Closing Session with Natalie Portman at ALA Virtual Conference

The Closing Session of ALA Virtual Conference 2020 featured Natalie Portman, who has a new picture book coming out called Natalie Portman’s Fables, being interviewed by librarian Betsy Bird.

[Betsy made a funny slip when she was listing Natalie’s credentials and called her an “Archivist” when she meant to say “Activist.” Only a librarian! Natalie said that would be cool!]

The main idea of the book, which includes three stories, is to rewrite beloved stories with more female characters.

She noticed when she had a daughter after having a son that people had given her boy baby “classics” that all seemed to feature male characters. Then they gave her girl baby books with feminist slants — but does a toddler really need to be told she’ll encounter obstacles?

She would change the pronouns in the stories she reads to have more female characters — and decided to write a book that does that. It’s not going to be all females, but just more a reflection of what the world is actually like.

They discussed the old saying that girls will read books about boys, but boys won’t read books about girls. Natalie said that girls are taught from a very young age to get inside boys’ heads and understand what they’re thinking. Boys also need to learn to think about a girl’s perspective.

The practice of empathy starts in children’s books.

Toddlers will empathize with any creature. We should encourage that.

She chose three tales with animal characters that she could fit into a message appropriate for modern times.

Stories Beyond US Borders at ALA Virtual Conference

Today I caught an On-demand virtual program and watched Stories from Beyond U.S. Borders: The Young Reader’s Window to the World. The four panelists were children’s and YA authors who all live in Southeast Asia.

The speakers were:
Hanna Alkaf, author of The Weight of Our Sky and the upcoming The Girl and the Ghost, who lives in Malaysia
Rin Chupeco, author of several book including the recent Wicked As You Wish, who lives in the Philippines
Gail Villanueva, author of My Fate According to the Butterfly and the upcoming A Potful of Magic, who also lives in the Philippines
Remy Lai, author of Pie in the Sky and the upcoming Fly on the Wall, who was born in Indonesia, grew up in Singapore, and now lives in Australia.

Hanna Alkaf was the moderator, and she first asked about identity. She is Malay and Muslim, which puts her in the majority in Malaysia and gives her some privilege.

Rin Chupeco is of Chinese descent but has lived in the Philippines all her life. She’s liberal, pansexual and atheist, so she’s always felt like an outsider. People are always telling her what she’s supposed to be. She feels that books highlight that different people have very different experiences, even within the same culture.

Gail Villanueva is a brown Filipino and looks more typically Filipino. But there is colorism in the Philippines, and she told a story of being mistreated at a bank because they didn’t think she’d be able to afford the product she wanted.

Remy Lai has a complex identity from the many countries where she’s lived. Her world speaks multiple languages, and her main character in her new book does the same, switching back to Mandarin to speak with family.

The panelists agreed that representation is lacking for Southeast Asians. People want one book to stand in for everyone. Then they reject stories that don’t fit the mold.

Gail pointed out that middle class folks in the Philippines are not that different from the U.S. She gets tired of people expecting island huts.

Rin said that people think she’s writing English as a second language, but they speak English in the Philippines.

Hanna has experienced pushback for her very existence in the sphere of American publishing. There’s a perception that she can’t possibly be as good or as deserving.

They all talked about wanting to write books that are just for fun, that have nothing to do with their culture — about a duck, for example! — and that aren’t expected to teach American readers anything, but just be a fun experience.

Southeast Asia is not a monolith. We don’t give that same pressure to educate to American authors. They don’t want pressure to always have to be a window.

In conclusion they asked us to:
Keep an open mind.
Trust us about our own experiences.
Treat us as one of you.
Give us a chance! Let us stand toe-to-toe with American authors.

Behind the Wires: American Concentration Camps Then and Now at ALA Virtual Conference

Behind the Wires: American Concentration Camps Then and Now was a program offered by APALA, the Asian/Pacific American Library Association.

The first speaker was Dr. Satsuki Ina, a survivor of the World War II concentration camps in America.

She commented first that correcting descriptive language is important. The dictionary definition of a concentration camp is a place where large numbers of people are detained or confined under armed guard.

She told her own story, with pictures of her parents, who were sent to the camps as newlyweds. Her brother was born in one camp, and she was born in a maximum security prison for dissidents. Her father had protested his incarceration, which made him a dissident. Dissidents were targeted for deportation, beaten, and separated from their families.

Not until 1946 were they released with $25 and a train ticket.

Dr. Ina has made a documentary film and promotes Healing Circles for Change. Now she’s part of a group that protests the same thing happening to immigrants. The resonance rings clear.

There were no protests when they were removed. They use their own history as a platform. They want the people inside to know people outside care.

The group is called Tsuru for Solidarity, with the website They use the hashtag #StopRepeatingHistory.

The common denominator is systemic racism. Racism is deeply ingrained in our history and is causing intergenerational trauma. We need deep systemic change.

The next speaker, Oscar Baeza, is a librarian in El Paso. He showed pictures and told about the situation in the concentration camps for immigrants at our borders.

There is inhumane treatment. He showed pictures of holding centers where immigrants are crowded together tightly in a room and kept many days.

Human rights are violated. He showed a picture of a child in a cage, holding a bottle. A child in that situation is going to ask, Am I a criminal? Am I an animal? There are severe psychological effects.

Another picture showed people packed under a bridge in a cage and left there for weeks, with fumes from cars and regular traffic going by.

Some people were released in El Paso at 8 pm on Christmas Eve in the cold with no food and no direction and everything shutting down for the holiday. El Paso rose to the occasion, but it was part of the cruelty.

Then Elena Baeza spoke, another librarian in El Paso. She spoke about offering library services to the immigrants. They do big events twice a year for immigrant children and teens.

There are lots of parallel experiences with the Japanese in 1942. Their stories need to be heard.

She shared some stories: Some were kept in dark rooms by ICE, so they couldn’t tell if it was night or day. They were not allowed to shower. They received one small, very bad meal per day. They felt like prisoners.

She does storytimes for immigrants with arts and crafts. Allowing them to express themselves in art is very therapeutic. Allow immigrants to tell their stories without saying a word through stories, movies, and art.

With the questions at the end the three speakers gave some tips.

It’s important to center the stories and voices of the immigrants. Inquire from them how best to help.

After getting reparations, the Japanese survivors became quieter, as if they were no longer allowed to tell their stories. This is getting them to speak up.

We need to keep up the pressure, coming together. Racism has fractured minority groups from each other. Reach out to each other’s communities and work together.

Reopening Libraries: Smart Strategies for a Healthy Restart at ALA Virtual Conference

Today I attended a session of ALA Virtual Conference about reopening libraries with two speakers.

The first speaker, George Coe, is head of Brodart, an important company for library supplies. The second speaker was Dana Hollins, an Industrial Hygienist. (Who knew this field existed? She’s a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association.)

George Coe told about their experiences of shutting down and reopening at Brodart, but to me that didn’t really apply to the issues libraries face. They had to reconsider their workflow procedures to be able to apply social distancing. The most relevant information is that they have added helpful supplies to their inventory such as face masks and wipes. So now these can be ordered through a library supplier. They also made some book lists for libraries that are appropriate for the times.

The talk by Dana Hollins, however, was very relevant. I didn’t realize that a document exists with guidelines for reopening. It’s at Scroll down to find the library document. This is intended to be a living document, so do send any feedback to the American Industrial Hygiene Association.

I’ll continue with the points I jotted down from her talk:

Considerations before reopening:
Stay in touch with your local health department.
Consider conducting a Hazard Assessment.
Think about the different activities and services.
The main route of transmission is person-to-person droplets, so you want to minimize close personal contact.
Communicate to library patrons, and train staff to communicate as well.
Ease back into operation in phases, and re-evaluate at each stage.

Steps to minimize a hazard:

Switch to virtual events.
Encourage staff to work from home where possible.
Consider customer screening such as temperature checks.
Encourage staff to stay home if not feeling well. Encourage customers to do the same (with signs).
Post signs at the library entrance and throughout the library.

Separate work locations or use plexiglass.
Increase ventilation/fresh air where possible.
Increase filter efficiency.
Install or use Portable HEPA Filtration Units
Limit personal fan use.

Consider staggering shifts or limiting the number of patrons in the library.
Maintain physical distance.
Limit personal contact.
Evaluate/change work practices.
Encourage personal hygiene (hand washing).
Enhance cleaning and disinfecting.
Isolate book returns. (72 hours is great.)

Wear disposable gloves when disinfecting surfaces. (This is to protect you from the disinfectant chemicals, not from the virus.)
Wear face coverings.

In the Q&A session, a few more points came up:

They’re most concerned about hard nonporous surfaces. Things that people touch or where they breathe should get cleaned.

The virus can’t go through skin. So keep good hand hygiene. Face shields are an option if you can’t wear a mask.

Someone asked about magazines, and she repeated the quarantine advice of 72 hours as the best way to deal with paper. (This is problematic for magazines.)

Civic Duty? at ALA Virtual Conference

Another session I attended today at ALA Virtual Conference was called Civic Duty? Libraries and the Disenfranchised. The speakers were Katharine Ellera, an international legal advisor on enfranchisement, Nicole Porter from The Sentencing Project, and Leslie Purdie, who works in a prison library.

The presentation was packed with facts, which I couldn’t write down quickly enough. But I’ll give some highlights here:

Disenfranchisement isn’t only about not having the legal right to vote. It’s also about barriers to voting. Many differrent groups around the world face barriers such as: people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, indigenous peoples, internally displaced persons, those with criminal convictions, women, ethnic minorities. In America, many states don’t even allow international observers, which is a huge red flag. There are undue obstacles for many segments of the population.

A lot was said about the disenfranchisement of people convicted of a felony — in many states that’s for life. In some states, this penalty is only for certain crimes — and the crimes were chosen as ones black people were more likely to commit. Crimes that more often are committed by white people don’t have the same penalty. In one state (I forget which one), you’d lose your right to vote for beating your wife, but not for murdering her.

There have been recent reforms — but many of the people affected — out of prison and living in communities — don’t know that their voting rights were restored.

Voting is a prosocial activity. When former prisoners are allowed to vote, it reduces recidivism.

Libraries can partner with local organizations such as the local Elections Board or nonpartisan groups like the League of Women Voters to get information into the community about voting rights.

Featured Speaker Sonia Manzano at ALA Virtual Conference

It’s always good to hear “Maria” from Sesame Street! Sonia Manzano was talking about her new picture book with National Geographic Kids, A World Together.

It’s a book about empathy, with photographs of kids from all over the world.

Our world is surely interconnected. She mentioned the song they used to sing on Sesame Street about “Co-operation makes it happen….” Working together is the best way to go — but now it’s seen as a sign of weakness.

Children mimic the behavior of denigrating co-operation. It’s more important than ever to show the value of co-operation.

This is her first book working with photographs, so she reflected on the power of images. She remembered her own fascination with photos of Puerto Rico when she was a kid. Her parents were from there, but she’d never been. Photos bring depth.

She hopes it helps kids not to be fearful of kids who don’t look like them. This is a celebration of everybody in the world.

Images in books give children room to use their imaginations.

Are the Kids Okay? at ALA Virtual Conference

I attended a session at ALA Virtual Conference today called Are the Kids Okay? How Librarians Can Use Literature to Help Kids Navigate Socioemotional Stress. The moderator was Kelly Jensen, and the panelists were three young adult authors who have all experienced mental illness and write about teens with mental illness.

I. W. Gregorio has written None of the Above, and her new book is This Is My Brain in Love.

Ashley Woodfolk has written The Beauty That Remains, and her new book is When You Were Everything, about a friendship break-up.

Adib Khorram has wrtten Darius the Great Is Not Okay, and his new book is Darius the Great Deserves Better.

The panelists were asked what influenced them to write books dealing with mental health.

IG: She saw her 10-year-old daughter dealing with some of the same things she had. She wanted to write a story about anxiety and depression that has a pathway to joy. People before diagnosis think they aren’t depressed enough to seek treatment if they’re not suicidal.

AK: He, too, wanted to write a story about living with depression without being suicidal. He doesn’t like calling books “light” or “heavy.” Like life, books run the gamut of experiences and can have plenty of both.

AW: She experienced many friendship break-ups and didn’t have language for it. She wanted to give kids who experience that a place to land. It turns out “Best Friends Forever” isn’t so easy to achieve.

Then there was some general talk about what librarians can do to help kids understand their own mental health.

The answers involved giving kids language to talk about what their feeling and resources to help give them language.

Also raise awareness, bring in experts. And raise awareness with parents, too. Help guide kids to resources passively so they don’t have to explain themselves.

IG: “Librarians are stealth therapists.”

Also, be honest with young people. Encourage journal-making and art — especially during these stressful times.

I liked this idea: For quarantine TikTok videos, challenge kids to do an interpretive dance of their favorite book!

Stacey Abrams at ALA Virtual Conference

A highlight of my experience of ALA Virtual Conference today was hearing Stacey Abrams speak in the President’s Program. Stacey Abrams’ mother was a librarian, so she’s part of the family!

Here are my notes from her talk, as I frantically tried to get down her major points. (She talks quickly.)

We’re in the midst of two massive conversations. One is about Covid-19, disease and how it disproportionately affects African Americans. The other is about systemic ineqalities.

We need to call out the injustice, and then be intentional about remembering it rather than just going on to the next thing.

Solutions: Reformation and Transformation

For Reformation, we need to follow best practices that work in other nations. For transformation, we need to channel public moneys to address inequities in healthcare and education.

Then the moderator asked about voting rights. Voting is the most fundamental power for citizens in a democracy.

Racism is a disease in our country. Voting is the treatment that actually makes (slow) progress. It’s not a panacea, but a treatment that must be repeated, like chemotherapy.

We can’t divorce the vote from the necessity of protest. We need protest in the street and the vote both. Voting doesn’t solve all our problems, but silence damns us all.

The act of voting is about persistence, not perfection.

For targeted communities, voting is an arduous challenge.

We need to pay attention to the system, not just to politicians. One person isn’t going to be a hero who saves us.

She also talked about the Census, because it’s also an equity issue. The census shapes the next decade of equity and political power. The census determines who is here and what we need. The neediest places are least likely to be seen or heard.

She supports Fair Fight for voting rights and Fair Count for census rights.

1) Libraries are essential for supporting the census, because they’re a trusted resource.
2) The resources for funding libraries comes from the census, so they feed themselves when they feed the census.
3) Libraries need to help tell the truth about who we are.

Then the conversation shifted to talk about her book. It talks about history and challenges, as well as what things look like today. It also talks about America’s role on the world stage.

We need to hold our leaders responsible, and we each need to make our country stronger. Libraries need to amplify voices that unite our nation. And we need to address systemic challenges.

As a profession, we need to work at reflecting the diversity of America. Diversity occurs because you remove barriers to entry and build strategies to overcome them.

Librarians should advertise ourselves! Be intentional about cultivating leadership.

The final question is what is she reading? (How refreshing when a politician can truthfully answer that question!) The answers were Evicted, by Matthew Desmond, and Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James

Herstory through Activism at ALA Virtual Conference

Today I attended a session called Herstory through Activism: Women, Libraries, and Activism at ALA Virtual Conference. The moderator was Sherre Harrington, and panelists were Emily Drabinski, Dalena Hunter, and Teresa Y. Neely. The occasion is the 50th anniversary of ALA’s Feminist Task Force.

Each panelist spoke separately, then they answered some questions together. They pointed out that workers in the library field are mostly women, but the leadership is mostly men. And libraries are racialized spaces — overwhelmingly white. Women of color who do work in libraries tend to be in the lower-paid positions.

They talked abot the history of activism in libraries, and work of specific librarians to document African American history.

They talked about how Black women experience a doubling of oppressions. And neither feminist organizations nor black liberation movements really saw them. Teresa Neely talked about the Cumbahee River Collective of 1974-1980. They articulated that if you belong to both groups, you don’t belong at all. “Colorblind” attitudes violently remove people from the conversation.

We need to get rid of the idea that libraries are neutral spaces and acknowledge we’re part of a system, acknowledge our privileges.

This was recorded in May, but one of the panelists brought up the problem of black people murdered by the police. She was the only black librarian at her workplace, and when an incident happens, her colleagues didn’t even see it as an issue affecting them, while she was profoundly moved.

We need to be aware that libraries still need to do a lot of work.

Matthew Cordell – ALA Virtual Conference Featured Speaker

The last session I attended today at ALA Virtual Conference was author Matthew Cordell talking about writing his first picture book biography, Hello, Neighbor about Fred Rogers.

I have the book sitting in my house ready to review (positively), and it was fun to get a peek behind the scenes.

He played the opening song for us, and we were all transported back to our childhoods.

He talked about the things he loved about the show as a child: Special guests, how people make things, Trolley, the Neighborhood of Make Believe.

In 2008, he became a father. When his daughter watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, he noticed new things to love about it: Calm, quiet moments, crafts, feeding fish, showing warmth and wonder, music everywhere, appreciating the arts, love and admiration for children, and inclusion and diversity.

When he did a little research, he found out that was Fred Rogers’ true personality showing on his show and he wanted to write and illustrate a picture book biography about him.

It was his first nonfiction book, so he “looked for the helpers” to make it happen.

Through all of this, it was fun to see slides of his drawings and pictures of his research trips to Pittsburgh where he saw some things actually used on the show.

Figures like Fred can bring peace in these times.

Look out for each other!