Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This is one of the most powerful books I’ve read in recent memory. I have never walked in the shoes of an African American young man and I was completely swept away by this story. I read it in one day – and it’s been a while since I’ve done that!

I’m pretty sure that I am not the intended audience for this author as this is thoughtfully written in a series of essays as letter to his son. I found out later that the author is a pretty big social media guy who my sons follow and I’m thinking young men like them were probably his intended reader. Or, you know, maybe I was. If I/we weren’t, maybe we should be. If you were to ask me, I think this story should be required reading for EVERYONE.

Chapters are based on his experiences, the enduring theme is violence. Specifically violence against the black body, which is explained as a tradition that is not examined, but rather explained away. It is not a failure of our American system, it is an intentional part of our system.

One of the most compelling stories in this book (for me), is when he explains the death of his friend who, although did all “the right things” (according to the norms of white society), was killed because he was only seen as a black man. It didn’t matter about his personality, his successes, his family; he was a threat as a black man.

My single complaint would be that he doesn’t really examine the black female. There were opportunities where he could have more fully added an analysis of the few female characters, but maybe that’s just for a different story. In retrospect, it may have taken away from his message.

I have told everyone I know that they should read this book. So far, I’ve only had three takers that I know of. I look forward to more of his ideas/works in the future.


The vlog brothers

I really tried not to highlight John and Hank Green as my choice of extraordinary talent in the field of social media, but I can’t. I saw them as just such the obvious answer and wanted to be able to investigate anyone/thing else, to no avail. After much examination, I cannot declare a better blog, Tumblr, or YouTube channel to be more influential to teens (and all humans in general) than these two, also known as the vlog brothers.

The vlog brothers began a video chat with each other, about anything that they felt like discussing that week. It quickly took off. Working in a library and being a general book nerd, I knew of John Green but not necessarily as an internet celebrity and certainly not as a teen guru (of sorts). Along with his brother, they challenged each other, pledging a year to do, but just kept it going after.

The followers became known individually as nerdfighters, collectively as the “Nerdfighteria” and they tuned in twice a week to hear what their mentors had to say.  Sometimes they were silly, but more often it was about issues that were impacting society. The fandom were challenged to help end “world suck”. Their “Project for Awesome” which occurs yearly brings needed attention and lots of dollars to a range of worthy nonprofits. They have created (or helped to create) a wide array of educational channels on YouTube as well (some are listed at the end of this post).

I personally got interested and invested after seeing him at Book Expo America in 2012.

BEA 2012 – John Green – Children’s Book & Author Breakfast

I do still watch their vlogs when I can and I’m rarely disappointed.

Their main channel is vlogbrothers.  The description reads: raising nerdy to the power of awesome. The videos feature the camera focused on John or Hank Green, alternatively, they use quick speech and filmography that is slightly choppy, broken. They agree, debate, discuss with each other on alternative days, Tuesdays and Fridays. If you’re the viewer, it seems like they are talking AT you. But they have big things to say. They have discussed some really serious things: religion, God, gay marriage, healthcare, climate change, chronic diseases, relationships, among many. Sometimes they answer questions from their thread, sometimes they are silly, talking about their hair, bathrooms, food or toothbrushes.

At one point, John explains to young boys (in an answer to a question), that it’s helpful to guys to “see girls as people, instead of just pathways to kissing and/or salvation, they are much more likely to like you.” I found it extremely impressive and hoped this message, and other important messages that are spoken about, would hit home. Young people who look up to them need to hear straight talk about real things.

I like that they use their media platform for good. I like that they show real data about subjects. I like that they get the fandom thinking, reading and analyzing their own thoughts and the thoughts of others. In early videos, John instructs teens not to believe that they have NO power, giving them info in the side bar how to write their school system, stand up for things they want to read, and how to send letters to their representatives about what’s important to them. Their influence is in so many things, it would be impossible to put it all here.

I would suggest all educators to utilize them as a resource for teens. “Oh, and DFTBA.”

Some of the channels that have hatched over time and continue to evolve: Crash Course, SciShow, The Art Assignment, Sexplanations, and Healthcare Triage …and so many more. And of course, you can find John on Tumblr,  twitter and Facebook. 

Finally, because I am such an advocate for intellectual freedom, I had to add this vlog from last year where John discusses “the American Library Association’s recent announcement that his book Looking for Alaska was the most challenged book in the U.S. in 2015, responding to those who try to get the book removed from schools and libraries, and discusses the role of teachers and librarians in American life.”  On the Banning of Looking for Alaska


Competencies for Information Professionals in Learning Labs and Makerspaces.

Learning Labs and Makerspaces matter. This is especially true for tweens and young adults because it offers a creative outlet of exploration aside from traditional learning styles. It is a free and open, where there are choices. It is based in unconventional evaluation and assessment (self-directed learning); this allows the user to decide what they want to learn and how they want to learn it.  This environment provides options that compliment but also contrasts what a formal curriculum offers. It’s important because all children (people) learn differently: getting inventive and thought provoking to achieve a goal. It’s formulating a theory or outcome and then taking the hands-on steps to getting the desired result. The actual spaces are important because it offers the users the opportunity to work with like-minded people, sometimes showing them that ideas are not silly. I know “not alone” is an often-used catch phrase is learning environments, but that’s only because it’s so important. I am a strong believer in social interaction, and being part of a group. Yes, individuality is important, and independence is vital to formulation of ideas, but it’s more fun, practical, and more than occasionally, successful when working together.  Makerspaces are safe and supportive, helping their users to cultivate their own interests.

The article, Competencies for Information Professionals in Learning Labs and Makerspaces demonstrates how technology and other power equipment is being utilized. It emphasizes how important it is to have hands-on and mentor led educational opportunities for all, but especially for those who would otherwise not be exposed to these environments and technologies.

The authors raise some very interesting points in their interview, pointing out how much preparation goes into a space. These labs are being developed within libraries, schools and museums, so it is through thorough examination and input that the continuation of these depend on their value to the community. It is imperative to a flourishing space that it be well staffed; it is their desire to prove how important it is for everyone involved to be qualified, well-trained personnel. Identifying the competency of individuals is particularly important because of its digital components. Guidelines have been and continue to be established in the matter.

Specifically discussed are plans to implement teaching styles in library and information studies curriculum and programs based on evidence based research on the matter. Preparing professionals in this way will prove to secure innovative learning environments in today’s digital age. Interesting were the way in which the authors secured the sample of interviewees and the data examined.

The results of individual interviewees and their responses are discussed in detail. The persons identify themselves as advocates or representatives of their programs, however, they vary in years served, specific vs. general experience, degrees held (and in what concentration) and gender within the sample.

Basically, a person’s ability to thrive in this field will be a willingness and desire to be around teens and understand their needs. Trying to predict their thoughts and reactions and the ability to get them comfortable enough to express themselves is key. Viewing teens as capable, even though they may be withdrawn, hesitant, and appear to be reclusive, will eventually put their minds at enough ease to participate and create. The undisputable result is that professionals in this field must have the ability and willingness to learn and serve. Most important is providing services and resources.

I found most interesting the points that uneducated or undereducated people could be effective in this field but maybe not as much as those with a higher degree. I liked that the authors’ theorized about having professionals learn in fields outside of the major of library only, perhaps in technology, education, social programs or business, to help program development and implementation of the makerspaces. I enjoyed the discussion of how programs in this field should be designed and updated, most specifically the future of an MLS degree.

I would like to see more research studies on professionals already working in the field, who may be in educational positions, perhaps for many years, though have very few educational degrees, have lots of hands-on, learn-as-you-go years.  I’m sure that these individuals are quite capable in aspects of service, popular culture, management, funding (including applying for grants), community involvement and understanding the teen brain. Formal education availability and technological site learning opportunities may prove to be beneficial for all involved.

From Third Place to Makerspace: Public Libraries and Teens

Koh, K., & Abbas, J. (2015). Competencies for Information Professionals in Learning Labs and Makerspaces. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 56(2).

Glee (additional thoughts)

I’m imagining if there were a weekly glee group, they could watch a specific episode (at home or as a group, undecided) but then interact, debate and discuss.  Accurate portrayal or satire-ish? What did they agree with, what would they do differently?

Specifics of the weekly planned conversations will evolve depending on the reception of ideas by participants, but some early intended dialogue starters could include:

-Burt Hummel’s relationship with his son and Abuela’s relationship with her granddaughter because of their sexuality.

-The group’s insensitivity and misunderstanding of their friend Artie’s disability

-Step family/ sibling jealousy; Kurt and Finn

-Parents’ plans versus young adults’ career goals. Mike’s aspirations of being a dancer; how it affected his relationship with them and his parents’ relationship with each other.

-How important it was for Quinn to have the support of her friends and teachers when her parents through her out of the house because she was pregnant.

-How Becky’s down syndrome does not affect her place in the student community, how friends interact with her and how Sue is a like a second mother to her.

-Using fake ID’s.

-Handling peer pressure when your conscious says otherwise

-Reaction to grief and loss (Finn Hudson and Jean Sylvester)

-Virginity and sex; couples’ individual focus and undertaking.

-Unique’s fear of the boy’s bathroom and use of the girl’s bathroom.

-Marley’s and Sam’s family life living below the poverty line.

These are just a few.

Please check out: Gibbs, N. (2009). The gospel of glee. Time, 174(22), 112.

Binge, by Tyler Oakley

I’ve admired Tyler Oakley ever since the first Trevor Live and then began following his tweets and YouTube. I became a genuine fan-girl (for lack of a better word) because of his strong voice in advocating for LGBTQ equality and social rights, especially pertaining to youths, as well as other social issues like health care, education, and suicide prevention.

A big deal to me: at one point, he @replied his opinion that he was “confused and disappointed” by something Liam from One Direction had tweeted. As an invested fan of theirs, he was genuinely heartbroken at the thought that one of his idols could be homophobic. I think it took a lot of courage for him to put his truth out there like that. Many fans of the band, even some of his own fans, were furious, attacking Tyler, on social media and on the road, verbally, physically and even went as far as death threats. His loyal followers stayed around but he also lost a lot. But he stood behind his belief.

In this very candid memoir, the story of his life begins at the very beginning; the readers find out that Tyler is not his real name, it’s Mathew. His style is straight and honest and I enjoyed how it felt as if he were speaking directly to me; as if, even though I was only one of many, I was part of some chosen group that gets to know all the secrets. He speaks very frankly about sex (his partners and desires), but not in graphic detail, his drinking/drug use, his bodily functions, which includes very honest and humbling confessions about eating disorders (there’s a lot of poop talk) and feelings of depression, shame and self-loathing.

The story goes through details about his childhood, pre-adolescent, adulthood, and to present day. He discusses, seriously, his self-image distortion, how he’s addicted to control, what it’s like growing up poor (discount lunches and hand-me-downs), his anxiety surrounding birthdays, holidays and families, his many jobs and how they shaped his personality, his broken home life, his father’s homophobia, his place in the political climate, and details of an abusive romantic relationship.

Mixed in are lighthearted, funny subjects such as his feelings about certain Disney princes (top 10), his dreams of Darren Criss (one of my favorites as well), pot brownies, his blurple glasses, psycho babble, why they called him the granny whisperer, and details of his many theater performances from elementary to high school (his favorite was The importance of being Ernest). His words are deliberate and frank as he explains how a choir teacher saved him, how he came upon YouTube and becoming an international sensation, and so much more. If you want to know EVERYTHING, you’ll have to read it to find out.

What I believe is his theme? Embrace the flaws, find balance in the chaos. His binges sometimes happened for good, sometimes not, but he certainly affirms that he doesn’t regret any of his experiences.

I found his strong work ethic impressive, especially given that he found that, even though he’s constantly among literally millions of people, he feels that his is a solitary profession. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the many facets of the man that is Tyler Oakley. Getting somewhat inside his mind on a more personal level, what do they say, I laughed, I cried? Yes, all of that. And I felt a lot of the same emotions as he did growing up and even in his adult life. I applaud his sincerity and openness. Ironically, he never thought he had anything important to say. In my honest opinion, a must read.