Contact me

These days, I'm the director of the American Library Association' s Office for Intellectual Freedom. I'm also executive director and secretary of the Freedom to Read Foundation. See "About Me" for contact information.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Aspen Walker at Internet Librarian

My executive assistant, Aspen Walker, is a recent MLIS grad. Before she came to work directly with me, she was in our Community Relations Department. Recently (Oct. 28, 2009), she presented at the Internet Librarian conference. The title was "We're All Marketers Now." Aspen is a rising librarian, focused on the Right Stuff.

Aspen blogs, and tweets (as AspenWalker)-- both worth following.

Here is her intriguing presentation.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Zombies and the library

I don't know which I like best about this -- the clear animated description, so helpful to the earnest student, or the fact that well, zombies are just everywhere, and hardly deserve comment. This is true for so many of us these days.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Halloween book burning

You can't make this stuff up. To get the UK-based report about this upcoming North Carolina event, click the title of this entry.

To get the list of books to be burned, and why, go right to the Amazing Grace Baptist Church site (in Canton, North Carolina) here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Does the Brain Like E-books?

Click the title of this entry to go to the fascinating compilation of short essays in the New York Times.

The question: is reading an electronic text (or video book, called "vook") qualitatively different from reading ink on paper? My two favorite quotes:

"I have no doubt that the digital immersion of our children will provide a rich life of entertainment and information and knowledge. My concern is that they will not learn, with their passive immersion, the joy and the effort of the third life, of thinking one’s own thoughts and going beyond what is given. Let us bring our best thought and research to preserving what is most precious about the present reading brain as we add the new capacities of its next iteration." Maryanne Wolf, author of "Proust and the Squid."

"Reading online is thus not just about reading text in isolation. When you read news, or blogs or fiction, you are reading one document in a networked maze of an unfathomable amount of information. My own research shows that people are continually distracted when working with digital information. They switch simple activities an average of every three minutes (e.g. reading email or IM) and switch projects about every 10 and a half minutes. It’s just not possible to engage in deep thought about a topic when we’re switching so rapidly." - Gloria Mark

These are not Luddites, but thoughtful researchers revealing what we do now (decode, then go beyond), and trying to track the continuing evolution of the brain as it wraps itself around new technology.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Speaking to libraries

I've just come back from giving three talks to librarians in as many weeks: Burley, Idaho, Elko, Nevada, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.

All were fascinating. I like librarians and library people. And although there are some regional differences, I think we have far more similarities. (Well, OK, Jefferson Parish, just outside of New Orleans, dealt with two hurricanes. That's kind of unique. I hope.)

My talks to these groups have centered around three themes:

* brain research. Science has learned a lot about how and why we think, how we learn to read, and why that's so important for humanity.

* models for library development and market penetration. Some librarian pioneers from around the country (and beyond) have done some useful experiments that point the way for the rest of us. Those models and trends need to be shared -- they'll save us time and money.

* combining all of these things into a new story that will work on building not just library use, but library support. Today, outside my own library, there was somebody gathering petitions to roll back taxes to the point where local municipalities, libraries, and schools, would be driven into penury, to our mutual detriment. OK, free speech, but a testament to the profound lack of civic understanding of too many of today's voters. But that same brain research tells us that cold, hard facts probably won't change any minds. We need a new and more compelling frame. The best research on this topic to date is OCLC's "From Awareness to Funding."

At any rate, those are the topics I converse with librarians about these days. If you want to know more about those things, email me. Have opinions, will travel.

So do you want to be happy, or what?



Thanks to Hank Long for this one, although I don't know where he found it. It does seem to size things up.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Invest in Early Education Now, Spend Less on Prison Later

Click on the entry title to get a wonderful report from the state of Washington. This is what I mean by "community outcomes:" the demonstrated value of a program.

A quote of note: "At-risk children randomly excluded from the Perry Preschool Program were 85% more likely to have been sentenced to prison or jail by age 40."

Another: "Program participants were 47 percent more likely to attend a 4-year college than those left out of the program. Kids who were left out of the program were 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime before their 18th birthday. By the time they were 24, the high-risk individuals who had not participated in the program were 24 percent more likely to have been incarcerated than the participants. When the 100,000 participants have all turned 18, the Child-Parent Centers will have prevented an estimated 33,000 crimes in that city."

I hope it goes without saying (not that I intent to let it stay that way) that an investment in public libraries is ALSO an investment in early literacy, and has a similar payoff in communities that are safer, and do a better job of growing productive citizens.

For fiscal and social conservatives out there: which approach is CHEAPER? Teach them, or lock them up? Because those are the choices.

Note: as of 10/20, the link doesn't work again. But try this, which is about Colorado.

Also, I wrote a column about this recently, with more Colorado information.

Two library stories

I'm in Elko, Nevada, for a gathering of Nevada Library Association folks. Tomorrow, I'm speaking on library advocacy. It happens that I got two emails today, one about a library in Illinois (where I come from), and one about the library I now direct in Douglas County, Colorado. The timing couldn't be better.

Here's the first article, with a snippet from the beginning, then the link:
Telling her mother that she wanted to come to the aid of a library under attack, 11-year-old Sydney Sabbagha stood at the podium before the Oak Brook village board.

"I used to go to the library knowing there were people there to help me find a book. Now there is no one to help me," Sydney said solemnly. "It will never be the same without the people you fired."

Sydney nestled back into her seat, but that didn't stop 69-year-old criminal attorney Constantine "Connie" Xinos from boldly putting her in her place.

"Those who come up here with tears in their eyes talking about the library, put your money where your mouth is," Xinos shot back. He told Sydney and others who spoke against the layoffs of the three full-time staffers (including the head librarian and children's librarian) and two part-timers to stop "whining" and raise the money themselves.

"I don't care that you guys miss the librarian, and she was nice, and she helped you find books," Xinos told them.

"Don't cry crocodile tears about people who are making $100,000 a year wiping tables and putting the books back on the shelves," Xinos smirked, apparently referencing the fired head librarian, who has advanced degrees and made $98,676 a year. He said Oak Brook had to "stop indulging people in their hobbies" and "their little, personal, private wants."

You can find the rest of this appalling tale here. (And thank you, B. Strand, for sending it to me.)

The second story starts like this:
More and more patrons are walking through the doors at libraries throughout Douglas County, but it’s not because of a sudden rise in avid readers.

Job hunters are coming in droves to utilize free resources offered by Douglas County Libraries — including employment databases, helpful workshops and Internet-ready computers.

Dozens of out-of-work residents have found employment by fine-tuning their resumes, browsing through the Douglas County Employment iGuide and drafting attention-grabbing cover letters.

Many of those who utilize library job-searching services do not have to go it alone. A team of reference librarians, along with a few volunteers, walk laid-off workers through a process that many have not experienced in several years.

And the rest of that, more uplifting tale, can be found here.

First story: libraries don't matter. Our perfect villain.

Second story: libraries matter a lot. With lots of heroes.

The second one, of course, would be advocacy. (And thank you, Chris Michlewicz, for writing it!)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

"A History of God," by Karen Armstrong

After returning from a speaking engagement for the Idaho Library Association (wonderful people!), I came down with what might be, but I hope isn't, H1N1. (Back from the doctor. Yeah. Probably is. Got it from my son, who got it from school, which seems to be the main vector this time of year.) It's flu-like. I've spent about 30 hours in bed, sweating, shaking, coughing, and napping. In between, I picked up a book I've been wanting to read for years, "A History of God," by Karen Armstrong. Together, the experience is kind of shamanistic. I emerge from time to time for ritual soup, then back into a swelter of holy words, delirium, and dreams.

I've read a lot of Armstrong's works now, and find them consistently insightful. But she's subtle, too. She doesn't lay out her conclusions in a "first I'll tell you what I'm going to tell you, then I'll tell you, then I'll tell you what I told you" manner.

The subtitle is "the 4,000-year quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam." And some of her core themes seem to shake out like this:

* the idea of God does change, has changed in significant ways, in accordance with the times and trials of the people professing belief.

* the changes are parallel in all three faiths. That is, all have dealt in remarkably similar ways with the "problem" of creation (how does something come from nothing), of an impersonal deity beyond human knowledge versus the personal and subjective religious experience, of suffering and evil, of reason and science. The bottom line: outside of the more recent surge of fundamentalism, most of the faiths settled into an understanding that God, and scripture, is not literal truth, but symbolic, mythic, ultimately a subjective experience.

* Islam is particularly misunderstood in the west, despite the fact that it has been until the most recent times among the most tolerant of all the faiths.

* Western Christianity -- with the tendency in both Catholic and Protestant faiths to harshly enforce explicit doctrines -- is a cautionary tale. The personal God allows us to project our individual ignorance and prejudice on the Almighty, excusing and even mandating acts of violence and cruelty. There is also in Western Christianity, often, a wild emotionalism -- revivals, being "born-again" -- that seem quite contrary to the calmer and perhaps more abiding faith that comes through spiritual discipline and contemplation.

As the religionists here described encountered new challenges -- political, social, psychological -- they looked to their religion to help them survive. Generally speaking, each of the faiths lived up to those challenges. The exception may be the Holocaust. Many Jews, and not only Jews, concluded that either there is no God, God could have done something and didn't (so is monstrous), or God is impotent.

Armstrong leaves us with an interesting question: so, do we need God? Or can we find enough connection, transcendent meaning, cause for compassion, without such a construct? Her book ends with a marvelously touching poem by Thomas Hardy, "In the Darkling Thrush." [Interestingly, Wallace Stevens wrote, "After one has abandoned a belief in god, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life's redemption."]

Where Armstrong excels is in her ability to describe, without slander. She doesn't answer any questions. But she leaves you with better ones.