Thursday, February 11, 2016

African superheroes: 'You don't have to be white to save the world'

For scholars on comic books, African superheroes are an inevitable reaction to a predominantly white cast of caped crusaders. (AFP)
In the first issue of "Aje", a Nigerian comic offering a new breed of superheroes strictly from Africa, university student Teni casts a curse on her boyfriend in a rush of jealous rage and purple lightning.

"Koni dara fun o ni yi aye (it will never be better for you in this life)," snarls Teni in Yoruba, a language and one of the major ethnic groups in Nigeria.

Teni is the creation of Jide Martins, the founder of Comic Republic, one of a handful of comic startups making African superheroes to rival Iron Man, Batman and Spiderman.

Unlike Storm, a beloved X-Men superhero who is a dual citizen of the United States and the fictional country Wakanda, the superheroes Martins brings to life are born and bred in Africa -- and fight there too.

"In university, I started wondering what it would be like if Superman came to Nigeria," Martins told AFP at his flat in Lagos, where his dining room doubles as a studio for his team of young illustrators.

"People are trying to break away from the norm and find new things to aspire to," Martins said. "You don't have to be white to save the world."

Nigerian names and spandex

In 2013, Martins, a slim 37-year-old with a freckled nose and goatee beard, published his first issue of Guardian Prime, a hero wearing a forest green and snow white super-suit in the colours of the Nigerian flag.

Since then, readership has swelled from 100 an issue to over 28,000.

Despite the 30-plus page comic books being free and only available as a digital download, Martins is able to generate enough money through advertising and spin-off projects, including educational booklets on malaria featuring his characters, to keep the business running.

"People had this idea that African comics had to be with people in traditional clothes, but I don't agree with that," Martins said.

"Let them have Nigerian names, saving people in Nigeria, but let's put them in spandex."

Martins isn't the only one realising the potential of the burgeoning African superhero industry, which adapts the continent's long tradition of voodoo and the occult for a modern-day audience.

Roye Okupe is the creator of E.X.O. -- The Legend of Wale Williams, a graphic novel set in Lagoon City, a futuristic Lagos riddled with corruption and besieged by an extremist insurrection.

Okupe, a 30-year-old who grew up in the Nigerian megacity of 20 million people, saw a market for an African character grounded in reality.

"You're probably not able to name five African superheroes off the top of your head," Okupe said from Washington, where he is based.

"And as much as I love Black Panther, he's from a fictional African country."

At a time when superheroes dominate the international box office, Okupe says Nigerians are uniquely poised to offer alternatives to the waspy roster of Clark Kents and Peter Parkers.

"Ten years ago if you released a superhero from Nigeria, I don't think anybody would care," Okupe said. "But now that it's a popular industry, people want diversity."

'Long overdue'

For scholars on comic books, African superheroes are an inevitable reaction to a predominantly white cast of caped crusaders.

"I think it's long overdue," said Ronald Jackson, co-editor of the 2013 book "Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation".

"As we begin to appreciate other identities, we're going to become increasingly more embracing of the kind of images coming out of African comics.

"What you don't always see front and centre are major spin-offs in terms of movies and television shows. I think that may be the next step for African comics."

Back in the Comic Republic studio, the team of illustrators -- all under 30 -- hope that one day their characters will appear on the silver screen.

They're betting that their African cast, including witches stronger than the Jedi warriors in "Star Wars", will be more than enough to keep international audiences excited.

"You hear about Greek gods like Zeus but no one has heard of Shango, the god of lightning in Yoruba," 23-year-old illustrator Tobe Ezeogu said.

"It's a different take to what people are used to."

Along with Aje and Guardian Prime, Martins and his team have created Avonome, who goes into the spiritual world to fight battles, and Eru, a lecturer at the University of Lagos whose alter ego is modelled on the Yoruba god of fear.

"We're shocked at the way people have received the comics," Martins said. "It's been amazing."

Source: Al Arabiya English

Sunday, February 7, 2016

PSFK: In Brazil, These Books Double as Subway Tickets

Ticket Books function as a train ride pass and aim to encourage reading in Brazil.

by Leah Gonzalez
23 November 2015

People only read an average of about two books a year in Brazil. To promote reading, Brazil’s biggest pocket book publisher L&PM Editores created a collection of small paperbacks that also work as subway tickets.

L&PM worked with AgĂȘncia Africa to create the Ticket Books, a collection of ten books with RFID cards built inside the book covers. The hidden RFID cards made the pocket books readable by the turnstile scanners at the subway. Agency Africa also worked with Via Quatro, the company that manages the subways, so that the Ticket Books can be made available at the turnstiles at the subway stations.

To celebrate World Book Day last April 23rd, L&PM gave away 10,000 books for free at subway stations across Sao Paulo. Each book came with ten free trips. When all ten trips have been used up, users can recharge them via the Ticket Books website and use them again or gift them to a friend to encourage even more people to read. The project was so successful that L&PM expanded the project to other cities in Brazil.

The Ticket Books collection included ten titles: Peanuts: Friendship. That’s What Friends Are For by Charles M. Schulz, Garfield: Sorry by Jim Davis, Hundred Love Sonnets by Pablo Neruda, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of Baskerville by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Murder Alley by Agatha Christie, Chives In Trouble! by Mauricio de Sousa, and Quintana Pocket by Mario Quintana. The books also featured cover art inspired by subway maps.

The Ticket Books campaign was awarded three trophies at the Cannes Lions Festival – Silver Lion for the category Promo, Silver Lion for the category Outdoor, and a Bronze Lion for the category Design.

Source: PSFK

Images: L&PM Editores

Northern Life: $113K to Fund Study into Rural Northern Libraries

January 29, 2016

Ontario Library Service North in Sudbury will receive $113,000 over two years to fund a study that will measure the importance and impact that libraries have in small and rural communities across Northern Ontario.

This investment is part of the Ontario Libraries Capacity Fund, a $10 million program to help public libraries support strong, vibrant communities and better meet the changing needs of Ontarians.

The fund supports new projects that can be adapted to suit the needs of other communities and have the potential for a positive impact on public libraries across the province and the people they serve.

The provincial government is supporting 10 new projects in public libraries that will improve services for Ontarians.

“Ontario Library Service North is an integral part of the fabric of our community,” said Sudbury MPP Glenn Thibeault, in a press release.

“With support from the provincial government for this project, the library will be able to deliver even more benefits and continue to enrich people’s lives here in Sudbury and across the north.”

“In today’s rapidly changing world, public libraries need to continuously innovate and find new ways to meet the needs of their communities,” said Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Michael Coteau.

“I’m proud we are supporting 10 new projects that will help libraries enhance the vital role they play and ensure their programs are having a positive impact. Libraries across the province will be able to learn from the results and knowledge gained through these initiatives.”

Source: Northern Live

Saturday, February 6, 2016 The Inside Poop on Librarians' Daily Adventures

The inside poop on librarians' daily adventures

By Roz Warren
January 28, 2016

A man recently defecated in the stairwell at the Ludington Library in Bryn Mawr. The deed and the person’s subsequent exit from the building were both captured by the library’s security cameras, and the local police circulated footage of the perp leaving the library and asked the public to help identify him. (What did he look like? An ordinary, somewhat distracted-looking middle-aged guy. If you passed him on the street you wouldn’t look at him twice.)

It’s safe to say that the library-going public was shocked and horrified by what he did. It’s also safe to say that nobody who has ever worked at a public library was the least bit surprised.

What this man did is a fact of library life, which was reflected in the comments of librarians all over the country when the story was posted on Facebook:

“The public has no idea how often this ... happens.”

“Happened to me just last week. My first week as a branch manager. What a welcome.”

“Wish I could say this has never happened at my library.”

“Two summers ago we had a guy who left daily ‘presents’ all over the building. We never knew where they’d turn up next. Worst game of ‘Where’s Waldo?’ ever.’”

“Everyone who visits our library comments on our beautifully patterned carpet squares. If only they knew why we chose those easily removable squares!”

“I’m laughing because whenever I talk about ‘inappropriate poop’ in my library nobody believes me! Happens wa-a-a-ay more than they imagine.”

Everyone is welcome at the local public library. But not everyone does (or can) behave as well as we’d like.

Both our very youngest and our very oldest patrons will, inevitably, have “accidents.” And then there are the troubled or angry individuals who do this stuff on purpose.

The sad reality is that no place in a public library is immune. Librarians tell of finding “deposits” in the stacks. Under a table in the quiet study room. By the computers. On a comfy chair in the reading nook. In the book drop. Once, mysteriously, right in front of the reference desk on a day when the library was packed.

And do certain patrons play Jackson Pollack on our bathroom walls with their own waste? Alas, yes.

The Ludington Pooper, most assumed, was a troubled individual. Which, when a suspect was identified (Thanks, Internet!) seemed to be the case. Let’s hope he’ll get any help he needs.

Librarians everywhere were happy that he’d been captured on camera, and could be apprehended and stopped. But we all know that this kind of activity remains an ongoing challenge.

My hope is that this incident won’t be (so to speak) a total waste. Perhaps it will raise the public’s consciousness about what being a librarian is actually like. I love my job, but it isn’t always easy.

People imagine that librarians spend their days in a serene, untroubled environment, working with books and chatting with patrons.

“You’re so lucky,” I’ve been told. “You get paid to read!”

We do read. Sometimes.

We also endure your wrath about paying fines, move heaven and Earth to find the reference work you need, spread tarp over the shelves when the ceiling leaks, recommend a movie that will fascinate your daughter’s preteen pals at her sleepover party without offending any of their mothers, attempt to stop you from tearing pages out of our magazines, knock ourselves out to entertain your kids at story time, teach you how to open your own email, listen with sympathy to your confidences and — unfortunately — occasionally have to clean up after you.

You’re welcome.

Roz Warren is a circulation assistant at the Bala Cynwyd Library and the author of “Our Bodies, Our Shelves: A Collection of Library Humor.”


Friday, February 5, 2016

The Wall Street Journal: In Age of Google, Librarians Get Shelved

In Age of Google, Librarians Get Shelved

A library-science degree can’t compete with online search, but we still have a role.

By Steve Barker
January 10, 2016

The next time you visit a public library and see an older person at the information desk, someone near retirement age, take a good look. You may be seeing the last of a dying breed, the professional librarian.

Years ago, a librarian was someone who held a master’s degree in library science (MLS) issued by a graduate program accredited by the American Library Association. Those of us who attended library schools underwent rigorous preparation, usually assignments that forced us to become familiar with the reference books and research tools that filled the university library.

The Internet changed all that. The library user who used to rely on a librarian for help can now Google his question and find more data in a few seconds than a librarian was able to locate in hours of research.

Many people who work as librarians no longer hold an MLS degree. Public libraries have created a new position called “library associate”—college graduates who do the same work as librarians but receive lower salaries than their MLS counterparts.

The erosion of the MLS degree has been mirrored by the disappearance of library schools from American universities. The University of Chicago and Columbia University once offered the best librarian training programs in the country; both institutions closed their library schools in the early 1990s.

Vanderbilt and the University of Southern California also closed their library schools around the same time. It is still possible to get an MLS degree, but the remaining graduate programs are much smaller and are usually consolidated in other departments or schools.

The mood among some librarians is pessimistic. A New Mexico librarian recently told me: “I spend most of my time making change and showing people how to print from the computer or use the copier. I sure don’t get the reference questions like I used to.”

A colleague in the Washington, D.C., area expressed similar views: “If I didn’t spend my time helping people look for lost keys, wallets, jackets, sweaters, gloves, backpacks, cellphones and laptops, I’m not sure I’d even have a job.”

One bright spot: Some public libraries have created jobs for “technology assistants,” positions filled by tech-savvy young people with community-college degrees and plans for information-technology careers. Libraries can easily justify this new position: Techies are paid less than librarians or library associates and they offer skills the public increasingly needs. The public library of the future might be a computer center, staffed by IT professionals and few books or librarians.

Those of us who hold MLS degrees and are still working recognize the inevitability of these trends. But large segments of the American public struggle with literacy, or want to study for the high-school GED, or are learning English and want to know where they can register to vote. We can still help children with their homework and play a role in our communities, as we have been doing for over a century.

The role for librarians and public libraries is shrinking. But I imagine that in another hundred years, we will still be here, in one form or another.

Mr. Barker is a librarian in the Washington, D.C., area.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Guardian: The Loss of Libraries is Another Surefire Way to Entrench Inequality

The loss of libraries is another surefire way to entrench inequality

I still have my first library card from when I was a girl from a poor family in west Belfast. Every time I hear of a library closure it hits a nerve.

By Mary O'Hara
January 27, 2016

As someone who grew up in a home without books, no spare cash to buy them and no tradition of reading bedtime stories, my local library offered something unique and indispensable. It’s hard to think of anything that brought me more joy as a primary school-aged child than walking back from the Falls Road library in west Belfast with a bundle of books.

Having a library within walking distance of home was a way for a young girl from a poor background to access the same breadth of reading material as anyone else – at no expense. It stripped away at least some of the disadvantage that came with being from a low-income family. So every time I hear of another library closure – and there were more than 100 last year alone in Scotland, Wales and England, according to official figures – it hits a nerve. The loss of libraries is simply another surefire way to entrench inequality.

From providing books for people of all ages and backgrounds, to kids clubs and hubs for older people, to computer terminals that those with no access to the internet can use to find job vacancies, libraries are about as democratic and diverse as is possible to imagine. When properly funded and resourced they are educational and social anchors in communities everywhere. Yet, despite knowing all this, in the past five years the relentless funding constraints placed on local authorities have seen library budgets slashed by an astounding amount.

Over the course of the last parliament, cuts to services and closures amounted to a 16% reduction in library funding – a whopping £180m less than in 2010. As if that wasn’t enough, last month the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy questioned the long-term sustainability of council-run libraries after its latest calculations confirmed another £50m had been wiped from library budgets across England, Scotland and Wales in the previous 12 months.

Meanwhile, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (Cilip) has warned that the billions of pounds of extra funding cuts for local authorities will mean another round of savage reductions in library services, and potentially a stark postcode lottery as councils in poorer areas feel they must jettison library services.

Cilip also pointed out (and this is something often missed when looking just at the numbers) that even where services are still running, many are hollowing out. Libraries are increasingly reliant on volunteers, for example. In fact, between 2009-10 and 2014-15 a quarter of all professional library posts (6,172) disappeared. In many libraries that have survived, book stocks are depleted, opening hours reduced and, in some cases, swipe card access used to save on staff costs.

There has also been a fall in library-run projects targeted at particular groups, including the most marginalised, according to a Cilip straw poll last year. Services designed for disabled people and other disadvantaged groups – the very people who benefit most from libraries – are at risk of further erosion.

Nick Poole, chief executive of Cilip, said libraries “have been seen as an easy target” but that cuts to frontline services are both misguided and short-sighted. “What we’ve got with regards to libraries is a systematic policy of neglect,” he said. Librarians and users have taken to the streets in protest against cuts, while Cilip has launched a campaign, My library by right, as well as a legal challenge to seek clarification of the government’s legal duty under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” service. It has also launched a petition that has so far garnered more than 10,000 signatures.

Nevertheless, libraries remain vulnerable. As the current financial year draws to a close, councils are finalising their budgets, an unenviable task in the current climate. The Department for Media, Culture and Sport insists libraries are modernising and new libraries are being built, for example, in Stafford and Camberwell. A spokeswoman told me that local authorities are repeatedly reminded of their statutory obligations. This is all well and good, but its easy to cherry pick. On the flip side Birmingham’s new multimillion pound flagship library announced last autumn that it would have to stop buying new books because of cuts. And is it really any wonder libraries are being sacrificed when councils are struggling to cover services such as social care?

There is so much more at stake than people not being able to take home some books. The UK’s library service has for decades been one of its great, tangible symbols of social justice and has adapted admirably to changing demand. It is something we should all stand up for, whether we use what’s on offer or not. I still have my first library card. What have we become if in the years ahead far fewer people are able to say the same thing?

Source: The Guardian

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Guardian: 'Speak up before there's nothing left': Authors Rally for National Libraries Day

'Speak up before there's nothing left': authors rally for National Libraries Day

A week of events tied to the nationwide celebration on 6 February is drawing support from writers and campaigners, as libraries face closure around the UK.

By Alison Flood
January 28, 2016

The bestselling children’s author Philip Ardagh has called on book lovers to “speak up for libraries before there’s nothing left to shout about”, as writers and campaigners prepare for a week of events celebrating the UK’s libraries in the build-up to National Libraries Day on Saturday 6 February.

The annual nationwide celebration of libraries is the latest move by campaigners to highlight the importance of a public service that is being hit by cuts up and down the country. Ann Cleeves, author of the bestselling Vera and Shetland crime series, has been named National Libraries Day ambassador and has urged people to go out and join their local library next week.

“Libraries matter. If we believe in equality of opportunity we must fight, not just for the buildings but for the range of books inside and the skilled staff who can promote reading in all its forms,” said the novelist. “Not only do libraries encourage us to be more tolerant and better informed, they contribute enormously to the wealth of the nation.”

Cleeves added that she “wouldn’t be a writer without a library, and lots of authors will tell you the same thing”. “They’re magic places,” she said. “And we need them for democracy – there should be equal access to books, information and facts for everybody.”

Grubtown Tales author Philip Ardagh, who will be joining campaigners lobbying parliament on 9 February, called the local library “a port of call for books, local information, human contact, internet access, newspapers and magazines; a safe environment, a quiet environment, help with form-filling, advice, and the countless other little things that all add up to bigger things … Speak up for libraries before there’s nothing left to shout about.”

With more than 100 libraries closing in England, Wales and Scotland last year, local communities will be joined next week by authors and illustrators including Roger McGough and Nick Sharratt to celebrate the ones that remain. More than 400 events are planned for the week leading up to the main events on Saturday.

The celebration was originally called for by the children’s author and campaigner Alan Gibbons, who said on Thursday that the public library service is in the middle of its worst ever crisis, with action “urgently needed to secure its future”.

The event is run by organisations including the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals and the Reading Agency. Cilip is also currently running a campaign, My Library By Right, calling on the government to “fulfil their statutory responsibilities to taxpayers” and keep libraries open. More than 11,000 people have signed its petition, supported by authors including Neil Gaiman and Joanna Trollope, asking the government to “take clear and decisive action in situations where services are being put at risk”.

Authors will also come together on 9 February to join a lobby of parliament led by the Speak Up for Libraries group, calling on government to acknowledge the importance of public libraries. Speakers including Ardagh, Gibbons, crime author Jake Arnott and young adult author Cathy Cassidy will join a public rally at Central Hall, Westminster, with campaigners from around the country then planning to “descend on the Commons to lobby MPs to focus on the root cause of libraries’ grim situation – apathy and ignorance in local and central government”, said organisers.

“These people are fighting hard locally to keep libraries alive. They are desperate to show this is a major issue for the whole nation,” said campaigner Laura Swaffield. “And it’s not too late for others to join us.”

Arnott, author of He Kills Coppers, said that “throughout our history, the library has proved to be the most effective and resilient memory system for our culture and civilisation. The public library creates a collective consciousness. Any attack on it simply adds to a social dementia.”

Cassidy called the closure of libraries “a national scandal”, and called on the public to “stand together against these closures, for the sake of our children and the future of our country”.

Source: The Guardian