Category Archives: Literacy

At the Circulation Desk

Serious about Serials: a periodical discussion on titles you may not find in your local library

Highlight: Drive In Asylum, Iss. 14

Photo by Library Tech Files

“In celebration of printer paper and stapled bindings, there is a love affair with the content and a hinted desire to share it with as many fans as possible…”

Estimated reading time for this article: 6 mins

By James Johnson

At the end of 2020 we discussed the unfortunate passing of editor Joe Kane, the man that cast the shadow of the Phantom of the Movie’s; a cinema reviewer extraordinaire. Truly one of the greats, Joe Kane cultivated a tone and message as columnist and film critic. He distilled this character into the pages of the cult magazine for cinema freaks, Videoscope. Although we had hoped someone would carry the mantel, the truth is many of these treasures are either in decline or defunct. Despite the sad loss of Joe, the article I wrote about Videoscope fostered a new hope in me, similar to feelings I get when searching for lost media. With this new hope and my long-time love of the medium, a series on articles, reviews, and discussions of periodicals seemed inevitable.

Of course I anticipate the reader rolling their eyes in frustration, miffed that we discuss magazines far too often. And of those discussed, fringe cinema and cult movie zines have been front and centre. Perhaps pulpy periodicals are not as popular to the average reader as “contemporary fiction on social commentary” advisory may be. There is growing cultural and social angst in our communities, and coming together to recognize injustices is more relevant than ever. Municipal funding for library programming, collection development, and resource advisory likewise could not be more relevant or needed than right now. For the most part I think our librarians are capable, qualified, and effective at delivering these services to the community. Now, more than ever, libraries are serving us in so many ways it can be hard to keep track of the apps and third party subscription services metropolitan systems tend to support. Toronto Public Library’s services are plenty, ranging from research assistance to dial-a story for sleepy time.

With that prefaced: I’m not a librarian. I’m a library technician by trade. I don’t work in a library. The pandemic has made it even harder for newer graduates to get a fair shot and those with the most experience are usually considered first for interviews. But what kind of library tech would I be if my best solution was to do nothing? Not a very good one, I can tell you. So I use this platform, which I have worked hard to build and brand, to exercise my skills and training.

Though I know reaching the most patrons possible is part of policy and for good reason. It’s cost effective and addresses common elements in most mission statements, usually something to do with equitable access and resource allocation. However, it is my opinion that I should reflect on the less obvious titles in order to promote and support content and creators, and to promote discovery of new sources otherwise overlooked.

Mainstream magazines get enough of the spotlight and certainly most of the shelf and budget space. I can use this venue to share some of the better unknown publications I have had great fun researching and reading. In a way, I get to develop my own advocacy, a skill library technicians should cultivate for career development.

In the spirit of literacy and promotion and getting out of my wheelhouse from time to time, I do plan on sharing a review of some of the resources librarians in my neck of the woods utilize. Resources for collection development and acquisitions can be websites, catalogues, and (you guessed it) periodicals. Watch for a Quill & Quire review in the near future.

What’s important to remember is this: if I only showcase or recommended the resources typically found in a public library system, the content I think has value would remain lost to a broader audience. Or potentially lost all together. Libraries can be discovery hubs to resources not in the library itself and I’m happy to support and encourage patrons to seek alternatives to the library holdings.

For now, I’d like to share a few alternatives to Videoscope in a short series of reviews. I’ve gathered some titles I think meet the requirements. These range from mainstream glossy newsstand quality to the independent enthusiast with an inkjet fanzine.

Home internet access was a launching pad for indie content creators that reached the masses like never before. I wasted many hours combing the web for “zines”

The 90’s opened the door for home-brew publications to reach greater audiences with access to the internet. E-shopping indie zines and newsletters was easy, even on dial-up. I remember receiving my Art Bell After Dark newsletter after purchasing a subscription through his website. Thumbing through pages of UFO and Bigfoot Polaroids scanned and pasted in glorious black and white with clip art highlights remains vivid in memory. Especially after receiving and reviewing Drive In Asylum’s 14th issue.

Drive-In Asylum from editor Bill Van Ryn of Groovy Doom reminds me so much from that time. When I stumbled upon their Etsy page I new I wanted to get a closer look. Scrolling through their past issues I quickly settled on issue 14, a Joe Bob Briggs feature I thought looked great. The cover illustration by contributing writer Sam Panico is eye catching and evocative. The pages are lined with classic drive in movie posters and full of reviews, commentaries, a point/counter point column, and of course, interviews. The writing has that unmistakable tone of a schlock movie mag you’d find on the stand, with informal writing, shot from the hip. I love it. I’m not reading this for an authoritative deconstruction of the narrative and structure in The Killer Shrews, I want to feel like I’m sitting on the couch with an old friend, the credits are rolling and the discussion’s are frank.

That’s not to say the articles aren’t accurate, comprehensive, or intelligent. On the contrary, the contributors are skilled and talented writers. I’ve been reading Rob Freese’s work for years and I respect his insight and opinions.

The simple but effective printing and binding method allows for a smaller bottom line for the reader, albeit at a significant sacrifice in quality. The content overshadows any misdemeanours in quality. In celebration of printer paper and stapled bindings, there is a love affair with the content and a hinted desire to share it with as many fans as possible. You can’t help but appreciate the work that goes in to editing a fanzine like this. To organize your colleagues and come together for the joy of the reel. Any points I would be willing to dock are forgiven on such merit alone. The insight gained from the Joe Bob interview stands on its own as qualifier for a great read.

Drive In Asylum provides an intimate and appreciative perspective on movies, and the contributors clearly love what they do. The old movie poster and Drive In adverts are a pleasure to look at. Despite the quantity of these images, it doesn’t feel like any of it is filler for a lack of content. The movie posters are essential, and I found myself reminiscing over my days behind the video rental counter, hanging posters and watching screeners.

It’s almost impossible to suggest a fanzine for readers advisory. When it comes to the budget, a library has to put priority on popular items to reach a broader audience. My unique position and experience in advisory in the private sector (books and movies) and obvious lack of current library employment allows me to shed those policy limitations and recommend whatever the heck I want. Within reason of course, I’m not a madman.

Titles like Drive In Asylum are what keep bringing me back to periodicals. Without a doubt there are significant challenges with publishing a recurring title and I applaud any effort given to producing such content with frequency. Support independent creators like Groovy Doom’s fanzine and check out Drive In Asylum.

Item details:

Title: Drive In Asylum, iss. 14.
Publisher: Groovy Doom and Co.
Type: Fanzine (independent publication)
Date: February 2019
ISSN: NA
Recommended Audience: 16+
Order from: http://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/GroovyDoom?ref=shop_sugg

Won’t somebody please think of the children…!?

Representation of horror culture in children’s media key to their strength, resolve, problem solving, imagination, and character development
“Can you tell us where we can find the Fear Street series?”

By James Johnson

It’s still possible that Halloween may be cancelled this year, as COVID-19 continues to batter us. But that doesn’t mean our kids shouldn’t entertain themselves with festive content this fall. Or does it?

In her 2018 book “Once Upon a Time in a Dark and Scary Book: The Messages of Horror Literature for Children”, K. Shryock Hood has laid out a concerted effort to identify contemporary youth horror fiction as hopeless fare which leaves our children vulnerable, perhaps susceptible, to the horrific realities of this world. That, no matter how hard your parents may try, sometimes there just isn’t anyone coming to rescue you. In fact, she argues that parents actively endorse access to these types of stories for their kids – books with repetitive hopelessness as recurring motif.

But what is hopelessness? Hopeless for whom? The reader? The character? Suppose the author failed to connect the reader to the victim as a result of lack-luster character development. I’m terrible at flushing out characters and my son actively seeks to destroy the NPC’s in our Dungeons & Dragons adventures because they’re just that unrelatable. But when he picks up a Goosebumps book, he gets scared, much like when he watches a movie that has a particularly difficult scene or two. He closes his eyes at the movie or puts the book down when it becomes too much.

Why bother with these books anyways, if they are clearly too much for our kids to handle? Is it traumatizing that I offer these options to our son? He knows I love horror culture. He is aware of the serials I review, and the movies I watch, though he doesn’t read or watch them himself. So why then does the sight of flesh eating zombies and monsters devouring the innocent make him giggle and cheer while a quiet, dark hallway awakens a sinister primal fear within him?

Horror becomes real when we make the horrific event entirely plausible. This is when the real fear creeps into the child’s psyche, when we lend credibility to the impossible. For example, a mask that a child wears for Halloween is haunted and turns them into a demon-monster that attacks their friends. This part of the book isn’t particularly scary, says our 7 year old son. It’s a mask that turns you into a monster. Pretty clearly fantastical.

Fast forward to the second half of the book and the story changes from killer masks to killer pumpkins. But the kicker is these pumpkins come for you when you’re all tucked in and snuggled under your blankets and it’s dark and the night is cold and no one believes you when you tell them the killer pumpkins are trying to kill you. This story freaked him out way more than the haunted mask because the night is endless with possibilities and the warm bed is so familiar.

Children’s horror should be embraced on the grounds that it encourages problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and ingenuity.

For her work, Dr. Shryock Hood uses examples like the left behind series for children. That’s the Christian series where the rapture leaves behind non-believers. I haven’t read or reviewed the children’s version of these books so whether or not this constitutes horror, or even children’s literature, I’ll leave that up to your discretion; but my thinking on the whole matter is as follows:

If, as a parent, you find yourself curating your child’s collection of books (the beloved children’s bedtime bookshelf is iconic), then it will be entirely up to you as to what you wish to censor, and what you will let them experience. For our home, It has always been our belief as parents that we would be honest and open with any queries our son would have. As a general rule, we follow standardized guidelines like the motion picture rating system, the comics code authority, and the entertainment software rating board (ESRB) to make quick, uneducated decisions when in a pinch. Of course, nothing can replace proper research and parental due diligence, but these guidelines are in place for a reason. This way, we believed we wouldn’t need to hide anything from him for protective purposes so long as we provided context and rationale behind whatever it was he consumed, witnessed, experienced, etc.

In addition to these important discussions and industry rating systems, selection and curation have remained two of the most important functions for successfully managing any potentially stressful or harmful content. So, with that being said, it’s my purview that dangerous, hostile, uncomfortable, and perhaps even deadly scenarios are important to understand and to contextualize. Children’s horror should be embraced on the grounds that it encourages problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and ingenuity.

The face of incurable trauma.

Of course, I agree that there should be some limitations to what children are subjected to in media. I’m not a complete monster. I also think that happy endings in horror books should be encouraged, so that children with softer resolves can enjoy the genre too. But I honestly encourage storytellers to aim higher, avoid patronizing solutions to pedestrian problems, and make the fear real. Our children are not as delicate as we think and challenging reads should be encouraged in order to diversify their emotional tool kits for when they need to face real world problems, in very real ways.

This season really brings out the frights!

Keep reading and happy horrors, kiddies.

Gaming in libraries: Addressing Contemporary Literacy Challenges Through Play

Estimated reading time for article: 4 mins

By James Johnson

Today’s youth have vast opportunities to access games and other forms of play media. Gaming has long since been a large part of play for generations, however today we see gaming incorporated not simply as tools of play but learning tools for multimedia literacy. Acknowledging the importance of gaming has become vital in implementing literacy strategies and policies for many modern libraries. As gaming develops and becomes a bigger part of society, so too develop problematic concerns surrounding potentially negative aspects of gaming, such as addiction and violence. Though it has been demonstrated that modern games can contain graphic violence and can be potentially addictive, it has also been demonstrated that these issues pale in comparison to the benefits of gaming as promotion for literacy.

Gaming has been present and a part of library culture for quite some time. In the past libraries in the UK installed billiard tables and chess boards to attract more patrons. Decisions to add gaming fixtures in the library was progressive, an attempt to draw more people to a building long believed to be solely for the purpose of quiet, reflective reading.

The games we enjoy today are quite different from those of yesteryear. Board games have evolved into creative, challenging, and engaging mediums of gaming. Video games have grown with technology to incorporate intensely realistic and troubling themes. Concerns have arisen regarding the influence these games can have on our reactions and contributions to violence.

News agencies have reported in the past on violent incidents in the public, suggesting a correlation between violence in reality and violence in video games . But this is not the case according to Ferguson et al. In their 2016 study they found that stating video games are a source for aggressive behavior and violence is too simplistic a response to the issue, and their results suggest the correlation is null

Another concern often voiced regarding gaming is the potentiality of addiction. However, Scott Nicholson suggests that there are plenty of preexisting addictive mediums in the library already, such as books or movies.

In addition to the Ferguson findings, further readings can find links to how video games engage players in new forms of literacy development. Buchanan and Vanden-Elzen write that “Video games do introduce a new literacy because messages are encoded and decoded in new ways”. This introduction of a new type of literacy is extremely important and supporting it as a library service is specifically important.

Children are learning with new mediums. Technology is more than a tool for literacy. Technological literacy is paramount for the development of children to become successful adults in society. I believe that the technology sector will be a primary employer of the next generation. Vivian Alvarez has a similar view in the connection between tech literacy and the future success of our children in the workforce, stating it is “more important than ever before as we foster a generation of students who must be lifelong learners as technology—and its impact on their careers—rapidly evolves throughout their lives”.

Storytelling has evolved and we share experiences with each other using these evolved mediums. Education can be bolstered by incorporating video games to assist in children’s literacy. Librarians Swiatek and Gorsse believe that their profession will inevitably deal with developing and supporting gaming services as core policies become standard.

The components of gaming like education, learning, addiction, violence, literacy, and it’s history are important factors in determining how the library can adopt services that address the complexity and significance of gaming for the community. I think it’s clear that gaming has more positive potential than negative, and like Swiatek and Gorsse, I believe that addressing the need for policy and service development is crucial for the library to continue to stay relevant.

For more information, check out the sources contained in this article:

“Playing Games at the Library: Seriously?” By Swiatek and Gorsse
“Do Video Games Lead to Violence?” By Susan Scutti
“Games and Literacy”  and “Gaming in Library Session: concern about gaming in libraries” by Scott Nicholson
“Violent Video Games Don’t Increase Hostility in Teens, but They Do Stress Girls out.”  By Christopher Ferguson et al.
“Beyond a Fad: Why Video Games Should Be Part of 21st Century Libraries.” By Kym Buchanan and Angela M. Vanden Elzen
“Engaging Students in the Library through Tabletop Gaming.” By Vivian Alvarez