Thursday, December 11, 2008

Canadian Museum for Human Rights launches virtual exhibition

National Post: 2008 December 11

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights may not be set to open until 2012, but it launched its first virtual exhibition yesterday. To mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, 1948, the museum premiered an exhibit at the University of Winnipeg that explores the life of John Peters Humphrey, right, the Canadian legal scholar and principal author of the Declaration. The document arose from the experience of the Second World War and represents the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled. The exhibit, which used digitized artifacts from Library Archives Canada and McGill University Archives, can be viewed online at

Free TC archives are 150th anniversary gift to readers

Times Colonist: 2008 December 11

It was exactly 150 years ago today — on Dec. 11, 1858 — that the British Colonist, the precursor of the newspaper you are now reading, made its debut.

The four-page edition, all 200 copies of it, was produced in a shack on Wharf Street under the guidance of founder Amor De Cosmos, who went on to become B.C.’s second premier.

Fast forward to 10 a.m. today, when the newspaper marks its anniversary with the launch of a website that will give the public free access to a searchable database that contains the first 50 years of Colonist newspapers.

The British Colonist Digitization Project is a joint effort by the Times Colonist, the University of Victoria, and a consortium of British Columbia libraries. The website — — covers the period from Dec. 11, 1858, to June 30, 1910, and offers 100,544 pages.

Because the newspaper provides one of the best available records of B.C. during that time, “it’s going to be great for historians, genealogists or anyone who wants to know about the history of the province,” said Times Colonist editor in chief Lucinda Chodan.

She said the site is “a gift to the community that has helped us thrive,” and offers free access to material that has previously been available only on microfilm at libraries.

The two-year effort brought together the Times Colonist, the University of Victoria, the University of British Columbia’s Ike Barber Learning Centre, the Electronic Library Network of B.C., the B.C. Public Library Services Branch and the Greater Victoria Public Library.

UVic’s Chris Petter, who helped manage the website project, said some of the site’s content predates Canada’s nationhood (1867) and B.C.’s entry into Confederation (1871). The Colonist also covered the first decades of proceedings in the B.C. legislature — the only such documentation in existence.

“It was a recognition by the library community that this was not just a newspaper that was important, but the newspaper that was the most important for the province,” said Petter, the head of special collections at UVic’s McPherson Library.

He said the website is equipped for users to search chronologically or by key word, and that it will provide “a rich, full look at our history.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


BC Ministry of Children and Family Development
2008 December 9

NEW WESTMINSTER – A new handbook about the rights of youth will help young people involved in B.C.’s child welfare system become stronger self-advocates and successfully transition into adulthood, Children and Family Development Minister Tom Christensen announced today.

The minister joined representatives of the Federation of BC Youth in Care Networks to celebrate the launch of the Your Life – Your Rights handbook. The handbook, produced by the federation with the support of a $70,000 ministry investment, helps meet government’s responsibility to ensure young people are educated about their rights.

Your Life – Your Rights is part of government’s commitment to support youth in making successful transitions from care to independence when they turn 19,” said Christensen. “Educating youth about their rights and how they can effectively exercise them is empowering and can clearly lead to better lives.”

Research demonstrates that when children and youth understand their rights they show increased self-esteem; they are less likely to come to harm; more likely to seek help; more socially responsible and respectful of the rights of others; and are more likely to participate in a meaningful way in decisions affecting their lives.

“Young people involved in the child welfare system have a right to know about their rights in a way they can understand them,” said Jocelyn Helland, federation executive director. “It was important to us to involve young people in the creation of this great resource so it is written in a way that works for them. We are very proud of it.”

The Your Life – Your Rights handbook explains the rights of youth when they are accessing government services. These rights are recognized under B.C.’s Child, Family and Community Service Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Respecting the Rights of the Child is a core principle of the ministry.

“Every youth in care needs a copy of this book,” said Amanda, a member of the Federation of BC Youth in Care Networks, who can’t be identified because she’s a youth receiving services. “When I was in care, I didn’t realize what my rights were. When I found out, I was surprised at what was available to me and I was much better able to advocate for myself.”

The new handbook will be distributed to youth in care between the ages of 12 and 19, and complements a range of programs in place to help youth in care on the road to independence, such as the recently launched Agreements with Young Adults program, the Youth Education Assistance Fund, Youth Agreements and the Kinnections mentorship program.

To view the handbook online, please visit, and to learn more about services for youth in B.C., please visit


British Columbia Achievement Foundation: 2008 December 10

VANCOUVER – The 2009 shortlist for Canada’s largest literary non-fiction award, the British Columbia National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction, was announced today by Premier Gordon Campbell and BC Achievement Foundation chair Keith Mitchell.

The four finalists contending for the $40,000 prize are:

* Daphne Bramham for “The Secret Lives of Saints: Child Brides and Lost Boys in Canada’s Polygamous Mormon Sect” (Random House Canada)

* Mary Henley Rubio for “Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings” (Doubleday Canada)
* Christopher Shulgan for “The Soviet Ambassador: The Making of the Radical Behind Perestroika” (McClelland & Stewart)
* Russell Wangersky for “Burning Down the House: Fighting Fires and Losing Myself” (Thomas Allen Publishers)

“Now in its fifth year, the B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction continues to celebrate the best non-fiction writing from across Canada and spotlights this important literary genre and its significance to all Canadians,” said Premier Campbell. “I want to congratulate all the finalists on their remarkable achievements.”

The shortlist was selected from a field of 163 nominated titles. Eligible books were authored by a Canadian citizen or permanent resident and were published between November 1, 2007 and October 31, 2008.

“Our thanks to the jury who had the challenging but richly engaging task of selecting the shortlisted titles,” said Mitchell. “The BC Achievement Foundation extends its appreciation to award jurors John Cruickshank, recently appointed publisher of the Toronto Star; Stevie Cameron, one of Canada’s foremost investigative journalists, authors and commentators; and Andreas Schroeder, author, TV and Radio host and academic.

With a prize of $40,000 and national scope, the B.C. Award is the richest non-fiction book prize in Canada and the non-fiction counterpart to the Giller Prize for fiction and the Griffin Poetry Prize.

The winner of the B.C. National Award for Non-Fiction will be announced February 2, 2009 at a presentation ceremony in Vancouver.

The finalists are described in the following citations from the jury:

The Secret Lives of Saints: Child Brides and Lost Boys in Canada’s Polygamous Mormon Sect (Daphne Bramham)
‘In this uncompromising investigation into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints community in Bountiful, B.C., the author argues that a clique of powerful men has allegedly used the Charter’s protection of religious freedom to justify a litany of human rights abuses. Bramham’s rigorously researched exposé reminds us that trafficking in women, the brainwashing of entire communities, and the over-reachings of religious despots aren’t restricted to television movies or countries half a world away.’

Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings (Mary Henley Rubio)
Although Mary Henley Rubio has spent most of her academic career studying the life and work of Lucy Maud Montgomery, The Gift of Wings is no dry scholarly tome, nor, despite being an authorized biography, is it a flattering portrait of one of Canada’s most successful authors. What we have here is a beautifully written yet unflinching account of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s complicated life as a driven, celebrity writer – but also as the dutiful wife of a chronically depressed clergyman and as the caring mother of two sons, one a doctor and the other an incorrigible ne’er-do-well. Often unhappy, terrified the world would find out about her troubles, Montgomery destroyed private papers in an effort to control her own story. Rubio has uncovered the truth of it and in doing so has only made us admire her subject more.

Soviet Ambassador: The Making of the Radical Behind Perestroika (Christopher Shulgan)
Now called “the godfather of glasnost,” former Communist hardliner Aleksandr Yakolev is hardly a household name in this country despite being the Soviet Union’s ambassador in Canada for ten years during the 1970s and early 1980s. But it was here in Canada, as Christopher Shulgan tells us in his immensely readable story, that Yakolev became a close friend of Pierre Trudeau and began to understand Western democracies. And it was Trudeau who first welcomed Mikhail Gorbachev to this country where Yakolev and Gorbachev developed their own strong friendship. Their ideas and commitment would change Russia forever. The power of this lively biography lies in the evolution of Yakolev’s thinking and the account of the reforms he helped to bring about to improve his own country.

Burning Down the House: Fighting Fires and Losing Myself (Russell Wangersky)
An astonishingly insightful and harrowing depiction of modern-day fire-fighting – in which fighting actual fires isn’t the half of it. This account of Russell Wangersky’s eight years as a volunteer firefighter responding to emergency calls ranging from car accidents to medical crises to house fires depicts his resulting post-traumatic disintegration with the slow inevitability of a toxic chemical reaction. His account’s greatest strength and primary impact comes not from the predictable drama of the events themselves, but from his tendency to do his job without wearing protective mental gear. The result is an account so relentlessly lucid and visceral that the reader emerges from the experience almost as exhausted and traumatized as the writer himself.

The B.C. Award is an annual national prize established by the British Columbia Achievement Foundation, an independent foundation endowed by the Province of British Columbia in 2003 to celebrate, provincially and nationally, excellence in the arts, humanities, enterprise and community service.

For more information on the award and this year’s finalists – including media copies of book covers and author photos – please visit or contact the foundation at 604 261-9777 or

School Library Program Health and Wellness Toolkit

The time to deal with library programs cuts is before they happen or before they are even a possibility. This toolkit provides resources to help you build stakeholder support and true advocacy. It supports your proactive efforts to keep your library program healthy as you work to build the program and to prevent cuts.

Monday, December 8, 2008

CRTC to consider Internet regulation

‘The commission should resist the temptation to try and fix what is not broken,’ Google says in its submission

Vancouver Sun: 2008 December 8

TORONTO — Google Inc. says ensuring that new media content in Canada remains unregulated is essential to keeping the Internet “awesome.”

The online search giant’s enthusiastic opinion is part of one of almost 100 submissions to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission about upcoming hearings on whether Canadian new media, basically any content carried over the Internet, should be regulated in Canada.

I n October, the CRTC announced it would solicit comments from the public towards a hearing scheduled for February into the impact new media has had on the Canadian broadcasting system and whether steps should be taken to regulate it. Final submissions to the federal regulator were due Friday.

The hearings will take into account the rapid changes since the CRTC issued an exemption order for new media broadcasting undertakings in 1999 and whether those policies need to be revised.

“The commission should resist the temptation to try to fix what is not broken,” Google said. “ Without regulation the Canadian broadcasting policy objectives have been, and will continue to be, implemented on the Internet. The New Media Exemption is the best regulatory approach to keeping the Internet awesome.”

Google said it had decided to contribute to the policy debate because it provides free access and several platforms for accessing Canadian content on the Internet, including YouTube and its localized search service.

The company joins a large chorus of other industry heavyweights, including ACTRA, the Canadian Recording Industry Association, CTVglobemedia Inc. and even the National Hockey League in determining the role new media now plays in the broadcasting world.

The majority of submissions appear to back Google’s stance on a non-regulated environment. But some are less sanguine. A potential tax suggested in preliminary discussions with the federal regulator of between some 2.5 per cent to five per cent of gross revenues to be levied on Internet service providers that would go to broadcasters was met with widespread opposition by industry players.

“We believe that adopting the proposed ISP tax would be contrary to the best interests of Canada,” a consortium of ISP companies including BCE Inc., Rogers Communications Inc., SaskTel and Telus Corp said in a submission.

“It would harm Canada’s Internet industry while failing to effectively promote the success of Canadian new media content.”

However, media consultant Alan Sawyer argued the CRTC should find a way to update the funding models between new media and televised content to ensure all Canadian content can be broadcast fairly while addressing an ever-changing audience.

“We need to recognize that going forward it is vital to fund content across all platforms and not limit our funding to programming that is at least in part carried by licensed broadcasters over licensed distribution mechanisms,” Sawyer said in his submission.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Top 10 Things You Forgot Gmail Can Do

Lifehacker: 2008 December 6

When friends push friends onto Gmail, it usually involves talking up the seemingly limitless storage space, the fast-moving interface, or its inter-connectedness with other Google applications, like Calendar. Those features are all fine and good, but Gmail does a lot of helpful things that some users never get to dig into. From one short web address, you can video chat Skype-style with contacts, ensure you didn't leave yourself logged in elsewhere, help mom gradually migrate from her old dial-up-era email address, and pluck a single message out of tens of thousands. Let's dig in and take a look at Gmail's less-touted features for power users....

J.K. Rowling's Beedlemania

Time Magazine

In Chapter 7 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Hermione is presented with a copy of a book called The Tales of Beedle the Bard, which Professor Dumbledore left her in his will. (Yes, he's dead. Sorry. Spoiler alert.) Because Hermione, like Harry, grew up in a Muggle family, she's never heard of the Tales, which are decribed as Aesop-like children's stories to be read to little wizarding kids. "Oh come on!" Ron says — he can't quite believe it. "All the old kids' stories are supposed to be Beedle's, aren't they? 'The Fountain of Fair Fortune'...'The Wizard and the Hopping Pot'...'Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump'."...,8599,1864834,00.html?iid=tsmodule

Friday, December 5, 2008

Seven Million Books Later, the Dust Begins To Settle

American Exchange
By Michael Stillman

The recent legal settlement between Google and book authors and publishers revealed a statistic that Google had previously kept close to its vest - just how many books have they scanned? According to a posting on the Google Blog, that number now exceeds seven million. That is a higher number than most who follow these things had estimated. Google further noted, "...and we're just getting started. We believe that ultimately we'll provide access to many times that number." While by far the largest, Google is not the only entity scanning and turning books into online searchable and accessible texts. There's the Open Content Alliance, the now discontinued Microsoft digitization project which scanned some 800,000 books, the recently announced PALINET program, and others. Whatever one thinks of the concept of online books, we are seeing some seismic shifts in the book trade beginning to stir....

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Are you native to the digital world or just visiting?

Vancouver Sun: 2008 November 27
Mitch Joel

Is your company presently blocking access to YouTube? Can no one get on Facebook or check out MySpace? Is your IT department still trying to sell your senior management on the absurd notion that allowing people to access websites that have Flash animation on them could cause some kind of security breach, or worse, cripple your entire technological infrastructure with a deadly computer virus?

We made it through the Y2K scare, but something bigger is brewing in your business. It has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with your human capital. Your ability to grow your business efficiently is at stake, but this time it's about your people and not your choice of software solutions.

If you thought your business is going to be challenged over the next little while with trying to figure out the economic downturn and how you're going to bootstrap your way through this recession (it is a recession, isn't it?), there might be something even more challenging happening within your organization.

How many employees do you have who are Digital Natives?

A Digital Native is essentially anyone who was born and raised in a household where there was always a computer. We're talking about your new employees who have never known a world without a mouse and a keyboard. Some of them have not only always had a computer in their life, but they've also been online since they were infants. Being connected, chatting through Instant Messenger, sharing files through Google Docs, working collaboratively on a wiki (a web page that anyone can edit), creating and uploading their own videos, posting their thoughts to Twitter or updating their Facebook status is all a large part of their daily lives -- much in the same way you pick up the phone to call your spouse or go to the bathroom. Most of us older folks are Digital Immigrants (anyone over 30 is, pretty much, a Digital Immigrant -- someone who grew up without digital technology and adopted it later). I love this example from Wikipedia: "A digital native might refer to their new 'camera'; a digital immigrant might refer to their new 'digital camera'."

How old do you feel now?

Clay Shirky (educator, technologist and author of the amazing book, Here Comes Everybody) summed it up best when he recounted how his friend's four-year-old daughter wondered why the TV screen didn't come with a mouse. Their perspective is very different from ours. We're doing our best to recruit, retain and engage this workforce, and we're mistaking their multi-platforming (you know, the types of people who watch television with a laptop on their laps -- and seven different windows open -- while they're listening to their iPod and texting off of their BlackBerry) for time wasting and lack of focus.

If your company is blocking channels like YouTube and Facebook, you are missing the point. You're missing an opportunity to enable and empower your people to connect. The same tactic of blocking is used when any new technology comes into the workplace and causes a level of disruption. First off, that's what great technology does ... it disrupts. When phones were first introduced, many companies saw no reason why employees should have access to one. The same was true for faxes, computers and e-mail. You would think that we would have learned our lesson by now. Sadly, we have not.

Being connected is not only a part of who they are, it is what they are. Their digital footprints are their personality, and not giving them access to these tools, channels and media would be the equivalent of someone telling you that you can't use the phone or talk to your peers during office hours. The people who are going to abuse their access to Facebook and YouTube are the same ones who would take an extra hour for lunch or not come into work because they are -- cough, cough -- sick.

Any great business knows that to get the best talent, you need to be a great place to work. Taking away communications and marketing channels that are critical to their success is not going to attract the best and brightest. Digital Natives have an expectation that work is going to be like school, where they are constantly connected, collaborating, researching, sharing, having fun (gasp!), and growing beyond the confines of your four physical walls.

"We believe human contact is what makes companies successful," said Bernardo Huberman with the Information Dynamics group for HP in a recent interview. "If people don't communicate and collaborate, not a whole lot will happen. We know there are risks, but the positives far outweigh them in how much spirit social networking and collaboration brings to an organization."

Lee Thomas, the vice-president of IT at Berkshire-Hathaway went on to say, "My supervisor used to send messages about team strategies via e-mail. But when new people came onboard, they didn't have access to that tribal knowledge."

It might seem like these types of new channels are forcing a new kind of business environment (I'm sure they said the same thing when overnight couriers first started popping up), but the blunt reality is that by enabling and empowering your team to embrace the ways of the Digital Natives, things should get much more efficient as that "tribal knowledge" now resides in interactive intranets powered by wiki-like software. Places where the knowledge builds over time instead of getting lost in some past employee's Outlook folder.

If you're still not sold on the power of Digital Natives and how their culture can help improve and sustain your business, check out Don Tapscott's latest book, Grown Up Digital -- How the Net Generation is Changing Your World. Tapscott is the best-selling author of Wikinomics and one of the foremost technology thinkers in Canada. And, if that doesn't convince you to think about how much new media and connectivity has changed everything we know, read this quote from David Neale, head of product development at Telus: "My son still watches prime-time TV. He just doesn't watch it in prime time. And he doesn't watch it on a TV."

Mitch Joel is president of the digital marketing and communications agency Twist Image. He is writing a book, Six Pixels of Separation, named after his blog and podcast.

Why stories will never die

Storytelling is under assault in schools, universities and from the Internet, but the power of narrative shows no sign of waning

Vancouver Sun: 2008 November 27
Ian Lindsay

"Tell me a story." It’s a plea that echoes through the ages; not only the ages of human civilization, but the ages of man.

While the Internet is good at providing some types of information, books are still much better for storytelling.

As a child, tucked up and ready for bed. As an adult, settling deep into a popcorn- scented cinema seat as the house lights go down. In old age, becalmed, combing your memories. Telling stories is as old a game as language itself.

So it’s odd — not to say alarming — to read reports that some people seem to think we’re on the verge of running out of narrative. A group of academics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in cahoots with some Hollywood moguls, have announced the opening of a “ Center for Future Storytelling.”

“The idea as we move forward with 21st- century storytelling is to try to keep meaning alive,” explains its founder, David Kirkpatrick.

Baffling. Are they hoping — like Sarah Palin prospecting for oil in Alaska — to find fresh reserves, another two basic plots, maybe? Or are they proposing a more efficient use of our existing narrative resources — a prohibition on excessive use of plot twists, or an annual allocation of tradable deus ex machina credits to the larger Hollywood studios?

Their announcement does not tell us, offering instead a feast of bilge about “ next- generation synthetic performer technologies.” But there we are. The Center for Future Storytelling is a sign of the times.

The notion that the narrative arts are under threat from information overload, shrinking attention spans, text messaging, social networking sites and slam-bam CGI blockbusters is one widely given voice. What’s so odd is that the remedies proposed, as often as not, seem to involve a massive increase in just such things.

The eggheads at MIT have, in this respect, more than just a prose style in common with the governing body at Meadows Community School in Chesterfield. The closure of the library at this 759- strong comprehensive in central England is being explained as “a move towards the relocation and redistribution of nonfiction and fiction resources in the light of the new developments in a virtual- learning environment and interactive learning.”

Every clause is doubled- up into redundancy in the hope of sounding grand. How does “relocation” differ from “redistribution” — and don’t they add up to “ relocating from the library to the skip”? What are “nonfiction and fiction resources” — other than a fancy way of saying “all the books we have”? How does “a virtual learning environment” differ from “interactive learning” (what learning isn’t “interactive,” come to that) — and is it just clever- sounding verbiage for the Internet?

The thing is, the Internet does some things very well, and the codex book does other things very well. There is an overlap — they are both means of preserving and sharing information — but it’s foolish to see the two as interchangeable, or the former as supplanting the latter.

One of the cliches about education is that it should teach you not what to think, but how to think; and a vital part of that is understanding the shape of knowledge — being able to evaluate categories of information and degrees of authority in sources. If the educators themselves can’t or won’t think about these distinctions, God help their pupils.

The examples aren’t too hard to come by. The Internet does academic apparatus, at least potentially, better than books ever could. Concordances can be compiled in seconds, rather than in lifetimes. The work of footnotes — embedding explanatory material or further reading — and bibliographies is done wonderfully well by hypertext links: Entire fields of further reading open up at the click of a mouse. It does reference, in some cases, at least as well as a book. The online Oxford English Dictionary is a glory; the book version is unwieldy and comparatively expensive. The Dictionary of National Biography online, by now, should have fewer mistakes than the book version — and the ease of searching and cross- reference it offers is unarguably superior.

Some of the weaknesses of the online world have to do with authority. Many of the most popular online resources, like Wikipedia, are collaborative, and therefore tremendously useful but vulnerable to the bad faith of malicious users, or “trolls.” Even those resources that are more monolithic are vulnerable to hackers. And all is not, on the Web, what it seems.

These dangers can be exaggerated — one much-cited ( and much-debated) study found Wikipedia’s accuracy compared favourably with that of the Encyclopedia Britannica — but on the Internet the good stuff is often drowned out by the garbage. The printed word may preserve errors longer (the DNB can correct errors in its online edition instantly), but because the bar to entry is higher, it is less likely to make them in the first place. Books — the right books — are slower but more often trustworthy than a Google search.

Leave that aside, though, to consider an area in which authority is less — or at least, differently — important: storytelling. Prose narrative is one of the things that the book still does much, much better than any computer or the sluggish and buggy electronic readers available.

Reading a full-length novel on a screen is next to impossible. Your back aches. You mouth parches. Your eyes fall out. For portability, browsability and ease of annotation the book is the best form of technology we have, and has been since its invention.

That alone explains why it is a mistake to abolish a school library (with its librarian; a professional guide to the shape of knowledge) in favour of the “ virtual learning environment.” Writing to the headmistress of the Meadows in protest, the author Philip Pullman protested against what he saw as a decision to “relegate the whole activity of reading fiction to the status of a trivial and innocuous activity, like stamp collecting or playing with a Frisbee.”

I’m in agreement with him: Reading fiction is not a trivial activity. Not only does narrative pleasure sugar the pill of learning in all sorts of areas, it is a good in and of itself.

The old theory that there are only a handful of basic plots in all literature points to something. Storytelling is underpinned by myth. The characters in Beowulf, and in Henry James, and in Joel Schumacher’s latest slam- bang movie extravaganza, all participate, with more or less elaborate variations, in archetype.

One of the first people to look into this systematically was a Russian folklorist called Vladimir Propp, whose book The Morphology of the Folk Tale sought to distill a sort of universal genome of myth. He got pretty far with it.

You don’t have to be a crazed Jungian, a structural anthropologist, or a seven- basic- plots believer to agree that storytelling is something of universal importance in human experience, and something that exhibits deep and suggestive similarities across cultures.

Myths, it has been said, are “good to think with.” Storytelling is a way of trying out situations imaginatively, of preserving knowledge and social value, of attesting to a commonality of experience. Stories are central to how we think about the world, from the individual to the wide sweep of history.

The ability to put yourself in another’s shoes is the foundation- stone of all morality. And what is that but an imaginative process? Where do we learn it but in stories? “In dreams begins responsibility,” said W. B. Yeats. He wasn’t kidding. It’s no accident that the great boast made about the Bible is not that it tells you how to behave, but that it is “the greatest story ever told.” It has a beginning — an “in the beginning,” in fact — a middle and an end.

We may well run out of oil. We are in no danger whatever of running out of narrative.

Changing technologies have affected the means by which stories are told. You can follow the story of a person’s life pointillistically through a Twitter feed or voyeuristically through a webcam. You can read a self-contained novel; one with an alternate ending, or a choose-your own adventure book.

But when you strip off all the bells and whistles, these stories will be in all the important essences no different from those of the Bible or Homer.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nashville Mayor Wants City Library to Enfold Media Centers

American Libraries: 2008 November 23

Officials of the Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) seemed taken aback by a November 20 press conference Mayor Karl Dean held at Nashville Public Library’s East branch where he announced that the city library would begin taking over the operation of school libraries systemwide in January 2009.

Nashville Public Library Director Donna Nicely confirmed to American Libraries that she and Mayor Dean had been conferring with each other for several months about the prospect of combining public and school library operations. “We all talk about thinking outside the box, but here’s an idea that truly could transform the public library and the school libraries because we would be enfolding them into the public library structure,” Nicely said, explaining that the idea was “strictly a proposal at this point.” However, she told CBS affiliate WTVF-TV at the press conference, “It‘s just a matter of organizing it and understanding how it all works and going forward with it.”

But school officials seem to have been left out of the loop. “We can’t say whether or not this is something we could do or could not do,” MNPS spokesperson Olivia Brown told AL. “At this point, we’ve not had any discussion, we’ve not had any proposal presented to the school board.”

The plan as envisioned by Nicely and Dean starts with the public library taking on the acquisition of materials for high school libraries “because Ms. Nicely says those libraries most reflect, in size and setup, what our branch libraries are like. So those would be the easiest to enfold into our library system,” mayoral Public Information Officer Janel Lacey told AL.

Lacey also emphasized that the mayor has made education “his number-one agenda item” since he took office in September 2007, acknowledging that his concern was heightened by the school system having entered Restructuring I status for the 2008–09 academic year for not making adequate yearly progress as defined by No Child Left Behind regulations. The category of Restructuring I places district-level financial decisions in the hands of the state Department of Education, and Tennessee DOE Commissioner Tim Webb confirmed in the November 17 Nashville City Paper that he was already researching whether Mayor Dean could legally be appointed trustee of the school district should it slip into Restructuring II status for the 2010–11 academic year.

These scenarios were playing out behind the scenes for the most part until the November 20 press conference. The next day, Dean and school officials disclosed letters dated November 20 that they had just exchanged. Dean’s letter to MNPS Acting Director Chris Henson cited a prior conversation between the two about “the benefits of consolidating the library services of Metro Schools and the Nashville Public Library” and advised Henson that library Director Donna Nicely “is prepared to move forward with this endeavor . . . with preparation starting in January 2009 and the first phase, primarily focused on combining the procurement of materials [for the public library and high school libraries], taking effect July 1.” Asserting that “this decision is common sense,“ Dean went on to say, “I know the libraries in Metro Schools have staff devoted to supporting the education we give our students in the classroom, and I believe this collaboration will greatly enhance their ability to do so.” (MNPS spokesperson Brown told AL that the system of 137 schools currently budgets for almost 200 librarians and aides.)

Replying for Henson, school board Chairman David A. Fox wrote Dean that, while school officials “are receptive to any efforts and ideas that could generate higher quality and more efficient services for our students,” a change of such magnitude “ultimately would be decided upon by the school board itself.” Besides, Fox emphasized, there had not yet been any “meaningful conversation” between city and school officials about a library merger aside from comments that “seemed to be just exploratory and . . . confidential.”

Genesis of a vision

Anticipating that “we’ll be sitting down with school officials soon to talk over what this means,” with the phase-in of consolidation starting by the end of 2009, Nicely told AL that idea of NPL overseeing school-library services emerged from a series of public hearings about the public library’s 5–10-year plan that began eight months ago. “We heard such a strong concern from people in the city about the teenagers. What are they doing after school? Could the public library assist them with after-school activities?” she explained, characterizing citizens’ comments as reflecting “an urgent concern, worrying about gangs.” Asked repeatedly by members of the public “how much more closely could we work with the public schools,” Nicely said she and Dean began to discuss the possibilities.

Nicely added that she saw enormous benefits for high-school students, who would have access from their school-library catalogs to Nashville Public Library’s 1.5-million holdings and—thanks to NPL’s online link to the records of area universities—a gateway to an additional 5 million items “if we can merge the automation systems.” Noting “all the programming that goes on in these public libraries after school for our teens,” she asked rhetorically, “Why can’t all of those programs be across the city in all the libraries,” with school libraries remaining open after hours thanks to the merger.

“If we’re going to make this work, then the school libraries need to be under the purview of the public library,” Nicely mused, adding, “If you think about all the staff as one entity, then you’re moving among and strengthening all the libraries.” Citing the profession’s often-expressed dream of “making [libraries] the center of life in the schools and the community,” Nicely predicted, “This is going to do it.”

Authors fight to preserve school library

Philip Pullman tells head her comprehensive will be a 'byword for ignorance' if closure goes ahead

Guardian, UK: 2008 November 23

Philip Pullman, the bestselling author, has warned a school that it will become a 'byword for philistinism and ignorance' if it goes ahead with the closure of its library.

The comprehensive in Chesterfield has become the focus of an authors' campaign since it announced that its librarian will be surplus to requirements after Christmas, when the school is to become a 'virtual learning environment'. Pupils will be encouraged to read at break times and at after-school clubs, but its traditional library will go.

'The idea that fiction is not worth looking after properly and does not need a qualified librarian runs contrary to every experience I have ever had,' Pullman wrote in a letter to Lynn Asquith, headteacher of the 759-pupil Meadows Community School. 'Are you going to relegate the whole activity of reading fiction to the status of a trivial and innocuous activity, like stamp collecting or playing with a Frisbee?'

'A library with a dedicated and professional staff should be at the very heart of any institution dedicated to learning,' he continued. 'I am deeply dismayed to hear of the decision, which cannot be in the best interests of the students. Nothing can replace a proper library, with its resources centrally available and with the expertise of a qualified librarian to guide the students in the best and most productive ways of research.'

The author has joined Michael Rosen, the Children's Laureate, and children's writer Alan Gibbons in a campaign to save school libraries, which they say are being eroded up and down the country. 'This school is the tip of the iceberg,' said Gibbons, who argued that without a librarian there could be no library. 'Forget the blather about virtual and interactive learning. This is cost-cutting, pure and simple.

'There's one secondary school, which shall be nameless, where the headteacher was going to throw all the non-fiction books into a skip to make way for computers,' he said. 'We're witnessing a new wave of virtual philistinism.'

Rosen says he highlighted the cuts in library provision when he met Children's Secretary Ed Balls and Schools Minister Jim Knight last week. 'The [Meadows] school is a local problem, but it is a national tragedy,' he says. 'Cuts are going on everywhere. I met Ed Balls and Jim Knight and they were saying that they were committed to supporting reading for pleasure. But on the ground there isn't the staff, the time or the money to support it.'

Public library spending on books fell by 1 per cent to £76.8m in the year to March 2008, or just 8.7% of overall library expenditure. Spending on audio-visual materials such as DVDs rose 4.2% over the same period. There were 38 public library closures last year, up from 35 the previous year.

The campaign to save the library at Meadows Community School was started by its pupils, who began a petition when they heard that their librarian, Clare Broadbelt, had been told that her post was no longer required because of 'a move towards the relocation and redistribution of non-fiction and fiction resources in the light of the new developments in a virtual-learning environment and interactive learning'.

A string of famous authors have joined the battle since then. Broadbelt was told that the library was not being removed, but would be operated in a different way, with curriculum leaders managing the resources from the internet. Fiction material would be maintained in a new reading centre for use in break times and at after-school clubs, but it would not need a librarian.

Asquith said little work had been done to improve the library since it opened in 1991. 'It is not big enough to accommodate the number of pupils who want to use it during peak time and some areas are not accessible for all pupils,' she said. The school's governors had approved a £90,000 redevelopment programme, she explained. 'This is a great opportunity to develop a new learning resource centre for the benefit of all pupils.'

Gibbons, who visits 150 schools a year, says that 25 local authorities in England spend less than 1 per cent of their library budgets on books for children. 'No amount of googling and copying and pasting can replace the intellectual flexibility developed by reading whole books,' he said.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Web 2.0 Guru

The Best Web 2.0 Resources for Relevant Educational Technology Integration

Family Literacy Day World Record Attempt

ABC CANADA and Oxford Learning Set World Stage to Make Reading History

All Canadians have chance to participate in Guinness world record as part of Family Literacy Day festivities

TORONTO, ON – November 5, 2008: ABC CANADA Literacy Foundation and Oxford Learning today announced a new partnership to present the Family Literacy Day® World Record Attempt, a national, bilingual initiative encouraging adults and children to engage in 30 minutes of reading together on January 23 or 24, 2009. The initiative, part of Family Literacy Day (FLD) 2009 celebrations, encourages Canadians to read along and help break the Guinness World Record™ for “Most Children Reading with an Adult, Multiple Venues.” The current record of 78,791 was set across the U.S. in 2006.

“Every year, thousands of Canadians participate in Family Literacy Day activities across the country. The World Record initiative is another great way to rally Canadian communities and help raise awareness for the benefits of adults and children reading and learning together,” said Margaret Eaton, President, ABC CANADA Literacy Foundation. “A few minutes of family reading a day helps a parent and a child in very big way. It prepares children for challenges ahead, encourages a lifetime of reading enjoyment, and sharpens an adult’s literacy skills. ABC CANADA is delighted to have the support of Oxford Learning, and FLD founding sponsor Honda Canada, in these exciting initiatives.”

The first sponsorship ever in their 25-year history, Oxford Learning has been named the Official Family Literacy Day World Record Attempt Sponsor. In addition to providing support toward the development, execution and promotion of the world record attempt, all 85 Oxford Learning centres across Canada will host on-site public events.

“Reading, language development and literacy are the basic building blocks for thinking, learning and almost every skill that we use in our day-to-day lives,” says Dr. Nick Whitehead, CEO, Oxford Learning. “Oxford Learning is proud to work with ABC CANADA and participate in Family Literacy Day events that promote literacy and stimulate the brain.”

Anyone can participate in the FLD World Record Attempt, from one adult and child reading together at home to large groups with a number of children being read to by several adult readers in a public setting. In addition to Oxford Learning centres, public events are being planned for YMCAs, libraries, schools and literacy organizations across the country to occur in the 24-hour period between 2:00 p.m. on January 23 and 2:00 p.m. on January 24.

A special section on the ABC CANADA website (and the French equivalent at, has been created to provide all the information and resources teachers, librarians and families need to participate in the FLD World Record Attempt.

“Guinness World Records commends ABC CANADA for organizing this upcoming attempt. Guinness World Records is committed to literacy and fully supports activities that involve family reading. We were delighted to donate copies of the “Guinness World Records 2009” to ABC CANADA to encourage even more Canadian families to read and enjoy,” says Carey Low, Canadian Record Keeper, Guinness World Records.

Click here to go to the FLD World Record Attempt webpage.

About Family Literacy Day
Family Literacy Day, held annually on January 27, was developed by ABC CANADA Literacy Foundation and Honda Canada in 1999 to encourage families to read and learn together on a daily basis. Last year, for Family Literacy Day’s tenth year celebrations, it is estimated that over 275,000 Canadians participated in literacy activities at home and in schools, libraries and literacy organizations across the country. For more information, visit

About Honda Canada
Honda is the world’s pre-eminent maker of engines for automobiles, motorcycles and power equipment. With 135 manufacturing facilities in 28 countries worldwide, Honda now attracts more than 23 million customers annually. Honda Canada manufactures the Honda Ridgeline and Civic sedan and coupe, and the Acura CSX and MDX at its two plants in Alliston, Ontario.

About Oxford Learning
Since 1984, Oxford Learning has been using cognitive learning techniques to help children develop new ways of thinking, concentrating, listening, and remembering. Oxford Learning goes beyond tutoring to help students reach their learning potential, not just for one grade or one year, but for a lifetime.

About ABC CANADA Literacy Foundation
ABC CANADA Literacy Foundation is Canada’s private-sector voice championing adult literacy. The national charity envisions a Canada where individuals, regardless of their circumstances, are provided the opportunities to increase the skills that prepare people for realizing their full potential at work, at home and in the community. To learn more, visit



Karen Benner, Communications Manager
416-218-0010 x 122

Ashley Tilley
Phone: 416-218-0010 x 127
Toll free: 1-800-303-1004 x 127

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Why the world needs right-brainers

People who can see the big picture are poised to take over

Chris Cobb
Ottawa Citizen
Saturday, November 22, 2008

Move over MBAs. Make way for the Masters of Fine Arts.

If author Daniel Pink is correct, right-brained creative types are poised to rule the world.

The U.S. author is not just talking about not-for-profit artistic types who write iffy poetry or eke out a living painting derivative landscapes. He's talking about conceptualizers -- people who can see big pictures and wider implications.

This right-brain crowd is not part of the left-brain crowd that screwed up the economy. Nor does it include the number crunchers whose work is being outsourced for peanuts.

"The forces of abundance -- Asia and automation -- are tipping the scales and putting a premium on right-brain abilities," explains Pink. "The left-brain abilities are essential, but they can be outsourced. You have (U.S.) bank financial analysis and financial processing that is either automatic or being sent to India at lower cost. Right-brain abilities are harder to outsource."

Pink says left-brain thinkers can take comfort because right-brainers will require a smattering of their MBA-like instincts to function. "If you've only got right-brain abilities and no left-brain abilities," he says, "you're going to be in a world of hurt."

Pink makes the argument in his most recent book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.

It's a no-brainer, he says.

"More and more you're seeing a meeting in the middle," he says. "Design schools reaching out to business schools and business schools reaching out to design schools. It used to be they didn't even know each other existed."

Right-brainers, effectively suppressed during the dot-com revolution, are now on the fast track.

"If you want to make a living as an oil painter, it's difficult," he concedes. "But there are recruiters all over design colleges. They're not recruiting people to become fine artists, they're from consumer product companies looking for good designers; electronics companies and managing consulting firms looking for people who are multi-disciplinary and who can think in a different way and who can reason not only analytically but esthetically."

Even medical schools -- "bastions of left-brain muscle flexing" -- are getting the message.

"Every medical school in North America now teaches clinical empathy, which is a very right-brain kind of capability," he says. "Harvard and Yale medical schools take students to art museums to make them better diagnosticians." Apparently, learning to observe subtleties in paintings makes physicians sharper at detecting ailments.

The economic collapse proves the need for different ways of viewing the world. "One of the aspects of right-brain thinking is the ability to stand back and see how the pieces all fit together," he says. "Nobody was taking a step back and saying, 'What happens if banks and other lenders don't pay back?"

Pink, now a writer, originally planned to be a lawyer. He graduated from law school but never practised. "It runs counter to what people of my generation -- I'm in my mid-40s -- were told to do," he says. "They were told to get good marks, go to university and master a profession like accounting and law. That gave you a very secure foothold in the middle class."

Pink found law boring. "I wanted to work where I would have more impact."

So he chose politics and decided that "getting the right people elected" was a more noble calling.

For a time, he worked as chief speech writer for U.S. vice-president Al Gore. "Election campaigns are exhilarating," he says, "but they're also exhausting."

Deciding he did not want to spend the rest of his life in politics, Pink went out on his own. "I discovered I was wired to be a writer."

Looking for a truly effective whole brain operator? "Obama is a whole-minded guy," he says of the next president of the United States.

"He obviously has very good left-brain abilities, but if you look at the design of his campaign and the graphic design of his logo, it was brilliant. His visual identity has become iconic in a way that hasn't happened with any other presidential campaign. He took a step back, looked at the big picture and realized the world had changed and decided to run his campaign in a fundamentally different way."

Compare Obama with Hillary Clinton, he adds: "Hillary is a classic left-brainer. Her campaign was caught up in the details and missed that the country was going through a sea change in attitude. They totally missed the big picture."

The values of free speech

Multiculturalism and free speech are often at odds, but free speech can provide the best protection for minorities if they can tolerate those with whom they disagree

Barbara Julian
Special to the Sun
Saturday, November 22, 2008

Can a country reconcile the two ideals of multiculturalism and free speech, given that some of the cultures concerned not only do not value, but actively oppose, free speech?

This question received a full airing this year after the Canadian Islamic Congress lodged a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal against Maclean's magazine. Maclean's had published online an excerpt from Mark Steyn's book, America Alone, which alleges that the global ambitions of Muslim youth, plus the West's lack of "the will to rebuff those who would supplant it," constitute a threat to liberty and democracy.

The tribunal ruled that Steyn's writings "did not violate anti-hate laws" and that his were "legitimate subjects for public discussion."

Most people in the communications professions argue that freedom of speech is the best protection minorities have and that multiculturalism succeeds only when people learn to live in peaceful proximity to those with whom they disagree.

Some religious and cultural bodies in Canada see things differently, however. Canadian children's writer Deborah Ellis, for example, examined the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in her book, Three Wishes, by asking young people on both sides three questions that adroitly teased out ideas from the dense underlying tangle of emotions that have been built into that standoff, generation after generation.

The Canadian Jewish Congress objected to a pro-Palestinian bias, which no careful reader could deny that Ellis displays. The question, however, is not whether writers have biases (of course they do), but whether they should be allowed to put them out there for others courteously to refute, should they care to take up the conversation.

Isn't that conversation what literature is for?

It was the Canadian Turkish Society that challenged U.S. writer Barbara Coloroso. In Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide, she included the 1915 killing and deportation of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as an example of genocide.

Neither of these authors is a professional historian, but a culture that values free speech defends their right to research a subject and publish their conclusions. A sophisticated reader can be trusted to understand that authors' conclusions are coloured by personal preconceptions, whether acquired as a result of, or in reaction to, past conditioning.

Readers in turn bring their own attitudes, knowledge and assumptions to a text and are understood in some ways to "co-create" it with the writer. (That no two readers read the same book is a truism of postmodern reading theory.) This is precisely the skill which schools and libraries set out to teach the young.

Philip Pullman, whose book The Golden Compass was banned from school libraries by a number of Canadian Catholic school boards, is particularly unimpressed with attempts to check a book-hungry child's exploratory progress through the world of literature. "Tell your children they are not to read this book under any circumstances. What is more likely to make them go to the shelf and take it down and read it?" he asked Eleanor Wachtel in a radio interview this summer.

We must remember, however, that when it comes to books purchased by school libraries, there is a difference between censorship and selection. Budget and space limitations mean that only a fraction of available titles will be selected for acquisition in any year, and librarians have to base their choices on something. How surprised can we be if a school embracing the values of a stated world view chooses books that conform to it? The obverse of the "freedom to read" is the freedom not to read. This was the freedom the Calgary, Burlington and Peterborough Catholic school boards exercised when it came to Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, but the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver took a different path.

"We did not recommend an outright banning of the books, as done in other dioceses," says associate superintendent John van der Pauw. "We took the tack that Pullman has presented us with a 'teachable moment'."

A teachers' lesson guide was produced and the administration recommended to librarians that in elementary schools the books be borrowed only by children whose parents gave signed permission.

How appropriate is it, though, to treat the adult reader like a child? Who has the right to keep The Peaceful Pill Handbook or The Da Vinci Code or America Alone out of someone else's hands?

It seems obvious that adults must discuss public affairs if democracy is to flourish, but according to the Freedom of Expression Committee of Canada's Book and Periodical Council, the quiet removal of challenged fictional works from public library circulation often goes unnoticed.

In 2007, 42 challenges were reported in a survey, but "most library challenges go undocumented," according to the Canadian Library Association's Committee on Intellectual Freedom.

Perhaps fiction seems particularly dangerous because, as novelist Anita Desai puts it, "fiction is a way to tell the truth." That it is a subjective truth makes it more powerful and shareable.

By encompassing opposing points of view, fictional worlds force us, in George Eliot's phrase, to expand our sympathies (and explore our ambivalence).

What, then, if some historical subjects are considered no-go areas, as has happened with The Jewel of Medina, U.S. writer Sherry Jones's novel about Mohammed's wife? In a pre-publication review, a university lecturer in Texas opined that some history is "sacred history" and shouldn't be discussed or reflected in fiction.

Setting some areas of the past outside discussion is certainly censorship, and all too often the firebombs will not be far behind -- as was the case when the office of Jones's British publisher was firebombed Sept. 28. On Oct. 6, she told Britain's Telegraph newspaper: "I would urge the British public to stand up for your right to freedom of speech and not be bullied. We can't allow a small minority to dictate to the majority what we can read, write, think, say."

By Oct. 10, however, Jones had pulled out of her British tour and the novel's release in Britain was postponed, although publication went ahead in the U.S. (by Beaufort Books after the original publisher, Random House, withdrew).

When some called references to Mohammed's marriage in The Jewel of Medina "soft porn," one British journalist interpreted the controversy as being about writers' "right to offend."

Liberal MP Keith Martin used the same phrase when he filed a private member's bill in Parliament for the removal of Section 13(1) from the Canadian Human Rights Act soon after Maclean's was accused of inciting hatred with writings some considered offensive.

"We already have laws that protect citizens against slander, libel, discrimination and hate crimes," Martin said in a letter to constituents. "However, we do not have the right to not be offended."

He plans to re-introduce the bill and has also requested that the Justice Committee hold public hearings on the workings of the Human Rights Act.

Individuals and representatives of free speech and human rights groups would testify before the committee (made up of about 11 people representing the four parties) in televised hearings that would fill an educational, as well as a policy-recommending, role.

"Canadians are sensitive about offending people, and that's a good thing about us," says Martin, "but people have died fighting for freedom of conscience."

New fronts are always opening in the war against provocative utterances, and although they produce tragic casualties along the way, they eventually fail.

"In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost," Alfred Whitney Griswold wrote in the New York Times in 1959. "The only weapon against bad ideas is better ideas."

But that's not the last word, either, for someone will disagree. That's the point of free speech -- there can never be a last word.

Although his own party has been loathe to offend ethnic groups by supporting Martin's cause, most editorial boards and publishers' groups do support him, as did the Conservative Party when delegates at their policy convention on Nov. 15 passed a resolution stating that "The Conservative Party supports legislation to remove authority from the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Tribunal to regulate, receive, investigate or adjudicate complaints related to Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act."

A Victoria writer and former librarian, Barbara Julian last wrote about age labelling on children's books.

Letting boys be boys

A more open attitude toward teen sexuality would help reduce homophobia

Alex Sanchez
Special to the Sun
Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sex. The word elicits immediate attention. I know: I'm a novelist, a spinner of words.

My books have been challenged by parents, yanked by schools from summer reading lists, and banned by libraries because -- although my novels aren't graphic -- the teen characters I write about explore sexuality, sexual orientation and, yes, sex.

I don't write about this stuff to sell more books. Contrary to popular belief, sex doesn't always sell. In the teen fiction world, controversial issues and adverse publicity can and do limit book sales. So why continue to write stories revolving around teen sexuality?

I write the books I wish I'd had available when I was growing up, books that would've told me, "It's okay to be who you are." And one part of who I was then was a very normal teenage kid trying to sort out his sexuality.

Sexuality. It's how we experience and express ourselves as beings characterized and distinguished by sex. In the 1970s when I was a teen, sex education programs were limited to the biology of reproduction and the ravages of VD. Judy Blume's groundbreaking novels that speak openly and honestly about teen sexuality were just starting to come out.

There were no books that portrayed teenage boys like me: Struggling with same-sex attraction, questioning my sexuality, wanting to love and be loved. I thought I was the only one in the world. After school, alone in my room, I would tell myself, "Stop feeling this way! I refuse to let this happen."

Such were the dark ages before Will & Grace.

In some ways, the world has changed a lot since then. Young people today grow up watching gay and lesbian characters on TV, hear news reports of U.S. Supreme Court sodomy rulings, and engage in debates about same-sex marriage. And yet, even in today's world, I receive daily e-mails from young readers struggling to accept themselves, harassed and bullied at school, hearing ministers condemn gay people, and fearing that their parents would kick them out if they found out their secret.

Decades after I was a teen, most school sex-ed programs continue to focus on biology and reproduction. Abstinence-only programs in some schools approach sexuality in the spirit of a "Just say no" anti-drug campaign, treating sex as if it were equivalent to some illicit substance that society must control. Little -- if any -- discussion is given to gender identity or sexual orientation.

Only an exceptional few comprehensive school programs address sexuality as a fundamental part of being alive -- a human experience that entails risks but can also yield tremendous benefits, that may have painful consequences, but can also be enormously rewarding and (dare I say it) fun. Instead, we far too often abandon young people to figure it all out on their own.

In my novels, I especially focus on high-school boys because (a) I'm a guy (b) high school was a wicked-tough time for me, and (c) therefore I feel a particular empathy for the struggles of teen boys.

We know that society often imparts a message of "boys don't cry." But from what I've observed, the message is actually far broader than that: Boys shouldn't feel, period. Whereas girls are allowed a wide range of emotional expression, boys are given the message that they shouldn't show or feel any weakness, whether it be hurt, loneliness, sadness, grief, or even too much joy.

What's left? Anger -- directed either toward others or turned inward toward the self. Such is the "box" that we confine guys to. Is it any wonder that males commit suicide about four times more often than females; constitute over 90 per cent of juvenile and adult prison populations; comprise a majority of alcoholics, drug addicts, and homeless of all ages; have lower levels of university attendance and life expectancy? The list goes on, including the striking fact that nearly every school shooter has been a male.

One of the tasks of growing up male is figuring out, "What does it mean to be a man?" In our era of single moms, absent dads, latchkey kids, and an average of six hours per day spent by teen boys in front of a screen, we're largely abandoning a generation to figure out how to be a man from violent, misogynistic computer games and gangsta' rap videos, Internet porn sites, and endlessly gun-filled TV shows -- media that fuel the anger boys feel.

Accompanying the violence and misogyny is an equally strong dose of homophobia. In a majority of schools, religious and ethnic slurs are no longer tolerated, but homophobic remarks remain commonplace.

And anti-gay comments aren't limited to hurting gay and lesbian students; at some point almost every boy gets called "queer," "fag," or worse. To imply somebody is gay serves as one of the most effective and pervasive forms of bullying and harassment among boys. It's a way of keeping males inside their box.

When adults allow homophobia to persist, we're hurting the straight students alongside the gay ones -- and there are 10 times as many straight students. Homophobia hurts everybody, gay and straight.

Some individuals believe that to address homophobia would imply condoning or "promoting" homosexuality. Nonsense.

The reality is that young people today already know gay people. They have gay or lesbian friends, relatives, parents; they regularly see gay people in the media; they hear U.S. president-elect Barack Obama include gay people in his victory speech. What addressing homophobia and issues of gender and sexual identity actually promotes is a climate of inclusiveness in which all young people can feel safe to be themselves regardless of their differences.

Every one of us is different in some way, but we are all essentially the same. I've learned this from my readers, most of whom, it turns out, are straight. Each, in his or her own way, can identify with characters feeling different; wanting to love and be accepted; coming to terms with sexuality; and trying to sort it all out.

Alex Sanchez is the author of Rainbow Boys, selected as an American Library Association 'Best Book for Young Adults,' and other award-winning teen novels. To learn more or to contact him, please visit

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lieutenant Governor’s Literacy Program

Write Me a Story: Lieutenant Governor's Literacy Program

The Lieutenant Governor of B.C. and the Government House invite students to participate in the Write me a Story literacy program. Students are encouraged to write a story based on four illustrations on the Government House website and submit it with an entry form to the Lieutenant Governor.

Each story will be read by His Honour and every participants will receive a letter of acknowledgement for their participation. The illustrations and entry form are available for download on the Government House website. Each month four different illustrations will be posted on the website.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Winners of 2008 Governor General’s Literary Awards Announced

Canada Council: Montreal, November 18, 2008

Two four-time winners are among the list of winners of the 2008 Governor General’s Literary Awards announced today by the Canada Council for the Arts. The awards are given in the categories of fiction, poetry, drama, non-fiction, children’s literature (text and illustration) and translation, in English and in French...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Hurray for pictures

Graphic novels can be as rich as the best literature and are wonderfully kid-friendly. Titles with appeal for boys under 12 include Ramp Rats, Moomin, Jellaby and The Spy-Catcher Gang

Anakana Schofield
Vancouver Sun: 2008 November 15

High school English teacher Guy Demers doesn't hesitate to recommend graphic novels for young readers. "Comics are an art form, much like the novel or poetry," he says. "They offer us new ways to read and to put together meaning.

"The richness in subject matter and approach has given us a body of work that we can see as something truly rich and worth celebrating."

Demers, who teaches English at Sir Charles Tupper secondary school in Vancouver, says his goal with graphic novels is no different from with a novel or short story: He wants to challenge his students to expand and develop their literacy.

"When I suggest students read graphic novels, I don't hand them a stack of Archies or a standard superhero story. I give them a copy of a Tale of One Bad Rat, a Palestine or an American Born Chinese -- all amazing works [by Bryan Talbot, Joe Sacco and Gene Luen Yang, respectively] and all completely different."

Perhaps you recognize this drill: Your child enters the library and races to rummage the Tin Tin, Asterix, Garfield baskets or Bone shelf and returns either satisfied or dejected based on what the rummage produces. Increasingly, the demand exhausts the supply and it's time to look farther afield for graphic novels to satisfy insatiable young appetites.

In my quest to unearth diverse graphic titles, I discovered there are plenty for teenagers but not quite the same plethora for boys below age 12.

Fortunately, I got some help from the approachable lads at RX Comics and Lucky's Comics, both on Main Street, who also reminded me that many vintage comic titles (pre-1985) are suitable for all ages.


The best place to commence, if your child is an emerging reader, is with a wordless graphic novel. Together you can discuss the pictures. This will ignite interest in the format and build vocabulary.

Matthew Forsythe's Ojingogo (Drawn and Quarterly) may look simple, but the possibilities are delightful in this funny adventure of a young girl, a squid and her walking camera.

If your child is struggling with reading or not wildly interested in books, the Marvel Comics Collectible Pop-Up series (Scholastic Canada), which include titles like X-Men, may appeal. The high attraction of the pop-up format and the visual drama of the presentation will produce an instant bond. The text is not particularly simple, though, so you may need to read these books to your child.

The DK (Dorling Kindersley) Graphic Readers books have historical themes and a very low word count, with an emphasis on bright pictures and engaging themes. The Spy-Catcher Gang, a short tale set during the Second World War, has both literacy and historical merit. At the bottom of each page, descriptive prompts reinforce the storyline factually and the final pages contain a glossary of the words highlighted in bold throughout. The series covers everything from Martin Luther King to hockey.

Into the Volcano, by Don Wood (Blue Sky Press/Scholastic), is another strong choice to help readers 7 and up progress to more challenging texts. It's the dramatic story of two brothers who end up lost in the lava tube of an erupting volcano.


Sardine in Outer Space, written by Emmanuel Guibert and illustrated by Joann Sfar, and Sfar's Little Vampire (both published by First Second) are collections of short tales ideal for kids who've bonded with the graphic format. The accessible language and humorous stories, with Sfar's vivid, high-energy illustrations, show the quality of what's now available in this format.

Sardine tells the story of a little girl aboard a spaceship who, with her cousin Louie and Uncle Yellow, must take on Supermuscleman. Little Vampire is spooky, with themes that will appeal to boys.

The author/illustrator duo shared a studio in Paris for four years, which gave rise to these treats.

Lewis Trondheim is a prolific French animator. My nearly nine-year-old son and I chortled our way through his Tiny Tyrant, illustrated by Fabrice Parme (First Second). This book, about a king who rules like a six-year-old, has a theme kids can relate to.

Trondheim's other well-known title is Kaput and Zösky (First Second). The interplanetary box-ups of this alien duo, who look like a bat and ball, offer a commentary on the state of the world. Most importantly, they're energetic and hilarious.

My son Cuan, my test reader, gave his overall victory card, surprisingly, to Ramp Rats, by Liam O'Donnell (illustrations by Mike Deas), from local publisher Orca's Graphic Guide Adventures series. Not only did he read it 143 times but he expressed amazement that a novel could teach you how to do skateboard tricks.

The story concerns the politics and tussles of a group of young skateboarders, both in and out of the park. We're already looking forward to Soccer Sabotage, due next spring.

The most endearing tale I discovered -- Jellaby, by Kean Soo (Hyperion) -- began life as a Web comic and is printed in a lavender hue. It tracks a secret friendship between Portia Bennett and a dinosaur-cum-gummy-bear called Jellaby as Portia tries to find his home. While so many graphic novels are scary and dark, there's something heartwarming about the Jellaby creature. You wouldn't mind looking out the window to find his donkey nose looking back at you.

The good news is that it's to be continued, so there will be more Jellaby titles.


My belief that graphic novels can bridge literacy gaps was strengthened when I discovered Classical Comics, a British publisher with North American distribution. Their graphic-novel adaptations of literary classics are faithful to the authors' original vision. This concept will convert even the most ardent anti-graphica parent, and Shakespeare need never elicit a teenage groan again.

Each Shakespeare play is published in three different formats based on the language: original text, plain text and quick text.

Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped (Tundra Books) was another revelation because my son, generally a classics fiend, has always had an inexplicable aversion to Kidnapped. Yet in this bold format we read the entire book in one sitting. If I now reintroduce the original novel, I'm sure his resistance will have abated.

Fortunately, the third volume of Tove Jansson's adorable Moomin (Drawn and Quarterly) -- Finland's answer to Peanuts -- has just been released. Volume Two, my favourite, includes the appropriately-themed-for-2010 Moomin Winter Follies, in which the Moomins must deal with the over-enthusiastic and emotional organizer of the Moomin Valley Winter Games, Mr. Brisk.

Tove Jannson died in 2001. These three volumes celebrate her extraordinary talents and are sure to become family favourites.


Don't dismiss the role graphic works can play in the acquisition of general knowledge. One of my favourite series is Horrible Histories, written by Terry Deary and illustrated by Martin Brown (Scholastic), described as "history with the nasty bits left in." Titles such as Rotten Romans and Frightful First World War tackle history in a fun yet informative tone.

Scholastic has now added a Horrible Science series, which similarly gives kids "science with the squishy bits left in." The books exploit the yuck and goofy factor while building up interest in important basic science facts.

Dorling Kindersley continues its pioneering visual output for young folk with Take Me Back: A Trip Through History from the Stone Age to the Digital Age. Like all DK titles, it's high on visuals and design, giving kids the history of everything from Mesopotamia to the moon in small, manageable bursts. Reading it is like taking a subway ride through world history. Later, when education demands more from kids, they'll have some familiarity with the stations.

I leave the last word on the debate over the value of graphic novels to teacher Guy Demers. "There are too many startlingly good pieces being created today to ignore," he says. "Our kids deserve the best and so we, as teachers, need to be open to finding it for them, even if it means going against a bias."

Hear, hear.

Anakana Schofield credits her weekly childhood commitment to reading the comic Bunty for Girls with eventually delivering her into the novels of George Eliot.

Library reaches far beyond books to music, film and more

The Sun's guide to living wisely

Denise Ryan
Vancouver Sun: 2008 November 15

For anyone hooked on Google for information, Blockbuster for DVDs and Amazon for books delivered to the door, using your local library may seem a quaint idea -- like going back to elementary school, or visiting the house you grew up in to see how small its rooms look.

But libraries aren't just books any more, and a return to library use may be just what we need to shave a few line items off the budget.

Libraries are booming, partly because what they offer now is "far beyond books," said Ross Bliss, manager of lending services and popular reading at the Vancouver Public Library.

Major jumps in circulation over the last 10 years attest to the fact that libraries are more than keeping up with contemporary tastes. Circulation of books is up 24 per cent, juvenile lit is up 52 per cent and audio-visual materials have jumped up 106 per cent.

"We also have circulating magazines, current and past issues, and a vast collection of reference magazines, music CDs, spoken word, audio books, many of them in mp3 formats, language-learning kits, popular films, and instructional DVDs," Bliss said.

What many people still don't know, he said, is how incredibly easy and convenient the Internet has made public library access.

"The catalogues for all these things are all available online at," Bliss said. In addition, each library card holder has 50 free reserves a year, and whatever you order will be delivered to the library of your choice.

When you want to return something you can drop it off at any branch.

Not only that, Bliss said, but through the website you can access the library's most "unsung treasure," access to thousands of magazines worldwide.

"You get the full text and full indexing for thousands of magazines, every issue, every article is indexed and almost all of them are full text. You can read them onscreen, download them, print them. This is proprietary stuff, it's not free to the whole world, but if you have a Vancouver library card, you can log on from anywhere in the world.

"Say you like Guitar Player for example, you can go online and read every issue. Or you want to research a digital camera, you can read everything that's been published about a particular model in photography magazines."

If you want to set up a book club, the library system provides sets of books for loaning out. The sets are handed over in a tote bag, with guidelines, a set of instructions and frequently asked questions.

"Again, you can do it online, and the books would be sent to your local library," Bliss said.

The VPL offers books in more than a dozen languages, and bases its multilingual collections on local demographics.

Bliss is also excited about the VPL's genealogy data base.

The VPL subscribes to the library edition of, and it is available to users online. "It's a crazy resource for doing genealogical research, just fantastic, but very expensive for an individual to subscribe to," Bliss said. The library also offers the very popular Chinese Genealogy Wiki.

The search interface on the website is easy to use. Simply log in with your library card from home, request the first available copy if you want a film or book, and type in which branch you'd like to have it delivered to.

There are good reasons to make the trek to your library too. In addition to reading programs for all ages, there are musical performances, lectures and entertainment.

"It's a place to socialize," Bliss said. "It's a place to relax, there are activated spaces, quiet spaces and spaces for community use. You can even bring your coffee, as long as it has a lid."