Thursday, February 16, 2017

Coders Race to Save NASA's Climate Data

By  | 


A group of coders is racing to save the government's climate science data.
On Saturday (Feb. 11), 200 programmers crammed themselves into the Doe Library at the University of California, Berkeley, furiously downloading NASA's Earth science data in a hackathon, Wired reported.  The group's goal: rescue data that may be deleted or hidden under President Donald Trump's administration.
The process involves developing web-crawler scripts to trawl the internet, finding federal data and patching it together into coherent data sets. The hackers are also keeping track of data as it disappears; for instance, the Global Data Center's reports and one of NASA's atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) data sets has already been removed from the web.
By the end of Saturday, when the hackathon concluded, the coders had successfully downloaded thousands of pages — essentially all of NASA's climate data — onto the Internet Archive, a digital library.
But there is still more to be done. While the climate data may be safe for now, many other data sets out there could be lost, such as National Parks Service data on GPS boundaries and species tallies, Wired reported.
"Climate change data is just the tip of the iceberg," Eric Kansa, an anthropologist who manages archaeological data archiving for the nonprofit group Open Context, told Wired. "There are a huge number of other data sets being threatened [that are rich] with cultural, historical, sociological information."

Originally published on Live Science.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Two Toronto libraries casting light on depression

Pilot program at two library branches casts light on depression

Etobicoke Guardian
Gabi Kresic eagerly basks in the bright lamp’s light at her neighbourhood Brentwood library branch.

Toronto Public Library (TPL) is shining its own light on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) by introducing light therapy lamps at Brentwood branch in Etobicoke and Malvern branch in Scarborough, as part of a pilot project launched last week.

The lamps mimic natural sunlight to treat SAD, a type of depression related to lack of sunlight, particularly in winter.

“It has been an impossible winter,” Kresic said, of Toronto’s dark and dreary days throughout January and into February. “I think everyone suffers from SAD. Some of us, it affects us more.”

In Canada, millions of people suffer from a degree of SAD due to lack of sunlight. Between two and three per cent of the population has full-blown SAD, with symptoms that include fatigue, decreased energy, sleep disorders, weight gain, irritability, and feelings of anxiety and despair. Another 15 per cent have a less severe experience, the Canadian Mental Health Association reported.

Daily, Kresic sits beneath the bright lamp for half an hour, ever since reading a newspaper article about it last Friday. Normally, she visits the library monthly.

“For me, it’s not about the winter; it’s not about the length of the days. It’s the sunlight and the blue sky,” Kresic explained of her need for sunlight. “You may not have sun on 40 C days in summer. For me, sunlight is essential.”

Kresic is such a fan — she once had a light therapy lamp at home — she has offered to purchase and donate a third lamp to Brentwood branch.

Each library branch has two lamps. After a three-month pilot and feedback from users, the lamps could be expanded to other branches, TPL officials said.

Kresic suggested library staff start a sign-up sheet, and consider hosting public lectures given by experts “not just about light therapy, but also other things you can do (to combat depression)”.

Lillian Galati is also a fan of the lamps, and urges TPL to expand the program.

Since Friday, Galati has trekked twice to the Brentwood branch to read beneath the lamps, despite the fact her neighbourhood library is Richview branch. She plans to make use of the lamps twice a week.

“It’s nice to get the heat and the light on you, especially when there is none (outside),” Galati said, while reading The Nest, a novel by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney.

Dr. Robert Levitan, a professor of psychiatry and physiology at the University of Toronto, who is the depression chair at U of T and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, welcomes the idea.
Last year, TPL reached out to Levitan to inform him of the proposed service. Levitan told TPL officials no such service existed in Toronto, and that he supported the idea, said Alex Carruthers, manager of learning and community engagement for TPL.
TPL paid $240 for each therapy lamp, giving people who might not otherwise afford one to try it out.

Information is available at each library branch outlining the therapy lamp's use, who should avoid it and how to use it. It is recommended users sit or read in front of the lamp between 20 and 30 minutes. Users should sit two feet away and not stare directly into the light.

People with retinal disease, macular degeneration or diabetes, and those taking melatonin, thioridazine or lithium, should consult a doctor before using light therapy lamps, TPL advised.

Although the program is only in its second week, Tiziano Vanola, who heads the Brentwood branch, said users’ feedback has been positive. Some people have asked if the program will be expanded and even if they can donate a lamp to the branch.

“Some people actually said they experience the ‘winter blues,’ and they plan on using the lamps on a regular basis,” Vanola said.

It is the first time the light therapy lamps are being used in libraries in Ontario.

TPL considered the program after learning of the lamps’ use in libraries first in Edmonton, then in Winnipeg.

In 2014, Robin Mazumder, an occupational therapist and MacEwan University instructor, donated three light therapy lamps to the Stanley A. Milner Library in downtown Edmonton.

The Awesome Edmonton Foundation had awarded Mazumder a $1,000 prize for his bright idea to bring light therapy to public spaces. Mazumder found a willing partner in Edmonton Public Library.

TPL selected the Brentwood and Malvern branches because both are busy locations, Vanola said.

The pilot program runs until the end of April. Library staff encourage users to provide feedback by filling out a form at each branch or online https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/lighttherapylamp.

“At the end of the pilot project, we’ll collect all the data, see what feedback users gave us, and evaluate if we continue the project, expand it to other branches, and if we do expand, to which branches,” Vanola said.http://www.insidetoronto.com/community-story/7139500-two-toronto-libraries-casting-light-on-depression/

Saturday, February 11, 2017

East Tennessean: Fight Fake News with the CRAAP Test


By Dean Pfeiffer
February 6, 2017

In an age where information inundates us constantly and access to thousands of news sources is readily available at our fingertips, it has become difficult to distinguish between what is fact and what is opinion.

In the wake of the recent election, information consumers have become increasingly aware of the growing problem of fake news. Opinions blown up to look like journalistic reporting are liked, shared, and tweeted constantly from either side of the political aisle.

Understanding how to successfully identify fake news is important for the future of our country, so we turned to Pat Van Zandt, Dean of University Libraries at ETSU, for advice.

“Librarians are always interested in helping people find correct information: it’s part of our job,” Van Zandt said.

Van Zandt said one of the tools librarians use and teach is the CRAAP test when verifying information.

“I know it sounds kind of jokey, but when librarians teach information literacy we teach about the CRAAP test,” Van Zandt said.

Each letter of the acronym corresponds to an important element in the process of determining the legitimacy of a news source.

C is for currency and it reminds you to make sure that what you are reading is up to date,” Van Zandt said. “R is for relevance which asks if the news is relevant. A is for accuracy which requires that the reader evaluate the truthfulness of the information. The second A is for authority which makes sure that whoever is writing knows what they are talking about. For example, I could write a paper on astrophysics but I would have no idea what I was talking about. And P is for purpose because you have to determine if the purpose of the article is to persuade or to inform.”

Aside from the CRAAP test, Van Zandt believes that there are a few key things to look for when examining your sources.

“Fake news tries to appeal to your emotions, so you should be skeptical of anything that produces a strong emotional response,” Van Zandt said.

She also warns against only paying attention to news and news sources that you already know you agree with.

“Some sites like Politifact and Snopes are almost always reliable, but I try to stay wary of other sources that I really like, especially stories suggested by Facebook as it will bring up stories that are similar to things you have already clicked like on,” Van Zandt said.

Ultimately, Van Zandt believes that it is the responsibility of the individual reader to make sure that the information they are consuming is reliable.

“You can’t really avoid fake news, so we all need to take it upon ourselves to be more discerning consumers.”

Source: East Tenessean

Thursday, February 9, 2017

PBS Newshour: Can librarians help solve the fake news problem?

By Donald A. Barclay

Imagine, for a moment, the technology of 2017 had existed on Jan. 11, 1964 – the day Luther Terry, surgeon general of the United States, released “Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the United States.”

What would be some likely scenarios?

The social media noise machine explodes; conservative websites immediately paint the report as a nanny-government attack on personal freedom and masculinity; the report’s findings are hit with a flood of satirical memes, outraged Facebook posts, attack videos and click-bait fake news stories; Big Tobacco’s publicity machine begins pumping out disinformation via both popular social media and pseudoscientific predatory journals willing to print anything for a price; Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater characterizes “Smoking and Health” as a “communist-inspired hoax.”

Eventually, the Johnson administration distances itself from the surgeon general’s controversial report.

For me, the recent spate of stories about large segments of the population falling for fake news stories was no surprise.
Of course none of the above actually occurred. While Big Tobacco spent decades doing all that it could to muddy the waters on the health impacts of smoking, in the end scientific fact triumphed over corporate fiction.

Today, thanks to responsible science and the public policies it inspired, only 15 percent of adults in the United States smoke, down from 42.4 percent in 1965.

One might ask: Would it have been possible to achieve this remarkable public health victory had today’s social media environment of fake news and information echo chambers existed in 1964?

Maybe not. As a long-time academic librarian, I have spent a good part of my career teaching college students to think critically about information. And the fact is that I watch many of them struggle with the challenges of discovering, internalizing, evaluating and applying credible information. For me, the recent spate of stories about large segments of the population falling for fake news stories was no surprise.

Making sense of information is hard, maybe increasingly so in today’s world. So what role have academic libraries played in helping people make sense of world bursting at the seams with information?

History of information literacy

Since the 19th century, academic librarians have been actively engaged in teaching students how to negotiate increasingly complex information environments.

Evidence exists of library instruction dating back to the 1820s at Harvard University. Courses on using libraries emerged at a number of colleges and universities after the Civil War. Until well into the 20th century, however, academic librarians largely gave library building tours, and their instruction was aimed at mastery of the local card catalog.
Since the 19th century, academic librarians have been actively engaged in teaching students how to negotiate increasingly complex information environments.
Beginning in the 1960s, academic librarians experienced a broadening of their role in instruction. This broadening was inspired by a number of factors: increases in the sheer size of academic library collections; the emergence of such technologies as microfilm, photocopiers and even classroom projection; and such educational trends as the introduction of new majors and emphasis on self-directed learning.

The new instructional role of academic librarians was notably reflected in the coining of the phrase “information literacy” in 1974 by Paul G. Zurkowski, then president of the Information Industry Association.

Rather than being limited to locating items in a given library, information literacy recognized that students needed to be equipped with skills required to identify, organize and cite information. More than that, it focused on the ability to critically evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of information sources.

Changes in a Complex World

In today’s digital world, information literacy is a far more complex subject than it was when the phrase was coined. Back then, the universe of credible academic information was analog and (for better or worse) handpicked by librarians and faculty.

Students’ information hunting grounds was effectively limited to the campus library, and information literacy amounted to mastering a handful of relatively straightforward skills, such as using periodical indexes and library catalogs, understanding the difference between primary and secondary sources of information, and distinguishing between popular and scholarly books and journals.

Today, the situation is far more nuanced. And not just because of the hyperpartisan noise of social media.

Today, the situation is far more nuanced. And not just because of the hyperpartisan noise of social media.
Thirty or 40 years ago, a student writing a research paper on the topic of acid rain might have needed to decide whether an article from a scientific journal like Nature was a more appropriate source than an article from a popular magazine like Time.

Today’s students, however, must know how to distinguish between articles published by genuine scholarly journals and those churned out by look-alike predatory and fake journals that falsely claim to be scholarly and peer-reviewed.

This is a far trickier proposition.

Further complicating the situation is the relativism of the postmodern philosophy underpinning much of postmodern scholarly thinking. Postmodernism rejects the notion that concepts such as truth and beauty exist as absolutes that can be revealed through the work of creative “authorities” (authors, painters, composers, philosophers, etc.).

While postmodernism has had positive effects, it has simultaneously undermined the concept of authority. If, as postmodernist philosophy contends, truth is constructed rather than given, what gives anyone the right to say one source of information is credible and another is not?

Further complicating the situation are serious questions surrounding the legitimacy of mainstream scholarly communication. In addition to predatory and fake journals, recent scandals include researchers faking results, fraudulent peer review and the barriers to conducting and publishing replication studies that seek to either verify or disprove earlier studies.

So, what’s the future?

In such an environment, how is a librarian or faculty member supposed to respond to a bright student who sincerely asks, “How can you say that a blog post attacking GMO food is less credible than some journal article supporting the safety of GMO food? What if the journal article’s research results were faked? Have the results been replicated? At the end of the day, aren’t facts a matter of context?”

In recognition of a dynamic and often unpredictable information landscape and a rapidly changing higher education environment in which students are often creators of new knowledge rather than just consumers of information, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) launched its Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, the first revision to the ACRL’s standards for information literacy in over 15 years.

The framework recognizes that information literacy is too nuanced to be conceived of as a treasure hunt in which information resources neatly divide into binary categories of “good” and “bad.”

Notably, the first of the framework’s six subsections is titled “Authority Is Constructed and Contextual” and calls for librarians to approach the notions of authority and credibility as dependent on the context in which the information is used rather than as absolutes.

This new approach asks students to put in the time and effort required to determine the credibility and appropriateness of each information source for the use to which they intend to put it.

Real progress in information literacy will require librarians, faculty and administrators working together.
For students this is far more challenging than either a) simply accepting authority without question or b) rejecting all authority as an anachronism in a post-truth world. Formally adopted in June 2016, the framework represents a way forward for information literacy.

While I approve of the direction taken by the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, I do not see it as the ultimate solution to the information literacy challenge. Real progress in information literacy will require librarians, faculty and administrators working together.

Indeed, it will require higher education, as well as secondary and primary education, to make information literacy a priority across the curriculum. Without such concerted effort, a likely outcome could be a future of election results and public policies based on whatever information – credible or not – bubbles to the top of the social media noise machine.



Source: PBS Newshour

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Quartz.com: A librarian in Florida went rogue to save 2,361 books from an algorithm

By Ephrat Livni
January 04, 2017



Gaming the circulation data. (Reuters/Mike Segar)


Data is great. Our ability to collect metrics on human activity gives us insight into patterns of behavior and that allows us to adjust our strategies accordingly. But our dependence on analytics can be misplaced. Or at least that’s what a Florida librarian says.

George Dore, a librarian in Orlando, Florida was suspended from his position as branch manager after an investigation revealed that he had created a fake identity to borrow library books that were falling out of fashion. His creation, the fictional Charles Finley, was given a career (ballplayer), a drivers license number, an address and a voracious appetite for reading. He was also endowed with a wide-ranging taste in literature.

Basically, Dore was gaming the system. Finley’s reading marathon was engineered to inflate the library’s data, tricking its algorithm by creating the appearance of popularity for books that were not being borrowed much. (Culling books that have not been read for a long time is a common practice at libraries.)

Finley borrowed more than 2,300 books over the course of 2015, increasing circulation at East Lake County branch by 3.9%. He was also a super-fast reader, checking books in and out within an hour. Nine months into Finley’s reading marathon, his speed-reading led to suspicion and an investigation, which began in November 2015.

The notion of rebel bibliophiles breaking the law to save books is undeniably charming to book lovers. But actually, the librarian is alleged to have committed fraud and authorities in Florida are not impressed. The inspector general’s report on Dore states that creation of a fake library card “amounts to the creation of a false public record.”

Dore was recommended for termination and put on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. He says he was just trying to save the library time and money, as books that are not borrowed are deemed irrelevant by the software that the local library system uses to track circulation and taken off the shelves. Then they are often repurchased again later.

But there are several twists to this story. Circulation can influence annual funding. Nine city-run libraries in Lake country receive nearly $1 million based on circulation. Chuck Finley’s prolific reading not only made East Lake Country library books seem more popular, it cast doubt on whether other libraries were involved in similar book-checkout schemes. A county-wide audit is underway.

Jeff Cole, director of the Lake County Public Resources Department that oversees library services, wouldn’t comment on whether other libraries were involved but he told the Orlando Sentinel, “I think we’d have to evaluate it if the [allegations] bear out.”

Meanwhile, Dore’s library was not among the nine receiving money from the County so funding was not an incentive. He says his aim was actually to save the library money in the long run, by not having to repurchase books which often go in and out of fashion with readers. One of Finley’s choices, for instance, was John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row.”

If Dore is to be believed, he’s not the only renegade librarian fighting the algorithms. His colleague, library assistant Scott Amey, who helped dream up their fictional reader was reprimanded for being part of the scheme. And Dore told investigators that gaming the system with “dummy cards” is common, noting, “There was a lot of bad blood between the libraries because of money wars.”

Source: Quartz.com

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

MTV.com: In Trump's America, Activist Librarians Who Won't Be Shushed

Librarians are getting ready to fight fake news, hate crimes, and whatever lies ahead.



Jaime Fuller
January 19, 2017

Our next president has not spent much time in libraries. Reading is unnecessary, Donald Trump told The Washington Post, because he always makes good decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had.” These wise choices include spreading conspiracy theories borrowed from respected sources such as “many people are saying.” And his favorite book, The Art of the Deal, is less a window than a slab of stained glass commemorating himself, through which the outside world is only dimly visible.

As someone who believes that truth goes to the victors — and specifically those unashamed to chip away at facts with a million @s — Trump won’t be speaking much about the power of libraries over the next four years. That won’t eliminate their power, however; in a world where faith in American institutions is crumbling, people still trust libraries. And just as they have with every other monumental development in American history — whether technological, cultural, or existential — librarians are already preparing for how to evolve to serve us best.

Encouraging Americans to teleport outside their own lives has always been libraries’ most impressive superpower. To that end, Michigan librarian Jessica Bratt puts out books that help fight Islamophobia, a focus given the city’s refugee population. “I have stories,” she adds, “where kids had never met anyone from the LGBT community until they read a particular book. And that shaped and opened up their whole world.” Of course, libraries have also found themselves at the center of battles over censorship or privacy, as when parents complained about the pernicious influence of Harry Potter, or when the Patriot Act threatened to make the government privy to our reading lists. And there are plenty of smaller, constant fights over what knowledge children should be steered toward while they’re learning about the world for the first time.

Every year, the Grand Rapids Public Library in Michigan sends out one book to every fifth grader in the city as part of the “One City, One Book” program. In 2015, it chose One Crazy Summer, which follows young sisters who move to Oakland in 1968 and learn about the Black Panther Party. There was some pushback about how the book portrayed the police, Bratt says, but her colleagues defended the choice, saying that kids needed to read it. There were several meetings in which the choice was discussed, and attendees got quite emotional. It had not been long since Trayvon Martin was murdered. But, Bratt says, “the schools took a chance. It was all worth it,” and the students loved it.

Bratt’s also one of the founders of Libraries 4 Black Lives, a group trying to get librarians across the country to take a stand on racial justice, and knew she wanted to be a librarian ever since she was a kid growing up on the South Side of Chicago. “Libraries have a long history of social action,” she says. “We can take a stand — don’t need to be on the tail end of history anymore.” Now living in Grand Rapids, she’s trying to make her career into a case study of how librarians can advocate for social justice at the local level.

But when states or school districts need to slash budgets, libraries are often targeted. This means the school librarians often have fewer qualifications, and students end up learning less about how to find good information — a major problem in a world requiring everyone to sift through reams of questionable facts and figures every day. “The public schools needed support,” Bratt says. “Some schools still [have] Windows 98.” So she worked to create a virtual library card that let all students at Grand Rapids public schools access the public library’s resources.

Oregon librarian Diedre Conkling agrees that her colleagues have an important role to play in nearly every big fight happening in politics right now. “Everything is related to libraries,” says Conkling, who sits on the American Library Association’s Social Responsibilities Round Table. “You could name almost any topic, and I could tell you how it’s related to libraries.” Take fossil fuels, for example: SRRT is trying to convince ALA to divest, while individual libraries try to become more sustainable. Or gun violence: The SRRT wants the organization to take a stand on guns in libraries, especially as open carry laws proliferate.

Convincing librarians nationwide “takes a while, but we’re persistent.” Sometimes it takes a very long time, Conkling says, alluding to libraries’ slow progress on civil rights. Shortly before Obama was inaugurated, Representative John Lewis told Terry Gross that he “was so inspired by Dr. King that in 1956, with some of my brothers and sisters and first cousins — I was only 16 years old — we went down to the public library, trying to check out some books. And we were told by the librarian that the library was for whites only and not for colors. ... I never went back to that public library until July 5, 1998 ... for a book signing of my book, Walking with the Wind. And they gave me a library card after the program was over.”

Of course, libraries can still be sites of intolerance and hate today. Julie Todaro, president of the American Library Association, says “it’s startling” how many hate crimes branches around the country have endured lately. A woman studying at the University of New Mexico library was shocked when a man came up behind her and tried to remove her hijab. Someone drew swastikas inside a copy of the Koran at the Evanston Public Library in Illinois, and another person wrote “The White Man Is Back in Power” on the wall of the Reed College library in Oregon. Todaro says a similar spike in hate crimes happened after 9/11, but that staffers everywhere have had to consider security in a way they never had to before. Many librarians are even taking part in active-shooter training now, Todaro says, and seminars on security are commonplace. “We want people to feel like libraries are safe havens,” she says. It just takes some extra effort sometimes.
WE WANT PEOPLE TO FEEL LIKE LIBRARIES ARE SAFE HAVENS.
And although our new president may not argue that the effort is worth it, many a powerful person has cited libraries as the secret ingredient that made their rise possible. Thomas Jefferson said he couldn’t live without them; Ben Carson, Sonia Sotomayor, and countless others had formative experiences in these public spaces — including Barack Obama, who told a roomful of librarians in 2005 that “the library represents a window to a larger world.” At the time Obama gave his speech, the only thing America knew about him was that he loved words and understood their power.

He also knew that those who disagreed with him were equally conscious of the power of books: “Since ancient antiquity, whenever those who seek power would want to control the human spirit, they have gone after libraries and books.” He mentioned the texts cremated at the Library of Alexandria and in communist block countries, and the copies of Huckleberry Finn kept from the shelves. They were moments “worth pondering,” Obama said, “at a time when truth and science are constantly being challenged by political agendas and ideologies, at a time when language is used not to illuminate but, rather, to obfuscate.” Twelve years later, the speech still feel fresh, even if the past year has left many of us questioning Obama’s belief that “libraries remind us that truth isn’t about who yells the loudest, but who has the right information.”

Libraries know that it’s getting harder to find the right information in the sinkhole that is the modern media environment, so they’re doing what they always do — evolving to find new ways to give users what they need. Plenty of libraries have already found a way to be relevant in 2017 — Bratt and Todaro both said that their libraries were planning on hosting fake-news panels in January. The latest cover of the School Library Journal includes a headline asking if librarians are the best hope against fake news. The unemployed go to libraries to apply for jobs or food stamps. The Pima County Public Library in Arizona hired a nurse who gives flu shots and other care to visitors who might be homeless, or just need extra help.

And despite the fact that we have an exponentially growing list of ways to access information just sitting there in our pocket — and a president who seems to be a personified Glade PlugIn for ignorance — librarians aren’t worried about disappearing from the American ethos. “Public libraries are in a good place,” says Wayne Wiegand, a library historian and a fellow at the Library of Congress Kluge Center. “There are more libraries than McDonald’s.” Conkling remembers when a journalist sat down next to her on a bus during the 1976 ALA conference in New York. He asked if she thought that CD-ROMs meant that libraries would soon be obsolete. “I don’t see that happening,” she said.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t individual branches — rural and urban — worried about their future, or places where books aren’t an endangered resource, especially when profit comes into play. In 2016, the nearly 1.5 million people who live in the Bronx lost their last bookstore. On the Sunday before inauguration this year, writers gathered on the steps of the New York Public Library to protest Trump. Those assembled carried signs with quotes from James Baldwin and Audre Lorde, but the biggest sign of all hung from the building itself, announcing perhaps the most effective way to fight back against those who use words to confuse and hide. In unavoidable red and yellow, it read, “GET A LIBRARY CARD.”

Beneath the sign, an army of winter coat–clad clipboard-holders were gathering signatures for Citizens Defending Libraries, a group that fights closures and sales of libraries across the city. The petitions noted that Stephen Schwarzman, the businessman whose name graced the library branch everyone had gathered in front of, was a Trump adviser. “Libraries are a bulwark of democracy,” co-founder Michael D.D. White said while handing the petition to another protester. “If we protect libraries, they’ll protect us.” And since Americans trust so few institutions to explain the world or make it better in 2017, librarians will have a lot of protecting to do if the right information is ever going to beat out the loudest again.

Source: MTV.com

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Hamiton Spectator: Hamilton Coun. Donna Skelly won’t back down on library budget brouhaha

Margaret Atwood weighs in on social media uproar against councillor

Councillor Donna Skelly comments on library funding draw fire.

By Matthew Van Dongen

Coun. Donna Skelly won't back down in the face of growing public criticism over her questioning of the cost and validity of Hamilton library services.

The agency's own statistics, however, show the library is pinching pennies while managing to lure more visitors and expand programming.

Karoline Reape and her daughters Rayna, 3, and one-year-old Selena spend some time in the children's department at the downtown branch of the Hamilton Public Library. The library was the perfect retreat on a dull, damp, January day

The Mountain councillor spurred online outrage Friday when she questioned a would-be $518,000 budget hike for the library, which has 22 branches and two bookmobiles.

"I'm concerned we're almost coming up with ways to validate the existence of our libraries in their current form and the $30-million budget," Skelly said, later arguing technology is changing the role of libraries and most students no longer need them to do physical research. "They're on Google."

The comments spurred an immediate flurry of online declarations of support for the library, including a tweet from Mayor Fred Eisenberger calling the agency "a model of innovation and collaboration in a changing digital society and economy." By the end of the weekend, worried library fans even prompted a Twitter query about the ruckus from celebrated Canadian author and library champion Margaret Atwood ("What can be done? Is there a plan?")

In a Monday interview, Skelly rejected media reports and online accusations that she was questioning the need to fund libraries. "I never suggested for a minute that we defund libraries," she said. "But we can't be afraid to even ask a question when (an agency) comes forward with a request to increase their budget."

Skelly said she opposes the library's request for an extra $518,000 this year, given the city's struggle to whittle down a prospective 5 per cent average tax hike.

The councillor argued library circulation and physical visits are trending down, so she is interested in learning if the "evolving" library is making the best use of existing space or taking on educational programming "better funded by the province."

Councillors have "every right to question our budget," said chief librarian Paul Takala, who will make a formal 2017 budget pitch Thursday. But he noted library visits were actually up dramatically last year, with a nearly 13 per cent jump to 3.95 million.

Overall circulation of material was down 1.7 per cent, but use of computers, library Internet access and program attendance increased.

At the same time, the library has cut staff via attrition by four employees since 2015 and is down by 15 full-time equivalents since amalgamation.

By contrast, council is struggling to rein in yearly staff growth that prompted a three-hour closed-door session Friday about potential cuts or hiring freezes.

Most of the library's requested budget bump — more than $400,000 — is due to a mandatory requirement to match the city's own cost-of-living wage hike for its employees, Takala added. Even so, the library managed to meet the 1.8 per cent maximum budget increase requested by council.

Takala said as use of digital material increases and physical book collections shrink, the library is "reprogramming" space for digital media labs, new programs and the cost-cutting relocation of its technical services department.

He also pointed to the library's focus on helping parents "grow the next generation of readers," adding Google doesn't teach kids to read.

"It's true that the use of the library, our learning programs, is evolving," he said, acknowledging the online tributes to children's programming and public Internet access. "I'm glad to see there is support out there."

Source: The Hamilton Spectator