Nice profile of Balai Citoyen in Burkina Faso

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Can I go back to school and get a PhD in Economics?

A career in Economics…it's much more than you think from American Economic Association on Vimeo.

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Photographs of me from college

Thinking about today’s selfie generation.  There are very few of me at college until the final semester of senior year and the summer that followed.  I actually do not think I have ever seen a photo of myself during the first three years of college, except when I visited my family for Christmas, or a trip to New York in 1980 when someone had a camera.  Not a single photo as far as I know of myself in a dorm room.  No, Mapplethorpe did not approach me, ever.  No photos of me standing outside the PiL show at Rosegarden Ballroom in 1982.  (But I know I was there because I got Martyn Atkins to sign something which is in a scrapbook somewhere and I asked him a question but was mixed up and he said, “No! you mean Martin Hannett!  I’m not him!”)  Or with Chip at the PiL show at University of Maryland a few months later.  So what?  Well, all of the memories exist in my brain.  I’m OK with that.

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IFLA Day # 4

Started to morning bright and early at 8am with colleagues at the Section for Children and Young Adults.  The chair of the IFLA section was passed from Viviana Quinones to Ingrid Bon.  Ingrid turned straight to me: What about this satellite meeting in San Jose.  Yes, get ready, IFLA invades San Jose and Santa Clara in a joint SJSU-SCU satellite workshop on youth and reading and the transition to a digital culture.  August 11.  Mark the date.  A call for papers will come out soon.

The section meeting continued with lots of other issues.   We are going to organize an off-site panel in the meetings in Columbus, Ohio, probably Wednesday August 17.  Brooklyn librarian Karen Keyes and I were tasked with organizing that, and it was so easy.  I just walked down to the exhibition hall and there was Wendy Ramsey, Team Leader in the Outreach Services division at the Columbus Metropolitan Library and the CEO, Pat Losinski, and they both readily agreed.

After the section meeting, went to a Literacy and Reading section panel, to hear Air Katz of Beyond Access talk about their new training manual for librarians, and Chiristine Nel talk about reading competitions at the libraries she manages in Greater Tzaneen Municipality in northern South Africa.  At Christine’s, and a bunch of other talks, it was always like, “Wow, we should try that at FAVL!” and that is the benefit of IFLA.

After that I played hooky and went for a long walk.  I had seen a small restaurant called Bread, Milk and Honey, and was intrigued.  They offered a lunch buffet.  It was delicious, and moreover a wonderful, fully integrated (well, for upper-class Capetonians, it seemed), very lively café.  Great ambiance of professional urban Cape Town downtown at midday.  Then I walk around the Company Gardens, all the way up to the Jewish Museum.  After viewing the interesting exhibit (and later I had to Wikipedia Barney Barnato, amazing!), I spent an hour in their lovely café. Riteve, named after a town in Lithuania.  I continued my walk, through Company Garden’s.  Table Mountain in the background, a cool crisp Fallish day.  Happened upon a delightful café tucked into the gardens, full of wicker sculptures that children could climb into and around.  Decided to have an early (and quite delicious) dinner there.

And then I went back to hotel, worked for awhile, and went to bed!  Dutch Manor Inn is really a very nice hotel.

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Lithuania in South Africa

I visited the museum today. Spooky to think that somewhere in South Africa are distant relatives of mine.  One of our grandmother’s uncles (something like that) emigrated here in the 1880s, along with 30,000 others from Kaunas.

The Jewish Museum in Cape Town offers visitors a journey back in time. Most museums do. The striking feature of this museum, however, is that the journey to the past also brings us to a completely different part of our world, from Africa’s southern tip to a seemingly modest little country far to the north, to a country where around 90% of South Africa’s Jewish population has its roots (there are today about 80,000 Jews in South Africa).

The museum’s basement is dominated by a village environment (shtetl) from the late 1800s. A few houses are reconstructed in full scale, and you can clearly see how people lived and co-existed at the time. The village is called Riteve. It was recreated in the museum on the basis of entries made in the 1990s by a group of experts who went from South Africa to Lithuania to find traces of the family of the museum’s founder, Mendel Kaplan.

via Lithuanian footsteps in South Africa.

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Day #3 IFLA: Evidence skirmishes

After another delicious and friendly breakfast at Dutch Manor Inn (I feel sorry for all of you delegated staying at the Westin!), I headed down to catch the long morning session on evidence and library impacts.

Got to hear the tail end of Fiona Bradley’s talk on the Sustainable Development Goals.  Then David Streatfield and Sharon Markless, a team of Global Libraries impact assessment consultants, gave an overview of their work.  Unfortunately, appears that Global Libraries did not build in any randomized trials for evaluating their ICT buildout to whole library systems.  Maybe Global Libraries was not really sure what to be measuring.  or maybe worried that conclusion might be: “public access to Internet in every library in Chile enabled lots more people to play online poker and surf you-know-what.”  Probably though, since digital/Internet access is framed in rights-talk, then cost-benefit really did not matter, and there was no compelling reason to waste resources in measurement.  That is, there probably was not going to be any likely measurement, after a pilot, that would have led Gates Foundation to say: “Let’s NOT help libraries have Internet access.”

Jessica Dorr of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation then spoke on the Global Libraries data portal Global Libraries Atlas.  This is a very worthy effort and the site is fantastic.  But I am of two minds about data visualization work like this.  Very expensive, I imagine, to build the interactive website.  And since no measurement of benefits (either) of usage of such a website, not really clear that money is well-spent.  How do we know this is better than just posting the an Excel file and letting researchers write R scripts to visualize?  Is this data visualization really going to help in advocacy?  Is advocacy really more successful because the advocate has a great infographic?  Does the Gates Foundation itself make funding decisions based on infographics?  And while we are on that subject, I wish would just have a button to download the whole dataset.  Seems like that should be gold standard for transparency and open data.

Finally Karin de Jager spoke about ISO standard for measuring library impact.  She gave a nice overview of the issues, and it sounds like a very good resource.

The questions and discussion that followed rehashed some basic debates about what should library advocates be looking for. To an economist, I hate to say this, the debate sounded like something from 50 years ago.  Yes, data does tell the story, and the best impact evaluation studies in the social sciences do indeed let the statistics talk.  Good impact evaluations do not need anecdotes.  Indeed, since we know just how powerful story-anecdotes are, we should be extra careful about using them, because they easily lead us to bias.

Part of me prefers to be explicit: If you want a warm-glow story to make people feel good about donating, or convince people to allocate tax dollars to the purpose, just say so, and don’t call that impact evaluation.  But don’t say that a set of non-randomly selected stories (chosen by you to resonate with donors and advocates) is impact evaluation.  I support libraries and reading because I like libraries and reading.  Libraries enable lots of people to read a lot more than they would otherwise (though surprising how little we know about that basic effect, but all the small-scale studies we have done in Burkina Faso find large increases in reading).  Does reading more books then do something else, other than increase vocabulary?  There is little social science research to answer that question.

The “Beyond Access” and “libraries for development” thrust is trying to build an evidence-base and rhetoric that can shout an enthusiastic YES to that question.  It would be great if more research funding comes along so that the claims can be evaluated and replicated.  But social scientists cannot even agree on measuring the effects of deworming pills…. and extra reading is quite different from a pill.

Got a tweet from Sarah Jaffe, Senior Manager of Research at Worldreader, so we had a nice chat over coffee.  They are expanding rapidly, soon to be putting Kindles (not sure exactly how many- sounds like 10 or 20) in every Kenyan public library (there are about 50).  Would be neat to explore whether availability of e-readers turns out to be complementary to paper book sales.

After that I heard a great presentation by Bookdash.  Wish we could do something like that in Burkina Faso, but it sounds like something for a rich country… costs about $10,000 for the event itself, where 30 illustrators, editors and authors come together for an all day session to make 10 children’s books.  I am very partisan to that approach: make them quickly and get them printed and available.  In Burkina Faso, the problem is we have absolutely no institutional buyers or sponsors.

Then walked around downtown Cape Town with Hui-Yun Sung, a library science researcher from National Chung Hsing University in Taiwan.  Found the tourist market and had fun bargaining a bit.  Lots of the usual stuff: beaded elephants and masks.

Had dinner later at Bocca near my hotel. Very good Neapolitan pizza!

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Gossip and publicity about the Caine Prize and ‘African Literature’ |

A very fine article Acts of mutiny: the Caine Prize and ‘African Literature’ by Ranka Primorac.  In the end, labeling is marketing.  A writer can object to labeling, and refuse to be labelled: but then they have to be prepared for the consequence that their book might not sell.

Serpell went on to win the Caine prize – the first Zambian ever, and the only Zambian this year on a strong shortlist populated by representatives of literary superpowers Nigeria and South Africa. In a congratulatory speech at Oxford, the Chair of the judging panel, Zoe Wicomb, advised prospective readers to read the winning story, ‘The Sack’, very slowly. She had good reason to do so. ‘The Sack’ is an accomplished textual achievement: using a pared-down narrating style, the story sets out a complex interplay of emotions among its characters by deliberately delaying, suppressing and defamiliarising the information it provides about how they are all related to one another. At one point, one of the narrators says: ‘I wonder at the dwindling of our cares. We began with the widest compass, a society of the people, we said. But somehow we narrowed until it was just three. Jacob, Joseph, Naila.’ Readers who rush over these simple sentences will miss a key inflection: Zambia once aspired to be an African humanist society, and this political and ethical outlook arguably infuses every line of Serpell’s story.

On winning, Serpell made history by a further, more radical intervention. In her acceptance speech, she said she wanted to reconfigure the competitive structure of the prize (which, for her, had unwelcome resonances with American Idol), and that she would be sharing the prize money equally with the other four participants. She is the first prize winner to have done this. It was, for her, a long-overdue ‘act of mutiny’, she said.


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