Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Little Free Library Book - by Margret Aldrich

Although the idea of  the "take a book, leave a book" shelf has been around for a while in coffee shops, resorts, and other places (my own library has one for example) the Little Free Library Movement (LFL) is relatively new (2009). This network of boxes with free books set up in front yards, parks, and other public spaces has become a worldwide phenomenon and has helped to bring together neighbors, provided reading materials to impoverished areas, and given countless crafters and woodworkers an outlet for their talents. The Little Free Library Book tells the history of the movement, and includes many stories of individual LFLs with interviews of their stewards. Color photographs of the myriad LFL designs (which includes those designed to look like houses, churches, movie theaters, cars, and even a tardis enhance the enjoyment of reading about how they were built. Each LFL steward has his or her own reasons for starting and/or maintaining the library. All of the stories told in this book were inspiring.

I was especially interested to read the story of Texas' first LFL which was also the first one to be located inside of a school. Bilingual librarian (my favorite kind of librarian) Lisa Lopez started the LFL at the Zavala Elementary School in El Paso ("rated one of the most illiterate cities in the nation"). Lopez was determined to get books into the citizen's hands and to date her efforts have led to the establishment of over fifty LFLs in the city. She has gotten students at her own school excited about reading, and sharing books by decorating and maintaining Zavala Elementary School's own Little Free Library.

Stories about communities coming together to save their LFL were also part of this work. One story that went viral among the library set last year was that of nine-year-old Spencer Collins of Leawood, Kansas whose LFL was ordered taken down when it was determined that the freestanding structure violated the city code. Booing and hissing of the Leawood City Council was fast and furious, and the decision was ultimately overturned.

I was especially interested to read the story of Joceyln and Glenn Hale (Minneapolis, Minnesota) who learned to embrace all types of literature for their LFL. They originally saw their project as a way to share classic literature, but since users are invited to "leave a book" as well as "take a book" and the offerings soon included "bodice-ripping romances, marriage and fad diet advice, and dogmatic religious books". Their first response was to cull the books that did not meet their standards but they soon realized that what they were doing was banning books. Their LFL is now a place where all types of books are shared and enjoyed.

Truly an inspirational read that has me thinking about starting my own Little Free Library. I checked the LFL map and discovered a dearth of LFLs in my neck of the woods.

I did find an LFL in Marion, Massachusetts last fall (which appears to be gone now). Find out which book I selected from it here.

Sure to put a smile on my face is reading about another book I've already blogged about. In this case Aldrich refers to Laura Damon-Moore's book The Artist's Library: A Field Guide which I reviewed here earlier this year.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

BiblioTech : Why Libraries Matter More than Ever in the Age of Google - by John Palfrey

Last week I attended the Rhode Island Library Association (RILA) Conference in Newport. I was fortunate to be able to hear Scott Bonner (the funny and humble director of the Ferguson, Missouri Public Library) talk about how he was able to continue to serve his community during last August's crisis in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer. More recently, a similar situation in my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland (where Freddy Gray died while in police custody) lead librarian Melanie Townsend Diggs to the decision to keep the Enoch Pratt Free library open even while violence erupted nearby. These examples of library as a safe community space (read more about them in American Libraries magazine) are only part of the reason that libraries still matter.

Providing computers and wifi to those who do not have home access, or are away from home is certainly another important reason why libraries still matter, but it is not just the digital access that is necessary, it is also the access to librarians who can help people navigate the internet or assist a student with completing her assignment. Alison Head and Michael Eisenberg's reasearch for Project Information Literacy demonstrates that students who consult with librarians when conducting school research are more likely to use research databases than Google for future research needs. A finding that has been confirmed by my own research. Palfrey also points out that while many coffee shops and restaurants may also offer free wifi, there are no librarians around to help patrons with their research. Furthermore, it is "simply not true that you can find everything you need through a Google search."

The idea of public libraries belonging to the people, rather than corporations, is another essential aspect. Author Dennis Gaffney is quoted in Palfrey's book
I love libraries because their names have not yet been appropriated like those of sports arenas by the the likes of Pepsi, Fleet Bank, or National Car Rental. The notion that anyone would name a community library the Tropicana Branch sounds absurd, and it should, because we own our libraries.
Palfrey goes on to explain that this means that "we are free to pursue our own interests and ideas, without fear of reprisal or economic consequence."

New information is exploding at a rate that could not have been imagined even 25 years ago. "Each day we produce 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. As a result, 90 percent of the data in the world were created in that last two years." Enter libraries and librarians who are helping to organize and manage the information, and helping people to locate what they need among the plethora of digital and print sources. Digital Public Library of America is one starting place where digital collections are being created and curated. Record preservation and record sharing is still within the purview of libraries, museums, and archivists, all of which employ people specifically trained to do so.

In his chapter on school libraries "the most common type of library in the United States" Palfrey points out that they
support all children as they learn to make sense of today's new information landscape, not just those who can afford to download any book they like onlo their Amazon Kindle. Digital savvy should not be limited to those who can pay for it, and school libraries play an essential equalizing role in this respect. 
This is true even as we continue to see stories about school libraries, and librarians being among the first to go when budgets need to be cut.

Issues of privacy are treated in the chapter "Law: Why Copyright and Privacy Matter so Much". Librarians have questioned and fought the Patriot Act, ever since it first went  into effect within weeks of the 9/11 attacks.
Librarians worry, with some reason, about what protections readers will have when the police come calling for information about books they have checked out. Librarians have long fought encroachments on civil liberties of this sort. The debate over the USA Patriot Act was a major cause célèbre for librarians, for instance. The notion that a reader's interest in a book about Islam might tip an investigation toward a particular suspect sent chills down the collective spines of librarians.
Interestingly, at the aforementioned RILA conference I attended a program on patron privacy with respect to third party vendors, and discovered that while librarians may respect patron record privacy our vendors do not necessarily share our views.

As one might imagine I marked a lot of passages in this work while I was reading it. I did not blog about everything that interested me here. Some of what interested me, but which is not included here, can be found in this video of the author speaking at the Kansas City Public Library.

Libraries do still matter - both in digital and physical space. They should remain free of charge, as well they should remain spaces for free expression.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Skink No Surrender - by Carl Hiaasen

My husband and I have been Hiassen fans since the early 1990s. When Hiaasen started writing Young Adult books (Hoot 2002) we also made our daughter into a fan. All of his works feature an environmental theme with bad guys always getting some sort of poetic justice in the end. Skink No Surrender is no exception. For the uninitiated Skink is a character among characters  - a former Florida governor and Vietnam veteran turned hermit and über-environmentalist. He has recurring role in several of Hiaasen's works, and was first introduced in one of his early novels. Skink is afraid of nothing and possesses almost super human strength. In this story he helps young Richard Sloane rescue his kidnapped cousin, Malley. The video below features Hiaasen talking more about the book.

Of course, the work would not be included on this blog were it not for the fact that there is also a library mentioned in it. There is only one reference, but that's all it takes to make the cut. When young Richard explains to Skink that his cousin has run off with someone she met online in a chat room, Skink, not being at all familiar with social media (he barely understands computers) asks "This 'chat room' - is it like a library?"

Skink does likes books and loans his own copy of Silent Spring to Richard.

Hiassen fans will not be disappointed.