Tag Archives: data

The Colors of Challenge

Last week author Malinda Lo published a blog post that raised some disturbing questions:

If a book like Beloved by Toni Morrison is challenged because it is “sexually explicit” and has a “religious viewpoint” and contains “violence” (these are the stated reasons for its challenges in 2012), is it simply accidental that Beloved is also a novel about an African American woman, written by an African American woman?

I wondered if there was a correlation between books with diverse content — that is, books by and about people of color, LGBT people, and/or disabled people — and book challenges, so I decided to take a look at the data available from the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom and see what emerged.

After looking at a variety of data points (including several lists from the American Library Association‘s Office for Intellectual Freedom) and creating a number of revealing pie charts, Lo came to the following conclusion:

It’s clear to me that books that fall outside the white, straight, abled mainstream are challenged more often than books that do not destabilize the status quo. This isn’t surprising, but the extent to which diverse books are represented on these lists — as a majority — is quite disheartening. Diversity is slim throughout all genres of books and across all age groups — except when it comes to book challenges.

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.

 

I strongly urge you to read Lo’s entire analysis (you really need to see those pie charts) and examine her data-crunching, which she has made publicly available here and here. Once you’re done with that, I invite you to celebrate Banned Books Week this year by checking out any of the titles Lo analyzed, or the following suggestions, which are taken from the ALA’s list of Most Frequently Challenged Books Written by Authors of Color, 1990-1999:

Kaffir Boy, Mark Mathabane. Protests. Boycotts. Fear. Hunger. A true tale of life under apartheid in South Africa, told by a man who suffered through it first-hand, eventually escaping to became a well-known tennis player. Most often challenged for homosexuality and explicit sexuality in general.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor. Taylor’s Newbery medal-winning novel tells the story of Cassie Logan and her family, who are struggling to hold on to the land they own in Mississippi, despite the challenges of the Great Depression. Most often challenged for offensive language. Also available in OverDrive.

The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende. Meet the Trueba family, three proud, passionate generations of them. The Truebas are known for two things: the psychic giftedness that seems to run in their bloodline, and their political involvement, which frequently puts them at odds with fellow family members. A long, sweeping saga that is most often challenged for being sexually explicit, and containing offensive language.

Always Running, Luis Rodriguez. By the time he was twelve, Rodriguez was already a battle-scarred veteran of L.A.’s gang wars. The power of words led him to complete his education, become a poet, and leave his former life behind him…at least, that is, until his own son joins a gang. A New York Times notable book, and winner of the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, Always Running  is most often challenged for being sexually explicit and containing offensive language.

If you’d prefer to keep to this year’s theme, banned and challenged comics, you can explore diverse works like Alison Bechdel’s  Fun Home, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, or Kim Dong Hwa’s The Color of Earth. But what I’d really like you to do is go back and read (or re-read) Malinda Lo’s essay, and then tell two friends, who will hopefully tell two friends, and so on, and so on. It’s a whole new (albeit appalling) way of thinking about book bans and challenges, and it will be interesting to see if there is an even stronger correlation over time (though we librarians will do our best to ensure that doesn’t happen).

Keep your reading diverse and colorful!

Leigh Anne

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What are the Most Popular (Nonfiction) Books in the Library?

With all due respect to CBS and you-know-who’s top ten lists.

That is one of the more frequently asked questions I am asked, or a variation thereof.  It might be “What’s the most popular?” or maybe “What has gone out the most?”  It’s kind of intriguing so I decided to see if I could find out.  We have a tool that lets us mine the staff side of the catalog, the pages that aren’t web-based and intuitive to use.  It has the business-like name of Create List, and we use it pretty frequently to check collections, locations of materials, copies of titles and things like material codes (book, microfilm, DVD) and publisher information.  It’s our inventory control software.

On its surface what I wanted to find sounds straightforward – find the books (nonfiction) with the most circulations in the library.  With Create List, that search is reduced to two lines of a controlled vocabulary search-string that looks like this:

      • ITEM  LOCATION  starts with  “xros”  AND
      • ITEM  TOT CHKOUT  greater than  “10”

The xros locations cover the 3 floors with circulating non-fiction (except parts of the music collection) and I felt 10 total checkouts was a safe starting point to keep the search time short.  You might know them as 2nd floor, the mezzanine, and 3rd floor.

Now, here’s the caveat.  As old as our collection is – there are titles going back to before 1900 – for the purposes of the online catalog, the oldest records date from September, 2002.  This is electronic inventory sleight-of- hand; the arbitrary point in time when we migrated catalog records to the online system. Doesn’t matter when a book was originally published, its digital record was created in 2002.  So, what I have is a listing of the most circulated nonfiction titles using September 2002 as the circulation starting point of the whole collection.  I don’t have, or at least don’t have access to, any of the paper records that might have been saved with the retro information prior to 2002 . In reverse order (total checkouts in parentheses) the top 10 most circulated nonfiction titles are:

#10 (125)  The Right Dog for You: Choosing a Breed that Matches Your Personality, Family, and Life-Style / Daniel F. Tortora

#9  (127)  The Psychology of Dreams / by Paul R. Robbins

#8  (129)  An American Childhood / Annie Dillard

#7  (132)  Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament / Kay Redfield Jamison

#6  (134)  Magic of a Mystic: Stories of Padre Pio / Duchess of St. Albans

#5  (140)  Survival in Auschwitz; and, The Reawakening: Two Memoirs / Primo Levi

#4  (142)  Think & Grow Rich / Napoleon Hill

#3  (143)  Severe Personality Disorders: Psychotherapeutic Strategies / Otto Kernberg. (Currently not available.)

#1  (163)  How to Play Good Opening Moves / Edmar Mednis

Now that I know this, I can’t decide how I feel about it.  Did I / did you expect it to be more . . . classical or literary, and is that expectation really a euphemism for what we wanted the list to be, what it would say about the collective us?  Even if I don’t particularly like Fitzgerald or Milton, don’t the rest of you?

– Richard

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