Monthly Archives: June 2008

By the way

If anyone was wondering, you can apparently get a bunch of new blog traffic if you write about both Harry Potter and naked human vaginas.

Is that disturbing?

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Filed under publishing, technology

Further thoughts on the POPLINE debacle: what went right?

Rachel Walden’s follow-up post on POPLINE has given me a kick in the pants to get moving on my own follow-up post. (Yes, the one that I alluded to months ago…)

I’ve been thinking about the POPLINE debacle. While Rachel rightly points out that all is not perfectly resolved, and we await more answers, in general I’ve been wondering about what went so darned right.

Yes,I know I’ve been one of many ranting about what went wrong – i.e. USAID anti-abortion policies interfering with access to information – but what went right is a different question all together. Considering the positive is something I don’t get to ponder a lot on this blog, so indulge me here.

To recap, for anyone not following along in April: A librarian noticed that abortion was no longer a searchable term in the database and sent out an email about it. The email was passed along on various health librarian and feminist listservs and public outcry was raised. Who-knows-how-many of us emailed the POPLINE admins and blogged it with outrage, and within two days the dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health issued a public statement assuring the world that this would be rectified and investigated.


So…as I asked before, what went right here? Why were we successful in calling attention to this issue, and getting it addressed so swiftly? Why did this work fairly well, when in comparison the Canadian Health Network was shut down after months of protest by health librarians, a petition, multiple high-profile newspaper articles, and various other media attention? I’ve been pondering this, trying to figure out what we can do in the future to make our information resources more like POPLINE and less like the CHN, and these are the elements that I’ve come up with thus far:

  • US vs. Canada: The US is generally more political & inflammatory, and Canadian librarians will jump on a US database issue, while 99% of the US generally forget that Canada exists or is within the scope of the ALA
  • POPLINE is housed at/maintained by a single institution with important people who could be embarrassed at the top of the chain of command vs. the CHN, which was, as I understand it, purposively built on a distributed model
  • Specific interest vs. general resource: It’s hard to argue than another resource could easily replace POPLINE, as there aren’t really other reproductive health focused databases like it (are there?), and – however their scope or quality (attirbutes understood by librarians but not everyone) may vary – there are other websites that aim to be broad consumer health resources. It may also be significant that POPLINE is not really for everyday use of the general public, but more for scholars and health professionals.
  • The scope of POPLINE, while specifically focused, had broad interdisciplinary appeal (while reproductive rights info access was damaged by CHN removal, as shown in my previous “ABC” post, POPLINE is obviously related to reproductive rights, and thus feminists signed on the campaign en masse: POPLINE was discussed on WMST-L, while the CHN never was)

I know there are more differences that may have been important in determining how things went down. Feel free to tell me what I am missing. My mind is now spinning on how future projects can be built in a way that helps a threat play out in a POPLINE manner, not a CHN one.


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Filed under censorship, gender, Health, The Profession

The very small silver lining to Bill C-61: Amazing public outcry

Even though I feel pulled in a million directions at the moment, I could not let the weekend pass without some sort of post on the new Canadian Copyright bill, C-61 (aka Canadian DMCA). Just in case anyone reading this hasn’t been amply informed about the supreme badness of C-61, here’s a link to Industry Canada’s explanation of and fact sheets on the proposed changes, and another one to Michael Geist’s special article on the “fine print” of the act.

What has been neat to see, in the shadow of this terrible proposed legislation, has been the public protest against the bill. Bill C-61, looking pretty much like we all feared it would, was introduced Thursday morning. With no public consultation, yet several meetings with members of the entertainment industry and the US Government, a near copy of the US Digital Millenium Copyright Act was no surprise.

Within an hour I was getting questions about C-61 at work. The CLA was on it in a flash with their press release. The Fair Copyright for Canada Facebook group (link requires facebook login, unfortunately) gained 10,000 new members (adding to the existing ~40,000) overnight. You couldn’t turn on CBC Radio 1 without hearing someone being interviewed about the bill, and the show Search Engine began a cool webpage asking listeners to write in with their questions and conundrums about the proposed legislation. Neat and evenm fun responses have popped up, including that collaborative video of people proclaiming to be “Copyright Criminals.”

Call me unduly optimistic after a sunny neighborhood block party this evening, but frankly, to my jaded and weary eyes, this outpouring of protest is heartening. It’s not just librarians who care about copyright. On the contrary, suddenly copyright is this hot topic that anyone ‘in the know’ seems to have an opinion on.

And, of course, Michael Geist has been tirelessly working on the issue. Watch his blog for the latest news, links to coverage, creative responses, opportunities to make your voice heard, and his own legal analysis of the legislation and its consequences.


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Bill C-61 (or how we all became criminals)

About 6 months ago I started a post about copyright legislation in Canada after reading an article in CBC news “Copyright reform bill critics eye victory .” I got sidetracked and never got it finished, just got to vent but didn’t add enough content, then things sort of got quiet for a bit. This is what I had written:

It looks like one more attempt to have a tougher copyright law in Canada has been quashed, but when are we going to get a decent proposal for copyright law reform that looks at the interest of the public instead of corporations? When are we getting a law that allows fair use for educational and non-commercial purposes? I personally want a copyright law that allows me to make copies of what I’ve paid for, a law that allows my public library to provide movies for our multicultural communities even if it means disabling DRMS. I want to stop paying a levy on cds that does not go to the artists.

Well, things are not looking better now, things are pretty grim. Now we know that Prentice, Ministry of Industry, was not consulting with Canadians, or at list not with the general public, after realizing that we were starting to make noise and organizing things such as Fair Copyright for Canada Facebook group. Little did we know that Mr. Prentice was just retreating to gather strength and plan an unexpected atack  (as in there was no consultation with the public) in the form of bill C-61.

I am looking at the official page for the “Copyright Reform Process” and my blood is about to boil. The lovely introduction is entitled “Government of Canada Proposes Update to Copyright Law: Balanced Approach to Truly Benefit Canadians.” Then, the short text explains to us how the bill ” introduces long-overdue and much-needed amendments to the Copyright Act that will bring it in line with advances in technology and current international standards.” The part this leaves out is how the reforms benefits anyone but Canadian individuals and seriously restricts our rights.

If you don’t feel like reading all or even part of this 57 page bill, check out their Fact Sheets. For example, in Education and Research Amendments it all sounds good until you get to the limitations. You would think this copyright amendment will finally take us out of the dark ages and allow ILL (interlibrary loan) delivery and reserve readings online, and use material for education as per fair dealing. Well, think again. You might do all these good things that will allow you do your work more effectively and serve students and researchers better… unless the material provider doesn’t want you to. If the material has digital locks, well, you are out of luck, because it is illegal for you to circumvent this technologies. Never mind these are actually infringing on your rights under fair dealing.

As far as I am concerned, those digital locks are the ones that are illegal and digital content producers, distributors and clearing houses should be the ones to be penalized. They want their stuff to be protected? Then they need to provide mechanisms for legal use such as for personal, educational and research purposes. How would the do that? I don’t know, but that should be their problem, not ours.

The media has been covering well what this bill will (or I hope, would) mean for Canadian consumers if it became law, as in the Globe and Mail’s “Ottawa gets tough with illegal downloaders,” and organizations such as Canadian Library AssociationCanadian Music Creators Coalition have express their disapproval. Michael Geist has written so far 7 posts on this bill since last Thursday and many other bloggers are covering this issue too. Particularly good is his The Canadian DMCA: A Betrayal. So go to any of these or all of them, read, get informed, get outraged and lets do something about it.


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Filed under copyright, technology, Uncategorized

Why I’m not a children’s/youth librarian (not right now, at least)

This may surprise some of you, but I went to library school with the full intention of becoming a youth librarian.

I had the perfect combination of elements to make a youth librarian, I thought. I was a former Head Start teacher, youth organizer, camp director, youth group facilitator and youth shelter worker. I like kids better than adults and especially love working with the people everyone loves to hate, “at-risk” or “high risk” youth. Add to all that a past in music and theatre, and a love of children’s – and particularly young adult – literature. Heck, I even had a kid of my own (which in effect means that every day in my life is storytime, so I might as well get paid for it). Yes, I figured my future was in public libraries, or maybe back in a non-profit, or verrry possibly in an academic library working with undergrads, first-generation or nontraditional students.

All this and yet, somehow, I ended up not a children’s librarian. It was so weird, the way it happened. I took lots of children’s services and children’s literature courses. I did a practicum in a great public library children’s department. I even got a student librarian job working on-call as a children’s librarian in a local library system. And then *boom* suddenly I had a great job as a not-children’s librarian.

How and why did this happen? Various reasons, which I think may take a while to unpack.

  1. No one around me valued children’s librarianship enough; not even the children’s librarians
  2. To become a full time youth librarian locally, it required starting from the bottom of a pecking order, and the bottom is not a family-friendly place to be
  3. I got very discouraged by the prevailing lack of social justice orientation of our youth services and my own feelings of social exclusion got in the way
  4. I just don’t have the energy to change all of the above right now in my life.

Regarding #1 above, the lack of value of children’s librarianship was expressed to me in so many ways, by almost everyone except my children’s librarianship professor (who was no longer a practicing librarian but a FT prof). Naturally, non-children’s folk looked down at youth work, as they do in most fields. The body of research on youth and information is rather disappointing, I found in grad school. Practically, libraries tended to limit how far you could ascend in the hierarchy of rank as a children’s librarian, no matter how many years of service or how great a job one did. When I got an academic job offer, supervising children’s librarians with whom I had previously been discussing employment acted really impressed and said of course I should take it. It was all very weird to me, someone who sees youth work as challenging and valuable.

Regarding #2, this is not entirely unique to public libraries, as we see variations on this theme of HR structure in academic libraries too. It seems less common in the special library world. I am strongly pro-union and see the value of job security – I’m not ashamed to admit I wish I had a little more of it myself – but I also see libraries as institutions self sabotaging by their strict policies of hiring from within which force most new entrants into the system to come in as part-time, temporary, or on-call librarians. Those who are unable or unwilling to enter the system in such positions have few opportunities to come in as mid-level librarians with regular jobs. And while it may be bourgeois of me, I’ve been a low-income single parent to a little kid, struggling to find affordable second-shift childcare, and you better believe it taught me to value regular hours and paycheques.

With regard to #3, what can I say about this? Working for social justice as an individual within a bureaucractic organization that does not share those values is exhausting. I’ve been there; you’ve probably been there too. I became a librarian to do social justice work and was shocked that so few of my colleagues shared that motivation. With the exception of special programs (generally time-limited, grant-funded and small) what I saw was good solid traditional children’s librarianship in the local area, and little effort/ability to reach beyond that. When I questioned this, both in library school and in public libraries, I was shamed. And I don’t even know if the librarians who shamed me realised that I was part of the group they were putting down. I think this point required its own post at a later date, so I’ll move along to the last point now.

#4. I read the above and feel sometimes like I “should” be out there fighting the good fight, reforming children’s librarianship. I have worn my self out in such battles before, though, and I am old enough to recognize that there are times in life when one can do that and times when it’s not a wise choice. My young family and my health are priorities right now. So I have found another way to fight a different “good fight” by doing public interest work elsewhere.

Right now I am completely happy with where I am. I have accepted that life often leads me down the most unlikely path, and I am loving and learning so much from health librarianship. I feel respected and treated well, which is a rare and wonderful thing in a job. I am working in the public interest, if not always directly with the public. I have met a lot of amazing people and learned tons from them. Doors I didn’t know I’d be interested in peeking through have opened to me due to my current position. And I have a job that is family-friendly; a very important quality while my child is young.

But every once in a while I do get a bee in my bonnet about getting back to work with kids, and working to make change in youth librarianship where I live. And at those times I think that someday, maybe someday, I will roll up my sleeves and jump back into that youth work I loved so much. I can only assume that if it is meant to be, the right opportunity will present itself one of these days – probably when I least expect it. We shall see.

If there are any youth librarians reading this, I am curious: have you noticed any of the above factors where you work? What have you done about it?

ETA – For aspiring youth librarians, what are your thoughts or plans regarding the state of children’s librarianship and social justice?



Filed under The Profession, youth