Blog 2: The Sequel= ShaunaSeeks

While I will continue to post on HideNGoShauna about personal stuff and geeky randomness, I’ve just started up an additional blog, ShaunaSeeks!

On this new blog I will focus on sharing my library-related posts, book-lists, projects, and experiences as I work on completing my Master of Library and Information Science and learn new things in my library career  🙂


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An Open Letter to Joel Tucker

( I have also emailed this letter to Mr. Tucker through the Washington County Library System )

Hello Mr. Tucker,

I am a library worker and future librarian, and I am writing to ask you to please reconsider your censorship of LGBTQ+ displays and buttons in Washington County libraries.

I understand that Southern Utah is a place where LGBTQ+ materials cause controversy.
However, that is all the MORE reason why it is important to have these materials visibly available.

Having displays on a theme or topic facilitates learning and discussion. Having a display on something doesn’t mean you “promote” that sort of book- but even if it did, the only thing you’d be “promoting” in this case is the acceptance, inclusion, respect, and understanding of LGBTQ people and communities. It shouldn’t be a “point of view” that LGBTQ people should be respected and treated as people rather than as controversial topics that should be hidden away in the stacks away from public view.

The mission statement for Washington County Libraries explicitly states that censorship is not tolerated and that you provide open, non-judgmental access to materials, but asking staff to take down a display is a form of censorship as it is a conscious act that will reduce the number of patrons who come into contact with those materials.

I respectfully ask that you please reflect on your policies and procedures and consider reaching out to LGBTQ+ groups for information and support in building a more welcoming and inclusive library system.

Response to “What’s in the children’s section of YOUR library?”

The Library Think Tank group on FB recently posted a link to a video from a woman (some sort of lifestyle vlogger, I think) who has some pretty strong views on library materials and programs.

I won’t post her video here, but it is called “What’s in the children’s section of YOUR library?”

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The woman lives in the US, but I saw some Canadians responding in her comment section too. As a Canadian who has a Bachelor of Education, who has been working in a public library for over 7 years, and who will beginning my Master of Library and Information Studies program in the fall, I’d like to respond with my thoughts on some of the comments made in this woman’s passionate rant video.

 

“For a long time I took my kids to the library every week. I want my kids to read. I want them to develop a love of reading”

That’s wonderful. I wish more families would visit the library regularly.

 

“I brought my kid here because I thought we were going to read something like Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel but that’s not what’s happening here. (They’re) trying to indoctrinate your kids”

“they read a story about a little boy who thought he was a girl…”

“the least you can do is tell parents hey, this story is pushing an agenda.”

It is unfortunate that you thought the story-time was not acceptable for your kids, but many other parents value diverse stories and want their kids to learn about families, children, and people who are different from them. Reading about people who are different than you is one of the best ways to develop empathy.

The only agenda being pushed here is a reflection of realitybased on the life experiences of many kids and people in this world. Whether you are comfortable with it or not, the library is for everyone, not just you. 

 

 “Drag queens are public libraries newest storytellers… when did it become the responsibility of the library to bring cross-dressers in to read stories to our children? I’d really love to know… this is not why we bring our kids to the library. We bring them… so they can improve their reading skills”

“Stop bringing drag queens into our library!”

As long as we live in a world where marginalized people are discriminated against, bullied, harassed, assaulted and denied equal rights in society, libraries have a responsibility to give these people voices and to make every effort to enlighten the general public that people who are different than you are not some faceless “other” to fear.

LGBTQ+ people face bullying, hate crimes, discrimination, and violence- even execution- just for being themselves.

We cannot hope to face discrimination, bullying and violence against LGBTQ+ people without making efforts to change the culture that promotes these actions in the first place. 

If you aren’t comfortable attending a Drag Queen Story Time, it’s simple- don’t go. Walk away. It’s your choice. Don’t try to take away the choice from others.

 

 “THIS IS NOT ABOUT CENSORSHIP. THIS IS ABOUT Y’ALL PUSHING STUFF ONTO OUR CHILDREN. COULD YOU JUST STOP ALREADY?”

“These are books with profanities, about sexual violence, suicide, transgenderism, homosexuality… suicide… hey, we love you library, but could you just not bring this stuff up to my kids?”

“I don’t care if you carry this stuff in your library, but the least you can do is make a section for it so that parents know what their children are reading”

“put it under gay and lesbian studies. Put it under transgenderism”

What you are advocating here IS a form of censorship.

Censorship doesn’t just mean outright banning of books, withdrawing them from the library system. Restricting certain titles and making an effort to hide them away or make them less accessible is an act of censorship. 

The library doesn’t push content on you. They provide a wide variety of materials- libraries have something for everyone. Our collections are ever-growing to reflect the diversity of our communities and our world, and to highlight a variety of perspectives on any given subject.

Libraries strive to give access to information. Again, if you want to censor what your child has access to, that’s on YOU as the parent. 

LGBTQ+ people are more than their chosen labels, or the labels we assign them. They are people with hopes, dreams, hobbies, and interests just like you. It is important that they have representation in stories because, as mentioned above, they face bullying, harassment and violence just because their identity isn’t understood. If the only people reading books with LGBTQ+ characters are those who are specifically seeking out LGBTQ+ reads, then the general public is missing out on a chance to read about someone different than themselves, and to develop empathy and acceptance. 

Furthermore, if we censored every title that someone didn’t like, there would be nothing left in the library! Censorship isn’t the answer.

Yes, some books contain content that is violent, profane, explicit, upsetting. Life also contains these things, unfortunately, no matter how safe we try to be. How can we learn about and discuss these topics if we can’t even read about them?

If you want to censor what your family sees, reads, and takes part in, that’s your choice as a parent, but that’s on YOU, not the library.

You want to bring your kids in to improve their reading skills, but that’s only one purpose of a library. Libraries are also places of programming, community, and tons more.

Please don’t boycott your library because it provides titles or programming that you do not appreciate. Talk to your library staff and librarians- I’m sure they can help you access many things that you WILL enjoy without restricting the access of others to content OTHERS might enjoy.

 

 

 

Anxiety, Hell Practicums, and New Beginnings: In Defense of Medication

Long, emotional post ahead.

This is the most personal blog post I’ve ever written. I’ve recently seen some comments from strangers and well-meaning friends who criticize and doubt the necessity of some medications, especially mood-altering prescriptions. I understand where they are coming from- big pharma is scary, and it seems like some doctors’ answer to everything is to indiscriminately feed us more and more pills. Yet, as someone who comes from a family with many mental health struggles, and who has battled some of my own, I want to share my own story.

I’ve had anxiety since I was a teenager, but it got steadily worse in my early 20s. Despite living a privileged life surrounded with wonderful and supportive friends and family (including pets!), I had these “monsters” holding me down.

This is a poem I wrote during that time:

btr

Traveling became more anxious than fun. I still didn’t have my licence because I didn’t have the confidence for driving. I was socially awkward and quiet, feeling overwhelmed with the world before I even got out of bed in the morning. I worried endlessly and catastrophized everything, anticipating the worst possible scenarios for just about any situation.

In my practicums while completing my Bachelor of Education, my anxiety reached new and debilitating heights. The pressures of being a teacher- the professional expectations, the perpetual donning of the “Teacher Hat”, and the reality of being at the front of the classroom, began weighing on me heavily.

I spoke with a counselor in university, as well as my doctor, and decided I wanted to first try to deal with it on my own- I learned a lot of stress-relief methods and breathing exercises, and they were helpful at the time to some degree. Dustin, my then-boyfriend-now-husband, was also a voice of reason who helped to talk me down whenever I went into full-blown panic mode.

However, my anxiety became extreme 2014-2015 during a particularly tumultuous time in my life, which included a 9 week teaching practicum that I now refer to as my “hell practicum”. I had struggled with previous practicums teaching grades k-3, so I decided to focus on my strength (language arts) and try teaching LA 7-9 in a middle school setting, hoping that it would be easier on me for the final stretch. This decision was a terrible mistake.

For the most part, it wasn’t the students that got to me- it was my mentor teacher. She was a no-nonsense authoritarian type who sensed my weakness and couldn’t understand where I was coming from. She didn’t know that I was at my lowest point mentally, and because of her open criticisms of other students and teachers, I didn’t feel like I could open up to her about it. By this point in my life I had already internally decided that I wanted to leave teaching and pursue Librarianship, but I still had to make it through the final practicum to get my bachelor degree.

My mentor teacher seemed to take a boot-camp approach to shaping me up to her liking, and I was simply unable to handle it at the time. Her tough-love method pushed me farther into my shell. She gave me armfuls of marking to do and little guidance for teaching her classes or using her rubrics. My inefficiency in her classroom was amplified by the fact that, since she taught only one subject, she had a rotating roster of students visiting throughout the day, and I had over 150 names and faces to memorize if I wanted to be able to communicate effectively with her kids. The students also sensed my submissiveness, treating me like a substitute teacher whom they thought they could fool, swapping desk assignments, protesting “our teacher lets us do this!” and so on. It was a recipe for disaster.

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My own personal hell.

I was having silent panic attacks where I led the class on uninspiring lessons that I could barely remember teaching afterward. My appetite disappeared- I had trouble swallowing food and would often begin to choke. I was administered a barium swallow test, but the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong and attributed it to stress. I lost over 35 pounds (NOT in a healthy way- to this day I have a rare Eustachian tube disorder that I developed from losing so much weight so fast), and I had so much tension in my body that by week 3 I had to wear a back brace to the classroom to make it through the day. I tried to put on my best “fake it till you make it” facade, but I was not fooling the middle schoolers, or my mentor teacher, one bit.

My mentor began getting more agitated with my insecurities and vulnerability in her classroom. Things were not working out. She began gathering evidence of my shortcomings by secretly filming me as I taught, and spying on me through the classroom window when I thought she was leaving the room for a bit. Afterward she would confront me and say things like “I was watching through the window. What did you do wrong?” and I usually knew exactly where my shortcomings were: “when I was talking to X I had my back to the rest of the class, so they started acting out” or “Y wasn’t paying attention and when he didn’t listen to me I didn’t discipline him.” Exasperated, she would say “So if you know that you are doing it wrong, then why do you do it!?” My mental health was so frail that I couldn’t stand up for myself with these middle-schoolers, or their teacher.

I remember one evening when I fought back tears the entire bus-ride home, and when I got to my apartment I collapsed on the floor, bawling, my poor dog curling herself around me in concerned confusion.

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Life, without this goofball, would have been somehow even more unbearable.

Dustin was working night shift during this time and was gone before I got home, so I barely saw him back then. I would cry as I worked on lesson plans and marking into the wee hours of the night, and drink  copious amounts of wine to help me calm down and finally fall into a fitful sleep. I’d be gripped with terror when my alarm woke me, dreading going to the school to teach. My bus ride was slow torture as it carried me closer and closer to the school. I was on the brink of a total breakdown.

Finally, my mentor teacher couldn’t tolerate me anymore, and filed a Notification of Concern to the University. Crushed and ashamed, I remembered the pre-practicum pep talk we had gotten from our academic advisors months ago, where they briefly discussed Notifications of Concern with the caveat “but don’t worry, nobody ever gets those!” I guess I was the exception.

NOC

Even though I thought I didn’t have it in me, I put on an even stronger fake-it-till-you make it face, trying even harder to buckle down and push through the final two weeks of my hellish practicum. It didn’t work.

My teacher backed out and said she didn’t want to complete the practicum, as was her right to do. I called Dustin, sobbing, and said “it’s over.”

I don’t blame my mentor, or wish her any ill will. She was just doing what she thought to be best for her students at the time. She has a teaching style that is the exact opposite of my own, and we didn’t mesh well together. Combined with my mental health issues, it just wasn’t working. And that’s ok. I wish her all the best, and I’m sorry that I put her through that stressful time, too.

Even though I was done, and I was exhausted and telling everyone DAMN THE WHOLE DEGREE, I’M FINISHED, my academic advisors wouldn’t let me quit. They defended me to the university, fighting for me, presenting my case as a hard working student who had a practicum assignment that just didn’t work out. Since my previous practicum mentors had given me good reports, and academically I was ready to graduate with distinction, I was allowed a replacement practicum. I owe my advisors so much.

Somehow, with the support of many people, I found myself in a new placement with a wonderful and supportive grade 1 mentor teacher. She was so kind, so understanding, and so helpful. She really saw that I had experienced something personally traumatic, and wanted me to succeed. She did things like recommending certain items at the library that might be helpful, and loaning me a class mic so that I wasn’t straining my voice so hard when trying to get the attention of the kids each day. This teacher was a lifesaver for me.

It was still hard for me because I had zero confidence after the hell practicum, but I had moments where I really enjoyed teaching those kids with my new mentor.

Although I didn’t think I could possibly get through a 7 week replacement practicum in such a devastated state, I did finish and graduated with my B.Ed. I remember coming in one day during the last couple weeks of my replacement practicum. I had told my mentor teacher that I had to leave a little bit early that day for graduation ceremonies. I started crying when I walked into the classroom. She had decorated the room for me. She told the kids I was graduating and they brought me flowers and little gifts. They said “Miss, show us your hat!”

And so, finally I had graduated. I felt great relief, but my heightened anxiety remained. I opened up to my doctor about the anxiety I had experienced, and she prescribed antidepressants. I was surprised and confused, because I didn’t think I was depressed. She explained that anxiety and depression were on a sort of spectrum, and that some of the symptoms I had been describing were indicative of depression.

I felt a bit wary of pills, but she thought that the right medication might really help with both my anxiety and depression related symptoms. So, I decided to give it a go.

It took some time adjusting and trying new dosage amounts, but once I figured out what worked for me, it was a truly life-changing shift. I didn’t realize that I was being held down so much until I was lifted up. I hadn’t realized that I could exist in this state: energized and happy throughout the day on a regular basis. Waking up optimistic instead of melancholic. I started feeling the way I used to feel before I knew crushing anxiety.

I can recall a flashbulb memory from when I was a teen. I can’t remember the context, but I wasn’t being myself, and my father asked me “what happened to my happy-go-lucky Shauna?”.

I don’t know what happened to her or where she went for so long, but I finally found her again.

I wish I had tried medication long before my practicums. I truly believe that I would have had entirely different practicum experiences. I never would have believed it, but in the 3 years since I graduated, I’ve accomplished so much and journeyed willingly outside of my comfort zone. I’ve traveled by myself to Toronto and enjoyed every minute of it. My hubby and I went to Japan and I wasn’t anxiously anticipating problems to happen, I was just freely enjoying myself. I’ve taken on new projects at work and am even speaking at conferences now! I never thought I would be excited to present to a room of strangers, but here I am. I’m starting my MLIS program in the fall and I am going to be a librarian.

Although I didn’t end up going back into the classroom, my experiences finishing the B.Ed gave me tons of skills that I will carry with me into the future. And, my respect for teachers is higher than it’s ever been, because I KNOW how much you do, how much of yourself you put into your work, and how draining and exhausting it can be sometimes. To anyone reading this who dedicates themselves to an intensely emotionally and physically draining job like teaching, if you are struggling you aren’t alone. You do so much. Take care of yourself.

Lastly, I just want to say this: medication is not for everyone. Anyone who has questions about medication should talk to their doctor. Every medication and dosage affects every person a little bit differently. I was lucky that I found something that worked for me. For some people, the medication I am on makes things worse. Some people get by without medication. Yet, I will never feel ashamed to say that I take medication for my mental health, because I am living a much fuller life with this stuff.

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Facilitating a session at the Alberta Library Conference, 2018.

 

Why do libraries matter today?

When I recently announced joyously that I had finally been accepted into the Master of Library and Information Science program, I got a variety of responses. Mainly “woohoo!”s and things like that, but also the occasional question about why I chose this career, or even something as refreshingly candid as this comment from an online friend in a Kakao group chat:

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Oof.

There is a certain nostalgia associated with libraries. Many people (and this included me to an extent before I began working in a library 7 years ago) have an idea in their heads of what a library is. Perhaps they are even rather fond of this very concept of a library, and they romanticize it lovingly in their heads. Theirs is a quiet, austere place filled with rows and rows of books. Their library might resemble one they frequented as a child, or saw in a movie. In their memory, the library is a place that you turn to when you are in need of a book, or a quiet place to study. In their library, bespectacled, cardigan wearing women “shhh” you for turning the pages too loud.

This idea of a library endures, supported by some popular media and the notions of those who maybe haven’t visited their public library in recent memory.

However, this library is not my library.

Certainly, some of the above aspects are present in some parts of some libraries some of the time.  But, the libraries of today offer so much more than that outdated model.

Libraries offer services in line with the times and are constantly updating to best serve their patrons in this age of rapidly changing technologies and emerging means of information sharing. In the libraries of today, you may access multiple services in a visit without so much as seeing a book.

People of all ages and all walks of life are welcome in the library, where they are treated with respect and dignity, and able to access information, technologies, entertainment and services that they might not be able to access otherwise. The library is a space where you aren’t expected to buy anything, there’s no catch.

I know I am not saying anything that hasn’t been said before, (check out this legendary twitter smackdown if you haven’t already: https://twitter.com/i/moments/922965302761025536?lang=en ) but this is a message that needs to be reinforced again and again, as clearly there is a need to defend libraries from the detrimental actions of those who don’t understand them.

I’ll shout it from the rooftops if I have to:  Libraries are for everyone to access information, education, entertainment and services that enrich their lives and foster lifelong learning. 

Here are just some of the kinds of things you might be able to do at your public library today at little or no cost:

  • check out an ipad or ereader on loan
  • use a free wifi connection
  • get one on one homework or reading help
  • access full-text, peer-reviewed articles for assignments and research
  • borrow the latest video games, movies, magazines, and music (FOR FREEEEEE)
  • utilize a community makerspace with tools and technology
  • attend a resume building workshop so you can get that job!
  • 3D print whatever your mind can fathom
  • practice yoga, zumba, tai chi, meditation, etc.- namaSLAY!!!
  • meet up for a weekly parenting or breastfeeding support group
  • reserve a study or meeting room
  • attend a movie night and enjoy popcorn and the big screen
  • participate in a writers circle
  • access resources for preparing for a Citizenship exam or other exam
  • receive cuddles from a therapy animal program
  • create crafts or learn how to paint a masterpiece step by step, maybe with some wine and cheese- like paint night, but cheaper!
  • participate in a cosplay competition or learn how to create cosplay looks
  • get help accessing genealogical records and researching your family ancestry
  • peruse board games and card games to take home, or to play at the library (Cards Against Humanity anyone?)
  • print and scan important documents
  • share at a seed-swap or learn about beekeeping
  • learn a new language in a conversation group
  • download audiobooks, ebooks, videos, music, and more from home or on the go with your library card
  • “borrow” a human through a Human Library project
  • visit (or add to) a community art display
  • get referrals to a variety of social services
  • find help fact-checking that dubious looking article your aunt sent you on Facebook
  • dress up with some razzle-dazzle for a seniors social dinner and dance

oh yeah, and you can also check out books!!!

My library is a vibrant, busy, exciting place, full of possibilities. My library is for everyone.

Truly, libraries are vital community hubs. I can’t imagine a world without libraries. It hurts to try imagining.