Banned Book Week: A Clockwork Orange

Last week was banned book week, and my classmates and I celebrated by reading a banned book. I chose A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. It wasn’t difficult to see why this book has been challenged and banned, as it contains strong language and graphic violence and sex, which are common reasons for challenges.

I’m not sure if saying I “enjoyed” the book would be exactly the right description, but it is very well-written and thought-provoking, as the best books are. I have no regrets about reading it.

The story is narrated by 15-year-old Alex in a future dystopian England. Alex enjoys violence, and spends his nights terrorizing the town with his gang for kicks and giggles. Eventually, he is caught by the police and put in jail, where he eventually becomes the government’s guinea pig for an experimental process based on behaviorism (think Pavlov’s dogs) to turn criminals into law-abiding citizens.

I was most impressed by Burgess’s use of language. Alex and his friends speak a slang language that is a mix of Cockney, Slavic, Russian, and other things, but after about a chapter I was able to easily understand almost everything they said. This is a remarkable feat, and fascinating from a linguistics perspective. It reminded me of what M. T. Anderson did in Feed. As a geeky English major who loves words and language, this part of the book was fascinating.

The story itself also delved into serious questions about what it means to be human, and what it means to be good.  After his treatment, Alex’s thoughts and language remain unchanged, but he is no longer able to commit any acts of violence without feeling extremely ill. But does this make him a good person? Are intentions or actions more important for morality? The recurring question in the book is whether or not free will is a requirement for both humanity and true morality. Once Alex’s free will has been hijacked by the “healing” procedure, is he still a man, or has he been reduced to something more animal like? Or did his violence put him on an animal level because of his complete disregard for other people, and the treatment restore some level of humanity? There is no neat answer to these questions at the end of the book, leaving readers to think hard about them and come to their own conclusion, which I consider to be a virtue in literature.

Burgess also raises questions about what we consider good and bad through the comparisons drawn between Alex and some of the characters considered to be good. Nearly everyone in the book, on both sides of the law and of all ages, political leanings, and social status, has few qualms about engaging in violence and using people to advance their own aims. So who got to decide that Alex is the enemy and men who beat him up in the library are justly punishing a criminal who wronged them several years ago? The government and law enforcement officials are just as vicious as the people they are punishing. 

While A Clockwork Orange is certainly a challenging read that I would recommend for older, mature readers, this book is an excellent piece of literature that wrestles with hard questions about humanity and morality that is well worth reading.

Professional Associations

This week, I’m supposed to do some research into professional associations for librarians and pick a couple that interest me. The number of available associations was longer than I was expecting, but I hope to stay in Michigan and work with children, so I was able to narrow the list down substantially. Below are two of the most interesting associations for me, ones that I will likely join as soon as I stop being a poor college student and actually start making some money.

The Michigan Library Association

http://www.mla.lib.mi.us/

MLA has a very simple mission: “Helping libraries and library professionals succeed.”

According to the MLA website, it is the “oldest and largest library association” in the state. It was founded in 1890 and has over 1500 members today, representing all types of libraries. Members are required to pay dues, ranging from $50 annually for students to $170 annually for unaffiliated individuals, and higher rates for organizations based on the size of their budget.

Members benefit from advocacy services provided by MLA, conferences and other opportunities for continued education and professional advancement, and a collection of job postings and job hunting resources. The Association also presents several awards each year including “Librarian of the Year” and the “Michigan Author Award.”

MLA is active on Facebook and Twitter, posting information about upcoming events, award winners, and general library-related information.

MLA publishes a quarterly newsletter and various books. It used to publish a peer-reviewed journal, but production was “suspended indefinitely” in 2009. This journal featured a mix of articles, editorials, and book reviews.

I hope to be able to stay in Michigan (dependent, of course, on finding a job here), which is why this association is of interest to me. At this point I can’t really afford even the discounted student rate, as I’m just starting to pay back my student loans from undergrad. However, if I am able to get a library job in Michigan post-graduation, I will probably join this association.

Association for Library Service to Children

http://www.ala.org/alsc/

This association is a division of the American Library Association, and has changed names twice since it was founded in 1941.  Previous names were “The Division for Children and Young People” and “Children’s Services Division of the ALA.” It’s purpose is “creating a better future for children through libraries.” According to the ALSC website, ALSC is “the world’s largest organization dedicated to the support and enhancement of library service to children” with over 4000 members including children’s librarians, publishers, children’s literature experts, teachers, and others. ALSC is in charge of awards such as the Caldecott and Newberry awards for quality children’s literature.

Becoming a member requires ALA membership and annual dues in addition to the ALA dues, ranging from $20 for students to $55 for organizations. The total dues for a student add up to $54 per year.

Membership brings benefits such as access to resources in the form of collections of links to pertinent information, subscriptions, discounts, and grant money, professional development classes, and networking opportunities, and resources for grass roots advocacy.

ALSC publications are mostly books with information about award-winning books, the decision process for awards like the Newberry, and child literacy resources. ALSC also publishes a quarterly newsletter only accessible by members.

ALSC has an active Facebook page with posts about award deadlines, training sessions, and applicable articles and links. It doesn’t have a Twitter feed posted on its homepage like MLA does and I don’t have a Twitter account, so I can’t be sure what they do there.

This association is of interest to me because I hope to become a children’s and youth librarian in a public library. If I don’t end up joining this association, I will join a similar one, such as the Young Adult Library Services Association.

References

Welcome to the Michigan Library Association. (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2013, from http://www.mla.lib.mi.us/

ALSC Association for Library Service to Children. (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2013 from http://www.ala.org/alsc/

Goals

For the average person, myself included, education is a bit too pricey to do without having a strong purpose. So what am I trying to accomplish by spending 2 or 3 more years and thousands of dollars to continue my education? I’m a down to earth, practical thinker, much more comfortable with daily details than a grand, long-term vision or dream, but the following is my view of the future. I’m sure my perspective will gradually expand as I move forward and learn more about what I didn’t even know that I didn’t know about library science.

My primary goal, not surprisingly, is to gain the skills, knowledge, and credentials necessary for me to get me started on a satisfying career. My dream job is to be a child and youth librarian in a public library. I have many fond memories of trips to the library and of participating in library programming as a child, particularly the summer reading program, and I would love to be able help give other kids a similar experience. I love kids and did some unofficial tutoring in high school, but absolutely do not want to be a teacher. I have a tendency to let homework crowd out the other aspects of my life, so I need a job that I can generally leave at the workplace when I go home for the day. Working with kids in the library, teaching them about how to use the library and helping them with research for class assignments, seems like a perfect way to use my skills and passions in a way that will be sustainable for me. I am excited to share my love for the library with kids, and studying LIS is part of the path to get there. I am still deciding whether to pursue the certificate in public library services to children and young adults in addition to my degree, or to simply use my electives for classes in that area. I can gain the knowledge and skills either way, since the classes I would take in either case would be very similar. This will come down to weighing the additional semester and money it would take to complete the certificate vs. the benefit of being able to list a certificate on my resume.

Learning what I need to know to do my job well and earning the official credentials that will enable me to get that job in the first place are broad goals that basically cover what I’m trying to achieve at Wayne State. I am looking forward to expanding my vision for the future as I continue my studies.

Welcome!

Hello, and welcome to my blog!

My name is Rebecca Stout. I recently graduated from Calvin College with an English degree and now I am continuing my education at Wayne State University, studying library and information science. My interest in and love for libraries began at a young age. I was homeschooled during elementary school using a literature-based curriculum, which was a lovely introduction to the joys of learning and fostered my life-long love of reading. (I suppose it’s a bit laughable for a twenty-something to speak of her “life-long” anything, but consider it prophetic.) I have fond memories of biking to the library nearly every week to empty and refill my backpack with as many books as I could fit, and of tracking my progress toward the library summer reading challenge program by coloring in another little box for every fifteen minutes of reading.

I began to consider librarianship as a potential career in middle school. One summer, I think when I was eleven, I decided to gather all the homeschool books that were scattered around the house and organize them. I spent the summer combing the house for books, comparing them to the curriculum catalogs, dividing them up by grade and attaching spine labels indicating this, and arranging them on a bookshelf by grade and size, as any self-respecting, mildly-OCD eleven year old would. (My future employer will be relieved to know that I have since developed an appreciation for alphabetization as an organizational strategy.) I didn’t settle on a career at eleven, of course, but this project got me thinking about being a librarian, and now I’m earning my MLIS.

The combination of my childhood library experiences and my more general love of children has led me to focus my studies on public libraries and youth services, with the eventual goal of working as children’s librarian in a small public library. I look forward to helping kids learn to use and love the library like I did by doing things like summer reading programs, story times, and helping kids with research for school assignments.

This blog is a component of my first class at Wayne State, which is a broad introduction to the MLIS degree and the library and information profession. Every week or two over the course of the semester, I will be ruminating here on topics pertaining to the class. The focus of the first post is the assumptions and beliefs about the profession that I am coming in with. It will be interesting to see how my assumptions are confirmed or challenged over the course of my studies.

Assumption 1: The modes and methods of librarians have recently been changing drastically and will likely continue to do so, but the underlying function of the librarian has remained fairly constant, and will likely continue to do so.

The internet has changed the library and the jobs of librarians. Often, the first reaction I get when I tell someone I want to be a librarian is a question about e-books or other internet resources and whether libraries are on their way to extinction. However, while librarians have had to become proficient in technology and shift to helping patrons use online catalogs and databases and improve their internet searching, they still help people find the information they need. If anything, the easy access to excessive amounts of information that the internet provides bolsters the continuing importance of assistance from a librarian to help narrow the search and find the needle in the haystack the user is searching for amidst the million hits their search returned on Google.

Assumption 2: A good librarian doesn’t only do research for a patron, but also tries to guide the patron through the research process in a way that will teach the patron how to more effectively use library resources on his or her own another time.

This is more or the less the “teach a man to fish” approach. Obviously, a brief session at a reference desk is not enough time to offer comprehensive instruction, but helping people begin to use library resources and find information more effectively on their own is important. People don’t always have the ability to run to a librarian for help every time they have a question, and the more able people are to satisfy their own curiosity and educate themselves, the better. Education and learning have been American values from the beginning. Thomas Jefferson was expressing a commonly held sentiment when he said “Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day” (as cited in Spalding, 2002, p. 149).

Assumption 3: The library will always have print books.

Always might be too presumptive, but I don’t think paperbacks and hardcovers are going anywhere anytime soon. Yes, more and more books are available on various e-readers and that medium offers several conveniences, such as not packing 30 pounds of books in your luggage for a vacation. However, in my own very unscientific anecdotal observations, plenty of people still like “real” books. And while that may eventually change, the fact remains that if we want to  get rid of physical books without losing untold resources, we need to first digitize the entire physical collection. This is an almost incomprehensibly large project, and one that I expect to take a great deal of time to complete. Even once more and more sources become digitized, I have a hard time envisioning the destruction of physical books. I think that completely digital libraries are about as likely to occur as museums with only digital images of the artifacts that used to be physically on display.

Assumption 4: The library profession is a satisfying one.

I certainly hope this assumption is not one that changes during my studies, since I’m planning to have a satisfying career as a librarian soon. As someone who likes reading, learning new things, and helping people, helping people learn new things and find good books (without having to write lesson plans or grade papers) sounds like a pretty fabulous job.

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Spaulding, Matthew (2002). The founder’s almanac: A practical guide to the notable events, greatest leaders & most eloquent words of the American founding. Washington, DC: The Heritage Foundation.