Monthly Archives: April 2010

How times change: Finally a gay character in Archie

A number of years ago, when I was on the teen librarian track, I decided to explore the world of graphic novels. I’d never really read comics that weren’t featured in the newspaper before, but I knew they were growing in popularity, especially among youth.

This exploration led to a paper I wrote for Ann Curry‘s intellectual freedom class (one of my best and most useful library school classes), and eventually published a revision of in Collection Building. The paper was about censorship of GLBTQ content in graphic novels/comics for youth, and it taught me a lot about comparative Canadian-US history (especially regarding obscenity laws) as well as the comics publishing world.

You can’t research the history of comics in North America without learning about Archie. One of the things I learned along the way was that Archie is the apple pie of comic books. Archie is to kids’ comics as The Family Circus is to the newspaper funny pages — that is to say: benign, kind of boring, but “safe” according to certain centre-right societal norms. Archie was (and as far as I know still is) one of the only comics publishers to still carry the Comics Code Authority‘s seal of approval (designed in the 1950’s as a sign of wholesomeness in the face of concerns that comics were turning boys into sociopaths and criminals, and mostly abandoned by today’s publishers).

However, the writers of Archie have been shaking things up in the formerly homogeneous fictional town of Riverdale lately. First there was all the  hubbub about an Archie engagement. Then an interracial dating relationship (a huge deal in the world of Archie comics, which has put the kibosh on such storylines before) in the current issue. And now, apparently, the world of Archie will be getting it’s first gay character. The Archie fan forums are abuzz with the news.

Beyond inching Archie slightly closer to the modern era, and gratifying some unknown number of folks who write gay Archie fanfic (of which there is an impressive amount – I had no idea), the inclusion of a gay character in Archie comics really makes a statement that a gay character can be part of a wholesome comic world (you know, if, as in Archie’s world, he is an upstanding, straight-looking, blonde, white guy, at least).

Okay, so it’s incremental change. Reeeeally incremental. But, honestly, 4 or 5 years ago when I was writing my paper on queer content in kids’ comics and censorship, I never would have expected Archie to feature a gay character this soon. People challenge comics in library collection a lot, because they are visual. A male-male kiss depicted in Archie (not that I expect new Riverdale High student Kevin to have a boyfriend anytime soon, but the door is now open) would be a BIG DEAL. For uber-wholesome Archie to carry feature a heterosexual interracial kiss on the cover and now introduce a gay character…in the world of comics read by little kids, the change this represents should not be underestimated.


ps – I remain a casual reader of comics & graphic novels (although I never did manage to develop a taste for recreational reading of superhero comics or most manga, nor for the blandness of Archie comics), and am currently pretty excited at the boom in really great graphic novels or graphic-novel hybrids for pre-adolescents. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go check out Sticky Burr, Baby Mouse, and The Fog Mound asap!

ETA – A student emailed me to let me know about this well-written Slate article on the topic of the gay Archie character.

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Filed under censorship, Intellectual freedom, public libraries, racism, school libraries, youth

Missed Opportunities or Carpe Diem (Seizing the Moment)? Engaging with Our Communities

The other day I was at Tim Hortons – waiting for a ride.  I was sitting next to a group of middle aged (yes male) mechanics.  As a former farm kid, with a brother who is also a mechanic, I couldn’t help but be drawn into their conversation.  The content of the conversation was quite intriguing… it went something like this:

  • One of the guys was talking about the internet – and it sounded like the other three had not used computers very often.  The one who had used the internet was telling the others about everything you could get on the internet – books, maps (could even see yourself in your own back yard on Google maps), movies etc… The other guys were blown away.  They talked about not having read books in years…

The reason I share this brief anecdote with you is not to judge their knowledge of the internet – but to display how there are real people out in the community who are directly impacted by the information/digital divide.  In addition, I am guessing that many of them have not stepped into a library for years.

This of course, got me thinking: here libraries are, public institutions, some who have Chilton’s – a mechanics dream – and the digital divide is separating them from accessing this great resource … or else maybe another way of looking at this story is…. maybe since we have not stepped outside of the library and talked with middle aged mechanics, we have not heard about their needs.  Maybe Chilton’s is important to them, but maybe mapping programs, online movies etc. are just as important.  How many of these opportunities are we missing?  Maybe we need to have an honest discussion around how we engage with our communities?

This is just one example of possibly hundreds or even thousands of opportunities that libraries are currently missing out on.  How can we start discovering the needs from our local communities?  Would engaging them in different ways be a path to doing this?

I am guessing that if I asked most library staff if they engage with community – they would answer correctly – of course they do!  So the question really is, how do we engage with communities?  How do we define engagement.. and how are we pushing ourselves as library staff to try out new engagement techniques (building upon our current strengths) to try new ways of engaging with community.

When we think about how we are currently engaging with community, I would guess that most library’s staff across Canada would universally say we engage with community through:

  • informal discussions (e.g. at the circulation desk),
  • through programs at the branch, and
  • when we approach people to discover their information questions (e.g. the reference interview).

Now of course this is not an exhaustive list, but you get the point.  Now, I am going to push a little bit here – how are we engaging community during programming, how are we engaging people when having informal conversations, or more formal information questions?  And how is this information gathered and used to create relevant services and programs?

When looking at the Community Led Toolkit (page 16) there is a great chart which displays the different levels found within the Public Involvement Continuum.  (Click on the picture below to get a bigger view of the continuum)!

Here is a great exercise to walk staff through (whatever the business/branch/program unit is).   Have staff identity the four public service activities which takes up a majority of their time.  On a large sheet of paper display the continuum on a wall – just the main sections (getting, giving, engaging, collaborating) – and have staff put up their four current work activities and see where they fall on the continuum.  I am guessing most of the responses will be loaded to the left of the continuum – we are primarily engaging community through getting and giving information.

The question then becomes, how can we envision engagement differently?  How can we push engagement so it becomes a more dynamic, two way process?  What are the possibilities?

There are literally hundreds of different examples of ways we can engage our communities differently (both inside/outside the branch with traditional users/or underserved community members).  Here are two quick examples.  What is the role for library staff in the engagement process, can they:

  • gather what they are hearing from people who are in the library space (this could include all staff regardless of job classifications)?
  • sit in on informal group meetings taking place in the library (or outside the library) – don’t promote library materials or services – instead form relationships and listen to needs as they arise from the group?

Just think of the impact of the information brought back to other library staff – to discuss the potential impact of the community conversations we were involved in – on library based programs and services.

Will it be possible for us to expand the role of library services to broaden our horizons to include discussion/debates (focus groups/public meetings), participate (community based advisers/ad hoc committees – just imaging having community members sitting on one of our internal committees!), or collaboration?

It would be a real shame if we only allow engagement to be constricted to information out and places where we seek feedback from the community (consultation).

As a side note, by pushing engagement to the right of the Public Involvement Continuum, we will find that we will empower not only our communities, but our staff.

~ Ken


Filed under community development, public libraries, The Profession

Internet Linking is Analogous to Citation

Everyone with whom I have discussed the issue of Internet linking agrees that Internet hyperlinks are a form of citation. But the subset of the population with whom I discuss these issues is not representative of the entire world, clearly. There are 2 schools of thought that I’ve encountered thus far that substantially differ from the above:

  1. The folks who think you need to obtain permission to link to another website, and
  2. The folks who think the author/owner/host/ISP of a webpage are responsible for any content accessible via hyperlinks on that site.

Neither one of these perspectives makes a whit of sense to me, seeing as I conceive of hyperlinks as akin to footnotes or citations, not republication of the material to which the link directs. Republication would be copying content on one webpage and posting it (in a manner beyond that permitted by fair dealing/fair use) on another page.

Because I can’t really understand how a hyperlink could actually be considered republication rather than citation, I am dumbfounded by people who adhere to – and sometimes threaten legal action in accordance with – either of the above two viewpoints. I actually find myself a bit stymied when pressed to defend my stance that hyperlinking is citation, because the alternative is so ludicrous in my mind. I need to work on this, which is why I’m posting this here.

1. Permission to Link

I have encountered a few individuals who have adamantly insisted that their websites were their property and thus they had the rights to dis/allow linking to their web content. I have actually been threatened with legal action from a blogger (with a PhD – which led me to expect that she’d at least be able to research the actual law) who insisted that I not link to her weblog from a password-protected site, which I found incredible! (In this specific case, although I knew she didn’t have a legal leg to stand on, I removed the link because I liked her writing and didn’t really want to make her mad, and also because I didn’t want to sink energy into a fight, but stopped following her blog lest I accidentally post a link she didn’t approve again.)

Apparently U.S. Judge Richard Posner also did or does think that permission to link to a webpage should be the law. In this blog post from last year, he states that:

Expanding copyright law to bar online access to copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent, or to bar linking to or paraphrasing copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent, might be necessary

in order to save the newspaper industry (from the competition of free news aggregation sites). While I have great sympathy for the difficult times the newspaper industry is experiencing in this era of digitization, the above suggested curtailing of fair use/fair dealing is appalling.

My understanding is that nothing has been legally established in Canada about permission-to-link, but in the U.S. there is a bit of case law establishing that (in the absence of other factors such as defamation or violation of – in Canada – moral rights) as BitLaw states,

“there would appear to be no legal means for preventing someone from including a link in one page to another”

2. Liability of Link-maker

SO, the Supreme Court of Canada has apparently agreed to hear Wayne Crookes’ appeal of a 2008 BC ruling (an appeal that was dismissed from BC Supreme Court) that linking to websites that contain allegedly defamatory material is not in and of itself defamation. Vancouver-based Crookes has sued a bagload of folk for libel based not on things they wrote on their websites but on thinks written on sites they linked to, or sites those sites linked to.

Whoa. Similar to how ISPs should not be responsible for the content of their customers, web authors should not be held responsible for the content on pages they link to! Citing something, in traditional publication, is hardly the same thing as agreeing with it, let alone authoring it. Hyperlinking is like citing – a pointer, a reference.Hyperlinking is not – as I think I clearly distinguished above – republication of content.

Hopefully the Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear this in order to set precedent (in accordance with the BC courts decisions) and thus stop the free-expression chill that such SLAPPs create. The alternative is just too ludicrous, right?




Filed under censorship, copyright, digitization, Intellectual freedom, Internet, IP, Other blogs, publishing