keeping up with the ala election and conference coverage

The presidential election of 2004 was the first time in my life that I voted for a major party presidential candidate, and, given how things turned out, it may well be the last. (If you’re really curious about my voting patterns and reasons, you can read a little bit about them.)

That said, I still love voting. I have not made up my mind fully about whom to vote for in the ALA election, and I probably won’t post a list when I do, but I have been following and saving other people’s recommendations under the clever tag alaelection06. I’m not necessarily endorsing any of these platforms, but I thought, in my civic-minded, public service-oriented kind of way, that I’d share the tag. I’m sure I’ve missed many people’s lists; if you know of one and you’re a user of del.icio.us, please do tag it.

On a final, more or less unrelated note: I’ve enjoyed (when not feeling envious) following the coverage of Computers in Libraries and the Public Library Association conference. I was going to go to PLA this year, but since I started a new job three weeks ago, it just wasn’t feasible. It certainly sounds like a good time, though. I don’t know that there is any award given out for conference blogging, but if there is, I’d like to give on to Sarah Houghton. Her coverage of PLA sessions, both on the PLA blog and on Librarian in Black was stellar: informative, interesting, well-written, and inspiring. I want to go out and serve some teenagers now!

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.