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Showing posts from May, 2014

Extraordinary claims

Way back in the 70s, I happened across the book "Worlds in Collision," by Immanuel Velikovsky. It was a thick, sweeping, highly detailed book in which the author, a noted scholar (psychologist) advanced a theory of celestial catastrophes designed to explain various world myths (like the flood, the plagues of Egypt, and so on). It was absolutely absorbing and fascinating. And virtually everything about it has been rejected by scientists, often savagely. As a work of comparative mythology, it was compelling. As a work of science, not so much. Even Carl Sagan took pains to refute most of its core claims (although he did chide academicians for their unwillingness to at least examine the claims first).

Well, I was taking a couple of long car trips, and checked out the 11-disc audiobook set called "The Lost Empire of Atlantis," by Gavin Menzies. Menzies, a former submarine commander, was decidedly not a member of the Atlantis-as-spacemen crowd. But he came to believe, an…

Open government and libraries

It happens that I serve on an advisory committee for an IMLS grant on Open Government. Crafted by the good people at the University of Albany (NY), the grant is about encouraging public libraries to contribute to the open government trend.
That trend seems to comprise several other things:
- the rise of e-government. More and more governments use new technologies (mostly web-based tools) to make it possible to retrieve information that used to require office hours and staff assistance.
- Transparency. Tyranny and waste thrive in secrecy. If government operates in the light, at least in theory it should be easier to detect misbehavior. (On the other hand, it may be that we can have governmental efficiency, OR government transparency, not both.) On the other hand, transparency might lead to something more positive: citizen contributions, and if not efficiency, at least effectiveness.
- Civic engagement. And here the idea is that real citizenship or democracy depends upon a vigorous dis…

Saskatchewan Library Association

Back on May 2, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Saskatchewan Library Association. The location was Moose Jaw, a town of about 40,000. It has a nice vibe: a mix of historic buildings, a lovely old downtown park, and a number of live theaters. 
It wasn't a big conference - I suppose there were about 150 attendees. Most of the public libraries, I gather, are part of municipalities, and get their money from the general fund, and the province. Speaking at the opening event for the conference were the local mayor, and several provincial elected officials. All spoke highly of the importance of libraries. Privately, I've been told that this support is more moral than financial.
In general, it appears that the issues affecting libraries are much the same in North America. There is, nonetheless, a sense that although Canadians have funding woes, too, they don't seem to operate in the highly charged anti-government atmosphere of the states. I think this comes down to the fundament…