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Alumna's new book provides 'message of inclusion'

Kelly Jensen is a blogger, editor and former teen librarian. A 2009 graduate of the School of Information, she is also the author of an acclaimed new book.

Here We Are: 44 Voices Write, Draw, and Speak About Feminism for the Real World pairs Kelly's background as an information professional with her commitment to helping teens understand what it means to be a feminist in the 21st century.

In a starred review, the American Library Association publication Booklist reported that Here We Are “boldly celebrates and analyzes feminism as it exists today . . . The scrapbook-style layout makes this fun, and the intimate, informal tone makes it feel like a journal passed between friends. An education unto itself, the message of inclusion and strength is an invaluable.”

Kelly is an editor and community manager for Book Riot, where she focuses on young adult literature. A Wisconsin resident, she returned to Austin in April to conduct a speaking and signing at BookPeople. Kelly also took time to answer a few questions from the iSchool.

You’ve described Here We Are as a “response to lively discussions about the true meaning of feminism on social media and across popular culture.” Why did you decide to carry over those conversations from social media to the realm of traditional book publishing?

“This is where my librarianship background is the real answer to the question. Before going full time and working as an editor/community manager for Book Riot, I worked as a teen librarian. I knew in writing my own blog and being active on social media that the people with whom I was engaging weren’t necessarily teens themselves. I was and still do primarily reach gatekeepers.

“But I wanted to take some of these powerful conversations and make them something for teens, and I knew the best way to do that would be through traditional publishing. The book would be on shelves and, thanks to my awesome publishers, look like something a teen would want to pick up.”

By assembling and editing such a diverse collection, what did you discover about the true meaning of feminism?

“It’s the same definition I started out with, which is that feminism means equality for all. Along the way, I will say that my eyes were opened to different takes on this very definition and the sort of loaded meaning behind the word for communities of color, especially. Mikki Kendall, one of the contributors, did a number of events with me after the book published, and she spoke often about being ‘an occasional feminist.’ It didn’t mean that she didn’t believe in or work on projects that meant the world to her that pushed us toward equality. Rather, it meant that there are times when that label’s history, and how it has harmed black communities, especially doesn’t fit.”

How did your background in the information field inform your approach to Here We Are?

“I knew the power of having an organized book, and more, I knew how important having additional resources in the book was. One of the conversations I’d had with my editors was about back matter. It didn’t seem like it was a necessity for the book itself, but I knew because of my background in information, it was. And it’s been nice to say to readers looking for books or other feminist media that there’s an extensive list right in the book.”

How can other information professionals encourage feminism for the real world?

“Great question! The biggest thing is to continue encouraging marginalized groups to speak up and more, to amplify and share those voices. An easy, library-based example, is remembering that Black History isn’t limited to February. It should be part and parcel of any and all displays. There needs to be continued conversations around accessibility and how we can curate and package information in ways that allow those with disabilities to access it. One thing I’ve learned over the course of my work with Book Riot, for example, is that how you label images for the web can impact how it renders for blind users; labeling an image with underscores, rather than camel case or with spaces between the words, is easier for reading software to parse (i.e., This_Is_A_Dandelion.jpeg vs. ThisIsADAndelion.jpeg vs. This Is A Dandelion.jpeg). It’s a matter of being conscious, of listening, and adapting serves in the best ways possible to reach the largest population possible.”

How did your fellow iSchool alumni, Becca Sexton and Allison Peyton Steger, contribute to the book?

“Becca and Allison made a really fun piece about how it is you can create your own superheroine identity. They wrote it and they illustrated it themselves. It’s a nice bit of lightness in the book, but it also has a power to it in reminding people—girls especially—they can be strong as much as they can be smart and funny and pretty and care about anything and everything from glitter to race cars to alleviating poverty.”

Anything else that would interest iSchool folks?

“This is and isn’t related to my book directly, but I always like to say that my job as I have now didn’t exist when I was at the iSchool. I had no idea something like this would happen, but it’s my background from the iSchool which helped me get the job and which allows me to be a voice on the team. I understand how information works and how it looks, and I’m able to do things like offer great reader’s advisory because I’ve learned how to do them professionally. Knowing how to find and evaluate information resources is a tool that has so much power in so many industries, and I feel like I’ve really found my niche. It doesn’t mean I don’t miss working in libraries or miss working with teenagers especially, but more, the education that you can get at the iSchool can be applied in so many places.

“Also, always have a lofty dream that you never know how you'll achieve but would like to. Mine was to have my name up on the sign outside of BookPeople, as I'd spent so much time and money there. Then it happened because of this book, and it was such a fantastic moment.”

Find more information about Kelly at http://kellybjensen.com.


May 22, 2017