ALA: record number of unique book titles challenged in 2023

joy in diversity

In March 2024, the American Library Association reported a record number of unique book titles challenged in 2023.

“The number of titles targeted for censorship surged 65 percent in 2023 compared to 2022, reaching the highest levels ever documented by the…ALA.” The numbers “show efforts to censor 4,240 unique book titles in schools and libraries. This tops the previous high from 2022 when 2,571 unique titles were targeted for censorship.”

My irritation with this trend should be no secret to anyone who knows me or has read this blog for a while. Public libraries are, and I’m going to use some highly technical language here, “really cool.”

The Binghamton (NY) Public Library embedded in Daniel S. Dickinson School in Binghamton, NY had, at some point, the Dylan poster by  Milton Glaser on the wall. So THAT’s how you spell Dylan!

That branch and the main library downtown each had librarians from my church, strong black women. I worked downtown for about seven months, learning about Psychology Today and Billboard magazines, which I DEVOURED before putting them away.

When I lived at my grandmother’s shack in 1975, listening to LPs at the downtown branch was my refuge. In 1977, my go-to places were my downtown library in Charlotte, NC, and then the New York Public Library.

At FantaCo, I would go to the Washington Avenue branch of the Albany Public Library and look up publishers in Books In Print, which is how we ended up selling a bunch of Creepshow graphic novels.

I’ve never worked as a librarian in a public library. However, I’ve been what someone calls an advocate, participating with the Friends of the Albany Public Library and then its successor, the FFAPL.

So libraries have long been my third place. “The only real requirement is that nobody is forcing you to show up.”

Censorship

The challenges to libraries, then, make me cranky publicly, and frankly livid in private. From the ALA:

“Key trends emerged from the data gathered from 2023 censorship reports:

  • Pressure groups in 2023 focused on public libraries in addition to targeting school libraries. The number of titles targeted for censorship at public libraries increased by 92 percent over the previous year; school libraries saw an 11 percent increase.
  • Groups and individuals demanding the censorship of multiple titles, often dozens or hundreds at a time, drove this surge.
  • Titles representing the voices and lived experiences of LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC individuals made up 47 percent of those targeted in censorship attempts.”

People in library districts have the right to pick for themselves what they choose not to read for themselves and their minor children. But some folks want to have OTHER PEOPLE climb under their rocks.

“Oh, no, black people are represented in books,” such as the Amanda Gorman inaugural poem.  “And homosexuals,” with the emphasis on the middle syllable. At the very moment, at least SOME of the nation is recognizing the joy of its diversity.

Libraries and librarians are free-speech heroes.

I recommend John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight segment on why public libraries are under attack, and where those challenges are coming from.

One commenter quotes a source I’m unfamiliar with, but it tracks as true. “When they start firing librarians and banning books, you’re in the beginning of a dictatorship. Librarians are the guardians of free speech and the first lines of defense against a dictator.”

The 2024 APL trustee candidates

school budget

On Tuesday, May 7, at the Washington Avenue branch of the Albany Public Library, I attended an event introducing the 2024 APL trustee candidates, who will be up for election on Tuesday, May 21.

I was relieved. When I declined to run myself, I worried that there wouldn’t be enough candidates to run for the three slots. It turned out that TWELVE people got enough signatures to get on the ballot.

  1. Daniel Schneider, 12208
  2. Zachary Cunningham, 12208
  3. Carlos Velasquez, 12210
  4. Paige Allen, 12210
  5. Jennifer Marlow, 12208
  6. Bradford Lachut, 12203
  7. Kirsten Broschinsky, 12203
  8. Paul Collins-Hackett, 12202
  9. Marsha Lazarus, 12208
  10. Tia Anderson, 12203
  11. Mary A. Rosch, 12208
  12. Daniel Plaat, 12210

Eleven of the twelve, all except Velasquez, were present. All of the candidates available loved their library and would bring specific skills to the job.

My picks

I won’t tell you who to vote for, but I will note who I am selecting. Kirsten Broschinsky has served with me on the Friends and Foundation of the Albany Public Library Board before being selected to fill the unexpired term of a person on the APL Trustees board.

Mary A. Rosch has worked on the FFAPL gala and other activities. She has been a speaker at the Tuesday book talks and will be again in August. At the event, she noted that she was involved in other community activities. She said she would willingly give up many of them if she were elected, suggesting she understands the scope of work.

My third vote will go to… I don’t know yet. I have eliminated three. Of the remaining, one lives on my street, and one reads my blog (which would NEVER affect my decision). Most have compelling narratives.

However, I enthusiastically support the $7,864,740 budget, which “reflects a two percent increase in the annual total tax levy.” As  APL Executive Director Andrea Nicolay notes, “The increase supports our staff and core services, and positions us to leverage partnerships and grant opportunities. We are mindful that, these days, public libraries and civil liberties are under attack. We strive for excellence, and we don’t take community support for granted.”

School daze

The library vote coincides with the City School District of Albany budget.  The board has “unanimously approved a $326.2 million budget proposal for the 2024-25 school year. The proposal includes no tax-levy increase for the second year in a row and the fourth time in the last nine years…

“Voters also will be asked to consider three additional school-related propositions, none of which would have any additional tax impact.”

The term of board member Hassan I. Elminyawi expires this spring. The Board of Education clerk told me he is running unopposed for reelection.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. on May 21.  Please note that the voting locations do NOT necessarily correspond to those where one votes in the primary and general elections, and at least two venues have changed since the last school/library vote. Mail-in ballots are also available.

School board and school budget votes will be voted upon throughout New York State on that date. 

You want to present a book review

or an author talk

I may have been too subtle, Capital District people.  You want to present a book review at the Albany Public Library branch located at 161 Washington Avenue. You know you do. They take place every Tuesday at 2 pm when the library is open.

Unless you are a local author, in which case you want to give an author talk. You can even sell copies of your book. Feel free to use your social media to plug your talk.

The auditorium has a microphone and can show visuals on the screen. We’ll even reserve a parking space for the speaker behind the building. Please note the parking is BEHIND the Washington Ave branch, and Elk St is a one-way street heading west (towards Schenectady, away from the river), so you should turn on Dove Street near the Albany Institute, head north for one block, then turn left.

We intend to create an eclectic array of books. The organizers are always working well ahead of the date. We need to nail down the book title, author, speaker, and a brief speaker bio to get it onto the Albany Public Library calendar. Our July and August talks deadline is the last week in April. 

In recent months, three of us have been securing speakers. Because of health issues, there are currently two of us. And our MIA comrade has a deep address book of contacts. 

We’re also looking for people to put out snacks, make coffee, then clean up afterward. So, if this interests you, please let me know. 

Upcoming

May 7 | Book Review | The Pursuit of Happiness: How Classical Writers on Virtue Inspired the Lives of the Founders and Defined America by Jeffrey Rosen.  Reviewer:  Bill Shapiro, retired attorney & lifelong student of international relations.

May 14 | Book Review | Freeing Charles:  The Struggle to Free a Slave on the Eve of the Civil War by Scott Christianson.  Reviewer:  Mara Drogan, Director of Community Engagement & Education, WMHT Public Media.

May 21 | Book Review | Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston.  Reviewer:  Donald “The Soul Man” Hyman, teacher, actor, singer, writer, TV host/producer, & veteran. 

May 28 | Author Talk | Susan Oringel discusses & reads from her book, Carnevale, a journey in poems through the lives & deaths of her parents (from Coney Island in the 1930s & 40s) & of her partner Don Howard — they all died between 2002 & 2007 — a journey also of trudging steps through grief back toward the living.

June 4 | Author Talk | Emily Sherman Marynczak, a childbirth educator & coach with a background in modern dance, discusses & reads from her book, Emily’s Birth Book:  Your Guide to a Conscientious Birth.

June 11 | Book Review | A Tale for the Time Being, a metafictional novel by Ruth Ozeki.  Reviewer:  Alexis Bhagat, former executive director, FFAPL.

June 18 | Book Review | Blight: Fungi and the Coming Pandemic by Emily Monosson.  Reviewer:  P. Bryon Backenson, MS, director, NYS Department of Health, Bureau of Communicable Disease Control.

June 25 | Book Review | Our Moon:  How Earth’s Celestial Companion Transformed the Planet, Guided Evolution, and Made Us Who We Are by Rebecca Boyle.  Reviewer:  Sherrie Lyons, PhD, science historian & author of both From Cells to Organisms: Re-envisioning Cell Theory (2020) & Species, Serpents, Spirits, & Skulls: Science at the Margin in the Victorian Age (2011).

Watching people work

Fargo?

Here’s another day in the life post: Tuesday, March 26. For some reason, many of these are on Tuesdays. Reflecting on it, I spent a lot of time watching people work. The ones I watched for the longest time were the half-dozen people taking down that tree across the street from my house, especially looking out my middle bay window. It was better than television.

The process involved a guy in the cherry picker trimming the branches of two trees and tethering the damaged section with rope so it would not fall too quickly. The guys below were putting the small branches in the wood chipper – wood chippers always remind me of the movie Fargo. The chips flew into the back of a truck like the one pictured. A guy was running a tractor-like vehicle that carried logs to the chipper. One fellow was carefully controlling passing traffic in both directions.

It fascinated me because I would have had no idea how to take down the tree without potentially damaging a house or car. And the tree is gone; there aren’t even signs of the roots. I love Men At Work.

Library

I helped facilitate the interview of author Ian Ross Singleton by educator Geri Walsh concerning his book The Two Differences, which is a lot about Detroit but especially Odessa, Ukraine.

They had invited the Ukraine Solidarity Capital District to table at the event. The group stands for the country’s “independence and territorial integrity.”

Kudos to reference librarian Susan, the new liaison with the FFAPL for Tuesday book reviews and author talks. Oddly, we went to library school simultaneously but only realized this a few months ago.

I saw the interim branch manager, Deanna, at the circulation desk. Librarians do it all.

Indian food

I agreed to order takeout from our nearby Indian restaurant. I usually order takeout to pick up around 5:30, and it’s relatively efficient. Because of my wife’s work schedule, I arranged for a slightly later slot. I called at 6 p.m. and was told it would take about 25 minutes.

When I arrived at the restaurant at 6:25, I was asked to sit at a table. People arriving after I got there were told the same thing.  There was some confusion; the guy at the register was not a native speaker, I gathered, and it became incumbent for me to explain to them that we were all in the same situation.

However, an increasingly impatient couple was there before I was. He said repeatedly, “How long will this take?” with an increasing edge in his voice. She counted up: “It’s been 35 minutes!” “It’s been 40 minutes!”

When the next order came out, the guy at the register asked them, “Is this your order? Aloo gobi, chicken tikka masala, and lamb saag?” Er, no, that was mine, which made them more disgusted. I wondered, in retrospect, if they were walk-ins. I understood their frustration, but their attitude made me uncomfortable.

Still, the usual manager or owner might have diffused the situation with free mango lassis or another strategy.

And finally

Our daughter complained online that her parents hadn’t gotten her anything for her birthday. “I didn’t know what you wanted.” “I made a list online on Saturday!” That would have been useful to have known.

So, some mail-order workers will get some items to our daughter soon.

Ready, Set, Library

National Library Week Soiree April 10

From the ALA press release: “National Library Week (April 7-13, 2024) is a time to celebrate our nation’s libraries, library workers’ contributions and promote library use and support. The theme for National Library Week 2024 is ‘Ready, Set, Library,’ illustrating the idea that in our always-online world, libraries give us a green light to something truly special: a place to connect with others, learn new skills, and focus on what matters most. “

Long before there was an online world, libraries were a special place for me. So much so that when, separately, two people tried to encourage me to run for one of the three Open Seats on the Albany Public Library Board of Trustees, I had to pause a moment before saying no. 

How did I find a way to resist the temptation? This was a very ego-gratifying ask. The role is important. I am well qualified. (Why am I uncomfortable writing a sentence about myself that is demonstrably true? I’ll ask my shrink as soon as I get one.)    

I said no because I had to reread something I wrote three months ago, Saying NO and being OK. Just because I  published it doesn’t mean I had internalized it.

I’ve looked at the markers. A pile of medical reimbursements I could have submitted three months ago is still growing. I get notifications from Ancestry about my genealogy that I haven’t checked all of 2024. The number of completed blog posts in my reserve pile is constantly shrinking.

Already doing library stuff

Some of the issues are library-related. I’m on the Friends and Foundation of the Albany Public Library board and have a project that’s become a bit of an albatross. 

More pressingly, three of us have been finding speakers for the book reviews, and the author talks every Tuesday at 2 p.m. Usually, the person who books them takes care of details, such as checking their technological needs and introducing the speaker. But one of us has recently been in the hospital and is still in rehabilitation. This means more work on the engagement day and finding speakers for future talks. 

(Maybe it was a too-subtle hint. I’m actively looking for folks who would like to do book reviews, and author talks in July or later.)

BTW, here’s the April schedule for the 2 pm Tuesday talks at the Washington Avenue branch:

April 2 | Special Program | Donna Liquori, freelance writer & editor, writes the Bibliofiles column for the Albany Times Union; she will discuss the culture of reading.

April 9 | Book Review | American Visions: The United States: 1800-1860 by Edward L. Ayers.  Reviewer:  John Rowen, former president, Friends of APL.

April 16 | Author Talk | Katherine Harbour, who is inspired by world mythology & folklore, discusses & reads from her Young Adult novel, The Dark Fable: Magic . . . Mayhem . . . Murder.

April 23 | Book Review | Freedom’s Dominion:  A Saga of White Resistance to Federal Power by Jefferson Cowie.  Reviewer:  Erasmus Schneider, PhD, retired cancer researcher, interested in current affairs & history.

April 30 | Book Review | New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson.  Reviewer:  Mark Lowery, MS, assistant director, Office of Climate Change, NYS Dept of Environmental Conservation.
More NLW stuff

The FFAPL is having a National Library Week Soiree on Wednesday, April 10, at 6:30 p.m. at the Delaware Avenue branch of the Albany Public Library. The event costs $30. Here’s the NLW Kelly FFAPL flyer.

Jack Kelly, journalist, historian, and author of God Save Benedict Arnold: The True Story of America’s Most Hated Man, will give a short talk on a fresh perspective on the reasons for Arnold’s momentous change of heart.

Dinner is to be catered by Mamoun’s Falafel, including meat and vegan options. Wine, coffee, and dessert included. Tickets are available online now.

 

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