Radical Librarians in Ferguson and Beyond

A militarized police force – clad in body armor, helmets, and camouflage – shot rubber bullets and tear gas at the protestors. Children huddled in their houses, unable to sleep as their parents took turns watching the front doors for trouble, their father sitting next to a baseball bat just in case. The government called up the State police and National Guard, announced curfews, and closed governmental institutions.

This has been the majority of reporting in Ferguson. It is disturbing to be sure. Disturbing because this is not happening overseas, but in the suburbs of Saint Louis. Issues of justice, race, and economic disadvantage have been taken from an unspoken “issue” to the front of America’s consciousness. Yet in the images of protestors doused in gas, and armored police transports another story has emerged: the children of Ferguson are out of school.

Even though the nights are getting quieter the schools remain closed. This is not just a matter of a delayed school year, but for many of the low-income families this is a matter of food. A large percentage of Ferguson’s youth receive food assistance through the schools. If the schools are closed, these children go hungry. Hungry and trapped in their homes with the sounds of shots and riots outside.

The Florissant Valley Branch of the Saint Louis County Library and the local Ferguson Public Library stepped up to help. Yesterday I wrote about the Ferguson Public Library, but less has been said about The Florissant Valley Branch. Both libraries share coverage of the Ferguson-Florissant School District. Both have shown bravery and both show that librarians can be radical positive change agents.

Jennifer Ilardi, a student of mine, came into the Florissant Valley Branch Wednesday and decided to bring a variety of art supplies into the library’s auditorium so that parents could have some activities, get out of the house, socialize, and create. She also decided to order pizza. During a TV interview, She was prompted with “So you saw a need in the community. You saw a void.” She responded with “This is what libraries do. We supplement our educational system regularly with after school programs and summer programs. We provided free lunches all summer long through a collaboration with Operation Food Search because we recognize that a large portion of our community qualifies for free and reduced price lunches.”

The librarians plan on continuing this program all week long. Operation Food Search has agreed to continue the lunch program even though their original agreement had it ending on August 15th. The Magic House, a local children’s museum, has offered to bring in free interactive educational activities for students. Local artists have volunteered their services, as well, offering free magic shows and performances. Some of this collaboration was the library reaching out and part of it was others wanting to get involved. The important thing if that the library establish these relationships continuously which made easy to organize a response.

When I tweeted out some of this yesterday one librarian responded “a library always makes the difference!” While I love the activist spirit behind the tweet (the active voice that libraries MAKE a difference), I have to disagree with the comment for two reasons. One is a continuous rant of mine. Libraries are organizations or buildings, and can do nothing but exert gravity and shield you from the rain. It is librarians, and more broadly library staff that make the difference. It was a decision that Jennifer and her colleagues made to do something beyond being open. It was a choice to be there and help.

The other comment I have on this tweet is that sadly not all libraries do make a difference. Some librarians see an adherence to policy, or not taking sides, as a reason to step back from issues and outright breakdowns in the social order. Still others limit their views by asking, “how can a collection and reading address a problem of civil unrest?” Librarians and their libraries can make a difference, but to do so, they must hold a radical view of their profession and their communities.

Too many see the idea of a radical librarianship as a sort of extreme political partisanship. That is wrong. Radical librarians see librarianship as a chance to make a positive difference in their community. They see their mission to not simply promote reading, or to inform a community. Instead radical librarians, the kind we need, see their mission as the improvement of society. They see their role and the instruments of their institutions as engaging a community and addressing the issues that have exploded in Ferguson. Addressing these issues not with tear gas and rubber bullets, but through pizza, magic shows, and learning.

Some may see summer programs and juice boxes as distractions, or as weak tools in comparison to body armor, but they are wrong. An engaged community, a library dedicated to learning, and making a difference is a powerful deterrent to violence. The deterrent is not a threat of force, but the promise of opportunity and a better tomorrow.

I ask you to support the work and librarians of both Ferguson Public Library and the Florissant Valley Branch. Help through donating time, money, food, books, but also with your voice. Let them know that this is librarianship.

Posted in Beyond the Bullet Points, Expect More, New/Participatory Librarianship | 3 Comments

Ferguson Library

I have never been to Ferguson. I have never been to the Ferguson Library. I love the Ferguson Library.

Go look at this page:

http://abcnews.go.com/US/ferguson-library-refuge-adults-children-amid-strife/story?id=25050930

Now read this:

http://johnbeaudoin4.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/the-library-of-solace/

I read these right after re-reading my book Expect More for an upcoming project that starts with the Arab Spring and the modern Library of Alexandria being protected, and in essence reclaimed by protestors:

After the uprising had subsided, when President Mubarak had stepped down and the protestors were celebrating their victory around the country, not a window of the library had been broken, not a rock thrown against its walls. Why, in the midst of tearing down the regime, did the people of the nation protect the library?

My answer was that over the years the librarians had been a service to the community and become part of the community-not simply a service of a government that was seen as disconnected and corrupt. I go on to say the reason the library was not harmed was not because the librarians inside were exceptional, but rather that they did their job. Let me be clear, they were brave and brilliant, but to call them exceptional is to expect too little of every librarian. This was the bar, I argued, that librarians should strive towards.

When I tell this story to audiences and new students I often see some fear…”would I be expected to support a revolution or function in an uprising?” I make some passing joke and dismiss the problem.

Then the town of Ferguson exploded with a population at odds with a militarized police force. Then the schools were closed down. Then the right of assembly was suspended.

Then, the librarians of Ferguson did their job.

Then, as in Egypt, the librarians proved once again that a library is not a collection or a building, but a vital member of the community. Or, as the librarians of Ferguson put it much more eloquently: a library is family.

Librarians of Ferguson, thank you.

Posted in Beyond the Bullet Points, Expect More, New/Participatory Librarianship | Leave a comment

Bliss in the Moment

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Putting up a post that includes the words “bliss” and “optimism” in the midst of civil unrest in Missouri, rockets in Gaza, and bedlam in the Ukraine may seem a bit tone deaf. However, I feel it appropriate because: 1. It is about cancer and that excuses everything, 2. Adding to depressing news where you are nearly helpless to do anything about it doesn’t seem an appropriate response, and 3. Did I mention that it relates to cancer? Seriously, I think a decision to be happy and not helpless is a message we could all use right about now.]

IMG_5279On September 9th I will have another PET scan, just about 3 months after my previous scan. Fear not, this is a pre-planned event and part of the normal monitoring after a stem cell transplant. Assuming everything is clear the scans will become less frequent; PET scans will be replaced with less involved CAT scans, and so on. After about 5 years, if all goes well, there will be little monitoring of any kind.

Assuming all goes well.

That’s the trick, of course: all going well. Throughout two rounds of chemo and through the transplant I always hoped for things to go well… but often they didn’t. Coming up to a scan was a growing chorus of worry with a crescendo of doubt in an examination room moments before meeting with the doctor for results.

My clear scan in June was the same, and frankly I expected the summer to be relief from good news making an inevitable transition to doubt and worry for the upcoming scan. But a funny thing happened: I chose to have a cancer free summer. Not biologically of course, but in my mind, I wasn’t going to worry about what might be going on in my lymph nodes for the three months between scans. I rollerbladed for the first time in three years. I said yes to projects. I taught and I went on short trips. I got fat and furry and, well, I had a cancer free summer.

People asked during treatment if somehow I appreciated things more. Knowing that my time on Earth may be limited by cancer did I pay more attention to sunsets, blades of grass and such. Nope. I was too busy, or too sick, or too worried, or too tired, or, well, too cancer focused. I wrote an earlier piece about using cancer, and I did. I paid very close attention to my boys, my wife and such, but I was always paying attention because I had cancer. It is too fine a line between paying attention and paying attention while you still can.

I wrote an earlier piece on having optimism, and I was optimistic… but really, I was cautiously optimistic. The kind of cautious optimism that makes you smile as you re-check your life insurance policy and tuck a list of all your passwords for your wife into the safe.

These have all been things I have learned with cancer. This summer I learned something after cancer (or at least between…I’m still cautiously optimistic). I can make a decision to truly embrace the present. I decided to have a cancer free summer. Not to ignore reality, but rather to be joyful in the day. When I glide down the trail by Onondaga Lake I smile. The sky does indeed seem more brilliant and blue. The farmers market is a must for my Saturdays… not because it may be my last trip there, but because it is brimming with color and scents and it makes me happy.

This summer, this very day, I am genuinely happy. This summer has had its challenges, and I have had bad days, but I always return to a state of bliss. I am not living for the next scan, though I know full well that it is coming, and I know full well that it may not be clean. That is for the 9th not today. I am disappointed that I can’t go to the state fair this year with my compromised immune system. But you know what, it’s just a fair.

I wish I could tell you how to make a decision to enjoy your present. I hope it doesn’t take cancer to find this place. I also don’t know how long it will last. Is this just a summer, or can I continue to decide to be present and joyful? I hope so.

I know there are those who have used my previous missives as sermons. I have tried to look for some deeper meaning in my journey. I have tried to use pain to teach, uncertainty to give hope, and tragedy to call for action. Today’s sermon is not about deeper meanings, or tragedy, but perhaps one more lesson on hope. I hope for you to find joy in the moment. I hope you have the ability to choose to be happy. Be it the rainbow after the storm, or simply a respite before the next fight, I hope for you the bliss of simply living.

Posted in Biography, Cancer | 1 Comment

A “Pre-Announcement” for My Next Book: The Boring Patient

So what the heck is a pre-announcement? Well, it is really a call for help as I continue to explore self-publishing. I am looking for advice, help, crazy ideas, and thoughts in general from the library community on how we can best use my next book, The Boring Patient.

What’s The Boring Patient about? It is the story of my journey with cancer. Here’s a short excerpt from the first chapter:

Dear Heroic Noble Inspiring Cancer Survivor

Boring Book CoverThe first line of the first pamphlet I read after my diagnosis of cancer told me I was a survivor. I didn’t have to be cured to be a survivor, I guess just be breathing. This struck me as a pretty low threshold. But as you have probably already found out, there are a ton of stupid metaphors and assumptions around cancer.

Take “fighting cancer”…yeah, that’s what it feels like to lie in a bed asleep for 16 hours straight…fighting. Or, I love it when folks tell me I’m heroic. If anyone was given the choice to take drugs to extend their life wouldn’t they do it? That’s not heroic, it’s common sense. I hope, like me, you have made the brave decision to try not to die.

So what’s in here for you? I hope some comic relief. Seriously, humor has been the best medicine– other than, you know, actual medicine (that’s Seth MacFarlane’s joke I stole). You’re going to hear a lot about the importance of a “positive attitude.” Screw that. You have cancer and could die from it. Feel free to cry, scream, piss people off, and flip the bird to God (he can take it). I do have to tell you, however, that gets very tiresome after a while. Tiresome not for everyone else, who cares, but to yourself. So why not confuse everyone and be happy…besides they all have to laugh at your jokes now.

For those who regularly read my blog, the book is a lot more than just a compilation of my cancer related posts, but has the same spirit.

Anyway, back to my call for help.

We talk a lot about how libraries can be friends to authors. Can we use this book to demonstrate that? I don’t have the ability for a multi-city speaking tour, but I have Skype and I’m always open to good ideas. Would this be a chance to publish the book serially with a chapter a week on library websites? Maybe team up with a newspaper and a public library? Let the creative juices flow.

Right now the plan is to publish this as both a reasonably priced paperback and ebook (with possibly an audio book to follow) as I did with Expect More (more on that soon), my previous self-published book on librarianship for non-librarians. 5”x8” and 145 pages.

Thoughts? Use the comment section below, or email rdlankes@iis.syr.edu

Posted in Publications News | 6 Comments

Kindle Unlimited

I wrote the following post for the iSchool’s Information Space Blog. Thought folks here might find it useful.

Can I tell you why I’m so excited about Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service? Because, aside from all my publications with academic presses and journals, I am an independent publisher. My book, Expect More, was published as a physical copy and digital copy through Amazon’s tools. What’s better, I’m automatically part of Kindle Unlimited, and maybe this will get me more readers. You see, the vast majority of the 600,000 titles in Kindle Unlimited are self-published books.Want the top sellers in the New York Times list? Ah, go to a library.

Surprised that a professor of library and information science isn’t all that worried about the fate of libraries (mostly public libraries) in the light of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited launching it’s “Netflix for Books?” Don’t be. Amazon joins a pretty crowded field, including Overdrive,Scribd, and Oyster. What’s more, Amazon is leading with 600,000 items, where libraries have access to tens of millions of titles…seriously.

Perhaps, you may think, I am an ivory tower academic blind to the coming disruptive change…like when the Internet was going to put libraries out of business… then Google…then Netflix…then Yahoo! Answers. Here’s the plain truth: there is a HUGE disruptive change happening in libraries, and it is facilitated by things like Google and Kindle Unlimited. Libraries are shifting from collection-focused buildings to centers of innovation focused on communities. If you think of libraries as places filled with books, you are in for a bit of a shock. Any library that can be replaced by a $10 a month subscription to stuff SHOULD be replaced.

Kids watching a 3D printer working

Kids at the Fayetteville Free Library watch a 3D Printer in action. Image via 3ders.org.

Let me give you a small example of what I mean. My wife recently had to be out of town for 2 weeks, so I got single-father duty. The majority of those days we were at the library. We were there so the kids could 3D print iPhone cases for their friends, borrow games, and join Minecraft groups. Did they check out books? Sure, on our way out…if we had time. Why was the public library doing all of these things? To meet the library’s mission of improving their community through knowledge creation. My kids were learning through books, sure, but also video games, Do It Yourself (DIY) printing, and by interacting with other folks in the community. In the coming weeks, the same library is having DIY sessions on home improvement, including electrical work…I NEED that.

Now, this might seem a flippant response to a major technology mover. After all, was there nothing in Amazon’s move that worried me? Oh yes…hell yes if I’m allowed to swear on this blog. It terrifies me and should terrify you how Amazon is currently working to break publishers and pursue a monopoly in book sales. They are making information unavailable to their customers trying to improve their position in the market. They are making titles harder or impossible to find out of a drive to the bottom line, not the good of the people.

Comic depicting what would happen if big ISPs were allowed to charge for tiered internet access.

An example of the consequences of the end of Net Neutrality. Image via commoncause.org.

But honestly, that is nowhere near as scary as things like network neutrality, where Internet Service Providers are trying to figure out how to monetize your viewing habits and pick the winners and losers in new Internet services. And that, frankly, pales in comparison to digital sharecropping, where huge corporations get massive billion-dollar valuations based on the content and work of their “users.” I mean, who is using whom when YouTube gets bought by Google for over a billion dollars and not one video producer saw a dime?

So are there scary things going on? Yup? Thank God we have some folks who are in the information industry and base their work on century-old values.Thank goodness there are information professionals that continue to maintain an internationally-distributed network of local knowledge hubs dedicated to community engagement and free and fair access to the life blood of democracy: information. Thank goodness there are librarians who long ago realized that it is not the size of your collection, but the reach of your community that really matters.

By the way, if you have $10 a month lying around, try Marvel Unlimited. If you are a comic book fan it is fricken incredible.

Posted in Links | 2 Comments

New Librarianship MasterClass/MOOC Starts Monday

Just a reminder that the New Librarianship MOOC will be offered again starting on Monday.

Look here for more information: http://quartz.syr.edu/blog/?p=5819

Look here for self-registration information: http://quartz.syr.edu/blog/?p=5915

Posted in New/Participatory Librarianship, Teaching | 3 Comments

Innovation in the Country

“Innovation in the Country” Keynote for ILEAD USA.

Abstract: Innovation should look like Silicon Valley…if you serve Silicon Valley. Otherwise, it should look like your community.

I tried something different for this one…live video with on screen pop ups. Please let me know if you like it or how it could be better.

Screencast:

Innovation in the Country from R. David Lankes on Vimeo.

Posted in 2014, New/Participatory Librarianship, Presentation | 5 Comments