Saturday, 29 January 2011

Arise, Sir Philip

Writer Philip Pullman is the most fabulous ranter on behalf of us, The Public.

Here he points the finger at Tory MP Eric Pickles (his real name!) and his ilk. Mr Pickles, Britain’s Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government,  has cut the budgets of the local councils that run public libraries and a lot of other things, and this is why a lot of libraries are fearing for their lives right now. 

Here’s a bit of what Philip Pullman says in his speech defending libraries in Oxfordshire, where he lives: “I love the public library service... because its presence in a town or a city reminds us that there are things above profit... things that stand for civic decency and public respect for imagination and knowledge and the value of simple delight.”

I hereby name Mr Pullman Defender of the Realm.

(It must be about time I read some of his books other than the infamously famous His Dark Materials trilogy, which I loved. Perhaps that should be my next mission in this Latitude of Libraries. Any suggestions?)

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Everything in the Garden (and the Library) Is NOT Lovely

January is a great and terrible time for gardeners at latitude 36° 51'. Aucklanders are harvesting veges, picking flowers, nurturing monarch caterpillars and either watering like there’s no tomorrow, or hoping things don’t get blown down in gales and washed away in downpours. Then there’s the Next Big Thing to plan for. “February”, ye olde Yates Garden Guide advises, “is the main month to plant bulbs.”     

Good friends of mine living 10 minutes from Auckland — or at least from the white wooden post marking its boundary with Kaipara — face their busiest time of year in the bulb season. Lately, though, they’ve been forced to put all that aside and think about darker subjects. In incidents that put sleepy seaside Mangawhai on the national news, someone scrawled abusive graffiti on their buildings and cars, then a week later their “Blooming Bulbs” business was torched.

Like my friends, Juliet and Lindsay, I find it hard to focus on flowers right now, as I’m wondering what drove some person or persons unknown to call them “filthy dikes” and to destroy their livelihood. So instead of going to the public library for Hatch and Hobbs’s Bulbs for New Zealand Gardens or Phillips and Rix’s Bulbs, I’ve been there to learn why people start fires.

Juliet at Blooming Bulbs, Feb 2010.
In fact I’ve done this from the comfort of my own home. Rather than choose a book from the catalogue (none seemed specific enough) I’ve used the Auckland Libraries’ Digital Library, in particular the databases crammed with thousands of searchable magazines and journals. In many cases, I can select “full text” and download a whole article. On Google I can’t always get whole articles, and unlike the library databases, Google’s main page (though not Scholar) brings up whatever anybody decides to put on the internet. Its findings are a blend of popularity contest and meta-data, clever use of key words in HTML, the HyperText Markup Language that’s behind the sentences we see on the screen. There is something to be said for a process that depends on publishers or subject specialists saying yea or nay, each step of the way.

My next post can look at how Aucklanders (and possibly others) can use these databases through free public library membership. Right now, my focus is on four articles I found relevant and easy to understand.

Can we fix on a profile?
It’s tempting to embrace Ellen White’s thinking in ‘Profiling Arsonists and Their Motives’. All of us want to know why arsonists strike, and we’ve seen enough Wire in the Blood to believe that if the pros can fix on a profile, they’ll hunt down the perp. White’s article is the least academic. She differentiates between types of fire-setting (as do others) but goes further, offering a table with long lists of characteristics. The types that could apply in my friends’ case are:

• Thrill-seekers/vandals, who (according to White’s table) tend to be adolescent, often work in groups and routinely commit vandalism and theft in association with their fires.
• Arsonists motivated by ‘Hate/Spite/Revenge’, who also tend to engage in vandalism or destruction of other property, especially that of a personal or sentimental nature. These people (individuals, says the main article) want to hurt and intimidate the target and have no regard for others’ safety. They’re enraged, middle-aged, may recently have had stressful changes in their lives, and are your common-and-garden-variety arsonist.

That may all be true, but unlike the main article, White doesn’t link her table to any research. There are contradictions. So I’m taking it with many grains of salt.

The packing shed destroyed, Jan 2011.
Rebekah Doley’s ‘Making Sense of Arson through Classification’ makes more limited, more careful claims, pointing out that “all arson classifications are inherently flawed”, partly because the sample is biased (it tends to involve the small percentage of people caught). She notes Ann Barker’s categories and numerous sub-categories of arson, such as:

• Vindictive fire-setting (for revenge or jealousy)
• Instrumental fire-setting (to achieve something such as a cover-up, a cry for help, self-destruction, heroic status. Doley includes ‘children’ here — maybe playing with fire to ‘see what it does’?
• Cathartic fire-setting (for sexual/ other pleasure, excitement, relief of boredom/tension).

Barker’s expertise also features in a New South Wales Parliamentary Library paper (thanks, Google). Author Talina Drabsch repeats her conclusion that there are three reasons to use fire as a weapon: very little skill is needed; it may be familiar from childhood; and we associate it with protest and power. Fire brings “maximal rewards for the minimal effort”, Barker says.

Prejudice as a motive
Messner et al look at ‘Distinctive Characteristics of Assaults Motivated by Bias’, and by the A-word they mean acts of intimidation generally, not necessarily one person hitting another. They use the definition from the US federal Hate Crime Statistics Act (1990):

crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, including where appropriate the crimes of murder, nonnegligent manslaughter; forcible rape; aggravated assault, simple assault, intimidation; arson; and destruction, damage or vandalism of property.
Graffiti at Juliet and Lindsay’s Mangawhai home and business.
Their study surely applies to the graffiti Lindsay and Juliet experienced at Mangawhai (isn’t “filthy dikes” a bias crime?), as well as the arson a week later.

These researchers talk about ‘specialist’ versus ‘versatile’ offenders. The first — and I simplify — are motivated more by bias than by general criminal intent. The others are crims who happen to be bigots. “Our evidence is more consistent with the versatile offender model”, Messner et al say. “It suggests that bias offenders tend to commit other crimes” and are “just as likely as other criminal offenders to act impulsively... Perhaps, on average, they are more prejudiced than the conventional offender.... Bigotry may serve as a factor in the selection of the particular victim rather than as the catalyst to the criminal act.”

Suffering and survival
Victims suffer, and In ‘Hate Crimes: A Brief Review’, Jenny Ardley suggests that such crimes hit particularly hard. They’re not random, she notes; the targets have been chosen (even if opportunism has a role), and they feel it. The “deep and long lasting impact” is not only on them but also on “their community and the wider community around them”, says Ardley. These are “message crimes” (a colleague’s term), with the offender telling the victims’ community “that that person’s identity is offensive to the perpetrator and they should be punished with violence or intimidation”.

For Lindsay and Juliet, the good news (if you can call it that) is Ardley’s suggestion that “stronger members of a minority [may] ...fare better in surviving a hate crime attack.” These two sixty-something women were targeted because they were known to be “dikes” but their very identification with the gay and lesbian communities — through involvement in organisations such as Auckland’s Gay and Lesbian Singers (GALS) and through strong networks of gay and lesbian friends — can help them.

The reverse is also true: the community’s identification with Juliet and Lindsay can help. A Facebook page, ‘Opposition to hate crime against Blooming Bulbs’, specifies a bank account where the Gay Auckland Business Association is collecting funds, and mentions fundraising events as far away as Dunedin (the other end of NZ).

Blooming Bulbs before (Feb 2010) and after.
This may seem many latitudes from the library — or the garden, for that matter — but it’s really not. The information I gathered via my public library has been crucial in helping me think through this ugly crime. And my thirst for knowledge isn’t quenched yet. 

Though Auckland Libraries’ catalogue doesn’t list the book that pops up repeatedly in articles I’ve seen, the New Zealand Libraries’ Catalogue (also accessible through Auckland’s Digital Library) tells me that other NZ libraries have it. It’s Ann Barker’s Arson: A Review of the Psychiatric Literature, and I plan to request it via interloan (another service of Auckland Libraries). After that I’ll go out in the garden again.

Ardley, Jenny; ‘Hate Crimes: A Brief Review’, The International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 2005, Vol 25, No 12.
Doley, Rebekah; ‘Making Sense of Arson through Classification’, Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 2003, Vol 10, No 2.
Drabsch, Talina; ‘Arson’, New South Wales Parliamentary Library Research Service, Aug 2004, Briefing Paper No 2/03.
Messner, Steven F; McHugh, Suzanne; Felson, Richard B; ‘Distinctive Characteristics of Assaults Motivated by Bias’, Criminology, Aug 2004, Vol 42 No 3. 
White, Ellen Emerson; ‘Profiling Arsonists and Their Motives: An Update’, Fire Engineering, Mar 1996, Vol 149, No 3.

Beach at Mangawhai.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

New Lynn, New Lynn

New Lynn, for many Aucklanders, means Lynnmall (New Zealand’s first retail shopping mall) and Crown Lynn (the now ‘iconic’ pottery). When I was a child, Dad drove through it on our way to the West Coast, specifically Piha; now that I live close to New Lynn it’s where I do Significant Errands.

When I heard about the plan to amalgamate Auckland’s library systems, my fervent wish was to go inside the New Lynn War Memorial Library sometime and use it, as a legitimate member. I’d passed it and only just refrained from pressing my nose against the (expansive) windows: I lived in Auckland City and it was in Waitakere — out of bounds, I thought, though I’ve now learned that New Lynn’s library has quietly given free membership to ‘outsiders’ for several years.

This is a busy place, a different sort of busy from my local library in Avondale, which is often full of excitable schoolkids. New Lynn seems quieter, more studious... especially when you go upstairs to the reference desk and the ‘learning centre’, which is full of people gazing into computer screens as if they were crystal balls.

On my first visit, though, there was a kerfuffle. It was just after the amalgamation and an elderly gent had come in to pay a bill, perhaps for his water rates. Waitakere City residents used to be able to pay these in the library, but post-amalgamation a laminated sheet of paper stated that some bills now had to be paid elsewhere. This man may not have seen it, and perhaps he was a little deaf. Anyway, there was a lot of shouting, all from his side of the counter, and some of it was about “the bloody Maoris”, whose fault it surely wasn’t. Somebody had to be blamed, and no doubt he’d been cross about the bilingual library signs for a while.

A staff member (shelving books I think, and senior) came over and tried, in hushed tones, to assure Mr Disgruntled that the library still cared about him. He stomped out. I hope he made it to the post office, which now accepts payments. It’s half a minute’s walk for most of us, but may be a longer one for someone aged 75-plus.

Change is hard. Some of us in Auckland have celebrated our freedom (as far as libraries are concerned) of the now enlarged city by engaging in a literary kind of trainspotting: reserving vast numbers of books and noting the new and interesting places they come from — not to mention how quickly they turn up. But there were always going to be people such as Mr Disgruntled who felt left out of the loop. Then there are others in the centre of the loop, library staff, for whom amalgamation may sometimes have felt like a tightening noose.

But back to New Lynn. Its library is in Memorial Place, just behind Lynnmall and close to one of its pedestrian exits. I walked through Memorial Square, between the fragrant plantings of non-noxious jasmine, taking in the “LEST WE FORGET” etched into granite and the white wall of Anzac poppies in bas relief. Then I passed the cycle stand, the Citizens Advice Bureau and the display of New Lynn ceramics to enter the library. 

In this second visit, on a day when we lapped up rain after weeks of relentless sun, the library was a lot less busy, perhaps because 2011 is still doing its warm-up. School hasn’t started, and people are just getting back from their holidays. I had books to return and nothing in particular to collect, though at the New and Recommended shelves just inside, the National Portrait Gallery’s Gay Icons and Living with Books from Thames and Hudson jumped out at me. These coffee-table books seemed like a frivolous follow-up to previous borrowings such as Library Service in New Zealand and New Lynn Jubilee 1929–1989: The History of New Lynn — maybe that was why I ended up taking them home.

On the retail and light industrial chunk of Great North Road that many people think of as New Lynn in its entirety (it’s not — there are streets of houses), I wonder if the suburb is in search of itself. I muse that “New Lynn” and “history” don’t seem like great mates, but I’m an outsider, and visiting the Waitakere Central Library’s local history collections may disabuse me of that notion.

The jubilee history spans the life of New Lynn from its first town board meeting at Mrs Shaw’s Temperance Hotel (a Great North Road landmark better known as the New Lynn Hotel, demolished 2008) to the borough’s 1989 amalgamation with Waitakere City, and a couple of years ago local councillor Derek Battersby announced an intention to produce something more comprehensive. Dick Scott’s 1979 Fire on the Clay: The Pakeha Comes to West Auckland, a Ceramco commission, mentions interesting early bits in the chapter ‘Burned clay, burned fingers’. It outlines the early days of brick-making by the Gardner brothers in what one called ‘a wilderness of scrub and gorse and blackberries’, and the arrival in 1905 of competitor Albert Crum.

New Lynn’s first library opened only in 1957. Less than a decade later, the borough librarian Miss Tibbles pressed for more space. “If we are to keep pace with the growth of population and the emphasis on intellectual pursuits that this scientific age demands, plans are now needed for the over-all extension of the library,” the Western Leader quoted her as saying in June 1964. A revolution in the public attitude to libraries was evident worldwide, she said, with people appreciating that they were the key to progress. 

The present building, designed by Moller Architects, opened in 2005. It’s much more spacious than the first — and no doubt lighter and more airy. There’s low-key civic art, with the diverse clientele alluded to in a mural whose hibiscus and lotus represent Pacific Island and Chinese migration.

These days, New Lynn is undergoing a redevelopment with major initiatives in transport services, including what’s claimed to be the biggest rail project in New Zealand for decades. “Think Newmarket today; think New Lynn tomorrow”, trumpets a Waitakere City webpage: “New Lynn has a future that one day will see it rival places like Newmarket as one of the most prestigious town centres in the Auckland region.” It’s ambitious — and how many places can be that elite? Concept plans show the residential aspect reformed too, with high-density housing for “up to twice as many people as presently live in New Lynn”. (The 2006 Census recorded a population of 56,355.)

Little surprise, then, that the redevelopment keeps New Lynn’s reference librarian very busy. And by the time it’s done, there’ll be a lot more of New Lynn for the library to collect and serve.

Photos: The bike stand outside New Lynn Library (including a Lynnmall shopping trolley with an identity crisis); the library’s New and Recommended shelves viewed through a display of Crown Lynn pottery; the present library building.

The Blogosphere Gets Bigger

Fantastic feedback, thanks, to The First Post — and my idea about visiting all Auckland libraries after the council amalgamation is such a good one, somebody else has had it too. Unbeknownst to me, Wendy started her Auckland Libraries Super Tour 2011 two days before my Latitude of Libraries. The more the merrier, I say. Also, Sally Pewhairangi has interviewed me (already!) for her blog, aimed at library staff around NZ. 

And yes, as peajayar comments, public libraries in the UK are facing terrible cuts. Public Library News is on the case, and includes a terrifying map.

Closer to home, today (in an hour or so) I’ll finally get around to reporting my first library visit. 

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The First Post

In November 2010, New Zealand’s most populous region became a ‘supercity’, uniting seven discrete territories. As a result the public libraries of the whole Auckland isthmus are banding together to become one big public library system — the biggest, they say, in the Southern Hemisphere. That means that instead of borrowing books from 17 bricks-and-mortar libraries as in the old Auckland City, I can now roll up and borrow from 55. (There are also mobile libraries and the digital library. More about those another time.)

The thought of All Those Libraries is invigorating, and I’m not the only person to feel that way. From the moment of amalgamation, Aucklanders started ordering library books as never before. But I’m not content merely to note that my reserved books come from such exotic and far-flung locations as Pukekohe, Wellsford War Memorial and Glen Eden: I want to go there. It would be nice to know more of this now even larger place called Auckland. So I’m launching the Latitude of Libraries blog project, in which I plan to visit approximately one library a week over the next year.

Auckland is, according to Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, at latitude 36° 51'. I could have asked a reference librarian to find this out for me, but I worry that they’re busy right now, answering all the extra enquiries they’ve had since the superlibrary came into being. I did consult the Encyclopaedia Britannica, that fount of knowledge to which my public library membership gives me free electronic access. Although it didn’t tell me what the latitude of Auckland is, it told me this:

In November 2010 the greater Auckland region became a unitary authority that combined the governments of its constituent parts into one entity, the Auckland Council; these included the cities of Manukau, North Shore, and 11 others.* [italics mine]

I have it on better authority that the number of local bodies the new Auckland Council swallowed up is eight (four cities, three districts and a region). Maybe I should ask one of the reference superlibrarians how I can contact Encyclopaedia Britannica to put them right.

First, though, I’m starting this blog. As well as being about geographic locations, latitude is all about range and breadth, or, as the online Oxford Dictionary of English (also free with Auckland Public Library membership) puts it, ‘scope for freedom of action or thought’. A latitude of libraries seems an appropriate collective noun — like flocks of sheep, gaggles of geese, etc. My ‘latitude of libraries’ allows me to meander, and I promise you I’ll do that. I hope others will join me for the ride.

* Auckland. (2011). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved January 11, 2011, from Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Library Edition: