Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Libraries were this girl's best friends

An initiative will be launched today to nudge policymakers away from seeing successful book lending and the encouragement of reading as the prime goals of Britain's public library service.

Instead the emphasis should shift to whether libraries help governments promote their wider health, educational and social objectives.


When I was a kid, we moved 11 times in 10 years. Each year, we'd land, fresh in some town where I knew nobody, usually in the middle of summer, and those long summer months with nothing to do would stretch before me. Because we moved so often, my mother was the anti-packrat. I mean, she kept nothing if it could be helped. We were not a family that schlepped boxes and boxes of books from state to state.

But, my mother loved to read. So, one of the first things we would do in a new town is find the library. As soon as we had received our first piece of mail (proof of our home address), my brothers, mother, and I would walk (my mother didn't drive) to the library and sign up for cards. Once I had access to books, I could survive another summer by myself. Curled up on a couch, I would plough through several books a week, lost in worlds of others' making, and distracted from the distress of knowing that I faced another "first" day of school where I would be the "new kid."

I understand that libraries are not getting the usage they once did. But the plan in Great Britain to turn libraries into clearinghouses of government information, to turn the libraries themselves into places of indoctrination--well that gives me the creeps.

It's bad enough here in the U.S., where until recently, library records were the super-secret decoding ring of the Patriot Act. The USA has a proud history of censoring what can and cannot go into a library. From the Comstock Laws, which banned "obscene" material (and by obscene, we mean material that contained information about contraceptives) from the mails and thus, distribution, to the regular outbreaks of community hysteria about debauchery in the stacks, libraries have found themselves the battleground for the suppression of dangerous ideas.

But access to ideas is the first principle of education. Education includes exposure to things outside your ken. And I spent summers reading everything from Roald Dahl novels to biographies of queens to Judy Blume to the history of science and beyond. I didn't need to spend a lot of time in the real world. By the time I was 12, I had seen more of the United States than most adults. I needed books, not more hours in a moving van.

Libraries were my theme parks. And while we obsess that children no longer read because they're too busy playing video games, truth is, there are a lot of kids--and adults--out there for whom libraries are the Midway the Roller Coaster and the Tunnel of Love all rolled into one.

The answer to rejuvenating libraries is not to turn them into government promotion centers. Libraries will be relevant again when education is allowed to do what it does best. Not to breed career-track automatons, but to awaken the hunger for self. The library fed me. I grew fat on its riches. I would have starved to death in an indoctrination camp.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Just Sayin' ...

On July 4th, 2005

I wish they'd take
seriously, I mean
like abstinence.

Can't they abstain
misapplied war,
weaving mistakes
into -isms,
faulting me, you,

Can't they abstain
telling me, you,
what to do,
in privacies,
in concert

& telling me, you,
that we are free,
of course,
if only we'd

Friday, July 01, 2005

1,000 Women

Will the world sigh, "ho-hum," or will the world, startled, sit up and listen when the Nobel Peace Prize is announced in October?

Innovation might win the prize.

One Thousand Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005 seeks to recognize women as peacemakers. And like the roles they play, the number 1,000 reflects the small but sustaining efforts of women. The names were announced just days ago.

In January, the official nomination letter was signed. Three women represent the 1,000, to conform with the rules of the Nobel Prize Committee, but all 1,000 names are listed.

The project originated in Switzerland in March 2003, when Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold, a member of the Swiss Parliament and the Council of Europe, visited refugee camps in Bosnia, Chechnya and other war-torn countries.

"Everywhere I meet courageous and resolute women who perform reconstruction and peace work in extremely dangerous circumstances," she told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Yet their work leaves scarcely any trace. I wanted to render visible the work of these women."

During 2004, a Swiss team and 20 international coordinators -- influential women from all continents -- searched the globe and collected thousands of candidates for the final 1,000 nominees. They include farmers, teachers, activists, artists and politicians from more than 150 countries working at all levels of society.

You can find out more about them at the Web site:

Since 1901, when the Nobel Peace Prize was first awarded, only 12 women have won.

In the worldwide search for candidates, 114 women were named in the United States; 40 were selected. Among them, Grace Paley, poet and peace activist, and Reps. Grace McKinney and Barbara Lee. (The full list is on the Web site).

The project is not solely about the Nobel Peace Prize. Whether or not these women win the prize, their efforts will become known, thanks to the project itself . It will publish a book -- a way of bestowing "summa cum laude" -- in November, listing the efforts of these women.

Now you've just gotta love it!