It is interesting, though perhaps not all that informative, to compare the recent article in the Toronto Star, heralding a new, golden age for the Toronto Public Library with the Times article more than a year ago regarding the public library in Maplewood, N.J. Soon after the article was published, Maplewood relented under the pressure by the American Library Association, parents, teachers, and youth advocates of every stripe to examine ways in which Library staff, and the town of Maplewood itself may have inadvertantly contributed to a noisy, chaotic environment. Efforts were made by the entire community to start getting serious about the public services in offers to its teens.
What both success stories illustrate is the power of youth participation in creating an environment that is at once fun, culturally rich and mutually supportive. One year later, it would be nice to see the Times follow up on its own story, but perhaps it is enough that the effect of the original report was to alert academics and consultants to a need for their services.
For my first entry in this blog, I will state what I hope to focus on in the coming year: namely, thinking about literacy and literacy services in urban environments, how class and race issues relate to this endeavor, and how public libraries – all libraries – are often found at the center of these questions in ways that can alternately contribute to and detract from the debate.
There will also be much attention paid to how new technologies are touted as both panaceas to the problems of education, and as scapegoats for an endless list of problems in our educational system. It will be interesting to see how daily news items that marvel at technological breakthroughs offer little in the way of solutions to the growing technology gap. It will be equally informative to dissect news items that demonize new technologies as the catalysts to a universal erosion of morals (either because they are not regulated properly, or because they are free for all to use, or because they illustrate an end of an era in the history of how we create and read media).
Of course there is middle ground, but there is more commonly an attempt by media to shape the discourse in the simplest terms possible, thus reinforcing the impression that technology is for the experts and practicality is for wimps.
So what else is this blog responding to? Here’s a short but ever-expanding list:
- The need for diversity and dedication amongst librarians in the inner-city.
- The need to dispel the perception that inner-city populations are not reading or not concerned with problems of media, literacy, and quality of culture and life in their communities.
- The need for library services to ever-growing immigrant populations.
- A desire to see children and young adults participating in their own education and literacy development.
- A desire to increase access to useful information, leisure, and community to the poor, homeless, and under-served in urban areas.
- A commitment to discuss this topic not in a hopeless, desperate way, but in a energetic, vital way that will invite discussion by all.
Wish me luck and drop a line…