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It’s National Library Week! In fact, today is National Library Workers Day.

That’s right, folks. It’s that time of year again. In celebration, I’m working 40 hours!

Well, I’m doing a few other things, too. It’s not just about being here for the community. As part of that, last week I attended my first ever library conference, PLA 2016. It was an absolutely incredible experience. PLA is held every other year, and by sheer luck, I was given permission to attend for the opening of the exhibits last Wednesday.

It’s a short drive to Denver. I got to the conference about an hour ahead of the exhibit hall opening, and wandered the convention center, marvelling at how weird it was to see the place devoid of cosplayers (since the last time I’d been there was Denver Comic Con in 2013). I watched the bustle of downtown Denver from a balcony, read some Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, and waited as patiently as possible for the doors to open.

When 3:30 finally arrived, I entered the exhibit hall and was blown away by the sheer number of vendors on site. Book distributors Baker & Taylor and Ingram; publishers Hachette, Penguin Random House, Scholastic, and Dorling Kindersley; library service providers Overdrive and Mango… I spent three hours wandering the rows, chatting with representatives of companies like Lulzbot. I got to meet people from libraries around the country. I snagged some ARCs from publishers (stay tuned for some reviews!), got a free mango smoothie from the folks at Mango Languages, and chatted with some library school representatives about my desire to pursue my masters degree. I got to demo some software, play a game of Super Mario Bros. using a system of fruits and circuits as a controller, and drive a BB-8 Sphero toy around. I saw floor models of furniture designed for library use and new construction toys for kids. But the best thing that I saw at the entire conference? People like me. Young people who are just as enthusiastic about libraries as any generation before. People who want to challenge the stereotypes of libraries and librarians alike. People who are eager to spread their knowledge of and passion for libraries around the country and the world.

The future of libraries is bright and varied, folks. Please continue to support yours.

“It’s still National Library Week. You should be especially nice to a librarian today, or tomorrow. Sometime this week, anyway. Probably the librarians would like tea. Or chocolates. Or a reliable source of funding.”
Neil Gaiman

“Library”

Brightly lit shelves and cheering voices
Of children hearing the call for storytime.
Frazzled researchers sharpening golf pencils
And digging for scraps of paper from their
Hand-written records of family trees.
Lines of the question-filled masses forming
Before the reference desks and the smiling
Librarians, seeing the benefit of their job
With every answer they dispense, every
Mind they help to open, every misconception
They dispel.

It’s almost the end of September, and another favorite time of year is here. This year, Banned Books Week runs from the 22nd to the 28th. For you uninitiated out there, Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read. You see, some people in the world are so terrified of knowledge that they actively seek to hide information from other people. In some unfortunate cases, this results in people attempting to remove a book from public access. In response to this behavior, the American Library Association started Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of free and open access to information.

I’m not going to mince words. I fucking hate people who push for the banning of books. It is the one thing that gets me upset more than anything else. It is an act of supreme ignorance to ban a book. No one should be able to tell someone else that they can’t read something. Period. In fact, I’m rather stubborn about it. If you tell me that I shouldn’t read something, I’ll ask you why. If you tell me I CAN’T read something, I’m going to find a way to read it.

So, why do people ban books? Most challenges to books occur in schools. This frequently has to do with a book that a class has been assigned to read having some content in it that a parent or guardian of one of the readers finds offensive. Case in point: Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret is a frequently challenged title. This is usually more because it includes a description of a girl having her first period than because it is about said girl’s questioning of the existence of a deity. Yeah, that’s right, kids. Talking about the changes that EVERY HUMAN BEING goes through are apparently reason enough to stop someone from reading a book. HOW DARE YOU CHILDREN ATTEMPT TO LEARN WHAT YOUR BODY IS DOING!

But yeah, “sexually explicit” and “unsuited to age group” are the two biggest reasons cited when someone challenges a book’s presence in a library. That’s because both of these terms are open to a very loose interpretation. If a parent feels that their precious little snowflake of a child isn’t ready to read about something that everyone else in their class at school has been talking about, then BAN THAT BOOK. Guess what, folks? Mitch Hedberg said it best. “Every book is a children’s book if the kid can read!” Look, if you’re concerned about what your kid might learn from a book, talk to your kid about the topic. It’s called parenting. The librarians aren’t there to do it for you. They’re there to provide information to their patrons, not to keep them from accessing it.

Why should I care? Orwell left us this gem in 1984. The oppressive regime in control of England in the book uses several slogans, including  WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. It’s quite telling, and a bit terrifying, that 1984 has itself been challenged. We’re living in a world where our ability to access information is greater than ever. Thanks to the internet, we have an unbelievable amount of data that we can use every day, WHENEVER WE WANT. However, there are people who want to limit this sort of access to those things that they feel are appropriate for us to see. Sound familiar? People who want to ban books are proponents of ignorance. Fight them. Peacefully.

What can I do to help? Learn your library’s policy on reacting to book challenges. If someone says that they want to complain about a book, ask them if they’ve read it (Yes, this is a legitimate issue—most of the people I’ve met who complained to me about Harry Potter, for example, had NEVER ACTUALLY READ THE BOOK). Many complaints are based purely on hearsay. I like to think of this as the “Cycle of Stupidity.” Some day I’ll draw you a nifty illustration as an example of the cycle. For now, let it be known that only you have the power to stop stupid people. Fight the spread of ignorance. Embrace literacy. Read a banned book. Judy Blume has a great strategy for getting a kid to read. “The best thing to do is leave the books around the house and from time to time say, ‘I really don’t think you’re ready for that book.'”

Other people can stand where they like on the issue of reading freedom, but me? I’m with the banned.

“Guardian”

I am a guardian, o knowledge seeker.
Ask me your questions,
And I shall ask mine.
If you are deemed worthy,
I will show you the path.
You must make the journey alone.
I am guardian, protector,
Though I was once as you are
Now, in another life.
In my youth, I too was a
Seeker of knowledge.
And on the day that I was
First a seeker, asking my questions
And trembling as I responded
To those asked of me,
I feared, but foolishly.
My questions were answered
With questions, riddles for reply.
Now ask your questions, and
Answer well mine, for perhaps
You are worthy of the path
That led me here, o knowledge seeker.
I am a guardian.

Since my physical dictionary is still in a cardboard box somewhere (ugh), I’ll have to resort to web sources for this one. Dictionary.com defines a librarian as “a person trained in library science and engaged in library service.” At this point in my life, the term does not directly apply to me. I’m a library clerk, merely a person engaged in library service. The training is still severely lacking, and there’s this piece of paper with a few words on it, like master, library, science, and my name that is still at least two years away. I’m not a librarian. Not yet. It’s a goal, though, and it’s one that I’ve grown more and more serious about in the last few years. One of my coworkers has described it as catching the “library bug” and wanting to get more involved.

My background is filled with books. My parents both read to me and my sisters while we were getting ready for bed. As I was growing up, I would frequently visit the local public library, a site that still plays into a great deal of my writing. We would have story time there, and my sisters and friends and I would always participate in the summer reading program. There was a small local bookstore owned by a couple (quite literally, as they were married at the time) of the teachers that we’d visit on occasion. When they decided that they didn’t want to run it anymore, my parents stepped in and bought it so that there would still be a bookstore in town. After that, the bookstore was my after-school hangout of choice, though I would still stop by the library on the way there. I couldn’t get enough books. I devoured everything that came into my reach.

That’s one of the few things about me that hasn’t changed as I’ve grown older. I love books, and I want to be around them whenever possible. That’s what drew me to work in libraries and bookstores. It’s why I interned for a literary agency, and it’s why I started this blog. I read because I want to read, and I write because I want to write. It’s been said that one should write the book they want to read. That’s very true. I’m going to bathe my life in ink and clothe it in parchment.

I’m going to become a librarian. There’s no doubt of that in my mind. Right now, I just need to be able to support myself and get signed up for the GRE. I’m not looking forward to the test itself, or to the couple of years of grad school that the advanced degree will require, but I am looking forward to finding a way to maintain libraries into the future. I want the world to be a safe place for readers and writers alike, and I want them to know that their work will always have some refuge. Besides, for a writer, what better day job could there be?