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Email: mlcref@mlc.lib.ms.us

Monday, November 22, 2021

We Can Help With That

Alex Brower
Information Services Director


What do To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple, and The Sun Also Rises have in common?

They’re all banned books! These classics have been banned, nearly banned, and everything in between for a variety of reasons, some of which you can read here.

On one side of those challenges there is always a librarian or teacher who was incorporating a novel into their collection or classroom. They had reasons behind choosing to add these books to their collection and teaching them to generations of students. When a book is chosen for a collection in a library or added to a school curriculum, there is typically a vetting process that involves reviews and research, as well as knowledge of a community. It is a deliberate and thoughtful decision. When a book is challenged or opposed, the librarian or teacher must defend their choice and dig up those reviews and articles and awards.

Or could someone else do the heavy lifting for them?

The Mississippi Library Commission is now offering a service for Mississippi teachers and libraries who face materials challenges or can feel one brewing and want to be prepared. We will do the research for you: finding awards lists, reviews, and articles that discuss the title in question so that you can more easily defend your collection and your community’s right to read. All you need to do is call our Reference Desk at 601-432-4492, text us at 601-208-0868, or email us at mlcref@mlc.lib.ms.us. We will compile the information that you need so you'll have more time for other thoughtful and deliberate decisions.

For other information about dealing with materials challenges, feel free to visit our Intellectual Freedom Resources page here. We hope that you will not need this service, but know that it will be invaluable if you do.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Let's Go StoryWalking®, Mississippi!

Storytime is one of the most iconic services public libraries provide children. They're a great way to engage kids with books and get them up and moving around . You would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't remember attending one at least once when they were small, whether with a family member, a day care, or a school group. When Covid-19 struck and social distancing became the norm, libraries were left scrambling to fill that gap. Many responded with successful virtual storytimes and outdoor storytimes, but StoryWalksⓇ, the 2007 brainchild of a Vermonter named Anne Ferguson, have exploded in popularity across the state and become the unexpected champion of storytime during the pandemic.

 

StoryWalksⓇ are a relatively simple concept. Break a book down to just its pages. Post those pages along a walking trail or around the library. Wait for the squeals of glee. Earlier this year, the Mississippi Library Commission invested a small portion of  its LSTA funds into creating four initial StoryWalksⓇ for public libraries to borrow. We chose several popular picture books: Not Norman by Kelly Bennett, The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson, How to Fold a Taco/Como Doblar un Taco by Naibe Reynoso and Ana Varela, and Kitten and the Night Watchman by John Sullivan and Tae-eun Yoo. Then our team of workers got to work disassembling the books, laminating pages, and cutting up velcro. We set up a Google document so that StoryWalkⓇ visitors could check in via QR code and we were up and running. Six library systems have already taken advantage and checked out these kits, and many more were inspired to create their own. They are a new welcome addition to festivals and parks that we hope will be around for years to come. 

This year, Let's Move in Libraries and the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services have partnered to celebrate StoryWalksⓇ--and the librarians who create and promote them--across America with the first ever StoryWalkⓇ Week. Definitely visit their Facebook and Instagram pages to view the libraries showcased there. Want to check out one of our StoryWalkⓇ kits? Contact our Digital Consultant Charlie Simpkins at csimpkins@mlc.lib.ms.us to learn how. Want to create your own StoryWalkⓇ? The steps are outlined for you right here. Been to a StoryWalkⓇ in Mississippi? Tell us about your experience in the comments! And last, but certainly not least: happy reading!

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Join MLC's Talking Book Services!

Our Talking Book Services Department is hiring! Seize this opportunity to serve Mississippians who are unable to read standard print due to a visual, physical, or print disability and work in a great environment at the Mississippi Library Commission.

The interior of a library with two story tall windows that look out onto a wide lawn area backed by many trees. Someone is seated in a reading area reading a book. Text reads Join us at the Mississippi Library Commission

We are located at the Research and Development Center in Jackson, Mississippi, just off Lakeland Drive and Ridgewood Road. Our award-winning facility is the home to the Mississippi Center for the Book, a Patent and Trademark Resource Center, and, of course, the Mississippi Talking Book Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. We also offer extensive reference and interlibrary loan services for Mississippians and library consulting services, digital services, and network services for libraries and librarians across the state. Our current openings include:

If you are interested in joining our team, please submit an application to the Mississippi State Personnel Board.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Horror and Hope

Sebastian Murdoch
Readers Advisor, Talking Book Services


Growing up, friends and family might have referred to me as “a little odd.” I was a daydreamer, perpetually lost in fantastical worlds of my own creation, imagining for my toys lives and adventures of their own while I was at school or away on a family vacation. I was also inexplicably drawn to the strange and surreal, to the twisty, often scary, corners of the world around me. In those corners, I didn’t see dust and cracks in the paint, but the ashes of a hastily-smothered fire or hidden messages that only I could read. I was, to put it simply, a weird kid.

I was also, first and foremost, a reader. From the time I could string words together in a coherent sentence, I gravitated toward books and words, toward stories. My mother tells an anecdote in which, at about six or seven, I described myself as “loquacious.” Though I was right in my choice of self-identification, I imagine that I chose the word not because it fit me and my personality, but because I enjoyed the way it sounded, the languorous rise and fall of the syllables, the way it drew my lips forward, then back, then forward again as I shaped them around each sound. The fact that I just used 59 words to describe the reason for choosing that word goes to show that I am much the same now as I was then.

Another thing that has not changed for me since I was a child is my fascination with the horror genre. Throughout elementary school, I devoured the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine, even going so far as to fill out a form in the back of one of the books to join his fan club. I mailed the application and was rewarded with a signed photo of the author himself. Granted, that signature may have been a copy printed onto each of the photos sent to us ravenous children, but it still meant something to me. That photo is long gone now, misplaced or discarded during one move or another, but I remember it vividly, as I also do the stories Stine wrote. They, along with but to a lesser extent the Fear Street tales, have stuck with me into adulthood, where I now write my own horror stories professionally, as an agented writer looking toward the publication of their debut novel. While my own work does not center around children or teenagers, the core appeal of those spooky stories sits at the head of my practice, my process of crafting a narrative meant to fascinate and simultaneously repulse its reader.

Because that’s the central tenet of good horror writing, isn’t it? To make the reader scared to turn the page, but helpless in the face of their own curiosity, their need to follow the story through to the end, because it’s just that good. I think that’s something about horror that translates well to real life: so many of us are scared of how our stories will turn out, and yet most of us go through our days anyway, wanting to know how it all shakes out. It makes sense that we might be propelled through a fictional story by that same curiosity.

All this to say, I completely understand the people who eschew horror because they have lived through enough terror and pain to last them the rest of their lifetime. If you have experienced real, palpable fear that leaves behind a psychic (and, in some cases, physical) scar, then why subject yourself to that same kind of fear in your leisure time? It makes a certain kind of sense. But, on the other hand, some of those same people who have experienced trauma and fear in their real life will often find fictional horror a type of outlet or catharsis for their pain. Because they are able to control the type of fear to which they’re subjected, the fear becomes less damaging and more of a purge of the emotions that are wrapped up in fear: grief, embarrassment, guilt. If we fear the pain of grief, for instance, then might it not be helpful to run through a fictional situation in which loss plays a large role, as a sort of trial run? Would we not then be better prepared for the emotions that arise when we are in the midst of a divorce or dealing with the death of a loved one or mourning the loss of a home or a part of our lives we thought would be around forever? Of course, it’s not a foolproof strategy for how to cope with unpleasant emotions, but nothing is really.

In my case, I fear physical pain to an extreme degree. (Please disregard the fact that I have multiple tattoos; I’m talking about a more intense and ongoing pain here.) I avoid most situations in which an amount of pain might be expected. You will not catch me scaling cliffs or subjecting myself to a session of CrossFit. Scenes wherein tremendous amounts of pain are inflicted on the characters cause me to cringe and duck behind my hands. I have nightmares about body horror like Junji Ito’s The Enigma of Amigara Fault. But I have also watched almost all of the Saw movies and have listened to the audiobook of Nick Cutter’s The Troop and The Deep multiple times. I don’t know if consuming these kinds of horror stories will make it easier if I ever go through something truly painful (like when I fractured my wrist as a child), but it certainly makes me feel more grateful for the times when my body feels healthy and strong.

That’s another thing that drives horror: a fear of weakness. I would be willing to bet that most people have experienced a nightmare in which they felt completely helpless, whether that meant being unable to walk or run from a pursuer or a sudden muteness that left them incapable of calling for help. We all fear being weak in some way—physically, emotionally, or mentally—and at the core of that fear is the question, “What will be done to me when I am unable to defend myself?”

This question is especially pertinent to those of us who live with some form or marginalization. Someone with a mental illness or disability may fear an abusive conservatorship (wherein another person is put in charge of your life, as in the case of Britney Spears’s conservatorship) or institutionalization. Someone with a physical disability that literally prevents them from being able to defend themselves would have ample cause to fear an abusive caregiver or any callous stranger on the street. And, on a slightly more philosophical but no less important note, a person of color or a queer person might fear violence when they lack a support network, which might be considered a way to defend yourself against social attacks or manipulation. That’s all to say that, regardless of your placement in the social hierarchy of the West (as that is where I have lived all my life and so can only speak to my experiences here), everyone will have seen or experienced what can happen when one person is at a disadvantage to another. It’s similar to love or intimacy in a way. We are all always asking, “If I show you this vulnerable part of myself, will you be good to me?”

It’s the same for me with my writing. I put so much of my heart into my work that sharing it with another person is akin to tipping back my head and exposing my throat. They could kiss it, or they could cut it. It all depends on them at that point. And, even in spite of that fear, I still show my stories to other people. Why? Why not hide it, and thus that soft part of me, away where it can’t be harmed? Because otherwise I will have missed out on that intimacy, that connection with another person. Yes, the fear is there because I have been hurt in the past, because I know that I could be hurt again, but so too is the knowledge that hope exists. Any good horror story will maintain that spark of hope, because it isn’t just the curiosity that drives us to finish the book—it’s also the hope that, despite all that terror, things will be okay in the end. That’s why people get into relationships again even after a bad breakup or why people ride roller coasters again and again. Because the risk is worth the reward we hope awaits us. And all that fear we experienced along the way?

Well, it just makes us more grateful.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Come Library With Us!

The Mississippi Library Commission is hiring! Several beloved staff recently left for positions at other libraries and agencies. While we celebrate the new paths in their careers, we also can't wait to meet the people who will fill their shoes in the months to come. 

We're located at the Research and Development Center in Jackson, Mississippi, just off Lakeland Drive and Ridgewood Road. Our award-winning facility is the home to the Mississippi Center for the Book, a Patent and Trademark Resource Center, and the Mississippi Talking Book Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. We also offer extensive reference and interlibrary loan services for Mississippians and library consulting services, digital services, and network services for libraries and librarians across the state. Our current openings include:

If you are interested in joining our team, please submit an application to the Mississippi State Personnel Board. Please keep an eye out in the coming weeks for additional openings at our agency.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

A Letter from Your Friendly MLC Archivist

Miranda Vaughn
Reference/Archives Librarian

Dear Reader,

While organizing the MLC archives, I’ve come across a number of letters, reports, etc. regarding programs and services the Library Commission has offered over the years. Some of these were standard library services, while others were quirky and creative. Since September is Library Card Sign Up Month (and since those magical library cards get you all kinds of amazing FREE services), I thought it would be appropriate to share a few of the programs and services MLC has offered over the years.

Throughout MLC’s history, we have collaborated with other organizations in the state to provide programs and services to library patrons across Mississippi. Beginning in the 1950s, the Library Commission offered training and resources to Mississippi’s Choctaw schools. MLC also assisted the Choctaw Indian Agency in setting up a bookmobile, pictured below. 

Mississippi Library News, September 1963

Thank you letter from Pearl River Indian School student

Thank you letter from Pearl River Indian School student

Through grants and partnerships, MLC has offered films, slide shows, and special performances to our public libraries. In the late 1970s, MLC partnered with Mississippians for Educational Television to offer puppet show performances by Puppet Arts Theatre’s Peter Zapletal to some of Mississippi’s public libraries. I came across some photos of these puppets. I think they could definitely be used for the next Tim Burton movie. What do you think? 



If you want to know more about the cool services and programs the Library Commission and Mississippi public libraries offered in the 70s and 80s, check out our digitized copies of The Packet.

Did you know that MLC had a catfish mascot? In the mid-1990s, MLC partnered with the Catfish Farmers of Mississippi to hold a “name the catfish” contest. The winner was Reada the Catfish. Reada made visits to Summer Library Programs across the state and was greeted with looks of astonishment and delight.

Clarion Ledger, November 12, 1994, p. 19

The 1990s brought another important service to Mississippi libraries: the internet. Not quite as imaginative but certainly more useful, the Mississippi Information Network (called MissIN) was created by the Library Commission to give internet access to libraries across the state.

The Library Commission continues to offer a variety of services and programs, which you can check out here. To learn more about the services we offer to public libraries, as well as unique services and programs that individual libraries offer, visit your local public library. Don’t forget to sign up for a library card, so you can access all these great services and programs for FREE!


All the best,

Your friendly MLC archivist

Friday, August 27, 2021

Summer Screams

Kayla Martin-Gant
Continuing Education Coordinator

Anyone who speaks to me for more than five minutes comes away with three immutable facts: I love being a librarian, I love my goofy little dog, and I love spooky stuff. This last fact has been true since I was little; I used to watch Dark Shadows and Are You Afraid of the Dark? religiously. I wrote my first story, titled “The Haunted Dollhouse,” when I was seven years old and stuck inside at recess due to rain. I’m certainly not the only one—horror, a genre often maligned for being too low-brow to have any real literary and artistic merit, is immensely popular.

The question, though, is why?

The general scientific consensus seems to be that, for many of us, horror is cathartic in a way that many other genres aren’t. It gives us the illusion of danger without putting us in any actual risk and, once the adrenaline has built and the tension snaps, we get that sweet rush of dopamine as the credits roll.

This isn’t true only of horror movies, but of horror stories in general, and terrifying real-life tales lend themselves to those impulses as well. Whether fictional or not, horror can allow us to experience and process trauma in a safe, controlled environment.

It’s not just the physical effects that keep us coming back, though. At its core, horror also taps directly into our basest emotions in unexpectedly telling ways. We can examine the popular horror trends and titles in a particular decade or region to understand its people’s greatest fears at the time. Sometimes these fears are tangible, such as the explosion of sci-fi horror in the 1950s in reaction to the atomic bomb, or even our ongoing anxieties about climate change and the corresponding rise of apocalyptic narratives. The trappings of horror often have deeper roots, though, using tragedy and monsters as allegories for societal ills rumbling just under the surface.

Some of the best, most memorable examples of the genre have always been subversive in nature. Horror shines a light on some of the darkest parts of our histories and behaviors and, in doing so, calls our cultural mores into question. It holds a mirror up to us and asks, pointedly, if we’re truly happy with what we see. Horror fills us with fear and revulsion because it is, whether directly or through a warped, funhouse-style mirror, a reflection of us.

In that vein, one of the most interesting aspects of the horror genre is how it has, for some of us, become a home. For many marginalized groups, the monsters we grew up with are more relatable than they were probably meant to be. For those of us who feel the constant weight of bigotry, prejudice, racism and misogyny, whose brains and bodies don’t look or operate in expected ways? We empathize with the monsters we were taught to fear, and we know that other people are often more dangerous than any creature.

It’s no wonder then that the horror genre has become increasingly diverse in both the stories being told and those telling them. This has led to some fantastically innovative storytelling, and people are noticing. Not only are more horror films garnering critical acclaim, but the genre has also found a new avenue to explore in podcasts. The rise of the true crime podcast genre is well-documented, but also gaining rapid popularity are the myriad of horror fiction podcasts available for anyone and everyone.

The accessibility of podcasts for both consumer and creator, coupled with the medium’s inherent independence of outside production influence, has allowed for some incredibly complex and inclusive stories to flourish (for more on this, check out an article I wrote for Divination Hollow Reviews on some of my favorite queer horror fiction podcasts here).

Horror fiction podcasts also provide a window into one of my favorite things about horror, which is how easily it overlaps with other genres. Horror is an extraordinarily versatile genre and is therefore somewhat nebulous in how it is defined. What elements, themes, or settings are required to constitute horror over sci-fi and fantasy? What about the crossovers between horror and romance, or even horror and comedy? Horror literature has cheerfully straddled these lines for centuries, now more than ever. While this may frustrate some readers, listeners, and viewers who prefer simpler categorizations, it provides for an ever-changing landscape in which to tell our stories. Certain horror conventions may get stale, but the human imagination is a powerful thing, and fear is the most primal and universal instinct we all share.

One could say that horror, more than any other genre, connects us. We don’t all love being afraid, but if we must be? We’d prefer to be afraid together.

Be on the lookout next month for my webinar on recently released and upcoming horror titles to look forward to! In the meantime, if you want to read more about the psychology of horror, check out some of these resources:

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