayor Palin in October, she reminded her again that the city has a policy in place. “But it seamed [sic] clear to me that wasn’t really what she was talking about anyhow,” Emmons added. “I just hope it doesn’t come up again.”

Meanwhile, Emmons said she is working with borough libraries boss Bruce Urban and Palmer Library Director Janice Sanford, in the hope of getting the cities to adopt a book-challenge policy identical to the borough’s.

The Washington Monthly had a few more interesting items on September 13 [links provided in original]:

ABC News added a report this week, explaining that Palin took office thanks in large part to the strong backing of her church, the Wasilla Assembly of God, which, right around the time Palin took office, “began to focus on certain books” the church wanted to see removed from shelves.

as well as this bit in an AP article,

The Rev. Howard Bess, a liberal Christian preacher in the nearby town of Palmer, said the church Palin and her family attended until 2002, the Wasilla Assembly of God, was pushing to remove his book from local bookstores.

Emmons told him that year that several copies of Pastor I Am Gay had disappeared from the library shelves, Bess said

There’s a good wrap-up here at the ALA’s American Libraries. And according to a Sept. 10 USAToday article [links added],

on its website, the city of Wasilla posted a statement asserting that no books at the library have ever been banned.

The statement notes that the library has a policy to handle requests to remove books. During a period of more than two decades four books have been challenged by library patrons, including a book in 2005 by television comedian Jon Stewart, America (The Book), according to the city.

Another book challenged there, in 1997, was Heather Has Two Mommies; the book remained on the shelf. The city’s statement is a good reminder, as well as a primer for any newly elected officials hoping to, learn to understand and follow administration agendas (ahem):

In accordance with the Wasilla Public Library Collection Development Policy, “All viewpoints and opinions on controversial subjects will be represented whenever possible… Wasilla Public Library recognizes the right of every citizen to read and gather information, and his or her right to freedom from censorship by other persons. Many books are controversial and any given item may offend some persons. … This library holds censorship to be a purely individual matter and declares that –- while anyone is free to reject for himself books and other materials of which he does not approve – he cannot exercise this right of censorship to restrict the freedom of others.”

And so Banned Book Week comes to an end here at Farm School for this year. If you’ve been reading along, thanks for indulging me and for reading all those much-too-long quotes I enjoy larding my posts with. Read a book, open a mind (or two), and learn something. Oh — and don’t forget to vote.

The week’s posts:

Banned Books Week: Day 8: The tale of the trial balloon

Poetry Friday/Banned Books Week: Day 7: All the scolding

Banned Books Week: Day 6: I’ll be finked

Banned Books Week: Day 5: Running with scissors

Banned Books Week: Day 4: Boo

Banned Books Week: Day 3: Just lousy

Banned Books Week: Day 2: What big teeth you have

Banned Books Week: Day 1: Banned in Boston

* While one of the definitions of “rhetorical” is, rather aptly, “emphasizing style, often at the expense of thought”, I believe the word the Mayor was hunting for is “hypothetical”.

Banned Books Week: Day 3: Just lousy

[Tom] Joad looked at him with drooped eyes, and then he laughed. “Why, you’re the preacher. You’re the preacher. I jus’ passed a recollection about you to a guy not an hour ago.”

“I was a preacher,” said the man seriously. “Reverend Jim Casy — was a Burning Busher. Used to howl out the name of Jesus to glory. And used to get an irrigation ditch so squirmin’ full of repented sinners half of ’em like to drowned. But not no more,” he sighed. “Jus Jim Casy now. Ain’t got the call no more. Got a lot of sinful idears — but they seem kinda sensible.”

Joad said, “You’re bound to get idears if you go thinkin’ about stuff. Sure I remember you. You use ta give a good meetin’. I recollect one time you give a whole sermon walkin’ around on your hands, yellin’ your head off. Ma favored you more than anybody. An’ Granma says you was just lousy with the spirit.” Joad dug at his rolled coat and found the pocket and brought out his pint. The turtle moved a leg but he wrapped it up tightly. He unscrewed the cap and held out the bottle. “Have a little snort?”

Casy took the bottle and regarded it broodingly. “I ain’t preachin’ no more much. The sperit ain’t in the people much no more; and worse’n that, the sperit ain’t in me no more. ‘Course, now an’ again the sperit gets movin’ an’ I rip out a meetin’, or when folks sets out food I give ’em a grace, but my heart ain’t in it. I on’y do it ’cause they expect it.”

Joad mopped his face with his cap again. “You ain’t too damn holy to take a drink, are you?” he asked.

Casy seemed to see the bottle for the first time. He tilted it and took three big swallows. “Nice drinkin’ liquor,” he said.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, 1939

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John Steinbeck’s now classic book of the Great Depression has been banned, burned, and challenged since it was first published in 1939.

Opponents of the book since its publication have found it vulgar, immoral, indecent, profane, blasphemous, ungodly obscene, misogynic, pro-union, and have objected to its portrayal of human life “in such a bestial way”. Of course life for countless Americans during the Great Depression, especially those in the Dust Bowl forced to become migrants, was in fact vulgar, immoral, indecent, profane, blasphemous, ungodly obscene, anti-woman (anti-man and anti-child for that matter), and many did live like animals. As Timothy Egan in The Worst Hard Time wrote,

Even the tumbleweeds that had kept farm animals alive were in short supply. [Fred] Folkers had been one of the first nesters to salt his thistle, making it edible for cattle. Now some of his neighbors wondered: why couldn’t people eat tumbleweeds as well? Ezra and Goldie Lowery, homesteaders in No Man’s Land since 1906, came up with an idea to can thistles in brine. Friends asked them how they could each such a thing, the nuisance weed of the prairie. It was as dry as cotton, as flavorless as cardboard, as prickly as cactus. Well, sure. Indeed they tasted like twigs, no debate there. But the Lowerys said these rolling thistles that the Germans had brought to the High Plains from the Russian steppe were good for you. High in iron and chlorophyll. Cimmaron County declared a Russian Thistle Week, with county officials urging people who were on relief to get out to fields and help folks harvest tumbleweeds

US efforts to stifle The Grapes of Wrath are detailed at the American Library Association (ALA) website page for “Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century” (as of 2000):

Burned by the East St. Louis, III. Public Library (1939) [I’ve found mentions that the book was not in fact burned in this case and that the order was rescinded] and barred from the Buffalo, N.Y Public Library (1939) on the grounds that “vulgar words” were used. Banned in Kansas City, Mo. (1939); Kern County Calif, the scene of Steinbeck’s novel, (1939); Ireland ( 1953); Kanawha, Iowa High School classes (1980); and Morris, Manitoba (1982). … Challenged in Vernon Verona Sherill, N.Y School District ( I 980); challenged as required reading for Richford,Vt. (1981) High School English students due to the book’s language and portrayal of a former minister who recounts how he took advantage of a young woman. Removed from two Anniston, Ala. high school libraries (1982), but later reinstated on a restrictive basis. Challenged at the Cummings High School in Burlington, N.C. (1986) as an optional reading assignment because the “book is full of filth. My son is being raised in a Christian home and this book takes the Lord’s name in vain and has all kinds of profanity in it.” Although the parent spoke to the press, a formal complaint with the school demanding the book’s removal was not filed. Challenged at the Moore County school system in Carthage, N.C. (1986) because the book contains the phase “God damn:” Challenged in the Greenville, S.C. schools (1991) because the book uses the name of God and Jesus in a “vain and profane manner along with inappropriate sexual references.” Challenged in the Union City Tenn. High School classes (1993).

Just in time for the annual commemoration of Banned Books Week, the story of Kern County, California, case against The Grapes of Wrath now has its own book, Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” by Rick Wartzman (Public Affairs, September, 2008). Jonathan Yardley reviewed the book for The Washington Post the other week; and Mr. Wartzman has an article adapted from the new volume at AmericanHeritage.com.

Obscene details the Kern County Board of Supervisors resolution in August 1939 against the book. The county in the heart of the agricultural haven of the San Joaquin Valley was the haven sought by most Great Plains migrants, only to find themselves in squalid camps at the mercy of the anti-union fruit growers. After the resolution passed, the head librarian in the county wrote to the four members who voted for the ban,

If that book is banned today, what will be banned tomorrow? And what group will want a book banned the day after that? It’s such a vicious and dangerous thing to begin and may in the end lead to exactly the same thing we see in Europe today. Besides, banning books is so utterly hopeless and futile. Ideas don’t die because a book is forbidden reading. If Steinbeck has written the truth, that truth will survive.

The Board of Supervisors lifted the ban in 1941.

According to a California Libraries article (at the California Council for the Humanities website), which also includes a history of the Kern County case, California Library Association president Sydney Mitchell had said the year before Grapes of Wrath was published, “Librarians should be all for democracy. In the totalitarian state the librarian becomes merely an agency for propaganda, for the dissemination of such information as the authorities care to pass on.” The following year, just before the book’s publication, the American Library Association (ALA) began to consider adoption of the first Library Bill of Rights (see below). And, according to Louise Robbins in Censorship and the American Library: The American Library Association’s Response to Threats to Intellectual Freedom, 1939-1969, “the nationwide ‘rash of bannings’ of Grapes of Wrath helped spur ALA’s appointment of an intellectual freedom committee in 1939.” No doubt aided too by six years of the Nazi book-burning campaign, and war in Europe.

* * * *

Library Bill of Rights

The American Library Association affirms that all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies should guide their services.

I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.

II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.

IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.

V. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.

VI. Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.


Adopted June 18, 1948, by the ALA Council; amended February 2, 1961; amended June 28, 1967; amended January 23, 1980; inclusion of “age” reaffirmed January 24, 1996.

A hub for home schoolers

As many of us are starting to think about getting back to school and the return of formal studies, here’s a handy article by Lora Shinn, “A Home Away from Home: Libraries & Homeschoolers”, in the August 1 issue of School Library Journal:

Homeschooling families are everywhere these days. They’re on television, giving interviews after winning national spelling bees. They’re in the paper, profiled after making Olympic trials. They’re on the radio, talking about the growing popularity of homeschooling as an educational choice.

And they’re definitely in your library.

According to a 2003 study by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), when homeschoolers were asked about their primary source of books and/or curriculum, 78 percent named their public library. Leah Langby, the library development and youth services coordinator at Indianhead Federated Library System in Eau Claire, WI, says her husband homeschools their two children. “It is nearly impossible to homeschool without that amazing resource unless you have a ton of money for materials,” adds Langby, referring to her local public library.

Consider passing along a copy of the article, with its suggestions for “programming, resources, and specialized services”, to your librarian, and if your librarian is the helpful and supportive type, a thank you note and a plate of homemade cookies (or flowers from the summer garden) might be a dandy way to start off the new learning year. If your librarian hasn’t always been helpful and supportive and your library isn’t the sort of home schooling haven described, well, the article just might be helpful in changing a mind or two.

Hat tip to Adrienne at the Homeschooling and Libraries blog; Adrienne is children’s librarian of most home schoolers dreams, and her first book is the recent Helping Homeschoolers in the Library.  Thanks, Adrienne!