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Thursday, May 21, 2015

We know Obama is taking over Texas. But who is dismantling South Dakota libraries? [Update]

Aberdeen is progressing on plans for a new library.  There are many opposed to a new library.  Some think the old one could be renovated more cheaply.  Others are opposed to any library.  But while all this is going on, few people, except those of us who use libraries for research, have noticed that libraries are being dismantled.  They don't possess the holdings they once did.  And they are dispensing with some of the services.

Computers are most often cited as the reasons behind these changes.  Storing hard copy books and papers is one of the most expensive and problematic things libraries do.  To accommodate the ever-burgeoning production of books,  libraries have to expand.  They have to add more shelf space.  Even with the process of deselection--the culling out of outdated, unused materials--new books keep coming in.  As texts became digitized so that they can be stored on computers and transmitted over the Internet and World Wide Web, librarians thought they had found a solution to the storage problems.

However, another way of dealing with the storage of hard copy was for libraries to join together in networks and share holdings with other libraries.  Not every library needed to have every book if the network of libraries coordinated their purchases of books.  Certain libraries within a network would be designated to concentrate on certain categories of important materials and make them available to each other.  That way, important texts were available while cutting down on the shelf space needed.  The networks created a system of inter-library loans so that books could circulate among the libraries within the networks.  That worked well.  Sometimes it delayed access to materials, but they were eventually available.  In South Dakota, under the auspices of the Department of Education, the libraries created the South Dakota Library Network (SDLN), which included every library in the state, most of which participated in the Inter-Library Loan program.  When the catalog was digitized and put on line, a user would search for materials from any computer and make a request for them from a local library.  I have used the service extensively for myself and students over the years.  

Then, some years ago the South Dakota State Library, which held many significant materials decided to change the nature of its mission.  It stopped being the storage facility for hard copy and concentrated on electronic texts. As a state employee at a university and for the Dept. of Game, Fish, and Parks during summers,  I made heavy use of the state library. It provided films and other audio-visual and specialty materials that were not available elsewhere.  However, it has changed from being the repository for materials to being a facilitator for access to other data bases.  

But the South Dakota Library Network that linked more than 150 libraries in South Dakota, including the State Library, is being taken down. The only comment readily available on the dismantling of the network comes from the newspaper in Vermillion in an interview with a librarian.  The story says that there is a goal of having all libraries off the network by the end of this year, except for university libraries under the control of the Board of Regents.  The decision, it says, was by the state Department of Education.  There is no explanation of the reasoning for this.  

This movement seems to mean that a researcher will no longer have available the catalog listings from the libraries in South Dakota and that the coordination of library holdings is ended.  From a researchers point of view, this could complicate, in some cases terminate, access to resources.  As a researcher into regional matters,  I found that some of the most valuable and informative materials are in local libraries.  By consulting the SDLN, I could find material and request it through inter-library loan or visit the library which possesses it.  Some very small libraries hold archived material from the local community which is in formats too cumbersome or fragile to move around, and an on site visit is necessary to examine it. In one project involving the role of churches in the settling and community organization of the plains, a historian and I visited many libraries that had materials which cataloged on the network but required on-site visits.  The network made knowledge of the materials possible.  I don't know how the dismantling of the network affects knowledge of such materials.  They might be put on other data bases, but no announcements or explanations for the ending of the network have been issued to inform users of the network catalog.

The matter of dispensing with hard copy materials because they are digitized is quite another matter.  A professors' organization I belong has many members who will not accept Internet sources on research papers unless the writers have established that the texts are authentic, accurate, and verifiable.  Computers are fallible.  We know about viruses and hackers who vandalize materials, but we tend to gloss over the fact that computer systems often malfunction.  I have had an experience with how serious those malfunctions can be.  I have contributed a number of articles to a reference work.  The process to insure the reliability of the reference requires that every entry be checked by fact checkers for authenticity, accuracy, and documentation.  I had written an entry on an author where I came across a sentence in  source that said "he did subscribe to a theory that people could be characterized by class distinctions."  I quoted the sentence from an electronic source.  However, the fact checker had access to the printed source and found that the sentence read, "he did NOT [my emphasis] subscribe to a theory that people could be characterized by class distinctions."  I had included the sentence because it indicated something about an author that I, and most scholars, had not known.  Needless to say, I had to rewrite the entry and  intensify my own critical appraisal of source materials.  When we contacted the publishers of the electronic version, they could not explain how the error occurred, but did find other instances, which they could not explain either.  The fact-checkers said they found many such errors and flagged sources cited from electronic texts so that they could check them for accuracy as a first priority.

This illustrates the flaw in the thinking of those who think that we can dispense with printed materials and rely upon computerized texts to save space and to make texts more easily available.  The  texts are vulnerable to electronic malfunctions as well as to malicious attacks from hackers.  

When I taught full time, I often held hours in the university library where I could help students with assembling their list of sources for research papers.  One of the sources often consulted for factual background was the microfilms of the local newspaper.  Looking for articles on microfilm is a most unpleasant experience because scrolling through the films is hard on the eyes and for many produces the same effect as motion sickness.  I recently had an inquiry about a court case of some years back and I met the inquirer at the library to look at some microfilms.  We found that the library no longer stocked the microfilms, but had to request the year we wanted from the library at the South Dakota State Historical Society.   

And that brings up the matter or who controls the libraries.  The South Dakota State Historical Society is part of the Department of Tourism, which states that its mission is
"to promote the state as a premier vacation destination to all visitors and to support and serve the South Dakota visitor industry." In other words, it is part of the economic development apparatus in which state government is involved.  The Society is not under the auspices of any agency devoted to knowledge, research, scholarship, or teaching. As the economic development activities of the state resulted in such affairs as the recent EB-5 fleecing of Chinese and Korean investors, one can only wonder what kind of priorities the Historical Society operates under.

The same goes for the Department of Education, which oversees the state library and the network of libraries.  The Department of Education is a political agency designed to carry out the political preferences of the dominant party.  It is not an agency devoted to education, except as it conforms to the political dicta of the ruling party.  In dismantling the South Dakota Library Network, one must ask if there is any educational aspect of the decision, or if it, like nearly all of South Dakota governance, is a matter of political control.

We may chortle  at the dolts who think Obama can use the nation's armed forces to take over a state under the guise of a military training exercise.  But when one finds decisions and alignments of information and knowledge resources with agencies of known bumbling and political subterfuge, one must ask if it is happening through conspiracies or plain old South Dakota dumb. 

Update:  Here is more on the subject of libraries:

A Gallup survey from 2013 found that libraries are not just popular, they’re extremely popular. Over 90 percent of Americans feel that libraries are a vital part of their communities. Compare this to 53 percent for the police, 27 percent for public schools, and just 7 percent for Congress, and you’re looking at perhaps the greatest success of the public sector.

James Palfrey, in his new book BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google, gives some truly bummer statistics on what’s happening to this beloved institution. A government report showed that while the nation’s public libraries served 298 million people in 2010 (that’s 96 percent of the U.S. population), states had cut funding by 38 percent and the federal government by 19 percent between 2000 and 2010. “It seems extraordinary that a public service with such reach should be, in effect, punished despite its success,” writes Palfrey.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Because Christianity has become a profanity

Except for weddings, funerals, and a few other life-marking events, I haven't been to church in over a decade.  Once I was on the board of deacons of a Lutheran church, taught at a Lutheran college, and studied theology in college.  Although I am still a nominal church member,  I have joined that growing throng of people who profess no religious affiliation.

Two of my children were confirmed in church, but after their confirmations had no interest in churchly doings.  My youngest did not finish confirmation.  Getting her to church became an impossibility.  Eventually, we learned that problems she was having socially and in school involved kids she went to church with.  In the case of my children, their disaffection with the church stemmed from the conflict with what the church seemed to preach and what was practiced under its auspices.  The problem was not with church doctrine, but with some members of the congregation.

That conflict became apparent to us when my spouse's boss lost an election and, therefore, my spouse lost her job.  My wife worked for Tom Daschle, a liberal Democrat.  There were people in the congregation who were strong conservatives.  At times they could not restrain their political fervor, but we did not engage them in any political discussion.  After Tom Daschle was defeated, some of them took on a smirking, gloating attitude.  We thought that this was not what we came to church for;  in fact, it was the kind of attitude for which we came to church for relief.  Tom Daschle had begun to work on healthcare, concerned with the fact that 40 percent of Americans did not have affordable healthcare.  We heard the usual conservative cant at the time about that 40 percent being the lazy, irresponsible louts who wanted to leech off the industrious, responsible people.  Some good church members attributed Daschle's defeat as a matter of good people not wanting to support bad people.  Although the pastors were disturbed by the ill will expressed by some parishioners,  sermons on good will and Christian love had little influence on the attitudes that were in disharmony with Christian doctrine.  Church became a cloud of mean spirit not a  beacon of good.  

This episode also made apparent why our children regarded church as an irrelevant affectation that they did not want or need in their lives.  Children in their late teens are sensitive to hypocrisy and posturing by their elders.  Some students accept this as a condition that should be accommodated if they want to succeed in the adult world.  Other students reject systematic hypocrisy and regard church as a social affectation, not a place for reflection and examination.  

However, the turning away from religion also has impetus from 9/11 and the radical Islam jihadists.  The idea of mass murder and atrocity as serving the purpose and command of god is so grotesquely and absurdly demented that it calls into question some of the acts committed in the name of our own religions.  When young people fall into the lure of Isis, we are forced to examine the kinds of calling under the names of our own religions.. President Obama received a lot of criticism for comments he made about how religion can devolve into a justification for oppression and crimes against humanity.  Christianity has a history of invocation in the genocide against Indians and the horrors of slavery in our country. At the same time, it was Christians who led the abolition movement and, when they could not stop the extermination of Indians, went to the reservations in attempts to offer support and help.  But then again, it was some of those who in the name of Christ ran schools where Indian kids were punished for speaking their native language and where they got screwed by those who purported to care for them.  In Jesus' name.  Amen. 

In our household there has been a few  moments when someone of the conservative persuasion  has said something in the news truly mean and stupid, and someone commented, what can you expect of those Christian types?  The comment was made a professing Christian, but made as an attempt to gain distance from that segment of Christianity who thinks any mention of the shameless atrocities committed in the name of Christianity is a declaration of war on Christianity.  People who take the New Law seriously do, indeed, try to put distance between themselves and those who cite Christianity as calling for the oppression, exclusion, and denigration of other human beings.

Today, I was parked behind a van at the nursery.  It had two bumper stickers in its back window.

  • I am Catholic, and I vote.
  • No Obamacare.
It is one thing to sport a sticker that states a political preference.  It is another to cite one's religion as a call to political arms, and juxtapose it next to a sticker that denies the tenets of the religion displayed as a faith which  inspires  "people to lift up one another -- to feed the hungry and care for the poor, and comfort the afflicted and make peace where there is strife."   Those bumper stickers make a travesty out of Christianity, and thinkng people would not go to a church where that van is parked to seek spiritual inspiration.  That owner of than van sees religion in the way jihadists see the calling of Allah. 

Numerous commentators have blamed the decline in religious interest on many factors and people within the culture.  However, the Pew Study which measures that decline  gives people of faiths of good will and good purpose cause for hope.  People are looking at religion with more critical intelligence.  The factors that make them skeptical about religion are not popular music or charismatic public figures; the factors are the kind of people who profess religion while defaming diverse people and endorsing oppression and atrocities against them.  

I cite a blues hymn.

Don't lay none of your Christianity on me.
Don't tell me 'bout your Christianity.
What it did to you is plain to see.
Ain't nobody goin' to fool that way with me.  
Professing a religion today can be taken as insidious identification.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The culture of hate, defining America.

Journalist Tom Lawrence takes note of how President Obama's visit to South Dakota became an occasion for the demonstration of the vicious malice that divides our country. He recalls how once presidential visits were considered occasions of honor and pride, but how many did not take pride in Obama's visit and were moved to making malevolent and deplorable comments.  The Washington Post ran a large story and photo gallery on the visit remarking that South Dakota does not like President Obama but people were anxious and excited to observe a presidential visit.

I do not know the extent of  the hatred Tom Lawrence notes because I avoid the precincts of hate speech for the same reason I avoid Ebola epidemics.  The malignancy is transmittable and infects the mental and spiritual environment.  I subscribe to what thoughtful Democrat, Marine veteran, and farmer Nick Nemec posted on Facebook:

 You almost never come away from reading comment sections on news articles feeling smarter. Well reasoned discussion is rare, character assassination and ugly stereotypes are the standard. I hate trolls. 
However, a good example of what Mr. Lawrence refers to came in response to a Facebook post by former school superintendent and state legislator Chuck Welke when he commented about Obama's visit, "What a great moment in SD history."  That comment elicited this response:
Jerry Vance Really?????? With a less than 33% rating he is not welcome much anywhere right now. Not even a reservation. He is merely a Radical Muslim in our whte house weaking our nation so he can destroy it. Pumping or tax dollars and stimulas bail out money to rebuild america in his vision. Taking over Police Dept's all over AMerica and confiscating whats left of our wealth. No respect for this commander and SHITHEAD.
 The comment is typical of what Nick Nemec refers to.  The first characteristic of the response is its severe illiteracy, which belies an ignorance and a dysfunction of mentality and character.  The second pronounced characteristic stems from that dysfunction:  the comments are contrary to any fact.  While the President's approval rating moves up and down, it currently is at 45 percent, not 33.  The contention that he is not welcome "even" on a reservation has no basis except as an attempt at racial denigration in its assertion that even the oppressed  people on the reservations do not want him.  That he is "merely a Radical Muslim," while easily proven to be untrue is a statement significant only for its denigrating racism.  The comments about diverting public money to rebuild America in that radical muslim vision and taking over police departments  to confiscate our wealth go beyond any rationality, as the attempt at expression dissolves into angry infantilism.  If the comment has significance, it is for the medium in which it is expressed and the level of intelligence and character of which it is an expression.

While people such as me avoid the demented malice, it would be cowardly and foolish to deny that it is shaping America.  As Tom Lawrence points out, the "dumb, hateful and addled comments"  which once were confined .to "a barstool or couch"  are now given a wide broadcast through the Internet and the social media.  Comments on news stories receive the same status of display and circulation as the news stories done by professional reporters.  Early in the history of comment sections,  communications experts warned that comments characterize the quality and purpose of the medium to which they are posted. As studies indicate readers and viewers evaluate news and commentary according to the lowest common denominator.  A superb work of journalism is contaminated and nullified by malicious and demented comments.  A news story which carefully verified facts and an ordered presentation when subjected to unedited comments is merely part of the ensuing dialogue to those who read them.  And this has much to do with the diminishing role of language arts and the experience of understanding the genres of exposition in out educations.  Many people simply do not distinguish between facts and opinions.  And when confronted with opinions, do not distinguish between carefully supported and analyzed opinions and the specious and mindless howls of hatred and rage.  It boils down to a matter of literacy.

There are matters  that make the Internet media a major vector of ignorance and hatred.  They both involve the abandonment of rules that once operated in journalism and journalism gave up when it became "interactive."  The courts have eased up on libel over the years, but the Communications Decency Act of 1996 blurred the issue.

During the time I was employed full time by the press,  the word libel struck terror.  At that time the publication of any defamatory material about a person that could not be proven to be true would be presumed to be damaging libel.  News media were very wary about publishing any comment that could be regarded as libelous.  A newspaper publisher was responsible for anything that appeared in the paper,  even in letters to the editor.  I have often mentioned the Friday afternoon dread time,  when the editor of the newspaper I worked for distributed letters to the editor to the staff to be fact-checked and, if publishable,  reviewed with the writer to  bring them up a standard of clarity and grammatical usage.  If a letter was too muddled or scurrilous, we had to write a letter to its author explaining why it was unusable.  Consequently, few defamatory or scurrilous accusations made it into print.  
Publishers lived in terror of libel suits because they were so costly they could easily put a news medium out of business.  The penalties were that high.

The posting by Mr Vance quoted above would never find its way into print back then. And a letter of rejection would ask Mr. Vance to provide evidence for every claim he made if he wished to have the rejection reconsidered.  

The Communications Decency Act exempted the publisher of defamation on the Internet from liability.  It specifically exempted the internet service provider (ISP} from liability.  That in effect eliminated recourse for defamation.  A defamed person could sue a blogger or an individual, but would be informed by a lawyer that the people being sued were too poor to pay damages and the suit would cost more than could ever recovered.  News media does not generally fact check comments on their sites and edits only those that are grossly obscene.

The Internet also has served to contribute to the resurgence of racism that followed the election of our first black president.   The hate speech that Tom Lawrence refers to is part of raging Jim Crow attitudes that could not be contained when a black man rose to the highest office in the land.  All the ploys of racial discrimination were dusted off and given applications to Obama--the charges of inherent dishonesty, conniving subversion, and all the made-up stories intended to demonstrate the inferiority of the person holding the presidency.  Shortly after Obama took office, the opposition party leaders made their vows to prevent him from enacting any legislation or having a second term.  For those who lived through the civil rights movement, it was impossible not to recognize the ploys as an appeal to the racial hatred harbored by many Americans.  The propaganda and political pronouncements were parallels to those mounted against the Jews as Germany prepared to intensify the Holocaust.  The defamations follow an old, recognizable pattern in human history. 

We recognize how the social media is used by Islamic extremists to enlist jihadists and organize attacks on the west.  But we tend to dismiss that same role in the way it demolishes our own culture, as illustrated by the contentions that a military exercise in the Southwest is a move by Obama for the military takeover of Texas.  

While the Internet provides a new level of communication, it is also the carrier of a malignancy that demolishes the decency in our culture.  The antidote to this malignancy must operate in many theaters.  It begins with providing educations in literacy in our public schools.  It extends to reinstating the standards of truth and accuracy in journalism.  And it extends to having those who educate and communicate do so in the context of history.

Those antidotes will require a political battle.  One which we may well have already lost.  

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Far more uplifting than political races

Left to right  American Pharoah, Firing Line,  Dortmund

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States