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February 9–13, 2018


DENVER, CO                                                                     AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION

Bill Nye and Gregory Mone Share Stories and Science

Closing session speakers Bill Nye and Gregory Mone shared their love of the natural world with ALA members February 12, with a discussion on science, realistic characters, and the mission of libraries today. Bill Nye, most famous for the beloved television show “Bill Nye the Science Guy” teamed up with Gregory Mone, who has written about artificial intelligence, robotics, physics, and biology, in both magazines and award-winning children’s books.

After an initial chance meeting and subsequent surfing adventure, Nye contacted Mone wanting to start writing sciencethemed adventures for kids. Nye said of Mone, “Greg can just lay down dialog. He’s funny. I’m funny looking, but he’s funny.”

Mone used real kids that he had previously written about in his magazine, as inspiration for the characters in the Jack and the Geniuses series. Nye resolved to have one of the characters be a girl. “Objectively, half the humans are girls and women. Why not have half the engineers and scientists be girls and women?” The female character Ava came about from Nye’s mother, who “believed in women doing anything. She was brazen and fearless, so that’s the way I was brought up. I wanted the girl character to be that way.”

Nye insisted that the book be realistic. “The three things we want for the world are clean water, reliable and renewably produced electricity, and reliable internet.” These are the focus of the storylines of the first three genius books.

Nye spoke about the absurdity of the flat earth theory and how people challenge basic scientific facts. “In the larger sphere, we want Jack and the Geniuses to push back against the anti-science movement,” Nye said.

While writing the books, Nye set boundaries. Mone and Nye agreed that the characters could not violate the laws of physics. One rule Nye carried over from the science guy show is that entertainment comes first. But he wants kids to work to understand the process of science. “When you learn the process of science, it’s empowering. You grow faster. The risks you take are greater.”

Both discussed the importance of libraries in their own lives and the mission of libraries today. Nye stated, “When I was growing up, a librarian helped you learn to think. That was an important skill and it was empowering. Sometimes grownups are not accurate. I was really empowered to look things up in the library.” The library is a place to learn critical thinking skills.

Nye said, “The big skill we need from librarians now, is how to sort out the bad information.” He maintained that bad information can be anywhere: online, published in magazines, and even in books. Mone added, “It is so much more challenging now. You have to teach how to sort through the good and the bad.”


2018 ALA President’s Program: Tough Questions, No Clear Answers

The question of neutrality in librarianship is not new – yet is as relevant as ever. On February 11, ALA President Jim Neal introduced a panel which sought to discuss the questions: Are libraries neutral? Have they ever been? Should they be? Neal noted that while libraries have always been presented as content neutral, “our library should be vigorously advocating for a distinct set of values.”

James LaRue, the director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and the Freedom to Read Foundation, argued that, yes, libraries should be neutral. “We do not deny access to library services and resources. We do set limits on behavior, but speech is not the same thing as action.” He added, “Suppressing speech in any way is the foundation of censorship and tyranny.” LaRue argued that everyone gets a seat at the table. Firefighters, nurses, and librarians are all nonpartisan and will serve their patrons regardless of background and beliefs. LaRue also stated that libraries must remain neutral in service, access, and collections.

Chris Bourg, director of Libraries at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), was the first to argue that libraries are not, in fact, neutral. Bourg proclaimed, “Libraries are not now, have never been, and cannot be, neutral.”

Bourg defined libraries as social institutions providing access to community. She noted that the prevalence of white librarians itself presents a bias. Bourg also argued that collection development decisions are already made in a literary bias. “It is impossible to be neutral. Our work is political and not neutral.”

Em Claire Knowles, assistant dean for student and alumni affairs at the Simmons College School of Library and Information Science, argued, “Neutrality is a process to which libraries and librarians must fully commit.” In order to keep residents informed, “We must be able to consider and represent facts without being influenced by personal experiences and feelings.” Knowles stated that libraries must provide equal access to materials, meeting spaces, and services. Libraries provide a safe, responsible space for diverging opinions, as long as all groups are abiding by the rules.

In Knowles’ view, libraries strive for balanced and unbiased choices, which begin with a solid collection development policy. “In the writing of policy, we must be actively striving for neutrality. To do this, diversity of opinion must be there.” When creating a collection development policy, libraries must not shy away from controversial topics.

David Lankes, director of the University of South Carolina’s School of Library and Information Science, argues, “Libraries are not neutral organizations. And the myth of neutrality prevents an engaged professional conversation with diverse communities.” Libraries seek to serve patrons equitably. Lankes argues, “Equity is not neutrality. If you differentiate services in any way, you are not neutral.” He brought up several instances when librarians are not neutral, from content filters to sources school librarians allow students to use. He also stated that, “You cannot be passionate advocates for your community and still be neutral.”

A commentary panel followed the speakers. Emily Drabinski, coordinator of library instruction at Long Island University, Brooklyn, discussed library spaces, materials, and collection development decisions that are made. “Each choice we make for something is a choice we make against another. We have to make decisions about resources.” Libraries need to “Consider what ideals should guide our practice.”

Emily Knox, assistant professor in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, noted that it’s often difficult to begin discussions on harder topics. It might be better to start with looking at how simpler policies impact users. Later Knox posed the question, “Does supporting or not supporting Black Lives Matter mean you’re neutral? No. Making a decision means you’re not neutral.” She went on to state that a Black History Month display in a library shows that the library does, in fact, believe that black lives matter.

Knox also argued that libraries have always taken a strong position against censorship and that this is not a neutral position. “You can be nonjudgmental, but you cannot be neutral, because you’re always making a choice.”

Kathleen de la Peña McCook, distinguished university professor of librarianship at the School of Information, University of South Florida in Tampa, began her time by selecting a book for the other commentators and panelists. She discussed the fact that libraries must make all people feel welcome. “People will self-select outside of the library if we don’t make them feel comfortable. We can’t show them both sides if they don’t come in.”

Kelvin Watson, director of the Broward County (Fla.) Libraries Division, defined neutrality as the absence of decided views. He said that while libraries might be claiming neutrality, “We can’t be neutral on social and political issues that impact our customers, because social and political issues impact us as well.”

The session concluded with a conversation with attendees. Panelists agreed that if we’re going to matter we have to take stands on things. We must have a welcoming community in which we can have hard conversations.


The American Library Association announced the top books, video, and audio books for children and young adults – including the Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, Newbery, and Printz awards – at its Midwinter Meeting in Denver, Colorado (see story on page 6).

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, published by Scribner, is the winner of the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, and You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir by Sherman Alexie, published by Little, Brown, is the winner of the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction (see story on page 8).

RUSA’s Notable Books Council, first established in 1944, has announced the 2018 selections of the Notable Books List, an annual best-of list comprised of 26 titles written for adult readers and published in the U.S. including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry (see story on page 9).