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we move to canadalaura khttp://www.blogger.com/profile/05524593142290489958noreply@blogger.comBlogger6549125
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dispatches from ola 2016, part 2: libraries and prisons

Sun, 02/07/2016 - 10:00
I've had a longstanding interest in prison libraries, and was happy to meet another librarian-friend who shares this. But I was very pleasantly surprised at the large turnout for the talk Prisons and Libraries: A Relationship Worth Incubating at the 2016 OLA Super Conference. A panel of three librarians who serve incarcerated people in different capacities gave the presentation.

Why prison libraries? From a rehabilitation perspective, there is a high correlation between illiteracy and crime, and illiteracy and recidivism. Certainly education can only help inmates successfully re-enter society.

From a social justice perspective, most people in prison are there because their life circumstances led inexorably to criminality. Access to information can help change the odds.

And from a human rights perspective, access to information is a basic human right - but prisons are environments of severe information poverty. Contrary to popular belief, inmates have no access to television or internet.

For decades, prison libraries had been a regular feature of all correctional facilities in North America. They were run by professional librarians, usually with inmate volunteers. It will not surprise you to learn that conservative and neoliberal governments have eliminated the meager funds once used for prison libraries. New prisons - often run for profit by private corporations - are now built without space for a library.

Fortunately, there are librarians who are so committed to providing information services to inmates that they are doing so anyway, without government support or funding, as volunteers. As president of my library workers' union, I spend a good deal of time and energy pushing back against the incursion of volunteers in our library. But for some communities, it's volunteers or nothing.

Library services to prisons include resource fairs, book clubs (and kits to get book clubs started), deliveries of weeded copies of bestsellers, and collecting and distributing donated magazines. One of the speakers noted that readers' advisory is one of the few services that treats inmates as individuals, rather than as "a population".

During this talk, I quickly recognized the strong connection between this presentation and the one I had attended previously, on services to indigenous people. Prison librarianship is all about relationship-building - about listening to what people want and need, then trying to provide it. And as indigenous people comprise Canada's underclass, there is a strong connection between colonialism, aboriginal issues, and the criminal justice system. A disproportionate percentage of inmates in Canadian prisons are aboriginal.

The Manitoba Library Association's Prison Libraries Committee has published a toolkit called Library Outreach on the Inside, based on their local experiences, something I look forward to reading. I don't know when or how I could get involved in this, but it's an interest I want to keep alive in my mind.

I haven't yet read Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg, but I plan to. The blog Librarian Behind Bars may have ended, but as a lot of great information archived.

There are also several organizations like this one that distribute donated books to incarcerated people. On the blog Picturesque, a librarian offers a good overview of the job and its context.

the great weed of 2016: the results are in

Wed, 02/03/2016 - 07:00
Goodbye.
A while back, I announced that Allan and I were going to try weeding our books and CD collection. A few months passed until we could find the time, but we've done it. Seven boxes of books and three boxes of CDs will be leaving our lives.

Last September, I said this:
When I was in my 20s, I wanted to own every book I'd ever read. I was one of those people who believed that my personal library was a statement about myself. I needed to proudly display my politics and my tastes through my bookshelves and records. I loved seeing other people's libraries, and loved when people perused mine. I can recall that when we found ourselves in the home of a new friend, we would soon be looking through their books and music.

For many years, we loved amassing as large a music collection as we possibly could. . . .

The whole concept of a library being a personal statement has been erased by the digital age. Most people under a certain age have never owned a physical medium of music. The sharing ethos of the internet has led to things like BookCrossing, BookMooch, Read It Foward, and Little Free Libraries. . . .

I don't know if this is a function of working in a library and having ready access to so many books, or just a general change in my desires.So there we have it. I don't fully understand why I can now let go of things that I've packed up and moved from apartment to apartment to house to house more times that I want to count. But suddenly, it's fine.

We don't know what we're doing with all of it. Some we can donate to the annual giant book sale that benefits the Mississauga Symphony Orchestra. Allan thinks we might get some money for the CDs at BMV Books. I'm highly skeptical, but I'm willing to try.

dispatches from ola 2016, part 1: choosing to walk a path

Sun, 01/31/2016 - 15:00
I attended OLA* for only one day this year, partly because I'm already missing so much work for bargaining and other union business, and partly because one day is often enough. There's a huge lineup of presentations, poster sessions, book signings, vendors, keynote speakers, tours, receptions, etc. - lots of etc. - but the presentations are the meat of the conference. Four presentations a day for three days is just too much.

As it happened, three of the four talks I attended shared a theme: bringing library services to underserved, marginalized, and socially excluded communities.

My first of the day was Choosing to Walk a Path: Library Services with Indigenous Peoples on Purpose. Monique Woroniak, from Winnipeg, a city with a significant indigenous population, first set the social and political context. It was a bit like being at our annual socialist conference: the presenter using the expression the Canadian state, as opposed to Canada, and speaking about settler colonialism as an ongoing structure, rather than an event in the past.

Woroniak showed an old family photograph from a few generations back, when her own forebears - as for many Canadian-born Canadians - were "settling" the prairies. She set the current context as the marked increase in "public expressions of indigenous sovereignty," beginning with Idle No More, but echoing through Canada with a heightened presence of indigenous literature, and in Winnipeg, with social spaces, a magazine, and other events.

I liked her explanation of the difference between diversity and anti-racism initiatives. Diversity programming celebrates multiculturalism - a commendable goal, and better than its opposite - but it leaves power structures unchanged. Anti-racism programming and services seek to create conditions to transform that power imbalance.

That can only happen with (what is now called) a "community development" model. Rather than think of ourselves and our institutions as experts - the holders of special knowledge or at least the keys to that knowledge - telling the community what we have to offer, we work to build relationships, so the community can tell us what they need.

What this looks like in practical terms, as far as I can tell, is not substantially different than a purposeful and meaningful attempt to be more inclusive, combat racism, and educate the public at large about a marginalized community. The difference, it seems, is how one arrives at that goal. And in a field where we are measured by statistics - how many materials circulated, how many people attended a program - this shifts the focus from end result to process.

The most important thing - something we talk about all the time in relation to youth, older adults, or any other population we serve - is not to tell people what we're doing for them, but ask them what they want us to do for and with them. Sounds simple, right? The reality is remarkably elusive. In the context of austerity budgets and skeletal staff, taking time to build relationships and focus on process might as well be a unicorn ride on a rainbow.

One minor note I found interesting was Woroniak`s take on the use of the word "ally". She said (I paraphrase), "You don't call yourself an ally. If a person from the community you are serving calls you an ally, then accept that as a great compliment, but you don't decide that." I'm not sure what to make of that, given that Idle No More shares "I am an ally" badges online.

Next up: Prisons and Libraries: A Relationship Worth Incubating.





* Officially the Ontario Library Association Super Conference, but always referred to as O-L-A, as if we are attending the organization.

what i'm reading: the invention of air by steven johnson

Sun, 01/31/2016 - 13:00
How do we know that the oxygen exists, and that oxygen is different from carbon dioxide? Well, we know it because we've been taught those facts. But how did that knowledge enter the scientific record? Air is invisible to our eyes. How did humans first understand that invisible gases exist, and have predictable properties?

Answering that question, The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America by science historian Steven Johnson, is at its most interesting. The body of experiments that led to the "discovery" of oxygen, carbon dioxide, the properties of gases, and other foundational principles of chemistry were completely unknown to me. (Indeed, I doubt I had ever considered the question.)

This book introduced me to one Joseph Priestly, considered the father of modern chemistry, and a towering thinker of his era, yet largely unknown to the public today.

As Priestly was a contemporary of several of the American "founding fathers", the author illustrates Priestly's importance with these statistics.
In their legendary thirteen-year final correspondence, reflecting back on their collaborations and their feuds, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams wrote 165 letters to each other. In that corpus, Benjamin Franklin is mentioned by name five times, while George Washington is mentioned three times. Their mutual nemesis Alexander Hamilton warrants only two references. By contrast, Priestley, an Englishman who spent only the last decade of his life in the United States, is mentioned fifty-two times.One reason (of many) that Johnson greatly admires Priestly was that he valued open inquiry and the sharing of knowledge more than personal credit or financial gain. Priestly was a dedicated open-source man. He would share his ideas, writing, and data with anyone who was interested. This probably resulted in less fame, and definitely resulted in less income, but those were not Priestly's goals.

The Invention of Air is much more than a biography of Priestly or an account of his experiments. Priestly's work helped define and solidify scientific method, and his political and religious ideas influenced the birth of the American republic. I found these areas more challenging and less interesting. Johnson assumes a degree of knowledge of the history of science that I lack. And the book gets bogged down in biographical detail that seems trivial or irrelevant.

I loved Johnson's The Ghost Map - I'm at least partly responsible for it being promoted widely in our library system - and I've enjoyed (on Netflix) several episodes of Johnson's PBS series, "How We Got to Now". So it was a little disappointing not to love this book, too. But The Invention of Air is often fascinating, and it's well worth the read.

As I did when I reviewed Soul Made Flesh, I caution readers about grisly details of experiments on animals.