deleting online information @ ala.org

This morning Don Wood sent a message to Publib saying that DOPA has been reintroduced in the House by Mark Kirk of Illinois.  As you’ve probably read Ted “the internet is a series of tubes” Stevens has also introduced a bill called the “Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act,” which is a sort of son of DOPA. 

Anyway, being the good citizen that I am, I decided to go see what the ALA website had on the subject.  Answer: not much.  Or, more accurately, not much that’s easy to find.  Of course, not being able to find something on the ALA website hardly qualifies as news.  Next I decided to try the Legislative Action Center, which I wrote about back in May, but lo–it has disappeared!  I think that it has been replaced by this site, which seems to do most of the same stuff–but again, I’m not sure.

To be fair, I don’t think ALA is actually deleting online information–but (and again, this is hardly news) it does seem to be making it difficult to find.

misinformation quotation

I wish I had a source for this quotation, but I assume it comes from something I was reading in 2001, when I was teaching at the University of Iowa. I taught this nutty class called the Rhetoric of Drugs, and I was also reading a great deal about the civil rights movement and its aftermath at the time.

I’m spending the day packing for my upcoming move to a house in town (no more frozen pipes–hurrah!). I ran across this scrap of paper, which contains some notes on student speeches, a rough outline of what we were going to read and discuss in March, and the following:

Information is the raw material for new ideas; if you get misinformation, you get some pretty fucked up ideas.

–Eldridge Cleaver, former Minister of Information for the Black Panther Party

It seemed relevant to, well, I could make a list. I’m sure you could make your own.

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!

the long tail of relief

I’m glad to hear that organizations are getting their act together and jumping in to do what Geaux Library Recovery set out to do. Now they’re trying to decide what to do with the site:

One idea is to use it to apply Michael McGrorty’s endangered libraries idea. Maybe a clearinghouse of information for libraries in crisis–any sort of crisis. ALA chose not to officially support a resolution on endangered libraries, for several reasons. My thought is that this would be a source for libraries that wanted to identify themselves as endangered. Mind you, it’s still all very much in the brainstorm stage. Since we have this space, we’d like to do something with it. Your ideas are appreciated. And, if shutting down is the best idea, we’ll honor that. –rochelle

Perhaps such a project will have a similar effect on the powers that be and ALA will get serious about libraries that are endangered by budget cuts. Well, one can dream.

I’ve been fascinated over the past few weeks to see not just the outpouring of aid to people and institutions on the Gulf Coast but also to see the varieties that aid has taken. You know about Geaux Library Recovery, and about ALA’s Adopt-a-Library program. You’ve probably also seen Radical Reference’s compilation of resources for Socially Responsible Katrina Relief. But there’s more.

The Neighborhood Story Project, which I wrote about a few weeks back, is looking for volunteers to “help get their local independent bookstore to take a box of these incredible books to sell as a way to raise money for relief and recovery, and as a way to get out the amazing stories of the people and neighborhoods of New Orleans.” Contact jamieschweser [at] yahoo.com for more information.

On September 8, I got an e-mail from Poets & Writers with a list (since added to) of how writers can help.

And then a few days later, someone from my old writing program forwarded this e-mail [thanks, pasta!] from Bret Lott, editor of The Southern Review at LSU.

Common Ground is running an incredible clinic (and then some) in Algiers, and Naomi Archer is writing up a storm of Real Reports of Katrina Relief from the ground.

And I could go on.

While I am as appalled as the next person by the level of disorganization and incompetence in the official response to the disasters of the last month, I’m simultaneously cheered by the many people–and the many kinds of people–who have come out to help. It pleases me to know that there are as many kinds of help as there are people affected. Perhaps it’s not enough–perhaps nothing ever could be enough–but it’s a start.

this post will self-destruct. . .

Surely you’ve seen this by now, but in case you haven’t:

“Our users want the world to be as simple, clean, and accessible as the Google home page itself,” said Google CEO Eric Schmidt at a press conference held in their corporate offices. “Soon, it will be.”

And as a special bonus, all the archives of The Onion are now available online for your perusing. I first heard of America’s finest news source one night in college. I was working patrol and walking around with a friend, who said, “Do you read The Onion? No? You should. This week’s headlines: ‘Secondhand Smoke Linked to Secondhand Coolness.'”

Thanks to Jenna for the link. . . and by the way, have you ever wanted to run for ALA Council? She’s recruiting people.

New Orleans stories

I’ve never been to New Orleans, though, as I’ve written elsewhere, I feel connected to it by way of water and the imagination. The closest I come to a real connection is this:

In high school I knew a guy named Jamie Schweser. He was a senior at one of the town’s high schools when I was a freshman at another, and I met him via the anti-war movement–the “first” Gulf War happened that year. He went on to do various things–he was involved with a pirate radio station and public access television and all kinds of activism, and he co-wrote a book called Tales of a Punk Rock Nothing with Abram Shalom Himelstein. Some time in the late 1990s or early 2000s, they both moved down to New Orleans and got active down there, and I’d get an occasional e-mail from Jamie. I haven’t heard from him in years. Just a few weeks ago, though, I read a piece in Publisher’s Weekly [sorry; only the abstract is available without a subscription] about what Abram Himelstein is up to now: working with kids in New Orleans on the Neighborhood Story Project, an oral history project, a writing workshop, and now, five books, all written by teenagers. I meant to write about this sooner; now, of course, one can’t send mail to or from New Orleans, and so you can’t order the books.

The other day, I got this e-mail of another New Orleans story from Ted Glick, via the Independent Progressive Politics Network mailing list:

One of the better pieces I’ve seen.Ted

—– Original Message —–
Sent: Friday, September 02, 2005 4:42 PM
Subject: Notes From Inside New Orleans

Thanks to all the loved ones and long-lost friends for your sweet notes of concern, offers of housing
and support, etc. Yes, I stayed through the storm and aftermath. I’m fine – much better off than most of
my brother and sister hurricane survivors. Below is my attempt to relay some of what I’ve seen these
last few days.

Please Forward

Notes From Inside New Orleans
by Jordan Flaherty
Friday, September 2, 2005

I just left New Orleans a couple hours ago. I traveled from the apartment I was staying in by boat to a
helicopter to a refugee camp. If anyone wants to examine the attitude of federal and state officials
towards the victims of hurricane Katrina, I advise you to visit one of the refugee camps.

In the refugee camp I just left, on the I-10 freeway near Causeway, thousands of people (at least 90%
black and poor) stood and squatted in mud and trash behind metal barricades, under an unforgiving
sun, with heavily armed soldiers standing guard over them. When a bus would come through, it
would stop at a random spot, state police would open a gap in one of the barricades, and people
would rush for the bus, with no information given about where the bus was going. Once inside (we
were told) evacuees would be told where the bus was taking them – Baton Rouge, Houston,
Arkansas, Dallas, or other locations. I was told that if you boarded a bus bound for Arkansas (for
example), even people with family and a place to stay in Baton Rouge would not be allowed to get
out of the bus as it passed through Baton Rouge. You had no choice but to go to the shelter in
Arkansas. If you had people willing to come to New Orleans to pick you up, they could not come
within 17 miles of the camp.

I traveled throughout the camp and spoke to Red Cross workers, Salvation Army workers, National
Guard, and state police, and although they were friendly, no one could give me any details on when
buses would arrive, how many, where they would go to, or any other information. I spoke to the
several teams of journalists nearby, and asked if any of them had been able to get any information
from any federal or state officials on any of these questions, and all of them, from Australian tv to local
Fox affiliates complained of an unorganized, non-communicative, mess. One cameraman told me “as
someone who’s been here in this camp for two days, the only information I can give you is this: get
out by nightfall. You don’t want to be here at night.”

There was also no visible attempt by any of those running the camp to set up any sort of transparent
and consistent system, for instance a line to get on buses, a way to register contact information or find
family members, special needs services for children and infirm, phone services, treatment for
possible disease exposure, nor even a single trash can.

To understand the dimensions of this tragedy, its important to look at New Orleans itself.

For those who have not lived in New Orleans, you have missed a incredible, glorious, vital, city. A
place with a culture and energy unlike anywhere else in the world. A 70% African-American city
where resistance to white supremacy has supported a generous, subversive and unique culture of
vivid beauty. From jazz, blues and hiphop, to secondlines, Mardi Gras Indians, Parades, Beads, Jazz
Funerals, and red beans and rice on Monday nights, New Orleans is a place of art and music and
dance and sexuality and liberation unlike anywhere else in the world.

It is a city of kindness and hospitality, where walking down the block can take two hours because you
stop and talk to someone on every porch, and where a community pulls together when someone is in
need. It is a city of extended families and social networks filling the gaps left by city, state and federal
governments that have abdicated their responsibility for the public welfare. It is a city where someone
you walk past on the street not only asks how you are, they wait for an answer.

It is also a city of exploitation and segregation and fear. The city of New Orleans has a population of
just over 500,000 and was expecting 300 murders this year, most of them centered on just a few,
overwhelmingly black, neighborhoods. Police have been quoted as saying that they don’t need to
search out the perpetrators, because usually a few days after a shooting, the attacker is shot in
revenge.

There is an atmosphere of intense hostility and distrust between much of Black New Orleans and the
N.O. Police Department. In recent months, officers have been accused of everything from drug
running to corruption to theft. In separate incidents, two New Orleans police officers were recently
charged with rape (while in uniform), and there have been several high profile police killings of
unarmed youth, including the murder of Jenard Thomas, which has inspired ongoing weekly protests
for several months.

The city has a 40% illiteracy rate, and over 50% of black ninth graders will not graduate in four years.
Louisiana spends on average $4,724 per child’s education and ranks 48th in the country for lowest
teacher salaries. The equivalent of more than two classrooms of young people drop out of Louisiana
schools every day and about 50,000 students are absent from school on any given day. Far too
many young black men from New Orleans end up enslaved in Angola Prison, a former slave
plantation where inmates still do manual farm labor, and over 90% of inmates eventually die in the
prison. It is a city where industry has left, and most remaining jobs are are low-paying, transient,
insecure jobs in the service economy.

Race has always been the undercurrent of Louisiana politics. This disaster is one that was
constructed out of racism, neglect and incompetence. Hurricane Katrina was the inevitable spark
igniting the gasoline of cruelty and corruption. From the neighborhoods left most at risk, to the
treatment of the refugees to the the media portrayal of the victims, this disaster is shaped by race.

Louisiana politics is famously corrupt, but with the tragedies of this week our political leaders have
defined a new level of incompetence. As hurricane Katrina approached, our Governor urged us to
“Pray the hurricane down” to a level two. Trapped in a building two days after the hurricane, we
tuned our battery-operated radio into local radio and tv stations, hoping for vital news, and were told
that our governor had called for a day of prayer. As rumors and panic began to rule, they was no
source of solid dependable information. Tuesday night, politicians and reporters said the water level
would rise another 12 feet – instead it stabilized. Rumors spread like wildfire, and the politicians and
media only made it worse.

While the rich escaped New Orleans, those with nowhere to go and no way to get there were left
behind. Adding salt to the wound, the local and national media have spent the last week demonizing
those left behind. As someone that loves New Orleans and the people in it, this is the part of this
tragedy that hurts me the most, and it hurts me deeply.

No sane person should classify someone who takes food from indefinitely closed stores in a
desperate, starving city as a “looter,” but that’s just what the media did over and over again. Sheriffs
and politicians talked of having troops protect stores instead of perform rescue operations.

Images of New Orleans’ hurricane-ravaged population were transformed into black, out-of-control,
criminals. As if taking a stereo from a store that will clearly be insured against loss is a greater crime
than the governmental neglect and incompetence that did billions of dollars of damage and
destroyed a city. This media focus is a tactic, just as the eighties focus on “welfare queens” and
“super-predators” obscured the simultaneous and much larger crimes of the Savings and Loan
scams and mass layoffs, the hyper-exploited people of New Orleans are being used as a scapegoat
to cover up much larger crimes.

City, state and national politicians are the real criminals here. Since at least the mid-1800s, its been
widely known the danger faced by flooding to New Orleans. The flood of 1927, which, like this
week’s events, was more about politics and racism than any kind of natural disaster, illustrated
exactly the danger faced. Yet government officials have consistently refused to spend the money to
protect this poor, overwhelmingly black, city. While FEMA and others warned of the urgent impending
danger to New Orleans and put forward proposals for funding to reinforce and protect the city, the
Bush administration, in every year since 2001, has cut or refused to fund New Orleans flood control,
and ignored scientists warnings of increased hurricanes as a result of global warming. And, as the
dangers rose with the floodlines, the lack of coordinated response dramatized vividly the callous
disregard of our elected leaders.

The aftermath from the 1927 flood helped shape the elections of both a US President and a
Governor, and ushered in the southern populist politics of Huey Long.

In the coming months, billions of dollars will likely flood into New Orleans. This money can either be
spent to usher in a “New Deal” for the city, with public investment, creation of stable union jobs, new
schools, cultural programs and housing restoration, or the city can be “rebuilt and revitalized” to a
shell of its former self, with newer hotels, more casinos, and with chain stores and theme parks
replacing the former neighborhoods, cultural centers and corner jazz clubs.

Long before Katrina, New Orleans was hit by a hurricane of poverty, racism, disinvestment,
deindustrialization and corruption. Simply the damage from this pre-Katrina hurricane will take
billions to repair.

Now that the money is flowing in, and the world’s eyes are focused on Katrina, its vital that
progressive-minded people take this opportunity to fight for a rebuilding with justice. New Orleans is
a special place, and we need to fight for its rebirth.

———————————————–
Jordan Flaherty is a union organizer and an editor of Left Turn Magazine (www.leftturn.org). He is not
planning on moving out of New Orleans.
———————————————–

Below are some small, grassroots and New Orleans-based resources, organizations and institutions
that will need your support in the coming months.

Social Justice:
www.jjpl.org
www.iftheycanlearn.org
www.nolaps.org
www.thepeoplesinstitute.org/
www.criticalresistance.org/index.php?name=crno_home

Cultural Resources:
www.backstreetculturalmuseum.com
www.ashecac.org/
http://198.66.50.128/gallery/
www.nolahumanrights.org
http://www.freewebs.com/ironrail/
http://www.girlgangproductions.com/

Current Info and Resources:
http://neworleans.craigslist.org/about/help/katrina_cl.html

I don’t imagine that Abram Himelstein, or Jamie Schweser, if he’s still there, are planning to move out of New Orleans either. I hope someday I’ll get to see their city. And I hope that they, and the people they know, are safe.

the world is not flat

I hate to break it to you, but, despite recent rumors to the contrary, the world is not flat.

The world is not flat at all: it is filled with dizzying heights that fall off into the deep, with shifting sands and fiery eruptions, with water and wind constantly carving the land into new shapes, and with vast expanses which a great many people perceive to be full of nothing. The world is bumpy, messy, variegated to the extreme, and it is bumpy not only in its physical terrain but also in the lives of its inhabitants, in all the sorts and conditions of humans who live on it.

Recently Celvio Derbi Casal, a library student from Brazil who has a blog, wrote to tell me a little about the public libraries there:

We have a very sad field here!! In my city (Porto Alegre, you may know because the World Social Forum was made here 3 times) and its a big city, the capital of the state, the Municipal Public Library has no computers, even for the staff, and the catolog is a card catalog (the old 7.5 x 12.5 cards!). There’s no money for acquisitions, and there’s only one librarian in charge. You can project this picture to the small towns, where there are no libraries sometimes.

So when I read the US blogs about virtual reference or online resources for public libraries, I live a wonderfull but distant dream, and wonder about when our libraries will pass to this condition.

We have wonderfull libraries here too, and very good eletronic information resources, but they are developed and shared only in the college, academic and specialized libraries. Be a public or school librarian here sometimes is an adventure like be an archaeologist, crossing tons of old stuff, searching for something with value.

Contrast that with some of the statistics on computers and the internet in US libraries, as reported at BlogJunction (see the full study from Florida State University)

  • 99.6% of public library outlets in the United States are connected to the Internet
  • 98.9% of public library outlets with a connection to the Internet provide public access to the Internet

Sounds good–but that’s still not the full story:

  • Only 14.1% of public library outlets report that there are always sufficient terminals to meet patron needs. Of the other outlets, 70.2% have insufficient terminals to meet patrons’ needs at certain times of the day, while 15.7% have insufficient terminals to meet patrons’ needs on a consistent basis
  • Most libraries do not have plans for keeping systems running. Nearly 70% of libraries have no set upgrade schedule for hardware, 77.4% have no set schedule for software, and 96.4% have no set schedule for connection speed
  • and, as Jessamyn noted recently, there are still libraries out there who don’t have any computer at all

I don’t think of the digital divide as a tired old cliche, but I also don’t think of it as a single thing. There is not one digital divide, there are many–as many divides as there are lines on a contour map of our bumpy, crazy world. People come into the library where I work every day to use our computers because they do not have computers (or internet connections) of their own at home. For these people, the divide is not ability but access. But othepeoplele come in each day who do not know how to use computers at all, who, if we were to plop them down in front of one of our machines, would not even know where to begin. And many people, of course, never come in to the library at all. Some of them, like many of the undergraduates I used to teach at the University of Iowa, have all the access to technology they could want but are remarkably lacking when it comes to interpreting and evaluating the information they find. Others are among the 21-23% of American adults who cannot read well enough to fill out a job application or read a picture book to their kids.

All of those people need things, often very different things. Some need computers; some need to learn how to use computers; some need help learning to interpret the things they find; most need some combination of all these things. If you stay in your own contour of the map and spend your time talking to other people who live at that same level, it may well appear to you that the world is flat, but it’s just not true.

When I was in junior high, I was taught that the United States was the world’s largest oil producer but also the world’s biggest oil importer and that the Soviet Union was the world’s biggest wheat producer but also the world’s biggest wheat importer. The world situation has changed since then, but the insane way in which its resources are distributed has not. The people with the greatest access to technology are also those who constantly seek more of it and who benefit most from many of the decisions that get made about technology. (A municipal wireless system is kind of neat, but it doesn’t do you a damned bit of good if you don’t have a wireless device, and I haven’t noticed Philadelphia running around handing out laptops to the poor). Libraries are one of the few places in the world where you can hope to have some flattening effect, but you can only do that if you are fully aware of thheightshs and the depths that surround you, and of all the gradations in between.

only connect. . .

According to yesterday’s newsflash, the Dominican web site is Webby worthy. The Webby Awards are, as you might imagine, kind of like the Tonys, but for web sites. This year, in addition to the winning nominees, the judges picked about 20% of the over 4000 entries as “Webby Worthy.”

According to the judging criteria,

The Academy evaluates Web sites based on six criteria: content, structure and navigation, visual design, functionality, interactivity, and overall experience.

One can only assume that they were awed by the little rotating pictures of happy Dominican students and grads and that their monitors were large enough (unlike, say, most of the monitors at Dominican) that the menus all fit on to the screen. And, for that matter, one assumes they did not happen upon the infamous GSLIS Information Center.

If you have a high-speed connection and plenty of plug-ins, the Webby winners can make for some good browsing. In February 2004, the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported that

  • 34% of all adult Americans have access to high-speed Internet connections either at home or on the job
  • 24% of all adult Americans have high-speed access at home

That means that 66% of Americans don’t have high-speed access at home. The study further notes that “[o]nly 10% of rural Americans go online from home with high-speed connections, about one-third the rate for non-rural Americans.” [Here’s the full report from the Pew people.]

(And remember, none of those statistics indicate the number of Americans who don’t have internet access at all. Interestingly, the only report I’ve been able to pull up about that so far–with, I must admit, only a modicum of searching–is six years old.)