Friday, May 29, 2009

Library Literacy Conference in Three Rivers

I attended the library's 9th annual literacy conference in beautiful Three Rivers, California. I had the honor of speaking to them before the event where I focused on the importance of their work in our economic recovery.

I referenced a recent Washington Post article that compares two rural communities and their broadband success. One was more successful than the other because their community was more affluent, the population had a higher education, and there was a workforce development program already there.

Rural Riddle: Do Jobs Follow Broadband Access?

Two Hamlets That Got High-Speed Lines Show Wildly Different Results

"And the education gap cannot be dismissed", said John Horrigan, Director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

"It's Economic Development 101 to try to improve the supply of infrastructure to make a locality more attractive for businesses, but you do need a skilled workforce to fully exploit that," Horrigan said. "In rural America, for broadband adoption, skills and relevance still remain a barrier."

Even further explained by this Federal Communications Commission (FCC) report on rural broadband access:

Bringing Broadband to Rural America: Report on a Rural Broadband Strategy FCC

"Stimulating and Sustaining Demand for Broadband. Various factors may affect demand for broadband services in rural areas, including a lack of knowledge regarding the benefits of Internet access, lack of training on how to use a computer, socioeconomic and demographic factors, and affordability. To help stimulate and sustain demand for broadband services in rural areas, both public and private entities should consider developing consumer education and training initiatives, broadband affordability programs, and other incentives to achieve sustainable penetration rates."

So the key to any economic recovery, even if the library were to receive a broadband grant, isn't just fast internet access, but a skilled workforce. Without the literacy program, any other efforts wouldn't be as productive.

Literacy Issues and Stopping Short

There were great insightful discussions at the conference. Some great topics were:

The lack of diversity among tutors.

In some cases, adult literacy has focused too much on English Acquisition for Spanish Speakers instead of just general literacy.

The literacy center can deter students that have basic skills, but still need improvement.

In many cases, there is a frustration that the student only goes so far. They get to a level that they want to get a job, but no further. It's the problem of good enough.

"Literacy will be useful for the rest of their lives. Not just enough to get a job, or get what you want, but you can enjoy reading, writing, and an informed mind. Too many stop short, how can we change that?"

The best story: A woman wanted to learn how to speak English. Her children could do it. It took months of tutoring and help. One day, she was paying for her groceries when the check-out girl was wondering about how to make a Mexican dish. The student was able to tell her how to do it in English. When she walked out of the store, her six year old son said "Mommy, I'm so proud of you."

There is more information on Literacy from a May 2009 report:
Basic Reading Skills and the Literacy of the America's Least Literate Adults

Literacy Leadership

There was a great open forum where tutors, students, and literacy leaders discussed issues. There are some fantastic comments about leadership and how to make changes in communities.

"Leaders are doers. You see a need and you do something about it. You don't complain, you don't wait for someone else, it's about making it happen."

Matching tutors with learners.Image by Newton Free Library via Flickr

What it takes to be a tutor

It doesn't take much knowledge to be a tutor. Many of the tutors remarked that they didn't feel they could help the program because they didn't have a college degree. In the end, if you know how to read, you can help someone else learn to read. It's that simple. It's not the skills to teach, you just need to be patient and willing to help.

Anyone can find a literacy program near them by going here. In California, volunteers can also find programs nearest them by going here.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Google Books, Apple Apps, and Gov Docs or " don't have to burn a book you just remove 'em"

Updated 5/24/2009, Apple reverses decision, allows Eucalyptus:

"Then early Sunday, Apple changed its position and accepted the app after discussions with Eucalyptus developer James Montgomerie, the developer wrote on his blog:

"Earlier today I received a phone call from an Apple representative. He was very complimentary about Eucalyptus. We talked about the confusion surrounding its App Store rejections, which I am happy to say is now fully resolved. He invited me to re-build and submit a version of Eucalyptus with no filters for immediate approval, and that full version is now available on the iPhone App Store. "

Apple Says no to Project Gutenberg
"Apple has rejected Eucalyptus, an ebook reader that facilitates downloading public domain books from Project Gutenberg, because some Victorian books mention sex (many of these same books can be bought as ebooks through the iPhone Kindle reader or purchased as audiobooks from the iTunes store). It's amazing to think that in 2009 a phone manufacturer wants to dictate which literature its customers should be allowed to download and read on their devices. "

If Apple really thought about it, they would realize that there are other apps that can download Project Gutenberg books, many of which are explicit. There is a list of 1001 books you should read before you die that include many offensive and explicit books.

1933 May 10 Berlin book burning -- taken from ...Image via Wikipedia
This argument is difficult since it is over access to a book that most people believe should be banned. What's the big deal?

If a private company can do that, they can do that to ANY book. They could ban the Grapes of Wrath. This isn't considered an offensive book, but some people didn't like the way they are portrayed, so they burned the books. However in this case, people who don't agree with the book, don't have to burn it, they can delete them or destroy a program that provides access.

This leads into the Google Books Settlement controversy. If Google controls the digital versions of books scanned from public universities and have complete control of the digital copy, the same thing that's happened in the App store can happen over at google books. Google seems to be altering the settlement agreement:

Google starts charm offensive, but not everyone's on board

" gives Michigan the right to the digitized version of any book in its collection, even if Google wound up scanning a copy held by a different library. Michigan will have the right to offer these digital versions through the equivalent of interlibrary loans, and the general public will apparently be allowed to purchase access to its collection, even if they have no association with the university—although this may just be through the online book retailing that will be part of Google's service. "

In particular, information provided by the Federal Government have been altered or deleted since the information provided made people nervous. They also do it in an underhanded way.

Homeland Security Agents Pull Ohio Libraries’ Haz-Mat Documents

"It all began March 26, when a woman came to the reference desk and asked Martha Lee of the Bluffton (Ohio) Public Library for the Allen County Hazardous Materials Emergency Plan. Lee told American Libraries that after receiving the appropriate binder, the woman declared, “You can’t have it back.” The patron removed the materials and substituted a letter stating that the haz-mat manual would be “available for public inspection” at Allen County’s Homeland Security Office, although “proper ID may be required” to access it. According to Lee, the woman also said, “Well, I have a whole list of libraries I have to visit.”

These kinds of actions were far worse post-September 11th. So much disappeared out of fear rather than out of need. This raid had to be performed in person, getting a physical document. However, items online can be deleted just like an Itunes Store App, a Google Book, or a Government Document.

It's no wonder that when private companies are involved with books that they would encourage censorship of materials, even ones are that in the public domain. They can cite guidelines and restrictions and user agreement, but in the end private companies (nor the Federal Government) have no obligation (and certainly no incentive) to provide access to materials that some people find offensive or dangerous. What does our future for information look like if these trends continue?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Recovery Act funds for libraries or I have broadband, I need faster broadband

President Obama's intention for the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) is to find ways to stimulate the economy. Many libraries qualify for existing grants (even though no money has been provided just for libraries.) The real trick is often finding a local federal office and working with them to get funding. If you know the right local federal agency, the right grant, and apply it to the right project, there are huge benefits. (The American Library Association has a great deal of information on how to get stimulus funds, I liked this one from District Dispatch Blog). As librarians, we definitely need to be creative and snoop so that we can find money that is applicable to us.
The process can be very confusing. Here was a good quote from the Technology Policy Summit discussing rural broadband potential:

Much of the money can be found in different places, and in many cases, wrapped into existing grant projects.

from Stimulating Broadband:
Given that these continuing programmatic efforts of the Rural Development division of USDA -- the division which includes RUS -- operate under an established body of regulations, the NOFA to be issued by the agency for ARRA broadband stimulus funds must be groomed to coordinate with those strictures already in use in rural jurisdictions around the country.
There is also more potential coming from the state:
Teri Takai: California Budget Crisis Won't Block Technology Progress

"The state also will step up efforts to prepare citizens for success in the digital economy. Schwarzenegger intends to sign an executive order promoting digital literacy within two weeks (article posted 5/17/2009), Takai said. And the CIO's office is launching efforts to assess statewide broadband Internet connectivity, with the intention of strengthening access in unserved and underserved areas."

After some investigation, we found our local Department of Agriculture office provides building construction and broadband connectivity to any public building in a rural area. For this alone, there is potential to get $300,000 in building construction money for library branches.

Broadband has been the biggest discussion in the library world. It seems like $7.2 billion is easy to get, but if your library already provides broadband, then what?

The Internet Runs on This stuff
Originally uploaded by Lacrymosa

Do we still qualify for broadband if we just need more speed? We really can't afford an ongoing cost to upgrade.

There is a great deal of potential for rural libraries to update buildings, and provide the infrastructure for increased internet access. However, if I repair or build a building, it can last 5, 10, or 50 years past the grant cycle, depending on the project. For broadband, the costs are always ongoing and always increasing, but the stimulus money isn't. What do we do then?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Library Legislative Day

First of all, I wanted to thank everyone for their wonderful comments and encouragement. I've learned a great deal in my short time at my new job.

Library Legislative Day

The California Library Association hosted Library Legislative Day on April 15th. (There was a press conference included, which was a bit overshadowed by coverage of Anti-Tax protesters.)

We were able to speak with our local State representatives and provide support to other libraries on several issues:
  • ACA 9 which reduces the requirement for bond to a simple majority from a super majority (66%).
  • Lobbied to fully fund the Public Library Fund, which allows libraries to share resources and allow reciprocal borrowing.
  • We also lobbied for Recovery Act funds to be set aside just for libraries.

When it comes to lobbying and advocacy, the best stories are human stories. This story came from a library's Friends board member who attended:

"A high school student comes into the library weekly to use the computers to finish her homework online. She not only completes her own homework, but does her mother's as well. Now, the first thought is, 'Hey she is doing her Mom's homework!' In reality, she prints out the homework assignment afterward and then tutors her mom at home. Her mom can't make it to the library during its open hours. If the library were to close just one hour earlier from budget cuts, both of them would fail through lack of resources."

We can talk about how efficient we are and our great services, but the human stories often make the most compelling argument.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The situation now for California Libraries

There are several California Propositions that will determine the state's budget for the next year.

I'm too new to this situation to provide any meaningful analysis. This is the best snippet:

California Governor Arnold SchwarzeneggerImage by Thomas Hawk

"Voter approval of the May 19 measures is needed to complete implementation of the budget Mr. Schwarzenegger signed in February to close a then-$42 billion deficit through July 2010. The budget calls for steep spending cuts and new taxes. Among other things, the ballot measures would impose a spending cap on lawmakers, let the state borrow against future lottery revenue, and divert to the general fund some money voters had earmarked for mental-health and children's programs."

All I do know is that if these propositions fail on May 19th, which seems likely, the state may "borrow" local property taxes.

Cuts Loom in California if Propositions Fail

"The possibilities include cutting $3.6 billion from education, reducing the state's firefighting budget by 10%, and releasing 40,000 low-risk inmates to cut prison costs, Mr. Schwarzenegger said. The state also may have to borrow $2 billion from local governments, he said.

Some would be skeptical about "borrowing".

State proposal could borrow millions from cities

"The proposal would cost Concord about $2.24 million, said City Manager Dan Keen — money the city can ill afford to lose.

"It may be an effort to influence the election upcoming," Keen said. "But if the election fails, we are concerned that the state will have few options, and, given their record in the past, that they will try to come after cities."

Keen is skeptical about the state repaying any money it borrows.

"Their track record isn't very good. We're still waiting on repayment of some loans back in 1993 to redevelopment agencies," Keen said."

This move would cut 8% from local government spending. Many libraries are already facing severe budget cuts from the bad economy.

Library directors vote not to close branches - for now

"On a 6-3 vote, the Santa Cruz Public Libraries' Joint Powers Board on Tuesday asked acting Director Susan Elgin to return with variations on a theme -- how to trim about $1.3 million from the libraries' current $12.6 million budget without closing any of the system's 10 branches."


"The Santa Cruz Public Libraries' Joint Powers Board must by July 1 figure out how to balance its $11.4 million budget with an estimated $2.4 million less in sales and property tax revenues than at this time in 2008. The board oversees all libraries in the county except those in Watsonville."

Dwindling sales taxes and falling property values are impacting county and city systems. With the threat of the propositions failing and the state "borrowing" from local property taxes, that could be the nail in the coffin for many libraries.

It's sad to say that when the economy dips, essential services like public libraries get hit hardest. It's ironic that libraries are getting such heavy use, but can often be the first to receive the axe in a bad economy when they are often critical in helping provide workforce development and job training.

Local library awarded grant for job training

"A half dozen libraries across Tennessee are receiving grant funds administered through the Secretary of State’s office for programs that help job-seekers find work.

Libraries in Union City, Ardmore, Rogersville, Johnson City, Decatur and Franklin will each receive $7,500 to set up job training centers. These centers will provide materials and professional services to teach new skills to displaced workers, provide information about career choices and offer resumé writing and job application assistance.

Image by NJLA: New Jersey Library Association via Flickr

Things are tough out there and librarians are very resilient. They are critical to our economic recovery. We will persevere and come out anew during these tough circumstances as always. There always seems to be doom and gloom these days, but libraries are still providing the critical services our public needs both now and for the future.