Friday, November 28, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Is your company presently blocking access to YouTube? Can no one get on Facebook or check out MySpace? Is your IT department still trying to sell your senior management on the absurd notion that allowing people to access websites that have Flash animation on them could cause some kind of security breach, or worse, cripple your entire technological infrastructure with a deadly computer virus?
We made it through the Y2K scare, but something bigger is brewing in your business. It has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with your human capital. Your ability to grow your business efficiently is at stake, but this time it's about your people and not your choice of software solutions.
If you thought your business is going to be challenged over the next little while with trying to figure out the economic downturn and how you're going to bootstrap your way through this recession (it is a recession, isn't it?), there might be something even more challenging happening within your organization.
How many employees do you have who are Digital Natives?
A Digital Native is essentially anyone who was born and raised in a household where there was always a computer. We're talking about your new employees who have never known a world without a mouse and a keyboard. Some of them have not only always had a computer in their life, but they've also been online since they were infants. Being connected, chatting through Instant Messenger, sharing files through Google Docs, working collaboratively on a wiki (a web page that anyone can edit), creating and uploading their own videos, posting their thoughts to Twitter or updating their Facebook status is all a large part of their daily lives -- much in the same way you pick up the phone to call your spouse or go to the bathroom. Most of us older folks are Digital Immigrants (anyone over 30 is, pretty much, a Digital Immigrant -- someone who grew up without digital technology and adopted it later). I love this example from Wikipedia: "A digital native might refer to their new 'camera'; a digital immigrant might refer to their new 'digital camera'."
How old do you feel now?
Clay Shirky (educator, technologist and author of the amazing book, Here Comes Everybody) summed it up best when he recounted how his friend's four-year-old daughter wondered why the TV screen didn't come with a mouse. Their perspective is very different from ours. We're doing our best to recruit, retain and engage this workforce, and we're mistaking their multi-platforming (you know, the types of people who watch television with a laptop on their laps -- and seven different windows open -- while they're listening to their iPod and texting off of their BlackBerry) for time wasting and lack of focus.
If your company is blocking channels like YouTube and Facebook, you are missing the point. You're missing an opportunity to enable and empower your people to connect. The same tactic of blocking is used when any new technology comes into the workplace and causes a level of disruption. First off, that's what great technology does ... it disrupts. When phones were first introduced, many companies saw no reason why employees should have access to one. The same was true for faxes, computers and e-mail. You would think that we would have learned our lesson by now. Sadly, we have not.
Being connected is not only a part of who they are, it is what they are. Their digital footprints are their personality, and not giving them access to these tools, channels and media would be the equivalent of someone telling you that you can't use the phone or talk to your peers during office hours. The people who are going to abuse their access to Facebook and YouTube are the same ones who would take an extra hour for lunch or not come into work because they are -- cough, cough -- sick.
Any great business knows that to get the best talent, you need to be a great place to work. Taking away communications and marketing channels that are critical to their success is not going to attract the best and brightest. Digital Natives have an expectation that work is going to be like school, where they are constantly connected, collaborating, researching, sharing, having fun (gasp!), and growing beyond the confines of your four physical walls.
"We believe human contact is what makes companies successful," said Bernardo Huberman with the Information Dynamics group for HP in a recent interview. "If people don't communicate and collaborate, not a whole lot will happen. We know there are risks, but the positives far outweigh them in how much spirit social networking and collaboration brings to an organization."
Lee Thomas, the vice-president of IT at Berkshire-Hathaway went on to say, "My supervisor used to send messages about team strategies via e-mail. But when new people came onboard, they didn't have access to that tribal knowledge."
It might seem like these types of new channels are forcing a new kind of business environment (I'm sure they said the same thing when overnight couriers first started popping up), but the blunt reality is that by enabling and empowering your team to embrace the ways of the Digital Natives, things should get much more efficient as that "tribal knowledge" now resides in interactive intranets powered by wiki-like software. Places where the knowledge builds over time instead of getting lost in some past employee's Outlook folder.
If you're still not sold on the power of Digital Natives and how their culture can help improve and sustain your business, check out Don Tapscott's latest book, Grown Up Digital -- How the Net Generation is Changing Your World. Tapscott is the best-selling author of Wikinomics and one of the foremost technology thinkers in Canada. And, if that doesn't convince you to think about how much new media and connectivity has changed everything we know, read this quote from David Neale, head of product development at Telus: "My son still watches prime-time TV. He just doesn't watch it in prime time. And he doesn't watch it on a TV."
Mitch Joel is president of the digital marketing and communications agency Twist Image. He is writing a book, Six Pixels of Separation, named after his blog and podcast.
Vancouver Sun: 2008 November 27
"Tell me a story." It’s a plea that echoes through the ages; not only the ages of human civilization, but the ages of man.
While the Internet is good at providing some types of information, books are still much better for storytelling.
As a child, tucked up and ready for bed. As an adult, settling deep into a popcorn- scented cinema seat as the house lights go down. In old age, becalmed, combing your memories. Telling stories is as old a game as language itself.
So it’s odd — not to say alarming — to read reports that some people seem to think we’re on the verge of running out of narrative. A group of academics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in cahoots with some Hollywood moguls, have announced the opening of a “ Center for Future Storytelling.”
“The idea as we move forward with 21st- century storytelling is to try to keep meaning alive,” explains its founder, David Kirkpatrick.
Baffling. Are they hoping — like Sarah Palin prospecting for oil in Alaska — to find fresh reserves, another two basic plots, maybe? Or are they proposing a more efficient use of our existing narrative resources — a prohibition on excessive use of plot twists, or an annual allocation of tradable deus ex machina credits to the larger Hollywood studios?
Their announcement does not tell us, offering instead a feast of bilge about “ next- generation synthetic performer technologies.” But there we are. The Center for Future Storytelling is a sign of the times.
The notion that the narrative arts are under threat from information overload, shrinking attention spans, text messaging, social networking sites and slam-bam CGI blockbusters is one widely given voice. What’s so odd is that the remedies proposed, as often as not, seem to involve a massive increase in just such things.
The eggheads at MIT have, in this respect, more than just a prose style in common with the governing body at Meadows Community School in Chesterfield. The closure of the library at this 759- strong comprehensive in central England is being explained as “a move towards the relocation and redistribution of nonfiction and fiction resources in the light of the new developments in a virtual- learning environment and interactive learning.”
Every clause is doubled- up into redundancy in the hope of sounding grand. How does “relocation” differ from “redistribution” — and don’t they add up to “ relocating from the library to the skip”? What are “nonfiction and fiction resources” — other than a fancy way of saying “all the books we have”? How does “a virtual learning environment” differ from “interactive learning” (what learning isn’t “interactive,” come to that) — and is it just clever- sounding verbiage for the Internet?
The thing is, the Internet does some things very well, and the codex book does other things very well. There is an overlap — they are both means of preserving and sharing information — but it’s foolish to see the two as interchangeable, or the former as supplanting the latter.
One of the cliches about education is that it should teach you not what to think, but how to think; and a vital part of that is understanding the shape of knowledge — being able to evaluate categories of information and degrees of authority in sources. If the educators themselves can’t or won’t think about these distinctions, God help their pupils.
The examples aren’t too hard to come by. The Internet does academic apparatus, at least potentially, better than books ever could. Concordances can be compiled in seconds, rather than in lifetimes. The work of footnotes — embedding explanatory material or further reading — and bibliographies is done wonderfully well by hypertext links: Entire fields of further reading open up at the click of a mouse. It does reference, in some cases, at least as well as a book. The online Oxford English Dictionary is a glory; the book version is unwieldy and comparatively expensive. The Dictionary of National Biography online, by now, should have fewer mistakes than the book version — and the ease of searching and cross- reference it offers is unarguably superior.
Some of the weaknesses of the online world have to do with authority. Many of the most popular online resources, like Wikipedia, are collaborative, and therefore tremendously useful but vulnerable to the bad faith of malicious users, or “trolls.” Even those resources that are more monolithic are vulnerable to hackers. And all is not, on the Web, what it seems.
These dangers can be exaggerated — one much-cited ( and much-debated) study found Wikipedia’s accuracy compared favourably with that of the Encyclopedia Britannica — but on the Internet the good stuff is often drowned out by the garbage. The printed word may preserve errors longer (the DNB can correct errors in its online edition instantly), but because the bar to entry is higher, it is less likely to make them in the first place. Books — the right books — are slower but more often trustworthy than a Google search.
Leave that aside, though, to consider an area in which authority is less — or at least, differently — important: storytelling. Prose narrative is one of the things that the book still does much, much better than any computer or the sluggish and buggy electronic readers available.
Reading a full-length novel on a screen is next to impossible. Your back aches. You mouth parches. Your eyes fall out. For portability, browsability and ease of annotation the book is the best form of technology we have, and has been since its invention.
That alone explains why it is a mistake to abolish a school library (with its librarian; a professional guide to the shape of knowledge) in favour of the “ virtual learning environment.” Writing to the headmistress of the Meadows in protest, the author Philip Pullman protested against what he saw as a decision to “relegate the whole activity of reading fiction to the status of a trivial and innocuous activity, like stamp collecting or playing with a Frisbee.”
I’m in agreement with him: Reading fiction is not a trivial activity. Not only does narrative pleasure sugar the pill of learning in all sorts of areas, it is a good in and of itself.
The old theory that there are only a handful of basic plots in all literature points to something. Storytelling is underpinned by myth. The characters in Beowulf, and in Henry James, and in Joel Schumacher’s latest slam- bang movie extravaganza, all participate, with more or less elaborate variations, in archetype.
One of the first people to look into this systematically was a Russian folklorist called Vladimir Propp, whose book The Morphology of the Folk Tale sought to distill a sort of universal genome of myth. He got pretty far with it.
You don’t have to be a crazed Jungian, a structural anthropologist, or a seven- basic- plots believer to agree that storytelling is something of universal importance in human experience, and something that exhibits deep and suggestive similarities across cultures.
Myths, it has been said, are “good to think with.” Storytelling is a way of trying out situations imaginatively, of preserving knowledge and social value, of attesting to a commonality of experience. Stories are central to how we think about the world, from the individual to the wide sweep of history.
The ability to put yourself in another’s shoes is the foundation- stone of all morality. And what is that but an imaginative process? Where do we learn it but in stories? “In dreams begins responsibility,” said W. B. Yeats. He wasn’t kidding. It’s no accident that the great boast made about the Bible is not that it tells you how to behave, but that it is “the greatest story ever told.” It has a beginning — an “in the beginning,” in fact — a middle and an end.
We may well run out of oil. We are in no danger whatever of running out of narrative.
Changing technologies have affected the means by which stories are told. You can follow the story of a person’s life pointillistically through a Twitter feed or voyeuristically through a webcam. You can read a self-contained novel; one with an alternate ending, or a choose-your own adventure book.
But when you strip off all the bells and whistles, these stories will be in all the important essences no different from those of the Bible or Homer.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Officials of the Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) seemed taken aback by a November 20 press conference Mayor Karl Dean held at Nashville Public Library’s East branch where he announced that the city library would begin taking over the operation of school libraries systemwide in January 2009.
Nashville Public Library Director Donna Nicely confirmed to American Libraries that she and Mayor Dean had been conferring with each other for several months about the prospect of combining public and school library operations. “We all talk about thinking outside the box, but here’s an idea that truly could transform the public library and the school libraries because we would be enfolding them into the public library structure,” Nicely said, explaining that the idea was “strictly a proposal at this point.” However, she told CBS affiliate WTVF-TV at the press conference, “It‘s just a matter of organizing it and understanding how it all works and going forward with it.”
But school officials seem to have been left out of the loop. “We can’t say whether or not this is something we could do or could not do,” MNPS spokesperson Olivia Brown told AL. “At this point, we’ve not had any discussion, we’ve not had any proposal presented to the school board.”
The plan as envisioned by Nicely and Dean starts with the public library taking on the acquisition of materials for high school libraries “because Ms. Nicely says those libraries most reflect, in size and setup, what our branch libraries are like. So those would be the easiest to enfold into our library system,” mayoral Public Information Officer Janel Lacey told AL.
Lacey also emphasized that the mayor has made education “his number-one agenda item” since he took office in September 2007, acknowledging that his concern was heightened by the school system having entered Restructuring I status for the 2008–09 academic year for not making adequate yearly progress as defined by No Child Left Behind regulations. The category of Restructuring I places district-level financial decisions in the hands of the state Department of Education, and Tennessee DOE Commissioner Tim Webb confirmed in the November 17 Nashville City Paper that he was already researching whether Mayor Dean could legally be appointed trustee of the school district should it slip into Restructuring II status for the 2010–11 academic year.
These scenarios were playing out behind the scenes for the most part until the November 20 press conference. The next day, Dean and school officials disclosed letters dated November 20 that they had just exchanged. Dean’s letter to MNPS Acting Director Chris Henson cited a prior conversation between the two about “the benefits of consolidating the library services of Metro Schools and the Nashville Public Library” and advised Henson that library Director Donna Nicely “is prepared to move forward with this endeavor . . . with preparation starting in January 2009 and the first phase, primarily focused on combining the procurement of materials [for the public library and high school libraries], taking effect July 1.” Asserting that “this decision is common sense,“ Dean went on to say, “I know the libraries in Metro Schools have staff devoted to supporting the education we give our students in the classroom, and I believe this collaboration will greatly enhance their ability to do so.” (MNPS spokesperson Brown told AL that the system of 137 schools currently budgets for almost 200 librarians and aides.)
Replying for Henson, school board Chairman David A. Fox wrote Dean that, while school officials “are receptive to any efforts and ideas that could generate higher quality and more efficient services for our students,” a change of such magnitude “ultimately would be decided upon by the school board itself.” Besides, Fox emphasized, there had not yet been any “meaningful conversation” between city and school officials about a library merger aside from comments that “seemed to be just exploratory and . . . confidential.”
Genesis of a vision
Anticipating that “we’ll be sitting down with school officials soon to talk over what this means,” with the phase-in of consolidation starting by the end of 2009, Nicely told AL that idea of NPL overseeing school-library services emerged from a series of public hearings about the public library’s 5–10-year plan that began eight months ago. “We heard such a strong concern from people in the city about the teenagers. What are they doing after school? Could the public library assist them with after-school activities?” she explained, characterizing citizens’ comments as reflecting “an urgent concern, worrying about gangs.” Asked repeatedly by members of the public “how much more closely could we work with the public schools,” Nicely said she and Dean began to discuss the possibilities.
Nicely added that she saw enormous benefits for high-school students, who would have access from their school-library catalogs to Nashville Public Library’s 1.5-million holdings and—thanks to NPL’s online link to the records of area universities—a gateway to an additional 5 million items “if we can merge the automation systems.” Noting “all the programming that goes on in these public libraries after school for our teens,” she asked rhetorically, “Why can’t all of those programs be across the city in all the libraries,” with school libraries remaining open after hours thanks to the merger.
“If we’re going to make this work, then the school libraries need to be under the purview of the public library,” Nicely mused, adding, “If you think about all the staff as one entity, then you’re moving among and strengthening all the libraries.” Citing the profession’s often-expressed dream of “making [libraries] the center of life in the schools and the community,” Nicely predicted, “This is going to do it.”
Guardian, UK: 2008 November 23
Philip Pullman, the bestselling author, has warned a school that it will become a 'byword for philistinism and ignorance' if it goes ahead with the closure of its library.
The comprehensive in Chesterfield has become the focus of an authors' campaign since it announced that its librarian will be surplus to requirements after Christmas, when the school is to become a 'virtual learning environment'. Pupils will be encouraged to read at break times and at after-school clubs, but its traditional library will go.
'The idea that fiction is not worth looking after properly and does not need a qualified librarian runs contrary to every experience I have ever had,' Pullman wrote in a letter to Lynn Asquith, headteacher of the 759-pupil Meadows Community School. 'Are you going to relegate the whole activity of reading fiction to the status of a trivial and innocuous activity, like stamp collecting or playing with a Frisbee?'
'A library with a dedicated and professional staff should be at the very heart of any institution dedicated to learning,' he continued. 'I am deeply dismayed to hear of the decision, which cannot be in the best interests of the students. Nothing can replace a proper library, with its resources centrally available and with the expertise of a qualified librarian to guide the students in the best and most productive ways of research.'
The author has joined Michael Rosen, the Children's Laureate, and children's writer Alan Gibbons in a campaign to save school libraries, which they say are being eroded up and down the country. 'This school is the tip of the iceberg,' said Gibbons, who argued that without a librarian there could be no library. 'Forget the blather about virtual and interactive learning. This is cost-cutting, pure and simple.
'There's one secondary school, which shall be nameless, where the headteacher was going to throw all the non-fiction books into a skip to make way for computers,' he said. 'We're witnessing a new wave of virtual philistinism.'
Rosen says he highlighted the cuts in library provision when he met Children's Secretary Ed Balls and Schools Minister Jim Knight last week. 'The [Meadows] school is a local problem, but it is a national tragedy,' he says. 'Cuts are going on everywhere. I met Ed Balls and Jim Knight and they were saying that they were committed to supporting reading for pleasure. But on the ground there isn't the staff, the time or the money to support it.'
Public library spending on books fell by 1 per cent to £76.8m in the year to March 2008, or just 8.7% of overall library expenditure. Spending on audio-visual materials such as DVDs rose 4.2% over the same period. There were 38 public library closures last year, up from 35 the previous year.
The campaign to save the library at Meadows Community School was started by its pupils, who began a petition when they heard that their librarian, Clare Broadbelt, had been told that her post was no longer required because of 'a move towards the relocation and redistribution of non-fiction and fiction resources in the light of the new developments in a virtual-learning environment and interactive learning'.
A string of famous authors have joined the battle since then. Broadbelt was told that the library was not being removed, but would be operated in a different way, with curriculum leaders managing the resources from the internet. Fiction material would be maintained in a new reading centre for use in break times and at after-school clubs, but it would not need a librarian.
Asquith said little work had been done to improve the library since it opened in 1991. 'It is not big enough to accommodate the number of pupils who want to use it during peak time and some areas are not accessible for all pupils,' she said. The school's governors had approved a £90,000 redevelopment programme, she explained. 'This is a great opportunity to develop a new learning resource centre for the benefit of all pupils.'
Gibbons, who visits 150 schools a year, says that 25 local authorities in England spend less than 1 per cent of their library budgets on books for children. 'No amount of googling and copying and pasting can replace the intellectual flexibility developed by reading whole books,' he said.
Monday, November 24, 2008
All Canadians have chance to participate in Guinness world record as part of Family Literacy Day festivities
TORONTO, ON – November 5, 2008: ABC CANADA Literacy Foundation and Oxford Learning today announced a new partnership to present the Family Literacy Day® World Record Attempt, a national, bilingual initiative encouraging adults and children to engage in 30 minutes of reading together on January 23 or 24, 2009. The initiative, part of Family Literacy Day (FLD) 2009 celebrations, encourages Canadians to read along and help break the Guinness World Record™ for “Most Children Reading with an Adult, Multiple Venues.” The current record of 78,791 was set across the U.S. in 2006.
“Every year, thousands of Canadians participate in Family Literacy Day activities across the country. The World Record initiative is another great way to rally Canadian communities and help raise awareness for the benefits of adults and children reading and learning together,” said Margaret Eaton, President, ABC CANADA Literacy Foundation. “A few minutes of family reading a day helps a parent and a child in very big way. It prepares children for challenges ahead, encourages a lifetime of reading enjoyment, and sharpens an adult’s literacy skills. ABC CANADA is delighted to have the support of Oxford Learning, and FLD founding sponsor Honda Canada, in these exciting initiatives.”
The first sponsorship ever in their 25-year history, Oxford Learning has been named the Official Family Literacy Day World Record Attempt Sponsor. In addition to providing support toward the development, execution and promotion of the world record attempt, all 85 Oxford Learning centres across Canada will host on-site public events.
“Reading, language development and literacy are the basic building blocks for thinking, learning and almost every skill that we use in our day-to-day lives,” says Dr. Nick Whitehead, CEO, Oxford Learning. “Oxford Learning is proud to work with ABC CANADA and participate in Family Literacy Day events that promote literacy and stimulate the brain.”
Anyone can participate in the FLD World Record Attempt, from one adult and child reading together at home to large groups with a number of children being read to by several adult readers in a public setting. In addition to Oxford Learning centres, public events are being planned for YMCAs, libraries, schools and literacy organizations across the country to occur in the 24-hour period between 2:00 p.m. on January 23 and 2:00 p.m. on January 24.
A special section on the ABC CANADA website www.FamilyLiteracyDay.ca (and the French equivalent at www.fld-jaf.ca), has been created to provide all the information and resources teachers, librarians and families need to participate in the FLD World Record Attempt.
“Guinness World Records commends ABC CANADA for organizing this upcoming attempt. Guinness World Records is committed to literacy and fully supports activities that involve family reading. We were delighted to donate copies of the “Guinness World Records 2009” to ABC CANADA to encourage even more Canadian families to read and enjoy,” says Carey Low, Canadian Record Keeper, Guinness World Records.
Click here to go to the FLD World Record Attempt webpage.
About Family Literacy Day
Family Literacy Day, held annually on January 27, was developed by ABC CANADA Literacy Foundation and Honda Canada in 1999 to encourage families to read and learn together on a daily basis. Last year, for Family Literacy Day’s tenth year celebrations, it is estimated that over 275,000 Canadians participated in literacy activities at home and in schools, libraries and literacy organizations across the country. For more information, visit www.FamilyLiteracyDay.ca.
About Honda Canada
Honda is the world’s pre-eminent maker of engines for automobiles, motorcycles and power equipment. With 135 manufacturing facilities in 28 countries worldwide, Honda now attracts more than 23 million customers annually. Honda Canada manufactures the Honda Ridgeline and Civic sedan and coupe, and the Acura CSX and MDX at its two plants in Alliston, Ontario.
About Oxford Learning
Since 1984, Oxford Learning has been using cognitive learning techniques to help children develop new ways of thinking, concentrating, listening, and remembering. Oxford Learning goes beyond tutoring to help students reach their learning potential, not just for one grade or one year, but for a lifetime.
About ABC CANADA Literacy Foundation
ABC CANADA Literacy Foundation is Canada’s private-sector voice championing adult literacy. The national charity envisions a Canada where individuals, regardless of their circumstances, are provided the opportunities to increase the skills that prepare people for realizing their full potential at work, at home and in the community. To learn more, visit www.abc-canada.org.
Karen Benner, Communications Manager
416-218-0010 x 122
Phone: 416-218-0010 x 127
Toll free: 1-800-303-1004 x 127
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Move over MBAs. Make way for the Masters of Fine Arts.
If author Daniel Pink is correct, right-brained creative types are poised to rule the world.
The U.S. author is not just talking about not-for-profit artistic types who write iffy poetry or eke out a living painting derivative landscapes. He's talking about conceptualizers -- people who can see big pictures and wider implications.
This right-brain crowd is not part of the left-brain crowd that screwed up the economy. Nor does it include the number crunchers whose work is being outsourced for peanuts.
"The forces of abundance -- Asia and automation -- are tipping the scales and putting a premium on right-brain abilities," explains Pink. "The left-brain abilities are essential, but they can be outsourced. You have (U.S.) bank financial analysis and financial processing that is either automatic or being sent to India at lower cost. Right-brain abilities are harder to outsource."
Pink says left-brain thinkers can take comfort because right-brainers will require a smattering of their MBA-like instincts to function. "If you've only got right-brain abilities and no left-brain abilities," he says, "you're going to be in a world of hurt."
Pink makes the argument in his most recent book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.
It's a no-brainer, he says.
"More and more you're seeing a meeting in the middle," he says. "Design schools reaching out to business schools and business schools reaching out to design schools. It used to be they didn't even know each other existed."
Right-brainers, effectively suppressed during the dot-com revolution, are now on the fast track.
"If you want to make a living as an oil painter, it's difficult," he concedes. "But there are recruiters all over design colleges. They're not recruiting people to become fine artists, they're from consumer product companies looking for good designers; electronics companies and managing consulting firms looking for people who are multi-disciplinary and who can think in a different way and who can reason not only analytically but esthetically."
Even medical schools -- "bastions of left-brain muscle flexing" -- are getting the message.
"Every medical school in North America now teaches clinical empathy, which is a very right-brain kind of capability," he says. "Harvard and Yale medical schools take students to art museums to make them better diagnosticians." Apparently, learning to observe subtleties in paintings makes physicians sharper at detecting ailments.
The economic collapse proves the need for different ways of viewing the world. "One of the aspects of right-brain thinking is the ability to stand back and see how the pieces all fit together," he says. "Nobody was taking a step back and saying, 'What happens if banks and other lenders don't pay back?"
Pink, now a writer, originally planned to be a lawyer. He graduated from law school but never practised. "It runs counter to what people of my generation -- I'm in my mid-40s -- were told to do," he says. "They were told to get good marks, go to university and master a profession like accounting and law. That gave you a very secure foothold in the middle class."
Pink found law boring. "I wanted to work where I would have more impact."
So he chose politics and decided that "getting the right people elected" was a more noble calling.
For a time, he worked as chief speech writer for U.S. vice-president Al Gore. "Election campaigns are exhilarating," he says, "but they're also exhausting."
Deciding he did not want to spend the rest of his life in politics, Pink went out on his own. "I discovered I was wired to be a writer."
Looking for a truly effective whole brain operator? "Obama is a whole-minded guy," he says of the next president of the United States.
"He obviously has very good left-brain abilities, but if you look at the design of his campaign and the graphic design of his logo, it was brilliant. His visual identity has become iconic in a way that hasn't happened with any other presidential campaign. He took a step back, looked at the big picture and realized the world had changed and decided to run his campaign in a fundamentally different way."
Compare Obama with Hillary Clinton, he adds: "Hillary is a classic left-brainer. Her campaign was caught up in the details and missed that the country was going through a sea change in attitude. They totally missed the big picture."
Special to the Sun
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Can a country reconcile the two ideals of multiculturalism and free speech, given that some of the cultures concerned not only do not value, but actively oppose, free speech?
This question received a full airing this year after the Canadian Islamic Congress lodged a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal against Maclean's magazine. Maclean's had published online an excerpt from Mark Steyn's book, America Alone, which alleges that the global ambitions of Muslim youth, plus the West's lack of "the will to rebuff those who would supplant it," constitute a threat to liberty and democracy.
The tribunal ruled that Steyn's writings "did not violate anti-hate laws" and that his were "legitimate subjects for public discussion."
Most people in the communications professions argue that freedom of speech is the best protection minorities have and that multiculturalism succeeds only when people learn to live in peaceful proximity to those with whom they disagree.
Some religious and cultural bodies in Canada see things differently, however. Canadian children's writer Deborah Ellis, for example, examined the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in her book, Three Wishes, by asking young people on both sides three questions that adroitly teased out ideas from the dense underlying tangle of emotions that have been built into that standoff, generation after generation.
The Canadian Jewish Congress objected to a pro-Palestinian bias, which no careful reader could deny that Ellis displays. The question, however, is not whether writers have biases (of course they do), but whether they should be allowed to put them out there for others courteously to refute, should they care to take up the conversation.
Isn't that conversation what literature is for?
It was the Canadian Turkish Society that challenged U.S. writer Barbara Coloroso. In Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide, she included the 1915 killing and deportation of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as an example of genocide.
Neither of these authors is a professional historian, but a culture that values free speech defends their right to research a subject and publish their conclusions. A sophisticated reader can be trusted to understand that authors' conclusions are coloured by personal preconceptions, whether acquired as a result of, or in reaction to, past conditioning.
Readers in turn bring their own attitudes, knowledge and assumptions to a text and are understood in some ways to "co-create" it with the writer. (That no two readers read the same book is a truism of postmodern reading theory.) This is precisely the skill which schools and libraries set out to teach the young.
Philip Pullman, whose book The Golden Compass was banned from school libraries by a number of Canadian Catholic school boards, is particularly unimpressed with attempts to check a book-hungry child's exploratory progress through the world of literature. "Tell your children they are not to read this book under any circumstances. What is more likely to make them go to the shelf and take it down and read it?" he asked Eleanor Wachtel in a radio interview this summer.
We must remember, however, that when it comes to books purchased by school libraries, there is a difference between censorship and selection. Budget and space limitations mean that only a fraction of available titles will be selected for acquisition in any year, and librarians have to base their choices on something. How surprised can we be if a school embracing the values of a stated world view chooses books that conform to it? The obverse of the "freedom to read" is the freedom not to read. This was the freedom the Calgary, Burlington and Peterborough Catholic school boards exercised when it came to Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, but the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver took a different path.
"We did not recommend an outright banning of the books, as done in other dioceses," says associate superintendent John van der Pauw. "We took the tack that Pullman has presented us with a 'teachable moment'."
A teachers' lesson guide was produced and the administration recommended to librarians that in elementary schools the books be borrowed only by children whose parents gave signed permission.
How appropriate is it, though, to treat the adult reader like a child? Who has the right to keep The Peaceful Pill Handbook or The Da Vinci Code or America Alone out of someone else's hands?
It seems obvious that adults must discuss public affairs if democracy is to flourish, but according to the Freedom of Expression Committee of Canada's Book and Periodical Council, the quiet removal of challenged fictional works from public library circulation often goes unnoticed.
In 2007, 42 challenges were reported in a survey, but "most library challenges go undocumented," according to the Canadian Library Association's Committee on Intellectual Freedom.
Perhaps fiction seems particularly dangerous because, as novelist Anita Desai puts it, "fiction is a way to tell the truth." That it is a subjective truth makes it more powerful and shareable.
By encompassing opposing points of view, fictional worlds force us, in George Eliot's phrase, to expand our sympathies (and explore our ambivalence).
What, then, if some historical subjects are considered no-go areas, as has happened with The Jewel of Medina, U.S. writer Sherry Jones's novel about Mohammed's wife? In a pre-publication review, a university lecturer in Texas opined that some history is "sacred history" and shouldn't be discussed or reflected in fiction.
Setting some areas of the past outside discussion is certainly censorship, and all too often the firebombs will not be far behind -- as was the case when the office of Jones's British publisher was firebombed Sept. 28. On Oct. 6, she told Britain's Telegraph newspaper: "I would urge the British public to stand up for your right to freedom of speech and not be bullied. We can't allow a small minority to dictate to the majority what we can read, write, think, say."
By Oct. 10, however, Jones had pulled out of her British tour and the novel's release in Britain was postponed, although publication went ahead in the U.S. (by Beaufort Books after the original publisher, Random House, withdrew).
When some called references to Mohammed's marriage in The Jewel of Medina "soft porn," one British journalist interpreted the controversy as being about writers' "right to offend."
Liberal MP Keith Martin used the same phrase when he filed a private member's bill in Parliament for the removal of Section 13(1) from the Canadian Human Rights Act soon after Maclean's was accused of inciting hatred with writings some considered offensive.
"We already have laws that protect citizens against slander, libel, discrimination and hate crimes," Martin said in a letter to constituents. "However, we do not have the right to not be offended."
He plans to re-introduce the bill and has also requested that the Justice Committee hold public hearings on the workings of the Human Rights Act.
Individuals and representatives of free speech and human rights groups would testify before the committee (made up of about 11 people representing the four parties) in televised hearings that would fill an educational, as well as a policy-recommending, role.
"Canadians are sensitive about offending people, and that's a good thing about us," says Martin, "but people have died fighting for freedom of conscience."
New fronts are always opening in the war against provocative utterances, and although they produce tragic casualties along the way, they eventually fail.
"In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost," Alfred Whitney Griswold wrote in the New York Times in 1959. "The only weapon against bad ideas is better ideas."
But that's not the last word, either, for someone will disagree. That's the point of free speech -- there can never be a last word.
Although his own party has been loathe to offend ethnic groups by supporting Martin's cause, most editorial boards and publishers' groups do support him, as did the Conservative Party when delegates at their policy convention on Nov. 15 passed a resolution stating that "The Conservative Party supports legislation to remove authority from the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Tribunal to regulate, receive, investigate or adjudicate complaints related to Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act."
A Victoria writer and former librarian, Barbara Julian last wrote about age labelling on children's books.
Special to the Sun
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Sex. The word elicits immediate attention. I know: I'm a novelist, a spinner of words.
My books have been challenged by parents, yanked by schools from summer reading lists, and banned by libraries because -- although my novels aren't graphic -- the teen characters I write about explore sexuality, sexual orientation and, yes, sex.
I don't write about this stuff to sell more books. Contrary to popular belief, sex doesn't always sell. In the teen fiction world, controversial issues and adverse publicity can and do limit book sales. So why continue to write stories revolving around teen sexuality?
I write the books I wish I'd had available when I was growing up, books that would've told me, "It's okay to be who you are." And one part of who I was then was a very normal teenage kid trying to sort out his sexuality.
Sexuality. It's how we experience and express ourselves as beings characterized and distinguished by sex. In the 1970s when I was a teen, sex education programs were limited to the biology of reproduction and the ravages of VD. Judy Blume's groundbreaking novels that speak openly and honestly about teen sexuality were just starting to come out.
There were no books that portrayed teenage boys like me: Struggling with same-sex attraction, questioning my sexuality, wanting to love and be loved. I thought I was the only one in the world. After school, alone in my room, I would tell myself, "Stop feeling this way! I refuse to let this happen."
Such were the dark ages before Will & Grace.
In some ways, the world has changed a lot since then. Young people today grow up watching gay and lesbian characters on TV, hear news reports of U.S. Supreme Court sodomy rulings, and engage in debates about same-sex marriage. And yet, even in today's world, I receive daily e-mails from young readers struggling to accept themselves, harassed and bullied at school, hearing ministers condemn gay people, and fearing that their parents would kick them out if they found out their secret.
Decades after I was a teen, most school sex-ed programs continue to focus on biology and reproduction. Abstinence-only programs in some schools approach sexuality in the spirit of a "Just say no" anti-drug campaign, treating sex as if it were equivalent to some illicit substance that society must control. Little -- if any -- discussion is given to gender identity or sexual orientation.
Only an exceptional few comprehensive school programs address sexuality as a fundamental part of being alive -- a human experience that entails risks but can also yield tremendous benefits, that may have painful consequences, but can also be enormously rewarding and (dare I say it) fun. Instead, we far too often abandon young people to figure it all out on their own.
In my novels, I especially focus on high-school boys because (a) I'm a guy (b) high school was a wicked-tough time for me, and (c) therefore I feel a particular empathy for the struggles of teen boys.
We know that society often imparts a message of "boys don't cry." But from what I've observed, the message is actually far broader than that: Boys shouldn't feel, period. Whereas girls are allowed a wide range of emotional expression, boys are given the message that they shouldn't show or feel any weakness, whether it be hurt, loneliness, sadness, grief, or even too much joy.
What's left? Anger -- directed either toward others or turned inward toward the self. Such is the "box" that we confine guys to. Is it any wonder that males commit suicide about four times more often than females; constitute over 90 per cent of juvenile and adult prison populations; comprise a majority of alcoholics, drug addicts, and homeless of all ages; have lower levels of university attendance and life expectancy? The list goes on, including the striking fact that nearly every school shooter has been a male.
One of the tasks of growing up male is figuring out, "What does it mean to be a man?" In our era of single moms, absent dads, latchkey kids, and an average of six hours per day spent by teen boys in front of a screen, we're largely abandoning a generation to figure out how to be a man from violent, misogynistic computer games and gangsta' rap videos, Internet porn sites, and endlessly gun-filled TV shows -- media that fuel the anger boys feel.
Accompanying the violence and misogyny is an equally strong dose of homophobia. In a majority of schools, religious and ethnic slurs are no longer tolerated, but homophobic remarks remain commonplace.
And anti-gay comments aren't limited to hurting gay and lesbian students; at some point almost every boy gets called "queer," "fag," or worse. To imply somebody is gay serves as one of the most effective and pervasive forms of bullying and harassment among boys. It's a way of keeping males inside their box.
When adults allow homophobia to persist, we're hurting the straight students alongside the gay ones -- and there are 10 times as many straight students. Homophobia hurts everybody, gay and straight.
Some individuals believe that to address homophobia would imply condoning or "promoting" homosexuality. Nonsense.
The reality is that young people today already know gay people. They have gay or lesbian friends, relatives, parents; they regularly see gay people in the media; they hear U.S. president-elect Barack Obama include gay people in his victory speech. What addressing homophobia and issues of gender and sexual identity actually promotes is a climate of inclusiveness in which all young people can feel safe to be themselves regardless of their differences.
Every one of us is different in some way, but we are all essentially the same. I've learned this from my readers, most of whom, it turns out, are straight. Each, in his or her own way, can identify with characters feeling different; wanting to love and be accepted; coming to terms with sexuality; and trying to sort it all out.
Alex Sanchez is the author of Rainbow Boys, selected as an American Library Association 'Best Book for Young Adults,' and other award-winning teen novels. To learn more or to contact him, please visit www.AlexSanchez.com
Thursday, November 20, 2008
The Lieutenant Governor of B.C. and the Government House invite students to participate in the Write me a Story literacy program. Students are encouraged to write a story based on four illustrations on the Government House website and submit it with an entry form to the Lieutenant Governor.
Each story will be read by His Honour and every participants will receive a letter of acknowledgement for their participation. The illustrations and entry form are available for download on the Government House website. Each month four different illustrations will be posted on the website.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Two four-time winners are among the list of winners of the 2008 Governor General’s Literary Awards announced today by the Canada Council for the Arts. The awards are given in the categories of fiction, poetry, drama, non-fiction, children’s literature (text and illustration) and translation, in English and in French...
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Vancouver Sun: 2008 November 15
High school English teacher Guy Demers doesn't hesitate to recommend graphic novels for young readers. "Comics are an art form, much like the novel or poetry," he says. "They offer us new ways to read and to put together meaning.
"The richness in subject matter and approach has given us a body of work that we can see as something truly rich and worth celebrating."
Demers, who teaches English at Sir Charles Tupper secondary school in Vancouver, says his goal with graphic novels is no different from with a novel or short story: He wants to challenge his students to expand and develop their literacy.
"When I suggest students read graphic novels, I don't hand them a stack of Archies or a standard superhero story. I give them a copy of a Tale of One Bad Rat, a Palestine or an American Born Chinese -- all amazing works [by Bryan Talbot, Joe Sacco and Gene Luen Yang, respectively] and all completely different."
Perhaps you recognize this drill: Your child enters the library and races to rummage the Tin Tin, Asterix, Garfield baskets or Bone shelf and returns either satisfied or dejected based on what the rummage produces. Increasingly, the demand exhausts the supply and it's time to look farther afield for graphic novels to satisfy insatiable young appetites.
In my quest to unearth diverse graphic titles, I discovered there are plenty for teenagers but not quite the same plethora for boys below age 12.
Fortunately, I got some help from the approachable lads at RX Comics and Lucky's Comics, both on Main Street, who also reminded me that many vintage comic titles (pre-1985) are suitable for all ages.
BASIC READING LEVEL
The best place to commence, if your child is an emerging reader, is with a wordless graphic novel. Together you can discuss the pictures. This will ignite interest in the format and build vocabulary.
Matthew Forsythe's Ojingogo (Drawn and Quarterly) may look simple, but the possibilities are delightful in this funny adventure of a young girl, a squid and her walking camera.
If your child is struggling with reading or not wildly interested in books, the Marvel Comics Collectible Pop-Up series (Scholastic Canada), which include titles like X-Men, may appeal. The high attraction of the pop-up format and the visual drama of the presentation will produce an instant bond. The text is not particularly simple, though, so you may need to read these books to your child.
The DK (Dorling Kindersley) Graphic Readers books have historical themes and a very low word count, with an emphasis on bright pictures and engaging themes. The Spy-Catcher Gang, a short tale set during the Second World War, has both literacy and historical merit. At the bottom of each page, descriptive prompts reinforce the storyline factually and the final pages contain a glossary of the words highlighted in bold throughout. The series covers everything from Martin Luther King to hockey.
Into the Volcano, by Don Wood (Blue Sky Press/Scholastic), is another strong choice to help readers 7 and up progress to more challenging texts. It's the dramatic story of two brothers who end up lost in the lava tube of an erupting volcano.
BASIC PROFICIENT READERS
Sardine in Outer Space, written by Emmanuel Guibert and illustrated by Joann Sfar, and Sfar's Little Vampire (both published by First Second) are collections of short tales ideal for kids who've bonded with the graphic format. The accessible language and humorous stories, with Sfar's vivid, high-energy illustrations, show the quality of what's now available in this format.
Sardine tells the story of a little girl aboard a spaceship who, with her cousin Louie and Uncle Yellow, must take on Supermuscleman. Little Vampire is spooky, with themes that will appeal to boys.
The author/illustrator duo shared a studio in Paris for four years, which gave rise to these treats.
Lewis Trondheim is a prolific French animator. My nearly nine-year-old son and I chortled our way through his Tiny Tyrant, illustrated by Fabrice Parme (First Second). This book, about a king who rules like a six-year-old, has a theme kids can relate to.
Trondheim's other well-known title is Kaput and Zösky (First Second). The interplanetary box-ups of this alien duo, who look like a bat and ball, offer a commentary on the state of the world. Most importantly, they're energetic and hilarious.
My son Cuan, my test reader, gave his overall victory card, surprisingly, to Ramp Rats, by Liam O'Donnell (illustrations by Mike Deas), from local publisher Orca's Graphic Guide Adventures series. Not only did he read it 143 times but he expressed amazement that a novel could teach you how to do skateboard tricks.
The story concerns the politics and tussles of a group of young skateboarders, both in and out of the park. We're already looking forward to Soccer Sabotage, due next spring.
The most endearing tale I discovered -- Jellaby, by Kean Soo (Hyperion) -- began life as a Web comic and is printed in a lavender hue. It tracks a secret friendship between Portia Bennett and a dinosaur-cum-gummy-bear called Jellaby as Portia tries to find his home. While so many graphic novels are scary and dark, there's something heartwarming about the Jellaby creature. You wouldn't mind looking out the window to find his donkey nose looking back at you.
The good news is that it's to be continued, so there will be more Jellaby titles.
CONFIDENT PROFICIENT READERS
My belief that graphic novels can bridge literacy gaps was strengthened when I discovered Classical Comics, a British publisher with North American distribution. Their graphic-novel adaptations of literary classics are faithful to the authors' original vision. This concept will convert even the most ardent anti-graphica parent, and Shakespeare need never elicit a teenage groan again.
Each Shakespeare play is published in three different formats based on the language: original text, plain text and quick text.
Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped (Tundra Books) was another revelation because my son, generally a classics fiend, has always had an inexplicable aversion to Kidnapped. Yet in this bold format we read the entire book in one sitting. If I now reintroduce the original novel, I'm sure his resistance will have abated.
Fortunately, the third volume of Tove Jansson's adorable Moomin (Drawn and Quarterly) -- Finland's answer to Peanuts -- has just been released. Volume Two, my favourite, includes the appropriately-themed-for-2010 Moomin Winter Follies, in which the Moomins must deal with the over-enthusiastic and emotional organizer of the Moomin Valley Winter Games, Mr. Brisk.
Tove Jannson died in 2001. These three volumes celebrate her extraordinary talents and are sure to become family favourites.
Don't dismiss the role graphic works can play in the acquisition of general knowledge. One of my favourite series is Horrible Histories, written by Terry Deary and illustrated by Martin Brown (Scholastic), described as "history with the nasty bits left in." Titles such as Rotten Romans and Frightful First World War tackle history in a fun yet informative tone.
Scholastic has now added a Horrible Science series, which similarly gives kids "science with the squishy bits left in." The books exploit the yuck and goofy factor while building up interest in important basic science facts.
Dorling Kindersley continues its pioneering visual output for young folk with Take Me Back: A Trip Through History from the Stone Age to the Digital Age. Like all DK titles, it's high on visuals and design, giving kids the history of everything from Mesopotamia to the moon in small, manageable bursts. Reading it is like taking a subway ride through world history. Later, when education demands more from kids, they'll have some familiarity with the stations.
I leave the last word on the debate over the value of graphic novels to teacher Guy Demers. "There are too many startlingly good pieces being created today to ignore," he says. "Our kids deserve the best and so we, as teachers, need to be open to finding it for them, even if it means going against a bias."
Anakana Schofield credits her weekly childhood commitment to reading the comic Bunty for Girls with eventually delivering her into the novels of George Eliot.
Vancouver Sun: 2008 November 15
For anyone hooked on Google for information, Blockbuster for DVDs and Amazon for books delivered to the door, using your local library may seem a quaint idea -- like going back to elementary school, or visiting the house you grew up in to see how small its rooms look.
But libraries aren't just books any more, and a return to library use may be just what we need to shave a few line items off the budget.
Libraries are booming, partly because what they offer now is "far beyond books," said Ross Bliss, manager of lending services and popular reading at the Vancouver Public Library.
Major jumps in circulation over the last 10 years attest to the fact that libraries are more than keeping up with contemporary tastes. Circulation of books is up 24 per cent, juvenile lit is up 52 per cent and audio-visual materials have jumped up 106 per cent.
"We also have circulating magazines, current and past issues, and a vast collection of reference magazines, music CDs, spoken word, audio books, many of them in mp3 formats, language-learning kits, popular films, and instructional DVDs," Bliss said.
What many people still don't know, he said, is how incredibly easy and convenient the Internet has made public library access.
"The catalogues for all these things are all available online at www.vpl.ca," Bliss said. In addition, each library card holder has 50 free reserves a year, and whatever you order will be delivered to the library of your choice.
When you want to return something you can drop it off at any branch.
Not only that, Bliss said, but through the website you can access the library's most "unsung treasure," access to thousands of magazines worldwide.
"You get the full text and full indexing for thousands of magazines, every issue, every article is indexed and almost all of them are full text. You can read them onscreen, download them, print them. This is proprietary stuff, it's not free to the whole world, but if you have a Vancouver library card, you can log on from anywhere in the world.
"Say you like Guitar Player for example, you can go online and read every issue. Or you want to research a digital camera, you can read everything that's been published about a particular model in photography magazines."
If you want to set up a book club, the library system provides sets of books for loaning out. The sets are handed over in a tote bag, with guidelines, a set of instructions and frequently asked questions.
"Again, you can do it online, and the books would be sent to your local library," Bliss said.
The VPL offers books in more than a dozen languages, and bases its multilingual collections on local demographics.
Bliss is also excited about the VPL's genealogy data base.
The VPL subscribes to the library edition of ancestry.com, and it is available to users online. "It's a crazy resource for doing genealogical research, just fantastic, but very expensive for an individual to subscribe to," Bliss said. The library also offers the very popular Chinese Genealogy Wiki.
The search interface on the website is easy to use. Simply log in with your library card from home, request the first available copy if you want a film or book, and type in which branch you'd like to have it delivered to.
There are good reasons to make the trek to your library too. In addition to reading programs for all ages, there are musical performances, lectures and entertainment.
"It's a place to socialize," Bliss said. "It's a place to relax, there are activated spaces, quiet spaces and spaces for community use. You can even bring your coffee, as long as it has a lid."
Monday, November 10, 2008
LA Times Editorial: 2008 November 10
Google, whose corporate ambition is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," has reached a breakthrough agreement with book publishers to make millions of out-of-print volumes accessible to the public. Unfortunately, it's not clear how useful the pact will be to libraries and their patrons. That's because the deal promotes a "pay to read" approach that's the antithesis of the free public library model.
The deal grew out of a lawsuit that authors and publishers filed in response to a Google initiative to scan the collections of five major university libraries into a giant electronic database. The ostensible purpose of the database was to extend Google's search capabilities to the contents of some of the country's biggest libraries, providing what amounted to a card catalog for the 21st century. But Google had another goal as well: to give public libraries of all shapes and sizes access to rich digital collections of works, most of which were out of print.
In a settlement announced late last month, Google, the American Assn. of Publishers and the Authors Guild agreed to give publishers more control over what went into the database and how its contents were viewed. Google could make digital copies of entire works available to public and university libraries, but with limits. Significantly, public libraries would have free access only to previews of the digitized books, and only on one computer terminal per library building. Patrons can use Google's service to try to find a copy of a book at a nearby library, but if they want a digital copy, they'll have to pay for it. And even then, they won't be able to download the copy to their laptop or portable device; they can either print it or read it from the website where it will be stored. The Web-only approach requires better wireless Internet access than most people have today. Libraries that want to let users read copies for free will have to pay a subscription fee to a new "book rights registry" run by authors and publishers.
Proponents of the deal say it's just the starting point, and that Google and the registry will have the flexibility to explore more business models. The initiative will give publishers important new insights into how people want to use their works online and how digital technology is transforming the book market, they say. Nevertheless, some libraries are worried about a shift toward charging readers each time they take a book out of the digital stacks. It's unfortunate that Google and the publishers didn't take advantage of the emerging standards in the electronic book field to enable libraries to acquire and circulate digital versions of out-of-print titles. Companies such as Overdrive are providing a model for e-book lending that preserves the spirit of free public libraries. Google and the publishers should look for ways to apply that model to their new effort, helping libraries keep pace with a reading public that's increasingly eager and equipped for a world with less paper.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Canwest News Service
Sunday, November 09, 2008
After years of banning access to blogs, YouTube and Facebook, it seems the federal government has figured out that maybe that Internet thing isn't so bad after all.
In fact, it might even be useful.
At the annual Government in Technology conference, federal officials took the wraps off the government's internal version of the popular online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, which it calls GCpedia.
The service will allow federal employees to post, comment and edit articles placed on GCpedia by their peers.
By doing so, the federal government hopes it can make its processes and decision-making much more transparent. It also allows departments to share information better and catalogue policy developments or new services.
For example, information about climate change policies could be posted and commented on by scientists and bureaucrats from National Resources Canada (NRCan), Environment Canada and Industry Canada. The concept may help break down walls between government departments that have traditionally been stingy when it comes to sharing information.
"This way, not one person owns the information," said Brian MacLeod, chief information management architect, Canadian public sector, with Open Text Corp. "GCpedia proves that they (government) get it and they are using the tools available."
MacLeod spoke at the conference about the benefits of collaborative Internet technologies, which are called Web 2.0 technologies. He said to understand the benefits of new social networking technologies, all a person has to do is look at e-mail.
Most messages could easily be posted in a blog, or as short "yes" or "no" responses. Attachments could be shared on a GCpedia-like website, as opposed to blasting it to an entire mailing list, he said.
The worst part about sharing information through e-mail is that most of it gets deleted.
"As people engage in the community, you are capturing it," said Macleod. "You can record all of the dialogue, know how it evolved. All of the changes and all of the opinions. You acknowledge that these people exist and you can connect with them."
Macleod said adopting Web 2.0 applications will also help the government appeal to younger people, a priority for the aging federal public service.
The federal government is lagging behind other countries that have actively pursued collaborative technologies.
GCpedia emerged from an obscure National Resources Canada initiative called the NRCan Wiki. The department created the Wiki a year ago to better network its 5,000 employees. To date more than 1,900 are actively using the service.
"It's not just about gathering information, it's about collaborating," said Marj Akerley, chief information officer of NRCan. "Anyone coast to coast can contribute, we don't have to have meetings where we all get together and brainstorm."
Akerley said the NRCan Wiki worked so well that Treasury Board decided to use it as a template for a government wide version they called the GCpedia.
Still, it may be a while before GCpedia, or something like it, is opened up to all Canadians to allow them to comment and debate on federal government policies and initiatives.
"It is a culture change. People are very risk-averse within the government of Canada," Akerley said.
Editor's note: Below are the answers of the Prince Rupert school trustee candidates to six questions posed by the Prince Rupert District Teacher's Union. The questions were posed by, and answers collected by, the PRDTU...
Question 5: Teachers are concerned about the erosion of library services in a district which has literacy as a high profile goal. Students have less access to libraries, Library Assistants have been cut back, and most elementary Teacher-Librarians have been replaced by Principals. What is your position on this issue?
Louisa Sanchez: Erosion of library services is indeed problematic considering the fact that LITERACY is one of our district goals. Many of our public schools libraries are close & some are open only part of the day. I visited and spoke to some of our library aides who are very concerned re: time given to do their job. I was appalled at what I saw and heard. We must all make the effort to ensure that our schools have resources to provide the print and electronic sources, the technology and the professional library staff to give all our children the skills and tools they need to navigate their way in this knowledge society. What a school thinks about its library is a measure of what it thinks about education. We must show that we value our school libraries by putting back our qualified librarians into our libraries and have them open on an all day basis.
Russell Wiens: I am embarrassed, we have set Literacy as our highest goal in the District. We have not shown ourselves to be the champions we need to be to make this happen.
Tina Last: I was very relieved to learn of the restoration of the library assistant’s hours. It seemed hypocritical to have literacy as a district goal and then limit the opportunity for students to access the tools needed to be successful at that goal. Libraries are the hubs of schools. They are a calm welcoming environment in a school and a place we want students to enjoy being and value. Simply put, they need to be open and accessible. As for who is manning the library I believe the teacher librarians while very important there can be difficulty in maintaining the continuity of that position. Where as the library assistants have often been in the library for a number of years and have developed a keen sense of that library, the students who frequent it and “own” its place within the school culture.
Terri-Lynne Huddlestone: The District Improvement Team acknowledged early on in their revision of the District Accountability Contract that one of the objectives for the district would be "To improve reading comprehension for every student in K-12". At that time, the Team made recommendations in their plan for specific actions to support this such as developing a district reading plan; implementing a district wide reading assessment; create a position on the District Service Team that will focus on supporting reading programming in K-9 classrooms; support the reading success of First Nations students; ensure that part of the secondary teacher librarian FTE is used to implement activities for students exceeding expectations in reading; maintain Literacy Support positions at both secondary schools at 0.25 FTE each; increased LRT (or other) FTE to support reading for gr. 1 students at risk; and create reading support blocks. These are just some of the actions that have been included in the contract, however, due to the significant budget shortfall that the Board of Education was faced with earlier this spring, many of these items were cut as funds were no longer available to support these. This included cut backs in staffing levels for our library assistants and other services within our schools.
Access to our libraries is crucial for our students. It is a learning centre in itself and the students should have the accessibility to be in there. The librarian assistants are crucial to the operation of the library. It is my understanding that based on our student enrollment at the end of September, the district had received funding that would help to reinstate teacher librarian time in the schools. While some Principals have assumed roles within the library, this has been a practice that has long been established in our district, this is not something new. Having a district goal of literacy and wanting to improve reading comprehension for our students, library time for our students is an important component to help them succeed.
Dorothy McLean: This is not fair to our Students, our Principals or our Library staff! I do not believe we should be cutting our staffing numbers from our Libraries, due to the fact that we have literacy as a high profile goal. Students need more access to Libraries not less, and we should not be taking Principals from other important duties. I do not believe that a school can provide a high standard of education with a part time Principal. Fund Libraries in All Schools, STOP CLOSING our Libraries!
Bart Kuntz: Extremely important topic, as we all know literacy and libraries go hand in hand. In support at September’s board meeting the staff recommended to add a portion of librarian time back from the previous spring budget had slated. I also sit on the DIT, which holds libraries and librarians in high priority to support literacy.
Brian Johnson: Principals are not librarians and they add to the cost of running our libraries. Our libraries should be open all day long when our schools are open with qualified librarians.
Leonard Alexcee: Library services play an important and vital role in our childrens' education. I am pleased to hear that librarian assistance may be reinstated because the librarian is the most important position in all schools. I would certainly seek to ensure that library services are all that they can be in our system.
June Lewis: As mentioned earlier, I am concerned with the fact that our children’s schools are lacking in Library use because of the size and the larger amount of children trying to access the same books. Reading is number one in all aspects of education. Reading will open all doors to all skills of life. It is a major tool in math, history, sciences, social studies etc. My children’s library is smaller then the one they had, the books available don’t challenge their minds. I am grateful I have talked with the principal and begun the process of looking into getting more. But you see this really shouldn’t have happened (school closers). But because this happened, this process should have been in place already.
Leona Peardon: Any loss of education opportunity should not and must not happen.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
By Debra Lau Whelan -- School Library Journal, 11/4/2008
It may be too soon to know how high libraries will fare on President-elect Barack Obama’s agenda, but it’s safe to say that the profession has a special place in the heart of the next president of the United States.
Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Washington office, says she’s confident that Obama will recognize the “importance of what we do” because he has a track record of supporting libraries in the past. Take, for instance, his address to ALA in June 2005.
“The library has always been a window to a larger world—a place where we've always come to discover big ideas and profound concepts that help move the American story forward,” he told the audience.
And speaking at the Democratic Convention in 2004, Obama voiced his concern about the Patriot Act and privacy issues by saying, "We don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States." The law, enacted in 2001, allows the government to secretly request and obtain library records.
But Obama’s real support for libraries will be apparent when it comes to renewing funding for the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). Currently up for Congressional reauthorization, President Bush has already proposed $220 million in LSTA funding for 2009, a figure that includes $171.5 million, which allows the implementation of a formula that allows each state to receive at least $680,000 in base funding for libraries, says Sheketoff.
The same goes for how well Obama will fund the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries program, which provides federal grants to high-need media centers to purchase up-to-date books and technology and provide professional development training to librarians. The program, originally authorized at $250 million, is currently funded at $19.4 million. It was funded at $20 million in 2003—the highest amount—but that’s no where near the $100 million that’s needed to transform it from a competitive grant to a formula grant, allowing each state to receive money, Sheketoff adds.
ALA has already informed Obama’s “domestic policy people” about the organization’s recent one-time request of $100 million in stimulus funding from Congress to “stem the bleeding” of critical library cutbacks and closures during these difficult economic times. Public libraries depend heavily on local property taxes to maintain operations, and increased foreclosure rates, lower home values, and fewer home sales have sharply reduced available funds, forcing libraries to cut services and hours, says ALA.
It’s still unclear whether Congress, which comes back on November 17, will pass a second economic stimulus bill. “But if they do another stimulus package, we hope to be a part of that,” Sheketoff says. “They did one for Wall Street. Hopefully, now they’ll do one for Main Street.”
Another item that ALA hopes Obama will look into is the connectivity issue and making sure that libraries have access to bandwidth. “In rural America, there’s inadequate bandwidth because there’s infrastructure,” says Sheketoff. “And in urban America, there’s not enough money for bandwidth.”
A recent ALA study shows that 73 percent of all libraries nationwide provide the only free Internet access in their communities—and in rural areas the rate rises to 83 percent.
“America’s free public libraries provide a lifeline for citizens in need across the country,” says ALA President Jim Rettig.
Obama’s past comments about the Patriot Act leaves ALA hopeful that the new administration will explore ways to make sure the law has “meaningful judicial and congressional oversight and eliminate all administrative subpoenas asking for library records,” Sheketoff adds.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
School libraries need a revolution, not evolution
By David Loertscher -- School Library Journal, 11/1/2008One of the biggest business battles of our time is between Microsoft and Google. The two have very different business models. Microsoft believes that if they build it, we will come—and buy their product. Google’s approach is different: if they build it, we will integrate it into our lives. We use Microsoft products on their terms, but we use Google products—from iGoogle to GoogleDocs—on our terms, to construct whatever we want...