Thursday, 29 March 2012

Strobel: Beware of angry librarians

Let the revolution begin!

By ,Toronto Sun
First posted: | Updated:
TORONTO - I crawled out of my sickbed long enough to see the screaming headline LIBRARIANS HOLD CITY HOSTAGE!, then dived back under the covers.
The librarians?!!
Yes, fellow citizens, the librarians. Toronto has 2,300 of them. Unless you have been dead or making out in the science fiction section, you know their CUPE Local 4948 is on strike.
They’ve thrown off the shackles of the Dewey Decimal System and are on the rampage.
On one hand, you say, “Great, now I can finish that copy of War and Peace.” On the other, you gasp, “Librarians have gone to war?!”
A lovable cynic I know thinks it’s because they emerged from their bibliophilic burrows for the first time in ages and the unseasonal heat fried their brains, made them militant.
Local 4948 says it’s on strike for better job security for part-time staff.
Either way, it’s the first library walkout in our megacity’s history.
Librarians even stayed at their posts during the 2009 strike by nearly 25,000 other city workers.
So this rebellion is as shocking as library science ever gets. But I don’t think it has anything to do with part-time job security. I think it’s social upheaval.
For eons, librarians have been a species in the genus geek. Males are typically meek, pasty, bespectacled and a bit light in the loafers. They wear their hair stringy. Females are meek, pasty, bespectacled and sensibly shod. They wear their hair in a bun.
Those are scientific facts, but we’ve cruelly twisted them, made them demeaning. Hollywood is the worst.
It’s A Wonderful Life, for example. In the alternative universe Bedford Falls, the one where George Bailey had never been born: George’s friend Violet is a sleazy club dancer, his mom is a snarly widow, his brother’s dead, his bartender’s a sadist, Uncle Billy is in an insane asylum, his former employer Mr. Gower is a poisoner and his beautiful, vivacious wife, Mary, is...
George Bailey: “Please, Clarence, where’s my wife? Tell me where my wife is.”
Clarence, the guardian angel: “You’re not going to like it, George.”
George Bailey: “Where is she? What happened to her?!”
Clarence: “She became an old maid. She never married...”
George Bailey: “Where is she? WHERE IS SHE?”
Clarence: “She’s... she’s just about to close up the library!”
(George tosses Clarence aside and runs off.)
Oh, the humanity! The horror! Mary’s a spinster librarian!
Pop culture is full of such images. So you can see their problem.
Playboy tried to help, running pictorials of buxom lasses pretending to be librarians. Other porn picked up the crusade.
To wit, such novels as Nympho Librarian. Subtitle: “The prim miss took off more than her mask of respectability behind the stacks — with any man who asked.”
Whew. But the key word is still “prim.” It just reinforces the image.
Besides, it’s fantasy. I’ve never met a nympho librarian, though god knows I’ve looked.
Librarians’ only real hope of emerging from the shadows of the reference section is full-blown insurgency.
Even lefty filmmaker Michael Moore understands the volcano, sexual and otherwise, that bubbles in every librarian:
“They are subversive. You think they’re just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They’re like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn’t mess with them.”
Mayor Rob Ford should pay heed to that. You can take on burly garbage collectors, fat cat bureaucrats and sun-baked road crews and everyone says, “Yesss!”
But you can’t win against pet-rescuers, people in wheelchairs, children, circus clowns, panda bears...or librarians.
You can bet the other city hall unions know this, as they too prepare for walkouts. It’s sort of like Saddam Hussein using kids as human shields before the first Gulf War.
This could get ugly.
Already, on the librarians’ picket lines, they’re singing “Row, row, row your boat.” Sends chills.
I foresee St. Margaret of Atwood swooping upon the mayor’s office, brandishing Moby Dick like it were Thor’s hammer.
I hear the battle cry: “Give us what we want, or we’ll make you read Ulysses!”
Keep your wits, Mr. Mayor.
Or the meek and pasty shall inherit the earth.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Our New Culture of Compulsive Communication

This article hit a nerve with me.  I was at a launch of a new program last week and the woman in front of me checked her smart phone it seemed every two seconds.  I find it pretentious when people have to have their cellphone on the table at a meeting or even in a social setting. 

Like the author, I only use my cell phone for emergencies and while travelling.  People know where to reach me by email or a landline.  It is nice to be out of contact for awhile and have others solve problems themselves.  Am I a dinosaur? Probably to younger people, but it is definitely less stressful!



From Monday's Globe and Mail

At my gym last week, I saw an extraordinary scene. A man was working out on a stationary bicycle, reading – a book! Not your ordinary bestseller taken from the rack at a Wal-Mart but an old book, with small script and thin paper. I stopped short of congratulating him for being a survivor of a dying species.

Indeed, many things are dying. In the art museums, I used to buy those lovely cards and envelopes with reproductions of masterworks. But they’re not made any more, because people don’t write letters any more. All you’ll find in museums are postcards.
Of course, like everyone, I write my routine thank-you notes by e-mail. But there are occasions when a more personalized, handwritten letter is required – when you extend your sympathies after a death, for instance; an e-mail is just too coarse for such messages.
I remember the café-terrasses of the last century, filled with people who read newspapers or books. When the person they were waiting for arrived, they quickly folded their newspaper or put their book aside, so they could have a real conversation.
Nowadays, they go on clicking on their BlackBerrys. In restaurants, two couples out of three put their cellphones on the table before sitting down. The digital age has erased elementary politeness. How can you engage in a phone conversation while the person you’re sitting with is reduced to looking at the ceiling? Or maybe she’s busy herself talking on the phone. Why do you even bother to meet?
I’m mesmerized by this new culture. How can all these BlackBerry types have so many friends available on a full-time basis, ready to chat endlessly at any hour of the day? Don’t these people work? When I call my friends, I’m usually greeted by voice mail. How can those students who recently demonstrated in Montreal against a slight raise in university fees afford these costly toys?
Even in a city of high culture such as Paris, the Opera House is planning to reserve a section for those who want to tweet while listening to the music. This need to tweet all the time and everywhere has become a compulsion.
The mere idea of being reduced to 140 characters when you could write so much more on e-mail is bizarre – but, of course, this doesn’t have to do with a love of writing or even with a need to communicate. What it reveals is a pathological incapacity to be alone with our thoughts for more than a few minutes. And this is not counting the criminal behaviour of text messaging while driving – a habit much more dangerous than drinking two glasses of wine before taking the wheel.
In a recent letter to La Presse, a desperate teacher pleaded for a ban on cellphones in the schools. Text messaging, she says, has become the No. 1 enemy of instruction. Students text all the time – in the toilets, in the stairs, in the classroom; they even text to those walking or sitting next to them. This instant, anonymous mode of communication is the perfect vehicle for bullying others and spreading all sorts of vicious rumours.
I’m not totally dysfunctional. I couldn’t live, let alone earn my living, without a computer. I own an iPad, although I don’t use its full capacities. I have a cellphone, but I use it only when I travel or for emergency calls. Am I normal? Maybe not.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The CBC and the Problem of Mediocrity

In praise of British produced television shows.

TUE MARCH 20, 2012 by Will Straw, Communications Professor, McGill 

The only way the CBC will ever produce a world-class piece of entertainment is if the Corporation starts partnering with other media companies.
I spent many evenings this winter addicted to The Killing, a two-season crime serial produced by Danmarks Radio (Denmark’s national broadcaster) and subtitled in English for its successful run on the British network BBC 4. The British success of The Killing sparked a surge of interest in the UK for all things Danish, and the series itself was remade in a U.S. version which debuted in 2011.
All through The Killing, I found myself wondering why English-language CBC television had never produced anything so good or so internationally successful. (The French-language arm of our national broadcaster is a much different and generally happier story.) The familiar argument about English-Canadian television being held back by its small market and smaller talent pool hardly applies here. The population of Denmark is roughly one-fifth that of Anglophone Canada – almost equal, in fact, to the number of French-speaking Canadians. It’s true that The Killing was written by a popular author of Danish crime novels, and that its lead actors had honed their craft in dozens of locally produced and film and television series. Canada is hardly lacking in popular novelists, however, and our professional actors are nothing if not versatile and hard-working.
The CBC’s failure to produce a series like The Killing still puzzles me, but the dream that our national broadcaster might be more like its counterparts in European countries is a familiar and longstanding one. Like many who have grown up with the CBC and cared for it, I’ve dreamed of it becoming more like the BBC – an internationally trusted brand, the go-to place for news and quality programming.
Of course, much of what we think of as superior British television (Prime Suspect, say, or the current hit Dowton Abbey) was produced for networks other than the BBC (ITV, in both cases, with American PBS station WGBH coproducing the latter.) The high achievement of British television runs across the system, with private networks forced to fulfill stringent public service obligations and to buy their programming from clusters of independent production companies. The independent boom in British cinema in the 1980s had much to do with the commitment of the then-new Channel 4 to producing and showing films by upstart young filmmakers (think My Beautiful Laundrette or Young Soul Rebels.)
It’s hard to imagine Canadian private television networks supporting a national film industry in the way that Channel 4 did. The fact that we ask so little of these private networks may be one reason we expect so much of the CBC. Still, there’s no reason not to envision the CBC being more active as a partner in the early stages of Canadian feature film production, then showcasing these films in its schedule once their theatrical runs are complete. More generally, Canada needs a tighter integration of the different parts of its audiovisual production system. When Telefilm Canada, the National Film Board and the CBC fail to see each other as natural partners in that system, none benefits from the skills, assets or successes of the other.
My first suggestion for improving the CBC, then, would be this: that we re-imagine its relationship to other pieces in our audiovisual puzzle, like the NFB or Telefilm Canada. If we remain committed to supporting films and television programs with public money, as I hope we will, we should direct that money in ways that would pull these different institutions into tighter, more effective kinds of collaboration. (This reimagining, I hasten to add, would touch dramatic programming only. News, sports and variety programming are another story.)
At the same time, I would urge the CBC to engage in more international co-production of dramatic programs, spreading its brand around the world and opening itself up to new influences. In return, we might “internationalize” the CBC schedule a little more, countering U.S. influence with a rich, multinational diversity rather than an all-Canadian cultural breakwater. I’d happily give up a little prime-time CanCon in return for a top quality Danish thriller on the CBC on Saturday night. I’d be even happier if I knew Canadian programs were finding their way onto prime time schedules in countries around the world.
Will Straw is the director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Library strike a messy dilemma for Mayor Rob Ford and negotiators

Published On Mon Mar 19 2012

Robyn DoolittleUrban Affairs Reporter
The sweet-faced 28-year-old public service assistant from Cedarbrae Public Library holds up the bullhorn to rally the troops.
“What do we want?” Tina Gillard doesn’t quite yell.
“A fair deal!” the group of mostly women around her apprehensively chant back.
“Thank you very much,” she replies. “Okay, when do we want it?”
For the 1,200 library workers picketing at city hall Monday — which, to generalize, was a group of pasty skinned men in Gilligan hats, grandmotherly types wearing small-rimmed glasses, and young twentysomethings in ponytails and Converse sneakers — just four Toronto police officers stood watch.
It’s a sympathetic-looking bunch, and CUPE Local 4948 knows it. When the union walked off the job at 5 p.m. Sunday, they did so bolstered by internal polling that showed the public is overwhelmingly on their side.
So the question for the city and its library board is: Do you really want to pick a fight with librarians?
Courtesy Margaret Atwood, Doug Ford learned the answer to that question the hard way last summer.
It’s a precarious optics dilemma for negotiators, one that political experts say both sides need to navigate with considerable care. The Fords risk appearing like book-hating simpletons carrying out a vendetta. It was a storyline the administration’s political opponents were quick to pounce on.
“The Fords are still smarting from having their butts kicked by Margaret Atwood a few months back. To them, she’s a symbol of socialist gulags and Deepest Annex,” said Liberal attack dog Warren Kinsella via email from a business trip in New York Monday.
“By going after libraries — by going after reading, in effect — they are getting back at their latte-sipping, Volvo-driving pinko overlords. I think they plan to let libraries be shuttered for a while, so they can say nobody misses them. But, as usual, they're making a mistake. Torontonians — even the conservative ones — value learning and reading.”
The library union is still riding a wave of public goodwill after last summer’s core service review. Activists successfully framed the debate as an assault on communities and thoughtful people, rather than as an exercise of fiscal restraint. The Ford administration quickly retreated.
But the library union should be careful not to overplay its hand, said University of Toronto politics professor Renan Levine.
“My hunch is that they saw they’re emboldened. They won a fight last year. They won a big fight: little librarians against the big mayor.” But, he cautioned, “there is a difference here, (between) a resident who is upset about a branch library in their area going to close and them helping the workers in that library protect certain workplace and pay rights.”
The fact is, Levine said, some people who use libraries have as much interaction with the people who work there as they do the staff at the grocery store.
Levine said the city negotiating team needs to convince the public the city isn’t out for blood.
Library board chair Paul Ainslie said he thought the city was trying to do just that with an 11th hour offer that he felt was fair and offered considerably more job security than Local 416 was recently given. Ainslie said he was “shocked, flabbergasted … breathless” when the union rejected it.
Unlike the outdoor and indoor workers’ unions, who dealt directly with the city, the library union is at the table with its board, which is split between private citizens and councillors and is chaired by Ford ally Paul Ainslie.
But it will be the mayor who wears a victory or failure. As was shown during police board negotiations, Ford has the sway to loosen the purse strings and facilitate a deal.
John Capobianco, a veteran conservative strategist, said that in the short term, Ford may pay a political price, but there are considerable long-term benefits to not backing down.
“I’m not sure Mayor Ford really wants to pick a fight with librarians … but I also believe that the appetite that Torontonians are having for strikes now is also getting to a point of impatience. The economy is tough. Work shortages are happening. Jobs are frail,” he said.
“I think if he keeps focusing on what’s best for the taxpayers of Toronto he will win on that.”

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Is a Library Without Books Still a Library?

17 comments Is a Library Without Books Still a Library?

California’s San Francisco State University is opening a newly-renovated library that will house only a quarter of the million or so books of its collection. Only books in “high-demand,” recently published titles and books recommended by the university’s departments will actually be on shelves in the library; the rest will be housed in five three-story high units. They can be retrieved in five to ten minutes via a robotic arm that is activated by an electronic prompt.
Deborah Masters, the university librarian, described the old library as a “rabbits’ warren” in the New York Times; the new structure has been updated to include open space as well as multimedia stations, group study areas and a café. Such renovations indeed recognize that libraries, or at least those on college and university campuses, are seen and used as places for students and others to gather and socialize. With more resources such as scholarly articles from academic journals and even books now available on the internet — and with a student population more used to accessing information via computers rather than by paging through books and hefty tomes of bound journals — devoting more of the physical space to multimedia resources makes sense. The library of my own college became so strapped for space that, a few years ago, it launched a project to weed out its holdings, removing duplicate books and bound copies of academic journals that had gone unused for years.
The jury is out about what could be and is lost when a library no longer offers its patrons aisles of books to wander through. Faculty from San Francisco State University’s Creative Writing Department are mourning the loss of shelves. “There’s a trend now where books are being stored in big vats and they aren’t available for us to touch and see,” says novelist Peter Orner. He adds that “I wouldn’t be a writer if, when I was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, I didn’t wander the open stacks.”
The New York Times notes that more than a dozen universities, including five in California, have installed similar mechanized systems.
I truly love books. It really is not the same to curl up in a chair or the couch and activate the iPad, or balance your laptop on your knees. Books don’t need recharging and “navigating” from page to page remains cumbersome. On the other hand, I just as truly appreciate being able to view a library’s catalogue from my home computer and to access books and articles in electronic form a few minutes after I think I’d like to read them. On a very personal note, because the demands of caring for our teenage autistic son mean that I have to be home a great deal and simply do not have the time to stroll around library stacks, being able to access so much from my computer has meant that I can actually continue with my own research.
The very word “library” comes from the Latin word for book, liber. Certainly what constitutes a “book” is changing as more people use Kindles, iPads, their phones and computers to read “books.” Could libraries one day have no books at all or a scant few of the paper and page sort? Or are issues of access and convenience more important?

Read more:

Friday, 2 March 2012

Funding Gap has Library Mulling More Ads

Samin Esha, National Post, Feb. 29, 2012

Due date reminders may soon include advertising after the Toronto Public Library board approved a motion to explore all options for raising revenue.
“We had been asked to make do, not just with zero budget, but in the past year we had to cut 6% of our budget,” said Michael Foderick, vice-chairman of the Toronto public library board. “So, if we are even going maintain our existing services, given the inflation, we have to think outside the box.”

Until now the public library has only allowed sponsorships with some ads in its printed program guides. The idea would be to hire contractor to sell ads that would be printed on the backs of due-date slips, and expand the ads that already appear in its What’s On publication. The library board also hopes to hire a consultant to look for other advertising opportunities.

“Let’s be clear, you will never see billboards,” said Mr. Foderick. “Neither would it look like the TTC. That’s going too far. These are modest ideas that will help us save our libraries.”

“That’s baloney,” countered board member and councillor Janet Davis (Ward 31, Beaches-East York). “In fact, this year when we went to the council they added the $7-million [back] to the budget. I don’t think this is a choice of having advertisement or having our libraries open. This is the Mayor’s hand-picked board, and they see advertisement as a legitimate way to raise money at the library. I don’t, and I will continue to do what I can to limit the amount of ads in our libraries.”
In the hours before Monday night’s meeting, Ms. Davis went so far as to say that advertising is “like cocaine of revenues. Because of the capacity, you want more and it keeps on growing.” She later backtracked, saying that choice of words may not have been appropriate.
Board chair Paul Ainslie (Ward 43, Scarborough East) dismissed Ms. Davis’s criticisms.
“I guess the board had a division of opinion with Councillor Davis…. We have been discussing this since last fall. This is also in our library agenda and is published on our library website,” said Mr. Ainslie. “The policy would follow the Canadian Code of Advertisement Standards. We also have our advertisement policies and procedures in place. So, it would be done in a tasteful manner, and I have a great amount of faith in our team.”
Ms. Davis and councillor Sarah Doucette (Ward 13, Parkdale-High Park) — who opposes the idea of “bombarding public and children with ads” — were the only members of the 13-person board to vote against the plan.