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These Animated Shows Defy Library Stereotypes

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by Burkely Hermann

When people think about librarians and libraries, they may point to films, live-action TV shows, or even novels. However, one area is often missed: animation. In Hollywood, stereotypes are plentiful, as librarians are used as “shortcuts to propel the plot forward,” in the words of Jennifer Snoek-Brown, author of the Reel Librarians blog. While this generally applies to animation as well, two recent shows buck those stereotypes, depicting libraries and librarians positively.

The first of these shows is Cleopatra in Space, loosely based on Mike Maihack’s graphic novel series and currently streaming on Peacock. The show follows teenage princess Cleo, who has been transported 30,000 years through time and space from Ancient Egypt into the Nile Galaxy. Wrestling with the newfound responsibility of being the “savior of the galaxy” prophesied to defeat the evil tyrant Octavian, she attends an Egyptian-themed futuristic high school on the planet of Mayet to hone her skills. While Octavian has destroyed most of the recorded knowledge available in the galaxy, Cleo’s school library still contains vital information. In the show’s third episode, Cleo travels to the school library after hours with her mentor Khensu, and two of her friends, Akila and Brian. Khensu shows her to the library’s Ancient Egypt section, with only a few physical records contained in a trunk, all accessible in holographic form. (In real life, these artifacts would be housed in a library’s special collections.) This positive depiction is possibly offset by what Cleo does next: dismayed by the lack of records about her homeland, she thinks about her dad, floats in the air, glows pink, then sucks all the electricity of the school and nearby city into her body, causing a massive power outage. The message of this moment is that libraries need adequate resources and support to assist the communities they serve—otherwise there will be information deficits which put patrons at a disadvantage. Libraries are also mentioned throughout the series as a beloved hangout space for one of the main characters. Akila likes to spend her time in the library studying and insists “all the cool students” spend time there too in the show’s 12th episode. In some ways, Akila reminds me a bit of myself in college: while in college, I extensively used the well-endowed campus library to study, research, and relax, even when some of my friends disliked it.

Cleopatra in Space characters study in their school library.

Another animated show, the recently concluded Netflix series She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, prominently features librarians in a few episodes. The season two finale focuses around two middle-aged gay Black librarians, George and Lance, and their library in a magical forest called the Whispering Woods. This portrayal contrasts with the original 1980s series, She-Ra: Princess of Power, where a stereotypical elderly white long-haired librarian aids the protagonists. George and Lance are fathers to Bow, one of the show’s protagonists; in the episode, Bow and his friends, Adora and Glimmer, work together with the librarians to translate an ancient message. Their efforts inadvertently release an elemental monster into the library, and in the havoc that ensues, Bow reluctantly reveals his true identity as an expert archer and rebellion fighter, a secret he has long concealed to his dads. While he expects his dads will rebuke him, they embrace him instead, accepting him for who he is—many viewers see this storyline as echoing family coming-out stories from the LGBTQ+ community. In the 10th episode of the show’s final season, Bow and Glimmer reconnect with the two librarians. Both recount their discoveries: an ancient rebellion against the planet’s first settlers and the existence of a fail-safe for the superweapon in the planet’s core. This information becomes vitally important in the effort by the show’s protagonists to stop the world (and universe) from being destroyed, setting the stage for the groundbreaking kiss in the final episode. On the whole, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power shows librarians as helpful, welcoming, and diverse, a refreshing antidote to more stereotypical media about libraries, which is all too common, even in animated series.

While these are only two examples, there are many more which I am continually reviewing on my blog, Libraries in Popular Culture. If you have any suggestions for popular media about or featuring libraries or librarians, feel free to email me at bhermann@mail.com.

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Curbside Larry Reminds Everyone to Check Out Their Library This Summer

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The internet is falling in love with Curbside Larry, the cowboy-hat–wearing, ultra-enthusiastic hype man for Texas’s Harris County Public Library (HCPL). In a viral promotional video from HCPL’s Barbara Bush Branch Library, Larry shares an irresistible pitch for using the branch’s curbside pickup services.

“We got shelves and shelves of books, Blu-rays, and DVDs, and we‘d like nothing better than to take care of all your reading, research, and entertainment needs,” Larry exclaims in the video. “What’s all this cost? Just three low payments of zero, zero, zero dollars! It’s crazy how much you get for free.”

Curbside Larry is the alter ego of library staffer John Schaffer, who’s won fans far beyond the HCPL service area with his spot-on parody of late-night used-car commercials. Texas Monthly dubbed the character an “instantly iconic” hero and Houstonia wrote that he’s “helping us be our best selves.” Author Catherynne M. Valente wrote on Twitter: “Please send this around the Internet in 80 seconds because it’s the only happy thing I’ve seen in months. Libraries are the heart of us.”

Check out the already-legendary video below:

Meet Curbside Larry

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Historical Backgrounds for Your Next Zoom Meeting

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Conference calls getting stale? It might be time to mix things up with a new webcam backdrop.

The Library of Congress digital collections contain countless options, offering a vast variety of historical images that are free to download and use. Just save your favorites and turn on Zoom’s Virtual Background feature to add some old-school flair to your meeting.

To get you started, here are ten of our favorite archival photographs, ranging from idyllic landscapes to glamorous city scenes:

On the beach, Palm Beach, Fla. (between 1900 and 1906)

Times Square north at night, New York City (1934)

An Adirondack mountain stream (1902)

Coney Island, in Luna Park (between 1910 and 1915)

Exposition grounds, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago (1893)

Silverton and Sultan Mountain, Colorado (1901)

Hollywood, California. Sign and ticket window of a large dance palace (1942)

Railroad train (between 1900 and 1920)

York from City Walls (ca. 1890-1906)

Horses (1922)

Looking for even more video backdrops? We compiled some great library backgrounds earlier this year.

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Why Libraries Are a Lifeline for Seniors During COVID

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The coronavirus pandemic has been particularly hard on seniors, who face an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and are often socially isolated as a result. Libraries, which have always played a crucial role in supporting older adults in their communities, have risen to the occasion: they’ve been providing information and human connection to the elderly while maintaining social distancing.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, libraries have offered virtual book clubs and other programs over platforms like Zoom and Facebook Live—still, many seniors may not have internet access at home or feel comfortable navigating recent video chat technology. In order to welcome everyone in their communities, many libraries also offer programs over the phone, where anyone can dial in to a teleconference line and enjoy much needed social interaction.

Some libraries have also established pen pal programs to help local seniors connect with the outside world during this isolating time. Bryan-College Station Public Library System in Texas shares writing prompts that locals can use to write letters to residents in nearby senior living communities. These messages give the seniors “a way to see the world, since they can’t be visited and a lot of them can’t even leave their rooms,” Kate Wiemar, adult services and reference librarian, told NBC. "We’re hoping this is a window into outside life.” In addition to facilitating written correspondence, libraries like California’s Coronado Public Library are encouraging community members to submit artwork to share with residents of a local retirement village.

Park Ridge Public Library in Illinois has gotten particularly creative in working to lift the spirits of seniors and others in their community. They launched the Library Line, a phone number anyone can dial to hear a recorded song, riddle, or message from staff, with new recordings swapped in every day. Since many of their patrons are older adults who may not have access to a computer or smartphone at home, this unique call-in set-up allows everyone in the area can enjoy some daily cheer from the library.

For more stories of how libraries are transforming during the pandemic, subscribe to the I Love Libraries newsletter.

How Libraries Are Supporting Your Favorite Authors

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Public libraries serve many roles in their communities, including the one they’re best known for: they ensure everyone can freely access books and other media, all without having to pay.

An unfortunate misconception that some have about this model is that libraries undercut book sales by loaning out free copies—but library staff, readers, and publishers have data and insights that show this simply isn’t true. Many publishers are also among the greatest fans and supporters of libraries because they know what an important part of the book and reading ecosystem libraries are.

A recent Twitter thread by librarian and author Hayley DeRoche breaks it down:

“Libraries have to pay for the MASSIVE number of books they purchase. There are public libraries that will purchase not just one but TEN or TWENTY copies of your book…. That’s a power buyer.”

Libraries frequently also buy additional copies of the same title over the years, since library books experience more wear and tear than the reads on your personal bookshelf. “We often *re-purchase* titles. We get boxes of new and replacement board books all the time, as well as juvenile titles that see a lot of use,” DeRoche shares.

Programs like library book clubs require libraries to invest in even greater numbers of copies; these activities also lead readers to discover new authors. “My experience as a librarian has been that particularly when it comes to book discussion groups, folks often say they wouldn't have picked the book up on their own,” DeRoche explains. Borrowing a book for free often inspires readers to go out and buy more titles from the same author: “We facilitate multi-book purchases that readers would not make on their own.”

Libraries also help writers find new fans by hosting in-person and virtual author readings, sharing book lists on social media, curating book displays, and offering personalized recommendations to members of their communities. They play a crucial role in helping authors connect to new audiences, building buzz around their books that can in turn boost sales. “We are often making a purchase that a single reader would not make, even if they saw your book in the store and thought ‘hm,’” says DeRoche. “We put your book in readers' hands, often creating lifelong author fans.”

Subscribe to the I Love Libraries newsletter to learn more about the power of libraries.

Librarians’ Social Justice Reading Recommendations for Kids and Families

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Amid ongoing national conversations about anti-Blackness and racial violence, librarians from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA) and the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) have put together a social justice reading list for youth.

The list, titled Community, Connecting, Cultivating & Constructing Conversations Through Literacy, highlights books for kids in pre-K, elementary, and middle school. Some titles include mature content; parents and families are advised to use care in discussing the books with their children.

Here are all 60 recommendations:

Pre-K Through Fourth Grade

A Girl Like Me, by Angela Johnson (writer) and Nina Crews (illustrator)

Black Is a Rainbow Color, by Angela Joy (writer) and Ekua Holmes (illustrator)

Chocolate Me!, by Taye Diggs (writer) and Shane W. Evans (illustrator)

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, by Derrick Barnes (writer) and Gordon C. James (illustrator)

Don’t Touch My Hair!, by Sharee Miller (writer and illustrator)

Going Down Home With Daddy, by Kelly Starling Lyons (writer) and Daniel Minter (illustrator)

Hair Love, by Matthew A. Cherry (writer) and Vashti Harrison (illustrator)

Hands Up!, by Breanna J. McDaniel (writer) and Shane W. Evans (illustrator)

Happy Hair, by Mechal Renee Roe (writer and illustrator)

Hey Black Child, by Useni Eugene Perkins (writer) and Bryan Collier (illustrator)

IntersectionAllies: We Make Room for All, by Chelsea Johnson, Carolyn Choi, and LaToya Council (writers) and Ashley Seil Smith (illustrator)

Let The Children March, by Monica Clark-Robinson (writer) and Frank Morrison (illustrator)

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, by Vashti Harrison

Little Legends: Exceptional Men In Black History, by Vashti Harrison

M is for Melanin: A Celebration of the Black Child, by Tiffany Rose (writer and illustrator)

Magnificent Homespun Brown: A Celebration, by Samara Cole Doyon (writer) and Kaylani Juanita (illustrator)

My Hair Is Beautiful, by Shauntee Grant

Parker Looks Up, by Parker Curry and Jessica Curry (writers) and Brittany Jackson (illustrator)

Princess Hair, by Sharee Miller (writer and illustrator)

Ruth and the Green Book, by Calvin A. Ramsey with Gwen Strauss (writer) and Floyd Cooper (illustrator)

Sing a Song: How Lift Every Voice and Sing Inspired Generations, by Kelly Starling Lyons (writer) and Keith Mallett (illustrator)

Our Town: a Child’s Story About Racial Injustice, by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard (writers) and Jennifer Zivoin (illustrators)

Sulwe, by Lupita N’yongo (writer) and Vashti Harrison (illustrator)

The Day You Begin, by Jacqueline Woodson (writer) and Rafael López (illustrator)

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned To Read, by Rita Lorraine Hubbard (writer) and Oge Mora (illustrator)

The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne, by Lesa Cline-Ransome (writer) and John Parra (illustrator)

The Undefeated, by Kwame Alexander (writer) and Kadir Nelson (illustrator)

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy, by Tony Medina (writer) and Javaka Steptoe, Gregory R. Christie, Ekua Holmes, and Floyd Cooper (illustrators)

Ways to Make Sunshine, by Renée Watson

We March, by Shane Evans (writer) and Sharee Evans (illustrator)

You Matter, by Christian Robinson (writer and illustrator)

Fourth Through Eighth Grade

A Good Kind of Trouble, by Lisa Moore Ramee

Betty Before X, by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renée Watson

Black Brother, Black Brother, by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Black Enough: stories of being young & Black in America, by Ibi Zoboi (editor)

Black Women in Science: A Black History Book for Kids, by Kimberly Brown

Blended, by Sharon Draper

Brave. Black. First.: 50+ African American Women Who Changed the World, by Cheryl Hudson and Erin K. Robinson (illustrator)

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson

Clean Getaway, by Nic Stone

Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction and the Dawn of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Tonya Bolden

Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A to Z, by Irene Latham & Charles Waters (writers) and Mehrdokht Amini (illustrator)

Finding Langston, by Lesa Cline-Ransome

For Black Girls Like Me, by Mariama J. Lockington

From the Desk of Zoe Washington, by Janae Marks

Genesis Begins Again, by Alicia D. Williams

Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Hidden Figures: The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women who Helped Launch Our Nation into Space, by Margot Lee Shetterly

March Forward, Girl, by Melba Patillo Beals (writer) and Frank Morrison (illustrator)

One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams Garcia

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance, by Nikki Grimes

Reaching for the Moon: The Autobiography of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson, by Katherine Johnson

Say Her Name, by Zetta Elliott (writer) and Loveis Wise (illustrator)

Schomburg: the Man Who Built a Library, by Carole Boston Weatherford (writer) and Eric Velasquez (illustrator)

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-Winning Stamped From the Beginning, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

The Parker Inheritance, by Varian Johnson

The Season of Styx Malone, by Kekla Magoon

This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality, by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debby Levy

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson

What Lane?, by Torrey Maldonado

To learn more about the selections on this list, visit the ALSC website.

For more book recommendations and other content from libraries, subscribe to the I Love Libraries newsletter.

Keep Calm and Read On With These Library-Themed Face Masks

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Bibliophiles can show off their love for libraries while keeping their communities safe with these amazing new face masks from ALA Graphics, the retail team from the American Library Association.

These 100% cotton masks are breathable, washable, and reusable, and come in both youth and adult sizes.

Proceeds from their sale support ALA’s work advocating for our nation’s libraries and librarians on key issues like equity, intellectual freedom, and broadband access.

Here are some of the designs available:

Read More Books (Adult | Youth)

Shhh… I’m reading! (Adult | Youth)

Keep Calm and Read On (Adult | Youth)

Carpe Librum (Adult | Youth)

I Love My Library (Adult | Youth)

READ (Adult | Youth)

Visit the ALA Graphics Gift Shop for more awesome merch from the American Library Association.

Our Favorite Books About Libraries and Librarians

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by Briana Shemroske, Booklist

Back in May, I Love Libraries spoke with academic librarian Jennifer Snoek-Brown about portrayals of librarians in film, from “spinster librarian” Mary Hatch of It’s a Wonderful Life fame (wrong!) to the denim-organizing protagonist of Party Girl (oh so right!).

Lucky for library staff and book lovers everywhere, Hollywood’s only honed their depictions of the library space and vocation in recent years—and they’re not alone. Many books, especially lately, are serving up masterful reflections on the sometimes messy, sometimes magical, and always inspiring realm of librarianship. These stories are found not only in steamy romances, sweeping sci-fi, and dark mysteries, but in necessary nonfiction accounts, too. Read all about ‘em (23 in total!) below.

Fiction

American Dreamer, by Adriana Herrera

The Book Charmer, by Karen Hawkins

The Borrower, by Rebecca Makkai

Check Me Out, by Becca Wilhite

Deal with the Devil, by Kit Rocha

A Good Family, by A. H. Kim

Her Perfect Affair, by Priscilla Oliveras

The Lending Library, by Aliza Fogelson

The Plotters, by Un-Su Kim

Summer Hours at the Robbers Library, by Susan Halpern

Upright Women Wanted, by Sarah Gailey

Weather, by Jenny Offill

Nonfiction

Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism, by Safiya Umoja Noble

The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures, by the Library of Congress

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks, by Annie Spence

Diversity and Inclusion in Libraries, edited by Shannon D. Jones and Beverly Murphy

E.J. Josey: Transformational Leader of the Modern Library Profession, by Renate D. Chancellor

Freedom Libraries: The Untold Story of Libraries for African Americans in the South, by Mike Selby

Information Hunters: When Librarians, Soldiers, and Spies Banded Together in World War II Europe, by Kathy Peiss

The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders, by Stuart Kells

The Library Book, by Susan Orlean

The Original Black Elite: Daniel Murray and the Story of a Forgotten Era, by Elizabeth Dowling Taylor

Reading behind Bars: A Memoir of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian, by Jill Grunenwald

You Could Look It Up: The Reference Shelf from Ancient Babylon to Wikipedia, by Jack Lynch

For more book recommendations, check out the Booklist Reader, a publication of the American Library Association; subscribe to their newsletter and follow them on Twitter for even more bookish content.

How to Avoid False Information During the Pandemic

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Our society is inundated with articles, stories, and opinions about the COVID-19 pandemic—but some of these sources are more accurate than others. With false information proliferating online, it’s essential to separate fact from fiction, and libraries play a key role in teaching their communities how to evaluate news items with a critical eye.

Vincci Lui, a librarian at the University of Toronto’s Gerstein Science Information Center, has created a comprehensive online guide with advice for spotting inaccurate information about the pandemic. Tips include consulting fact-checking organizations, visiting reputable health-focused websites, and looking closely at news sources for potential bias or hoaxes. 

“Everyone’s glued to their phones and looking at things popping up on their newsfeeds,” Lui shares in a University of Toronto news story. “It became very apparent that, along with thousands of journal articles coming out every week about COVID-19, some of the reporting on this information is a little incorrect, some is being misinterpreted, some has been taken out of context, and some has been misrepresented or made up completely.”

Wondering what to do if a friend or relative sends you questionable facts about the pandemic? “Usually whenever I get sent something, I will then do a quick fact-check and then send the information I find to them and just gently say, ‘Oh, did you see this? Actually, this has been disproven,’” Lui explains. “You’re not going to necessarily convince them just by saying, ‘that’s not true,’ but I try to show them what the evidence is saying.”

Find the rest of Lui’s guidelines at the University of Toronto Libraries website. Plus, don’t forget to check out your own library’s website for information literacy resources and lists of trusted news sources.

Subscribe to the I Love Libraries newsletter for more expert tips from librarians.

Americans Visited Libraries More Than a Billion Times in One Year

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A new report from the Institute for Museum of Library Services shows more than 170 million Americans went to their public libraries in 2017 a total of 1.32 billion times. That means every American who lives within a public library’s service area—or about 312 million people—headed to their library four times over the course of the year.

The report also revealed that public libraries offered 5.6 million programs in 2017, which were attended by more than 118 million participants.

For library lovers, these numbers are no surprise: libraries offer an endless array of entertainment and education for people of all ages, from free access to books and other media to makerspaces and workshops.

This year, the devastating COVID-19 pandemic has halted in-person library services and programming. Still, this is the perfect time to pay a virtual visit to your library’s website—libraries across the country have expanded their online offerings to keep their communities engaged with maintaining social distancing. Here are a few ways you can continue safely enjoying your library from home:

Check Out Digital Media

Libraries provide free online access to a wide variety of eBooks, audiobooks, movies, magazines, and more. Whether you’re looking for a comfort read, a thought-provoking documentary, or a how-to guide for your next DIY project, your library can help. (Not sure what to read next? Try these pro tips from a librarian for finding the best book recommendations during the pandemic.)

Attend a Virtual Program

Kids, teens, and grown-ups alike have been flocking to remote library programs during COVID-19. Libraries are offering classes, storytimes, book clubs, performances, and more; while most of this programming is online, some libraries offer activities over the phone or even on local radio to ensure people without home internet access can participate too.

Get Help from a Librarian

Need help finding a particular book or deciding how to approach a research question? You may not be able to ask a librarian in person, but libraries are offering free virtual reference assistance to everyone in their communities. Some libraries even have specialized reference programs where you can get one-on-one technology assistance or help with your job search from an expert librarian, all without leaving your home.

Subscribe to the I Love Libraries newsletter for more reasons to join the millions of Americans who use their libraries.

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