Thursday, 18 September 2014

Blog post 4: Analysis of a peer-reviewed journal article - Censorship & Diversity

1. A detailed description of the activity undertaken

In July 2014 the Singapore National Library censored, removed and pulped all copies of three children’s books with a gay-theme (Lee, 2014; Vincent, 2014). This created quite a lot of news and brought to light the question of public interest and individual right of access to diverse material versus majority consensus and community values (Schrader, 2009; Weisman, 2009).

I wanted to read more about the impact of public opinion on censorship and how librarians could best understand and counteract attempts to remove books from the library, and therefore chose the article: “Removal of Gay-Themed Materials from Public Libraries: Public Opinion Trends, 1973-2006” (Burke, 2008) for review. 

In the article, the author examines data from the General Social Survey (GSS), in the USA over the indicated period, related to survey answers on the removal of a homosexually themed book, and attempts to relate this to other questions on demographic and geographic factors and personal belief.  She concludes that people are becoming less conservative viz a viz homosexuality and even if people do not believe homosexuality is wrong, they generally do not support the removal of gay-themed books and the trend is downwards in all groups. Higher educated and younger people were less likely to support removal and the largest variation in data was to be found in people from different religious backgrounds and between denominations, with people self-reporting stronger beliefs more likely to support removal.  Gender and political party affiliation was neutral.

In relation to the Singapore situation, the relationship between belief and supporting removal is the most relevant.  Singapore is known as a strongly religious community and it has been implied that political and social power is concentrated in conservative Christianity (Waipang, 2011).  It also appears that the books were removed under pressure from a targeted campaign originating in one of the religious organisations. 

2. Answers to the following questions:

What did you learn?

The most interesting finding from the article was that although people may not accept homosexuality, they still did not believe that books with homosexual themes should be removed from library collections and thereby not be accessible to those with lifestyles different to them.

How was the activity relevant to your professional practice?

Reading the article (Burke, 2008) and also reading related articles (Gutman, 2010; Lukenbill & Lukenbill, 2007; Schrader, 2009; Weisman, 2009) gave me a better insight into censorship challenges to books and the positive and professional duties of a librarian within the framework of ethics, inclusive service, access to information and guarding against discriminatory or censorship practices. 

Were any gaps in your knowledge revealed? How might you fill those gaps?

Until now I didn’t have a very clearly articulated view on censorship beyond the fact that I didn’t think it was appropriate. The articles I have read have given me some concrete strategies for dealing with challenges to books in the library as well as an opportunity to revisit our collection in the light of recommended books.

3. References

Burke, S. K. (2008). Removal of Gay‐Themed Materials from Public Libraries: Public Opinion Trends, 1973–2006. Public Library Quarterly, 27(3), 247–264. doi:10.1080/01616840802229552

Gutman, D. (2010). How I Corrupted America’s Youth. School Library Journal, 56(5), 28. Retrieved from

Lee, P. (2014, July 13). 400 gather outside National Library for reading event in response to NLB’s removal of three books. Retrieved August 8, 2014, from

Lukenbill, W. B., & Lukenbill, J. F. (2007). Censorship: What Do School Library Specialists Really Know? A Consideration of Students’ Rights, the Law and Implications for a New Education Paradigm. School Library Media Research, 10.

Schrader, A. M. (2009). Challenging Silence, Challenging Censorship, Building Resilience: LGBTQ Services and Collections in Public, School and Post-Secondary Libraries. Feliciter, 55(3), 107–108.

Vincent, A. (2014, July 11). Singapore pulps childrens books about gay parenting [News report]. Retrieved August 8, 2014, from

Waipang, A. (2011, August 6). Singapore’s religious landscape from Census 2010 [Weblog post]. Retrieved September 18, 2014, from

Weisman, S. (2009). A Review of “Challenging Silence, Challenging Censorship”: Shrader, A. and Wells, K. (2007). Ottawa, Canada: Canadian Teachers, Federation. Journal of LGBT Youth, 6(1), 92–96. doi:10.1080/19361650802379805

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Blog post 3: Write a book review - Diversity

1. A detailed description of the activity undertaken

The visually stunning book: The London Jungle Book by Bhajju Shyam (Shyam, Rao, & Wolf, 2014) was reviewed.  In this recently republished book, an Indian artist from the Gond tribe creates a visual travelogue of his experiences in London where he lives for two months to paint murals in an Indian restaurant.  The title refers back to Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle book – a juxtaposition where an Englishman travelled to the jungle area where Shyam lives and wrote of his experiences there.

The visual story and text
Explanation of drawings

Besides the wonderful illustrations and the poignant but perceptive comments on London and its people, I particularly liked the fact that the book could be read on multi-levels and is therefore suitable for readers of all ages. There is a visual story accompanied by text in translation from his oral storytelling that will appeal as he simply recounts experiences and observations of a foreign land. Then the artist explains his choices of drawing as he breaks with traditional communal symbols and traditions in order to tell a unique and personal story. An additional level is added by the reader, who while reading this will no doubt reflect on his or her own travel experience or knowledge and feelings about London.
Extension activities for students could include investigating and comparing Kipling’s book with this as well as the works of the anthropologist Verrier Elwin who lived with the Gond tribe.

2. Answers to the following questions:

What did you learn?

In the first place I realized that although I’ve been reviewing books informally (in my Goodreads profile, or on my blog) for a while, I didn’t actually know what the principles of a good review were, so I had to first do some research on that. I found three good reputable resources, Owl Purdue writing lab (Brizee, 2012); BookTrust (Playa, 2014) and Scholastic (Philbrick, 2014) and compared the elements.

How was the activity relevant to your professional practice?

As a librarian I am often asked my opinion on books or need to write brief reviews. I had not approached this in a structural way before, so it is good to have a review “template” in mind when talking about a book. I can encourage students to write reviews on the books they have read, and give them tips on how to do so.

Were any gaps in your knowledge revealed? How might you fill those gaps?

At first the illustrations struck me as being reminiscent of Australian Aboriginal art, so I did some more research on the Gond Tribe and ethnic minorities in India. About 30% of our students are Indian, and I recognised that I know very little about India and its vast diversity in language, culture, art and literary traditions. I can fill the gaps in my knowledge both by reading up about the country and its people and by having conversations with students and their parents to better understand the nation.

3. References:

Brizee, A. (2012, September 19). Purdue OWL: Book Review. Retrieved September 7, 2014, from

Philbrick, R. (2014). Writing with Writers: Writing a Book Review. Retrieved September 7, 2014, from

Playa, L. (2014). Tips for writing book reviews [Article]. Retrieved September 7, 2014, from

Shyam, B., Rao, S., & Wolf, G. (2014). The London jungle book. India: Tara Books.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Blog post 2: Interview – running a successful parent volunteer program in a school library

1. A detailed description of the activity undertaken

The librarian of the Singapore American School was interviewed on how to run a successful parent volunteer program. In answering all my questions and showing me the library she explained the process of recruiting and training volunteers, the type of tasks that volunteers do, potential problems and pitfalls and how to handle them and how to show your appreciation. We ended with a tour of the library.
Recruitment takes place early in the year at events that are likely to attract a lot of parents.  The initial training is 90 minutes long and focuses mainly on library organization and the shelving of books and expectations of the volunteers including etiquette and behaviour. It was interesting to hear the expectations regarding commitment and responsibility to the role, and this one area our library has struggled with in the past.
 New recruits are initially paired with more experienced volunteers. Depending on their volunteer role and interest, some volunteers also receive training in FollettDestiny (the library system) and are given restricted rights based on what they need to accomplish.

Volunteers are also involved in longer term projects such as the collection genrefication and with special events such as the Red Dot awards, Readers’ Cup and Battle of the Books.

We concluded with a discussion on the importance of showing appreciation and the ways in which this could be done.

2. Answers to the following questions:

What did you learn?

Recruiting and supporting parent volunteers is an important task in a school library that is short staffed. If volunteers are able to take over some of the shelving and book processing tasks, librarians are freed up to spend more time teaching, performing reader advisory tasks and helping with curriculum related tasks. There is an art and a skill to keeping volunteers engaged and committed to helping in the library.

How was the activity relevant to your professional practice?

We have had parent volunteers but we have not been systematic in our recruitment, training and appreciation of them. As a result the program was not as successful as it could have been. I now have a better appreciation of the process and can apply it to our school situation. 

Were any gaps in your knowledge revealed? How might you fill those gaps?

I had many questions as to why our program was not working well, and through the interview and visit was able to answer many of them. In addition, the librarian lent me the ALA book: “Managing Library Volunteers” (Driggers, 2011) so I could read further on the matter.

3. References:

Driggers, P. F. (2011). Managing library volunteers (2nd ed.). Chicago: American Library Association.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Activity 2: Interview – running a successful parent volunteer program in a school library

Libraries in general, and some school libraries in particular are not known for having a surplus in staff. Many therefore consider turning to parent volunteers to help out with a variety of tasks.  

Some libraries manage this better than others, and here in Singapore, the Singapore American School is known in our network for having a very well run, well functioning library parent volunteer program. They have 35-40 regular weekly parent volunteers and more than 50 parents who are involved in one-way or another in the library as well as a group of committed high school student volunteers. 

So this morning, I went over to interview Kate Brundage, the Elementary School Librarian who has been running a successful program for the last five years.

In answering all my questions and showing me the library she explained the process of recruiting and training volunteers, the type of tasks that volunteers do, potential problems and pitfalls and how to handle them and how to show your appreciation. We ended with a tour of the library.

The process of recruiting and training volunteers

Parent volunteer form
Recruitment generally takes place at the beginning of the school year when sign-up forms are distributed during open-house sessions, back to school night, the first parent coffee mornings and are also shared with classroom teachers.  The library hosts a parent coffee morning and talks to the parents about library service and the benefits of being a volunteer.  During the school year, the librarians have an active partnership with classroom teachers, whereby parents who tend to “hover” or want to be overly involved in the classroom have their energies directed to the library where they can make a meaningful contribution to the school as a whole.

The initial in-service training takes 90 minutes and parents are introduced to the library organization, explanations on shelving are given and parents are given guidelines on what to do with damaged books and other commonly encountered problems.  The desk and mobile circulation systems are explained and other projects and service opportunities are introduced.  New parents are then buddied with existing volunteers who provide further training “on the job”.
Parents are also encouraged to team up with close friends or with people who speak the same language as themselves, if they are not comfortable or fluent in English. Depending on their volunteer role and interest, some volunteers also receive training in FollettDestiny (the library system) and are given restricted rights based on what they need to accomplish.

The library makes it clear on the form, and in their talks that the main priority for volunteers is shelving, as this frees up the librarians to spend more time teaching and interacting with the children and transferring their librarian knowledge and expertise.
The creation of a "writing wall"
was a parent volunteer idea

Besides the parents, the High School pupils can also sign up to be library volunteers as part of their service program.  A similar training program is given to them, and they are also encouraged to be ‘book buddies’ with the younger students.

It is emphasized that although this is a volunteer position, the library is counting on the commitment of the volunteers, and should they not be able to come for whatever reason, it is their responsibility to find a replacement, from the list of trained volunteers, to take their place.  Volunteers are also required to commit to a minimum of 3 hours per week on a consistent basis.  The volunteer roster is changed every 3 or 4 months giving new volunteers a chance to join up and also to change around times should situations change or if people are found not to work well with each other (e.g. friends spending too much time chatting rather than volunteering!).  Volunteers are encouraged to be active readers so as to better understand children’s literature, the needs of young readers and the availability of books of different genres and difficulty in the collection.

The types of tasks volunteers do:

Parents assisted with the genrefication
of the picture book collection
Although the primary task is shelving, and with the huge collection the school has this is a very important task, it is acknowledged that it is not the most exciting task and needs to be interspersed with other tasks that may be more stimulating.  For example parents help with include circulation – checking in and out of books either at the check-out desk or using the mobile apps the school have. Parents are also involved in longer term projects such as the current genrefication of the library, pushing books out of the library to classroom libraries, documenting and photographing the puppet and soft-toy collection into a visual album.  Depending on their skills and interest, parents also create displays, help with signage and other graphic design, and help children in the shelves with choosing books, or with occasional story telling and reading.  Annual special events such as the Battle of the Books, the Red Dot Awards, author and illustrator visits and the Readers’ Cup Challenge also provide the opportunity for parents to take ownership of a project and help the library in this way. For example during an author or illustrator visit, the volunteers will manage the ordering process.  Parents also do “shelf-reading” to ensure that books are properly shelved and to check missing or damaged inventory. A new project coming up is the creation and maintenance of a makerspace area, and volunteers will definitely be involved in that.
Sorting and organising special materials

Parents are asked on signup if they have specific skills or preferences, including foreign language skills where they can help with cataloguing, shelving and ordering of LOTE (languages other than English) materials.  Even stay-at-home-parents are catered for!  Parents who want to volunteer but cannot come into the library due to younger children or other difficulties have tasks sent home to them like creating resource lists or checking inventory and creating order spreadsheets from mark-ups in the SLJ or other book reviews.

Potential problems and pitfalls

Occasionally parents may be motivated by less altruistic ideals, and exhibit behaviors such as just assisting their own children in the library, or may have a hidden agenda, such as censoring books in the collection. Kate emphasized that this was extremely rare, but had to be dealt with firmly.  At all times the fact that it is a partnership for the benefit of all children. Most problems can be pre-empted by being clear about expectations during the initial in-service training. Common etiquette things such as not using mobile phones, deferring to the librarians and teachers, not interfering with the class experience, not disciplining or shaming children, maintaining respect and supporting all children are clearly outlined.  The three month volunteer cycle also allows for a review of which volunteers are in which roles and at what times and this can be changed if necessary.

Showing appreciation

The library hosts two parties during the year, one before Christmas and one at year end.  Catering part of the library budget and parents are given small thank-you gifts such as flowers or vouchers for Starbucks or movies, candles and holiday bookmarks.  They are also given first choice in books that are being weeded from the collections.

During the year, the librarians take regular snapshots of the volunteers that are then made into an appreciation video that is shown at year-end, and some photos are put in the annual yearbook.

ALA Book on managing Volunteers
After a tour of the library and seeing some volunteers at work, Kate then very kindly lent me the new ALA book “Managing Library Volunteers” so that I could look through it while I was in the process of setting up our volunteer program at school.