library services in extreme temperatures

This morning on Chicago Public Radio there was a pretty good story on the 1995 heat wave [Real Audio file] that killed over 700 people, the majority of them poor and elderly people who had no access to air-conditioning. I haven’t yet read Eric Klinenberg’s Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of the Disaster in Chicago, but it’s worth noting, as did Micaela di Leonardo, reviewing the book for The Nation in 2002, that

first we need to come to terms with the epidemiological realities of heat crises. Extreme heat, Klinenberg explains, tends not to be taken as seriously as other weather and human disasters–hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, blizzards, plane crashes. But “more people die in heat waves than in all other extreme events combined,” and the ’95 crisis has “no equal in the record of US heat disasters.”
[Micaela di Leonardo, “Murder by Public Policy,” The Nation (September 2, 2002) Available online to subscribers and via various databases]

The City of Chicago’s Hot Weather Safety page (which is sort of buried, I might add) provides tips for keeping yourself and your pets cool, and a list of related links, including Chicago Public Library locations and the Department of Human Services Weather Relief page, which explains when extreme heat and cold warnings are issued, and what the DHS does about them:

The Chicago Department of Human Services coordinates the operation of Cooling and Warming Centers. Beginning with its own Human Services Centers, CDHS works with the Chicago Department on Aging, Chicago Park District, Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Public Libraries to make public buildings available. In times of excessive need, the City enlists the help of community organizations that can open their facilities to the public for respite from the weather. [emphasis added]

In addition to coordinating the Cooling and Warming Centers, the department also works to

  • Provide transportation to Warming and Cooling Centers.
  • Conduct well-being checks on those at risk.
  • Expand outreach to homeless people on the street during times of extreme cold.

As summer continues, you might want to think about the people in your library and what kinds of services you are providing to those who may need the library as a place to stay cool. We can’t all provide this kind of service. [link via Ruminations] But we can make sure that we provide all library users the same courteous service, whether they’re looking for a copy of Heat Wave or just looking for a place to stay out of the heat.

fall schedule, finally!

The fall schedule of courses is finally available (special bonus: spring 2006 is also up).* Registration hasn’t started, and I haven’t been able to retrieve my pin (and, interestingly, Firefox gave me a number of warnings about entering an insecure site), but at least one can now begin to plan one’s schedule.
I checked the LISSA Blackboard and people are starting to look for information on courses/professors/etc., so head on over there. Alternatively, if you e-mail questions to me, I’ll post them here (minus your name, if you wish) and people can leave comments.

In other GSLIS news, there are still no new announcements at the GSLIS Information Center. If by any chance you’re reading this because you’re thinking about coming to Dominican, there is a GSLIS Information Session on Tuesday, July 19. [Thanks, Events at DU RSS feed!]

* Update 7/11/05 at 4:08 pm : Spring 2006 is listed as an option when you pick semesters, but if you try searching for LIS classes, nothing shows up. Thanks to David (see comment below) for pointing out my lapse.

Grokster round-up and another ALA tidbit

Just in case you can’t get enough grokkin’:

Finally: I was late (the usual McCormick Place is really far away from everywhere else thing) to “The Googlization of Everything: A Threat to the Information Commons?” and thus only caught the last 10 or 15 minutes of Siva Vaidhyanathan’s presentation, but you can read some coverage from Aaron Dobbs (thanks, ALA Wiki!). Also, if, like me, you arrived late (or if you attended a different event at the Intercontinental and didn’t hear about the boycott), Rory has helpfully provided some coverage of the boycott, including a letter of protest you can download, in the latest Library Juice.

ALA day 1: fostering civic engagement, part 2

Here’s part 1 of this report.

We all know that the most common question at the reference desk is “Where is the bathroom?” But what’s the most common question if you’re serving as a librarian on the street? The next presentation at Fostering Civic Engagement had the answer.
Jenna Freedman talked about Radical Reference: “serving activist communities and independent journalists online and in the street,” as her handout put it. RadRef started as a response to the 2004 Republican National Convention. As you may remember, not everyone was happy about the event, and many protesters were coming to town. The earliest RadRef members saw a role for themselves in the midst of the mayhem–they could be roving, on-the-street librarians. Ten or twenty RadRef volunteers went out on the streets, armed with ready reference kits that included maps, phone numbers for legal and medical aid, and a very detailed schedule of events, useful for answering that most frequent question, “What event is this?” They also carried cell phones, which allowed them to call in to other volunteers based at home, who provided back up support. They also set up a website and an AIM account so that people could post questions that way.

Nearly a year later, the group is going strong, with over 150 volunteers still answering questions on the web site and at events. There are local Radical Reference collectives in Austin, Boston, NYC, San Diego, and San Francisco who work on local projects–the Boston group put together the Alternative Guide to Boston for ALA Midwinter 2005. Additionally, they’ve been providing reference and information services, including workshops on fact-checking and how to file a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act request], for independent journalists across the country, most recently at the Allied Media Conference in Bowling Green, Ohio. Sometimes, as Jenna pointed out, these workshops are a simple as teaching people about the resources available in your local library–like databases that mean you can get older articles from the New York Times for free.

She also talked a bit about the nifty open-source technologies that RadRef uses, and about a library school education summit being planned for New York this fall. Watch this space for more on the latter.

Finally, Jenna addressed some of the problems and challenges Radical Reference has faced, including accountability, quality control, collaborating in a virtual environment, decision-making in a large group, and working with the many working styles and ideologies that Radical Reference volunteers bring with them. If any of this sounds at all interesting, you should think about getting involved. Good times, great company, fascinating questions, and a chance to exercise your reference skills in a variety of ways.

Next up was Debbie Abilock, editor of Knowledge Quest, the magazine of the American Association of School Librarians. Her presentation consisted of a list of questions and ideas of ways that schools and school libraries could foster civic engagement. Here are just a few of them:

  • How are students engaged in and involved with the governance of the school? How are students making decisions–and more importantly, can they make decisions, and are those decisions about issues more substantive that what colors to use for prom decorations?
  • What role do parents play in the school? Are they engaged in more than bake sales and car pools?
  • How transparent are faculty meetings, board meetings, and administrative decisions?
  • How are students part of the planning process for libraries and other areas in the school?
  • Do students have the ability to contribute to or suggest assignments?

Her point overall was that you can’t have civic engagement without engagement–you can’t teach students that they live in a democracy and expect them to believe it or care about it if you don’t let them exercise some democratic rights of their own, in their own sphere. Amen, sister! I say. And I got to tell her my great story about my grade school and the Pledge of Allegiance. (Short version: we got to vote on whether or not we’d say the Pledge. We voted no, except on special occasions, and then only if you wanted to say it.)

Cathy Carpenter, the last speaker, talked about her experience organizing a voter registration drive in the library at Georgia Tech in the fall of 2004. The last-minute effort garnered 500 new voters in 3 weeks. The best reason to have a voter registration drive at the library? Well, there are lots, but here’s my favorite: very few young people affiliate themselves with any political party, and thus they are less likely to register to vote at partisan events or tables. What better place to have a non-partisan voter registration effort than at the library, where, at least in theory, there’s a little bit of every point of view?

Finally, there was a small amount of time for questions and comments. Here are the ones I jotted down:

  • Use your library trustees/board members as links to the community.
  • The Things They Carried is a great one book, one community title, as it is, among other things, attractive to the young male reader. It worked well in Philadelphia.
  • Libraries can do outreach to organizations, not just individuals.
  • Check out the September Project.

jobs et al.

Jessamyn beat me to the news, but I have been meaning for some time to point to a recent post about the library job market (from an Australian perspective) by my friend Morgan over at explodedlibrary.info. (For more on the same, you can visit the very first post on this blog [she said, shamelessly]).

As I have noted before, I would have less of a problem believing the ALA job-hype if I didn’t read so much news about libraries losing funding.* It’s a bit hard to believe that the world is awash in jobs for librarians when it is also awash in libraries closing, cutting budgets, hours, staff, etc., etc.

On the other hand, I am not in a state of total despair.Meredith and Dorothea both recently landed jobs, and I can’t tell you how many people I met at ALA who told me encouraging things. I didn’t walk away with job offers, but I did walk away with a clutch of business cards and a handful of opportunities to submit articles to various publications and get involved in sundry organizations–and all from such enthusiastic and interesting people! I’ll tell you, it’s a big change after being in a writing program, a field in which there truly are no jobs.

In the unlikely event that you are waiting with baited breath, I shall mention that I will be finishing up my ALA coverage in the near future. I’ve spent most of the past week recovering lost sleep and organizing various summer reading programs @ my library. In the meantime, if you are desperate to learn more about what happened, check out the coverage at the PLA Blog, the LITA Blog, and the extensive guide to online coverage over at the wiki. (And thanks to whoever put up the links to the posts I’ve made so far!)

*NB questions by Rochelle and comments by Jessamyn on the underfunded libraries map.

the other news about the Court

Before you get too deeply ensconced in worrying about the fate of Roe v. Wade et al. in the wake of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirment, please take a few moments to familiarize yourself with two extremely important decisions handed down by the Supremes this past Monday.

The Grokster case you probably know a bit about already–it’s sort of Napster, Round 2. The Brand X case, however, which deals with whether the Internet is a telecommunications service or an information service (a more crucial distinction than you might think), is potentially even more important. Millions of Americans are able to have telephones because they are a telecommunications service and are considered a near-essential service and are thus regulated to make them more affordable. The Court, in examining Brand X, decided that cable modems were actually an “information service,” which, for reasons beyond my ken, is not considered as important or essential as a telecom service.

For far more informative and enlightening discussion of the effects of the Court’s decisions than I can give you, read on. Thanks to Mitchell Szczepanczyk for research assistance.

ALA day 3

What happened to day 2, you ask? Too much craziness! It is not often that your intrepid (okay, semi-intrepid) correspondent runs out of words, but it does happen. After a rich full day of Nancy Pearl, Siva Vaidhyanathan, gobs of incredibly cool bloggers (see subsequent entries on It’s all good for photos), and Victor Navasky, publisher of The Nation, I made my way back to where I’m staying and collapsed on the sofa, muttering “can’t. . . talk. . . too. . . much. . . stuff. . . .”

I also spent the obligatory afternoon at the exhibits yesterday. They’re kind of frightening, and I have to say, kind of overrated. Imagine a football field or two full of elaborate displays that you know are just going to get taken down in a few days, goggly-eyed librarians walking around, jaws dropped, at the scannning machines (there are machines that will turn the pages of books and scan them, like some kind of weird robot reader), and every other minute someone trying to sell you something. I did get lots of posters for the children’s room at work, many many book catalogs that I probably don’t need, and a copy of A Matter of Opinion with a lovely inscription from Victor Navasky, who happened to be at The Nation booth at the time.

Today’s schedule:
8:30 “Classism in the Stacks” talk by Sandy Berman
11:30 ALA membership meeting II (I didn’t make it to I, but I’m happy to report that the end-the-damn-war now resolution passed–we’ll see if it makes it through ALA Council)
2-4 pm Radical Reference skills share
6-9 pm Free Speech Buffet (at Roosevelt University–all are welcome!)

I’ll post more about Saturday, yesterday, and today, at some point in the near but not immediate future.

ALA day 1: fostering civic engagement, part 1

I did make it to the panel on Fostering Civic Engagement this afternoon, put on by the Fostering Civic Engagement MIG (Member Interest Group–love those acronyms), which was excellent. Basically, it was all about how libraries and librarians can do things to encourage participatory democracy [SDS, of course, did not come up with the idea of participatory democracy, but they’re often given credit for the phrase, and in any case, a little Port Huron is good for you now and then].

Former ALA President Nancy Kranich kicked things off by talking about how different people have defined democracy and how FDR’s definition–that democracy is participation–is her favorite. Libraries, she noted, have an active role to play this kind of democracy: they are sources for information, they are civic spaces, and they are places where citizens can become literate. Rah rah!

Joan Durrance, of the University of Michigan School of Information, then discussed the need to create best practices for fostering civic engagement. “I’m the question lady; I’m not necessarily the answer lady,” she said, as she outlined many of the questions we might need to ask when thinking about these best practices. What are civic engagement information needs? How can/do libraries build community? How do they understand the context of civic engagement and people’s information needs? What differences does library civic engagement make?

Durrance listed some examples of libraries that have tried to answer some of these questions, and then she talked in more detail about the Hartford Public Library and “At the Table-ness.” When researchers interviewed people in the community about the HPL, what they heard over and over again was that the HPL was “at the table.” What did that mean? It means that librarians

  • attend and participate in community activities as part of their library jobs
  • network, network, network with people in the community
  • promote the library as a place for civic discussions

It sounds like the HPL librarians are a little like my grandmother. She’s lived in her town for over 50 years, and she knows–and takes the time to know–everybody. She knows not just the names of the mail carrier and the guy who picks of the recycling; she knows their whole life histories. Whenever she calls a store and speaks to someone on the phone, she asks whom she’s speaking to. She doesn’t get out and about as much as she used to, but when she does, she invariably runs into someone she knows from a political campaign she’s worked on. The result of all this? Well, a couple weeks ago our shower stopped draining properly. It was about 3:30 on a Friday afternoon. My grandmother called the plumber, and at 3:45 someone showed up with a toolbox and a snake, and about an hour later, we had a functioning shower again. That’s kind of what I mean about what being an active community member can get you.

Now, can you imagine a library where they hold weddings, proms, funerals, and the breaking of the fast of Ramadan? Well, the Salt Lake City Public Library is one. Residents think of it as their most trusted and most valued city agency (although snow removal was a clsoe second). Nancy Tressman talked about how they built their new library with the community in mind–and, in fact, quite literarally with the community–set into the library’s foundation are stones engraved with comments submitted by library patrons about the value of the library. “Our answer to how to be ‘at the table’ was to become the table.” For those of us not possessed of the resources to build a new library, though, she noted that becoming the table was something you could try to do even without a snazzy new building. On the whole, it was a very encouraging presentation.

I’ve just looked at the clock, and my time is running short, so I’ll post more about the panel after later. Now it’s off for caffeine and Radical Reference!