Street Books

I recently did an interview with Street Books librarian Laura Moulton, who runs a free bike-powered library for people who live outside.

Good news update:  the original project was funded by a Regional Arts and Culture Council grant, but Laura just announced that it will live on past the term of the grant, which was due to end in early September.  Based on the enthusiastic response she’s gotten, from both patrons and donors, this is an idea whose time has come.  There’s someone in Seattle interested in starting a Street Books library there, and who knows where else?

You can read the full interview here.

Once I had a kid who’d torn it up a little because it was his 21st birthday, and he told me so.  He was pretty swaggery and belligerent.  I asked him what he liked and he said Che Guevara.  The next week he came back and asked for that, not really even looking at me.  I said yes, here it is, and it blew his mind.  I saw him again and waved to him when I was biking home on Saturday, and he waved back.  It’s a pretty cool thing.

 

laura moulton with the street books cart

The ivory tower and the street

My academic library is in an area of Portland, OR that’s starting to transition.  Many of our closest neighbors are missions, shelters, and other social services, and there are plenty of folks who sleep on the sidewalks and under the bridges.  On the other hand, the library is in a beautifully restored 19th-century block of warehouses, along with the rest of the University of Oregon in Portland–and a handful of creative, financial, and other firms.  Next door to us is the brand-new headquarters of Mercy Corps, a major international aid agency. And going in across the street is the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, renovating yet another of the old neighborhood buildings.

A little further down the street, an artist, writer, and activist named Laura Moulton has set up a project called Street Books, providing a free library service to people who live outside.  With funding from Oregon’s Regional Arts and Culture Council, Laura’s repurposed a snazzy, vintage-looking delivery bicycle to hold about 50 books and a card catalog.  She keeps regular hours–two shifts a week in two different locations–and checks her books out without due dates or home addresses required.  She gets them back, too.

Reading a little about the project on Laura’s site, and passing by her setup as she’s working, has made me reflect a little on some of the most basic values that underlie what we do in all libraries.  Here’s the CLA’s list of “Our Values.”  I like the first one in particular.

We believe that libraries and the principles of intellectual freedom and free universal access to information are key components of an open and democratic society.

Diversity is a major strength of our Association.

An informed and knowledgeable membership is central in achieving library and information policy goals.

Effective advocacy is based upon understanding the social, cultural, political and historical contexts in which libraries and information services function.

Laura’s project walks the talk–whether you call it art or librarianship, or something else completely.  I’ll be trying to take a little of her style and substance into the work I do in my library.  Maybe you can too?

street books logo

Cross-posted at Re: Generations, a blog for Canadian academic librarians.

Sobering thoughts on higher ed

n+1 has some pretty disquieting thoughts about higher education, student loan debt, and the changing profile of university campuses, both for- and greenback dollarnon-profit.  Author Malcolm Harris compares the spiraling costs of federally-backed student loans to the housing bubble that just blew up in our faces.  He writes:

The result [of increasing student loans] is over $800 billion in outstanding student debt, over 30 percent of it securitized, and the federal government directly or indirectly on the hook for almost all of it.

Yowch.  Of particular interest, if you happen to be or know someone with student debts or probable future student debts, is Harris’s overview of how higher ed has shifted to a corporate-ized model over the last forty years or so.  Tuition costs have exploded, which means students take on more debt–but there’s less and less assurance that when they graduate they’ll have a job at all, much less a job allowing them to pay off $50,000 while also establishing a household and a life.  At the same time, high-cost university courses are more likely than ever to be taught by adjuncts or graduate students, who are paid little and have no job security.

And while the proportion of tenure-track teaching faculty has dwindled, the number of managers has skyrocketed in both relative and absolute terms. If current trends continue, the Department of Education estimates that by 2014 there will be more administrators than instructors at American four-year nonprofit colleges. A bigger administration also consumes a larger portion of available funds, so it’s unsurprising that budget shares for instruction and student services have dipped over the past fifteen years.

Double yowch.  And:

If tuition has increased astronomically and the portion of money spent on instruction and student services has fallen, if the (at very least comparative) market value of a degree has dipped and most students can no longer afford to enjoy college as a period of intellectual adventure, then at least one more thing is clear: higher education, for-profit or not, has increasingly become a scam.

Triple yowch.

In today’s Oregonian (our newspaper around these parts) was a piece about a bipartisan state bill (HB 2732) that was just passed, requiring high school students to apply to university, the military, or an apprenticeship program before they can receive their high school diploma.  There’s no requirement that people actually follow through (although an application to enlist in the military seems potentially binding to me) but the bill is on its way to the Senate.  No word on whether the state will put any more money into actually funding degrees for those students who are accepted.

Image: Burlington County National Greenback Labor Ticket, courtesy Cornell University Collection of Political Americana

Pop-up library in Mexico

My good friend Juanita Benedicto, librarian extraordinaire, has been living in Mexico for the last year or two, working remotely and helping out at a convent, orphanage, and women’s shelter.  She blogs about life in Mexico from time to time, and today’s post was pretty amazing and inspiring.

Once a week, a young couple—he is sitting on the bench, she’s on the curb and they’re both reading to a child—fills a suitcase full of books and  rolls it out to the plaza in Mexiamora. They set the books out and children come to read the books, some with their parents. In a Country where wages are low and book prices are high, books are a luxury. Especially children’s books. I think it’s incredibly forward-thinking for this couple to create their own book mobile and dedicate an afternoon every week to give their neighbors the satisfaction of reading and being read to.

The plazas that fill Guanajuato unite neighbors and create friends. Every evening, this one is filled with people sitting and talking, kids playing, and sometimes, impromptu dog parks….How wonderful that these spaces can become homes to portable libraries as well.

Photo credit (Original photo is at Juanita’s blog.)

Juanita also coordinates donations to help build library donations for the convent, Buen Pastor.  If you’re interested in sending money or Spanish children’s books her way to help out, you can find out more here.

UC says no to Nature Publishing Group.

The question is, what will Nature Publishing Group say back?

The UC system has sent a strongly-worded letter to NPG, in response to NPG’s plans to increase journal subscription costs by 400% next year.

Four hundred percent.  Four.  Hundred.  Percent.

These are not cheap journal subscriptions to start with, let me remind you.  In 2007, average journal cost for math and computer science journals was $1313.  Average journal cost for physics was $2865.  [Source:  Library Journal.]

If we even use those outdated costs (journal subscription inflation tends to be in the neighborhood of 10%, so they are outdated) then that would put the average cost of physics journals at $11460.  Per year.  Per journal.

And, as a reminder:  much of the content published in these journals is produced by faculty and students at the universities that are then asked to pay exorbitant subscription costs.  Much of it is funded by federal, state, or other government grants.

I’m tagging this one “social justice.”  And will be interested to hear what happens with The Big No.  (My prediction is that this 400% is an opening gambit by NPG, designed to make their final finishing place look more “reasonable,” although it will probably still be an enormous hike over the current year’s already-exorbitant rates.)

Flickr Creative Commons photo by U-g-g-Boy.

A librarian raises $20,000 for Haiti

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but this seems like a fitting return to the blog.  Cliff Landis, Technology Librarian at Valdosta State Library in Valdosta, GA, pledged to match aid donations to Haiti from his own savings–up to $10,000.  He thought it would take a month and a half to get there.  It took three days.

Cliff’s video response to this is very much worth watching.