Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Urban School Library

One thing that school librarians understand, or quickly figure out upon their first year working in a school library, is that we all serve a diverse group of students and teachers, each with their own personalities, interests, and individual needs. No matter how we try to classify them, Exceptional-Ed, English Language Learner, Gifted, Low-Performing, Economically Disadvantaged (the list of labels could go on and on), each student is different. With that being said, there are some commonalities we face when working with specific populations, and in particular, students from what is referred to as the “Urban School.” When my colleague, Shetika Coleman, and I set out to begin our research on working with this unique population, we were initially stumped on trying to find an accurate definition of an “urban school.” We couldn’t find a definition that we felt truly defined the group of students that we both feel so passionately about. However, we both agreed that the urban populations we serve are disproportionately economically disadvantaged and made up of a majority of what would otherwise be considered a minority group. We decided to move past the definition and start talking about the issues faced when working in an urban school. These are the issues we feel are most prevalent: behavior problems, low-academic performance, disengaged parents, large exceptional education populations, unstable home environments, lack of exposure, lack of diversity, and student mobility. To be fair, most of these are issues that all of us face, no matter the neighborhood where our school resides. However, we felt that these issues are present in a large portion of the students we serve, not just a few students here and there. For the purpose of this blog, I have decided to edit some of the issues, and discuss my top two:

Student Behavior. 

We face a lot of behavior problems in the urban setting. A lot. We both agreed that sometimes behavior can be even more of a challenge for the librarian because we do not see the same class of students every day, so it takes longer to build vital relationships with kids. One way to deal with behavior problems in the library is to give students particular jobs or responsibilities. We often seek out the well-behaved student to help in the library, but many times if you give specific jobs to the chronically disruptive student, you will find he/she may be less disruptive. We also want to make sure we are designing engaging lessons and activities to combat behavior problems. Make sure students are not sitting for too long, incorporate technology, relevant video clips, etc. As for building those relationships, try to ask students questions about their lives. Talk to them about their favorite sports team; ask their opinions on things going on in the world. Just like all of us, they want to feel listened to and valued. (It also helps us learn what their interests are so that we can continue our never-ending quest of finding the perfect book for each of our students).

Low Academic Performance. 

In this day and age of data and testing, this one is huge. It is huge because for many of us in urban schools, we are faced with a majority of our students performing below grade level. In doing research, we stumbled on some staggering statistics (according to 2009 NAEP data) that are too shocking to ignore: 
  • Fewer than half of African American males receive their high school diploma
  • African American men make up less than 5% of the U.S. college population
  • African American men make up only 14% of the national population, but over 40% of the prison population
  • Unemployment rate is twice that of white males
  • African American adolescents and young males are eight times more likely to be the victim of homicide than whites in the same age group
If you take a look at data for schools working with a high number of economically disadvantaged students, you will see that we are dealing with a very high number of students performing low academically. This affects us in the library because we constantly combat disengaged students who say they “don’t like to read” (often times they can’t read). We serve a wide variety of reading levels. Many are reading more than one grade level below their own. Librarians also are viewed as innovative in our ability to incorporate new technology into lessons. However, in an urban school setting, we also face a huge digital divide. Many of our students have not grown up with practice using and manipulating a computer or computer programs. Sure, they can text, Snapchat, Kik, and Instagram all day long, but when it comes to using a word processing program, or creating an interactive presentation, it is difficult for them, and they often want to give up. There is a constant struggle to provide in-depth, higher order lessons, while still trying to catch students up on the basic skill gaps they have. Some suggestions for us as librarians:

  • Provide quality and relevant text that reflect our students own personal experiences
  • Maintain high expectations for students (teach them it is okay to struggle)
  • Emphasize collaboration through PBL, as well as with community members and mentors
  • Utilize resources that can help students, such as read-aloud options on databases, playaways with a book, etc.

Regardless of what “population” you serve, we can all agree that our work begins by building a culture of acceptance in our libraries. My biggest issue when researching “the urban school” is that I felt like a walking contradiction. I feel like the very nature of presenting information about any particular group may come across as though I am stereotyping. If I have learned anything in my 8 years working in a school library, it is that each and every individual that walks through the door should be treated as such. We must leave our preconceived notions at the door. Yes, we are operating in a data driven time, but we should see the student first, before we see the label assigned to them from a standardized test. We must meet our students where they are, but not waiver in what we expect of them, because we know they are capable of rising to the occasion. 

We teach, we listen, we counsel, we advocate. We are librarians.

MNPS Librarian

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Graphic Novels 101

The comic book as we know it today has evolved, like any art form, from dime store disposable material into a multi-Billion dollar industry. Once upon a time it was hard to find anyone under the age of 20 who knew one superhero from the next. In today’s media empires it’s hard to find an adult who can’t name at least one, if not a few. So how did we get from niche to mainstream? The following is a very brief overview meant to give you some background as you plan out your 740’s section in your library!

In 1929, Dell Publishing published The Funnies, described by the Library of Congress as "a short-lived newspaper tabloid insert". An industry historian describes the 16-page, four-color periodical as "more a Sunday comic section without the rest of the newspaper than a true comic book. But it did offer all original material and was sold on newsstands". The Funnies ran for 36 issues, published Saturdays through October 16, 1930.

In 1938 National Allied editor Vin Sullivan pulled a Siegel/Shuster creation from the slush pile and used it as the cover feature in Action Comics #1 (June 1938). The duo's alien hero, Superman, dressed in a cape and colorful tights. The costume, influenced by Flash Gordon's attire from 1934, evoked circus aerial performers and circus strongmen, and Superman became the archetype of the "superheroes" that would follow.

Superman launched what would become known as the Golden Age of Comics. This era is marked from 1938 – 1955. During this “Age” many of the well-known heroes people know today were created. This era produced such heroes as Batman(1939), Human Torch(1939), Wonder Woman(1940), The Flash(1940) and Captain America(1941) among many, many others. Within the Golden Age is an unofficial sub-Age known as the Atomic Age. These books are usually identifiable by characters who obtained their powers through a scientific, usually radioactive/nuclear, situation.

Superheroes weren’t the only name on the stand though as a continuation of The Funnies concept of “strip” characters stayed popular. A rising young Producer & Publisher named Walt Disney moved his popular 1930’s era cinema creations Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck into comic book form in a partnership with Dell Publishing. Other cinema icons such as Tarzan and Lone Ranger took to the comic form in this Golden Age as well. 

As the 50’s started and society moved further from the War era superheroes started to wane and even saw the cancellation of some books like Human Torch. Captain America took a backseat in his own book and a rise of Romance Comics started. Then in 1956 the Renaissance of the Superhero started with the debut of an all new Flash debuting in Showcase Comics #4. This debut marks the start of the Silver Age of Comics. 

The Silver Age of Comics is marked from 1956-1970 and saw the rise of one comic company rebranding itself with a man known as Stan Lee. Timely Comics changed its name to Marvel Comics for the release of Fantastic Four #1. Stan Lee was burned out writing Romance and Western comics that had dominated the close of the Golden Age. He made a deal with his publisher to try out a few superhero ideas. Since Flash had shown success for a few years he allowed it and the Marvel Boom started. 

Stan Lee, in collaboration with a few other creators, created or co-created most of the characters now dominating the movie houses. From 1961-1970 he created the following: Spider-Man, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Daredevil, Black Panther, Dr. Strange and the X-Men. Black Panther was the first main stream black superhero in a time where the American racial divide was still strong. Black Panther just debuted in Captain America: Civil War on film in May 2016 and his solo film is in 2018. 

The Bronze Age of comics was next and it goes from 1971 -1980. This was an era dominated by a rise of the Horror character and stories with social messages, especially relating to Vietnam and illicit drug use. This era saw the creation of Blade and Swamp Thing, arguably the two best known in mass media, while DC used Green Arrow as a socially conscious hero traveling the country. His travels allowed him encounters with War Protestors and his sidekick getting hooked on heroin. 

That is the last of the industry settled upon “Ages” although there is a growing push for the official industry designation of at least two more. Currently everything from 1981 – Present is called the Modern Age. A push for a short Age from 1980 to 1986/’87 designated as the Copper Age and another from 1986/’87 – 2000 designated as the Dark Age. The Copper Age would highlight the rise of the Independent Publisher, Dark Horse, First Comics and Mirage was the biggest. Dark Horse is now the 5th largest publisher in the industry and Mirage was the home of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. 

The “Dark Age” is characterized by the rise of the anti-hero in Wolverine, Punisher and Lobo. While the 90’s also saw such drastic storylines as The Death of Superman, Knightfall and The Clone Saga. Superman dying is a metaphor of the Golden Age light of optimism being snuffed out. Knightfall had Batman’s back broken by Bane after running a villain gauntlet let loose by Bane. Peter Parker found out that perhaps he’d been a clone and this caused a severe mental breakdown for him. Perhaps the most dominant thing was the real world legal issues at Marvel Comics. They had to file for bankruptcy. 

That would make everything from 2000 – Present the Modern Age. Fandom also calls this the “Golden Age of Comics on Film”. This is the era that most of our student population has grown up with. Mass Media has taken the comic book art form from being a niche hobby to main stream popularity. With over a dozen comic shows on TV and 4-6 comic movies a year these are the properties that more than likely your students are keen to ask about you having in stock.

So is all content suitable for all or even most readers? No, no it’s not. There is some visually graphic material as well as mature language within the printed page of some of the more popular comic series that have transitioned to TV. The Films are largely still translating from a hard PG-13 content stance. The Walking Dead and Preacher, both on AMC, are gory violent and use mature language at any time. Fox television also did a series called Lucifer and it’s got a second season coming. Being on Fox it’s been reigned in but the comic itself is not for all ages. The upcoming Suicide Squad film, June 2016, is also one that in terms of violence straddles a line. Jessica Jones was a great Marvel comic turned into a TV show on Netflix but its themes are mature.

What is more all ages appropriate that is on TV and in the Cineplex you ask? There is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Flash, Green Arrow, Firestorm, Hawkman, Daredevil, Supergirl, and Batman (Gotham) on the television sides. At the cinema there are countless versions of runs for Avengers, Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Spider-man, Black Panther, Dr. Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy from Marvel. From DC there are numerous Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern and Justice League of America comics from many eras. Then there are other standards that have a great following like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers and G.I. Joe from IDW Publishing. 

I hope this blog has helped you gain some insight into Graphic Novels. What’s being adapted and most importantly if any of it is suitable for your shelves. Most of it will be but should you have any questions feel free to email me. I’ll try to answer your inquiry to the best of my ability.

Team Library