Tag Archives: Librarianship

Memoria, Oratio, Scriptura: Truth and Method in Local Histories

By James Johnson

It would seem that History, in subject terms, from every culture and ethnic group, has memory as its precursor to contemporary method, utilized for documenting and understanding linear time, ancestry, and even ethnographic boundaries in retrospect. Memory can externally form in expressive traditions through song, chant, verse, and other articles of art and culture.

Spiritual, artistic, or physical articles of importance manifest a People’s group or individual memories. Transcribed in coastal red cedar totems by some aboriginals of the Pacific Northwest, or in tribute to nature and death carved upon neolithic cairns of some of the first Irish, these exist as tangible artifacts. Artifacts arguably at the crossroads of extinction and resurgent significance.

Oral history, unique to no ethnic group, appears as a cataloguing schema of the natural world, familial genealogical group-sets, and ritual spiritualism. Often perceived as an inferior form of historical collection and dissemination, Oral methodologies are the probable human default. Oral history can serve a culture of “illiterates” with no written language just as well as the culture where class structure dictated one’s likelihood of literacy. Where invention and technology arose to become the barrier breakers to monograph making and acquisition, literacy rates increased. There was an undeniable drive within the medieval peasantry to attain and share knowledge in this new way. Why? Written word, painfully transcribed by hand and in various languages – an ordeal obviously suited to the patience of priestly monks – long predated the German inventor’s newfangled printing press. Of course the sentiments of an illiterate European peasantry furnished with enough gumption to avoid utter despair will permanently be beyond my knowing, but I am willing to make the presumption that literacy was purpose-driven in the pursuit of Truth.

Truth, for some reason or another, is a core ethical tenant embedded in the institutions which I value. Truth in justice, truth in marriage. Truth in the knowledge that I’m buying beef and not man-meat from the grocery store. So imagine now the dichotomy of literate and illiterate groups sharing consensus as to what is Truth based on writ of law. How could anyone expect the disenfranchised not to seek this levelled plane? In the Western Hemisphere, this inequity has been routed with functional literacy rates increasing over time. The proficiency with which the growing or diminishing number of individuals developing critical analysis skills through literacy is a topic for another time.

Truth is a value in the bones of the rural community. The importance of reporting on the dull or exceptional true lives of people is evident in the abundance of early newspapers under various monikers: gazette’s, gleaners, standards, dispatches, and heralds. Keeping and distributing journals of record shared the union of clans, civil administrative machinations, and vociferation’s of the mourning. These isolated publications, those few issues salvaged by forward-thinking preservationists of their respective times, provide for us now an avenue of exploration much deeper than any oral tradition could aspire to. If you wanted to know the price of a pound of bacon or stew chuck in 1841 Upper Canada, and I were to share anecdotally that my great, great, great Grand Pop told his kid, and he told his kid, and so on and so forth, that it cost $0.10 cents a pound, how would you or anyone else know it for truth? Or that coinage wasn’t dollars or cents but pounds, sterling, and pence at that time?

Obviously, written and oral history share a common aspect. They are subject to the experience and subsequent opinion of scribe and speaker alike. The confounding nature of this truth, obfuscating the notion of Truth itself, remains an area of personal interest. However, preferring to adopt a First Nations approach to challenge this hypocrisy; listening to the speaker’s (or writer’s) experiences and respecting their stories as lived experiences. Or some version of it, if you like.

European settlements have a longstanding practice of recording their lives in minute detail. A direct impact of written versus oral histories is evident in the range of volumes produced by counties, townships, and historical societies throughout North America. This abundance of record serves a community in many ways, provided a community acknowledges that it may not represent all contemporary subgroups, a fact apparently less self-evident the more our mindsets shift progressively. It is apparent to most sincere researchers that written records, including census documents, were apt to inconsistency or outright error. This is a reflection of the relationship between oral and written traditions, rather than a condemnation of either. Whether reciting from memory or recalling events in testimony, the potential for error appears for both. Nevertheless, I could tell you the tale of the Sandyford Mystery, a cold blooded Scottish yarn of greed, betrayal, and murder! I might even get half the story right from off the top of my head, and that might be enough for some. For others, there is the near 500 page court proceedings, digitized from microfiche and available here. I value this information, and the method it is presented by, due in great part to my general distrust of strangers. Acknowledging biases in printed opinions, the factors of information processing in person are just as impactful, if not more. These include body language, intonation, level of voice, language or accent barriers, and physical location apprehension. Not to mention the challenge of returning to the materials for clarification.

Nevertheless, regarding either as inferior or superior is not the point. I remain convinced that the two methods are connected by progression. Spoken words become written. Ethnographers and anthropologists embark on fieldwork collecting and cataloguing oral histories and myths as a matter of survival, not some misplaced sense of superiority, though I’m sure the latter sentiment exists, however limited it may be. These oral histories aren’t necessarily the mythological origin stories of the Indians in North America either. Diminishing language and culture in some groups in the British isles is a growing concern for their respective Governments and local leaders.

The banner image for this article displays a collage of local history monographs. Township councils, historical societies, and sometimes impassioned local members, collect records and primary source material to tell the tale of their community’s past. Photographs and land purchase agreements, birth, marriage, and census data. And of course, the stories. Oral stories, parallel the hard data, adds the human element, and in many case confirms doubts or supports beliefs. These books and more like them are critically endangered. The growing ranks of rural ghost towns supports this prediction of doom. Young people can’t write local histories if they aren’t living the reality of them.

I suppose in a way that should be my pitch to counsel. That little town comically presented on the brink of insolvency, victims of Tommyknockers or invading body-snatchers, needs an archivist. A town preservationist, with ties to the community and desire to maintain stories, engage youth, and advocate for funding from all levels of government. Is that the solution to the ghost town epidemic? Not in and of itself but in revitalization efforts, paramount.

Find these old books if you can, while you can. Primary and secondary source material like no other. Specifics will vary by location so ask a Librarian in the geographical area you are interested in researching. For Ontario researchers, listed society websites often sell their own publications or provide tips on where you can find them.

At The Circulation Desk

Serious About Serials

Tearing Staples And Cracking Spines:

Reader’s Advisory For The Horror Movie Magazine

By James Johnson

It should be prefaced that current readers of either title might actually consider Rue Morgue punching down and out of it’s weight with this month’s Versus instalment. I would agree with them on one point: these two titles are unique organisms. Either has contrasting characteristics, features, style, contributors, and even political ideologies. However, they both share a media landscape that we have culturally coined, and subsequently use to categorize, as Horror and compete in a market with truly forgiving consumers. I’m not recommending one over the other. Read both. Read more serials! Objectively, either of these titles can satisfy some fans of horror. The point of this versus series is to highlight titles of the same subject to expose new readers wishing to explore the options available to them. Too few library professionals advocate serial readers advisory, and that’s a shame in our opinion.

It becomes obvious as soon as you pick up this Halloween’s copy of Rue Morgue that there’s a level of authority assumed in the general quality. Perfect binding (a new feature I believe, since every prior issue I have is saddle stitched), heavier paper poundage, and custom cover art. Whereas SCREAM lends this reader a particular reminiscence – the fanzine wave (and decline), the slick pages of medium to low poundage, saddle stitch binding, and tacit Gonzo-Journo obsessive contributors, mark it as a true genre classic, even though it’s only 11 years in publication compared with Rue’s 24. Obviously, these thematic mags play at different speeds. I can easily see a Rue Morgue reader picking up a copy of SCREAM, and vice versa. Horror genre film critiques in print are not as common as general interest serials, such as US, Harper’s, or Cosmo. I think it’s fair to say that both titles are most likely bunk-mates on the toilet tank of the Horror movie fanatic and that’s why they’re in focus.

SCREAM Magazine #68

ISSN: 2045-2128
Audience: Adult

Boasting the title of “the world’s no. 1 horror magazine” (unverified!), SCREAM serializes bimonthly “100 bloody pages of content”. The words include surface to mid-depth analysis of modern and classic horror movies, often focusing on European and British Cinema, such as the Hammer and Giallo classics. Generally, the cover art or layout has an emphasis or theme which will be featured in the principal article. This cover (like every other so far) is a collage of iconic movie imagery arranged in such a way to inform the reader of the contents. It’s standard for this level of production value, though the colour choices, fonts, and arrangements are pleasant and engaging.

I have always had issue with magazines that boast the number of pages of content they’re selling. In my opinion, I think at best it’s misleading and at worse misinformation. The front and back cover should not be consider “pages of content” yet they are. Quarter, half, and even full page Ads are also not “content” in my opinion. If you’re trying to sell me something I can’t buy with my attention, but actual cash, I’m probably not going to refer to it warmly as “content”. So be warned, it’s more like 80-90 pages of content. Not bad. Other than the featured articles (#68 is a revisit of two Slashics, Freddy’s Revenge and Dream Warriors), readers can expect interviews, reviews of books and DVDs, retrospectives, and more. Standard genre fare.

The writing has a casual feel of an informed fan with experience in critiquing their favourite films. If you’re looking for a deep dive analysis, you’ll instead find an excellent though ultimately slim review of what the avid fan probably already knows. There’s no pandering, and the language meets the reader and the writer at eye level, increasing its accessibility and reach. SCREAM is a great title for explorers of the genre, eager to dip their toes in the world of horror cinema that’s not overbearingly esoteric. SCREAM wins with it’s gorgeous bright colours, full and rich border-less formatting, and clean presentation.

Pet Peeve: Recurring segments VHS Ate My Brain and Video Nasty are regrettably missing from this issue in favour of more retrospectives. These segments are often compelling and provide gritty insight for the casual consumer. Here is where SCREAM suffers from what most genre cinema zines suffer from at times: stale repetition. This issue continues a retrospective of the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise, where their competition in our spotlight has two solid features, Mexican Gothics and Folk Horror.

Kudos: The Halloween issue (Sept-Oct) could have been released at any season. There’s not a jack-o-lantern in sight. A horror movie magazine that keeps print’s version of click-bait out of its season of the witch issue? I’m impressed. Halloween is everyday in my world, and so it would seem at SCREAM.

Rue Morgue #202

ISSN: 1481-1103
Audience: Adult

Toronto based Rue Morgue sells a different story for our would-be horror readers and that’s not a bad thing! Rue Morgue’s subtitle reads “Horror in Culture & Entertainment”. Where SCREAM highlights modern and obscure films alike, Rue Morgue delves deeper and examines the cycles that Horror sub-genres naturally birth and die throughout time. There’s most certainly a firm hand in editorialship, where editor Andrea Subissati often acts as contributor to many segments. SCREAM seems to have a nice balance of freedom and control that I felt lacking in Rue Morgue. That’s their prerogative, of course, and I can respect the vision and commitment Subissati and the controllers of Rue’s assets have.

The content (articles and interviews) are insightful and creative, informative, and thoughtful. While written in plain-speak, the topics of discussion are often viewed through a post-modernist lens. This could quickly become tiresome, but the richness of the topics covered make it informative, albeit far from a place of neutrality. That may be indeed be fair, as the movie viewer brings with them their own biases and lenses, so why not reviewers themselves? By that metric I can agree, however, that does not mean Rue Morgue wouldn’t benefit from a broader spectrum of ideas and voices.

The advertisements for Rue Morgue products and third party toys and merchandise can get a little loud. Many fans love the exposure to horror collectibles and the latest trends, so this may be a feature many enjoy. The culture and entertainment of horror today is saturated with bits and bobs for the collector, and Rue Morgue advertises plenty of options for the consumer.

Pet Peeve: Over-hyped subscriber mailbag section. Publishing letters from subscribers describing why they’re glad they subscribed is cringe. Perhaps there aren’t many fan mail complaints, but certainly there must be some.

Kudos: Accessible depth. A true challenge with zine word restrictions. Rue Morgue’s in depth analysis and excavation of lost or unexamined relics of cinema’s past puts them at the top of their peers.

Digital Delights

Are Libraries Still Relevant?

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.