21st Century Libraries – Books or Programs?

Downtown library-2018

Recently I’ve been intimately involved in the efforts of our local Santa Cruz County library system in planning the use of funds from a county-wide property tax measure to maintain and renovate library buildings in its ten-branch library system.

The flagship of the system is the downtown Santa Cruz library branch, pictured above, which functions as the headquarters for the entire system, with other smaller branches placed in local neighborhoods throughout the county. In 1968 the city demolished the original 1904 Carnegie Library building and replaced it with the current building, now 51 years old.

The plan put forward by the City of Santa Cruz is to abandon this building in the city’s civic center and build a new library in the ground floor of a five-story parking garage in a location three blocks away.

Proponents of the proposed building project cite a need for a “21st Century Library,” following the lead of the American Library Association’s Program on America’s Libraries for the 21st Century (AL21C) which was focused on monitoring and evaluating trends in technology and society to assist the library community (the ALA program was “sunsetted” in 2014). It’s important to note that this policy emphasis in library services is entirely internal to the professional library community and is not in response to trends in library patrons’ needs or expressed desires.

The technological focus of the 21st Century Library movement is, of course on computers, internet access and digital and digitized materials. This reflects a wider social trend in the embrace of computer technology and the ubiquitous presence and use of “smart” cell phones. The perception communicated by proponents of this view and policy is that the technological and social trends cited mean that libraries should no longer be chiefly regarded as repositories of physical books and materials, but should be more service oriented and provide programs, events, learning opportunities and entertainment to their patrons.

At a recent meeting of the Santa Cruz City Council Downtown Library Subcommittee, the question was asked by the moderator: “If cost restraints on renovating or building a new library become reality, what would you be willing to give up?” Shockingly three of the eight professional and volunteer participants in the room stated they would be willing to give up books and printed material collections and keep digital access and programs.

In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, What the 21st Century Library Looks Like, Shannon Najmabadi ponders these recent trends in public and academic library philosophy and policies.

“Libraries have reported spending less on print materials and more on electronic resources, including online journals and databases.

“As books are moved off-site, a question remains: What happens to the body of knowledge they contain? Irene M.H. Herold, a recent president of the Association of College & Research Libraries, says a downside to removing books is that patrons won’t be able to stumble on interesting material just by perusing library shelves.”

In addition, in my experience, thumbing through printed material to find something specific is infinitely different from searching for it on the internet. The serendipity factor is eliminated in a computer search, and, thus, any unforeseen opportunities to learn and incorporate something entirely new and unexpected are foregone.

Research suggests that digital reading results in lower comprehension and retention than reading physical books and printed materials. This, coupled with the emphasis on programs and events in libraries, many of which are noisy and obtrusive to otherwise quiet library spaces, further reduces the utility and effectiveness of digital library holdings.

From my perspective as an incipient 70 year-old, these recent professional technological and social library trends serve to reduce public literacy, critical thinking skills, and cultural and historical understanding of youth and adults alike. These skills and social awareness are absolutely necessary for functioning as a contributing member of our democratic society.

Hearkening back to the Library Committee meeting where three of the eight participants immediately expressed a willingness to get rid of books, I feel as if I’m shouting in a crowd of silent onlookers in a dark public square, watching jack-booted thugs hurl armloads of books onto a roaring bonfire.

Celebrating May Day

May Day!

It’s a fine May Day morning here on the Left Coast. A bit of fog lingering, rapidly thinning. The sun is just beginning to warm the chill morning air.

May Day is traditionally a day of diverse messages: a celebration of spring with May baskets, May pole dancing, burgeoning flowers, beautiful young women in flouncy dresses, colorful and raucous parades. More recently than the ancient tradition, May Day was declared a worker’s holiday commemorating the Haymarket affair, when a demonstration in support of an eight-hour for day turned into riots when police fired on the crowd. In some countries, May Day became a celebration of militarism and imperialist excess, demonstrating the folly of humans with access to too much power and too little wisdom.

The historical context of this day seems to have been lost to the current generation of cell-phone impaired and distracted youth and the overweening culture of consumerism, newsertainment and political inanity. Few May baskets are left on porches these days, May poles rarely grace school yards with fluttering ribbons, and many workers think of an eight hour day, if they think of it at all, as a nostalgic luxury.

Nevertheless, it is indeed Spring, the Earth, in our hemisphere, is slowly warming, migrant songbirds fill the air with their optimistic songs, patient greenery stretches both up and down, striving for sun and warmth, drops of sparkling dew trembling on leaf tip and grasping tendrils, deepening their roots into the warming soil.

Let’s celebrate May Day on this fecund Earth as a day of renewal, revival, and rededication to saving what little is left of the wild, not just for future human generations, but for itself and its own well-being.

Reviving Radical Environmentalism

Radical Environmentalism has fallen on hard times.

7740d-backhoe

Ever since “The Death of Environmentalism” by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger appeared in Grist in 2005, accompanying the global obsession with climate change, environmentalism, real environmentalism, has evaporated under a flood of climate change hysteria, with side branches of Extinction Rebellion, Green New Deals and corporate managed school walkouts.

Keith Makoto Woodhouse’s 2018 book, The Ecocentrists: A History of Radical Environmentalism, tells the sad tale of the rise and demise of radical environmentalism, from its roots in the New Left, SDS and Aldo Leopold’s traditional conservationism, to Earth First! and the Sea Shepherd Society confrontational tactics, to the rise of Washington-based Big Greens and the inevitable compromises that turned radical environmentalists into corporate toadies and hunter-gatherers of government funding.

It’s a weird new world we live in these days, with the United Nations touting climate disaster to pump up their Sustainable (sic) Development program, to fund economic growth in less developed countries so they can join the global economy freight train rushing toward the collapsed bridge over Extinction Canyon.

Now we see impressionable children paraded before the ubiquitous media eye, reciting their memorized mantra of climate disaster caused, so they’ve been indoctrinated to say, by burning fossil fuels.

Climate change hysteria is the ultimate separation of human beings from Nature. Climate alarmists and their unthinking followers, call for us to “fight climate change,” to “stop climate change,” and in its most benign form, to “reverse climate change,” as if climate is something outside of human beings that we can control at will. Climate change alarmism is the ultimate expression of our species’ hubris (is there any other kind?).

If we are to rescue radical environmentalism from the clutching claws of climate change alarmists, we must also revive an understanding of ecology, evolution, geomorphology, and, most of all, a common sense perception of the world we share with billions of others species on this benighted planet.

To cultivate this perspective, find a patch of undeveloped Earth, get down on your hands and knees and stick your nose into the plant and animal life at your feet. Stay there for a day or two, maybe three, until you know intimately every creature crawling in and around every plant in your field of vision. Then, when throughly familiar with that wilderness, stand up on your hind legs and look around you, in a 360 degree scan of the roundabout thereof. Expand your awareness of the wilderness at your feet, to the wilderness surrounding you. It’s there, even if, temporarily, hidden under roads, houses office buildings and other monuments to human folly. The same biophysical processes are at work wherever you look, inescapable, perfectly natural (Nature-all), continuing apace as they have since the beginning, if there is one, of this Universe thing we inhabit.

Once you are thoroughly at home with your own bleeding piece of earth, your dealings with local government, developers, Chamber of Commerce growth maniacs, militaristic imperialists and other butchers of things natural and good, take on a depth and authenticity unavailable to those drifting in a sea of social media, cell phone obsession and dislocated, electronic distraction.

“O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!”

Radical environmentalism is a revolutionary awakening that brings into sharp focus the yawning chasm between human ignorance and uncaring profligacy, and the natural world that arises of itself within and around us. Once awakened to this all-encompassing reality, one can never see the world in any other way.

I’ve been walking this path for a long time. For a glimpse of my travels and travails, go to The Way of Nature, and join me as we look beyond our toes at the edge of the abyss, turn around and take our first steps forward.

Student Strike … or Strike Out?

school strike

Today is the day of the much ballyhooed “Student Strike Against Climate Change”.

Well, the name says it all, doesn’t it?

We are told by the Fawning Press and the Big Green Mouthpiece that these children are fed up with government inaction on climate change and they are demanding … what? Stop climate change? Replace fossil fuels with solar and wind? Stop driving cars? Abandon our profligate consumer economy?

Reading mainstream news reports reveals little about specific demands of the stalwart students. All attention is focused on cute little Greta Thunberg, a Swedish student who, all by herself, sat outside her school on a Friday to protest climate change inaction. And we’re expected to accept the claim that students all over the world have rallied to her cause, all by themselves, because they too want us to stop causing climate change.

Really?

Enter investigative journalists Cory Morningstar and Forrest Palme, who have written an article series that reveals the players pulling the strings, and the goals they wish to achieve by supporting Greta Thunberg and the young people it is hoped she will inspire.

In The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg – for Consent, the authors disclose that “Greta Thunberg, the current child prodigy and face of the youth movement to combat climate change, serves as special youth advisor and trustee to the burgeoning mainstream tech start-up, We Don’t Have Time,” and “partnerships between the well established corporate environmental entities: Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, 350.org, Avaaz, Global Utmaning (Global Challenge), the World Bank, and the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Morningstar and Plame disclose that this seemingly youthful grassroots uprising is in reality a cynical exploitation of children to forward a global agenda of support for transnational corporate capitalism and the status quo energy economy, including oil, coal and nuclear interests that would capitalize on $9 trillion that could be invested in NGOs, professional environmental organizations and transnational energy corporations.

I’ve long puzzled over the impetus and incentives for climate alarmism by the United Nations, the global energy industry and corporate media. It just didn’t make sense that the wonky IPCC, a UN funded environmental policy organization, could have so much influence on global politics and popular culture.

Now I understand! Rather than calling for meaningful systems change in the face of global pollution, resource exploitation and habitat destruction, this new “Student Strike” movement is designed and deployed by the very international organizations and corporations that would profit from a change to so-called “renewable energy resources,” not instead of fossil fuels, but in addition to. It’s a whole new economic boom just waiting to be plucked from the hands of naive children and their unwitting proponents.

Read the series. Check out the references. Spread the word.

The Internet of Laundry

It was inevitable. The Internet of Things has invaded the laundry room at our mobile home park.

This morning I took our clothes to the laundry room in our park’s clubhouse. Four washers, four dryers. You put your clothes in the washer, add detergent, push the buttons and come back a half hour later to hang the clothes up in the drying yard outside the door. Or if it’s raining, put them in a dryer and add even more coinage.

This morning there was a new twist:

The washers sat in their accustomed row, mouths agape, waiting patiently for my dirty clothes and offerings of coin of the realm. But wait! What’s this?

Sometime in the night, someone affixed two red and black signs to the pristine whiteness of each washer and dryer, signs that portend the end of the last remaining stronghold of analog technology.

DSCN7524The Internet had arrived in the laundry room!

In trembling trepidation I read the ominous signs of things to come:

PAY WITH YOUR PHONE”  “DOWNLOAD FREE APP”   “SCAN QR CODE

In truth, the Internet had not completely invaded the laundry. One has to download the appropriate application (“app” to those in the know) into one’s “smart” phone/camera (provided one has one of these ubiquitous devises. My wife and I don’t and never will) and then do whatever is necessary to connect that information to the Internet. Somehow, I presume, the Internet siphons your money from your bank account and tells the washing machine or dryer to start up.

This is a scenario that not even the most imaginative science fiction writers of my youthful reading past ever imagined! Not only that there would be such technology available in the humble laundry room, but that everyday people would be able to use it, or even want to!

I prefer the technology of my life to be always within my control, accessible when I want it, dormant when not. I want my thermostat (if I needed one, which I don’t) to be a simple thermal switch, responding only to the change of temperature in my house. I want my refrigerator to keep food cold, and my stove to make things hot. I don’t want them to talk to me or send me emails regarding their condition. I want my car to start up when I turn the key, to not make rude noises or talk to me, to be accessible for simple DIY repairs and maintenance as needed, and to not require a mechanic with a degree in computer programming and a CPA to fix it when it’s broken.

I’ll continue to hoard my quarters, insert them one by one into the proffered receptacle with a satisfying analog clink and press the “Start” button with my very own finger. This is sufficient, with no need for a multi-billion dollar cell phone industry to do my laundry once a week.

I’ll pass on the Internet of Laundry, thank you very much.