Sunday, October 01, 2017

Oy. Rejecting books, or a librarian's 15 minutes of fame

Instead, Soeiro wrote, the White House should worry more about providing support to schools that are underfunded and subject to government neglect.
"Why not go out of your way to gift books to underfunded and underprivileged communities that continue to be marginalized and maligned by policies put in place by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos?" she wrote.
Soeiro added: “Another fact that many people are unaware of is that Dr. Seuss’s illustrations are steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes.”
According to CBS Boston, Cambridge Public Schools said in a statement that Phipps Soeiro "was not authorized to accept or reject donated books on behalf of the school or school district" and counseled her on a policy against using public resources for political purposes.
But Phipps Soeiro said the books were "a bit of a cliche, a tired and worn ambassador for children’s literature."


  1. Phipps Soeiro didn't feel that way a few years back when she dressed as the Cat in the Hat for a Seuss-themed event at the library.

  2. Interesting issue. Soeiro makes a great point about Cambridge MA not at this point needing any such "gift" from the 1st Lady, whereas others, school districts that are victims of DeVos surely would. We need to realize that Federal money got mis-spent in this situation.

    The part about Dr. Seuss books being, at this juncture, insensitive or cliche as it were, as Rudyard Kipling stories have, is a different issue that pulls the rug out from underneath many Cambridge residents, one of whom is Malia Obama who's attending Harvard, and to whom 1st Lady mother Michelle most likely read Dr. Seuss books. Michelle Obama certainly did in public schools she visited.

    Certainly, next time I reread any Dr. Seuss, I'll try to be sensitive to what Soeiro has recently come to opine about them. On the other hand, she is spot on with her critique of where best such Federal funds should be targeted, and probably echoes what other school librarians would not utter, "Oh Dear, just put these extra Seuss books in the back closet if there's room, would you please?"

  3. If the exact same gift had come from a politician or First Lady whom this librarian agreed with or admired, would she have similarly rejected and denounced it? I doubt it. I have absolutely no problem with a citizen giving our foolish leaders a piece of her mind, but I haven't any faith in the sincerity of her premise.

  4. Jeff, your argument is inconsistent: the point about protest is precisely to give someone with whom you disagree 'a piece of your mind'.

    As to the Seuss books, Rus, try them. They are seriously dated. (I've still got a whole slew of originals.) It's fine to study them in children's lit courses, but they have little to offer youngsters like my grandchildren (even my kids were mostly bored by them). There is such a richness of children's books available these days that it's a pity to waste such an effort on what is probably a nostalgia-driven choice for some (Michelle Obama??) and ignorance on the part of others.

  5. An Annoyed Librarian responds

  6. Lee, I don't understand your claim of inconsistency. I wanted to see this librarian be honest about her motives, e.g., "I despise you and everything your administration stands for." Instead, she tries to ground her objections in an argument about the books, but I doubt those books would have been fraught with political problems if they'd come from another donor. Two years ago, the librarian was photographed celebrating Dr. Seuss's birthday, dressing as the Cat in the Hat, and literally hugging a copy of "Green Eggs and Ham." Her Seuss-based argument weakens her credibility, because she likely doesn't believe what she's saying. If the First Lady had somehow presciently donated every book on her list of recommendations, the librarian still would have found some way to claim the gift was tainted and surely would have written a reply that made the same overarching political points. The Seuss books are rhetorical cover for an otherwise off-the-shelf rant. Her objection to the books isn't principled; it's merely convenient. I'd like to see people arguing passionately for things they deeply believe, not changing their minds in response to whatever ephemeral monster holds public office at a given time.

  7. Hi Jeff,

    Your reaction is filled with assumptions.

    Picture being a school librarian in a well-stocked library with a set of standards and goals for the town's children. You've always known that the reason the school system that employs you is so successful, is because of the resources that the students have, which also keeps you from having the same troubling resource issues that the vast majority of school librarians have, both across the state and the country. A shipment of Dr. Seuss books comes that you simply cannot use. What do you do?

    It's like Dave Lull says, "An Annoyed Librarian responds"

    It's so simple, you blog, "Dear Mrs. Trump . . . " The argument that she herself read Seuss, even dressed as a character in the past, has no bearing whatsoever on what her job is today. She is essentially saying that Seuss has been left in the past in Cambridge, hey, at least for now.

    She wrote in hopes of draining the swamp. She knows how to run an outstanding school library. She does it for a living.

  8. The Annoyed Librarian whose article I provided a link to seems to be annoyed with the librarian of the Cambridgeport Elementary School.

    By the way, I just did a search of the school's library catalog and found twenty titles by Dr Seuss. (If the search I linked to has timed out, you can search for yourself here.)

  9. You make my point, Dave. They certainly need no more Seuss books, and she says they don't use what they have. Thus, she wrote an open letter.

    This is small potatoes to the federal government, but hits at the heart of what a school librarian does, and what she has a budget for. Cambridge does not need the books, she say, and other districts would do better. Indeed, she says, that any school that received the books, probably don;t need them. Other school libraries, ones that are on the ropes, those who cannot be award winning schools, because they don;t have the resources, they need books. She also suggested that the 1st Lady get advisement on her book selections in the future. This is a school librarian's job, what she does, and where her budget is.

    It is money put to waste, in a "gesture" by the administration. Why not a trophy instead, a certificate saying they are a "First Ladies Choice Library," something to hang on the wall, instead of Seuss doorstops. If we did not realize this before, this librarian's letter has made it quite clear.

  10. The Annoyed Librarian:

    A big question for the librarian, and all the other school and children’s librarians out there, is, if Dr. Seuss books are racist propaganda, why do you keep them on your shelves?

    It’s one thing to reject the books as a gift, but I bet the books are still on the shelves at the school library in question, and probably every children’s section of every public and school library in the country.

    Is it part of the “struggle to close the achievement gap, retain teachers of color, and dismantle the systemic white supremacy in [y]our institution” to stock your shelves with racist propaganda?

    I know this is an unpopular comment to make in polite librarian society, but I’ll go out onto a limb and say that racist propaganda isn’t appropriate for school libraries, and is definitely a bad way to make libraries into places where everyone feels comfortable.

    If you’re stocking your shelves with racist propaganda, maybe you should consider weeding it. Just some advice from a fellow annoyed librarian.

    If there are any Dr. Seuss books in her library that she hasn’t weeded, then she’s implying that she believes racist propaganda in her library is fine as long as it isn’t a gift from President Trump’s wife. That’s kind of a silly thing to believe.

  11. And here we find ourselves in the middle of just how constructive her letter can be.

    Has the annoyed librarian gotten authorization to remove these books from her own school's library? As well as being sensitive to the politics of school libraries, should she also not address the points that a librarian in an award winning school district makes about the books? Soeiro did not site her sources for nothing.

    On Soeiro, does she feel or have the authority to remove the books? Whereis this issue in the conversation within the school system as a whole? Is she be that censor? As an aside, I wish I knew what she is going to do with the unneeded and unwanted books. Different from the annoyedlibrarian, Soeiro spoke both of dispositioning the books, but also address their content.

    I just did an image search of Cambridge City Hall, hoping to share that they fly both the Black Lives Matter flag and a Rainbow flag. The benches just leading to the street are painted in rainbow stripes. The images do not show this.

    When Soeiro says that she has a diverse student body, she is as correct as can be. Walking up and down the street, there are storefront signs galore that everyone is welcome. We have no reason to believe that, harbored within the school system, is a racist librarian, willing and wanting to keep such reading material, because "she believes racist propaganda in her library is fine."

    That ending paragraph of the annoyed librarian's letter is very likely off the mark. It's quite assumptive.

    BTW, I need to start writing these responses in a word processor

  12. “Library media specialists continually inventory collections. The same thought and care given to selection of materials will be exercised in weeding so that collections remain current and useful to the school community. ALA standards for weeding the non-fiction collection will be followed. Worn, damaged, or missing items basic to the collections
    will be replaced periodically.”


  13. Good morning. Does this mean that the "annoyed librarian" (not the one in Cambridge who wrote the thoughtful open letter to Melania, but the one who used the letter to criticize a librarian from an award-winning school system), does this mean that the "annoyed" one should remove the books from her library? It seems the Cambridge school library is addressing the situation. Does this mean that Melania should consult with Carla Hayden to be sure she is giving books that are up to snuff?

    After we get done making assumptions about potential faults Soeiro may have in her character and personality, shouldn't we address the business of whether the Seuss books should have been the ones selected, and also whether they should have been sent to a well-stocked school library?

    I would love to meet her on Mass Ave in Cambridge and be able to report to you that she is a wonderful human being or that she is too snooty or even that she seems to harbor racist bents. But right now the latter characteristics are doing nothing but killing the messenger, that we all, including Michelle Obama, and now Melania who is a fan of Michelle, we all may have to set aside the delightful and clever Dr. Seuss writings, and ask ourselves if there is a fatal flaw in these writing: racism.

    It's Soeiro who has brought this issue to the forefront. I like the letter, and I appreciate hearing from such a capable school librarian, no matter her flaws.

    Just like Soiero, most of us enjoyed "dressing up" like Seuss characters. For myself, at times, when my daughter was a little girl, I would call her "Little Laura Leigh Who." School libraries, and first ladies, and young fathers, will need to revisit these books. Soiero said so.

    The politicizing of the issue is more in line with Soiero being critical of the first lady sending these books to a well-stocked library, when there are libraries that are short on books. Whether you agree with the Soiero's position, you cannot put her down for bringing up the point, although you may disagree with her. Her employers have asked her not to be so political in the future.

  14. Good morning, Russ.

    You asked: “On Soeiro, does she feel or have the authority to remove the books?” What I quoted is her school district's policy on weeding, which seems to give their library media specialists (i.e., librarians) the authority to do when they “continually inventory collections.” But to be sure one could ask Ms Soeiro. Apparently she didn’t have the authority to reject the donated books:

    “In this instance, the employee was not authorized to accept or reject donated books on behalf of the school or school district. We have counseled the employee on all relevant policies, including the policy against public resources being used for political purposes.”

  15. Rus, I find it genuinely decent of you to accept that she's sincere in her argument about the appropriateness of Dr. Seuss books in 2017, but I don't agree. There's plenty of evidence that she doesn't buy her own premises. (What you refer to as "the past" is a mere two years ago. I write about medieval history. For me, two years ago is essentially still the present.)

    If a referendum on Dr. Seuss is a vital national issue, then why hasn't she scoured the shelves of her own local library? I'm glad mockery of politicians is back in vogue—I've missed it—but I just don't entirely believe her. As for "The Annoyed Librarian," I think you're misreading her. She's using irony not to claim that she herself believes the librarian is a racist, but that by keeping supposedly racist books on the shelves, the librarian is enabling racism according to the librarian's own premises.

    That said, I hope she's weathering the national attention, and I hope her job isn't the least bit endangered because of either her speech or the backlash. I'm tired of people getting fired for speaking their minds, even when (especially when) I disagree with part of what they're saying.

  16. Hi Jeff,

    Soiero's sources for asserting racism in Dr. Seuss books are from 2017. It's like I am asserting above, knowing Cambridge as the city flies Black Lives Matter and Rainbow flags from City Hall -- I am sure they are looking into it, and I would not be surprised by the evidence that I offer below, that our good librarian is spearheading this issue at the municipal level as well as the national.

    Her oldest source is from May 2, this year, written by Philip Nel, and published on the same blog that published her open letter:

    Laughter and Resistance: Humor as a Weapon in the Age of Trump

    The latest is a from last month, written by Grace Hwang Lynch, and reveals possibly why, or part of why, she noted that the first lady ought to have consulted with Carla Hayden, an insightful and constructive point:

    Is the Cat in the Hat Racist? Read Across America Shifts Away From Dr. Seuss and Toward Diverse Books

    That article begins with this paragraph:

    "For 20 years, Read Across America has been synonymous with youngsters wearing red and white striped hats sitting down for story time on March 2, Dr. Seuss’s birthday. But this fall, the biggest national literacy awareness program, sponsored by the National Education Association (NEA), will be shifting its focus toward a year-round promotion of diverse children’s books. It’s a change resulting from both a heightened awareness of representation in kid lit, as well as growing scrutiny of racial imagery in the work of the beloved children’s book author."

  17. Because it is tangentially pertinent, if there can be such a thing, here is an article I just read, and thought to share:

    10 Classic Books That Have Been Banned

    Under (#3) The Lorax, there is a further link to this article: The Political Message Hidden Within Dr. Seuss’ New Book

  18. Mrs Trump might’ve been guided by the existence of the American Library Association’s Geisel Award, which “. . . is given annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year.”

    Here by the way are two other takes on Dr Seuss's books and racism for your consideration:

    “Can We Forgive Dr. Seuss?”

    “Dr. Seuss: The Once Former Racist Writes a Wrong”

    (Sorry, for some reason I can’t get Blogger to accept these URLs using HTML code for a hot link. But I just copied and pasted them and they worked fine as links.)

  19. A terrific conversation, thanks to all, a thread of diligent, or at least fairly diligent armchair discovery, with much to offer.

    I just posted a link to this thread at Facebook, so that it gets shared: Here's a blog post that Julie Chovanes posted on October 1 . . .