Lament for the Lost Library

Teens make good use of the library. (From the TLCPL webpage)

Growing up, I spent a lot of time in my neighborhood branch of the Toledo Lucas-County Public Library. Sometimes I’d wander there alone and read for a few hours. Other times I’d go with friends, or meet them to do homework at one of the community tables.

The librarians–the Silence Police–would make their rounds, shushing anyone who talked above the allowed  decibel limit,  admonishing giggling kids, and bouncing those  who made the library their playground. I recall once seeing someone ousted for  throwing a paper airplane.

The library has changed quite a bit over the years, no thanks to technology and the desire for more funding. I’ve long lamented the draw of the computers at my local branch. Whenever I go in, the seats in front of the screens are filled with zombie children and adults  feeding on their Facebook pages, online games, and instant messaging.  While computers were added to libraries everywhere as a means of providing unlimited access to unlimited information, I don’t see much research and learning at those terminals…for a lot of the users, computers are for play.

When the Main branch added the televisions, I, too, mourned for the days when the library was a repository of learning material, not a repository of media, which isn’t always enriching nor educational. The counter arguments posit that libraries are community gathering places, and that the definition of text is so flexible that as technologies advance, so must our recognition and acceptance of alternative texts.

Yesterday, I learned that the TLCPL has added video gaming to its offerings. As part of their new hip teen areas, The Main Library and Reynolds Corner branch have installed the  Wii, X-Box360, and Playstation 3 in areas where, according to its press release, 13-18 year-old-teens can, “…test their skills, learn and play games solo or in groups of 3 individuals.” 

The press release also includes this notation, in bold, “According to the American Library Association, some 75 percent of public libraries support gaming, by offering computer or board gaming, circulating games, or offering gaming events, areas and programs.”

WHY? Because it brings patrons in? Because those patrons have to use their card to circulate the items, thus signifying  the “need” for even more public  funding? And why the use of bold text as a rhetorical tool? Was spokesperson Rhonda Sewell expecting to be questione about the necessity of video-gaming?

Libraries in the state of Ohio suffered significant blows in the governor’s last two budget adjustments. Our local library system was quick to respond with an advocacy plot,  petitioning library users to call or write the state reps and the governor to demand more money for the library. Along with this came the dire news that the libraries would not be able to offer the programming they always have. Hours would be limited. They would not be able to purchase the volume of  books, CDS, DVDS, that we had grown accustomed to…

But they have funding for video games and the systems that run them? It’s all good for the kids, they’ll tell you–fostering community, engaging them in problem-solving, improving their hand-eye corrodination, 

I argue that had the library stuck to its traditional mission–a public source of information–rather than an entertainment venue and/or computer lab, it would not be so strapped today. I admit that I have benefitted from borrowing vdeos/DVDs and CDs without charge for years and years, but is that really the library’s mission? To provide community access to feature-length films? Don’t get me wrong: Funds used for expanding the film section could have beeen relegated to media, educational  media that is more difficult for the average citizen to access, like independent documentaries, for example. These would be more in keeping with a library’s mission than circulating  The Star Wars Trilogy.

I was shushed plenty of times by those Draconian librarians at the Point Place branch. It directed me back to my task and reinforced the idea that we need quiet to read and to absorb ideas. The library doesn’t seem to be the place for that anymore. But if not there, where?

The Power of the Pen

I stopped in Borders today with no intention of grabbing anything in particular. When my son wandered over to the Young Adult table, I decided to  look for a couple of texts that were on my Christmas list, but didn’t show up under my tree…and none were available in store.

So, I ended up picking up a copy of The Federalist, which is available online. This Modern Library edition is edited by Robert Scigliano, a Boston College political-science professor. His substantial introduction to the papers provides background that I wouldn’t get from the online versions, and an interesting perspective on some of the controversies surrounding authorship of the 85 commentaries.

From  this intro, I gleaned something of significance to my teaching this semester that I hadn’t before considered. My students rarely understand the power  writing can have. Most consider it something that they do in exchange for a grade. It is quite a struggle to convince them that to write is to create knowledge, to express, and to participate in civic discourse.

I plan to use The Federalist Papers to demonstrate the significance of argumentative writing to their lives. I won’t assign them as reading, but I plan to provide them as an example–Alexander Hamilton had a problem. He had to convince the state delegates to ratify the Constitution forming a national government. If they did not, each state would be completely self-governed.

Hamilton and other Federalists had had no luck convincing the hold-out states, so he brainstormed and came up with a plan to write a series of newspaper pieces  that would, “…present a full discussion of the merits of the proposaed constitution in all its relations.”

He enlisted John Jay and James Madison to co-author in their areas of expertise…and the plan worked. By the power of the pen, the citizens and state delegates were persuaded by the written word.  Without  persuasive writing, the United States of America would not exist.

Will my students be awed? Doubtful. But perhaps it will give them something to think about as they pen their own arguments.

Helen Pleads for Personal Responsibility

This is a cross-post from Swampbubbles.com

From the Toledo Blade Letters to the Editor: November 22, 2009

Headline: Let sick workers stay home

As a nation and a region, we are battling uniquely difficult circumstances created by a harsh economic recession and a national health emergency — the spread of the H1N1 flu.

Call it a request or a suggestion, but to avoid having one problem compound the other here in Lucas County, we’d like all workers to be able to stay home when they’re sick with the flu.

It is recommended that all workers with influenza stay home until they are well, which is generally considered to be 24 hours without a fever without the use of aspirin, Motrin, etc. All told, those infected with H1N1 or “swine flu” could need several days to recover.

About 40 percent of all private-sector employees in the United States do not have paid sick days — or the ability to recover from illnesses like swine flu without losing chunks of income or their jobs in general. We don’t know exactly what that number is here in Toledo and Lucas County, but low-income and part-time employees typically do not have paid sick days, and about 23 percent of Toledo residents had incomes below the poverty level in 2007.

If a significant portion of our workforce continues to come to work for fear of losing income or even their jobs, this could result in many more colleagues, fellow workers, and employers becoming ill. This could turn a controllable situation into a major problem for a company.

And if those without paid sick days stay home, a bad local economy gets worse.

The Centers for Disease Control is advocating businesses to adopt flexible or nonpunitive leave policies to help combat the swine flu. We second that notion and would like to see it taken a step further.

If possible, we’d like to see all Lucas County businesses offer their employees three paid sick days during this flu season. It’s not for us to decide the mechanics of such a procedure, but if CEOs and company owners can find a way to make their employees feel better about staying home with the flu, they will in effect help to cure two ills that are plaguing our community.

Ben Konop
Lucas County Commissioner

Dr. David Grossman
Toledo-Lucas County Health Commissioner

Helen Writes a Similar letter, which wasn’t published:

Dear Working Men and Women of Lucas County:

As a nation and a region, we are battling uniquely difficult circumstances created by a harsh economic recession and a national health emergency — the spread of the H1N1 flu.

Call it a request or a suggestion, but to avoid having one problem compound the other here in Lucas County, we’d like all workers to be able to stay home when they’re sick with the flu.

It is recommended that all workers with influenza stay home until they are well, which is generally considered to be 24 hours without a fever without the use of aspirin, Motrin, etc. All told, those infected with H1N1 or “swine flu” could need several days to recover.

About 40 percent of all private-sector employees in the United States do not have paid sick days — or the ability to recover from illnesses like swine flu without losing chunks of income or their jobs in general. We don’t know exactly what that number is here in Toledo and Lucas County, but low-income and part-time employees typically do not have paid sick days, and about 23 percent of Toledo residents had incomes below the poverty level in 2007.

If a significant portion of our workforce continues to come to work for fear of losing income or even their jobs, this could result in many more colleagues, fellow workers, and employers becoming ill. This could turn a controllable situation into a major problem for a company.

And if those without paid sick days stay home, a bad local economy gets worse.

If possible, we’d like to see all Lucas County residents put aside a portion of their paycheck that they could live on in the event that they need sick days during this flu season. It’s not for us to decide the mechanics of such a procedure, but one suggestion might be to curtail unnecessary spending such at the newspaper or cable-TV subscription, cigarettes, sodas, processed and convenience foods.

If you do so, you will in effect help to cure two ills that are plaguing our community: H1N1 and the other illness that is even more deadly–the entitlement philosophy.

The Cool Kids Get All The Breaks

Is President Obama taking the appropriate action to protect our troops and interests in Afghanistan? Is he making appropriate diplomatic choices while visiting with Asian leaders? Did he really think through his decision to try the 911 hijackers in New York City? Is he making flippant and irresponsible statments about the inevitability of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s conviction? Is he doing what he can to revise and negotiate a health care reform bill that will not bankrupt the country and burden our future generations?  

Who the hell cares? According to USA Today, he is the hippest cat in America!

Get a load of this graph from a November 3 article:

“President Obama may not have delivered on all the policy changes he promised since his election a year ago, but he and his family have brought dramatic social change to the nation’s capital and to the country’s collective image of its first family — and not just because they’re the first African Americans in charge at the White House.”

 While I see how the family has changed the image of the first family, I can’t think of  any “dramatic social change” the Obama’s have  brought.

The article details all the cool things the Obamas do, like hosting poetry slams, hiring Stevie Wonder,  Fergie,  and the Foo Fighters to entertain at their house, and they go to Paris and Martha’s Vineyard as a family! The first couple use iPods! She Twitters! He is addicted to his Blackberry.  She has a Facebook page.

 They go tho their kids soccer games. They work out….and they go out on the town… a lot.

If he got any cooler, he’d be able to bump Johnny Depp from the People Magazine Sexiest Man Alive throne.

The fact is, we all take our kids to soccer games, and we love or iPods, and social-networking tools. We travel with our families, and though we can’t have big-name acts play at our parties, we can entertain with their music. Obama is no cooler than the rest of us. The only difference between us and him is his success or lack thereof in his job, and his approval rating.  Hard-working Americans can sit at my cool table. Until The President proves himself worthy, he’ll have to find another spot in the cafeteria.

Congratulations, Mayor-Elect Bell!

After what amounted to be a pretty boring race, Mike Bell won an office, complete with shower, on One Government Center’s lofty 22nd floor.

January can’t come soon enough for Toledo, a city sorely in need of  real leadership, some new blood, and a fresh perspective.

—–

And while we wait patiently for the changing of the guard, I’ll share a Mike Bell story.

I have a friend who is more than a bit smitten with the former Fire Chief. She would sigh at the mere mention of his name, and when we worked together ages ago, was literally giddy when he visited our office for a get-together.  She had at least one press photo of Bell as a pin-up on her bulletin board.

A few years later, she and her hubby were at Home Depot, looking for smoke detectors to install in their first home.  As they approached the  display, they noticed a man looking over the smoke detectors. They discussed the many options out loud, uncertain about which was best. The man in the aisle selected a smoke detector from a hook and turned to them–the man was my friend’s celebrity crush…none other than Chief Bell, who told the couple, ” This is the one you want…” and handed them the  model he recommended.

I do believe my friend was speechless…