Birds Do It, Bees Do It….. Why Does the Library Do It?

You may have heard about the recent controversy at the Library. A community member challenged four titles, The Joy of SexThe Joy of Gay SexThe Lesbian Kama Sutraand Sex for Busy People. The Library’s Board of Trusteesvoted to restrict them for minors at its February board meeting. I’m not going to comment or editorialize on that decision. If you’re interested in learning more or commenting yourself, you may go to the Expression of Concern on our Digital Branch.

I want to talk a bit about why this library or any public library has information on sex or any topic that might be deemed controversial or challenging.

The role of public libraries has changed quite a lot in the past 40+ years. Our role in society is a pretty important one. Fundamentally, we exist to provide open access to information and stories in all forms—books, film, music, art—you name it. Our goal is to ensure that anyone in our community who uses the library finds something that speaks to him or her. That openness and accessibility is essential in a democracy.

Our mission says it all, “Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library: Your place. Stories you want, information you need, connections you seek.” We understand that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all for how people think or feel about anything. For this truly to be your place, you must be able to find what you want and need. In the process of finding that, you’ll find things you don’t want or need. In fact, you’ll find things you may find shocking or distasteful. We say somewhat facetiously that if you don’t find something to offend you in the library, we’re not doing our jobs.

Life doesn’t stop at the doors of the library and our collections, services and programs attempt to address the human condition and experience. A recent example is the Girl Culture exhibit in the Sabatini Gallery, cosponsored with the Junior League of Topeka. It is a powerful and challenging exhibit of photographs portraying the experiences of and pressures on girls and young women in our society today. I hope you visit and enjoy it, but if not, remember that there is a not just a world but a universe of information and stories here at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library.

Let me know what you think. What should the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library do to be your place?

What I’m reading

I love books and have since the days my parents read The Story of Babar, Dr. Seuss and Mother Goose to my brother and me. I even remember the moment I understood I could read. I was 5 years old sitting in 1st grade and I realized I was reading my Dick and Jane reader by myself. I’ve never forgotten that feeling of accomplishment and power and freedom. Pretty heady stuff for a five year old. Actually, it’s still pretty heady stuff.

I always have several books in various stages of consumption sitting on the coffee table, and other places in the house. I read for fun and escape – don’t get me started on my fascination with vampire fiction; ok, I’m reading Mortal Danger by Eileen Wilks (P RP/WIL),
I’m also usually listening to an audio book in my car or on my mp3 player. Right now, it’s David Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed in Flames which is technically about werewolves and other supernatural beings. I read to stay informed, right now, that’s Thomas Friedman’s latest best seller, Hot, Flat and Crowded (363.7/FRI). I read to challenge myself and grow professionally, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin (658.4092/GOD). Sometimes I read for pure fantasy, and I’m not talking about vampires. Right now I’m perusing Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics by Ina Garten (641.5/GAR) of the Food Network. I look at the gorgeous picture of her truffled filet of beef sandwiches, read the ingredients and imagine, not that I’m making it, but that I’m eating it for lunch.

(814.54/SED). I was listening to it on a plane recently and laughed so hard, my seatmate joined in. He was engrossed in reading a book on his Iphone, so we got along just fine.

Give me some ideas for great reads. What are you reading?

Hi, I’m Gina

Hi, my name is Gina Millsap and I’m the executive director of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. I’ve been in the library biz for 34 years and I can honestly say I look forward to going to work every day, and I learn something new, sometimes several new things, every day. I’m incredibly lucky to have a job I love, colleagues I respect and like a lot and a passion for what I do.

This is my first post and I think it’s apt that it’s about my recent experience as a library customer. As the guy on the Hair Club for Men commercial says, “I’m not just the president, I’m a client.” Well, me too, but for the Library, not Hair Club for Men.

I found out a few weeks ago that I needed a hysterectomy, not an unusual situation for a woman in her mid-50s. After I got over the initial bit of shock, I went into librarian mode —- get information, get it now! The first place I went was the Health Information Neighborhood here at the Library. Since I still like to think of myself as a reasonably proficient reference librarian, I did my own search first and found several books including, The Complete Guide to Hysterectomy: a Gynecologist’s Advice on Your Choices Before, During and After Surgery, Including Alternatives to Hysterectomy by Dr. Lauren Streicher (616.1453/STR) and The Hysterectomy Hoax; the Truth about Why Hysterectomies Are Unnecessary and How to Avoid Them by Stanley West (616.1453/WES)

My husband and I read these together and discussed them. They were enormously helpful in making decisions.

I also visited the library’s website, called the Digital Branch. There’s a Health and Wellness section including online resources the Library subscribes to like Consumer Health Complete with information ranging from very technical evidence-based reports to reference books, pamphlets, even videos!

After conducting my own search, I consulted with Scarlett Fisher-Herreman, the librarian in charge of the Health Information Neighborhood and our resident consumer health specialist. She recommended several other sources including a website, HysterSisters, which offers not only a wealth of information, but also women sharing their experiences and advice and a network of support.

Tip: Always check with a librarian. You’ll be amazed what a difference a trained information professional can make in what information you find, how quickly you find it and the options s/he will give you.

So it’s been a couple of weeks, and I’m doing great. I’m working from home and as a matter of fact, I wrote this post exactly a week after my surgery. And remember your library the next time you have a question or concern about your or a loved one’s health.

I’d really like to hear your experiences and thoughts about the Library. You have an open invitation to post to my blog. Let’s get to know each other.

Here’s a question to get us started. What have you discovered at the library that’s made a difference in your life?