2/18/2014

More than Words or Between the Gush and the Cold Place

Quick. Someone asked you to name your top 5 favorite books. 
The adrenalin starts to pump for no apparent reason. Your brain releases a Dopamine Seratonin and Endorphin Cocktail. The grey masses that govern logic and creativity synch together under the blissful gaze of your amygdala as it too joins the party.

The lists appears in your pre-frontal cortex, sparks of pleasure behind each one listed in your perfect top 5 order. And following the 5 nanoseconds of time that has passed, you gush forth your top 5 list and its sounds like this:
 

blahblahblahCOOLblahblahblAWESOMEblahblahblahNEVERFELTSOblahblahblahTHEBEST!!!

Thing is, asking someone for their top 5 list of anything and you going to get the enthusiasm and passion wrapped in a mass of words that might not make much sense to you, the asker of the question.
And if you, the asker of the question, is someone who can relate and decipher the word gush, then your question is asked from a point of understanding of the context from which your askee is answering the question. Basically, you know what the hell he's talking about.



But if someone who's background  and context is as far removed from yours, that it might as well be on Pluto, asks you a brain engaging question like the one I posed, you would want to  put your answers in a context they would understand. The word gush would just alienate our Plutonese question asker. 

The narrow path through the valley of segues is this:
As a librarian when someone asks me  for my favorite books, I'm going to speak in a language they understand, without a) making sound effects and b)talking till their eyes glaze over.


Usually when someone does ask for an opinion of a book, they are looking more than just the standard "good" "super crap" answers, they are looking for bountiful and nourishing depth. But conversely they want something short of a full first hand account of the storyline, and the nitty gritty specifics of what is happening in the book. 
In short, they want a giggle, some encouraging words and little bit of flesh but never the full monty. 

Its a skill, something that is touched on in librarian training through book review training and book appreciation training, but requires the personal touch of a 'live' interaction. These interactions help you gauge the way a patron will react to your words through their body language or their blanket refusals while making "I'm going to kill you" gestures.
Really, its something you have to see experience in order to be better and not to misread situations like offering a priest, Fifty Shades of Grey.


The caramel center of my little piece of mind pie, lies in the interactions I witnessed when asked to appear on a panel to discuss science fiction and fantasy. 
AND. 
What my favorite SF and Fantasy novel were.

I love talking about the things I love but I learnt long time ago, you have to speak about these things to other people, as if they were from Pluto. You would have to remove all the feel good brain chemistry and steer it in a direction that empowers your ability to communicate rather than your enthusiasm. Perhaps finding a happy middle between the two. 

So I stressed about this panel.

How on earth do I find that happy middle ground between the Gush and Cold Analysis? It also didn't help that the people I was talking too were other librarians who had no knowledge of SF or Fantasy. (The closest  they may have come to the genre was perhaps ignoring Lord of the Rings on tv, or hearing about that weird Game of Thrones show, with the really hot guy.)

My expectations got the better of me and I succumbed to writing down the things that I wanted to say. And when it was all their on black and white, I realised that if I ever tried to tell a patron about these books they would look at me, and then run for the hills in the face of my gushing. 

So I tried again.
I endeavoured to find that book (or books) that occupied the venn diagram of favourite but also good for a novice reader. And attached with these choices had to be a "why" great than "because it has magic in it".
It was hard, but I did it. 

So clutching the paper against my breast, I ventured to that place beyond the Curtain of Spiced Meats stuffed in the Intestinal Casing of a Sheep, to tell the people what they needed to heed. 

T'was 5 of us that sat at the table, facing our fellows, awaiting their baleful questioning arrows. 
The Good Lady Cheryl made her mighty presentation, and we watched and listened for.......
it was mighty and we learned much. 

When the words stilled on her lips, her gaze  fell on me, and with pointed finger said:
"Speak unto the throng so that they might hear your words of wisdom."


I verily almost shat myself but rallied to speak thus unto the assembled hordes of Book Warriors:


"SF and Fantasy for me, embodies the concept of telling a story.(Wave hands) Within the pages of a Fantasy or SF books you find whole universes created by the will and imagination of the story teller;  And it’s a wonderful experience to walk through those worlds and be excited, and awed by the reading of it. (Nod head, sagely)

So the books I have chosen have made me feel that excitement and have engrossed me fully pulling me away from those things that steal your time so effectively. (Mime sending a text)
I have also chose these books because I have recommended these to patrons and have gotten positive responses, but I have taken into account the popular and critical responses for these authors as well in my decision making processes.
These are my guiding principles." (Make Amen hands)

I spoke the hallowed names of the scribes I had chosen,  singing a song of greatness for the words written in their mighty tomes. The Hordes nodded and rebutted with questions which was totally my bad, for I had not enunciated properly when I started.  But for ought I had stressed, for the information flowed with neither Gush or Coldness but through that happy place of Middle Ground.

My colleague to my left, then took up the message and from his words (that he took from an article he had written some years ago. Humph) flowed the love of the stories and the magic they could bring. With wonder he started and with wonderful words he ended. 

Then, to the amazement of others and the astonishment of the Librarian Horde before us the second companion to my left took from his pocket a magic device and plugged it into a thing that projects image against a wall and thus we saw moving images of ......films with robots and stuff blowing up. 
But nay, despite the lack of sound, we found much pleasure to be geeked at. 

Then spoke another, with words that mesmerized for all the wrong reasons because  people started glazing over.
And then more speaking:

blahmagicblahblahsystemsblahawesomeblahtaintedblahblahsoulblahincredibleblah.


By the time it got to the fifth person, the damage was done. The audience was in fact dead. 

But lo, soon they were revived by cookies, tea and coffee but they were just merely ghosts getting ready to leave, not the fresh faced human beings we started out with. 

The talk I was looking for didn't materialize, and I can't put the blame on my colleague, from his perspective he was knowledgeable of the genre and could speak about it with authority and at length, with sound effects.  I just expected a little more from everyone. (Yes even myself.)

On my way back, thinking about the things said (and left unsaid), I came to this cold comfort of a conclusion. 
The three components that make up effective communication Sender - Message - Receiver work best if all participants are aware of the fourth component: Response.
Because that's how Dialogue is made.


 
















10/09/2013

Going to the Matresses - 15th LIASA Conference, Day 2

The time of the 'new' librarian has come, and it isn't us. (Us being public librarians)
UCTLiS in the first presentation of the day called for the emergence/creation/the need for this 'new' librarian that is all singing, all dancing and ready to research and produce academic papers at the drop of a ha...book. The new librarian will be immensely employable because he will embody the things that UCT and Academic Librarians value most, the ability to make the Library School look really good. 

Ok, now that it's out of my system. 
Let's begin again.

Public Librarians are not new librarians, the context in which we work are not conducive to creating these academic papers which UCTLIS puts so much faith in. That's not to stay there isn't a passion and interest for public librarians to write papers, its just not an easy thing to bloody do and everybody thinks that it is!


The Challenges that my colleagues so easily think can be vaulted with good intent and spindly legs of wishful thinking are myriad; the red tape quagmire of the local authority, HR practices that are designed for the whole organization not just one  department thus limiting what staff can do, the lack of any sort of training or retraining in research methodology due to lack of funds for training by the local authority and a general apathy from Library Management.
Furthermore, if the LIS schools (like UCT) haven't priced themselves out of being helpful, it would be feasible to have research methodologies and all the skills that produce viable research on the Work Skills plan of the Local Authority's training interventions.  

The challenges that need overcoming require concerted effort and force of will to work through  and it cannot be done alone, stakeholders who are WILLING to participate and agree that the end result of educating and training a librarian isn't a piece of paper that makes the department look good, but rather, its BUILDING  a librarian. Not a new librarian, or an old librarian, just a librarian with potential to do...
anything.

 "going to the matresses"


The Sobering Thought, or That Sinking Feeling - 15th LIASA Conference, Day 1

The truth is this....
I don't think Cape Town has the best library service in the country any more.
I've declared it quite loudly on twitter, and have had enthusiastic kudos which I freely admit I reveled in like a large mammal in an appropriately matching habitat. 
But my bubble has been irrevocably burst by the Liasa Conference Plenary session number 2 (plug: Number Two is always better that One).
And the burster of said bubble is the Kwa-Zulu Natal Public Library Service.


So how did they do it, you might ask? Well they didn't use a long pointy stick.
The did it by being librarians. And:
Opening new beautiful libraries that are each unique and distinct.

With Books, and staff.
Revamping old libraries into spaces conducive to studying.

Free Internet, with assisting assistants.
Coming to 'terms' with the Local Authority in a responsible adult-like manner.
Meeting users needs, which translates to play area's for job seekers with kids, educational toys to encourage skills development and *sigh* consoles (Nintendo Wii etc)

Granted all these things do not add up to 'We are not the best anymore.'  No, what adds up to 'We are not the best anymore' is the fact that there are queues of kids and parents waiting to get into the libraries.
People queuing to get into libraries not because its opening time but because the inside is that busy!


The local libraries in this province are  not as busy as they once were, local librarians have indicated that they've seen a significant drop of patronage and in the light of KZN's successes when we have the same resources at our disposal, its making me ponder a few things:
Why was there only one library built in the last 5 years in this Province?
Did we lose our drive when we stopped needing to justify our existence to the Local Authority?
Do we now just do the things we do, to tick of the little boxes and collect the pay at the end of the month?
Has strong leadership and an adherence to Local Authority dogma stifled all creativity and passion in the rank and file?

Hopefully by the end of the conference I will get these answers, but it still doesn't change the fact that we are not the best Public Library Service in Cape Town anymore.

*sigh*


 

The Politics of the Librarian, or the Identity Crisis - 15th LIASA Conference Day 1

Its like I never left....

Yes more than 5 years have passed since the last conference I attended, and things have changed significantly.
We have Twitter now.
We still have Facebook but its not as cool as it was.
E-readers are not the pipe dream of a few academic librarians.
And Public Librarians are still manning (or woman-ning) battle lines against illiteracy and ignorance. 
For all the things that have stayed the same, Public Librarians have changed. In Cape Town the Public Library service has found a stability in its practices that only strong leadership and foresight could bring. And who doesn't love us, with our books and  free internet access?

Well the people of Ratanda in the Westonaria municipality in Gauteng certainly didn't like us last year. (Click here.) 
 In a display of frustration at the lack of service delivery, the people burnt the library down and the librarians went into hiding for fear of attacks against their houses. The people of Ratanda were definintely not loving us.

As a topic to spark a discussion in the one of the interesting plenary sessions, its certainly set my brain a-tingle. The people of Ratanda weren't burning down a library, they were burning down a building of the local municipality and targeting the workers of that building. To the people of Ratanda, the noble intent of librarians didn't mean a thing because all they saw was the corporate image of an organization that was making their lives literally stink of crap.

When I walk into my library, I know I'm a librarian. I have the tag, the designation on my payslip, the people that take out books and visit the internet all know me and name as  Librarian. But I can't help but be aware that the tag has a logo on it, the sign out front loudly proclaiming that the building you stepping into is a library is the same plain carbon copy of the plaque that adorns all the other buildings in the City, the tariffs that indicate what I charge as fees and penalties all have that logo affixed to it, and that little doubt that I have, is slightly less worrisome when I look at that payslip with its logo. 

 Lyn Steyn,  when she was Ruler of Fish Hoek Library, stated quite vehemently that she felt that a Corporate Image and the drive to sterile same-ness was stripping away the character of the Public Library Service in Cape Town, till we just became another department that gave books to people, interchangeable from the Valuations department. I scoffed, because the Library Department had always been on the outside of the behemoth that was the Local Authority, and conformity was a small price to pay for a seat at the grown ups table.  But here's the thing, when Ratanda Library burned all they saw was a way to hurt the municipality for crappy service. They didn't see the books, they didn't see the kids reading, or the helpful librarian they only saw the logo, and decided to punish it. 

A public library serves the public's need, so what if the public only sees you as a logo? What then? Do you have the right, to throw off those local authority shackles and take on a situation you know is unfair? Are we Local Authority employees first and Librarians second?

If we are Librarians first then we need to recognize that the burning mob is someone that was pushed that far by the indifferent treatment of the "Logo".  If we are Librarians first we need to make sure that our patrons know that we are MORE than the "Logo", better than even. If we are Librarians first, we need to look at these "Logo" rules, regulations and decided what will make my patrons experience just that little bit better in these harsh times. 
If we are a Librarians first, we serve our communities needs first, and corporate interests second.
Perhaps it will be enough to halt the flames.
Perhaps it will be enough to prevent standing in front of a smoldering pile of ashes.



7/09/2013

Sex and The Librarian

Sex.
and the Librarian.

(This is not a Haiku)
Really.

Trying to put those two images into the same mental space will give you a number of responses depending on what perspective you’re looking from.


If you’re a random average member of the public, going by stereotypes and lack of any realistic depictions of a librarian, you could probably gravitate towards the rather succinct response of: "EW."
If you’re a random  average academic librarian,  you would mutter something incomprehensible about undergraduate students not wearing appropriate clothing or bothering you with, *shudder* skin exposed, and go have a quiet cup of tea in the office while ruminating over Dickinson and a crossword.
If you’re a random average public librarian you would….NOT talk about it?!

I'm surprised (And not in a "Guess what I have on under my overcoat kind of way" either.)*


Riding the desk is part of the job description, and said Riding requires dealing with the public’s queries on books we may or may not have. (We don’t have those fancy separate information desk thingies. We have one desk for EVERYTHING, cos that’s how we ride…er roll.) Questions about the general whereabouts of books like The Joys of Sex, the Kama Sutra,  and books with information on specific Body Changes, Mens/Womens’ Plumbing issues that have nothing to do with household maintenance, are all dealt with in a professional and non judgey manner. Similarly, the books from the Romance section whose authors have names like Christine Feehan, J.R Ward and Nina Bangs. (I didn’t make up that last one.) I, as well as my colleagues can give a fair appraisal of whether a book has more or less Bang within its pages. Sex and the Librarian in a purely bibliographic way is something librarians can comment on in a professional and sober manner.

But something happened.

To find out what let us
again consider the mental landscape of Sex and the Librarian, now shove in Fifty Shades of Grey.
What’s your mental landscape looking like now?
If you’re a random average member of the public, the "EW" would have some chains and  a safeword.
If you’re a Academic librarian, there would be a shot of something strong in your cup of tea, along with a few exclaimed "Good Lords" to punctuate your heightened.... engrossment in the book. (Although publicly you would denounce it as filth of the highest order and chastise the younger academic librarians and shelving minions for reading it, and possibly start using safe words in staff meetings.)

If you’re an random average librarian (that reads, and you are not undead) you would devolve into a 1950’s housefrau  or a giggly (tee-hee) teenaged girl who just found out that the birds and bees had nothing to do with fauna or flora, and that storks play no part in anything except  to crap on lawns.


Somehow Fifty Shades has reduced  public librarians into the worst possible version of our species (Bibliopithicus Hominis Erectus). Libraries were pathetically slow on the uptake when the book started appearing in international news, like they were hoping this was just some bad sweaty dream, and then when Fifty Shades landed and borrowers curiousity were all aflame, a handful of libraries (5 and less) started actively promoting it and now finally after months of circulating, we have some libraries seemingly reluctant to still stock it or replace worn copies and (shock, horror, gasp) even talk about it. And not talk in any particular meaningful way a person who has never even heard of Bondage, Domination and Sado-machochism would probably would WANT to talk about.



No this was more of a none committal grunt response to a borrowers question of: “So dear librarian, have you read the book? What do you think?”

Hardly a salacious question for such a response, nor one that dwells outside the realm of professional conduct like, for examples: “What colour are your leather straps?” or “Are you a left handed whipper or a right handed?”

So can we say that librarians and sex is the vanilla experience of good customer interaction, its when you add the chocolate of bondage (tempered by our ties to our morales perhaps) that we falter in the vigorous practices of our good customer service.

Good thing this was only a once off occurrence, publisher surely couldn’t be publishing more of the same.




 
















Oh crap.

There goes the Customer Service.
(Is that the gnashing teeth of hausfrau librarians and the tee-hee of wallflower librarians I hear?)




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
*The latest Pratchett kept dry from the rain, hence the overcoat.

6/24/2013

A Fined Keith in the Right Place - A Taxing Ramble



So Keith Richards owes his childhood library about 3000 pounds as reported by the media,
over HERE 


This bothers me because the only reference to libraries in popular media occurs when someone famous owes our establishment an overdue book, thereby incurring our wrath. As a ‘popular’ depiction of a public library, it sucks. 
Surely we’re more than the priggish, tight-bunned authoritarians we’re depicted as?


Surely? 


Well, most public librarians would’ve just wanted the book back.  The money would’ve been incidental. Which if you’re a none librarian person (or Academic Librarian) should be a bit of shocker really. Public Librarians don’t in fact, care about the money. 

Well I don’t.
It’s not like the fines go back into the library in any case, well not in South Africa. You see in South Africa, Public Libraries are not supposed to make a profit. But that doesn’t stop our patrons from offering money-making suggestions. I have to regularly fend off suggestions to sell whole collections to fund further book purchases, or hiring out video machines to people who want to make use of our video cassettes (yes, we still have them).


When I calmly told the video-machine-suggestion guy that we could not, in fact, purposefully make some money, he got angry.
How dare we not make money! 

And then he damned the government to a fiery hell.
As enthusiastic as his borderline sedition was, I tried valiantly to explain that Libraries are a function defined by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. And as a Function, we couldn’t charge money for anything that we could then use to buy anything with, as well as the various laws and that inform Government departments what they charge for. I thought about explaining the whole unfunded mandate thing (The thing: The local authority is paying for the library service even though the provincial government should pay) and how the Local Authority Libraries Bylaw of 1990 (which says that fees could be levied) is essentially squashed by the Constitution, but I don’t think he would have cared.

The thing is (sedition talk again), I don’t have a problem with Public Libraries not making money, in fact I think we’re making too much of it as it is. Public Libraries charge administrative costs for reserving books and of course late fees for overdue books. It always seemed to me we were monetarily punishing people for liking books and punishing the poor for not having ‘means’.The argument for maintaining these fees is that they’re administrative costs. But let’s break those costs down: Paper, a Writing implement, Electricity, a Computer and the Computer System.

Now as far as I know, all our costs are covered by the Local Authority (this is a matter of public record so the Managerial Finger Twinge of Firing, the MFTF, should not come into play) who in turn gets monies from the National Government, who in turn gets it from SARS(South African Revenue Service - Tax collectors in the American vernacular) and other fees and levies the National Government gets paid.
So why charge another fee, when it’s covered already by these Taxes and levies that we are in fact paying already?

The Other Thing is:
Public Libraries are so intrinsically linked to the image of the punishing fines we charge, our only real claim to fame is our Fine Amnesty week, timed in South Africa to coincide with National Library Week (because like love and marriage, you couldn’t one without the other, or a horse and carriage.) Stripped of that ability to fine people, what would we then have to define ourselves by?

Sadly though, I would give my left arm for a ‘Keith’ and his lax attitude to due dates, just so I could have some media attention for my Library or my neighboring Library or the Library Service. Well, attention that isn’t subsumed by the Local Authorities Corporate restrictions and a Managerial whimsy for rigid control of rank and file Voices. (Is that a Lightning bolt I spy in the distance.)
Whatcha gonna do?

Does anyone know if some drug addled and time ravaged South African rocker has some overdue library books?


Rabbitt?

 









Pierre?


 
….
 

(GULP)

Steve?
 









Anyone Else but?

 Please?

3/05/2013

Celebrating the Fall of a Liar, or the Redemption of Comic books

In my opinion, it was the greatest crime perpetrated by a man who believed he was saving his society. (Minus 1000 points if you’re thinking of Hitler)


Fredric Wertham - Looking for bad in all the wrong places.
This man - in the guise as doctor and self-appointed social conscience - with his lies and false conclusions, almost destroyed an entire industry and tarnished a media (and its associated genre’s) for 60 years, until the year 2013. 2013 was the year that we all found out that Frederic Wertham was a lying liar who fabricated, misrepresented and just …bloody lied! in his book Seduction of the Innocent, and tarnished the comic book industry for a generation.



If the notion of Karma truly exists, then Dr Wertham hunched over his typewriter pouring over his final draft should feel a sudden ripple of tension,  perhaps even anger, and definitely a sense of shame, as my upraised middle finger in 2013 travels back in time, with all the vitriol and conviction an “up yours, you smarmy bastard!” could raise. (Being South African, those are not the words I have said in my head.)

My behavior is truly warranted, you have to understand that comic books in the 30’s and 40’s  in the U.S. were in the throes of  a golden age. Writers and Artists told bold exhilarating stories in beautifully rendered primary colored panels as spacemen and cowboys shared rack space with superhero’s, gangsters, axe murdering husbands and talking animals, to name but a few. There were simply no limitations  to what stories could be told. They sold incredibly well. Printing runs were in the millions as an avid reading public of both children and adults bought every sort of comic book under the sun.








 The significance of this golden age was the complete lack of internal pressures that curtailed the creative processes. Publisher and writers we in synch every step of the way as publishers realized (when the profits remained high) that fresh new stories would sell well. While on the production end, writers and artists came together to meet expectations of the reading public who were aching for something new, innovative and dynamic. There would’ve been a tipping point of course, every market and business consultant will tell you that markets re-adjust and the ‘bubble’ would burst, but still the potential of the time could have had just a few more years of great output if not for Dr Wertham.


Seduction of the Innocent, was McCarthyism at its best, as it stated boldly that comics was the cause of all the societal ills of the time with the accompanying witch-hunts and hearings that solvers of societal ill employed in their socielal ill solver list of weaponry. Comics, Seduction of the Innocent screamed, was responsible for inspiring violence in youth, for creating homosexuals in its depiction of some superheroes and comics mere existence the sign of a degenerative society (I’m feeling that karmic finger going up again), promoting stupidity, illiteracy and possibly communism and/or chlamydia.

The public hearings followed, and what followed the public hearings was the burning and boycotting of comics, until the inevitable conclusion of foreclosures and job losses. Men and women of stupendous creativity left comics (or forced out due to blacklisting), some never to return as the labels draped over them by Wertham and his followers of ‘do-gooders’ prevented them from working.  Families were left broken as livelihoods were lost because of stupidity, fear and ignorance.

 Having no recourse but to acquiesce to all the pressures from government and Wertham’s supporters, those left standing of what could laughably be called a comic book industry, created a federal regulatory body called the Comics Magazine Association of America,  which set strict guide lines over what could be published.

 The Comics Code Authority stood for 50 years till Marvel Comics in 2000 firmly and resolutely told the Association that it could take a long walk off a short pier. (Once again the South African version in my head is much different and more succinct.) The Code by then had been irrelevant. It took 50 years, let me type that again, 50. YEARS! Which is half a century, and half the lifetime of a human being, for us to have the right to read a comic book with the word ‘boob’ in it. (Yes the rules of the Code got changed to allow for more socially conscious works but something were still anathema. In the 80's and early 90's even with the Code rules changed, you still couldn't, for instance, mention a womens monthly cycle or depict same sex relationships in any sort of positive way. Publishers used the code as a good enough reason to prevent progressive views from being published.)

The South African connection in all of this is chillingly simple to extrapolate:
Wertham was used as whip to keep book selection practices in line with what the government felt should be read. Comics was bad, Comics wasn’t a book, Comics was for people who couldn’t read, Comics were for stupid people, Comics were for anyone that wasn’t white.  So progressive black and coloured teachers told their students to stay away from these works as this would stunt their revolutionary growth, and conservative 'status quo' teachers (and some librarians) felt that comics were beneath them because they would stunt the brain.  Not that comic books weren't sold at the time, they were  freely sold at newsagent and pharmacies, and local version of Superman and Batman were also published in the 60's, but God help you if you brought any of those comics to school or into a library circa 1960 to 1990. Your backside would be striped and your comic book contraband confiscated and burnt.


One of the Faces of Apartheid - with the finger of  Doom

What is the greatest crime of all is that Wertham’s open war on all comic book media lingers in a more subtle form. Older librarians, teachers, grandparents even, when asked about comic book will have some recollection about how their interactions with comics were curtailed in their youth, and when faced with providing an opinion now, would have to think long and hard for even an off handed positive remark.


The final insult it seems is that Wertham’s opinions have sunk into a substrata of popular culture that carries all his generations negativity which OLDER folks these days unconsciously tap into when asked about comics.  There’s no specific source of this negativity as it is always ascribed to “they”, as in “they say…”.  Example: ‘They say reading comics stunts your reading ability.’
And us poor public  librarians in South Africa,(who only recently discovered email and then still use it in the most ass backwards way possible) with an average age of about 42 years (in upper management) will certainly remember those Wertham and Government generated stigmas about comics, despite The Dark Knight and The Avengers and Neil Gaiman and Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison and Robert Kirkman and Brian Michael Bendis and …etc ad infinitum have done to elevate  the status of Comics to a legitimate form of Literary Media.  I’m not saying the books aren’t there in the larger libraries but you have to look long and hard to find them in the majority (and more numerous) of smaller public libraries in excess of 25 titles that don’t start with Tin.. or Ast... and  aren’t just for kids.

But I digress. 

We are here to shov…show a finger where it deserves to be shov..shown.
This is an auspicious month in the year 2013.  Wertham’s conclusions have been effectively debunked as hokum and chicanery of the vilest kind.


St Carol of Tilley

Carol Tilley gained access to Werthams' papers in 2010, and set about working through said papers to see if there was a fact that old Freddy boy might have jiggled to make his crazy more palatable. And lo, the comic book world can now rejoice, and Tilley is my candidate for Comic-don’s sainthood as she has in fact confirmed that our Dr Wertham is a liar with a capital L.




You sir, are a Liar of Note.

So, if you love comics, raise your finger, face it North West and with all the strength and conviction that your Love for that wonderful medium can generate, say loudly and proudly:
“I f---*ng LOVE comics!! And I am fine! Doctor. Wertham. ”

And if you’ve always wanted to try a comic and felt a bit apprehensive about the prospect but never really knew why;
It really is okay.
Promise.
We’ve been waiting for you to join us for quite some time.


Come one, Come all.



"Are arbitrary labels more important than the way we live our lives ?"

 (Cyclops in the graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, written Chris Claremont, Art by Brent Anderson) 

1/27/2013

It Came to Destroy us from its Shiny Box - A Look Ahead

2012 sucked.
I spent most of it in a worked induced haze, perpetuated by other forces that shall be nameless lest they decided to end me where I stand.

Suffice to say, something did trickle into the old subconscious and flagged down the vehicle of speculative thinking, hijacked it and took it for a joy ride in my medulla oblangata. My frontal lobe was close for renovations at the time.

So here is my sad, unauthorized, barely referenced look at the impending future for the Public Library Service in Cape To.....where I am. Some of the information is purposefully vague on account of me not getting swatted by the full might of the Local Authority's power.
(Or as Darth Vader would say: pow-WAH!)

And as always, this is my own opinion.


It will make sense once you've read the whole post.

E-books and E-readers are going to kill us all, in our beds, at night while we sleep. And its all Pick n Pay's fault.

Up till last year the e-book reader was a device that public librarians were vaguely aware of. A device that wealthier borrowers would brag about while we librarians would just nod, really not give a crap and get on with the job. "Really what's to worry about," the librarian would say, "this doesn't relate to anything at all with what I do."

This is a problem you see, because currently a war is being waged in a faraway place between librarians, publishers and technology companies that will decide the fate of e-books and libraries in the future. The future in this case is 2013.

The battle, which I can conservatively compare to the pesky little hullaballo, or is it fracas, that occurred between that Fanning boy, Music Producers and something called a MP3. Read all about it here:
This perfect storm of new tech, high demand and wrong footed business interests have librarians and public libraries right on the front lines trying to push policy and money into a direction that would see patrons win i.e get them the books they want in the e-book format.
Its anything but a bloodless battle.

Libraries in the States have posted record lending numbers for ebooks.
 (Check that here.)
This is linked to increased ownership of ebook readers and devices that allow e reading. (ie phones and tablets with reading apps.)
To stay viable US Public libraries in conjunction with the ALA have had pitched battles with publishers over licensing and service fees.Overdrive, a company that provides the nut and bolts access to e-books on behalf of libraries and is the go between between libraries and publishers that provide e-books, has a virtual a monopoly on this service.  

How it works is, Overdrive is hired by the library to provide the books to the library user by allowing the user to connect to the libraries catalogue which contains all these ebooks.
The User logs into the libraries catalogue, downloads the book his/her device and after a certain amount of time the ebook erases itself off the device or the user goes back on the site and checks-in the book by clicking some button or the e-book is 'locked'

At no point are actual librarians are involved.

(BTW the file format that e-books are encoded in is epub. The mobi format belongs to Amazon. So if you have the new John Grisham, the actual ebook file name would look like this for epub - The Racketeer.epub, and Mobi - The Racketeer.mobi. Epub and Mobi are the book equivalent of what an mp3 is.)

The point of contention that is causing so much trouble is this:

Publishers insist that libraries cannot 'own' the ebooks, and Overdrive and 3M charge fees to libraries based on the publishers licensing fees that allow libraries the right to lend out a particular book a certain amount of times and thereafter either repay the yearly/monthly fee or lose the book from their catalogue. Similarly publishers can refuse to give Overdrive or 3M access to their e-books without any penalties or prior notice thus removing all of those books from the libraries 'shelves', or limit how many 'copies' can go out at a library.It boils down to to renting a library book and then after a year giving it back to the library if you don't pay. 

Its a lousy way to do business, especially considering your victi...customers are institutions that doesn't make money, and publishers and libraries are jockeying for position because e-book consumption doesn't look like its going to dimish.
Further reading: here and here.

So what's the deal with all this e-book nonsense in Public Libraries in good ole SA?
And why make a fuss about it.
Well its because of this:
and this:

So the ebook revolution is still forthcoming, no vasts amount of KOBO's seem to be wandering the streets and driving owners into coffee shops or glued onto couches at home, despite vendors like EB and Kalahari offering local ebooks in Afrikaans and cheap romance titles in english. There is no sundering of the Way of Paper Based Books.

The landscape is still as it was.
For how long though?
3 particular little bits of news have got my hackles raised:

One: the LTE network is slowly crawling into life.
Essentially the next step after 3G connectivity. Faster speeds, quicker download times. In time, cheaper rates. (One hopes)

Two: Tablet sales have exploded.
With banks offering tablets as incentives for e-banking and older(but still top of the line) model tablets becoming cheaper or being resold, its easier for people to buy tablets and do all sorts of cool things on them other than shooting at bunch of pigs with a slingshot using birds for ammunition.They can now read too.

Three: Academic publishers like Maskew Millar Longman and Pearson are locally converting all their text books and study books and guides to e-book formats. Ask them you visit the Cape Town Book Fair.
And this is what the Western Cape Education department is doing.


Four: Here is where I use the words 'unnamed source' for the first time in my life. In no way should this be taken as the last word on the matter. Loftier brains than mine could undoubtedly change their minds but the gist of the unnamed source's communication is that the Department of Education is serious considering using e-readers in all schools in the Western Cape as a means to bring down spending.

Spending per child on text books is astronomical.
From Grades 8 to 12, spending on textbooks run in excess of R2000 a child.
Consider: 7 subjects times 2 books per subject, then times again by the number of grades, and you end up with a number with way too much zeroes. What if, you give a child a KOBO, for instance, with all the study material loaded on for the subjects for that grade, or even all the grade?

Do I hear strains of: "But THEFT! will be rampant!"

The price of a basic KOBO is less than a thousand, so insurance for the device should be low, and with all schools getting the e-readers, it would literally flood the market with devices lowering their resale value considerably. They are also so interchangeable, nothing special about them except they have books on them, so why steal them at all. 
School libraries could be virtual and interactive and could be a means to meeting some of the expectations of 'a library in every school' lobbyists like Equal Education.

This is not a pipe dream. This is a serious consideration. This is a viable reality.


Now finally, what is the public libraries challenge?
Considering that this is the way that the world is moving; that the distance from trend to mainstream gets narrower and shorter each year; and contrary to popular belief, South Africa despite its inequalities and deficiencies is still vulnerable to these so-called trend shifts.

Well, consider this scenario:

The market is flushed with e-readers and e-reading apps of every type. Kids are needing study guides or different versions of texts or just wanting books to read. They get mom or dad to take them to the library and the first thing they ask is where they can download the book they want.The public librarian looks at the kid, the parents and the one other lone person in the library and goes: "You know. We haven't got that yet..... Would you like a bookmark?"

The cautionary lesson here is: Needs must.

For all the patrons who would swear blind that they prefer a real book, would give it up in a heartbeat if it meant there children could learn easier without cost being a deciding factor of quality of education. (Lower cost per child means less school fees and more money for infrastructure like teachers, librarians, classrooms, security guards, fences, school halls....)

Being sensitive to projected trends is not a public librarians strong suit, and library management, who once in a while do take their cues from the rank and file, well some rank and file, they are biblically slow to react. Invariably when they do, its too talk about talking about writing a document.

Not the bold, swift, cutting edge service I keep wishing I could be touting to my borrowers.
(We only recently got email and we're still using it wrong.)

So, what then?
Well. And I am just throwing stuff against a wall here, hoping it  sticks:
Why don't we do it ourselves?
Why not develop our own e-book delivery system? (The talky Public Library service is Cape To....I mean here.)

Its not like it wasn't done before.
The local authority in conjunction with other NGO party's developed the open source  platform that provides free internet services to the people of the Western Cape.

Its not cost prohibitive either, groups like the Shuttleworth Foundation, who live and breathe the idea of tech improving our circumstance could be a major partner that could see e-books provided free of charge to smartphones, tablets, e-readers and laptops in South Africa through a home grown open source solution.


And if you're thinking about how we going to get those still expensive e-books onto  up the catalog for loan?

Well locally produced text books and study guides should be the first things we make available. (Needs must, after all.)

We know the WCED are making their own and giving them away, why not make overtures to local publishers as well. It is cheaper to produce an e-book than an actual physical paper book.

But nothing exists in a vacuum and their has to be a leader/driving force for this endeavor; A person, or peoples, or a specific organization that has a large invested interest in a project like this, and are in a position to do a lot of good simply by having access to a lot of people who could benefit directly form an initiative like this. An organization that has access to all stakeholders and for lack of a better term, is politically bulletproof and a political bipartisan poster child for candidates of all parties.

I wonder who that could be....

Like I said: biblically slow.

*sigh*

So here I sit looking ahead at the year to come, awaiting the first announcement that the e-reading revolution has begun.

Thing is, I think it already has and we're hopelessly out of touch and far behind.