Sitting on the Sidelines: ALA and the NFL’s Gender Parity Problem

m5Confession: I’ve never been a big sports fan.

I was one of those awkward kids who never knew to do with their bodies. I was clumsy: tripping, falling, crashing into everything. I always dreaded P.E. class whenever it occurred. I was the smallest. The slowest. The weakest. The lowest. The girl who was always picked last.

Not to mention the fact that, amongst family and peers, sports was clearly a “boy” thing. We watched my male cousins play baseball. We cheered at their basketball games. I attended my brother’s soccer and karate matches. My job was to watch: not play.

Admittedly, I didn’t exactly ask to play. None of the girls I knew played sports. Theater, dance, and music were our thing. I also 48_504483045529_75801209_30208066_6571_nloved to read. I could gobble up a book an hour. But out of all the childhood stories I remember to this day, not a single one featured girls playing sports.

Basically, I didn’t think playing was a possibility. It wasn’t part of our culture: my family’s or mine. Sports were an alien, foreign thing.

But then, halfway through my 4th grade year, we moved to North Carolina – to a podunk town by the name of Burnsville with a population of 1,673 people. There were no ballet lessons to be had. Singing lessons were unheard of. I didn’t participate in a single play the entire six months we lived there.

There was, however, one thing the 4th grade girls in Burnsville enjoyed doing. One thing which they participated in together and formed fast friendships doing. It was the thing that consumed their waking moments, that brought out their competitive streaks. It was the thing that made them feel like they belonged.

Softball.

I had never played softball. I didn’t even know what it was. I didn’t know there was “baseball” for girls. I could ‘t wrap my head around it. But there was nothing else to do and no other way to get “in” with those shy, mountain girls. So, for the very first time in my life, I decided to play a sport.

And I loved it.

My competitive streak, which was a mile wide, was channeled into a positive outlet. Yes, I played catcher and left field (aka the positions for people who suck). Yes, I was still clumsy and awkward and tripped all over myself.  But the way I felt about myself changed dramatically.  I felt strong. Brave. Significant. I didn’t feel small. Or weak.

I had a team. A safety net. A place where I belonged. I had friends who believed in me and cheered me on – even when I failed. Angel, Tuesday, June: I still remember their names.

When my parents told me we were moving back to Florida and that I’d miss our softball finals, I sobbed. Bitterly. It felt like my 4th grade world was ending.

Worse still, when I got back to Florida, our old culture reasserted itself. My team was gone. My strength was gone. I was slow and small again. I went back to dreading P.E. To being the last girl picked. To being fiercely bullied for being weak. I never played sports again.

I returned to a world where only boys could succeed athletically. I observed them on the field. On the TV screen. Passively watching was my game.

This passivity, this lack of agency, was the hallmark of my young life. It followed all the way into adulthood. And into an absuive relationship.

When the story of Ray Rice broke on the news, I never asked why Janay didn’t leave. I knew the answer: she didn’t know how. She’d gotten too used to watching. She didn’t have anyone to encourage her when she failed.

She was stuck in a boy’s game.

The toxicity of this cultural tendency cannot be understated. And if you think there’s no correlation between the lack of gender parity in professional sports and violence against women, you’re not just mistaken: you’re wrong. As much as we might wish it to be so, we do not live in a post-feminist society. And the consequences of gender inequality are vast and far reaching.

Turn on your computer. Your television. Stop on the first sports-related thing you find. What will you see? Men. Only men. Sports are still for boys.

We know it shouldn’t be this way. Even the old guard knows it. But they’re not quite ready to do something about it, so they try to placate us instead. They give us “A Crucial Catch” and have their football players wear pink. They give us fitted baby doll tees emblazoned with our favorite teams’ logos. They tell us that women can be passionate about sports too, that we have a place in the arena.

Then they courteously dust off a bench and give us a seat on the sidelines.

But the tendency to marginalize women in sports isn’t confined to the NFL: it permeates our society as a whole, infecting even some of our most cherished organizations.

The American Library Association has long been an advocate of equality. They’ve championed the rights of minorities nationwide and reminded everyone that #WeNeedDiverseBooks. But diversity isn’t restricted solely to ethnicity or sexuality. It also includes gender.

And, when it comes to supporting gender diversity in sports, ALA has just failed. Utterly.

ALA Booklist’s “Top Ten Sports Books for Youth: 2014” was published on September 1st. And normally, most librarians would think of this as an exciting thing. These are the sort of lists we wait eagerly for and use to add books to our collection.

Except, in this list, not a single sports-playing protagonist happens to be female.

Let me say that again: all of ALA’s sports books feature only male MC’s.

I expect this from the NFL. Not condone, but expect. But to see this “boys club” mentality trickle down to ALA? In 2014? I am embarrassed for my profession.

Children are not dumb. They can read between the lines. They pick up on the cultural cues espoused by our books and media. And when girls don’t see themselves in sports books, they internalize the message that sports “aren’t for them.”

So I’ve compiled my own list of “Top Ten Sports Books for Youth in 2014” – books that actually feature female protagonists who are passionate about participating in sports. I’m going to be reading each and every one of these books over the next several months. I’m going to promote them to the teenagers in my life.

I hope you’ll do the same.

Better yet: come up with your own list.  Visit blogs like Sporty Girl Books. Hunt with me for titles published specifically in 2014. Then hop on twitter and tell ALA’s Booklist what you think of this nonsense. Let’s start a storm. #girlsplaysports #sportygirlbooks @ALA_Booklist

Screenshot 2014-09-19 11.21.46

The Loudmouth Librarian’s “Top Ten Sports Books for Girls in 2014”

crossing the ice

Crossing the Ice by Jennifer Comeaux (Pairs Figure Skating)

Gold Metal Winter by Donna Freitas

Gold Metal Winter by Donna Freitas (Figure Skating)

Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally

Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally (Running)

Blue Forty Two by Faith Nhira

Blue Forty Two by Faith Nhira (Football)

take me on

Take Me On by Kate McGarry (Kickboxing)

In Deep by Terra Elan McVoy

In Deep by Terra Elan McVoy (Swimming)

Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morill

Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill (Figure Skating and Hockey)

The Love Match by Monica Seles  (Tennis)

The Love Match by Monica Seles
(Tennis)

One the Road to Find Out by Rachel Torr (Running)

One the Road to Find Out by Rachel Torr
(Running)

Babe Conquers the World (sports nonfiction)

Babe Conquers the World by Rich and Sandra Wallace
(sports nonfiction)

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Privacy in the 21st Century

privacy

In his article,“2014: The Year of Counterveillance,” journalist Robert Siciliano points out the pervasiveness of privacy issues over the last year. From Edward Snowden and the NSA to Facebook’s new policy’s (which state that they can keep your data in perpetuity and use your images in their advertisements), numerous events throughout 2013 have highlighted just how little privacy we have in this modern, technological era and how easily it is violated (Siciliano, 2014, para 2). What’s more, these issue are not going away. As evidenced by latest techno-privacy threat, Heartbleed, our privacy issues are only going to increase in gravity as technology progresses.

I was one of those 40 million Target customers affected by their credit card data compromise. I bought a $2 soda in the check-out line with my debit card and it cost me my financial security. Thankfully, my bank was quick to notice, protected my accounts, and provided me with a replacement card. But I was left feeling more than a little shaken and vulnerable. It’s unsettling to think about just how easily our data can be mined. For example, if I visit a website in one internet tab with Facebook open in another, I’ll start seeing ads in my Facebook bar based on that web activity within a 24 hour period.  It’s uncanny. It’s also a little horrifying.

The fact that even our simplest activities being so closely analyzed feels like something straight out of a science fiction. Only the dangers are far too real, as pointed out by Daniel Sovlove (2008) in his article, “The Future of Privacy”:

Government agencies are mining this personal data, trying to determine whether a person is likely to engage in criminal or terrorist activity in the future based on patterns of behavior, purchases, and interests. If a government computer decides that you are a likely threat, then you might find yourself on a watch list, you might have difficulty flying, and there might be further negative consequences in the future (p. 58)

I can’t speak for everyone, but the way data mining is going feels a little too akin to 1984 for my taste. Such analytic measures as the ones mentioned above verge on “thought policing” and are the stuff of sci-fi nightmares.

So what, then, is our responsibility as 21st century information professionals? How can we protect patron privacy our current times?

First and foremost, we need to adhere to ALA policy and staunchly resist any efforts at data mining aimed at our patrons. We are one of the last bastions of privacy left and we need to defend that role. Demanding reasonable cause for information requests from the government (particularly under the PATRIOT Act) is vital.  As Rubin (2010) points out, “patrons will not use materials or make inquiries regarding controversial topics if they believe such actions are not free from public exposure and governmental intrusion” (p.  391).  The last thing our patrons need is an extension of the data mining intrusions they already experience online. As librarians, we must take care to be discrete with our patrons’ circulation information.

On a more practical level, many patrons who engage in online activities are unaware of just how easily they can be taken advantage of. How many times have we heard of seniors being taken in by Nigerian prince scams and the like? Or younger patrons being sexually harassed by online predators? Since part of the library’s mission is educational in nature, librarians could consider offering classes in online safety for all ages to better equip our patrons to protect themselves. We cannot control the data mining efforts of every business and government entity. We can, however, arm our patrons with the information necessary to make intelligent decisions.

 A final thought: when privacy is threatened, so too is freedom of speech – which is the very bedrock of our democratic society. At the risk of sounding alarmist, we must do our best to protect this right in our role as information professionals. Otherwise, we run the risk of loosing the freedom we so dearly cherish.

References

Rubin, R.E. (2010). Foundations of library science.  New York, NY: Neal-Schumann Publishers, Inc.

Siciliano, R. (2014). 2014: The year of counterveillance. Huffington Post. Retrieved from:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-siciliano/2014-the-year-of-counterv_b_4622697.html

Sovlove, D. (2008). The future of privacy. American Libraries, 39, 56-59.

Relevancy and the Modern Library

11247_pkg1One of the biggest challenges for libraries – public or otherwise – is the issue of relevancy. In an era where you can download an eBook in a minute and use Google to answer your questions, how can the library maintain its value?

I think the answer lies in creating innovative collections and programs that users are unlikely to find anywhere else.

For example, I recently read a fascinating article about a library in Oakland that, in addition to traditional materials like books and DVDS, also has a tool lending library. How amazing is that? They saw a unique need in their community, met the need, and now have a corner on the market. Instead of paying hundreds of dollars for new tools they might not be able to afford, patrons can rely on their local library (which, in turn, proves its relevance).

One library near me, The Palm Harbor Public Library, features a vinyl lending library – complete with a record player available for checkout – and the patrons there love it. Our library is in a community where gardening is hugely popular, so we have a “Seed Library” where people can donate and exhange whatever plants they need for their gardens. These are services that library patrons can’t find anywhere else, which makes us valuable community resources (and helps ensure our survival).

Another way libraries can increase their competitiveness is by offering unique programming. Rather than perpetuating old stereotypes of libraries as places where crotchety old ladies with buns shush you incessantly, we need to rebrand the public library as a community gathering place.

Our children’s department, for example, offers traditional children’s programming like story times. However, we also offer more innovative programs like yoga, Zumba, and Wii Wednesdays. In my teen section, I put out board games  and other activities (instead of expecting my teens to sit there in silence).  Best of all: we provide these services for free, which is something not even the almighty Amazon can boast about. 😉

By finding and focusing on these niches, libraries can provide vital services for our communities, thereby insuring our place within them for generations to come.