Guest Blogger

An Autistic Children’s Librarian’s Take on To Siri with Love and Parenting Books

To Siri with Love: A Mother, Her Autistic Son, and the Kindness of Machines by Judith Newman was released on August 22nd.  An online controversy surrounding the book’s representation of autism has “blown up” during the past week, and there are now calls in the autistic community to #BoycottToSiri.

I will not attempt to rehash the controversy, which has been thoroughly discussed on Twitter, on the “Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism” Facebook page, and on autistic blogs including those of John Elder Robison and Lydia X. Z. Brown..  I do however feel that the questions raised by this controversy are relevant to this blog because libraries are choosing to carry it in their parenting sections, which are typically developed by children’s librarians.

As an autistic person, I was troubled by the book’s content and tone.  Yet, as a librarian, I am quite uncomfortable with book boycotts, as I believe that the freedom to read should trump all considerations. (No pun intended.)  The content of To Siri with Love does not advance the well-being of autistic people.  However, I chose to read the book, and find this fact out for myself rather than rely on screen shots of the author’s words that were plastered all over Twitter.  I believe that this freedom to read and ask questions is what we as librarians need to stand for.

I stop short of endorsing #BoycottToSiri, but I believe that there are systemic issues with the way that books like this are reviewed that need to be addressed.  To my knowledge, no autistic person was invited to review this book for a major source.  This is unfortunate, because I have yet to hear of an autistic person who read this book and did not find it to be problematic.

The issues with this book should have been flagged in the review process.  This book is not what most public libraries would call an essential purchase; it is not a bestseller, and is not critically acclaimed.  Had any reviews, in trade publications or national newspapers, raised concerns about the content, perhaps fewer librarians would have felt inclined to buy it.

Cover Photo of https://www.amazon.com/Parents-Practical-Resilience-Children-Spectrum/dp/1785922742/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1512701285&srCover photo of The Parents' Practical Guide to Resilence for Children Ages 2 to 10 on the Autism Spectrum Cover photo of What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents KnewHow can our parenting sections better serve parents of autistic kids?  When developing the collection, try to put yourself in an autistic reader’s shoes.  Look for books by #actuallyautistic writers; two releases I’d suggest from 2017 are The Parents’ Practical Guide to Resilence for Children Ages 2 – 10 on the Autism Spectrum by Jeanette Purkis and Emma Goodall, and the Autism Women’s Network’s What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew.  For other books, ask yourself: does the book in question seem like one that celebrates differences?  If you think long and hard about whether an autistic person would be comfortable with the book, you’ll likely come away with a strong sense of that book’s value.

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An avatar representing "Justin Spectrum"
Image courtesy of guest blogger

This guest post was written by “Justin Spectrum.”  Justin Spectrum is the pseudonym for a youth services librarian in the United States. Read more about his perspectives as an autistic children’s librarian in this previous ALSC Blog piece. All opinions are his alone; he can be reached at  realjustinspectrum@gmail.com or on Twitter @realjspectrum. Justin would love to hear from you; email him directly or add comments to this post.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

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