Monday, August 31, 2009

Signage, paper, and other trvialities

I've been thinking a lot about the somewhat "trivial" aspects of the physical space in a library (this is what happens when you spend too long debating about Ikea chairs...).

I often joke to people that some libraries aspire to an interior design aesthetic that is best described as "Unloved Church Basement, circa 1982." It's like the flip side of maintaining a collection: librarians and paraprofessional staff have only recently managed to swallow the idea of actually weeding the collection. We have yet to even begin to cut into manageable, bite-sized pieces the idea of considering the physical space of the library as a component of our services.

That's a sweeping generalization, of course. The Idea Stores, love them or hate them, at least considered space and design, northern Europeans in general are pretty good at designing cool libraries (more below; also, Shannon, your pics were too good NOT to link to...), Seattle did a wicked job (signage!), as did Vancouver.

Quick sidebar re. the Swedes and libraries: I saw a fascinating presentation at IFLA last year about getting children and young adults involved in developing and designing their space in the library, and is based on Howard Gardner’s educational theories about multiple intelligences. Libraries should play with: words (linguistic intelligence – this one is fairly obvious for us!), pictures (spatial intelligence: colours, materials, structure of the library, windows, furniture, etc.), music (musical intelligence: having a music room, instruments for lending), self-reflection (intrapersonal intelligence: quiet spaces, reading rooms, theatres, fireplaces, sofas), physical experience (bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence: ladders, sofas, climbing walls, skateboard ramps, playground outside), social experience (interpersonal intelligence: group work rooms, café, friendly helpful staff), experience in the natural world (naturalist intelligence: plants, fountains, maps, a nice smell in the library!). Questions to ask in the process include: How can interaction with the library space develop? How can you strengthen language and stimulate the joy of reading with new techniques? How can you develop meaningful participation for children and young people when it comes to developing the library space? The project organized focus groups with children and incorporated their drawings and 3D models into renovation plans. The web site for the project acts as a resource for other librarians interested in the project.

Whoo, sidetracked. Sorry.

Maybe, upon reflection, it's the smaller branch libraries that concern me. And smaller things: not even furniture, or carpeting, or windows, but non-permanent signage (i.e. not the signs affixed to the wall that point out the washrooms, but the small posters advertizing your branch's programs, for example), display space, flyers, pamphlets, bulletin boards...

Here's where I'm coming from. At Westmount, most of the staff were pretty aware of the little things. We also had a hawk-eyed senior management team who would tear down posters they didn't like, scour the bulletin board for expired notices, and chose everything from the program notice boards to the plastic baskets patrons can use to pile up on books with infinite care (some might call this micromanaging!)...

When I started working at another library, I was appalled at the standard of ... um, cleanliness? Tidiness? I developed this theory that the way the physical space of a library is designed, and maintained (or not - garbage on the floor, grafitti in the study carrels, ignored for days...) influences the way patrons act in the space. I'm not saying we all have to be as intimidating as possible when designing spaces (something I think Westmount was, in fact, guilty of, when it designed its high service counters - how unfriendly and unergonomic!). I'm just saying that keeping the library in good shape on a daily basis has to be everyone's responsibility, or else it becomes no one's. One of my previous bosses used to do a walking tour of her branch every morning - what a great way to stay on top of things.

Some smaller infractions I have been guilty of or have observed in my day that are totally unnecessary:

  • A suggestion box with the X in box ripped off.

  • Handwritten signage - seriously, dude, use a computer!

  • Grafitti up for more than 48 hours.

  • So many pamphlets at the Reference desk that you can't see the staff person.

  • So many book trucks of work-related material pulled up beside the Reference desk that you can't see the staff person.

  • Now that I think of it, any book truck storage in public spaces.

  • Notices for summer programs in the community still up in October. Bonus points for also having the "expired" flyers or booklets, too!

  • Cluttered public workspaces (seriously, is it SO HARD to put your crap away?)

  • Dusty things.

  • Dead plants (fills me with such confidence about your dedication to serving actual humans).

  • Things used for purposes other than that which God intended them: cardboard boxes as storage for toys out in a public area, signs held up using a metal bookend and a plastic page protector, old milk cartons as storage for plastic bags for patrons, Kleenex boxes full of crayons, etc.

You're wondering where all this hostility is coming from, aren't you? I know we're public libraries, and we're poor and all that, but we need to have some self-respect, or we can't really expect our patrons to have any respect for us, can we?

And signage. God, I could write a whole other post on signage alone. First of all, no one reads signs, right? This became all too clear when people pulled on the door of Rideau Branch every day we were closed, despite the sign on the door (directly above the door handle) saying CLOSED. Especially in the children's department: some of our patrons can't read! Plus, we have new Canadians, and the elderly who can't see very well anymore, and so on. I've started using pictograms in my signs: covers of famous picture books in the pic book section, giant dinosaurs in the 567.91s, and so on. Why aren't more of us doing this? It astounds me. We talk ourselves blue in the face about welcoming people to the library, do outreach, entertain school groups, provide readers' advisory services, answer the phones, and do myriad other things - why aren't we paying attention to "smaller" things like signage as a part of the same philosophy of accessibility?

On a related topic, what do you think about this presentation about empathetic signage? On the one hand, I can hear my husband saying, "Why do we need to encourage people to be empathetic? Shouldn't they BE empathetic already?" On the other hand, I appreciate the light touch of humour. We spend too much time being totally obvious, and stultifying, when we make signs.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Theodosia and her cat; a lab technician and her dog

I thought I would mention the two titles I booktalked to the library technicians on Wednesday:

Theodosia and the serpent of chaos by R. L. Lafevers
If your kids are pining for all things British since they finished devouring the final Harry Potter, grab this lighter (literally) tome for a quick British fix. With elements of mystery, humour and fantasy, there are more similarities than just the language. Both books also have inept and absent family members, deeply evil curses and helpful – if sometimes bewitched – pets. Eleven-year-old Theodosia (or Theo, as she prefers) is the totally lovable heroine of this book. Theo is as smart as your average Hermione, but not as annoying, mainly because no one ever listens to her. She lives with her parents in early 20th century London, where her parents run the Museum of Legends and Antiquities. Her mother is away in Egypt collecting important artifacts at the beginning of the book, and Theo wanders the halls of the museum, left entirely to her own devices by her kind but utterly forgetful father, who often even forgets to take her home at night. No matter, because Theo sleeps in a sarcophagus. You would, too, if you could feel the dark magic that Theo can feel in the museum. Says Theo, “Frankly, I'm not fond of surprises, as the ones around here tend to be rather wicked." Her special abilities, as well as her expansive knowledge of curses and amulets, serve her well when her mother returns with some seriously ominous treasures. Theo thinks she can remove the curse, but before she gets very far she stumbles into an international artifact crime ring, a London secret society, and Theo must single-handedly (well, with her somewhat-possessed-by-an-evil-curse cat) go to Egypt to save the British Empire! Check out the book’s website for Theo’s own blog, discussion questions, info about the historical setting of the book, and more! Theodosia is a great pic for 8-12 year old starving Potterites, as well as for fans of Eva Ibbotson, Nancy Drew, or Indiana Jones.

Laika by Nick Abadzis
I mentioned this earlier as one of my favourite teen reads of 2008. This is in teens because, although it's essentially a story about a dog, there is some violence and some heavy drinking (hey, they're Russian scientists under a lot of pressure!) This is the story of the abandoned dog who went on to become the first space traveler, under the Soviet space program. More importantly, it is a story for dog lovers, for feminists, for budding scientists and veterinarians, for political junkies, and for those looking for the next Persepolis. It is the story of Korolev, the ambitious Russian enginer, and Yelena, the lab technician responsible for the care of the dogs used in the space program. It is a story about truth, lies and propaganda, loyalty, duty, patriotism, and, ultimately, trust. You know that look a dog can give you, utterly inscrutable and yet somehow completely understandable? It's everywhere in this book; even though Abadzis fills in the details of Laika's backstory for you, you still manage to feel both closer to her, and yet somehow unable to completely understand what she is thinking. One of the reviews I read on NoveList wrote that all the characters in this book try to imprint their own desires on Laika's face. The truly heartbreaking moments come at the end, when Laika is in space, and Yelena learns she won't be coming back, and you hear Yelena saying "Good dog. You can trust me." Whether Yelena is calling those words out into space, or whether Laika is remembering them inside her head as she overheats, is unclear. In the scan below from the end of the book (yes, sorry, the images show Laika's body beginning to shut down), you will see Laika referred to by Yelena as Kudryavka ("Little Curly"), which was changed by the powers that be because it wasn't easy to pronounce (and they wanted maximum media promotion).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Excellent piece by Lawrence Hill: Problems with Mockingbird

No time to comment (guest lecture to library techs this morning, SRC closing party this afternoon) but just READ THIS.

An excerpt:

"It has nothing to do with Canada. It explores racism in small-town Alabama a half-century ago. By giving only this novel to our high school students as a book about racial injustice, we perpetuate the great Canadian myth: that only our dastardly neighbours south of our border practiced slavery and segregation, and that only they had to fight for a better world. It would be hard to find a Canadian high school student who did not know about American slavery and segregation. But many students – and adults – don't know the Canadian stories of slavery and abolition, and of segregation and civil rights."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In praise of smaller branches + teen zone ideas....

I try to visit as many of our libraries as I can. I think my count to date is 21 out of 33 (never been on either of the bookmobiles, either, alas). My current obsessions are Elmvale Acres and Emerald Plaza, which, for some reason (two words, first word starts with E?) keep getting mixed up in my head. Both are what we call "Community 2" branches, so mid-size (like Rideau), but they both have quite high circ of children's materials.

Today, I had some errands in the Elmvale area, so I stopped by Elmvale Acres branch. Here's the exterior:

EA is all on one level. I love, love, love branches like Rideau where you can see all the action from the Info Desk. I really miss that here at SL - there's a wall between me and circ. I can hear them, but I can't see them. Grr. Anyway, I also like the paint colours (very reminiscent of Cliffcrest Branch of TPL, both in paint colour choices and in geographical location - both are in strip malls). The librarian at Elmvale, Courtney, has been doing an amazing job recently amping up the programming at the branch for all ages: from Babytime, to job finding workshops, to high school groups. We had a stimulating discussion, and I was thrilled I serendipitously caught her on a morning she was working so I could get a personal tour. She's hard at work on her teen zone, which we are at SL also, so it was good to compare notes. We also are on the same page in terms of how we think about OPL's three urban, "Community 2" branches (Elmvale, Rideau, and Rosemount), and we shared some thoughts about outreach strategies, underserved populations, and stuff.

All this made me think, perhaps I should share with you my ideas for the teen zone at SL. First of all, here's how it looks now, which is in and of itself an improvement on a few months ago. We removed one bay of shelves (via a giant backshifting project) and the paperback spinners (as my faithful readers know, I was quite pleased to see the end of those vile things).

We have our Wii console (man, that's a whole other post...) but haven't purchased the games yet. Our launch should be in Sept, so I'm anxious to get this place tricked out before that. Time and $ are of the essence!

Have you ever noticed that our carpet is HIDEOUS? Also, it's very hard to match anything with it, probably because it's so loud already. It amazes me that a grey carpet can still be so loud. My cell phone photo also doesn't capture the truly nasty pink flecks in the pattern - think "newborn baby pig" colour. Yes, I'm really selling you on it, aren't I? Anyway, I looked high and low for something that wouldn't compete too much with it, and ended up liking my colleague, Shannon's, suggestion best:

(It's from EQ3)

Re. chairs, I'm thinking Ikea, so this weekend is roadtrip time to the local store to check out the pickings. I've got my eye on this one:


I love Ikea (shamelessly. I know it's cheap, but they have quirky stuff, lovely unbeatable wooden toys, and delicious chocolate galettes. Not to mention meatballs.)

Anyway, those are just ideas for now until we figure out what our budget is. I also need some magazine shelving - can you see our current pathetic (and somewhat dangerous) metal shelving stand? At the end of the bay of stacks? It wrecks all the magazines as you try desperately to shove them into the little grooves. Gah.

So I'm off to work on that, and some back-to-school planning for class visits. Gotta work out my strategy this year. I'm thinking, skip the snail-mail letters and move to e-mails and phone calls? Plus I have to prep my speech tomorrow to shiny new library technicians about readers' advisory, and start reading for the class I am going to be teaching at Algonquin. Eeeek.

Currently reading: Bog child, by Siobhan Dowd. Just finished How I became a famous novelist, which was wonderful, in a cynical kind of way.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Archived posts: IFLA 2008, day 5

The final session I attended was one of the best!

Session title: Libraries for Children and Young Adults - Setting sail for new horizons: what tools do we need and want?

1. Canada's Teen Reading Club with KIRSTEN ANDERSEN (Greater Victoria, Public Library, Canada)
The Teen Reading Club (TRC) is a library-based online social network that connects teenagers who enjoy reading. Any teen can join the site and participate in the discussion groups, and any librarian can act as a moderator. The site contains many features, including functionality for teens to recommend books to each other (“because we know that peer relationships are paramount at this age!” and, as added incentive, “each time a teen submits a book review, he/she is eligible to win a prize”), librarian-created booklists, tagging for reviews, discussion forums moderated by librarians, chat (including online author chats!), and a “Your Words” section where teens can post their own writing and get feedback from peers. The site runs all year, with higher participation in the summer. Kirsten mentioned that TRC has recently expanded into partnerships with libraries in New Brunswick, which made them aware they need more French content, especially for future plans to expand into Quebec. This is an obvious place where OPL librarians could make a contribution! Kirsten reminded us that TRC functions at no cost to individual libraries and involves over 590 libraries and 65 librarians. Some participating libraries simply promote the club to their teen patrons, and others run in-house programs or conduct local-level prize draws.
Other random TRC stats:
  • 3,000 teens signed up
  • 30,000 posts to the discussion forums
  • Most users ever online at once was 170 on September 8, 2007. This would be considered excellent turn-out for any library program!
  • Last summer 704 different teenagers posted book reviews and a total of 2,968 teens registered overall.
  • The most reviewed books were the Harry Potter books, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, and The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants by Ann Brashares.
  • However, hundreds of different books were reviewed in over 4,000 reviews.
Final editorial comment: Kirsten Andersen is one of my absolute librarian heroes, and one of the influences for me entering library school, after we worked together. It is always a pleasure to hear her speak, as her enthusiasm for teen services and her love of teens and reading is palpable!

2. A quels défis votre bibliothèque a-t-elle dû faire face? Comment y avez-vous répondu? Cas du Bénin with BÉATRICE LALILON GBADO (Bibliothèque départmentale de Parakou, Benin)
Discussion of La Semaine béninoise du livre de jeunesse, a book week program focusing on representations of Africans in books (Béatrice began publishing folktales and the Editions Ruisseaux d’Afrique publishing house was founded) and library visits for schoolchildren in Benin. In 2008, the 10th book week had 39 participating libraries and more than 5000 new children’s books distributed (through NGO donations and other government book promotion schemes). The program also succeeded in revitalizing the local library network and strenthening the local publishing industry.

3. 2020 Mars Express - towards the future children's and young adult's library with LO CLAESSON (County Library Jönköping, Sweden), ANNA GULSTRAND (Regional Library of Västra Götaland, Sweden) and ELISABET HÅKANSSON (County Library of Skane, Sweden)
This interesting program focuses on getting children and young adults involved in developing and designing their space in the library, and is based on Howard Gardner’s educational theories about multiple intelligences. Libraries should play with: words (linguistic intelligence – this one is fairly obvious for us!), pictures (spatial intelligence: colours, materials, structure of the library, windows, furniture, etc.), music (musical intelligence: having a music room, instruments for lending), self-reflection (intrapersonal intelligence: quiet spaces, reading rooms, theatres, fireplaces, sofas), physical experience (bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence: ladders, sofas, climbing walls, skateboard ramps, playground outside), social experience (interpersonal intelligence: group work rooms, café, friendly helpful staff (!!!!)), experience in the natural world (naturalist intelligence: plants, fountains, maps, a nice smell in the library!). Questions to ask in the process include: How can interaction with the library space develop? How can you strengthen language and stimulate the joy of reading with new techniques? How can you develop meaningful participation for children and young people when it comes to developing the library space? The project organized focus groups with children and incorporated their drawings and 3D models into renovation plans. The web site for the project acts as a resource for other librarians interested in the project.

This concludes my IFLA report! For more info, check out:
• The IFLA Express daily conference newsletter

On the drive home, Matt Abbott and I visited the Bibliothèque Gabrielle-Roy. One interesting thing: they loan art prints for 58 days for $3.50!!

Archived posts: IFLA 2008, day 4

Wednesday Plenary Session: James Bartleman
(Some of you probably know that he is very active in aboriginal youth literacy initiatives and created in 2004 a book program, collecting books to stock school libraries in aboriginal communities in Northern Ontario and Nunavut.)

Bartleman (the former Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario) is aboriginal: he is a member of the Mnjikaning First Nation. His mum is Native, and she married his (white) father at the age of 14 (his father was 18). His parents lived on a reserve, and then moved to Port Carling, where they lived for some time behind the city dump. Bartleman observed that this was great, because the wealthy American families vacationing in Muskoka left many lovely items in the dump, and the dump became, in fact, his first library (he read a lot of discarded comic books)! He spoke at length about racism, reminding the audience that Aboriginal and Inuit people in Canada only got the vote in 1960, and that he and his mum were often teased with racial epithets. He said, “everyone was poor” at the time, but that “racism was different.” He said he has never forgotten how it felt to be discriminated against, even after the community that ostracized his family named a park after him. He explained that in the end, he realized these people weren’t going anywhere, and neither was he, and that he had to move on. He could not keep resenting them. He told the audience that he learned to read very early, and this set him apart from other children in the community. He described reading as an act of self-discovery, an act that “takes you from a world of harsh limits to one of expanded possibilities.”

On Wednesday, I also visited the Centre d'interprétation de Place-Royale to see an NFB film being presented in 3-D. The film, entitled Facing Champlain: A Work in 3 dimensions, follows actress Pascale Montpetit, who plays young artist Mélissa Hébert. Hébert is commissioned to create a new portrait of Samuel de Champlain, and is plagued by a creative block. She takes an imaginative journey into Champlain’s time, evoking New France, the first explorers, the harsh winters, Champlain’s revelations about the Native people, and more. Through Hébert’s eyes, Champain’s drawings and maps come alive (and become 3-dimensional!). The film also discusses the controversy about the official portrait of Champlain (his head actually belongs to Michel Particelli, from a 1654 portait by Balthazar Montcornet, engraver at the Bibliothèque nationale de France - this potrait served as the basis for future images of Champlain).

I also went to the Musée des civilisations, where I saw two exhibits: Le musée du quai Branly. Regards sur la diversité culturelle (focusing on two exhibits on loan from the Branly museum: artefact repair work in Africa and art by Berber women) and Or des Amériques (focusing on the importance of gold in the Americas throughout history). After that, I explored the excavations going on under the Dufferin Terrace boardwalk. In Fall 2007, Parks Canada archeologists discovered the remains of Champlain's living quarters (in fact, his last home, in which he died in 1635), built inside Fort Saint-Louis in 1626, on this site. This strategic location later became the home of most of the governors under the French and English Regimes.

Lastly, on Wednesday afternoon, I went on an IFLA-organised tour of Ile d’Orléans, where we visited the Manoir Mauvide-Genest (Jean Mauvide was a French surgeon and politician who settled on Ile d'Orléans in 1720) and a local orchard and ciderie, Domaine Steinbach (4000 apple trees, managed as an organic farm producing cider, cider vinegar, mustards, jellies, preserves, and confit).

Wednesday evening marked the launch of the IFLA professional report I co-wrote with Barbara Clubb, entitled “Public Libraries, Archives and Museums: Trends in Collaboration and Cooperation.” Barb and I both gave speeches. I spoke at length about the unique value of collaborative projects between libraries, museums and archives to enrich community life and provide unique opportunities to democratize information and offer access to valuable cultural heritage. I underlined how our three types of institutions often unconsciously present barriers to immigrant and indigenous populations, the disabled and the disadvantaged, and how we must do everything we can do – within our institutions’ role – to make the momentous step through the door easier, more likely, more enjoyable, or merely less intimidating and more exciting for users and non-users. I also talked about some of my favourite projects from the report: Jane, the dinosaur who teaches scientific literacy, the partnership in the UK between the Mobile Library Service and the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and the World Digital Library (committed to significantly expand non-English and non-Western content on the Internet). My final quote from David Carr, Associate Professor at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was about how libraries and museums are “incendiary cultural institutions [that]…feed flames that illuminate the human capacity to imagine the possible.” I challenged delegates attending the launch to read about these incendiary collaborative projects and “maybe to be just a little bit more incendiary ourselves.”

At the publication launch
L to R: John Lake (Chair, IFLA Public Libraries Section), Torny Kjekstad, me, Claudia Lux (IFLA President), Barbara Clubb, Marianne Scott, Ian Wilson (Librarian and Archivist of Canada).

Archived posts: IFLA 2008, day 3

Session title: The Global Literacy and Reading Fair: sharing good library practices in support of the United Nations Literacy Decade 2003-2012
This half-day session was organized differently than other sessions: it was fairly participatory, with display tables set up in half of the room, where presenters at the session were able to display materials and share experiences/discuss projects during the lengthy breaks between speakers. Also, beautiful children’s books with African themes were for sale, and numerous flyers, posters and bookmarks were given out for free.

1. All about IBBY—and what about children in crisis and books? With PATSY ALDANA (IBBY, Toronto, Canada)
Patsy outlined the basic premise of IBBY (the founder, Jella Lepman, believed that books could build bridges of understanding and peace between people: she saw German children she after WW2 who needed not only food, medicine, clothes or shelter, but also books). Lepman thus created IBBY as an international organization that would bring children together by means of books. IBBY believes that every child has the right to become a reader. IBBY has seventy-two national sections; the newest ones are in Haiti, Guatemala, Zambia and Zimbabwe. IBBY has many projects on the go, including: the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award, the IBBY Honour List, the Documentation Centre of Books for Young People with Disabilities, and the International Children’s Book Day. Patsy also talked about the structure of the publishing world, and spoke about a new IBBY project that is hoping to address imbalances in the publishing world (towards books in local languages for poorer countries). This project, called the IBBY-Yamada Fund, recently began a five-year programme of workshops in publishing, writing, illustrating, and librarianship in countries that have little or no local publishing. The workshops are happening in Guatemala, Mongolia, Rwanda, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Palestine, South Africa, Uganda, Uruguay, Madagascar, Bolivia. IBBY is also setting up 12 mobile libraries in Nepal and has begun the IBBY Fund for Children in Crisis, focusing on books providing bibliotherapy for children in crisis (eg. After the tsunami). In Gaza, Palestine, IBBY is building two community children’s libraries and training two librarians in bibliotherapy. IBBY, in cooperation with the Canadian Organization for Development in Education (CODE) and CIDA (the Canadian foreign aid agency) and our national section in Iran, based at the Children’s Book Council, will be holding a meeting in Afghanistan in early 2009, focusing on how to move forward toward the creation of national publishing and local books in Afghanistan, how to build a network of school libraries and train school librarians in reading promotion, and how to reinforce and bring children’s materials into public libraries.

2. Donner le goût de lire en milieu défavorisé avec ANTOINETTE FALL CORREA (Bibliothèque-Lecture-Développement – BLD; CODE, Canada, Senegal)
The Bibliothèque- Lecture- Développement (BLD=Reading Development Library) is a non-profit organisation in Senegal, established by librarians, educators and sociologists to support the development of libraries; to develop a taste and desire for reading; to train library staff; and to foster local publishing and distribution. Antoinette spoke about BLD projects to stimulate reading in disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Senegal; specifically, she spoke about a reading club developed to improve poor language skills among children (French is the official language of the educational system). The reading club targets different ages: pre-school, primary or middle school children. For instance, with pre-school aged children, objectives included teaching the children to hold and use a book, and engaging in a story hour reading with the children. Antoinette explains how, after the first session of this type, “the children could not wait for the next week’s session but tried to go back to the library with the teacher; the most audacious made excuses to leave their class and run 20 metres further to go to the library to find ‘their’ book.” The children associated books with pleasure and were encouraged to read and go to the library. For another program, reaching the weakest students in the elementary classes to prevent drop out (notes Antoinette, “in disadvantaged neighbourhoods and in schools bulging with migrants from the rural areas, the class size is often from 60-90 students. The teachers cannot possibly look after all the students. Normally, they ignore the weakest and work more closely with those who will achieve the standards set by the Inspector General of Education. The ones left behind (and they are often girls) leave school because they are not comfortable because they can not read.”) After the first two or three sessions of this program, the coordinators observed a change in the children’s behaviour: they began to be more comfortable, leafing through books, spontaneously speaking up (even in French) without feeling the embarrassment of making mistakes, etc.

3. The potential of national reading campaigns: Experiences from Austria and the Netherlands in international perspective with MARIAN KOREN (Public Library Association, Research and International Affairs, The Netherlands) and GERALD LEITNER (The Austrian Public Library Association, Austria)
This presentation focused on national reading campaigns in The Netherlands (Nederland leest = The Netherlands Reads) and in Austria (Österreich liest, Treffpunkt Bibliohek = Austria Reads, Meeting Point Library). In both programs, the chosen book is widely distributed for free among library members via the libraries – not a loaning copy, but an actual free copy of the book is given when members present their library card. As usual, the campaigns also included events in libraries, TV appearances and endorsements by local celebrities. In both cases, interestingly, it is the national library associations that have taken the initiative for the campaign and the arrangements. Interesting notes: Austria has a very low level of literacy: In a PISA study carried out in 29 OECD countries, Austrian students’ reading skills scored 19th. Gerald commented that this leaves 20% of young Austrians vulnerable to radical political ideologies, because they are easily influenced by print media and don’t understand the written word well.
4. Time to Read and Estevan Area Literacy Group: results from two collaborative approaches to literacy with GREGORY SALMERS (Southeast Regional Library, Saskatchewan, Canada)
Discussed two literacy initiatives involving First Nations, public libraries and schools in Saskatchewan: Time to Read and the Estevan Area Literacy Group (a community development partnership of business, First Nations people, public libraries, early childhood educators, a day care, schools, and employment and immigration government agencies; see this. 30% of Saskatchewan residents have low literacy skills!

5. The Holiday Reading Adventure (HRA) Programme in Namibia with BERNADETTE H. MUKULU and E. R. MAKINZA (Ministry of Education, national Library of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia)
Presentation centred on a holiday reading program to encourage reading and target lower literacy rates in Namibia. Namibia is a member of the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ): a regional grouping of 14 Ministries of Education (Botswana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Uganda, Seychelles, South-Africa, Swaziland Tanzania (Mainland), Tanzania (Zanzibar), Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe). A recent SACMEQ survey reported that Namibian grade six learners performed poorly in reading compared to other countries in the region. The Holiday Reading Adventure (HRA) originated as a result of the SACMEQ report (read more about HRA here). The IFLA presentation described the Namibian education system, the HRA program, and training provided for local teachers and librarians. Major obstacle encountered: not enough books in school libraries and lack of support from school principals.

Monday PM: I spent the afternoon (from 1-6 pm) volunteering. I was guiding people on the 2nd level of the conference centre. I had mostly directional questions, although I did have the odd interesting question: “Can you recommend a restaurant?,” “I met someone at a session – they’re from Halifax. Do you know them?,” etc.! Volunteering was a great opportunity to represent our country and my home province at IFLA! It also ended up being (partially because of my location), a great place to stand to network. I was in between 2 sets of escalators: everyone passed by at some point in the afternoon. I met colleagues, planned drinks and dinner dates, compared session notes & invited many people to the launch of the professional report I wrote with Barb. I actually ran out of business cards that afternoon!

Archived posts: IFLA 2008, days 1 and 2

Theme: "Libraries without borders: Navigating towards global understanding"
Attendance: Approximately 4000 delegates from 150 countries (at right: in the registration hall)

Pre-conference events
I attended the IFLA Section for Public Libraries Standing Committee meeting on Saturday, August 9th. As this was my first IFLA congress, and my first IFLA section meeting, it was interesting to see how the governing structures of the association work, and to meet people. Approximately 20 section members attended the meeting, and we introduced ourselves, so, for a newcomer like myself, it was nice to have an immediate group of friends at the congress. I got to know many of these section members over the next few days, and it was reassuring to have people to say hello to in the halls! I also had already corresponded at great length with Section Chair, John Lake, regarding the IFLA publication co-authored by Barbara Clubb and myself, and published by the Public Libraries Standing Committee, so it was great to finally meet him in person.

The meeting itself covered housekeeping items (approval of minutes, Chair’s report, report on the pre-conference Navigating with youth event in Montreal – a great success organized by Suzanne Payette from Brossard Public Library, a suburb of Montréal) and also covered the various programs at this congress that were being organised by Public Libraries Standing Committee members. This gave me a good overview of some upcoming events (which were of course in the program, but it’s nice to get a personal perspective on them!). For instance, one member of the section strongly encouraged first-time IFLA congress attendees to go to the Newcomers session the following day, Sunday. The launch of our IFLA publication, “Public Libraries, Archives and Museums: Trends in Collaboration and Cooperation” was also discussed. Barb, John and I planned the agenda for the evening, and Barb and I briefly summarized our report to section members. We discussed possible ways to continue to gather information from libraries, archives and museums about partnerships: since this information is constantly changing, the report could be almost constantly updated. I suggested using an online tool such as a wiki, similar to the Best practices section of the IFLA website, to keep track of projects around the world and allow professionals to upload information about their own work.

Section members also discussed future plans for section-organised programs at the 2009 congress in Milan. Torny Kjekstad, past Chair of the section, also reported back from the IFLA Governing Board and Professional Committee regarding recent changes to the IFLA structure. IFLA contains 8 Divisions, under which various sections (such as this one, the Public Libraries section) are grouped. For instance, the Division entitled Libraries Serving the General Public includes the following Sections: Public Libraries, Libraries Serving Disadvantaged Persons, Libraries for Children and Young Adults, School Libraries and Resource Centres, Libraries for the Blind, Library Services to Multicultural Populations, and Metropolitan Libraries. The IFLA Professional Structure Review Committee concluded in a 2007 report at the previous congress that, “while Divisions can and do add value, the present arrangement of Divisions is overly complicated, administratively burdensome, is no longer logically structured, and does not meet the need for clarity and collaboration in the organization.” The Committee recommended four Divisions (instead of 8): Library Types, Library Materials, Functions and Services, Support for the Profession and Regions. Under the new structure, each section would be assigned to a division. Some Sections in the current Division entitled Libraries Serving the General Public would now fall under other Divisions. The Public Libraries section would fall under “Library Types.” The new structure is intended to minimize bureaucracy, “facilitate a robust, growing IFLA,”facilitate regional interests, improve communication, enlarge the pool of leaders and participants, etc. The 2007 report about this is here.

The final portion of the meeting reviewed ongoing section projects. These were fascinating to hear about: in fact, we got to see a project “come alive” since a librarian from Burkino Faso was actually at the section meeting. She works for the national library in her country, and they have applied for funding through the section’s Caterpillar Project. The Caterpillar Project helps African librarians deliver library materials to remote communities (using folding boxes). Another project in the works is a revision of the Public Library Manifesto; the revision will focus on “10 ways to make a library work” and is being undertaken by three members of the section.

IFLA Opening Ceremony
Ack. What can I say to do this justice? The opening ceremony was pretty spectacular, and made me feel pretty patriotic. Think of it as being similar to the Olympics Opening Ceremony, only minus the pyrotechnics. The simultaneous interpretation (at left) was also pretty cool.

IFLA's opening ceremony featured:
  • First Nations dancers from the Wendake community (The Hurons-Wendat of Wendake, a Native tribe originating in the Georgian Bay area that migrated to communities near Quebéc beginning in the 1600s)
  • Inuit throat singers (their performance @ IFLA was very popular with delegates, who were talking about it throughout the conference, and it was actually uploaded to YouTube)
  • A storytelling performance
  • A speech by Dany Laferrière (Québec novelist, essayist, poet and journalist, born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti)
  • Speeches by Her Excellency, Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, Claude Bonnelly, Chair of the Organising Committee, Marguerite Blais, Députée de Saint-Henri_Sainte-Anne (Parti libéral du Québec) et Ministre responsable des Aînés, Denise Trudel, a city councilor for Québec and Claudia Lux, IFLA President. Mme. Jean described librarians as “gardien(ne)s de la mémoire du monde” and reminded us that, without librarians, new information technologies are merely an empty shell. She also described libraries as “a vital space to all possibilities, all dreams, and all hopes.” Ms. Lux described libraries as being places providing access to information, ideas and creative works, but as also having “an element of recreation […] and reflection.” Claude Bonelly spoke about the theme of the conference, stating that “full recognition of diversity is the key to helping us navigate the path to global understanding.” Mme. Blais saluted “the library professionals who spread the virus of reading, knowledge and culture.”
  • The presentation of an honorary doctorate to Ismaël Serageldine (at right), the director of the Biblioteca Alexandrina in Egypt (continuing the legacy of the ancient Royal Library of Alexandria, which was said to hold a copy of every book ever written, and was destroyed before the Renaissance – exact date disputed!), by Laval University, in Québec. This was the part of the ceremony that I most enjoyed. This is Dr. Seregeldine’s 22nd honourary doctorate! Dr. Seregeldine was described as a humanist, whose causes included equal rights for women, and is often described as “the most intelligent man in Egypt.” His credo, as written on his website, is “the world is my home; humanity is my family; non-violence is my creed; peace, justice, dignity and equality for all is my purpose; engagement, rationality, tolerance, dialogue, learning and understanding are my means. With outstretched hands we welcome all those who share these beliefs.”
On the same day, I also attended the beginning of the Newcomers session, which I had been told was very informative, but I found it kind of basic. It also included a lot of info about Québec as a destination, and conference-going in general. The IFLA Secretary-General gave an outline about IFLA, 2 members spoke about their experiences, and the group visited the exhibition together. Since I had learned a lot from the section meeting the previous day about IFLA structure, and am a seasoned conference-goer (just kidding! But I am fairly competent…), I decided to leave for another session I was quite interested in, about art libraries.

Session title: Art Libraries-Advancing cultural and social diversity through global partnerships: the art library’s role in a world without borders

1. Don’t fence me in! Reconsidering the role of the librarian in a global age of art and design research by HEATHER GENDRON from Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, USA.
Heather spoke about the various roles a librarian plays, especially in the art world, and describes her role within a “knowledge-seeking” environment as a “knowledge-counselor”. She proposes this definition “as way to explore the concept of librarians working in a “knowledge-seeking environment” as opposed to the more traditional “information-seeking”. In this role, she says, she is not just teaching students how to find information, but she is “counseling them in their own process of knowledge-seeking.” Heather also called for more research to be conducted in the library science world about “how artists and designers seek data, information, and knowledge.”

2. Artist as activist: The Ohio State University Libraries and the Columbus Museum of Art project to promote collections, outreach, and community learning by AMANDA GLUIBIZZI, The Ohio State University, Ohio, USA.
Amanda’s presentation was really interesting, especially in light of some of the community art partnerships I had researched for the IFLA publication about library/museum/archival collaborations. Amanda spoke about the new President of the University, who said in a recent speech, "I intend for The Ohio State University to become nothing less than the new land-grant university to the world." Thus, their focus would be on more outreach and a greater awareness of the larger community outside the university. In other words, as Amanda said, “employees at all levels of the institution [were] expected to promote OSU and its programs to people outside of the school.” One of the results of this focus was the “Artist as activist” project: OSU librarians teamed up across departments, and the project involved the Fine Arts Library, the Theatre Research Institute, the Cartoon Research Library, University Archives, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Technical Services, and the Veterinary Medicine Library (the neutral member of the committee and the project coordinator for initial stages). This group then identified three topics upon which to focus contributed materials and programming: the welfare of children, civil rights, and artists’ responses to war. They chose these topics because they “hit close to home in Ohio,” one of the poorest states in the United States, with a large African-American and immigrant communities, and one of the states hardest hit by casualties from the United States’ military activities. They set up exhibit space in “recovered downtown space owned by the university,” and are committed to “intergenerational interaction” and lifelong learning. The librarians involved will perform multiple roles: contributing to the exhibit with materials, acting as story-keepers (involving digital storytelling, library-sponsored blogs to allow visitors to the exhibit to share their own experience, storytelling stations at the exhibit itself to share on-the-spot experiences) and acting as liaison to get other organizations involved. Amanda gave a lovely example of possible impacts of the exhibit: imagine grandparents visiting the exhibit with their grandchildren. The exhibit might spark a memory that they have of living through a war, which they then might share with their grandchildren and even the staff. She spoke about “art as impetus for memory.” She also added that part of the librarians’ role would be to archive these stories to develop an oral history of the region and to protect it for future researchers.

3. Creating visibility: discovering artists archives and ephemera at the National Gallery of Australia Research Library by JENNIFER COOMBES and JOYCE VOLKER, from the National Gallery of Australia Research Library
Jennifer Coombes spoke about the James Gleeson Oral History Collection at the NGA Research Library. Gleeson (Australia’s leading surrealist painter) interviewed 98 Australian artists in their studios in the 1970s to discuss their works that had been acquired by the National Gallery of Australia. The recordings are available online through the NGA Library, and are accompanied by 2000 reference photographs of the artworks and transcripts of the interviews. The interviews often “provide personal insights into how the art works were created and their enduring influence on Australian society.” The collection has been inscribed into the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register 2008 as being of significant Australian cultural heritage.

4. Cultural heritage – the art library cuts across borders in Sweden by KERSTIN ASSARSSON-RIZZI of The National Heritage Board in Stockholm, Sweden.
The Vitterhetsakademiens bibliotek (The Library of the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities) has partnered with the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities, the National Historical Museums (the Museum of National Antiquities and the Royal Coin Cabinet), Stockholm University and the Swedish National Heritage Board to develop physical and virtual services. In 2005 a network was formed by seven libraries in Stockholm to improve the quality of library services to research in the humanities. In 2007, a new search engine, enabling cross searching of major databases covering various aspects of the Swedish cultural heritage (including an image database) was developed. Kerstin spoke about this project at length, and gave some interesting examples. She searched for information about a certain Swedish castle, and found extensive information, including fully-catalogued images. Another project recently initiated is an online catalogue for Swedish musems, K-Samsök. More info about that is here but alas, not in English.

N.B. Also, at this session, I was able to meet Jonathan Franklin, Chief, Library, Archives and Research Fellowship Program, National Gallery of Canada. This gave me an opportunity to network with another Ottawa librarian, and invite him to the launch of our IFLA publication (especially relevant since the publication concerns museum programs!).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ursula Maud

(N.B. A slightly different version of this article may appear in the Worn Fashion Journal Zine: Everything I Know About Fashion I Learned From My Mother.)

I grew up not knowing very much about my grandmother, Ursula Maud. Until I was 7 or 8, my parents and I visited my father’s family in England every second summer. I remember her at home in Cambridge: in the kitchen, watching me play in the yard, or in my grandfather’s garden, a veritable Secret Garden full of lush flowers, stretching far above my small head.

I called her Nanny, and my uncle Ralph tells me, interestingly, that she switched between being known as Ursula or Maud at times, which he thought was utterly adventurous of her. She was Maud when raising her children, and decided in her later years to be Ursula, saying she had always preferred it. Ralph remembers that, around that time, she started taking care of her own appearance. She always looked fashionable to me, but in an uncomplicated way: she was never much for glitter or fuss. I remember being proud, as the only granddaughter, to go out alone with her, to visit her friends or to shop, when we visited Cambridge.

Nanny died when I was nine, in 1989, just a few months before my father died. I remained in sporadic contact with my uncles, Michael and Ralph, and my cousins. In 2005, my cousin, Kielan, visited Montreal, and brought Nanny’s sewing box with him. It had been found by Judith, a friend of Michael’s, while she was cleaning out his garage after his death. As Judith wrote in a note to me that she slipped into the box, there was little of (monetary) value in there, but she felt the memories would be precious to me.

She was right. The box is a touchstone for me to Nanny’s everyday life. Looking inside is like looking into a part of her world.

The box, uncared for for years, smelled earthy and musty when I first opened it. It was well worn, with a large crack splintering the floral design on the lid. Inside was an insignia for Chadwick’s Sewing Cottons, and, beneath that, a mishmash of stuff.

Along with sewing supplies, there was some costume jewelry, a picture of my Granddad from the 1920s, and a picture of me, around age 7. Oddy, at some point, my uncle Michael (a long-time Quaker) had stuck his own Book of Common Prayer in there (inscribed the year he turned 18).

A well-worn piece of fabric, onto which Nanny hooked her spare needles, lay neatly on top of the sewing supplies and photographs. The care with which she had threaded each needle— easily close to thirty years ago now— moved me. I slipped my thumb into her thimble and imagined her sewing, mending things for three boys, slipping a keepsake or two into the box over the years.

I delicately opened a slim box emblazoned with the label “Cash’s woven names,” only to find shirt labels in my father’s name, probably from his days at school. I did some research: Chadwick’s, I discovered, was a sewing machine company from Lancashire, managed by Thomas Chadwick in the late 1800s. Cash’s, founded in 1846 by two Quaker brothers (ha!) from Coventry, is still around and woven names from the same period as my father’s are still traded online on antiquing websites.

The box gave me a better sense of who my grandmother was: it filled in the fuzzier edges of her image in my mind. It gave me a further sense of her as someone who was mostly deliberately unshowy: her sense of fashion evolved after her children left home, but she remained restrained, sensible, uninterested in baubles and fads. In many ways, I am the same way. I usually prefer more traditional, uncomplicated looks: functionality, an avoidance of the flashy or ostentatious. Having the box reminds me how times have changed: fewer people mend things, instead buying new. I don’t sew, but while I may have not inherited the skills she had, I embrace the sentiment: I’m often (badly) patching things up, or (more likely) bringing things to a tailor, which is even becoming a lost habit these days.

Once I got over the initial emotion of receiving the box, of holding in my hands items that Nanny had treasured and tucked away, I began to think about what I could wear. She had a slight build, as I do; in her wedding picture, which she and Grandad hold in the photo below, she wore a simple slip dress and flat shoes, looking not unlike I did at my wedding (minus the veil). Fashions of the time changed, and her sewing box contained everything from a delicate iron necklace with a small snowdrop pendant (vaguely 1920s), to a triple-strand of large plastic bronze, green, and brown beads (evocative of the 1960s). Whenever I wear something of hers, I proudly tell people that it belonged to her. I’ve repaired or re-strung a few things, too. They are tangible links for me, however tenuous, to her. The box, to me, is memory: it fills the gaps in the memories I have, and gives me a sense of who I am, and how I express myself. I feel like Maud and I are similar; my own sense of fashion, my own tastes, are placed in context from knowing her better. I will never be able to repay Judith for rummaging through that box in the garage, finding the box, thinking of me, and somehow knowing what it would mean to me to have it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Censorship watch: To Kill A Mockingbird

Oh, Brampton! I have nothing nice to say, therefore, I will say nothing at all. Nathan's line about a passion for books (ahem, or rather, "board-approved resources") did made me laugh, though, drily.

Let's just close our eyes and picture Gregory, as Atticus, telling Jem, "There's a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep 'em all away from you. That's never possible."

Or, as he says to Scout,

"Baby, it's never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn't hurt you."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Daughters of Wisdom

Every day, I get off the bus and walk down rue De L'Eglise (Google Maps calls it Church St.) and I pass by the "Maison Accueil - Sagesse" (or "Welcome House," as I'm sure Google would prefer) for the religious order of the Filles de Sagesse.

In Vanier, where I now work (once called Janeville, so it has a special place in my heart!), there is a long history of religious orders living in the neighbourhood. In fact, Vanier Branch of OPL is located on land once belonging to the Pères Blancs d'Afrique, so called because of the white robes they wore while carrying out their missionary work in North Africa. The Vanier Branch itself is even housed in the former home of the Soeurs Antonines de Marie, a sister order of the White Fathers (my boss's office is even located on the former altar, which is a source of endless amusement - if you wish, you can kneel - the altar rail is long gone - to petition him!) A dark-skinned Virgin still presides over the land and welcomes you into the cul-de-sac where the library and the Vanier Muséopark are now located.

As I walk down De L'Eglise every morning, I always take a moment to glance over at the lovely gardens of the Filles de Sagesse. I occassionally run into one of the nuns walking outside the walls, but most often I see them inside, beyond the walls, walking slowly along the small, narrow paths bathed in sunlight, from one statue to another.

What a lovely way to pray.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Farewell, spinners!

Yes, today is the day. Farewell, ugly, dusty, dangerous, wobbly monstrosities of plastic and metal, full of books out of order and spilling off the edges. Farewell to saying, "Actually, there are *two places* to look for that type of book: Hardcovers and paperbacks!" (Ya, 'cause that makes sense). Farewell, farewell!

... Don't come back!

Little House on the Prairie: poverty, hardship, illegal activities, and politics

(oooh... creepy... I was about to start typing this draft when a young girl approached wanting princess books. I went off to 398.2, and on the top of the shelf was a copy of - you guessed it - Little House on the Prairie!)

There is an excellent article in the latest New Yorker about the Wilder women: Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. It discusses various scholarship about the Little House books and Rose (who was a libertarian and published several political texts). I confess I don't remember reading the books (although I think I did) - I do, of course, remember being hooked on the TV show with Melissa Gilbert and that cad, Michael Landon. I didn't remember that the Ingalls settled illegally at one point on what was Osage tribal land in Kansas (until the feds turfed them out), nor did I remember what is perhaps one of the most offensive quotes from the books, reprinted in the article: "There were no people" on the prairie. "Only Indians lived there." Apparently, this was later changed to read "There were no settlers." How reassuring. I also wasn't aware of the fact that there were seven historical sites and museums devoted to the Little House series and surrounding mythologies - good grief!

I was captivated, and depressed, by Rose's sad story of a neglected childhood, poverty, a travelling bug (just check out the postcards catalogued with her papers alone!), trouble in love (she confessed to exploiting men), and squabbling over writing with her mother. I had no idea she had written what New Yorker writer Thurman considers a "foundational work of political theory," although the debate is certainly still raging on that description.

Anyway, the New Yorker article provided a brief lunchtime reprieve from reading Preacher, a very graphic graphic novel (a few people get shot in the face, someone gets skinned, and that's just for starters...). It was a recommendation by a fellow SL staff member, and it's quite good, just... gory. At home, I am immersed in the lovely novel, A Fortunate Age, about a group of New York friends who are drifting (in various ways) through their twenties (ah, I sympathise!) It's a bit self-absorbed, but somehow less so than The Emperor's Children.