Freedom to Read Week is an annual event that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Libraries, Hackspaces and E-waste: how libraries can be the hub of a young maker revolution
Every discussion of libraries in the age of austerity always includes at least one blowhard who opines, "What do we need libraries for? We've got the Internet now!"
The problem is that Mr. Blowhard has confused a library with a book depository. Now, those are useful, too, but a library isn't just (or even necessarily) a place where you go to get books for free. Public libraries have always been places where skilled information professionals assisted the general public with the eternal quest to understand the world. Historically, librarians have sat at the coalface between the entire universe of published material and patrons, choosing books with at least a colorable claim to credibility, carefully cataloging and shelving them, and then assisting patrons in understanding how to synthesize the material contained therein.
Libraries have also served as community hubs, places where the curious, the scholarly, and the intellectually excitable could gather in the company of one another, surrounded by untold information-wealth, presided over by skilled information professionals who could lend technical assistance where needed. My own life has included many protracted stints in libraries — for example, I dropped out of high-school when I was 14 took myself to Toronto's Metro Reference Library and literally walked into the shelves at random, selected the first volume that aroused my curiosity, read it until it suggested another line of interest, then chased that one up. When I found the newspaper microfilm, I was blown away, and spent a week just pulling out reels at random and reading newspapers from the decades and centuries before, making notes and chasing them up with books. We have a name for this behavior today, of course: "browsing the Web." It was clunkier before the Web went digital, but it was every bit as exciting.
(Eventually my parents figured out I wasn't going to school, and after the ensuing confrontations, I ended up at a most excellent independent/alternative school, but that's another story)
Later, I worked as a page at North York Public Library's central branch, in the Business and Urban Affairs department. Working at a library is an unparalleled opportunity to witness the full range of human curiosity, from excited students working on school assignments together to wild-eyed entrepreneurs pursuing their dreams to careful senior citizens researching where to invest their personal savings to supplement their pensions (and lots more besides). All these people were using the library as a place, a resource, and a community. Because that's what libraries are.
And we've never needed that more than we need it today. We've run out of places. What used to be public squares and parks are now malls. Places that used to welcome kids now prohibit them (in England, where I live, some smart-aleck invented a device called "the mosquito," which plays a shrill tone only audible to young ears, used to drive children away from semi-public spaces like the benches in front of stores).
What's more, we're *drowning* in information. Pre-Internet librarianship was like pre-Internet newspaper publishing: "select, then publish." That is, all the unfiltered items are presented to a gatekeeper, who selects the best of them, and puts them in front of the rest of the world. Now we live in a "publish, then select" world: everyone can reach everything, all the time, and the job of experts is to collect and annotate that material, to help others navigate its worth and truthfulness.
That is to say that society has never needed its librarians, and its libraries, more. The major life-skill of the information age is information literacy, and no one's better at that than librarians. It's what they train for. It's what they live for.
But there's another gang of information-literate people out there, a gang who are a natural ally of libraries and librarians: the maker movement. Clustered in co-operative workshops called "makerspaces" or "hack(er)spaces," makers build physical stuff. They make robots, flying drones, 3D printers (and 3D printed stuff), jewelry, tools, printing presses, clothes, medieval armor... Whatever takes their fancy. Making in the 21st century has moved out of the individual workshop and gone networked. Today's tinkerer work in vast, distributed communities where information sharing is the norm, where the ethics and practices of the free/open source software movement has gone physical. Such hackspaces play a prominent role in my own fiction (thanks, no doubt, to the neighborly presence to the London Hackspace, which is directly over my own office in Hackney). In my new novel,
Homeland (the sequel to 2008's Little Brother), my protagonist Marcus discovers the tools of personal and social revolution through his friends at Noisebridge, a real-world makerspace in San Francisco.
At first blush, the connection between makers and libraries might be hard to see. But one of the impacts of building your own computing devices (a drone, a 3D printer, and a robot are just specialized computers in fancy cases) is that it forces you to confront the architecture and systems that underlie your own information consumption. Savvy librarians will know that our access to networked information is mediated by dozens of invisible sources, from the unaccountable search algorithms that determine our starting (and often, ending) points, to the equally unaccountable censoring network "filters" that arbitrarily block whole swathes of the Internet, to underlying hardware and operating system constraints and choices that make certain kinds of information easy to consume, and other kinds nearly impossible.
In the automobile age, everyone was expected to know the fundamentals of how their cars worked. Even if you paid someone else to change your oil, it would take an act of will to attain adulthood in the USA without learning a bit about the mechanics underpinning the signal invention of your era. There were just too many ways that a car could go wrong, and too many ways that your life revolved around cars to rely on the rest of the world to understand them for you.
Now we live in the computer age, and if we thought we relied on cars, we hadn't seen anything. Some people spend so much time in their cars that it's like they live in them. But you literally do live inside a computer -- a modern house, car, or institutional building is just a giant computer you put your body into. And modern hearing aids, pacemakers, and prostheses are computers you put inside your body.
Every part of our lives have been permeated by computers, and these computers have the power to peer into our private lives, to compromise our finances, to shape our political beliefs, to disrupt our families, and to destroy our workplaces. That is, if computers don't serve us, they can (and do) destroy us.
But for people who master networked computers and make them into honest servants, computers deliver incredible dividends. A UK study compared similar families, some with access to the net and others without, and found that the families with net access had better education, were more civically engaged, more politically informed, had better jobs and income, were more socially mobile — even their health and nutrition was better. If computers are on your side, they elevate every single thing we use to measure quality of life.
So we need to master computers — to master the systems of information, so that we can master information itself.
That's where makers come in. One of the curious aspects of computers is that they evolve so quickly that they rapidly become obsolete. That means that our communities are drowning in "e-waste," often sent to developing nations where children labor in horrific conditions to turn them back into materials to be reintroduced into the manufacturing stream.
What if, instead of shipping our communities' "dead" computers to China to be dipped in acid by unprotected children, we brought them to our libraries. What if we enlisted our makers to run workshops at the libraries, workshops where the patrons who come to the library to use the limited computers there were taught to build their own PCs, install GNU/Linux on them, and *bring them home*? People who say that it's dumb to turn libraries into book-lined Internet cafes are right.
Internet at the library should be the gateway drug for building a PC of your own, from parts, learning firsthand how computers work, what operating systems are capable of, and what locked-down devices and networks take away from their users.
Making a PC isn't hard, especially when you get the parts for free. The easiest way to get good at stuff is to make mistakes ("to double your success rate, triple your failure rate"). The best mechanic I know learned his trade by buying $100 junkers on Craigslist and destroying one after another until he got good (then: *excellent*) at it. When you're building PCs out of literal garbage, you can do no wrong. Your failures just end up back in the same dumpster they were headed for in the first place.
Look, we've got more computer junk than we know what to do with and a generation of kids whose "information literacy" extends to learning PowerPoint and being lectured about plagiarizing from Wikipedia and putting too much information on Facebook. The invisible, crucial infrastructure of our century is treated as the province of wizards and industrialists, and hermetically sealed, with no user-serviceable parts inside.
Damn right libraries shouldn't be book-lined Internet cafes. They should be book-lined, computer-filled information-dojos where communities come together to teach each other black-belt information literacy, where initiates work alongside noviates to show them how to master the tools of the networked age from the bare metal up.
My young adult novels always feature kids who build their own tools, in part because the coolest, most curious kids I know are already doing this. But it's also because this is a hobby that's available to anyone. The information is online, free. The raw materials aren't just free, they're worth *less than nothing*, a liability and a nuisance to be rid of. And the dividends are stupendous. Only through understanding the tools of information can we master them, and only by mastering them can we use them to make our lives better, rather than destroying them.
Cory Doctorow will be at the Lillian H. Smith Library in Toronto on March 1, 2013 at 7:00pm (doors open at 6pm).
Tuesday, March 6th: 6:30pm to 8:00pm
3608 West 4th Avenue in Vancouver
“Poser is a powerful, honest, ruefully funny memoir about one woman's openhearted reckoning with her demons . . . In the hands of a gifted writer, the universal is embedded within the personal. —The New York Times Book Review
“One part memoir, one part social critique, one part yoga history, Claire Dederer’s Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses asks what contemporary motherhood ought to look like … Poser is superb.” —The Globe and Mail
“This memoir about her decade doing downward dog while raising two kids and trying to keep her marriage alive reads like Eat, Pray, Love for hip but harried moms . . . funny, well-observed, and ultimately inspiring.” —People four stars
Check out Claire's latest interview on NPR!
News / February 17, 2012
Results are in this year's National Book Count and the results are very good. Books sold and circulated in Canadian stores and libraries are up and for the first time e-book sales are counted too. All the results are here.
- The library community in Canada is truly amazing, especially the Canadian Urban Libraries Council. Jefferson Gilbert at the council worked with 28 public library systems across Canada to individually tabulate their weekly circulation. Jefferson is polite friendly and efficient, just the same tone you find at your local library.
- The independent book store community is alive and well. Over 260 independent bookstores helped out in the book count this year and they sold a lot of books. I was at the BC Winter Book Fair in Victoria last weekend where the keynote speaker Oren Teicher from the American Booksellers Association spoke about the renaissance in independent bookstores. His comments came on the heels of reports showing a 15% increase in indie sales over Christmas. Bodes well for a healthy book ecosystem.
- The large chains were extremely helpful, especially Indigo. They do so much every day to ignite a passion for reading and hot books this is not too surprising. And BookManager, BookNet and la Société de gestion de la Banque de titres de langue française (BTLF) the aggregator folks who work behind the scenes. They provide weekly reporting on book sales and they found time in their hectic schedules to follow up on queries and double check numbers. They are like the accounting firm who count the Oscar votes... without them we have no Oscar show.
Education / May 18, 2011
The National Reading Campaign is a devoted group of publishers, librarians and educators. Their site is treasure trove of reports and analysis on the state of reading in Canada — reports on everything from reading programs for parents and babies in Quebec to First Nations programs in the west.
The NRC recently posted some video from their second conference that took place in Montreal back in January, and I want to recommend two that are worth watching.
John Raulston Saul gave a speech on reading and new Canadians in which he declared that reading for kids is "a Declaration of Independence" and than goes on to show why business managers and educational bureaucrats claim to support reading, but actually discourage independent reading. He makes the observation that in the many years he has spent visiting schools he can always tell which schools have teacher librarians and which don't (owing to budget cuts). In schools with a librarian, the kids speak in complete sentences. In other schools the don't. Reductive yes, but it does frame the issue pretty starkly.
The other video from Jon Scieszka is very funny, seemingly very off the cuff and full of practical experience about how boys and girls read differently. His topic fits in beautifully with a book we have on our list Why Boys Fail Saving Our Sons From an Educational System That's Leaving Them Behind, which is well worth a read.
Jon also use a memorable image when arguing that boy and girls often like different types of books. Imagine if you could only read the books that are sitting on the bedside table of your spouse and vice versa. I know my wife would quit reading pretty quickly...
The third and Final National Reading Summit is scheduled for Vancouver in 2012 stay tuned for more developments.
Create Your Own Planet
Chronicle Books ISBN 9780811871464
Trying to explain the world beyond the window to young children such as my own is tough, but this fun “doodle and draw” book makes them to think about life around them, from whether caterpillars wear shoes to what makes people happy.
Chronicle Books ISBN 9780811872805
Imaginative play at its best — while the young girl in Shadow creates her own world with simple items found in the attic, young readers create their own story to the simple, striking images in the wordless book.
Every Day's A Holiday: Year-Round Crafting with Kids
Chronicle Books ISBN 9780811871440
I can’t get enough of craft books — they are without hesitation my favourite reads. I love this one for the range of techniques and materials, from fruit-stamping onto fabric to constructing a garden basket out of mini fencing, as well as for the list of unusual holidays — World Origami Days, who knew?
Heather Camlot is the editor of MySweetBaby.
Play All Day
Chronicle Books ISBN 9780811871211
Trust Taro Gomi to take it to the next level. While everyone else is now doing doodle books he’s moved on to playing. Play All Day is filled with things to punch out and make from games to toys to finger puppets. It’s literally hours of engaging entertainment and would be great for holiday travel with kids.
Chronicle Books ISBN 9780811872805
Shadow, a two-word, two colour book about a dark attic, a light bulb and an imaginative little girl can be “read” right side up or upside down as one side shows what’s really in the attic while the other shows how the shadows of ordinary household items like a vacuum cleaner and a ladder morph into a tropical jungle complete with exotic animals, rampant vegetation and just a hint of danger. Kids of all ages are entranced by the shadow world and Lee's lovely art.
Ivy + Bean What's the Big Idea
Chronicle Books ISBN 9780811866927
I've enjoyed reading this whole series with my now seven-year-old and the latest book in the series. The adventures of this unlikely BFF duo are everyday in a lovely way that kids can relate to and parents will appreciate. With nary a licensed character in sight, Ivy and Bean's shenanigans are based on imaginary play and they're just "naughty" enough that kids will thrill to it but parents won't be dismayed. Plus I was thrilled to be able to meet Annie Barrows when she came to town this fall, my kids thought I was a rock star!
Chronicle Books ISBN 9780811870412
I know this book is a favourite among the Raincoast staff, but I have to call it out as well.
I am most certainly not the professional baker or bread-maker in our home, but thankfully neither is my sweetie James. Chad Robertson, however, has promised me that his detailed descriptions and step-by-step inspiration will result in the perfect loaf of bread. I'm totally game!
Those in my family who make bread are like magi. They understand the feel of the bread, the smell of the starter. I understand the taste of awesome warm bread melting in my mouth, and the smell of good bread from the oven. We'll see how my training goes.
My resolution for 2011 is to make bread, and I'm putting my eggs and flour into Chad Robertson's Tartine Bread basket.
Just an Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure
James L. D'Adamo
Hay House ISBN 9781401927196
I'm infinitely fascinated by natural medicine and how little Western nations have invested in understanding natural remedies, diet, exercise and meditation. I'm also frightened by the reactive approach the medical system, insurance industry and government take to health. I truly believe that we have to take responsibility for our own health and wellness, and Dr. D'Adamo's teachings add one more piece of the puzzle.
WHO defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
If I needed to cheerlead, this is the book that gets two pom-pom fist pumps.
Vancouver Then and Now
Thunder Bay ISBN 9781592239177
The previously mentioned non-baker in our house is also a big fan of Then and Now photography. We have quite a digital collection of historic and contemporary photos of Winnipeg, and are constantly on the look out for cool before and after shots of Vancouver. Why? Why not. Getting to know a place requires you to know what came before. One of the things that impressed me while travelling in the Middle East was the street directions--go north to the old hotel, turn left ... (by "old hotel" they mean something that was there 50+ years ago that is no longer there but is still in recent memory and continues to be because of the instructions). By the way, never get lost with me. Bring money and your phone.
Speaking of travel, James and I were recently in Wanderlust on 4th Ave and we spent a long time perusing this book instead of buying my suitcase and clipping through the rest of our shopping list. (Needless to say, someone has a book in his stocking.)
Day and Night
Chronicle Books ISBN 9780811876643
Since Pete has already called out the wonders of Tartine Bread, I'll add Day and Night to my list of favourites.
Part of going to a Pixar movie is the joy of watching the Pixar shorts in advance of the feature film. I first saw Day and Night as the short before Toy Story 3, and I was equally charmed by the picture book. Pixar is magical in all its formats.
In Day and Night, Day meets Night and Night meets Day. There's confusion, a bit of fighting, and a moment of realization that blossoms into a lovely ending. Super cute.
Monique Trottier is the founder of Boxcar Marketing and the blogger behind SoMisguided.com, a site about books, writing, perfume, technology and other amusements. She runs amok in Vancouver and on twitter @somisguided.
Those who know me well consider me to be a bad girl, a rebel if you will. I think that is why they hired me as a Children's Book Publicist here at Raincoast, to give it a bit more edge. Rules? Ha! I laugh in the face of rules. So when Dan Wagstaff our dashing (yes dashing! Have you heard Dan's English accent?) Online Marketing Specialist asked us all to come up with our favorite 3 books of 2010 I said "No way! I'm choosing 5!" So here they are, in no particular order, Crystal Allen's Favorite Raincoast Books of 2010!
Out of Sight
Francesco Pittau and Bernadette Gervais
Chronicle Books ISBN 9780811877121
I remember the first time I heard about this book I thought "Oh that sounds like it will be pretty good!" Then I saw it and it and I was absolutely blown away! If you want to buy one book this year that will be enjoyed by everyone in your family from ages 6 months (with supervision) to 100 this is the book. The animal kingdom comes alive with over 50 known and unknown creatures from around the world. With lift the flaps and pop ups this 11 inch by 15 inch book is not only beautiful but it will also keep a child entertained for hours. And it's only $22.95 which gives you a lot of bang for your gift giving buck!
The Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country in the World
Lonely Planet ISBN 9781741792119
My husband and I were given the first edition of The Travel Book for a wedding present back in 2006. Too poor to travel the world we often pull this tomb out and armchair travel for an evening. The book has 229 countries & destinations to explore each laid out over a two page full color spread. My very favorite part of the book is that each destination has recommendations on something to Read, Listen To, Watch, Eat and Drink to help experience the country. Then it sums up each country in one word. One of my favorites is Tahiti who's word is Haere Maru which means Take It Slow.
Alphabeasties Amazing Activities
Sharon Werner & Sarah Forss
Blue Apple ISBN 9781609050412
One of my favorite book of 2009 was Alphabeasties, a book that explored all the different types of fonts and turned them into animals made out of combinations of different typefaces. From an alligator made of A's to a Zebra made of Z's the book took fonts blocky, small, thick, tall, roundish, slope-y fancy and dopey and brought them to life. For 2010 we have the sequel to the book Alphabeasties Amazing Activities which is packed full of mazes, word searches, rebus puzzles and other intellectual play plus 300 stickers and the really cool animals. It's a must have not only for kids but also for design nerds... or want to be design nerds... like me.
I had the opportunity to work with 2 fabulous authors in 2010 for their Canadian Tours and I would be remise if I did not mention their books on my list.
The first was the lovely Annie Barrows who visited Vancouver and did 3 events plus a bookseller & librarian lunch all in one day for her new book Ivy and Bean What's The Big Idea. The Ivy and Bean books are my very favorite chapter book series about two girls who are neighbors and best friends and get into all kinds of mischief together. My favorite books as a child were the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary and these take me right back to those days. Like the Ramona books the Ivy and Bean books have huge fans that are both female and male. I expected a ton of little girls to gush over Annie during the day that I spent with her but I was pleasantly surprised to see how many little boys were huge fans as well!
The second author we had in Canada was the hilarious and delightful Bart King who visited Toronto to promote his book The Big Book Of Gross Stuff. Bart was on Breakfast Television and fried up some worms for a little breakfast treat and had a great time sharing gross facts from around the world on YTV's The Zone. Farts, poop, boogers, maggots, vomit, head cheese and just about every other gross thing you can think of are explored in this book so it will delight boys (and we have to admit girls too) with it's grossness. The thing that parents will love? Bart is a middle school teacher so while kids think they are reading about all this nasty stuff that would churn grownups stomachs they are actually being tricked into learning a lot of really great things!
So that's my list of my favorite books of 2010! I think there is something for just about anyone that you may have on your gift list! Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!
Crystal Allen is the Children's and Travel Publicist at Raincoast books. As much as she would like to think of herself as a bad girl, she really isn't. She is also mama to 2 year old Isabella and the owner of Lilikoi Lane where she makes and designs really cool shirts for kids!
Modern North: Architecture on the Frozen Edge
Princeton Architectural Press ISBN 9781568988993
This is a beautiful coffee table book—typical of Princeton Architectural Press—celebrating modern architecture from northern countries around the world. It's accessible enough for people like me who have a passing interest in architecture, but there's enough detail to satisfy the professionals. The book is packed with more than 30 examples of residential and commercial modern architecture projects from Iceland, Alaska, Finland, Norway and several projects in our own north. Also included is a great piece from Globe and Mail architecture columnist Lisa Rochon, titled "Canadian Architecture and the North" excerpted from her 2005 book Up North: Where Canada's Architecture Meets the Land (Key Porter).
Chronicle Books ISBN 9780811870412
This is a stunning package from Chronicle Books by Chad Robertson—dubbed by some in the baking world as the Jesus of Bread-Making. I'm not even a big bread fan and I love this book. Tartine Bread should satisfy everyone from the armchair foodies, to people that just want to learn how to bake amazing bread, to the master class who want to pick up some new tips. Chad Robertson likes surfing and baking bread and he's super handsome. Watch the book trailer. Seriously, it rules:
The Travel Book. A Journey Through Every Country in the World
Lonely Planet ISBN 9781741792119
The 'The' in the title pretty much sums this one up. It is the travel book. A big, over-sized coffee table book with a page spread devoted to every country in the world. Beautiful photos on one page, facts, geography and trivia on the facing page. I feel sorry for your coffee table without it.
Pete MacDougall is Raincoast's National Accounts Manager. His dog Thomas is the Chairman of the Board.
How to Cook Like a Top Chef
Chronicle Books ISBN 978-0-8118-7486-1
Top Chef is the pick of the litter when it comes to reality TV. This colourful cookbook helps you to recreate and taste some of the show's most memorable dishes, and is a crash-course in techniques, ingredients, and the art of cooking on the fly.
It also includes recipes from some of the renowned chefs who competed on Top Chef: Masters, such as Hubert Keller and Rick Bayless. Bayless' Chile-Garlic shrimp is a winner!
Bear in Underwear
Blue Apple ISBN 9781609050160
Not sure what it says about my maturity level, but this book makes me smile. Bear and his adorable forest friends (I have a soft spot for Porcupine and Big Foot) discover a bag full of underwear and try them on for size. Bear's undies on the cover are made of real fabric, which is guaranteed to get a laugh out of the target audience...and maybe those who fall outside of it, too.
Passions Book Journal
Moleskine ISBN 9788862933193
It's the perfect marriage: Moleskine journals and literary obsessions. I love having a place to store my ever-growing lists of "What to read next," and "Books____ would like," as well having a journal tailored to collecting favourite quotes and documenting the lasting impressions that good books bring.
Chelsea Theriault is the Sales and Marketing Assistant at Raincoast, and can't imagine a life where she is not surrounded by books and pugs. Her secret weapon is colour-coded spreadsheets.