Thursday, April 26, 2007

Video: RSS in Plain English

A number of people on our staff have been talking about making better use of RSS for library communications. Great idea, and this video from Commoncraft explains it well!

I currently have several local feeds in my Bloglines aggregator, including:
  • The New Cybrary (this blog)
  • InfoSoup Development Blog (our local catalog)
  • New on the Intranet
  • Changes to our staff wiki
We can work together to explore additional potential, but should spend some time demo'ing Bloglines etc. at a future staff meeting.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Volunteer of the Year

The Library has given our Volunteer of the Year award to Rev. Willis Bloedow, in recognition of his years of service on the Library Board and OWLS Board, his tireless advocacy, his active involvement in trustee education, his fund-raising efforts for the Appleton Library Foundation, and his key role in facilitating the Library's involvement with Project Promise & garnering support for the community read.

The photo shows Mayor Tim Hanna and me making a presentation to Will. Following are remarks made by Will at the Appleton City Council meeting on April 18, 2007:

First, a thank you to the Appleton Public Library staff and the Friends of APL.

Second, thanks to Mayor Hanna for the appointment to serve on the Library Board and to City Council members for supporting the library and its mission in this city.

Third. thank you to my parents and family who taught me the importance of the meaning of community and service and gave me a love for reading. I was nine years old before I entered a library --- a bookmobile ---which was the beginning of my visit to libraries all over the country.

This community is a great place to live. Thirty-three years ago yesterday my wife and our daughters moved to Appleton. To me, there are foundation stones which build up a community. Homes, schools, faith communities, city government and the library. Without any one of these, a community is not whole. There needs to be a creative tension. One cannot exist alone. Together they accomplish greater things. We are celebrating 150 years as a community, 150 years of support and growth.

When I came on the Appleton Library Board, thirteen years ago, I was asked “Why do you want to serve?” I have stood beside and in the Statue of Liberty, toured Ellis Island, been inside the U.S. Capitol, held my hand on my heart and recited The Pledge of Allegiance. But nothing in the world reminds me more of what it means to be an American, living in a free society, as walking through the doors of a public library, which could just as well have Emma Lazarus’ words from the Statue of Liberty written on its doors ... a huge sign saying “everyone is welcome here” with the emphasis on anyone!

With this in mind, it is with a sense of privilege and honor that I accept this award.

Librarian - by Haunted Love

It's always difficult to enforce library discipline...

Edna Ferber Returning from Eternity

Robert Heinlein noted that "all ... bureaucracies consist of a Surprise Party Department, a Practical Joke Department, and a Fairy Godmother department." I think all three departments must have been working overtime to generate the item that landed in my mailbox yesterday.

In a large envelope from Italy, I received a poster of original art in crayon and mixed media, a letter and a CD-ROM. The CD-ROM included more artwork, plus what look like vacation photos. All of these come from an Italian artist and poet, Francesco Martin, of the Universalsheets Network (here's an imperfect English version). The letter strains my comprehension. The art, which is a decent and lively piece, is a portrait of an angelic Edna Ferber, and I can only assume we received it since our library has done a lot with our Ferber website.

What can I say but "Grazie, Signor Martin!" ?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Barbara Ehrenreich at the library

It was a wonderful evening at the library, as author Barbara Ehrenreich spoke to an overflow crowd of 400-500 people. This was the culmination of our community read. We were dragging chairs from everywhere to try to accommodate the standing room only group, and working hard to keep doorways and fire evacuation routes clear. This is a happy problem. Clearly, the community read of Nickel and Dimed struck a chord, and clearly the huger collaboration among many libraries and community agencies paid off. A personal highlight during my introduction: when I noted that it was Library Workers Day and thanked all those on our staff who worked to make the evening possible, this got a big round of applause. Not all of us could be there, but I think the public has some notion of it taking an entire staff to do what we do, and appreciates the work.

When Barbara Ehrenreich spoke, she was also warm in praising public libraries and their service to communities, saying:

I need also to say a personal word of gratitude to public libraries everywhere ... I depend on public libraries and I have since I was a little kid. You know, public libraries, I got my education in, I do research in them to this day, and you know, we've got to support them. We've got to stand up for them.
She went on to talk about her book, her experiences of working in low-wage jobs, and other economic issues. There are some areas of current economic policy that clearly anger her, and she got into some provocative comparisons of rich and poor and the U.S. & other countries.The crowd was generally appreciative and enthusiastic, and the talk was followed by some good discussion as Barbara answered questions.

It was a sweet night for the many organizations which had collaborated in Project Promise, and it sets up an opportunity for additional community dialog when we come together for a follow-up meeting on April 30.

Valerie Magno has posted another account of the evening is on the FVTC Library Blog, and the newspaper account is here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Author visit: Barbara Ehrenreich

A big day at the library: our three-month-long community read of Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: on (Not) Getting By in America culminates with a visit and talk by the author. We're hoping for about 300 people to fill our meeting room tonight for Barbara's talk. And since I have to introduce her, I need to figure out what to say. Something like this...

Good evening and welcome to the Appleton Public Library. My name is Terry Dawson and I’m the Library Director. Tonight I have a quandary because there’s not enough time to thank by name all the many people who helped make this evening possible.

But I will say that we are celebrating National Library Week and today is Library Workers Day. I would like to acknowledge all the work of many people on our staff who made tonight’s program possible, from the maintenance staff who set up the room for tonight to the clerks who checked out, checked in and reshelved all the copies of Nickel and Dimed – about 2,000 times, and the Technical Services staff who ordered and processed our 350 copies of the book. I wish I could list every staff member by name, but I would like to single out Meg Shriver and the Reference staff, who have coordinated our community read project for Nickel & Dimed, developing websites and posters, and leading book discussions. And Michael Kenney, our Marketing Coordinator, has worked many hours in pulling together and promoting these programs.
I also want to thank the entire committee who worked on developing the community read including many community members as well library staff. They developed a ballot that allowed people to vote on their choice and select Nickel and Dimed for this discussion. Coincidentally, the ThedaCare Community Health Action Team (CHAT) conducted an educational program on poverty issues and it became clear that this reading project offered opportunities to address some broader issues and social needs in the Fox Cities.

This confluence led to the formation of Project Promise, led by the library, ThedaCare and Thrivent Financial with active participation by several other organizations. Project Promise has conducted numerous other activities studying poverty and income related issues in the Fox Cities. There will be a wrap-up meeting and Action Forum from 6:30 – 9:00 PM in this room on April 30 and we will identify some next steps and actions growing out of lessons learned these past months.

This is our library’s second community read, and the first one done with the participation of other Fox cities libraries; it will not be the last time we work together, and I want to thank the Neenah, Menasha, Kimberly-Little Chute and Kaukauna libraries for their participation. Neither reading nor social concerns stop at municipal borders.

Many of our library programs, including this one, are funded through the Appleton Library Foundation, which relies on your generous donations to maintain and build their endowment fund. Thanks to the Foundation Board as well as the Library Board of Trustees for supporting these programs.

Thanks also to the grants from ThedaCare’s CHAT program and Thrivent Financial which helped make tonight possible. With your support, this library will continue to be a place where the entire community can come to learn and explore issues together.

And now for our speaker:

Barbara Ehrenreich , author of Nickel & Dimed, is a distinguished author of several books exploring social issues and our culture. She has a Ph.D. in cell biology and has been Assistant professor of health sciences at the State University of New York. In addition to being on bestseller lists, her writing has earned her a National Magazine Award, Guggenheim Fellowship, Christopher Award, Los Angeles Times Book Award, and Puffin/Nation Prize. A feminist and socialist, her writing has tackled middle class attitudes toward working and poorer classes, consumerism, social justice, poverty, unemployment and war. She may be in danger of lightening up as her current work is Dancing in the Streets: a History of Collective Joy.

In Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich attempted to sustain herself at “entry-level” jobs in three cities, waiting tables, cleaning hotel rooms, working at a nursing home, and as a retail sales “associate”. Reactions vary, but I hope that reading the book opened my eyes and made me more mindful of my actions as both a consumer and employer. I know it made me a better tipper.

But you don’t need to know what I thought of the book. We all want to hear from the author and it’s an honor to have her with us tonight: Barbara Ehrenreich.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Diversity semantics & logic

Editor, the Post-Crescent:

I am writing in response to the letter from Jim Dickson published in the April 3 Post-Crescent. Mr. Dickson asserts that "One of the latest deceptions to be introduced as politically correct is the concept that diversity is good." He then postulates a series of unethical and criminal behaviors as evidence that diversity can be bad.

Merriam-Webster defines "diversity" as "the inclusion of diverse people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization." I know of no advocates who use the label of "diversity" to include unethical, criminal or harmful behavior. Rather we talk about the spectrum of human diversity to include all types of people -- not all types of behavior. There is still a sad lack of acceptance, in our community and in the world, for different cultures, races, ethnicities, genders, sexualities and faiths. Hurtful, unethical, unkind and criminal behaviors are not examples of "diversity" to lift up, but anti-social behaviors to discourage and censure.

To label anti-social behavior as diversity and then label diversity as "deceptive and dangerous" is to knock down a straw man. Let's not use semantics to justify prejudicial behaviors in a world that needs to do a better job of embracing diversity. This is not mere political correctness. People may not be equal at creation, but we should afford all people equal dignity, and appreciate the richness that diversity brings our community.

Terry Dawson, Chair
Toward Community: Unity in Diversity

Post-Crescent, April 3, 2007 letters:

Reflexively praising diversity not smart

One of the latest deceptions to be introduced as politically correct is the concept that diversity is good. Diversity may be good but it may be bad.

Something is not good just because it is different, and putting the label "diversity is good" on a bad habit or improper activity does not make it good.

If diversity is good, what's wrong with smoking in a bar in Appleton? Driving under the influence of alcohol? Taking performance-enhancing drugs? Raping corporate coffers to satisfy a greedy nature? Prowling around for sex partners? Being a bully? Taking a life?

To go from from "all men are created equal" to "diversity is good" involves a step across a huge chasm. People may be equal at creation, but diversity involves a totally different subject: what we do after our creation.Anyone teaching "diversity is good" has a lot of qualifying to do along with their teaching and the qualifying can't be as simple as saying diversity is good "as long as you don't hurt someone else." Diversity may start as an individual activity, e.g., reading pornography, but can end up being a Manson, Gein, Bundy, Dahmer or Gacy.

The teaching that "diversity is good" is deceptive and dangerous. If there needs to be a teaching on our differences, teach that we are created with different abilities and gifts to be used for the good of mankind.

Jim Dickson, Neenah

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Two kinds of library problems

In an article on AlterNet, "America Gone Wrong: A Slashed Safety Net Turns Libraries into Homeless Shelters", Chip Ward -- former assistant director of the Salt Lake City Public Library System -- writes about the problems urban libraries face with some "problem patrons." While Appleton is less extreme than Salt Lake City or any big metropolitan library, we wrestle with the same problems on a smaller scale. Homeless people, street people, the chronic mentally ill, emotionally ill and chemically dependent are daily fixtures and frequent challenges. Local social workers tell their clients: "if you have nowhere else to go, go to the library." While many of the homeless and street people present no problems, some entail substantial behavioral and service concerns. The resultant issues divide our staff and other library users. Although libraries are for everyone, it's easier to serve the people without problem behaviors and with good social skills. We can insist on proper behavior and treat people according to behavior, but its an ongoing challenge, while some other users just think the police should make these problematic people leave town.

We face a tension between legitimate concerns of keeping the library a nice place to work and visit and keeping it a place of opportunity and dialog for all citizens. We don't have social worker training.

By contrast, four days ago I was in Deva, Romania. While walking down the street, I spotted a public library reading room. Curious about Romanian libraries, I stepped in for a look around, hoping I might be able see collections, classification, and talk with staff. It was a small facility: a front room with card catalog and a service desk, a back room with wall stacks and reading tables. As I entered, a library worker stood up and quickly stepped in front of me.

This is a good place to note that I cannot speak Romanian and was wearing dirty work clothes. The staff person asked me a question I did not understand, but the inflection was a lot like "Yes, can we help you?" I responded with my stock "Do you speak English?" No. "Sprechen sie Deutsch?" No. "Parlez-vous Francais?" No.

Not yet quite defeated, I tried to lean in to peer into the reading room. She leaned as well, resolutely blocking my path. I said thanks and left. Final note: I did not see anyone else using the library. Good thing it was so well defended.

A Romanian friend later told me that if I had been well dressed and presented proper papers, they would no doubt have let me in. Another friend, a fairly responsible official in the school district, thought that there was a fairly new central public library, but did not know where it was. She thought she might be able to find out in a day or so. So, are there any happy problems here? Which library is better off?