Monthly Archives: February 2008

Community Archives Workshop in Los Angeles

For any readers who are in Los Angeles – or more broadly as a discussion prompt for anyone interested in community-based archives

I’m helping to coordinate a workshop on skills for community archives on Saturday, March 1st, at the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research (SoCal Library), located at 6120 S. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, (www.socallib.org), from 11am to 2pm. The Los Angeles Radical Reference group (www.radicalreference.info) is hosting this workshop to teach basic archival skills for community and activist groups. I’ll be leading the workshop alongside two incredible L.A. colleagues doing work in libraries, archives and community organizing.

We’ll use the workshop to begin processing a collection held by the SoCal library: records from the (now defunct) Los Angeles-based Communities Against Police Aggression. We’re especially excited to welcome current activists interested in learning more about these records. We’re hoping that this can foster ongoing cooperation between the SoCal Library, L.A.’s Radical Reference librarians, and community activists.

Some food for discussion/thought: are there others reading this who have worked on fostering collaborations between archives (or libraries) and activist groups? Can historical records be of benefit to the current work of activists? We’ll be talking about this more on Saturday, but I’d love to hear virtually from far-flung archivists or others with experience in this area.

-Katie

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Filed under archives, community development

Brand Sponsorship of YA Novels?

As a major YA novel fan, this made me want to cry.

A NYT article this week discusses what happened with the innovative and bestselling “Cathy’s Book” and what is in the plans for a new tween series, “Mackenzie Blue.”

After Running Press/Perseus Books, publishers of Cathy’s Book, revealed that they had agreed to have the characters wear particular brands/lines of makeup in the novel, they experienced a big backlash from public advocacy groups and authors alike. The Press has issued a revised paperback edition with the specific product references removed.

The Cathy’s Book fiasco would feel like a victory if there weren’t other attempts – such as Mackenzie Blue – waiting in the wings. Harper Collins has hired not an author, but a marketing executive to write these books. A marketing exec who specializes, of course, in marketing to teens and pre-teens. *shudder* The NYT article quotes this woman explaining how the partnerships will work:

Ms. Wells said she would not change a brand that she felt was at the core of a particular character’s identity merely to cement a marketing partnership. “Mackenzie loves Converse,” she said, referring to the series’s heroine and the popular sneaker brand she favors. “Does Converse want to work with us? I have no clue. But that doesn’t negate the fact that Mackenzie loves Converse.”

However, when asked what she would do if another sneaker company like Nike (one of her clients) wanted to sponsor the books, she said, “Maybe another character could become a Nike girl.”

Oh, well, that’s a relief! For a moment there I was worried that corporate sponsorships might influence content! (<–sarcasm) (…also, does it skeev you out too to hear the phrase “a brand…at the core of a particular character’s identity”? I’m all for realism in teen books, and I understand that some young – or old – people identify strongly with a particular brand, but seriously now, a brand should not be at the core of every character. That is not realism; that is advertising.)

As a a librarian, parent and book reviewer, I have many concerns about product placement in books for youth. Will authors eventually be expected to write in specified products to their stories, in order to get a publishing contract with a major press? How will we know about these sponsorship deals? Presumably all publishers won’t be (haven’t been?) as forthcoming about their “sponsorship” agreements as Running Press.

    And what can we do to send a strong message back to publishers that we do NOT approve of such meddling in our YA literature?

    When I teach college courses in Women’s/Gender Studies, I always sneak in media literacy stuff. Learning how to read and question health reporting, the sad state of our media “democracy” these days, what is “net neutrality,” etc. Invariably, many students are shocked and appalled after reading an article about product placement in TV shows. What does this say to me? Educated, bright, young Canadians – even those who choose to take elective courses that focus on critical thinking – have no idea about all the marketing that surrounds us.

    Like many librarians I am a bit of a bibliophile.  Books are sacred things, and somehow the idea of novels becoming as corrupt and marketing to our youth as much as television upsets me. Can we do something about this? Exclude books from the running for awards if they have paid product placement or some such, perhaps?

    And what of book buying for libraries? When the “select for literary quality” philosophy bumps up against the “give them what they want” ideology for collection development, does product placement in books ever cause them to be removed from a list? Should school libraries, who do have some responsibility to act “in loco parentis” eschew sponsored books? Is this different from commercial popular books like those modeled on TV shows, toys, etc.? (It feels different, somehow, because it’s more sneaky.)

    Other than the makeup fiasco, Cathy’s Book sounds like an interesting concept…but should I not read it on a moral stance? Fortunately, I checked my local library catalogue and it appears that they have bought the revised, paperback edition. But what if the publisher was brash enough to refuse to offer a non-commercial edition?

    Off to tear my hair out now…right after I put a hold request on Cathy’s Book.

    -Greyson

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    Filed under media democracy, privatization, publishing, school libraries

    Is Microsoft learning to share? Yeah, right…

    I first read about Microsoft announcement to release Windows code in La Jornada, a Mexican newspaper. Microsoft hace públicos los códigos de programación de Windows [Microsoft makes public the programming code for Windows]. By the time anybody reads this post, this will be all over the news (see CNET News, BBC, CBC, CNN) .

    These seem to be the main reasons for Microsoft’s “generous” offer to share:

    • The ongoing investigation by anti-trust regulators at the European Commission: this is something that they are definitely worried about. Microsoft has already lost a previous anti-trust appeal.
    • The upcoming vote on OOXML (Office Open XML) for ISO standardization (Feb 25-29 2008): Some of the issues with this format is that it would mandate the use proprietary technology – Windows Metafile. As the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre (U of Toronto) suggest “…energy would be better spent in the ongoing effort to improve the existing ISO ODF standard (with which OOXML would overlap and compete if it is adopted).” Microsoft is unlikely to do this since ODF is the standard used by Open Office, the free open source office suite that continues to attract users and therefore is starting to be a competitor for Microsoft Office.

    The pledge to offer free access to some of Microsoft software is still vague:

    1. ensuring open connections
    2. promoting data portability
    3. enhancing support for industry standards
    4. fostering more open engagement with customers and the industry, including open source communities [Source:Microsoft PressPass]

    During the press conference where this was announced it was also mentioned that “Microsoft is providing a patent covenant not to sue open source developers for development, or noncommercial distribution of implementations of these protocols” so, theoretically, they will not go after developers any more… or that is the theory anyway.

      I don’t know why but keep coming up with analogies with organic farming… I’m thinking: Is Microsoft’s “open source” the equivalent of industrialized organic farming?

      Note: In the last couple of days I also came across another sample of Microsoft “generosity”: it’s donation of $3 Million to the Library of Congress (of course, the donation is in products and services). It seems like a very nice way to promote Silverlight, their flash-like application. See:

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      Greater Victoria Library Lockout

      This type of library website might be an all too familiar sight for residents of British Columbia, one of four Canadian provinces without pay equity legislation.

      Just a few months after Vancouver librarians returned to the job after a strike, Greater Victoria’s nine public library branches are now closed indefinitely, leaving the public without services thanks to the lockout of almost 300 unionized workers.

      It all began on September 7, when, after contract negotiations that had already been dragging on for eight months stalled, the union began escalating strike actions: rotating strikes, lunch hour closures, and waiving fines and fees for patrons.

      No, on second thought, scratch that. It began over a decade ago, when, as part of an agreement that ended a 1992 strike, the GVPL board and CUPE 410 agreed to compare library jobs with comparable other city jobs and reclassify them to achieve pay (gender) equity between equivalent jobs. The “due date” on this agreement was extended from 1994 to 1996…and today in 2008 still has not been completed.

      Oh, well, but really, it goes back waaay farther than that…to the concurrent feminization of the profession and market uptake of the Ford Motor Company’s $5/day “family wage” ideology — for male workers only. But that’s a topic expansion for another post, I suppose (the to-do list for the SJL blog just keeps growing…).

      Back to 2008: Key issues in the current labour dispute in Victoria are…wait for it…treatment of auxiliaries and pay equity! Shocked aren’t you? Is it just me, or is this almost deja va all over again?

      Weighing on my mind, also, is the issue of the Labour Relations Board telling library staff they cannot waive fines for patrons. Waiving fines when appropriate is important autonomy for library workers to have, in terms of institutional accessibility to poor, young, and other socially marginalized members of the community. While it could be argued that a campaign of mass fine-waiving to the tune of ~$50,000/month is a different issue from considering individual cases, I could say we are in slippery-slope territory with this one.

      The CUPE local 410 website is keeping us posted. Today is day 415 without a contract, day 166 since strike actions began, and day 3 since the lockout began. The Overdue.ca website has a bunch of background info on the pay equity promise in Victoria, including a comparison study done in 2000 that shows the disparity between library jobs and comparable city hall jobs. Unsurprisingly, it’s the lowest paid/lowest status jobs (pages) that get screwed the most.

      Let’s speak in solidarity with our library sistren.*
      -Greyson
      *Yes, sistren is a word, albeit an archaic one. Brethren just didn’t sound right when talking about pay equity, you know, and according to AskOxford.com, sistren was the Middle English equivalent of brethren that has been “revived” by some feminists, so have at it.
      Follow-up post can be found here.

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      Filed under gender, labour issues, The Profession

      Social Justice in The American Archivist (!)

      I’ve been home with the flu, which has provided time to catch up on some reading (ok, also television. But that’s not for this blog.) The latest issue of The American Archivist crossed my desk about a week ago, and I was pleased to see an article worth writing about here: Randall Jimerson’s “Archives for All: Professional Responsibility and Social Justice.”

      But first, a note. I’d love to link to this article here, but despite the fact that this is supposed to be the first issue of AA published online, I can’t find the online content anywhere. Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s the archivists, but I had no success finding their new online holdings.

      Even if the article is available digitally, it’s still locked down for three years to subscribers (SAA members). Because it’s not widely available, I think it’s even more important to draw attention to Jimerson’s article. Jimerson is a former president of the Society of American Archivists and the editor of one of the major anthologies used in archival education. The fact that he’s writing about social justice and archives is a big step for the Archival Establishment in the U.S. (notoriously slow to wake up to archives and social justice – the Australians and Canadians are way out ahead of us.) So, first, three cheers for a social justice article in The American Archivist!

      Jimerson addresses some aspects of social justice in archives quite well. He’s eloquent and thorough on archives’ role in accountability: a hot topic right now considering ongoing U.S. government recordkeeping scandals. He also revisits amazing and important work done by U.S. and international archivists, including ongoing attempts to use records to hold the U.S. government responsible for the Tuskegee syphilis study, and Verne Harris’ work using records to bring justice to oppressed groups after apartheid in South Africa.

      Jimerson also makes a great argument against the supposed, impossible neutrality of archivists and archivists. He couches this argument, however, in a discussion of the difference between neutrality and “objectivity.” This difference seems a bit contrived to me. Jimerson would like to see archivists be objective rather than neutral, but the small difference between these terms seems like a semantic distinction that will not translate well into practice. Archival objectivity may be just as impossible as archival neutrality. I’d like to see archivists own their biases, limited standpoints, and political agendas, and better, mitigate them by increasing non-archivist participation in records collection and description. I’m not sure that calling for ‘objectivity’ is so different from calling for neutrality.

      My major criticism of the article, however, arises when Jimerson gets to the “diversity” part of his platform. Jimerson calls for creating “racial, ethnic and community-based repositories” (p. 266) and “collecting and preserving the records of ordinary people,” (p. 269) which I support and advocate. But creating more collections that document people of color is the end of Jimerson’s vision of diversity. There is no talk of the marginalization of existing “diverse” collections within current repositories; of the political economy of funding for “diverse” collections; of the power imbalances when outsider archivists decide what records to collect and describe; of the ethics of removing collections from creating communities and placing them in elite institutions. There is also no discussion of documenting the ever-shifting nature of race, ethnicity and identity (hardly static entities), no discussion of democratizing participation with archival materials, and no discussion of the risks of tokenizing through “diversity” collecting.

      Calling for “diversity” is not a nuanced view of archival social justice; it’s an easy platitude. Archivists must move away from advocating diversity in favor of rethinking and transforming archival practice. We must question – and then reconfigure – entrenched structures of inequitable cultural collection, description, and preservation.

      -Katie

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      Filed under archives, racism, The Profession

      Toward a Canadian National License to the Cochrane Library

      Calling all Canadians!

      The Canadian Cochrane Network and Centre (CCNC) has created an online petition asking the federal government of Canada to purchase a national license to the Cochrane Library, a cornerstone of evidence based medicine, that includes their famous collection of “gold standard” systematic reviews of health interventions.

      The Cochrane Library, as health librarians will know, is one of the top go-to resources when a patient or professional has questions about treatments for a health condition, among other uses. Tens of thousands of Canadians access the abstracts but cannot get the full-text each year.

      According to the CCNC, half the world’s population already has free access to the library, as access is free in “the world’s poorest countries” and several other countries already purchase national access to the resources (Australia, England, Finland, Ireland, India, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Poland, Scotland, Spain, Sweden and Wales – and there is currently a movement toward pan-European licensing as well).

      Some Canadian provinces already provide universal access, or access to all affiliated health care professionals, but a national license would increase equity in access to health information. Due to economies of scale, a national license would cost only 1.5 cents per Canadian each year – much more efficient than our current patchwork system of provinces, universities, libraries, etc. buying licenses for only their users.

      Similar to how many electronic resource licenses are being negotiated at increasingly aggregated levels (local postsecondary consortia, provincial networks, regional library councils…), national licensing just makes sense – particularly for geographically disparate smallish populations like Canada, and for resources that are highly valuable to the public as well as expert users.

      The Canadian Health Libraries Association / Association des bibliothèques de la santé du Canada has endorsed the petition, writing:

      The Cochrane Library is universally recognized as one of the best sources of high-quality, research-based clinical information that exists. However, at present, there is inequitable access to this resource in our country. The first line of the Canadian Health Libraries Association/Association des bibliothèques de la santé du Canada (CHLA/ABSC) statement of values reads: “CHLA/ABSC members believe that informed decisions should be based on the best knowledge available”. To that end, CHLA/ABSC endorses this petition circulated by the Canadian Cochrane Network and Centre to garner support for government-funded national licensing of this essential resource.

      With access to the Cochrane Library, CHLA/ABSC believes that all Canadians – health care professionals, policy members, and the general public alike – will be in a better position to make ‘informed decisions based on the best knowledge available.’ Such licensing would move Canada one step closer to establishing a National Network of Libraries for Health (NNLH), an endeavour our Association, working through its NNLH Taskforce, has committed much time and many resources.

      The petition is open for signing until May 8, so please do go sign it.

      I would also encourage you to pass it along to other lists, organizations – if you have a connection with your provincial art therapists, speech-language pathologists, etc., they may readily see the value of universal access to the Cochrane Library.

      I know it’s hard to know if online (or any) petitions do any good, but recent Canadian experience with copyright reform seems to indicate that they might sway political will.

      And, for the USAmericans out there, is there any talk of US National licensing of such resources? I’d love to know. I haven’t heard any, but I am not exactly in the MLA loop these days.

      -Greyson

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      Filed under Health

      Caffeine & Miscarriage News: Health Reporting or Marketing?

      You may recall that a week ago there were a gazillion headlines proclaiming that even low levels of caffeine had been confirmed to cause miscarriage. A typical headline was something along the lines of “Caffeine doubles miscarriage risk.”

      As a health information professional and a women’s health professor, I was frantic to track down the article from which all this hullabaloo came. Many of the articles mention the name of a study author, and several state that the study was conducted by Kaiser Permanente. It doesn’t take a librarian long to Google Kaiser’s press release, dated January 21, nor to deduce that (as usual) the reporters had just taken the press release at face value without pursuing the actual study.

      Knowing that telling women, particularly new mothers, what they should and shouldn’t do is a favourite pastime of US medicine, I was naturally skeptical that the actual study could speak as definitively as the press release/news coverage regarding the risks of caffeine in pregnancy. The press release as well as many of the news articles all stated that the findings had been published in “the current online issue” of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Since my home institution has a subscription to said journal, I expected to be able to pull it immediately.

      Ha!

      I searched the journal by title, by author, article-by-article in the current issue, in the online exclusives/preprints…nothing. I waited a day and tried again. After fully striking out in my search, I consulted two other librarians, both of whom were equally confounded. This was validating in terms of my search skills but not so helpful in terms of being able to determine whether the headlines were regarding a groundbreaking study or just the usual overblown hooey.

      Finally, one of my favourite bloggers, Sandy Szwarc, BSN, RN, CCP, who writes the Junkfood Science blog, wrote about this problem. It turns out this was probably some really nasty marketing on the part of somebody. The press release was sent out ahead of the actual publication of the article (but the language in the PR makes it sounds like it has been published), so no scientists or doctors could critique or refute the study or related over-inflated headlines.

      Disgraceful.

      I am not aware of this type of thing being common practice – issuing a misleading press release before the actual article is available to subscribers – but I guess it’s good to be aware that it happens. This is the type of headline I would expect to get reference questions about. This is also the kind of fearmongering that sticks with people – and it’s aimed right at people scared of miscarrying or hoping to have some sort of control to avoid a miscarriage.

      The typical news consumer has neither the time for nor the access to read most of the medical studies reported upon in their local news outlet. Even if they had access, if the study was published OA for example, most people don’t have the training to identify all the forms of study bias, lousy statistical methods, etc. Denying health consumers any chance at balanced or accurate health reporting by a) issuing a press release ahead of the actual study (Kaiser Permanente) and b) jumping at a chance at an early scoop over an accurate article (media outlets) is unacceptable.

      I, for one, am sending an angry email to Kaiser Permanente (copying AJOG) about this.

      Here’s Szwarc’s article – containing context for the study and an explanation of common pitfalls in this type of research, as well as analysis of what went down with this particular article (in terms of spin and actual science in the article), “It’s not nice to scare the mothers: the latest miscarriage scare.”

      The AJOG article, “Maternal caffeine consumption during pregnancy and the risk of miscarriage: a prospective cohort study,” appears to be freely available for the time being, at least, here. AJOG says it is to be published in the March 2008 issue of the journal.

      -Greyson

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      Filed under Health