Friday, September 27, 2013

Banned Books Week: The Hunger Games Trilogy

In writing the Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins' intent was to engage her young readers in the important issues of war and inequality which are typically prohibited to members of a specific age group. In an interview with The New York Times, Collins explains “We think we’re sheltering them, but what we’re doing is putting them at a disadvantage.” As far as Collins is concerned, children’s capability for understanding is greater than we estimate and the earlier they are involved in discussions of fairness and responsibility, the better. But perhaps these are mere afterthoughts to the numerous petitions against The Hunger Games, making it one of the most challenged books for two consecutive years.

 The Smith Public Library in Texas is using 'The Hunger Games' to promoted Banned Books Week in 2012. Source:  Smith Public Library

I am unsure how this book gained the “anti-family” moniker; the protagonist’s primary concern is her sister’s well-being and safety. In reading the series for the first time, I found the story to uniquely contribute to the debate about the state of the world. Admittedly, as an international relations major, I read with a perspective of how politics, economics and history affect us all. Collins discusses the fundamentals of justice and subtly relates various elements of the narrative to the reader’s life. Personally, the strong theme of disparity echoed throughout the chapters struck a chord with my own experience growing up with privilege in a developing country.

And while this series certainly contains more violence than a large majority of young adult literature, it addresses and critiques the issue in a context that contemporary readers can digest and process. Surprising to many, Suzanne Collins previously worked in television (Nickelodeons’ “Clarissa Explains it All” and “Little Bear”) and has been in the business of writing children’s book (as the head writer of Clifford) for years. Her recent books aim to create discomfort, even disturbance. (After all, the inspiration for the trilogy came from a night of channel-flipping between a reality-television competition to footage from the war in Iraq.) When asked what she hopes readers take away, Collins responds “Does it disturb you because it relates to something in your own life, and is there anything you can do about it?”

For Banned Books Week, I chose to discuss The Hunger Games because they both bothered and inspired me the most. I believe that these empowering stories should be encouraged in spite of the taboo subjects they touch; as Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “Every burned book enlightens the world.”

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Is banning dystopian literature a dystopian act?

 Feed by MT Anderson
Review by Kelsey Abney

We Americans are interested only in the consumption of our products. We have no interest in how they are produced, or what happens to them once we discard them, once we throw them away.” 
― One of the many quotes scattered throughout T. M. Anderson's cyberpunk dystopian novel, which sounds like it could have been uttered in vain last week. Much as 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 were intended to stir those who read them away from the dystopian path that each of the authors forecasted, Feed strives to do the same through the depiction of an unnamed future America in which the feednet dominates how human beings live their lives.

Feednet is the ultimate integration of the human brain and one's own portable computer. Completely voluntary, but why wouldn't you want one? 73% of Americans have it, and in order to get a job, have a reliable consumer profile, or even contact people in some ways, they need to have a feed hooked to their brain. The feed enables a large amount of computer data to be processed within a persons brain, so they can speak with each other telepathically, purchase whatever they want to, take pictures whenever convenient.... with the one contention that you will be continuously advertised to. It's clear in the beginning of the book that the corporations are who is in control. Everything from public school to the clouds have been Trademarked, and in order to do anything, you have to establish a reliable consumer history with the corporations who own Feednet.

As a 21st century consumer, this makes several things unsettling. Trends such as targeted advertisements on Facebook and Google glass reinforce these fears. As far as literary tropes go, the novel's protagonist, Titus, fulfills many of the major stereotypes we expect for the genre. He is a middle class male who is awakened by the mysterious “other”, usually a female or foreigner, who is more capable of constructively criticizing the society. While this trope is common, it does not defeat the genre's purpose, which is to make us entirely unsettled as we unconsciously long onto Facebook every single time we open our computer. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Banned Books Week: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower last winter after seeing the movie, and I was pretty worried this would ruin the book for me. I received the novel from a close friend who shares my affinity for young adult lit. (Don’t we all have a soft spot?) I went home for winter break and read the book in one sitting, in the bathtub, sobbing, my tears mixing with the bubbles.

There’s something about adolescent stories that just pulls at my heartstrings: so much raw emotion and so many unexamined decisions. Through Charlie’s adventures I relived the magic of my own high school friendships. After finishing the book I promptly handed it over to my 16-year-old brother, not thinking once about the so-called dangerous content cited by critics: “anti-family, drugs, homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, suicide, and nudity.” These issues are important at certain times and places, but they don’t legitimize book banning. The power of a book is in the unfolding of the character’s experience. Charlie, like all of us, didn’t know his life would be difficult, but in that experience he found beauty and so does the reader find beauty in hers. Life is in the living of uncomfortable, unpleasant, unique, and at times offensive moments, but by banning them we deny the possibilities they hold, the infinity of being. It’s an experience for the reader, one I couldn’t just tell my brother about, but one he’d have to recognize and claim as his own.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Children’s Literature and Banned Books: A Librarian Reflects

When I was asked to contribute a blog post in celebration of Banned Books Week, I immediately thought of one of my favorite childhood authors, Alvin Schwartz. Schwartz penned, among other pieces, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, illustrated by Stephen Gammel, along with In a Dark, Dark Room, published in 1984 and illustrated by Dirk Zimmer. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was listed as the most frequently challenged book between 1990 and 1999 by the American Library Association. 

I began my first year as a (lifelong) student in 1987, and began repeatedly checking out In a Dark, Dark Room in 1988 as a 1st grader at a new school. It was one of the books I would pick out in addition to my “normal” reading load. I had few friends, but excelled at reading, and found this book to be just quirky enough to take my mind off the transition to a new school. 

Image courtesy of HarperCollins
My favorite short story from In a Dark, Dark Room was “The Green Ribbon”. The accompanying illustration of a little girl with a ribbon tied around her throat haunted me, and led to deeper discussions with a close friend about life, death, and youth. We would lie around for hours closely examining pictures of the young girl as we discussed what was implied, but not explicitly discussed, in the story. This particular friend was the one other student at school that frequently requested In a Dark, Dark Room from the library. I kept tabs on the book by pestering the librarian about the due date, and would sneak into the library early in the morning with hopes of beating my friend to the book the day after it was checked in.  In addition to her normal responsibilities, the librarian coached us through the idea of sharing books with each other, and also proposed the idea of community responsibility. She encouraged us both to check out the book less frequently so that other students at our school might have a chance to enjoy it. 

In a Dark, Dark Room was the first book I truly loved and wanted to keep to myself. It was the first time I remember having the desire to hoard a book for pleasure. This experience is also my earliest memory of exchanging and discussing ideas about a book with a peer. Until reading Schwartz, I most often discussed books I was reading with adults. Reading Schwartz ushered me into a new and different level of reading as an individual, and showed me the value of building a learning community. 

I look forward to sharing and hearing stories from students, faculty, and staff as we celebrate Banned Books Week. Feel free to share your stories with us in person, via our Facebook page, or, in the comments section of this post.

For an interview with Alvin Schwartz visit this link:
Image credits:

Monday, September 23, 2013

Exploring the Restricted Section: Banned Books Week

As much as we'd love Mount Holyoke to be an exact replica of Hogwarts, it's quite wonderful that our library has no Restricted Section. (Well, I suppose you aren't allowed in to the Cutter Collection without permission, but that's only because the books there are really old and fragile). 

But as you might have learned (be it from your parents or from Voldemort), the world can be a bad bad place. Imagine getting thrown into the dungeons for singing the anti-alma mater?! Well, even if dungeons weren't necessarily involved, the censorship of literature has been a problem since time immemorial. Not only is content censored, books are taken off public shelves altogether.  Chances are, at least one of your favorite children's books has been banned at some point, somewhere-- Shel Silverstein's A Light in the Attic, Roald Dahl's The BFG, and the once most-banned book in America, J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter.

To protest the unfair crackdown on great works of literature, a campaign called Banned Books Week was launched in 1982. It is an "annual celebration of the freedom to read"  and brings attention to the numerous books that are banned, or legally challenged, each year. This year, Banned Books Week runs from September 22-28, 2013

We at LITS are going to take part in the protest/celebration this week by posting about some of our favorite banned books. Every day, a different LITS worker will share a banned book they have enjoyed, in the hope that you will enjoy it, too.  Do share your own favorites with us; we have the freedom to read! Here's my pick for the week...

 Howl by Allen Ginsberg   

              " angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in                    the machinery of night" 

 "we wake up electrified out of the coma by our own souls’ airplanes"

Perhaps one of the most famously banned poems, Ginsberg's "Howl" was a path-breaking work and was an eye-opening piece for me, as a lover of poetry.  A three-part poem, first published in 1956 as part of Howl and Other Poems, it talks of the social and political oppression of 1940-50s America, and of the degenerate nature of capitalism.  Unreserved in its descriptions and accusations, "Howl"'s   haunting rhythm drew me to the poem-- it escalates, throwing its images at you like unending rain, leaving you frazzled, with perhaps a little too much to think about.

The poem, now acknowledged as a landmark of the Beat Generation of poetry, was tried for obscenity in 1957 because of its open references to drugs, homosexuality, and alternative sexual practices. 

    "...cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets
      and listening to the Terror through the wall,
     who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana 
     for New York"

During the course of the trial, hundreds of copies were seized from the publishers, and booksellers trying to peddle the books were arrested. The trial eventually ended in Ginsberg's favor and "Howl," as many like to say, came to define a generation. Today, it has been translated into over 22 languages. 

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical

A note to Harry Potter fans, whom I mislead with the title of this post: I am sorry I did not address why our beloved series has ended up in far too many Restricted Sections. You can check out the Banned Books website to read more about the banning of Harry Potter. But do read "Howl," and remember that it too shares something in common with Harry Potter-- Daniel Radcliffe plays Allen Ginsberg in the upcoming film, Kill Your Darlings

Image Credits
Banned Books: Freedom to Read Foundation
Howl: Maddie Keating (Flickr)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Books and more delivered at the click of a button


Mount Holyoke and the other four colleges are always working on ways to make items throughout the Five Colleges more accessible for your convenience. Over the summer all five colleges have agreed to loan their CD's through the Five College delivery system.

You can order books, films, and now CD's from all five colleges through the catalog with one click of the "Request Item" button from the comfort of your room!  So take advantage of their awesome collections and order one of your favorites today!

Also, just to be extra nice, Mount Holyoke films are now renewable online. No need to bring them in to renew them just login to your account through the catalog and renew that season of Downton Abbey that you haven't quite finished watching yet!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Omnomnom... Candy Quests!

Ever wished you could be Charlie, diving into chocolate waterfalls, in Willy Wonka's factory? Or perhaps Hansel and Gretel, nomming on the Gingerbread House (minus the Wicked Witch, of course)? Well, here's your chance, because LITS is turning into candy land!

Before you get ahead of yourselves, let's clarify: this isn't going to be a free-candy-fairy-tale. There aren't going to be Snickers hanging from the ceilings or Twixes tucked between the stacks; in fact, it's going to be better.

Starting Monday, September 16th, LITS is asking you to become treasure hunters in the LITS Candy Quests. On four consecutive Monday mornings, we'll post a quest on the LITS Facebook page, Twitter page, and on your favorite campus-graffiti-spot, the ASK LITS board. Run through the secret stairways, the hidden doors--and if you're lucky, the Room of Requirement-- to solve each week's quest. Discover the secret passphrase to find your candy-treasure!

So come discover the library, the fun way, and spread LITS' sincere philosophy-- candy is, oh, so dandy!*

Food for thought: It might be helpful to justify the act of running around the library, seeking a sugar rush of questionable nutritional value, if you thought of it as constructive procrastination. Perhaps, even, educational. We highly recommend it.

*Words to live by, inspired by Ogden Nash

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Branching Out in LITS

The fall semester is such an exciting time on campus, especially at the library. Over the past two weeks, we asked new and returning students to share either what they love about libraries or tips and tidbits about LITS. The “leaves” now decorate the double staircase in the atrium. (They also serve as a nice reminder of which side to ascend while our beloved flags are being repaired). Some advice from returning students included:

A kind sophomore offered this reminder:

Our new students also had lots to say, too!


Thanks to everyone who decided to branch out and share with us. Here’s to a great semester!

Want to learn more about LITS? Get started here: About LITS (for background information and help navigating the building), Library Help (a great way to get in touch with the librarians), and  Hours of Operation (Yes, we are open until 2 am Sunday-Thursday!).

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Let the Light Shine Down!

Beginning Thursday, September 5, Facilities will begin installing the lighting fixtures to accentuate the Chihuly glass sculpture in the courtyard.  The work will take about a week, and we'll be posting signs and roping off safe walkways for you to get around the LITS courtyard.  We understand that this is a very busy time of year for us all, and LITS is working closely with both the Art Museum and Facilities to minimize any disruption.  Rao's will continue to operate under its normal business hours- just follow the signs through the South Stacks.

We're grateful for your cooperation and patience as you navigate around our spaces!  If you have any questions, please ask a staff member at one of our service desks or contact the LITS Administration Office at 413-538-2225.  Best of luck to you this semester!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Do not mutiny, fellow MoHos!!! The curious incident of the disappearing flags.

It is quickly spreading through Facebook and Twitter that evil LITS has taken away our beloved class flags. But hold your plans to riot, people! As a flag-loving MoHo, I feel that some explanations are in order. The source? The flag-loving librarians at LITS. Now, let's address some of the existential problems many of us have been suffering in light of the missing flags:

1) Can't the new sculpture and flags coexist? 

Yes, they can! The new sculpture in our atrium is by Dale Chihuly, the country's leading glass artist. The work has come as a donation from an alumna.  Custom-designed for Mt. Holyoke, the sculpture is not meant to obstruct the atrium's landmark class flags. So breathe, don't fear change, and appreciate this beautiful artwork we're fortunate to have.

2) I won't graduate without the flags.

The flags were made in 1993 by Pat Hayes, an experienced silk artist from the Pioneer Valley. Originally part of her "Symbolism in Silk" series,  each flag is handmade and signed by Pat, making them artworks in themselves, not to mention indicators of which side of the staircase to take. While it is popular legend that you will not graduate if you don't walk up the side of the staircase on the same side as your class flag, there is NO OFFICIAL RECORD in the Archives of such a tradition. But if you still fear taking the "wrong side" up, we have put up temporary paper signs as indicators.

3) Flags are pretty. Point blank.

We cannot agree with you more. The flags are beautiful and WE DID TRY TO PUT THEM UP this summer. Unfortunately, we found the fabric to have aged so much that it was tearing under its own weight.

New dilemma:

4) Whaaaat?Are the flags gone forever?!

Fear not, Mt. Holyoke is coming to the rescue! The Alumnae Association has generously donated funds to restore the flags. The Theatre Department's Elaine Bergeron, Costume Shop Manager and textile restorer extraordinaire, is working on the important task of restoring the flags to their former glory (yay Mt. Holyoke for having such great resources!). So yes, the FLAGS ARE RETURNING, after getting their deserved dose of TLC.

For updates on the Flag Rehabilitation Project, and the amazing work in the Theatre Department, keep calm and keep reading the LITS blog!*

*LITS and I sincerely hope that this post has resolved any flag-related traumas and, for the safety of this community, forestalled mutiny.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Chihuly dedication and reception

Students, faculty, and guests enjoying the reception and our beautiful new sculpture.
Thanks to everyone who came out to celebrate Mount Holyoke College's new sculpture, Clear and Gold Tower by Dale Chihuly! Special thanks to President Lynn Pasquerella and Art Museum Director John Stomberg for their dedicatory remarks. The library atrium was packed; we enjoyed bubbly drinks, strawberries, and chocolate; and the sculpture, a gift from the Centennial Class of 1937, is magnificent.

Happy Convocation Day! This has been a spectacular beginning to the new year.

Chihuly sculpture: watch the installation online, come to the unveiling today!

You've probably heard the buzz: there's a new sculpture in the library courtyard and it's the work of none other than world famous glass artist Dale Chihuly! The sculpture, which was specially commissioned for MHC, was installed over two days, August 20th and 21st. If you didn't get to see this fascinating work in progress, don't worry - we've got you covered! Here's a time-lapse video of the assembly:

Now, of course, you can visit the library courtyard to see the finished product in all its splendor. Join us, along with President Pasquerella, for the official unveiling and dedication at 4:15 pm today, Tuesday, September 3rd. Refreshments will be served.