Wednesday, October 30, 2013

HVLA Satellite Book Club

Have you always wanted to participate in the  HVLA Book Club, but you live too far from downtown?  Here’s your chance to get in on the act!

Convent of the Sacred Heart, Greenwich, will host an HVLA satellite Book Club starting in November.

We will meet on Thursday, November 21 @  4:30 to discuss Far Far Away by Tom McNeal and

The Thing About Luck  by Cynthia Kadohata.  Delicious snacks will be served! Let us know how this time works for you - we can be flexible.

RSVP: Elizabeth Fernandez fernandeze (at), Marian McLeod mcleodm (at)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Introducing Christian Zabriskie and ULU

This is a final guest post from my friend Christian Zabriskie, founder of Urban Librarians Unite. I first met Christian while I was in library school when he was invited to speak on a panel in my youth programming class. The panel was inspiring, and after we were coincidentally on the same bus we started a great conversation. I felt an immediate affinity with the work he talked about doing and, clearly, he feels a strong affinity with school librarians and the work we do every day.

ULU hosted the first of a now-annual conference last spring, the annual 24-Hour Read-In at Brooklyn Public Library in June, and is involved with many other library advocacy projects (and some fun stuff too!). I’d been uncertain about getting involved with ULU because I find that “urban” is often used as a euphemism for communities very different from the independent school I work in. But Christian has always encouraged a diversity of experiences and ideas, and has helped me draw connections between the work I do and the work done by other librarians around the city. I have found it to be a really interesting, exciting, and fulfilling organization to be a part of, even tangentially, and if you have any interest I encourage you to check it out!


I am a radical public librarian and I am the intellectual godchild of a radical school librarian. No I don't wear an anarchy tshirt in the library and I don't want to “tear down the system”. I run an organization called Urban Librarians Unite, we do library advocacy, mostly in New York City but we have a chapter in the Bay Area in California as well. I wear a tie to work and as my day job I help to run a large branch library in Queens. I am radical in how I fight for libraries and I am radical in how I tell people about libraries but the library ideal that I am fighting for is a pretty classic one. I think everyone has a right to a good, safe, and fulfilling library. I think this is one of the basic rights of mankind and I feel it in the weave of my soul. Where did I learn this? My middle school librarian taught me.

My radical school librarian was not a visible radical either. She was a hardworking school media specialist way back in 1982. She didn't wear flower dresses or smell of patchouli. She just made the radical choice to set up an independent study literature class for gifted students which she ran out of the school library with herself as teacher/mentor/guide. My best friend Jon and I were her first students. When we started we were both the favorite targets of bullying in our year. Bullying is so freighted now and the kids of today have it a lot worse with the constant abuse they get via social media but it was no fun to be constantly hectored and harassed at school.
Mrs. Monica Blondin created a safe space for us. She taught us to have intellectual play, to toy with ideas, and to make creativity a part of our problem solving. She made it so that the library was more than just “library” it was also our classroom, our clubhouse, and our sanctuary. I had an ownership over that library that was so deep it still informs my connection to libraries today.

I am the man I am today because of my school librarian. Her courage to try something different informed my life and has gone on to impact the lives of those around me. School librarians, you are like the breeze that makes the ripple that becomes a tidal wave. Thank you for your courage every day.

Christian Zabriskie
Urban Librarians Unite

Monday, October 21, 2013

Librarians and Archivists to Palestine

This is a guest post by Hannah Mermelstein, a librarian at Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn. In the summer of 2013, she led the Librarians and Archivists to Palestine delegation.


Last summer I traveled to Palestine with a group of sixteen librarians and archivists in order to connect with Palestinian colleagues in libraries, archives, and related projects and institutions and to gain mutual benefit through information exchange and skill-sharing. For the past ten years, I have been working in Palestine in various capacities, including with many delegations, but this was the first time I was fortunate enough to be able to merge my two worlds – Palestine and librarianship. What I’d like to share with you is some of what I learned from Palestinian school librarians and youth services librarians in particular, both in the West Bank and inside Israel.

Near Ramallah, in the central West Bank, we spoke with staff from Al Bireh Public Library and from the Tamer Institute about the obstacles to obtaining quality children’s literature in Arabic. Much of the best Arabic kids’ literature these days is published in Beirut, and the Israeli government (which controls all borders of the West Bank) does not let books in from Lebanon. Even when libraries try to obtain Arabic-language books through third parties, the books are often held up in Customs for months. Whether they’re ultimately allowed in or not seems somewhat arbitrary, and the libraries are required to pay for the costs of holding them in Customs. A Swedish librarian who was on our delegation commented that at the Madaa Silwan Creative Center in Jerusalem, she saw more books translated from Swedish into Arabic than originally written in Arabic, and she has more books originally written in Arabic in her library in Stockholm than they do at the center! The Tamer Institute for Community Education has tried to mitigate the negative effects of these Israeli restrictions by co-publishing a few titles with publishers in Beirut, and by publishing a few of their own as well, but their efforts are not adequate to meet the needs of the children they’re serving.

In Haifa, the situation is even more difficult. Although supposedly a “mixed city” of Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel, Haifa has 22 public library branches that primarily serve the Jewish community, and only one that serves the Palestinian community. Even this one branch is privately funded by an NGO, rather than by the Israeli government. We spoke to a number of Palestinian school and public librarians in Haifa who, because of difficulty traveling between Israel and the West Bank, are largely unable to supplement their collections with books put out by the Tamer Institute. Instead, most of their Arabic language books are low-quality translations of Hebrew books, effectively denying Palestinian citizens of Israel their literary heritage. This must be seen in its larger context, librarians told us, in which the Israeli government has for decades tried to erase Palestinian identity by calling Palestinians inside Israel “Israeli Arabs” or “Arab Israelis.” So whereas the availability of quality Arabic children’s literature could be a powerful way to preserve Palestinian identity and culture, the lack of availability further demoralizes the community.

I’ve shared these stories with a few people upon return from Palestine, and they’ve been moved to try to organize book deliveries to Palestine. Our delegation has had similar thoughts, but we must be careful how we approach this. Librarians in Palestine made it clear to us that they are not looking for a charity model. Not only can charity easily be accompanied by a colonialist attitude, but it simply won’t work. Large shipments of books would be held up at Customs for months, and smaller deliveries would do more to make us feel good about ourselves than make any significant dent in a system designed to prevent such a project. Palestinian libraries in the West Bank and inside Israel face a political problem that is at the core of any economic or humanitarian problems we might more easily address. But this should not stall our work. We are beginning conversations about effective follow-up, and we hope others will join us in these efforts. In the meantime, we can support some of the amazing organizations that are doing such important work on the ground. Here are a few:

The Tamer Institute for Community Education – based in Ramallah with partners throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip
Lajee Center in Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem – youth center that has, among other things, conducted workshops with children in which they have written and illustrated their own children’s books
Madaa Silwan Creative Center in Jerusalem – many amazing programs, including a library. They even published their own Palestinian cookbook!

To keep in touch with the delegation:
Our website – Here you can read more and see the statement we put out shortly after we returned.
Email to join our (very!) low-volume email list.

AND, we’re having a delegation reportback at Bluestockings bookstore at 7 pm on Thursday, October 24. Come on by!

Looking forward to any questions or comments you have. All questions welcome! 

At Al Bireh Public Library, a youth services librarian from Providence, RI exchanges ideas with Tamer Institute staff.

Winner of a book contest by Tamer Institute
Wall of the children's section of Nablus Public Library