ontario librarians: should the ola support staffless libraries?

This week, the Toronto Public Library announced plans to open libraries with no staff. Not just no librarians -- we've seen that in many places -- but no staff whatsoever.

This was bad enough, but we were further horrified to see that the Ontario Library Association, a membership-based organization that is supposed to further the interests of libraries and librarians, seems to support this idea. OLA Executive Director had the chutzpah to re-frame this as "innovative".

If you are a librarian in Ontario, I hope you will provide feedback to the OLA through this petition: The OLA Should Oppose Staffless Libraries. Please consider sharing with your own library network.

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March 23, 2017

Shelagh Paterson
Executive Director
Ontario Library Association
Toronto, Ontario

Dear Ms. Paterson:

We, the undersigned, are public librarians in the province of Ontario and members of the Ontario Library Association (OLA). We are concerned and disturbed by the OLA’s apparent support for current trends in library staffing that are grossly detrimental to our profession and to the public we serve.

The Toronto Public Library has announced plans to open staffless libraries. This is antithetical to the core values of our profession and to our shared vision of what libraries are and should be.

In a Toronto Star article about this development, you are quoted as saying, “we’re very lucky here in Ontario that we have a library culture that is willing to try new things . . . and I would say that sometimes what drives that is budget cuts.”

We are deeply disturbed that, rather than advocating for adequate library funding, the OLA would re-define budget cuts as a driver of innovation.

The Star article also quotes you as saying, “I think you may not actually see the librarian in your visit to the library, but there is a librarian behind the scenes putting it all together and delivering a really excellent service.”

A staffless library can never be “a really excellent service.” Librarians and library staff “behind the scenes” of a building devoid of people are not enough. A truly excellent library service is one in which educated, trained professionals offer a wide range of services that support literacy, lifelong learning, and social engagement, and enable communities to thrive.

The OLA’s mission statement states that the organization enables members to “deliver exemplary library and information services throughout Ontario.” A library without librarians – indeed, a library without library staff of any kind – is not an exemplary library, and is indeed not a service of any kind.

Further, the OLA’s vision of an Ontario where everyone is “free to imagine, learn and discover, and recognize and celebrate library and information services as an essential resource for realizing individual aspirations and developing communities” is exactly the opposite of the current trend towards minimal – and now, nonexistent – staffing. A staffless library privileges members of our community who are affluent, information-rich, and technologically literate, and increases social inequality.

We believe the OLA should unequivocally oppose the staffless library.

We believe the OLA should actively advocate for well funded, fully staffed libraries, and should actively promote the value to the community of librarians and other educated, trained library staff.


The Undersigned Ontario Librarians

Sign here: The OLA Should Oppose Staffless Libraries.


hail hail rock 'n' roll: rip chuck berry

To mark the death of rock legend Chuck Berry, everyone should watch "Hail Hail Rock 'n' Roll," Taylor Hackford's movie chronicling two concerts that celebrated Berry's 60th birthday.

If you want to know what all the fuss is about, if you need historical context to understand what Chuck Berry meant to all of rock, see this movie.

Here is Berry and "his band" performing my favourite version of my favourite Chuck Berry song.

I'm glad he lived to be an old man, and see his contributions honoured. This obituary by the great music writer Jon Pareles says it all.

what i'm reading: a mother's reckoning by sue klebold

On April 20, 1999, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, two teenagers from Littleton, Colorado, marched into Columbine High School with explosives and automatic weapons. Their plan to blow up the entire school failed -- only because their homemade bombs did not explode -- so they walked around the school shooting people. They killed 12 students and one teacher, wounded 24 others, and unleashed untold mental suffering on their entire community, before killing themselves.

I very clearly remember hearing about this, and just as clearly remember thinking that the Klebold and Harris families had suffered the worst tragedy of all. What could be worse than your child dying in a school shooting? To me, the answer is all too obvious: knowing your child took the lives of other children. I remember, too, feeling so sad and discouraged when some Columbine parents refused to allow Klebold and Harris to be memorialized along with the other victims, insisting the memorials acknowledge 13 dead, not 15.

When I saw a book review and noticed the author's last name, I knew instantly who she was, and immediately put the book on hold at our library. This is a rare opportunity to look behind the scenes at the bizarre phenomenon of mass shootings, from a perspective of kindness and mercy.

In the first half of the book, Sue Klebold details the day of the shooting, and the days and weeks that followed, from her own perspective. In the second half, she writes about her journey to try to understand her son's actions, and her long-term survival, as she finds community -- in this case, survivors of suicide loss -- and becomes a suicide-prevention activist. Her writing is vivid and intensely emotional. Some parts of this book are so raw and laden with such pain that they are barely readable. Reading this book sometimes feels like peering too deeply into someone's most private heart.

Throughout, Klebold is meticulously careful to explain that seeking to understand what her son did does not mean she is excusing it. Again and again, she writes that Dylan was responsible for his own actions and that probing his mental illness does not negate that. She writes this so often, as though she wants anyone who opens the book to any random page to read this. I found it very sad that she felt she needed to do that -- but her story makes it obvious why she did.

It did not surprise me to learn that almost everything written or said in the media about the Klebold family was completely wrong. This book is clearly, in part, an attempt to set the record straight, or at least get another perspective in the public view. And again, when one reads what was said versus what actually existed, the writer's desire to do this is very understandable.

The book is suffused in regret. Sue Klebold remembers every instance, every tiny moment, where she chided or nagged when she could have hugged, when she said, "Get yourself together!" instead of "How can I help you?" Yet these instances, as she recounts them, are so ordinary, so commonplace. She was a loving mother and if at times she was irritated with or tough on her teenage son, it was all within the bounds of normalcy.

One might say that Dylan Klebold exhibited no signs of depression or other mental illness before the shooting. Sue Klebold emphatically rejects this idea, and insists there were signs, but she and Dylan's father didn't know how to read them.

I cannot agree. I didn't think any of the instances she recounts were a red flag for such violence, nor did there seem to be a pattern. All the behaviour seemed like that of a normal, if somewhat troubled, teenager -- and "troubled teenager" can be a redundancy. After reading this book, I believe the only way Sue and Tom Klebold could have known that their son was at risk for violence is if they had constantly searched his room -- something they had no cause to do and an act that might have driven him further out of reach.

When Sue Klebold read her son's journals (found by police) and saw the videos the two boys made, she felt as though she was looking at a total stranger. Dylan Klebold led two lives. As some supportive letter-writers told Sue Klebold, if someone really wants to hide something, they will. (Eric Harris is a different story. There were many clear signs.)

I knew that many Columbine families blamed the parents for the boys' actions, which strikes me as strange, cruel, and grossly unfair. Because of that, I was very heartened to know that the Klebolds received thousands of letters of sympathy and support -- from people whose children had committed atrocities, from survivors of suicide loss, from victims of bullying who thought it lucky incidents like this don't happen more often. Many people understood the family's pain and wanted them to know they were not alone. I took great relief from this.

The latter portion of the book is largely about suicide prevention, and recognizing the signs of clinical depression in children and teens, which are different than in adults. Klebold calls for nothing less than an entirely new approach to mental health.

This is a very sad book, but in the end, it's a book about survival. Sue Klebold lived through a tragedy of immense proportions. She chose to survive and, eventually, found a way to create meaning from her loss. Her book is sure to help many other people do that, too.


mighty leaf tea: green tea and greenwashing

I recently tried a new brand of tea. I'm always looking for almond tea, which is difficult or impossible to find (more on that below), and noticed Mighty Leaf had an Almond Spice. It's green tea, and I prefer black, but I thought for the almond, I'd take a chance.

The Mighty Leaf Tea box is covered in stories about how carefully they care for the tea, the quality of their tea leaves, and how green the company is. The tea is whole leaf only, the tea pouches are made from the greenest material, and so on.

Back when we had organics recycling, we always tossed used tea bags in the "green bin". Now, living in an apartment, we no longer have that option. The tea bag is going in the trash anyway, so the greenness of the pouch isn't a big concern for me. However, ordinary tea bags are fine for organics recycling, so I'm not sure why this pouch is so special.

When I brought the tea home and opened the box, I was surprised and dismayed to find each individual pouch packaged inside a plastic sleeve! Fifteen tea pouches, 15 plastic sleeves! What the...?

Mighty Leaf tea pouch

Mighty Leaf tea pouch as packaged

I tweeted the company and did not get a response, then tried email.

I recently bought a box of Mighty Leaf tea for the first time. When I opened the box, I was horrified to find each pouch packaged in an individual plastic bag! I would never have bought this tea if I had known this -- and it is exactly the opposite of all the promotional copy on the box.

I am planning on writing about this on my blog, but wanted to contact you first, so I can include your statement or reaction.

I'm guessing this plastic is some specially made material that is considered biodegradable. But as I'm sure you know, almost nothing biodegrades in landfill. Are the plastic pouches suitable for organics disposal? If so, why doesn't it say so on the box?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you,

I received this response.
Hi Laura,

Thank you for your e-mail. Our tea pouches are in fact bio-degradable and compostable, although we would recommend industrial composting available in many parts of Canada. Our tea pouch has in fact won awards for being environmentally friendly:

[This was pasted in.] Artisan Hand-Stitched Pouches

In ancient traditions around the world, a freshly brewed pot filled with whole tea leaves is revered as the richest in character. Inspired by this legacy, Mighty Leaf specially created the silken Tea Pouch filled with the world’s finest whole tea leaves, herbs, fruits and flavor. No longer was it necessary to brew a pot of tea and use a strainer or an infuser to experience whole leaf tea the way it's enjoyed in gardens across the world!

Each portion of whole leaf tea is precisely measured and carefully wrapped in our hand-stitched pouches. These large, silken pouches showcase the distinctive beauty of our special blends and give the leaves room to unfurl as they steep, allowing the nuanced flavors to fully infuse for the ideal tea experience.

Besides the beautiful leaves you’ll notice that our pouches have a lot of tea inside. Typically our pouches contain about two and a half grams of tea, which allows you to brew a large cup of tea (btw 12oz to 14oz).

Each tea pouch is hand stitched with 100% unbleached cotton. The silken material is made from polylactic acid (PLA), which is derived from corn starch. The pouches are biodegradable and can be composted in an industrial composter.
The email also included this image.

I find the tea-pouch narrative a bit much. But in practical terms, did this person really misunderstand my question? Was my question unclear? I tried again.

Thank you for your reply. However, I was not referring to the tea pouches. Each pouch is packaged in an individual plastic sleeve. I am referring to that outer container or sleeve.
He replied:
Hi again Laura,

In order to conserve the freshness of our teas and herbal infusions we need to hermetically seal them in some form of envelope. Unfortunately nobody has yet developed a material in which you can hermetically our teas which is also biodegradable. As you can tell from the environmentally friendly efforts that we made with our tea pouches, as soon as someone does, we will look at using it.

Enjoy our teas!
I'm afraid I took it one step further, and I did (unintentionally) ignore the word "hermetically".
Are you kidding me? One already exists. It's called paper.
Their response.
Hi again Laura,

No, I don’t believe I am kidding you – paper cannot hermetically seal, unless of course you wax it and then it won’t biodegrade.
Does tea really need to be hermetically sealed? Why isn't a paper envelope -- similar to how Lipton (US) and Red Rose (Canada) are packaged -- adequate? My all-time favourite tea, Bewley's (Ireland and the UK), uses mesh bags with no string and no paper. Works great.

I didn't like the almond tea very much, probably because it is green tea rather than black. But no matter how much I enjoyed it, I would not buy a product loaded down with unnecessary plastic packaging.

* * * *

The story of the almond tea. I used to love Celestial Seasoning Almond Sunset tea, but it disappeared many years ago, apparently discontinued. I have not been able to find a decent substitute, even in expensive loose-leaf tea, which I would rather not buy. For this post, I found the Celestial Seasoning website -- and they have a Canadian site, too -- which encourages you to contact them if you cannot find what you want in stores. If I could buy Almond Sunset directly from CS, that would be amazing.

And why don't I use loose-leaf tea? We do sometimes buy and enjoy loose tea for interesting flavours or because we find ourselves in a nice tea shop. But we drink tea every day, and we both enjoy the convenience, the strong flavour, and the consistency of tea bags. Our favourite is Bewley's Irish Tea, which we used to go out of our way to buy in New York. We have not found a convenient place to buy it in the GTA, but if I ever see a box, I would pounce on it.


should we give up our voip phone and only have cell phones? help me decide.

The ancient technology I grew up with,
including the colour.
We still have a bit of antiquated technology called a home phone.

We use a VoIP phone -- have done so since 2002 -- which is why I say "home phone" rather than "landline". Our home phone is not a landline.

I've blogged about VoIP in the past: it's reliable, very inexpensive, and easier to use than Skype.* I also like the flat-rate monthly fee that includes all the bells and whistles. The only catch is that if your internet connection or power goes down, you have no phone, so it's best to have a cell phone as a backup.

Then we graduated to this.
The other relevant fact here is that Allan doesn't use a cell phone. He's had a cell phone at various times, and he hated them, and doesn't want to be bothered. (I actually have several friends who don't use mobile devices.)

And now this. But they suck.
This means that if I'm not home and there is a power failure or internet failure, Allan has no phone. This is not safe. A few months ago, Allan was in a minor car accident, and now I am insisting that he have a cell phone.

Recently our phone -- the hardware, not the service -- began to die, yet again. I find that no matter what brand I buy, the hardware (like everything else these days) is cheaply made crap that only last a few years. So, rather than buy yet another portable phone system, I'm thinking of getting rid of our home phone altogether.

I think no one under the age of 30 (or is it 40?) has a home phone or even thinks about the concept of it. But before I cancel Vonage, I want to be sure. Do we still need our home phone? What do you think?

* I also blogged about a crazy ordeal I had moving from Vonage US to Vonage Canada. And I notice in that post I still liked Rogers!

i have found the way to make perfect hardboiled eggs (or, in which buzzfeed improves my life)

In Egypt, breakfast almost always includes a hardboiled egg. Even the breakfast cart parked near our bus to Petra had a bowl of hardboiled eggs. And the eggs are always perfect. The shell slides right off, leaving a smooth, perfect white, and a bright yellow yolk. How do they do it?

Way back, I posted my method for making hardboiled eggs, which at the time, I thought was perfect. Alas, it was not. With some batches, every egg peels perfectly. Others, about half do. And in some batches, I'm lucky if two or three eggs peel well, and the rest are a mess.

My beginner's Arabic is nowhere near good enough to discuss cooking methods, and none of our Breakfast Guys had sufficient English, so I didn't ask. I just peeled and ate each egg, marvelling at the consistent perfection. I was so excited about the eggs that I peeled one for Allan every morning, too.

On the internet, you'll find many different egg-boiling recipes, each claiming to be The Best. I decided that when we got home, I would collect all the methods and conduct an experiment, using all different methods, writing down which eggs were made with which methods, and so on.

When I started googling, I found that Buzzfeed had done the work for me! This post -- I Tested Out Popular Tricks To Make Hard-Boiled Eggs Easier To Peel -- is exactly as advertised. Buzzfeed staff writer Mathew Jedeikin collected all the advice from the internet, made a whole bunch of eggs for his husband's breakfast, and reported back on the results. In typical Buzzfeed fashion, there are lots of pictures of the results and honking big titles -- with baking soda, with vinegar, with and without ice bath, starting from boiling, starting from cold water, and so on.

So thanks to Buzzfeed, I can now post the way to make Perfect Hardboiled Eggs. I made a dozen at a time, as I always do.

1. Begin with a low boil, not a full-on rolling boil.
2. Add vinegar -- about 15 mls (1 tablespoon) per 4 cups of water.
3. Use a slotted spoon to gently lower eggs into the water.
4. Boil for 14 minutes.
5. Remove eggs to ice bath.
6. When eggs have cooled down, they are ready to peel and eat, or to peel and store in the fridge.

This method solves three previous issues.

One, I had been lowering eggs into rapidly boiling water, causing the eggs to explode. The gentle boil fixes that.

Two, the vinegar dissolves enough of the calcium to loosen the shell's grip on the egg.

And three -- shared with my old method -- the ice bath shrinks the inner membrane for even easier peeling.

The vinegar and the ice bath might be redundant, but I'm willing to use both methods to arrive at perfection.

(I notice that many commenters on the Buzzfeed story are horrified. "Who the hell boils eggs for 14 minutes?" "How do you stand the vinegar?" and blahblahblah. I don't know what they're complaining about, but if you dislike vinegar or you feel strongly that 14 minutes is too long to boil an egg, perhaps these comments will be helpful to you.)


in which i come home and get caught up without anxiety (hooray for medication)

I recently had a very positive experience with anti-anxiety medication, and realized I should share it here.

I've written many times about the wonders of modern medicine for treating depression and anxiety, and the life-changing, relationship-saving, and quite possibly life-saving effects of using the right medication. While these drugs may be sometimes prescribed unnecessarily, I believe they are under used -- that many more people could be helped by these meds, if their own biases didn't stand in the way, and if everyone had equal access to healthcare.

My mega-wrap-up of my perspective is here: in defense of drugs: anti-depressant medication saves and improves lives.

* * * *

I've had a prescription for an as-needed anti-anxiety medication for many, many years. In the past, I used them very infrequently, less than once a month, and sometimes only a few times a year.

Two years ago, I had a sharp uptick in anxiety, and realized I should be taking the meds more often. When I asked my doctor for a refill, she expressed concern about the frequency of use, and suggested I use an SSRI instead -- that is, she wanted me to use something daily, rather than as-needed.

I was pretty resistant to the idea -- which is interesting, given everything I've said and written about this! I already take several medications, and I just didn't want to believe that I needed another. I let it go for a while, but when I needed yet another refill, my doctor was more insistent.

She explained to me things I knew but had conveniently forgotten. Drugs like clonazepam are very habit-forming. The body builds up a tolerance very quickly, so that it takes increasingly higher dosages to achieve the same results. After a time, your brain "forgets" how to feel normal without the medication. There has been substance abuse in my family, especially around prescription painkillers and sleeping pills, and I have struggled with my own addictive personality as well. So what was I doing?

That was all I needed. I decided to try one.

Wow! I could not believe how much better I felt. I discovered that I had been experiencing anxiety almost all the time. I had become so accustomed to it, that it felt normal to me. I only recognized the anxiety when it spiked, when it felt like an anxiety "attack".

I felt calm, clear-headed, and in control. I was suddenly able to look at my to-do lists and my crowded calendar without panic -- and without the not-quite-panic-but-something-approaching-panic that I usually experienced.

This has led to greater focus, and to greater enjoyment of my jobs. I can think more clearly. I can understand -- finally -- that my life is within my capabilities. I can get it done.

I don't know if there's been an external manifestation of this or not. I have no idea if I seemed anxious and now seem different, or if the whole time it has been internal only. I only talk about my health issues to a few people. This is not because I fear stigma or negative reaction, but because I prefer to de-emphasize it for myself. I do not want to identify with an illness; I find this an important part of maintaining good mental health. (I mean this with no judgment of anyone who does otherwise. There's no one-size-fits-all.)

Coming home from our recent trip to Egypt and Jordan was a big test of this new-found calm. I knew I had a ton of work waiting for me, both library and union, including some Big Things I had been preparing for before we left. In the past, I would have felt a lot of anxiety, beginning the day before we headed home. Once home, I would be in a state of semi-panic, trying to plow through all the work at once, moving as fast as possible, as if it all had to be done immediately.

This time: none of that. Anxiety was a place in the distance. I could see it, I was aware of its presence, but could simply choose not to visit it. Clear-headed, calm, getting things done.

* * * *

One more thing. When I was looking for an image for this post, I saw a lot of the mini-posters you see on Facebook, supposedly articulating what anxiety feels like. I didn't relate to any of them. None of them described how I feel. Don't know why that is.


amman to cairo to home: in which things out work very nicely

EgyptAir, we love you! I'm writing this from an airport hotel, where I did not expect to be.

After Ridiculous Breakfast #3, we did a little negotiating (see below), then packed up for the airport. On a tip from the concierge, we stopped at the beautiful Zalatimo Brothers for Sweets on the way. I was quite pleased: this saved time and solved a problem. And then, as we walked into the airport, we saw... Zalatimo Brothers for Sweets! They have a small outpost near the international departures.

The flight from Amman to Cairo was fast and uneventful. The EgyptAir rep in Amman told us we would have to go through passport control and customs, get our luggage, then check into our next flight, and so on. Turns out this was untrue.

We were waiting in the passport control line in Cairo, when a man approached us, claiming to be from EgyptAir, saying they have a free hotel room and dinner for us, and do we want to see the pyramids, too?

It took quite a bit of convincing that he was legit, but once I gave in, things started to happen.

Apparently any time an EgyptAir passenger has a layover of more than six hours, the airline arranges a complimentary hotel room and meal. Say whaaat? 

First we went to the EygptAir counter, where our New Best Friend cut through both apathy and red tape, and secured our hotel and meal voucher.

Then he took us to the visa window. Our original visa was good for 30 days, but expired when we left Egypt a few days earlier. The visa window was a comedy, or maybe a farce. The guy who refused to take anything but Egyptian pounds a few weeks ago now refused to take that same currency. Next window, not working, says the person working there. Next window, how about Jordan dinars?

We paid some LEs, some JDs, currency flying around at two different windows, and boom, we had new entry visas. There is absolutely no way we could have done this on our own.

Next, the passport control lines are all gone and the agents have disappeared. But NBF finds someone to stamp our passports.

Next, he whisks us down to the baggage carousel, piles all our things onto a cart, and hurries us towards an airport shuttle bus.

Several times along the way, he has asked if we want to see the pyramids one more time. Half-hour to get there, one hour there, and a half-hour back, with the transportation costing 50 LEs. Given the distance between airport and Giza, it was a sweet deal -- but it felt too rushed and too busy. We declined.

So now, instead of sitting in the airport for nearly 10 hours, we are relaxing in a well air-conditioned hotel room, and can eat, shower, and change clothes before our flight.

* * * *

Our stay in the Amman Marriott was nearly perfect.

The room was lovely, the food was great, and the staff was amazing. As I've mentioned, the breakfast was very expensive, but it also was incredible -- a huge variety of freshly prepared foods of all types, different each day, with seemingly no possible breakfast desire left unsatisfied.*

I say "nearly" perfect, because there was one problem. The temperature of our room was quite high, and the air conditioning didn't work. The first night, Allan made multiple late-night calls to the desk, and more than one person visited the room, with more than one excuse given. Eventually the air did turn on, and the room did cool down a bit.

The second day, the air conditioning continued to work.

On the third day, we returned from Madaba to a hot room. More phone calls, more apologies and excuses... but no AC. We spent some time eating and drinking in the lounge, and returned to an uncomfortably hot room. The heat woke me up in the middle of the night. More phone calls, but to no avail.

This shouldn't happen to you in any hotel, but in a five-star hotel that is reputed to be one of the best in the country... no. Just no. I hope everyone reading this already knows this: when you are inconvenienced, you should be compensated.

At breakfast, we discussed what we thought would be a fair rebate, and sat down with the concierge to discuss. (His nameplate said "Customer Relations / Concierge.) The outcome: all three breakfasts comped. Many thanks to the Amman Marriott and their awesome staff.

* For those who like food details: an assortment of breads, rolls, pastries, and donuts; Arabic dips such as hummus, eggplant dip, etc.; salads such as lentil, quinoa, chopped vegetables; smoked fish; meats, cheeses; all condiments for all of the above, such as onions, capers, lemon, etc.; beef sausage, beef bacon, potatoes (prepared differently each day); mini eggs benedict; waffles, pancakes, and omelettes made to order; soups; fresh squeezed juices; oatmeal, yogurt, and dry cereals and all toppings that might conceivably be put in those; fresh fruit; falafel, kibbeh, bean stew, and other Arabic dishes. And even with this long list, I'm sure there are choices I have forgotten. Everything is very high quality and freshly prepared.