How Future-Ready Libraries Overcame Physical Limitations to Serve Those Sheltering in Place
Estimated reading time for this article: 3 mins
By James Johnson
I recently completed a research paper examining the varied COVID-19 pandemic responses of North American libraries. Of the three major types reviewed (public, academic, school), a consensus was achieved: future-ready librarians, relying on prior years of commitment to digital resource acquisition from capable predecessors, were successful in pivoting to a new, remote mode of service.
In January of 2020 both the United States of America and Canada reported their first cases of the virus SARS-CoV-2. This synchronous infection caused most Canadian provinces and American states to declare emergency measures around mid-March of 2020, respectively. Libraries were ordered to shut in Ontario on March 17th 2020, by the Premier Doug Ford. Similarly, just across the border in New York at the same time, public libraries were shuttering for their part in stemming the corona virus tide
As the economy ground to a halt, so too did our cultural outlets. Concerts, museums, archives, galleries, and of course, libraries all closed. How these institutions responded to abrupt closures is indicated by their seamless ability to function in an entirely digital environment. Those who had prepared, dedicated and curated the components required to facilitate the inevitability of remote-access were incredibly successful.
The Toronto Public Library (TPL) system, an oft cited luminary here on Library Tech Files, provided even more digital resources than in pre-pandemic years, including 2.4 million more e-books than the previous year, an increase of 32%
Not only did TPL open its digital stacks to more Torontonians than ever before, other digital services number in the dozens. It’s sometimes overlooked that libraries are not simply vessels for passive entertainment. Research and education resources are jewels in the TPL services catalogue. Powerful research tools like Ancestry Library Edition were made available for at-home use. Wasting away at home because your job closed? Courses from Lydia, Sage, and Gale are freely available for skill development and enhancement.
I often hear from reluctant readers that news and current events can be hard to come by. Print papers are scooped up by early-risers, soaring subscription prices and soft-paywalls act as significant discouraging barriers. Whenever I hear this argument, at least from Torontonians, I direct them to PressReader, an app that lets users read a vast selection of magazines and newspapers of the day, both locally and globally. All you need is a library card. Everyday, I have the National Post and Toronto Star downloaded to my mobile device via my preference settings in the app. Of course these apps aren’t truly free, our collective citizenry pays for these services through taxes. By that standard, consider it your obligation to utilize them.
Not every library system has the resources or budget to come close to what TPL offers. I get that. I’ve seen the numbers. Every library has its limitations and If one day soon I find myself uprooted to a new, smaller township, I hope to view it as an opportunity to advocate and encourage development of the library-community engagement in an effort to increase the sorts of services I value.
Digital services will continue to develop and prove themselves valuable assets to the library and information user. How your library prepares for future use will determine the continuity of success and user engagement. Libraries have demonstrated that they are community resource organizers and not only relevant today, but perhaps more so than ever.
If you reside in Ontario, consult the ministry’s index for your library’s website and details.
Serious about Serials: a periodical discussion on titles you may not find in your local library
Highlight: Drive In Asylum, Iss. 14
“In celebration of printer paper and stapled bindings, there is a love affair with the content and a hinted desire to share it with as many fans as possible…”
Estimated reading time for this article: 6 mins
By James Johnson
At the end of 2020 we discussed the unfortunate passing of editor Joe Kane, the man that cast the shadow of the Phantom of the Movie’s; a cinema reviewer extraordinaire. Truly one of the greats, Joe Kane cultivated a tone and message as columnist and film critic. He distilled this character into the pages of the cult magazine for cinema freaks, Videoscope. Although we had hoped someone would carry the mantel, the truth is many of these treasures are either in decline or defunct. Despite the sad loss of Joe, the article I wrote about Videoscope fostered a new hope in me, similar to feelings I get when searching for lost media. With this new hope and my long-time love of the medium, a series on articles, reviews, and discussions of periodicals seemed inevitable.
Of course I anticipate the reader rolling their eyes in frustration, miffed that we discuss magazines far too often. And of those discussed, fringe cinema and cult movie zines have been front and centre. Perhaps pulpy periodicals are not as popular to the average reader as “contemporary fiction on social commentary” advisory may be. There is growing cultural and social angst in our communities, and coming together to recognize injustices is more relevant than ever. Municipal funding for library programming, collection development, and resource advisory likewise could not be more relevant or needed than right now. For the most part I think our librarians are capable, qualified, and effective at delivering these services to the community. Now, more than ever, libraries are serving us in so many ways it can be hard to keep track of the apps and third party subscription services metropolitan systems tend to support. Toronto Public Library’s services are plenty, ranging from research assistance to dial-a story for sleepy time.
With that prefaced: I’m not a librarian. I’m a library technician by trade. I don’t work in a library. The pandemic has made it even harder for newer graduates to get a fair shot and those with the most experience are usually considered first for interviews. But what kind of library tech would I be if my best solution was to do nothing? Not a very good one, I can tell you. So I use this platform, which I have worked hard to build and brand, to exercise my skills and training.
Though I know reaching the most patrons possible is part of policy and for good reason. It’s cost effective and addresses common elements in most mission statements, usually something to do with equitable access and resource allocation. However, it is my opinion that I should reflect on the less obvious titles in order to promote and support content and creators, and to promote discovery of new sources otherwise overlooked.
Mainstream magazines get enough of the spotlight and certainly most of the shelf and budget space. I can use this venue to share some of the better unknown publications I have had great fun researching and reading. In a way, I get to develop my own advocacy, a skill library technicians should cultivate for career development.
In the spirit of literacy and promotion and getting out of my wheelhouse from time to time, I do plan on sharing a review of some of the resources librarians in my neck of the woods utilize. Resources for collection development and acquisitions can be websites, catalogues, and (you guessed it) periodicals. Watch for a Quill & Quire review in the near future.
What’s important to remember is this: if I only showcase or recommended the resources typically found in a public library system, the content I think has value would remain lost to a broader audience. Or potentially lost all together. Libraries can be discovery hubs to resources not in the library itself and I’m happy to support and encourage patrons to seek alternatives to the library holdings.
For now, I’d like to share a few alternatives to Videoscope in a short series of reviews. I’ve gathered some titles I think meet the requirements. These range from mainstream glossy newsstand quality to the independent enthusiast with an inkjet fanzine.
The 90’s opened the door for home-brew publications to reach greater audiences with access to the internet. E-shopping indie zines and newsletters was easy, even on dial-up. I remember receiving my Art Bell After Dark newsletter after purchasing a subscription through his website. Thumbing through pages of UFO and Bigfoot Polaroids scanned and pasted in glorious black and white with clip art highlights remains vivid in memory. Especially after receiving and reviewing Drive In Asylum’s 14th issue.
Drive-In Asylum from editor Bill Van Ryn of Groovy Doom reminds me so much from that time. When I stumbled upon their Etsy page I new I wanted to get a closer look. Scrolling through their past issues I quickly settled on issue 14, a Joe Bob Briggs feature I thought looked great. The cover illustration by contributing writer Sam Panico is eye catching and evocative. The pages are lined with classic drive in movie posters and full of reviews, commentaries, a point/counter point column, and of course, interviews. The writing has that unmistakable tone of a schlock movie mag you’d find on the stand, with informal writing, shot from the hip. I love it. I’m not reading this for an authoritative deconstruction of the narrative and structure in The Killer Shrews, I want to feel like I’m sitting on the couch with an old friend, the credits are rolling and the discussion’s are frank.
That’s not to say the articles aren’t accurate, comprehensive, or intelligent. On the contrary, the contributors are skilled and talented writers. I’ve been reading Rob Freese’s work for years and I respect his insight and opinions.
The simple but effective printing and binding method allows for a smaller bottom line for the reader, albeit at a significant sacrifice in quality. The content overshadows any misdemeanours in quality. In celebration of printer paper and stapled bindings, there is a love affair with the content and a hinted desire to share it with as many fans as possible. You can’t help but appreciate the work that goes in to editing a fanzine like this. To organize your colleagues and come together for the joy of the reel. Any points I would be willing to dock are forgiven on such merit alone. The insight gained from the Joe Bob interview stands on its own as qualifier for a great read.
Drive In Asylum provides an intimate and appreciative perspective on movies, and the contributors clearly love what they do. The old movie poster and Drive In adverts are a pleasure to look at. Despite the quantity of these images, it doesn’t feel like any of it is filler for a lack of content. The movie posters are essential, and I found myself reminiscing over my days behind the video rental counter, hanging posters and watching screeners.
It’s almost impossible to suggest a fanzine for readers advisory. When it comes to the budget, a library has to put priority on popular items to reach a broader audience. My unique position and experience in advisory in the private sector (books and movies) and obvious lack of current library employment allows me to shed those policy limitations and recommend whatever the heck I want. Within reason of course, I’m not a madman.
Titles like Drive In Asylum are what keep bringing me back to periodicals. Without a doubt there are significant challenges with publishing a recurring title and I applaud any effort given to producing such content with frequency. Support independent creators like Groovy Doom’s fanzine and check out Drive In Asylum.
Cancelled? Banned? Out of Print? The why behind a title’s demise
Estimated reading time of article: 4 mins
By James Johnson
The corporation responsible for preserving the legacyof the late Dr. Seuss’s books has come under fire for ending the print run of six controversial titles. Supporters of this decision celebrate the removal of what many consider to be offensive and racist depictions of minority groups, while critics have slammed this move as yet another overreach of progressive wokeism and cancel culture.
As library professionals, one of the most important jobs we have is collection development. This work usually goes on behind the scenes, and users generally remain blissfully ignorant of it. Developing a library’s collection requires a deep understanding of not only the needs of the reader, but also the needs of other departments and what considerations, if any, are requisite for policy adherence.
Depending on the size and type of library, there may be several departments that operate within the organization. Each of these department’s has there own requirements, budgets, and even users. Departments can work independently of one another in service of the whole. Take the children’s section of a public library. It’s not often an adult library user checks out the latest Diamond Willow winner. In some cases these departments share budgets with other departments. In smaller cases there is only one budget for the system, and each department allocated a limited set of funds, do with it what they can.
In every case, collection development policy is key. Within the idea of developing a collection is the concept of selecting new titles and removing damaged, irrelevant, or unused ones. This latter process is known as weeding, or de-selection.
Library staff have a difficult job on their hands in weeding. Such a crucial step in developing a collection requires a robust and clear policy so that, no matter the individual conducting the task, a specified path to success can be followed.
The elements of a library policy are unique to the system it serves, however, there are principles that generally guide library professionals in developing good policy. Depending on the particulars of a library’s mission statement or goals, providing access to resources for the purposes of learning, entertainment, and discovery is almost always the prime directive of a publicly accessible library system.
Publishers choose to stop printing their property for many reasons. I believe Dr. Seuss Enterprises actively believes their policy of encouraging inclusion and support of readingand seeks to meet and exceed the expectations it sets forth, but don’t for a minute think this act of removing “wrong or hurtful” titles is solely in response to a policy of inclusion and support of reading. Dr. Seuss Enterprises makes money. That will always be theirs and every other for-profit business’s primary motivator. Whether you agree or disagree with the move, Dr. Seuss Enterprise will benefit from this. Their image and bottom line.
When library’s weed it serves a few purposes. We look at the items use (has it circulated well), condition, whether it has remained relevant or has been superseded, and whether alternative copies can be acquired or accessed easily elsewhere (frees up much needed shelf space in tighter quarters.
What effect does a publisher’s decision, like Dr. Seuss Enterprises, have on a library? Hopefully very little. A library should not base their development criteria on any outside sway. A robust and clear policy created in-house represents their unique users better than any third party influencer could ever establish.
The New York Public librarysaid it well. They’re not in the business of determining what people should read. Removing an item from the collection on the grounds it has been challenged (for accuracy, relevancy, or negative attributes) takes careful consideration. As part of a healthy library’s collection development policy, new titles must be selected on the basis of relevancy, accuracy, and user need. Old titles, equally, require reflection when considering their place (or not) in the collection.
A publisher’s decision to end a print run is their prerogative, however they choose to spin in. Take a closer look at the parent owner of this subsidiary and you’ll find they choose to print material many people find offensive, hurtful, and wrong. I may not agree with the decision Dr. Seuss Enterprises made with this move, but it was a business decision first and foremost. Sure they support reading, so does Chapters Indigo. That doesn’t make them a library, and they don’t have to follow the same democratic principles that guide them.
Alternatively, a library has no place in determining the right and wrong of an item based on someone’s feelings. There is plenty of stuff I can’t stomach, content I find offensive and demoralizing. What authority do library professionals possess in removing access to such works, particularly those of publicly funded societies? We may as well claim rightful mastery over the contents of peoples skulls.
Library professionals have politicizedthe field far longer than I’ve been alive. Whatever side of the “battle” you find yourself on, I hope the purpose of the fight remains relevant to you. That you think for yourself, read what you wish, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Happy reading/streaming.