Monday, August 31, 2009

Books: here to stay

To the Best of Our Knowledge on public radio had a recent segment on libraries, books and reading. They featured Jonathon Rundman's Librarian song, and one of my favorite authors, Ursula K. LeGuin, talking about her essay in Harper's magazine, "Staying awake: Notes on the alleged decline of reading."

The essay is worth re-reading. We have noticed here at APL that although the use of media is increasing, more books are being used as well. LeGuin notes:

The book itself is a curious artifact, not showy in its technology but complex and extremely efficient: a really neat little device, compact, often very pleasant to look at and handle, that can last decades, even centuries. It doesn’t have to be plugged in, activated, or performed by a machine; all it needs is light, a human eye, and a human mind. It is not one of a kind, and it is not ephemeral. It lasts. It is reliable. If a book told you something when you were fifteen, it will tell it to you again when you’re fifty, though you may understand it so differently that it seems you’re reading a whole new book.

This is crucial, the fact that a book is a thing, physically there, durable, indefinitely reusable, an object of value.

I am far from dismissing the vast usefulness of electronic publication, but my guess is that print-on-demand will become and remain essential. Electrons are as evanescent as thoughts. History begins with the written word. Much of civilization now relies on the durability of the bound book—its capacity for keeping memory in solid, physical form. The continuous existence of books is a great part of our continuity as an intelligent species.
If I were interested in something like, say, building a library, I'd be paying attention.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Diverse book recommendations

Toward Community: Unity in Diversity held their annual Celebrate Diversity picnic on Aug. 16, 2009. Attendees were asked to write down their favorite books. Though only a minority of folks participated, they came up with an interesting list that reveals diverse ages, backgrounds, and literary tastes. Thanks to Toward Community board chair Kamal Varma for compiling and sharing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Get rid of the homeless"

Heard second-hand from a highly reliable source:
Well, yes, we need a new library. But first, they should get rid of the homeless people.
This is pretty sad, but I'm afraid there are a fair number of people who think this way. It's even sadder in a time when the economy is down, unemployment is up and people are hurting. This is a time when lots of people, including the temporarily impoverished, need public libraries more.

There was a very timely op-ed piece in the New York Times:
Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?
Published: August 9, 2009
In defiance of all reason and compassion, the criminalization of poverty has actually been intensifying as the recession generates ever more of it. ...
Barbara Ehrenreich, who wrote this piece, provided one of the springboards for our local Project Promise efforts on poverty, when we used her book Nickeled & Dimed for our community read a couple years back. Project Promise believes we can eliminate poverty in the Fox Cities. So is this a way to eliminate poverty? Let's just outlaw poor people -- or at least make 'em stay in places where we never have to notice them... NIMBY -- it's not just a good idea, it's the law!

It's pure discrimination to want the homeless to go away or to use them as an excuse not to support the library. If there are behavior issues that interfere with a good library experience, the staff will deal with them. Some problems at the library may occur from homeless people. Some problems may originate with wealthy people, with mentally ill people, with high-spirited teens or just a regular person having a bad day. We've seen all of these.

We deal with the problem, not with the societal class of the person causing the problem.

The library is for the whole community. We offer opportunities. You can't make it better by denying it to some of those who have the greatest need for our services. It was written that "the poor will never cease to be in the land", and I doubt that meant we should just get them into a different part of the land where we never encounter them.

Fortunately, I don't think most of the community and most of our users feel this way, or we wouldn't be seeing the record use -- from all social strata -- that we're enjoying. But I fear this quiet discrimination, from some in our community, is something we will continually fight. Gandhi wrote that "Poverty is the worst form of violence."

You don't shun or punish the victims. You find ways to give them chances. That's one reason we're here, and whether we every get a new library or not, we need to be true to the goal of providing opportunities for the whole community.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Building with carts and horses

In a letter to the editor in the Aug. 8 Post Crescent, Jonathon Pettit wrote:
Anyone who has searched the stacks or tried to find an open chair only to be "up close and personal" with a stroller can attest to the need for more space at the Appleton library. You also would agree if you had ever had to place a reservation for one of 28 public computers on the second floor.
But he also added:
It seems that the discussion of library expansion has put the "cart before the horse." Debate is framed upon what the architects and engineers want to build instead of what the taxpayer can afford.
In response, a word about discussions, debates and decisions:
  • I think the discussion, and the initial debate, are quite rightly framed on the questions of "what does the community want?" and "what is required to provide good, efficient service in response to long-term community needs?"
  • Thus it's not at all about what architects and engineers want. Architects and engineers design to meet needs expressed by their clients.
  • Members of the community, both directly and through their representatives on the City Council, are quite right to ask Library Board and staff to explain wants, needs and options.
  • The question of what the taxpayers can afford absolutely must and will be addressed before any decisions are made. The City of Appleton has a levy restraint ordinance and is committed to keeping long-term indebtedness at a fraction of the maximum allowable.
  • Cities have to maintain infrastructures, including public facilities. To meet community needs and enhance the quality of life, cities build and maintain streets, storm drains, parks, and buildings such as police stations and libraries. Not all at once, but each in turn as needed and affordable.
  • Nobody is advocating building a library for years yet.
  • Nobody is advocating spending money we won't have.
  • Anything wanted that goes beyond what the taxpayers can afford should be funded through privately raised funding.
So I'll respectfully disagree with Mr. Pettit. I think the horses and carts are lining up just right. But I want to reassure him that this City is a long way from a decision -- and his concerns must be addressed in that decision.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Awesome teens

Today we had the wrap-up party for our teen summer program. Over 300 teens participated in the program (though fortunately for the pizza budget, not all attended the wrap-up), attending programs, writing book reviews, poetry and other creative reactions to YA literature.

Thanks to our Friends and Foundation, we had some great prizes to offer. Winners included:
  • Barnes and Noble Gift card — Alex Reis
  • RC Helicopter — Shuri Rajan
  • Flip digital camcorder — Edreena Sampson
  • Gift Card Variety Pack — Sami Barnett
  • HP Mini Netbook — Alan Bohnert
And at the party teens consumed mass quantities of pizza and snacks, played games and just had fun hanging at the library. As they did all summer, a small herd of teen volunteers kept things together for us, following the leadership of our amazing YA staff. A splendid time was had by all ... and school starts soon.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Conkey's & John Zimmerman honored by City

It will be a sad day for many of us when Conkey's Bookstore closes after 113 years in Appleton. At last night's City Council meeting, Mayor Hanna read a proclamation honoring John Zimmerman and Conkey's for their many contributions to our community. Aug. 13 will be "A Day for Conkey's and John Zimmerman", with a special celebration in Houdini Plaza at 4:00 PM -- I hope there will be a huge crowd!

The poor economy has exacerbated the plight of the independent bookseller. We'll have something seriously missing from our lives when Conkey's is no more.

A standing ovation for the Zimmermans after the proclamation is read.

Mayor Hanna reading the proclamation.