Friday, April 29, 2011

PSLA Conference 2011-- This post contains offensive language-- fair warning!

There's a gorgeous woman I know who is every inch a former ballerina. Long boned, slender and elegant, this lady looks all together, all the time. Beautifully dressed, well coiffed and manicured, she exudes class. She is a children's librarian and as such, she is more than she seems. Let's call her Audrey. Audrey loves gangsta rap. She once texted some lyrics from one of her favorite songs to me, which, if you are easily shocked, you may want to avoid reading, below:

Niggas! Bitches! Bitch-ass Niggas!
Bright ass hoes and bitch-ass hoes!
Fags, hags and scallawags!
It's about to go down like a muthafuckin plane crash!
It's about to burn like a bad-ass perm!

Now the use of the "n" word here is not in any way to be considered an endorsement of using the term. I agree with Maya Angelou that a word is a thing-- and as such, can be absorbed physically and cause harm. I hate the "n" word. But this blog post is not about that terrible word and the politics of using it. This blog article is about the incongruities of librarians-- which I find to be endlessly amusing, surprising and affirming-- as I am a bundle of contradictions myself.

Audrey sent me this text on a day when I was angry and feeling powerless to make changes I thought were terribly important. They gave me a way to laugh and have that impotent rage feel understood-- which I imagine they may do for the people who wrote them. Audrey once corrected my pronounciation of Mozart-- "It's Moat-tzart, Sheila," she said. Audrey recently gave me a CD of songs she likes, including Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangsta and Pimp Juice.

The PSLA, or Pennsylvania School Library Association, has an annual conference in Hershey, PA every spring. Today is the opening day-- and already I have been struck by the broad spectrum of people drawn to my profession. I sat next to a young woman from North Philadelphia this morning at the opening breakfast. She had a large segment of Dante's Inferno tattooed in Italian down her left arm. You go, Rocker Librarian Gangsta Chick! Sitting now in my first session, I see a nun in full habit (really! In this day and age!) You go, Religious Lady! I bet underneath that habit lies the heart of Joan Jett. That's the thing, I find-- no matter how they look on the outside, librarians often have rich veins of revolution, outsider and dork, roughly mixed with Vera Bradley, Talbot's, sensible shoes, tattoo ink, dreds, patchouli, knitting needles, piercings and obscure Japanese thrash metal.

The first session's presenters are a farily good illustration of this. The session offers a collection of well-thought out lesson plans aligned with standards, all of which will be sent to my email box by the end of the conference. This is a good opportunity to see what others are doing with new picture books and to see what younger librarians and librarians-in-training are up to.

First up is an obese undergraduate in a lavendar shirt, white tie and crew cut. He is pink cheeked and looks mighty young. However, his lesson plan involves a media-rich web quest on Lafayette which he created in response to a gorgeous book by Russell Friedman. Next is an anorexic girl with long hair and hollow eyes in a sequined blouse. She designed lessons on art movements throughout history to bring Art & Max, David Wiesner's new book to life for students. An intense, very thin girl dicusses the digital storytelling apps (one of which is PhotoPeach, which I've never heard of) she uses with Interrupting Chicken. She clearly gets an "A" in every class. Last is a very good-looking jock-looking fellow who will definitely set high-school hearts a-flutter when he gets his first job as a librarian. He speaks in a very soft voice, gesturing balletically with long, elegant hands about The Heart of a Samurai, a novel based on a true story of a marrooned Japanese boy.

Maybe what surprises me is to find the intelligence and innovative thiniking behind the faces of these young people-- and that surprise reflects badly on me. It's good to have your biases and limitations challenged. I'm glad I'm here so I can learn about these new books, innovative teaching that is becoming ubiquitous (better keep up, May-Stein!!) and what an asshole I really am.

1 comment:

  1. Sheila,I think we all have been through their experiences...more experienced people not realizing our potential...whether we were aware of their prejudice or not. The fact that you notice and acknowledge that the bias was incorrect does not reflect badly on you...quite the opposite. kathy