Toronto Public Library gets in on the rebirth of records

By Ieva Lucs, CBC News

Vinyl is having a major comeback, and the Toronto Public Library is getting in on the trend by adding 100 new records to their collection.

The collection of more than 15,000 records is the largest of any public library in Canada. And librarian Beau Levitt had the honour of adding the new albums to the shelves at the Toronto Reference Library.

“This was kind of a dream come true to be asked to do the selection. It was a lot of fun,” Levitt said in an interview during his morning break at the library.

Last year, because of the uptick in the interest in vinyl, the library staff decided to resurrect and renew the old collection. Before then, Levitt estimates the last album was bought in the late 1980s.

Toronto Public Library Record Collection

A record, Music for Subways, is from the old library collection. (Ieva Lucs/CBC)

Levitt, a huge record collector himself, describes a time in the ’80s when every branch in the city had vinyl. When he goes hunting, he still finds albums with library due date cards in local thrift stores.

According to Levitt there was enough money in the budget to invest in approximately 100 records — 25 each from four categories: Canadian, jazz, rock and pop, and hip-hop and R&B.

Beastie Boys Album Artwork

Librarians Will Charbonneau (left) and Beau Levitt show off the album artwork for the Beastie Boys record Paul’s Boutique. (Ieva Lucs/CBC)

“No new music had been added in so long there were a lot of fairly big holes that needed to be plugged. The hip-hop and R&B was the biggest one because there was basically none of that kind of material in the collection,” said Levitt.

A multi-generational thing

Anyone interested can go online and choose what they want to listen to. The librarians at the desk on the 5th floor of the Reference Library will pull the album and bring it to a listening booth nearby.

Listening station at Toronto Public Library

Patrons request albums and sit at the listening stations on the 5th floor of the Toronto Reference Library to enjoy them. (Ieva Lucs/CBC)

“In the last few years, with the revival of the records, we have a multi-generational thing happening — parents come in with their kids who want to introduce them to records and show them how they play,” said Levitt.

Album as artwork

Aine Guiney is the marketing and sales manager of Microforum Vinyl, a Toronto-based company that started pressing new vinyl at the beginning of this year.

Guiney said it’s not a coincidence that the rise of vinyl happened around the same time digital music streaming became ubiquitous. She describes a need for a tangible item to go with the listening experience.

Microforum Vinyl Records

Microforum Vinyl often has requests for unique vinyl pressings to turn the albums into artwork. (Aine Guiney/submitted)

“All of the sudden people wanted to own a record again — to hold music in their hands. They wanted to see it, touch it, look at the art work. I think that’s a big part of the comeback,” she told CBC Toronto.

Guiney said the “album as artwork” is a way for record labels to add value for the buyer.

Microforum Vinyl is currently trying to work out how to make a record look like it’s been splattered with blood, for Stomp Records out of Montreal. The company is experimenting with two different coloured vinyls pressed together.

What’s on your shelf?

Sonic Boom, the largest independent record store in Canada, is bustling with customers on a Friday afternoon.

Blair Whatmore, a vinyl buyer for the store, started collecting vinyl in the 1990s because it was a cheap way to get his hands on music when he was a kid.

Along with his work at the store, Whatmore also runs an all-vinyl wedding DJ business with a friend, called Vinyl Vows. He says there is a huge curiosity in seeing the DJs playing actual records on turntables.

Although records are his life, he admits he never imagined the vinyl industry would make such a big comeback.

Sonic Boom Records

Vinyl buyer Blair Whatmore fires up one of his favourite records at Sonic Boom in Toronto. (Ieva Lucs/CBC)

One of his theories is that teenagers and people in their early 20s, who grew up after the age of CDs, are drawn to having a physical representation of the music.

“I think there is a generation of people who have a hunger for something that’s a more engaging experience than scrolling through your iTunes,” Blair said, surrounded by crates of records at the back of the sprawling shop in Chinatown.

Whatmore added that every record in a collection has a personal story that goes with it.

“What you have on your shelf says ‘this is who I am,'” said Whatmore.

The sound of anticipation

Back at the library, Levitt describes his own collection of 700 records in much the same way.

“People walk into my living room and the first thing they see are my records. I admit that I carefully lay them out in the best light possible because I want it to look good — that’s part of the appeal.”

Beau Levitt

Beau Levitt thumbs through the library’s record collection. (Ieva Lucs/CBC)

And the sound? Although the sound quality of digital music is getting better Levitt says a record has a warmth and presence that an MP3 can’t top.

“The little dusty crackle of the needle drop. That’s the sound of anticipation…when the lights go out before the movies starts and everybody quiets down and gets ready to experience something.”

Original article:

“Etobicoke’s Albion Library embraces changing urban landscape” – from The Star

In a time when architectural failures abound in Toronto, this new building was designed to put residents first, Christopher Hume writes.

Clad in glass and brightly-coloured vertical panels, the Albion Library stands out as a unique presence on the streetscape.
Clad in glass and brightly-coloured vertical panels, the Albion Library stands out as a unique presence on the streetscape.  (DOUBLESPACE PHOTOGRAPHY)  
Instead of formality, hushed tones and dimly-lit interiors, the new Albion Public Library in Etobicoke offers open spaces filled with natural light and comfortable furniture.
Instead of formality, hushed tones and dimly-lit interiors, the new Albion Public Library in Etobicoke offers open spaces filled with natural light and comfortable furniture.  (DOUBLESPACE PHOTOGRAPHY)  
The new Albion Public Library in Etobicoke includes courtyards, gardens and spaces that are practical without being utilitarian and mean.
The new Albion Public Library in Etobicoke includes courtyards, gardens and spaces that are practical without being utilitarian and mean.  (DOUBLESPACE PHOTOGRAPHY)  
Clad in glass and brightly-coloured vertical panels, the Albion Library stands out as a unique presence on the streetscape.
Clad in glass and brightly-coloured vertical panels, the Albion Library stands out as a unique presence on the streetscape.  (DOUBLESPACE PHOTOGRAPHY)  
Instead of formality, hushed tones and dimly-lit interiors, the new Albion Public Library in Etobicoke offers open spaces filled with natural light and comfortable furniture.
Instead of formality, hushed tones and dimly-lit interiors, the new Albion Public Library in Etobicoke offers open spaces filled with natural light and comfortable furniture.  (DOUBLESPACE PHOTOGRAPHY)  

At a time when architecture seems little more than a desperate search for novelty, the appearance of a building such as the Albion Public Library offers reason for hope.

This new structure is a powerful reminder of what architecture can be when designed with users in mind, not its creators’ reputation. Only in an age of starchitecture, of buildings that see no further than themselves, of outlandishness and disconnection would such a distinction be necessary, but such is the tragedy — or is it farce? — of contemporary architecture.

The result is that, like cities everywhere, much of Toronto is a degraded landscape of architectural failure. Little wonder the idea that architects are the natural designers of cities has been quietly dropped along the way. Fortunately, cities are more resilient than their architecture. But as the library proves, at its best, architecture can still contribute to urbanity even when that means its task is not simply to ignore the context, but to critique it. Certainly the library does this — with aplomb. Given its location on Albion Rd. west of Kipling, that’s not hard. Facing the supremely hideous Albion Mall across the road, and unrelenting dreariness in every direction, the library proposes nothing less than a new vision of north Etobicoke, one that puts residents first, one that treats them as citizens, not simply consumers waiting to be exploited.

Clad in glass and brightly-coloured vertical panels, the Albion Library stands out as a unique presence on the streetscape.
Clad in glass and brightly-coloured vertical panels, the Albion Library stands out as a unique presence on the streetscape.  (DOUBLESPACE PHOTOGRAPHY)  

How appropriate that that building would be a library, the latest in the Toronto Public Library (TPL) system. A civilizing influence despite huge cultural and economic changes, the TPL has remained relevant by embracing, even leading, those changes. Unlike most public agencies, it has grasped that to survive in the 21st century, institutions must put users first. That’s why the new library is a community amenity, not a fortress of knowledge. The books are still there, but so are laptops, 3-D printers, video terminals and digital hubs. Today, talking and eating are OK, but there are quiet study rooms, too. Gone are the formality, hushed tones and dimly-lit interiors, replaced by open spaces filled with natural light and comfortable furniture.

Designed by Perkins + Will, the Albion Library also stands out as a unique presence on the streetscape. In this dismal suburban context, where concrete boxes and parking lots prevail, this marks a major departure. Clad in glass and brightly-coloured vertical panels, the building provides a welcome respite from the unrelieved ugliness of this postwar community, which for all its ghastliness, don’t forget, was meticulously planned and carefully controlled.

The new Albion Public Library in Etobicoke, designed by Perkins + Will, puts users first by providing bright rooms with all the modern conveniences.
The new Albion Public Library in Etobicoke, designed by Perkins + Will, puts users first by providing bright rooms with all the modern conveniences.  (DOUBLESPACE PHOTOGRAPHY)  

Unsurprisingly, local residents are largely immigrants who arrive here from all parts of the planet. The library must serve them all. “Some people describe the library as a ‘Switzerland,’ ” says architect Andrew Frontini. “It’s a community hub, a hybrid public platform. It functions as a social welcome mat in a neighbourhood of newcomers.”

“Flexibility is key,” explains TPL senior manager Gail Rankin. “Everything here must have at least ten uses.” A veteran of countless public meetings and focus groups, Rankin has learned how to listen and take her cues from what people actually want. In contrast to the once fashionable but faulty theories that dictated what people should want, the library is based in reality.

A good example is the parking lot that surrounded the original 1973 library. It has been cut in half and the old building, which Rankin calls “a concrete bunker with no windows,” is being demolished. “It held 128 cars, which we knew was too many,” she says. “We found that 50 per cent of the users walk to the library.”

Divided into a series of rooms — for kids, teens, adults — its successor includes courtyards, gardens and spaces that are practical without being utilitarian and mean.

“People feel this is an extension of their home,” says project architect Reza Momenzadeh. “It is perceived as a neutral safe place in the community,” adds TPL’s Susan Martin, “a place of transition for immigrants.”

The new Albion Library, which opened in early June, was an instant success. Even on a weekday afternoon during summer holidays, it’s crammed with kids and teens. Not only are they there, many walked all the way. What comes next? Clearly the rest of north Etobicoke has much catching up to do. That will take years and cost billions. But thanks to TPL and its architects, the process is off to a strong start.

Christopher Hume’s column appears weekly. He can be reached at .

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“I’m A Teenager And I Don’t Like Young Adult Novels. Here’s Why. “

Back when I was a teenager, I genuinely disliked YA lit [with the notable exception of the Harry Potter series #magic]. The article explains some of the common tropes in YA literature that still irritate me to this day. Read the original article:

I’m A Teenager And I Don’t Like Young Adult Novels. Here’s Why.

I know it’s an extremely unpopular opinion.

06/21/2017 11:30 am ET | Updated 1 day ago

This doesn’t mean that I’ve never read a YA book that I enjoyed. Some of my favorite books fall under the YA genre. But to be honest, I don’t typically like reading young adult novels.

Let me just say, this is NOT because I think YA isn’t real literature. I think as a society, we have a tendency to automatically dismiss genres that women (especially young women) really enjoy. Romance and YA are often seen as not ‘real’ fiction, which is stupid, because women and teenage girls are obsessed with both. And if you’re obsessed with something, that means it’s a good book. In my humble opinion, teenage girls are the ultimate judges on culture, even though we’re constantly shamed for our decisions and patronized by adults and teenage boys alike. (You can make fun of “White Girl” things all you want, but that does not change the fact that teenage girls of all races supported both the Beatles and Starbucks before anyone else did, and where would you be without your delicious coffee and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?)

However, despite believing that YA is a genre worthy of literary awards and esteem, it’s still not my favorite. There are a couple of reasons why.

  1. For many, reading is an escape. I think a lot of adults love YA because they’re well-written, and let them imagine being in a different stage of life. But I AM a teenager. I remember reading the Catcher In the Rye and feeling only great annoyance, because Holden reminded me a lot of boys in my school who didn’t pull their weight in a group project. I think I might like YA more when I’m not surrounded by the characters.
  2. I think that YA also misses some key things about teenagers. So when I’m not avoiding a book because it remind me a little too much of my classmates, it’s because it completely captures teenagers wrongly. Again, I understand YA is fiction, and a story about how a teenager’s every day life went would be pretty boring. There are certainly exceptions to the things that I list below. But here are some things that I think YA novels on a whole get wrong about teenagers, from a teenager.

(P.S. This post is a criticism of some aspects of the YA genre, but if you’re a writer, you could also take this as YA writing advice from  a teen.)

Everyone Listens To Them

This might be the biggest ‘mistake’ I see in YA fantasy, dystopian, crime, and even realistic novels.

Picture this. The teenage main character finds out a huge secret about the enemy fairy army / corrupt government / mysterious murder / sketchy biology teacher. They run to people with power. And then, just like that, they get to lead the resistance/investigation because obviously, they know what’s going on.

Here’s the truth about being a teenager: NO ONE ACTUALLY LISTENS TO YOU EVER.

Adults think you’re too old to be making mistakes and too young to take over their jobs. No one would just hand power over to a sixteen year-old, no matter how cool their prophecy or magical birthmark is.

If your main character gets to be in charge, make sure it’s not just because they’re the ‘chosen one,’ or even just because they’re the main character and that’s what has to happen to make the plot work.

Make teenagers work for their power, and make sure the adults around them are skeptical at first. (Unless the adult is the Main Character’s mom. My mom always believes in me. Thanks, Mom.) Make them prove themselves worthy of being heard.

You’re Really Writing 20-Year-olds

A lot of YA books I read have main characters who read like they’re in college already. They rarely rely on family, they smoke, and they go on crazy road trips.

I admit this is a really tricky one for writers to capture, because most teenagers THINK that they’re twenty-somethings. Here’s the trick to teenagers: All of us are trying to be older than we really are. As I’ve mentioned before, teenagers are weird creatures. You feel like you’re too young to do anything of importance, so you try to act older. Because it’s cool. Because it makes you feel like you have things under control.

So in the abstract, it makes sense to write teenagers like you would write college students, because we act like we are. But it’s not that simple. There are two major differences: Experience and security.

Teenagers aren’t really secure with their identity, and they don’t have enough experience to be convincingly written as adults. Most of my friends don’t know how to do laundry. If you’re going to write teenagers with an adult edge, make sure you’re still making them vulnerable.


I am a nerd. There are not too many other ways to describe someone who recites Emily Dickinson facts, wears boots that resembles a witch’s, and enjoys writing essays for school. But I have something to say that may shock an inexperienced YA writer:

I do not automatically and inexplicably hate any of my classmates. For some reason, ‘preppy’ girls and ‘geeky’ girls have been pitted against each other in fiction. Preppy girls think the goths/nerds/nonconformists are weird and all the other girls think the preppy girls are basic and boring and conforming to society’s lackluster expectations.

This is stupid. Let’s list some reasons why.

  • Someone’s taste in music and clothes does not dictate their intelligence. Let that sink in for a minute.
  • In my school, most people like each other! We might not like the same brands or bands, but that doesn’t mean we have a burning desire to watch those more traditional or popular fail. (That would be middle school.)
  • Unless you abandoned someone in a group project. Then, you are branded as scum.
  • It’s actually sort of sexist to pit girls together like that…It’s not a competition. Though many writers put ‘popular/rich/pretty’ girls against ‘beautiful-but-she-doesn’t-know-it/misunderstood/underdog’ girls against each other in…a competition for a boy. PLEASE DON’T DO THIS. It’s so boring. Just because someone wears makeup doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. Just because someone likes an indie band doesn’t mean they deserve a boyfriend more than a girl who knows how to french braid. (Also, will someone teach me how to french braid??) I’m tired of girl/girl hate. There’s not as much of it as you think among teenage girls! We support each other. We believe in each other. I want more YA books that show this!

Okay, here’s another problem with generalizations: None of them are true. I know in the past couple of paragraphs, I called myself a nerd and used words like, ‘preppy,″ goth,’ and ‘misunderstood.’ These labels create an immediate image in your head, which is why writers use them. Stop. It’s lazy.

When I called myself a nerd, I closed off the opportunity to be anything else. I didn’t get to tell you that I love winged eyeliner, Taylor Swift, soccer, and flower crowns. Also, I like rap songs. (Closest thing to poetry in the music industry!) Teenagers have ~diverse~ interests, because we’re people, not stereotypes. In fact, keep in mind that teenagers are actually still developing, so it’s common to try out many interests to see what sticks.

Let your characters, even the secondary characters, even the characters your MC hates, be real people. Let them be interesting and unexpected. Think outside the box that previous fiction wrote.

Is this a cloud palace on top of Mount Olympus? Because everyone here is as beautiful as the Gods and Goddesses.

I am surrounded by teenagers five days of the week of over 75% of the year. (Yikes, I know.) I spend a lot of time looking at them. And let me just say, I have beautiful friends. And of course, everyone beautiful in their own way. But YA fiction often only gives us one type of beauty.

Being a teenager is sort of awkward. Say hello to braces, pimples, weird fashion trends, poorly dyed hair, and too much eyeliner. When YA novels describe their main character as someone who could win a Gigi Hadid look-a-like competition, I cringe, because they’re missing a major chance to connect with their audience. Writers put a lot of effort into voice to make sure their narrator sounds like a teenager. Maybe they could try making them look like actual teens, too.

Give your main characters diverse body types, different styles, and create a new definition of perfect. (And I promise I won’t blame you if the movie adaptation completely ruins all of your efforts.)

Love Triangles

Do I really have to explain this one? Love triangles are unrealistic and cliched. The only love triangle in a teenager’s world is when two colleges are interested in them, and that triangle usually ends with which ever college offers the larger scholarship.


OMG, do y’all literally mean that slingin’ around dank slang isn’t on fleek?

In three years (or in two months) the above sentence will illegible. For some teens, all of the above words are already out of style. Slang is horrible for two reasons.

  1. It dates your novel. Slang is intensely temporary. By using it, a book can easily become obsolete. It’s the ultimate pop culture reference, but mentioning Oprah is a lot less ‘dating’ than slang. Oprah’s been around for a while and she’s going to be around for a while. Let’s say the average ‘writing a book and publishing it’ process takes about two years. (It’s usually a lot longer than that, but bear with me.) If you use slang in your novel, by time the two years are over and your novel is published, the teens have already moved onto a new meme.
  2. Teenagers don’t use slang in everyday language. Sure, we’ll drop and ‘OMG’ every now and then, but ‘lol’ and ‘fleek’ is usually saved for text messages. Using slang in dialogue is a poor way to try to connect with teens. It’s like ringing a massive bell and shouting, “I don’t know how teens actually talk!” And slang is often used to describe ‘valley girls.’ Who we’re supposed to automatically hate, because they wear UGGs, or something like that? See “Generalizations.”

“Forever Love”

YA tends to treat teenage relationships like they’re going to last forever. Many epilogues show the main character and their love interest happily married. But that’s not how most teen relationships shake out. Long-term love just isn’t something a lot of teenagers think is realistic at this point. Sure, some of my classmates will end up marrying their current boyfriend/girlfriend but most will breakup before or during college. And they know this.

Most teens are looking for someone to win them a stuffed animal at a carnival, not someone who is this spiritual and intellectual match. They’re looking for someone who’d be a good prom date, not a good father. This doesn’t mean that our feelings of love, confusion, and crushes are less serious, or that we don’t need narratives about teenage relationships. But making every teenage love story a permanent installment shows a fundamental lack of understanding of teens. We fall in love and have relationships, but we’re not naive. We might not want to envision breaking up with someone, but very few of us are looking for a true ‘forever love.’

They’ve Got Their Lives Together

You know the character that I’m talking about. They know multiple languages, they kick butt on the battlefield, they have multiple people romantically interested in them, and they are ready to start and lead a revolution. Also, they’re 16.

WHO IS THE MAGICAL PERSON. WHY DO THEY HAVE THEIR LIFE SO WELL PUT TOGETHER. I am 16 and I learned yesterday how to make an omelette. I wish I was joking. This is sort of an extension of the whole, “Don’t make your characters sound like they’re 20” thing, but to be honest, most twenty-year olds are a mess too. Let your characters have flaws. Really. You can have a ‘strong female character’ without having her be perfect. Most teenagers are a complete mess.

We’re Not All That Sarcastic

I know, I hate to be the bearer of bad news. But not all teens are adorable, wise-cracking, defiant, sarcastic little squirts. Besides, when everyone in a novel is sarcastic, all the characters sound the same. Save the sarcasm for one character. Most of us teens are awkward and spend bus rides thinking up comebacks for arguments that we lost hours ago.

Happily Ever After

This is probably my biggest pet peeve with some YA novels. The book is almost over, and one by one, every plot issue is tied up with a bow and set to rest. Soon, everything is perfect, and everyone’s living ‘happily ever after.’ But how can you live happily ever after when you’re still a teenager? It’s difficult to end a teenage narrative story, because by time you end your teens, you’re still beginning your life.

I hate ‘perfect’ endings to YA novels. There’s still so much that’s unknown! How will our lives shake out? Will we ever live in Paris? Will we own a horse, or get married, or be a soccer coach for our kids’ team one day?

Not every young adult book has to end with an existential crisis of all that’s to come. But it would be nice if more could hint that just because it’s the end of the story doesn’t mean it’s the end for the main character’s adventures.

“Forgotten Heroes in Civil Rights History”

If you are interested in the history of libraries, public libraries as public spaces, or in social justice issues, check out Dr. Wayne Wiegand’s article in the current issue of American Libraries (see pp. 32-7) about the desegregation of public libraries in the South.  The article, entitled “Forgotten Heroes in Civil Rights History”, gives us a peek at Dr. Wiegand’s forthcoming book (with Shirley A. Wiegand), Open These Hallowed Doors, which the LSU Press will publish in the spring of 2018.

Bogota’s bibliophile trash collector who rescues books

After spotting a copy of Anna Karenina in the rubbish 20 years ago, Jose, a rubbish collector, has continued to save books and has created a small empire of rescued books. [Smriti Daniel/Al Jazeera]

Bogota, Colombia – Finding Anna Karenina in the rubbish would change Jose Alberto Gutierrez’s life.

It was 20 years ago, but Jose still remembers first glimpsing the Russian classic by Leo Tolstoy in the rubbish outside a home in Bogota’s Bolivia neighbourhood. The rubbish collector loaded his truck with the rest of the waste, but took the book home. It was the start of a wonderful obsession.

Today, the 55-year-old lives on a steeply sloping road in the La Nueva Gloria barrio, in the southern reaches of Colombia‘s sprawling capital.

The outside of his modest two-storey house blends in with its neighbours, but inside, it couldn’t be more different. This is the home of La Fuerza de las Palabras, Spanish for “The Strength of Words”, a community library.

“In August, it will be 17 years since we created this library,” Jose says.

Jose’s family used to rent out the downstairs to tenants. They still live on the first floor, but books have invaded all three rooms on the ground floor. There, you cannot see the tiles, except for a narrow pathway that winds through the rooms. It is bordered with stacks of books which brush the ceiling – the last time Jose counted, there were some 25,000 – and it feels like every day more books find him. The library has begun to send tendrils into the upstairs family space as well. An entire wall and some new shelves in their dining area are covered in novels.

 The last time Jose counted, there were some 25,000 books in the downstairs area of his family’s house [Smriti Daniel/Al Jazeera]

IN PICTURES: The last days of the FARC

‘A PhD in marginalisation and poverty’

Jose returns to the library to meet me after an early morning shift for the local municipal council. He has worked for four different public and private waste management outfits in the last 20 years and his duties have taken him all over Bogota. In his mind, he holds a map of the best places to find books.

Generally, rich and prosperous northern Bogota is good for hardcovers and rare editions; the south is where he finds the paperbacks. No one ever seems to mix the books with organic waste; instead, they are left out in separate boxes or bags.

As Jose’s collection has grown, so too has his fame. The other drivers at the municipality used to think that Jose was crazy, but now they help out, bringing him whatever books they discover in the rubbish.

Local newspaper headlines hailing him as “Colombia’s Lord of the Books” have brought more donations pouring in. He has been invited to share his story at events in Colombia and abroad, including at the Guadalajara International Book Fair in Mexico, the largest of its kind in Latin America.

Jose has been invited to share his story at events both in Colombia and abroad, including at the Guadalajara International Book Fair in Mexico [Image courtesy of Jose Alberto Gutierrez]

Jose has become a conduit connecting book lovers – La Fuerza de las Palabras has donated reading materials to some 235 schools, institutions and community libraries across Colombia. In fact, one of their first contributions was to his neighbourhood’s only school, which is down the road from his house. The school did not have a library until Jose rolled up.

Bogota is famed for the beauty of its public libraries, but they tend to be in the north, leaving low-income neighbourhoods, like La Nueva Gloria, completely deprived.

“This neighbourhood used to be just miserable,” Jose says. “I grew up here and I can tell you it got me a PhD in marginalisation and poverty. Kids here don’t have a place to study; instead, they have to start working early.”

He credits his own love of reading to his mother, who would put him to bed with a book every night, even though they were too poor to keep him in school.

Jose believes getting an education can help break the cycle of poverty.

Every kid who participated in those sessions has gone on to university, including my daughter.

Jose Alberto Gutierrez

“The whole value of what we do lies in helping kids start reading,” he says, explaining that he got the idea for the library only because visitors to his house would ask to borrow books to help their children prepare for school.

It’s a vision shared by volunteers from other countries, such as Denmark, Norway, France and South Korea, who have come to spend time at La Fuerza de las Palabras.

Colombian writers and poets also have made a point of visiting.

“There was a cultural exchange with all the kids from the neighbourhood,” Jose says.

“Every kid who participated in those sessions has gone on to university, including my daughter.”

READ MORE: Inside an endangered peace community in Colombia

Back to school

This year, La Fuerza de las Palabras received a donation of an ambulance for Jose to convert into a mobile library.

“It’s a very pampered truck,” he says, laughing.

The family have converted a donated old ambulance into a mobile library [Image courtesy of Jose Alberto Gutierrez]

His oldest child, 29-year-old Maria Angelica, takes on most of the responsibility of running the library, he says with pride, adding that his son Johann Sebastian, 25, helps with the administration and budget.

His youngest daughter, Merylin Marcela, 19, drives the ambulance and helps pick up and deliver books.

Jose’s most reliable partner, however, is his wife Luz Mery. She answers the phone, helps children find their books and organises book readings and other events at the library.

A seamstress by profession, Luz Mery was willing to forego the rent they could have earned from leasing out the downstairs rooms.

This fills Jose with gratitude.

He is an example for society.

Luz Mery, Jose’s wife

“She has so much of work to do for the library, that I now try to help her with the housework,” he says.

For her part, Luz Mery sees herself as equally committed to La Fuerza De Las Palabras.

“I think it is the work of two,” she says, simply. “I am part of it.”

They have managed to stretch the fees she earns from stitching, and Jose’s salary from the municipality, to pay for many programmes at the library, such as informal readings and gatherings.

Their shared project continues to drive a personal transformation as well.

Jose was over 50 when he went back to high school.

“It took me three years to finish,” he says. During that time, his schedule was hectic. He would work nights, come back home for a nap at 7am and wake again to go and study at 11am.

His teenage classmates were fascinated and welcomed him. Luz Mery is proud.

“He is hardworking and persistent,” she says of her husband. “He is someone who committed what little time he had available to volunteer. He is an example for society.”

Jose has collected antique, rare books and newspapers capturing historic moments [Smriti Daniel/Al Jazeera]

READ MORE: Turning the page for feminism

Travelling across Colombia in a truck of books

There are exciting times ahead for the library. One sponsor has donated land and the Gutierrez family are collecting funds to build a real library for the community on it.

Over the years, Jose has amassed an incredible collection, including beautifully illustrated antique encyclopaedias and a set of vinyl recordings which he listens to on a turntable in his dining room.

He also has a small collection of newspapers dating back to historic moments, such as the 1948 assassination of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan – a charismatic liberal politician who many hoped would become Colombia’s president. In the days immediately after Gaitan’s murder, Bogota was gutted by riots and his killing eventually led to the founding of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and 52 years of war between the state and the armed group.

Jose hopes to create an archive in the new building to house everything he has collected.

Through a land donation and further fundraisers, the family hopes to one day open a “real” library [Image courtesy of Jose Alberto Gutierrez]

Unfortunately, the computers installed in the mobile library were stolen when the truck was broken into recently.

Jose hopes they will be able to eventually replace them and help La Nueva Gloria’s children master basic computer literacy.

Having finished high school, Jose is ready to write a book about his experiences, but it won’t take the conventional approach of an autobiography. Instead, he intends to structure it around the 60 books that have driven his own personal metamorphosis. His favourite is the short story Father Sergius by Leo Tolstoy, which is about a Russian prince and military lieutenant who becomes a monk. He says he likes the historical story because it is full of themes around faith and inspiration.

His own book will be quite the tale. A lot has changed in his life, but he can still recall what it was like when he first began collecting the books.

“Lots of people mocked me. They would laugh when they found out about my project. But now 20 years later, they are amazed,” says Jose, adding that “my dream is to exchange my garbage truck for a truck full of books, and travel the country.”

He pauses to savour the thought. Then says: “I am sure I will pull it off.”

The author is a Gabriel Garcia Marquez Cultural Journalism Fellow for 2017.

Source: Al Jazeera News

“Saskatchewan should take note: Libraries are sanctuaries of civil society “

An article by Trevor Herriot, who is a Regina writer and the author of Towards a Prairie Atonement, about the place of libraries in civil society that was on Globe and Mail.


Saskatchewan should take note: Libraries are sanctuaries of civil society

“Come and see our sanctuary,” he said proudly. We had just finished stacking tables after a long day discussing the value of public grasslands and how to protect them from privatization.

Surrendering part of his Saturday, he seemed happy to have us there meeting in his church. With its splendid kitchen, a gymnasium (baton twirlers today), and a new gender-neutral bathroom, Lakeview United Church enclosed our group of 50 citizens like a stalwart ship in stormy seas.

As I helped lead the meeting, though, my mind would drift downtown, where I knew another group was gathering to demonstrate against new budget cuts announced this week. They would be in front of the library, the place where, as writer in residence, I take sanctuary, along with so many others, from the forces that are tearing apart this province.

After the budget was released, Education Minister Don Morgan said the government “should be getting out of bricks and mortar libraries” and that a “library may not be a place that should be used as a sanctuary.”

He said other things, appalling for a minister in charge of education, but I was distracted by the disdain and prejudice behind his reference to sanctuary. In libraries across Canada, there has been a transformation underway more or less hidden to those of us with privilege and power. If you do all of your reading online or for other reasons do not go to libraries, you are missing the world I see outside my office door every week.

The elevator, bathrooms, meeting rooms, and drinking fountain there form a nexus of facilities and community connection serving a steady flow of people seeking information, support and services they can find nowhere else: Syrian refugees and other newcomers passing by with documents in their hands, young Indigenous moms heading for computer terminals to apply for jobs, seniors coming back from the Prairie History Room where they researched family origins, and always the evening programs and community groups gathering here and there in the building.

I watch Reg, the janitor come and go, or the security staff, the ones who make sure everyone is okay and the building is clean and functioning. They are the genial conveners of all this civil activity, but it starts with the people hidden in basement offices where program staff develop, promote, and monitor the delivery of everything from writing groups for the visually impaired to literacy and ESL tutoring to breast cancer information sessions, to knitting clubs for seniors, career coaching, and free legal advice.

Heading for a coffee, I pass a group of people listening to a Lakota man talk about spiritual traditions and his life as a chef. Another night it was a professor of political science unpacking the mysteries of American electoral behaviour.

As writer in residence, I have clients, often new Canadians and Indigenous people, whose lives would shame the grittiest of Netflix dramas, and they are making sense of it all with narrative, and finding truth in their own brave voices. It is a beautiful thing and a privilege that has me too often holding back strong emotion.

And so when I hear someone from the heights of privilege, the man in charge of this province’s education ministry, proclaim that we no longer need libraries, and that they should not be sanctuaries, other emotions take over. My heart rate rises to meet dark fantasies projected in the cinema of my hindbrain, but in a couple of breaths I remember my wife’s caution for our angry toddlers: use your words.

A story: near the end of June, 2014, 10 inches of rain hit southeastern Saskatchewan’s already soaked watersheds. Privatized, plowed, ditched and drained, the prairie has little natural cover left to capture water. A sudden rain event can turn sleepy prairie streams into flood torrents faster than an Arizona arroyo. That week, people from several affected communities fled their homes and made for the Carnduff library. Staff and volunteers cleared space for the evacuees, provided computer access for them to stay in touch with family, and used the food and funds for a scheduled BBQ fundraiser to feed people. The library stayed open extra hours and let the Red Cross set up a centre of operations.

Should libraries be sanctuaries? Anyone who thinks a library is merely a collection of books either missed the history of civilization or is actively engaged in dismantling it.

Like the rooms of the United Church where we gathered on a Saturday afternoon to protect our prairie, a library is a refuge of civil society, a place to meet when darkness is gathering all around, where we can remind ourselves of common values and the moral grounding that unites us as a humanity worth saving.

Article from:

Your Kids Will Love These Children’s Books Illustrated by Famous Artists

Article from Artsy that peaked my interest, please check out the original link:

As the infinitely quotable Pablo Picasso once said: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” A child raised on these nine books might have a pretty good shot. From Andy Warhol’s early work as a commercial illustrator to Yayoi Kusama’s mesmerizing take on The Little Mermaid, here’s a selection of artist-illustrated children’s books to satisfy the youngest generations of art lovers.


Jacob Lawrence, The Great Migration: An American Story, 1993

  • Courtesy of Harper Collins Children’s Books.

American painter Lawrence was thrust into the national spotlight at age 23, when his “Migration Series” (1940–41) debuted at New York’s Downtown Gallery and became an overnight sensation. The 60 tempera paintings, depicting the mass movement of African-Americans from South to North in the period between World War I and World War II, were printed in Fortune magazine and, within months, snapped up by MoMAand the Phillips Collection (MoMA took the even numbers; Phillips took the odd). More than half a century later, the series was transformed into a children’s book featuring captions written by the artist himself.

Yayoi Kusama, The Little Mermaid, 2016

  • Detail from After the Party, 2005. © Louisiana Museum of Modern Art and Yayoi Kusama, 2016. All illustrations are from the series Love Forever, 2004-2007.

Avant-garde Japanese artist Kusama breathed new life into a 179-year-old story with her densely layered black-and-white illustrations. Published this summer by the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, the 96-page volume pairs images from her series “Love Forever” (2004–07) with Hans Christian Andersen’s original text. Although Kusama previously illustrated a 2012 edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, her marker drawings for The Little Mermaid are more enigmatic, even sinister, packed with unblinking eyes and tentacled creatures swirling in a hallucinatory underwater world.

Marc Chagall, A mayse mit a hon; dos tsigele, 1917

  • Marc Chagall, A mayse mit a hon. Dos tsigele (A Story about a Rooster; The Little Kid), 1917. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

As World War I came to a close, Russia saw a surge of interest in Yiddish children’s literature. This was due, in part, to the collapse of the tsardom and a subsequent easing of restrictions on Jewish cultural activities. But the war had also displaced huge numbers of children who now needed educational instruction and materials; Chagall himself even worked as an art teacher at an orphanage outside Moscow in the early 1920s. Yiddish children’s books were suddenly the epicenter of artistic experimentation for the Jewish avant-garde, and a young Chagall joined in with illustrations for A Story about a Rooster; The Little Kid. Not much more than a booklet, it featured 15 pages of verse as well as eight small, black-and-white images by the future Modernist painter.

El Lissitzky, About Two Squares, 1922

  • Courtesy of Tate Publishing.

From the start of his career, Russian avant-garde artist Lissitzky illustrated children’s books—Yiddish ones in particular, in an effort to foster Jewish culture alongside other artists like Chagall. But with the rise of Communism, he soon abandoned those increasingly volatile themes. In 1922, a few years after the Russian Revolution of 1917, he wrote, illustrated, and designed a Suprematist story that pitted a red square against a black square—geometric stand-ins for the revolutionary Bolsheviks and the previously entrenched tsarist autocracy. Although the story was intended for young readers, its groundbreaking typography and pared-down color palette would influence the world of graphic design for decades to come.

Andy Warhol, Best in Children’s Books #15, “The Little Red Hen,” 1958

  • © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Before turning to Brillo boxes and Campbell’s soup cans in the 1960s, Warhol was sketching lazy dogs and industrious hens as one of Doubleday’s freelance illustrators. His projects for the publishing company included cookbook diagrams, dust jackets for crime novels, and, between 1957 and 1959, contributions to the popular “Best in Children’s Books” series. Warhol’s handiwork can be seen in six of the 42 volumes, including this version of “The Little Red Hen” and another story titled “The Magic Porridge Pot.” Although he soon outgrew commercial illustration, the Popartist had a lifelong love for children’s books. He even wrote a few of his own: The Autobiography of a Snake, published earlier this year, is a neon-hued look at the world of 1960s fashion through the eyes of a friendly reptile.

Faith Ringgold, Tar Beach, 1991

  • Courtesy of Random House Children’s Books.

In 1983, following decades of artistic experimentation in paint, textiles, and performance, American artist Ringgold made her first “story quilt”—a medium that soon came to define her practice. In fact, Ringgold’s award-winning children’s book Tar Beach (1991) was an adaptation of her 1988 story quilt of the same name. Both works center on eight-year-old Cassie Louise Lightfoot, who takes flight from her family’s Harlem rooftop and sets off to explore New York City from above.

David Hockney, Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, 1970

Hockney spent much of 1969 preoccupied with one of his biggest printmaking projects: etchings for fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm. His six choices ran the gamut from essential (“Rumpelstiltskin” and “Rapunzel”) to obscure (“Fundevogel” and “Old Rinkrank”). The British artist’s non-idealized, occasionally grotesque illustrations pay homage to the original stories’ disturbing, violent nature—something further erased with each new Disney version.

Romare Bearden, Li’l Dan, the Drummer Boy: A Civil War Story, 2003

  • Courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Completed in 1984 but published posthumously, Li’l Dan (2003) was the only children’s book to be both written and illustrated by the influential 20th-century American artist. It tells the story of an orphaned slave on a Southern plantation who tags along with a troop of Union soldiers after they arrive and tell him he’s free. Like Bearden’s body of work as a whole, the book considers the African-American experience (Bearden, of course, also represented more contemporary moments, such as the Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights Movement). In this story, however, only a few illustrations incorporate his signature collage elements; instead, Li’l Dan’s adventures are depicted in line drawings and vivid watercolor washes.

Salvador Dalí, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1969

  • Left: Salvador Dali, Down the Rabbit Hole, 1969. Right: Salvador Dali, The Queen’s Croquet Ground, 1969.© 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

“Alice has, I understand, become a patron saint of the Surrealists,” literary critic William Empson wrote in 1935, foreshadowing Dalí’s 1969 illustrated version of the classic children’s text. Lewis Carroll’s murderous Queen of Hearts, frantic white rabbit, and ponderous caterpillar all make an appearance, each one transformed by the Surrealist painter’s exuberant style. Originally published by New York’s Maecenas Press-Random House, the volume contained 12 photogravures (one for each chapter) and an etching as the frontispiece. The book became increasingly rare, with copies selling for as much as $12,900, until it was reprinted last year by Princeton University Press for the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

—Abigail Cain


“Meet the man crowd-funding Gaza’s first English library”

This  article from Al Jazeera gives me hope. Read it at:

“Meet the man crowd-funding Gaza’s first English library”

Books can help to connect Palestinians in the besieged territory to the rest of the world, says Mosab Abu Toha.

Over the years, Abu Toha has amassed a substantial collection at his third-floor apartment in Beit Lahia [Ezz Zanoun/Al Jazeera]


Beit Lahia, Gaza – Escaping the confines of the besieged Gaza Strip, often described as an “open-air prison”, is a nearly impossible dream for many of its two million residents.

But 24-year-old Mosab Abu Toha has found a way to free himself – through books.

“Freedom is a state of mind. [With books], you’re liberating yourself by living in an imaginary world where there are no boundaries … If I choose to be free, I can be free through my writing, through speaking,” Abu Toha told Al Jazeera.

‘Language is what makes us all human,’ Abu Toha says [Ezz Zanoun/Al Jazeera]

As an English literature graduate, he has a thirst for books that has always been difficult to quench in Gaza, where new English books are hard to find. PDF files are not a great alternative, as Gaza suffers from frequent, lengthy power cuts.

“Whenever I go to a bookshop or library, I rarely see English books, especially books by Edward Said, Noam Chomsky – these intellectuals who write in English,” Abu Toha said, noting that translations into Arabic take about three years.

But having relied on his friends from abroad to send him books over the years, he has amassed a substantial collection on the shelves of his third-floor apartment in Beit Lahia.

Freedom is a state of mind. [With books], you’re liberating yourself by living in an imaginary world where there are no boundaries.

Mosab Abu Toha, Gaza resident

By delving into the works of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Paine, Orwell, Hemingway, Huxley, Finkelstein, Chomsky and Said – and by writing stories and poems of his own – Abu Toha can, at least for a little while, escape the confines of Gaza.

Now he is trying to take that further and share these works throughout the besieged territory. After the 2014 war, as he was rummaging through the rubble of his university’s bombed arts department, he found one of the survivors, the Norton Anthology of American Literature, and an idea was born.

Realising that Gaza needed a safe home for English books and a space where people could come to read and socialise rather than hang out in cafes or watch TV, Abu Toha began a mission to open Gaza’s first public library for English books.

He set up a Facebook page last spring calling for people worldwide to donate books. So far, he has collected more than 100, including a few autographed books by Chomsky himself. He is also collecting donations to rent out a space for the library, where he hopes to host lectures by international guests.

“It’s a wonderful idea,” Chomsky told Al Jazeera via email. “I did send several books … I am now collecting others.”

Abu Toha has so far collected more than 100 books, including a few signed volumes by Noam Chomsky [Ezz Zanoun/Al Jazeera]

The Israeli postal service suspended its service to Gaza from June to December, but it is now up and running again. Although it takes a while, the books eventually reach their destination in Beit Lahia.

Leroi O’Picasso, a history teacher from Chicago, told Al Jazeera that he mailed some books to Abu Toha after seeing a photograph of him holding a book in the midst of a bombed-out library.

“The image reminded me of others I had seen that depicted a Nazi book burning, only on a scale of our current time,” O’Picasso said. “Mosab’s request also struck me as an extremely urgent one, especially after reading reports of kids in Gaza suffering from PTSD. I am not a doctor; I cannot prescribe pills or therapy. I can send books because some contain ideas of hope or share narratives of the struggles in life. It’s a way to tell a kid that in no way are you alone.”

READ MORE: Alternative farming on the rise in besieged Gaza

Supporters can send their purchased books with free shipping through the website Better World Books, or via snail mail, which can often cost around $100. The goodwill of strangers is what amazes Abu Toha the most.

“It’s expensive to send. I wonder how these people can afford to send [their books] to Palestine, even though they don’t know me personally, nor do they know Palestinians. So they’re good people – I respect them,” he said.

According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Palestinian Museum, of the 41 libraries that initially stood in Gaza, 21 closed over the years and seven were thoroughly destroyed in the 2014 Israeli assault. The Shujayea Club Library lost all of its 6,000 books during the war, while 10,000 books were destroyed at Beit Hanoun’s library in northeastern Gaza.

In the libraries that are still functioning, the books are mostly outdated and opening hours are usually only until 3pm.

Abu Toha is determined to keep the books coming, noting that they serve as a vital lifeline to the outside world [Ezz Zanoun/Al Jazeera]

University libraries also struggle to provide updated books for their students. The Islamic University of Gaza has not been able to import any new books in Arabic since the Egyptian military coup in 2013.

“For 10 years, we were going to Cairo to purchase books, but for the past five years, we can’t go because of the security situation and because of the bad relations between Hamas and the Egyptian regime,” said the university’s library director, Mamdouh Firwana.

When books in Arabic are ordered online through the Nile and Euphrates website, the Arabic equivalent of Amazon, the books never arrive, Firwana said. English books purchased on Amazon eventually arrive, but owing to financial difficulties the number they can buy is limited.

Abu Toha is determined to keep the books coming, noting that they serve as a vital lifeline to the outside world and a way to connect with others.

“Books are very important. We can learn about other cultures, how [other people] think, how we can communicate with them, how we can understand them,” Abu Toha said.

“Language is what makes us all human. We all have languages; we use our mouths, our minds to communicate, so there is something common between us. It’s books.”

Source: Al Jazeera

In the war on fake news, school librarians have a huge role to play

“Talking to an information sciences professor about the challenges ahead

Concern about the prevalence of fake or sensationally biased news sources has escalated in the days following the presidential election, with many citing it as a factor (some even the primary cause) of Donald Trump’s win.

The central focus of the concern is Facebook, which has grown beyond a social platform and is now a key information distributor from which 44 percent of Americans get their news. Though Mark Zuckerberg stated publicly that the idea that fake news on Facebook influenced the election was “crazy,” a BuzzFeed News report uncovered that people within his own company consider this response flippant and are busy organizing in secret to dig into the data and make recommendations to senior leadership. This news came out after a Gizmodo reportstated that Facebook had already built a system that could weed out fake news but had chosen not to deploy it because of the undesirable optics of the tool going after mostly right-wing “news” sources. Facebook has denied that report, but there’s still a lot we don’t know about what’s going on behind closed doors.

On top of Facebook’s issues, the first Google search result for election results for several hours on Monday was a tiny conspiracy blog that wrongly showed Trump winning the popular vote. Google and Facebook both announced on Monday that they would block fake news sources from using their ad networks (one of the key ways that small to moderately sized websites make money), but the issue of fake news creeping up in search results and news feeds is still an urgent one.

All of this is compounded by the reality that a lot of people don’t know fake news when they see it, sensationalized reports are more likely to go viral on social media than sane ones, and distrust of traditional (and genuinely more reliable) media sources is rising.

To get a better idea of how we can fight misinformation, The Verge talked to Professor Nicole A. Cooke of the University of Illinois. Professor Cooke works in the University’s top-ranked School of Information Sciences, focusing on human information behavior, information literacy, and diversity in librarianship. We discussed why it seems to be getting harder and harder for people to keep track of the truth, what libraries are doing to help them, and what we all need to do going forward.”