Author Archives: Matt Imrie

Skunk and Badger

No one wants a skunk.
 
They are unwelcome on front stoops. They should not linger in Important Rock Rooms. Skunks should never, ever be allowed to move in. But Skunk is Badger’s new roommate, and there is nothing Badger can do about it.
 
When Skunk plows into Badger’s life, everything Badger knows is upended. Tails are flipped. The wrong animal is sprayed. And why-oh-why are there so many chickens?

Skunk and Badger is a wonderful take by two titans of the children’s book world: Amy Timberlake wielded the words and Jon Klassen created the illustrations. I will not lie, I am a fan of both, but Jon Klassen is one of my all-time top five artists and when I was offered a chance at an early copy I leapt at it!

I was not disappointed! This is a gentle, hilarious tale of a budding friendship, misadventure, chickens and underscored by the virtues of tolerance and understanding,

Skunk and Badger is timeless! Although aimed at a young audience this tale will find fans in readers of all ages.

Written by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen and published by Algonquin Young Readers. It is out on September 15 – I urge you to pick up a copy (or borrow a copy from your local library and then pick up your own copy to keep, read and reread).

Stupid Black Girl: Essays from an American African by Aisha Redux

When I first met you, I thought you were just a Stupid Black Girl.

Everyone has a story inside them – about their life and experiences, everyone’s story is different. For example I am a first generation immigrant in America, I came to the USA from South Africa via the UK. I am an invisible minority as I am white even though my identify is African. Aisha is a first generation American with West African parents, there are some intersections (immigrant family, African background) but even more differences. To stay safer in America all I have to do is not open my mouth and nobody passing me on the street will know that I am not from here, Aisha on the other hand was born here – she is more American than I will ever be, heck, she can even run for president of the USA – something I can never do but her skin color automatically puts her in more danger than I will ever face here.

But this post is not about me, it is about this wonderful, brutally honest (at times painful) collection of personal essays about her life, beliefs and experiences as a Muslim American African.

Stupid Black Girl is a brilliant book to pick up if you are looking to learn about experiences outside your own, even if you have begun immersing yourself in African/African-American/Minority experiences in the USA then this book needs to be on your reading list!

In reading this book you will learn about the experiences of others, and, at the same time you may learn a bit more about yourself…

Highly recommended! If I gave out star ratings this book would get five of them!

Stupid Black Girl is written by Aisha Redux, illustrated by Brianna McCarthy and published by Street Noise Books. It is available now!

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being a Library Worker

Things that are said (& celebrated) about Libraries, Librarians and Library Workers: 

  • Librarians are freedom fighters,  
  • Librarians are revolutionary,  
  • Librarians are rebels, 

Things that are not usually said or celebrated about libraries (but are still true): 

  • Libraries and Library Workers are (or have been) complicit in: 
    • In book banning 
    • In book burning 
    • In segregation 
    • In upholding white supremacy 

Many, mostly white (it has to be said) library folk have drunk the library kool-aid and believe uncritically everything (positive & affirming) that has been said about libraries. Heck for years I was one of them, I uncritically celebrated libraries without considering the history of library services in the countries I have lived and worked in until I took a look at myself, where I came from (South Africa) and what I stand for; then started poking around in the history of my career in my home country and further afield. 

Nowadays I am still a library-stan, I have seen and can see how libraries can affect the lives of those who use them in a positive way.  Of course people have to be able to  access the services that libraries provide to have their lives changed by them. I still fully support all that is good in public libraries but I also acknowledge the darker side that has largely been airbrushed out of the public library narrative. What follows are but a few examples of what overwhelming whiteness in libraries has been responsible for. 

In South Africa, Public Libraries were segregated under the apartheid regime and non-white South Africans were denied library services altogether or had a substandard service. 

Read Library philosophy vs. Apartheid legislation: Cape Town City Libraries: 1952-1972 by Kathleen Laishley 

Not content with segregation, the apartheid regime doubled down with book banning as well as burning books that they disagreed with. Librarians were complicit in this. 

Librarians at institutions across South Africa were tasked with removing banned books and the works of banned people from the shelves, and monitoring their usage. They received a weekly update in the Government Gazette and were expected to enforce the banning of books with immediate effect.

In the end, book burning was about power – the abuse of  power by the agents of  censorship, and the reluctance to confront power by those who aided and abetted censorship 

There has been segregation in many US libraries over the years, When Andrew Carnegie funded the construction of a new public library in Atlanta in 1902, scholar and activist W. E. B. DuBois, then a professor at Atlanta University and a strong proponent of African American education, spoke out publicly against the injustice of a public facility that refused service to a full third of Atlanta’s population. (https://dp.la/exhibitions/history-us-public-libraries/segregated-libraries

 In 2016 when accepting a National Book Award Representative Elijah Cummings recounted  how he was denied a library card in Alabama in 1956: 

“Some of you know I grew up in rural Alabama, very poor, very few books in our home, I remember in 1956, when I was 16 years old, going to the public library to get library cards, and we were told the library was for whites only and not for coloureds. And to come here and receive this honor, it’s too much.” 

The Dewey Decimal Classification System still carries many of the biases of it’s creator Melvil Dewey. It took until 2019 for his name to be removed from the ALA’s top honor. In the 1930s librarian Dorothy Porter started to decolonize the DDC by unpicking the racist way in which he treated Black authors. 

This brilliant article on BookRiot shows how libraries have and in some cases still are complicit in upholding white supremacy (and how it can be dismantled).  

Homophobia was also prevalent in early editions of the DDC and although it is being weeded out, many traces still remain. The religion section still skews heavily in favor of Christianity, with non-Christian faiths only making an appearance in the 290s. 

In 2017 a lack of diversity in the library profession lead to accusations of bias and worse being made against the CILIP Carnegie Medal, the oldest book award for books for children & young people in the UK. This controversy has lead to institutional changes in the way that the awards are run and has also lead to the formation of groups to help work towards increasing the diversity of the profession in the UK, so never let it be said that protests change nothing.

Today libraries are still largely staffed by white folk, most of them women many of who fall under the middle-class label, for a career that is majority female, it is weird that male library staff are very over-represented in library management positions – patriarchy it is not a bug, it is a feature (if you are a man that is). 

As the profession slowly (oh so slowly) diversifies, existing staff come face to face with our biases, both conscious and unconscious.  This is uncomfortable, for those of us who feel we are anti-racist, anti-imperialist and can lead to hurt feelings and lashing out when we are confronted with our failures in being good allies, and for our colleagues of colour who experience almost daily microaggressions from their colleagues and upon whom many white library workers place their needs for education on being better at becoming antiracist and working in a diverse workplace. 

It behooves all of us working in public libraries no matte where we are in the world to educate ourselves on how to be better allies in life and in libraries to our colleagues of colour, our LGBTQ+ colleagues an dour patrons. Libraries are no place for the false white saviour narrative, we are not rockstars (I hate that term – but that is a rant for another day), we must all work towards being open, inclusive in our lives as in our careers and make our profession a place that mirrors the world as it is and as it should be – diverse and vibrant, not a monochrome example of how things used to be. 

Further Reading & Resources 

How to wear a mask correctly poster


Library Sweets/Candy Club

I had this idea years ago, back in my UK Public Library days but I was unable to get it off the ground at the time due to not knowing any US Librarians and a smaller network than I have now. 

The basic premise is to set up two groups (at least), one in a US Library and another in a Library in the UK (or Libraries in other exotic parts of the world) and running a quarterly/bi-annual (more or less as your budget allows) candy/sweet tasting group. It can be tied in to holidays that have chocolates or other types of sweets/candy as a central part of the celebrations (thinking of Easter and Hallowe’en as two of the biggest examples). 

The idea muscled its way back into my fore-brain due to the Percy Pigs kerfuffle that erupted in the UK earlier this week, this made me realise how much I missed them and other British sweets, which in turn brought up the group idea as I pondered how American kids would react to tasting Percy Pigs.

This will only be able to run once we have Covid19 sorted out, but in the interim library folk can form alliances with colleagues in other countries and arrange to send examples of local confectionery from where they are from.

If anyone is interested in finding contacts in the UK or US leave a comment below for international colleagues to find you.

Andersen Press release FREE ‘Summer Staycation Activity Pack’

Andersen Press are continuing their commitment to supporting children and families who are at home with a free activity pack featuring their new summer titles. As many families will be taking their holidays at home or in the UK Andersen wants to offer families a cost-effective way to spend an afternoon (sunny or rainy) during the great British Summertime.

The Summer Staycation Activity Pack features free colouring sheets, word searches, spot-the-difference games and more based on a selection of Andersen titles;

Luna Loves Art by Joseph Coelho and Fiona Lumbers

The Mouse’s Apples by Frances Stickley and Kristyna Litten

The Baby Beast by Chris Judge

The Bug Collector by Alex G Griffiths

Don’t Go There by Jeanne Willis and Hrefna Bragadottir

Duck and Penguin Are NOT Friends by Julia Woolf

Bricks by Katie Cotton and Tor Freeman

The Bolds on Holiday by Julian Clary and David Roberts

And Mermaid School by Lucy Courtenay and Sheena Dempsey

Also included is a competition, for one family to win each book featured in the pack.

The pack is free for all, and has been sent to Andersen’s list of bookshops, libraries and contacts for their use too, and compliments the work Andersen Press has been doing to share their books online during the COVID19 pandemic, with free, weekly story times on Seven Stories Facebook page continuing until September, regular storytimes on Panto Dame Mama G’s facebook page, partnerships with Save the Children’s #SaveWithStories (which saw BBC One Normal People’s Paul Mescal read Elmer and Super El, viewed over 500,000 times) and Coram Beanstalk to reach as many families as possible in lockdown.

Sarah Kimmelman, Andersen Press’ Head of Marketing has said of the release, “We know that life for many families out there is nowhere near back-to-normal, and with a lack of events, appearances and festivals it’s also not back to normal for us publishers, so we wanted to offer something accessible to as many people as possible to brighten up a summer at home whilst introducing families to some of our gorgeous new books.”

The Summer Staycation Activity Pack is available to download free here: 

https://www.andersenpress.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Summer-Staycation-Activity-Pack.pdf

A Parent’s Guide to Black Lives Matter

Yoopies UK the childcare platform, has put together a family-friendly resource guide for parents about the Black Lives Matter movement from a British perspective; with contributions from both white and BAME writers.

This guide shares resources (films, podcasts, books etc), advice, and tips to ensure that children are aware of racial inequality, racial hierarchies, and white privilege present in modern-day society, as well as share some knowledge to help combat racism today.

The guide can be downloaded here:

https://yoopies.co.uk/c/press-releases/blacklivesmatter

The Police and Public Libraries

I have seen police officers in libraries for as long as I have been a library worker, they come in as patrons, they have been called in if people started endangering the lives of patrons and staff, occasionally an officer will come in and do a walk-through the library, more recently I have witnessed official library events featuring police officers including Youth Services organized “Story-time with a Police Officer” which is a local PO will come in uniform and read some stories at a library story-time event and a Civic Engagement series called “Coffee with a Cop” which is basically just that – a Police Officer sitting drinking coffee and chatting to local library patrons.

I am aware that seeing the police as being helpful and there to help is very much a White viewpoint; other population groups, Black, Asian and others have differing viewpoints and opinions about them.

I have been concerned about story-times being lead by police officers for ages now but the coronavirus closures put those thoughts on the back burner, they are now forefront in my mind now in the wake of the violence against protesters that has been occurring on a daily basis since people began standing up in reaction to the murder of George Floyd. This ongoing violence has been an eye-opener to many people that live in denial of the violence police often perpetrate against minority groups.

Can libraries afford to keep hosting police-centered events and at the same time claim to be welcoming to everyone?

It is often vulnerable groups and individuals that have the most need of the services that libraries provide and they are the most at risk of being traumatized by coming face to face with uniformed police officers at library sanctioned events. These encounters will in all likelihood re-traumatize them again and they are already at the receiving end of police violence; this will, in all likelihood keep them from returning for fear of encountering the police again.

The fig leaf argument that libraries are neutral spaces gets more threadbare every day. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor

Neutrality does not mean having no opinion, it means being open to other opinions. I am of the opinion that it is past time for libraries to look at who we partner with and discuss how we can move forward with offering a truly inclusive and welcoming service.

Before we allow the police in for photo-opportunity events, we must demand real and substantive change in the way they behave towards all groups in the communities they ostensibly serve.

In demanding that of them we must, at the same time interrogate our own biases and how we behave towards others as well as challenging ourselves and those around us to actively fight racist thought and activities that pervade our daily lives.

Racial Equity Tools

Racial Equity Tools is designed to support individuals and groups working to achieve racial equity.

This site offers tools, research, tips, curricula and ideas for people who want to increase their own understanding and to help those working toward justice at every level – in systems, organizations, communities and the culture at large.

https://www.racialequitytools.org/home

Anti-Racism Resources for all ages

A Project by the Augusta Baker Chair | Dr. Nicole A. Cooke | The University of South Carolina | 

https://padlet.com/nicolethelibrarian/nbasekqoazt336co