Cognotes 2019 Annual Conference Highlights - 8





Enriching the Narrative Journey of Science Fiction and Fantasy
she explained, "Writers are
beacons. Bring them to your
A fan of Star Wars, Nnedi Okorafor community and look beyond
enjoys the narrative tangent. She has incor- the mainstream for additional
porated into her novels and comics a variety authors." In doing so, librarians
of sidebar stories about interesting characters bring readers a wide variety of
and unique activities of others beyond the materials from among what is
story protagonists. These tangents, she ex- available. And just as Okorafor
plained during the June 23 ALA President's provides details to illustrators
Program, provide an opportunity for fiction about every corner of a panel,
writers to explore individual personalities librarians can provide opporand interesting action in depth. In fact, tunities to read deeply, widely,
readers find these subplots to be enjoyable and repeatedly in order to thorparts of Okorafor's stories, which leads them oughly enjoy the journey.
to read her books multiple times.
A favorite of both young
Many of her characters and plots have people and adults, Okorafor's
found inspiration in her real-life experi- novels include Lagoon, Who Fears
ences, whether mundane (in being stopped Death, Shuri, and Wakanda Forby airport security because of her hair), ever, many of which have been
or adventurous (traveling to some of the published internationally and
Nnedi Okorafor on Inspiration, Discovery, Libraries
Nigerian cities featured in her books), or periodically have been renamed
serious (immigration, gender inequality, due to cultural differences. She is no stranger for Dark Horse, she was able to wander causing friction, Okorafor is at her best,
and corruption). Her sharp wit, humor, to conflict, utilizing in her books many tra- into different directions and see the funny providing a provocative look at modern
and deeply political themes resonate with ditional stereotypes and emotional language, aspects underneath more complex issues issues and developing new work. She proma wide variety of readers, and include works which adds additional layers of complexity which anger and confuse the world today. ises that additional news about her new
published by Dark Horse and Marvel. The to her themes.  Nevertheless, many of her Yet precisely when she is being difficult or projects is forthcoming.
author's Akata books, along with The Binti works have won top awards in the science
Trilogy, and the series LaGuardia, showcase fiction and fantasy genre categories.
her wide range of interests and talents.
"I've been able to do different types of
"Don't be afraid to tell your story," writing when working for different publishOkorafor advised young writers. "Tell ers," she explained. In writing for Marvel,
the story the way you want to write it, she was able to go on new journeys with
benefit the community or further the library's
and someone will always want to read it." characters she knew well, such as Black By Marley Kalt, University of Michigan
mission. She suggested libraries create readyWhen asked for her advice to  librarians, Panther and Spider-Man.  And in writing
On June 24, a panel of library directors, made responses to prepare for worst-case
authors, and a communications specialist scenarios, so they can quickly respond with
spoke to hundreds of librarians about con- a message when controversy arises.
Sukrit Goswami, director of the Havertroversial speakers and events happening in
ford Township Free Library, and authors
Peter Coyl, director of the Montclair Ellen Hopkins and Gayle Pitman were
Public Library, said the session came about present to talk about how they have dealt
as a response to an increasing number of with controversy in libraries or at speaking
libraries asking what they should do when a engagements. At Goswami's library, a drag
Raising the Bar: Integrating Early Childhood Education
program or invited speaker raises controversy. queen storytime event earlier this month
into Librarian Professional Development is a new FREE online
He was firm in his belief that libraries should created controversy and garnered widespread
training series developed by The New York Public Library.
not cancel events in the face of complaints media attention. This was the second year the
from the community. "Everyone needs to be library hosted a drag queen storytime, but it
Designed with a "train the trainer" model, which allows a librarian
represented in the library, and we can't let was the first to receive so many complaints.
one group that disagrees with another group Goswami said that in the time leading up to
to learn and then teach others, this series builds on traditional
get in the way of doing your job. When we the event, the library was receiving 200 to
early literacy programs and outreach by integrating cutting-edge
talk about intellectual freedom and censor- 500 phone calls every day.
child development practices.
The library did hold the event, which
ship, not having a program because people
complain is a form of censorship," Coyl said. turned out to be very successful, with 540
Coyl recommended libraries create a pro- parents and children in attendance. Goswami
gram selection policy to go along with their said it helped that the library's Board of
materials selection policies, or even combine Trustees supported the library's decision to
both into a single "resource selection policy" hold the event. Board members were able to
to guide decision-making about programs work with local government and explain the
importance of hosting this particular event.
and materials.
Macey Morales, deputy director of the Goswami said it was also important to give
ALA Communications & Marketing Office, both sides time to speak at board meetings.
Hopkins and Pitman shared their experiwas also on the panel to offer guidance for
librarians who may deal with controversial ences of having schools and communities
events. She recommended libraries create protest their visits or cancel their events.
a crisis communications plan and a media Both authors, who write books for young
protocol, so that all employees can be in- audiences, praised librarians for doing what
formed of the library's policies when they they can to present a variety of viewpoints
face complaints from patrons or questions to their students and patrons. "I am there to
open windows, I am not there to be controfrom the media.
"One key word of advice: prepare, pre- versial," Hopkins said of her speaking goals.
pare, prepare," Morales said. She recom- "It's so important for these young people to
mended libraries be prepared for journalists' have someone to support them. It's imporquestions by learning everything they can tant that you [librarians] be gate openers,
about invited speakers, knowing who se- instead of gatekeepers."
lected each speaker or planned each program,
and being able to explain how the event will
» see page 16
By Michelle Kowalsky, Rowan University, NJ

How to Prepare
for Controversy in Your Library

Transform Your Library's
Early Learning Programs

Cognotes 2019 Annual Conference Highlights

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