Friday, December 30, 2011

Community Dialog on the Occupy Movement

This fall the Anchorage Public Library was approached by a representative from Alaska Common Ground. Their organization had a grant to start a series of community dialogs and were hoping to partner with the library. And so with the added partner of the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service, Let's Talk Alaska was born.

Here I am going to quote our formal introduction:
Let's Talk Anchorage is a joint program of the Anchorage Public Libraries, Alaska Common Ground, and the UAF Cooperative Extension Service. Our vision is a community of citizens who gather easily and often for public dialogue or deliberation on timely topics. LTA can help plan, publicize, and facilitate public gatherings that are welcoming, stimulating, and satisfying.

Our first dialog posed a very simple question: What is the Occupy movement? Without the library or Let's Talk Anchorage taking a stand for or against it, we convened to discuss. The worldwide occupy movement is extremely timely, garners lots of media attention, and has brought their issues to the forefront of our national conversation. Despite all this, there are still many of us (myself included) without a very clear idea of what the Occupy movement is, who they are, what they want, etc. As this event was planned, promoted, and presented I heard over and over again that people wanted to know more. Hey! That's our business as a library! We can do that! And so we did, but we didn't do it alone. We did it with a committee of volunteers, the Let's Talk Anchorage group, facilitators, and others who all pitched in.

This is getting wordy. Let me get down to technical details.

Program Structure
Date: Saturday December 17th; Time: 1pm to 4pm

Set up: 12 tables scattered "randomly" around the room for a World Cafe set up (that is a specific type of facilitated dialog). It turns out I'm not good at setting up tables randomly, I like to line them up in neat rows. Drink table with water, lemonade, coffee, hot water and tea. (I could not keep up with the coffee demands with two 12 cup coffee pots.) Snack table with cookies, crackers, cheese, and mini-oranges. (Snacks and drinks provided by the aforementioned grant money.) The participant tables were covered in butcher paper and participants were provided with markers for writing. (We also had flowers at each table, a very nice touch.)

The idea of World Cafe is that there is no "front" of the room, but we did have a video screen down to show a short film. We begun with quick introductions. The first film was a collection of clips about the Occupy movement edited together as an introduction. Then various members of the Occupy Anchorage group stood up and talked about why they were involved in Occupy Anchorage.

Then a break, an introduction to the World Cafe format and we broke into small group discussions. Each table had a facilitator and ideally 4 to 5 participants. For each 20 minute discussion time period a different question was posed. The facilitator was not there for their own opinions but to keep things civil, flowing, and prevent filibusters.

We framed the discussion around three questions. At the end of each 20 minute period, all the participants got up and moved to a new table for the next question discussion. (Facilitators stayed put). The idea was to find an entirely new table of people to talk to, to mix and remix the participants.

Our three questions:
What about this movement resonates with me?
What about this movement confuses or concerns me?
What do I want to explore and/or discuss more?

Then there was another break and an opportunity for group reflections and a closing.

We had about a two week lead time (or slightly less) for advertising this. I didn't know what to expect. We put out tables for 50, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. 48 people came! They were primarily Occupy movement supporters (even if not involved in the project) and self-proclaimed "liberals", but we had a legislator and a legislative candidate (Republican nonetheless) come as well.

The evaluation forms were overwhelmingly positive as were the comments I received directly from participants. People were very glad we had the program and excited about the possibility of more. From a library point of view, we were thrilled with the turn out and response of the participants. From the Let's Talk Anchorage point of view, we were thrilled as well.

Overall the entire project was a win. Where there things we learned? Yes. Will we do things differently? Yes. But that is true of every program. We proved civic dialogs will work in our community, there is a market for them. The library has a great reputation as a neutral space and is the perfect venue for this type of community conversation. And such a conversation perfectly aligns with the library's mission to facilitate information transfer. I look forward to working further with Let's Talk Anchorage and hosting more community conversations at our various locations.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Five Things on a Friday - Books As Gifts

I love books, but I don't always love books as gifts. That's because I'm rather picky and if you give me a book then I feel obligated to read it. It bumps something else I'd rather read more off the queue and then there is the resentment and the awkwardness when you ask me about it. This doesn't always happen, sometimes I love the book and all is well. Sometimes not. So tread lightly. That caveat aside, books are fantastic gifts. Here are some of my favorites as today's Friday five.

FYI - I'm linking to Amazon but I'm not on the program where I get proceeds if you buy from that link; it's just the easiest option. Please consider supporting your local book store.

  1. The Lego Ideas Book by Daniel Lipkowitz
    200 pages of ideas (not instructions just inspiration) in beautiful large full color to inspire your favorite builder. While this seems an obvious for a child, I know several grown adults who have some fun diversions with legos.

  2. Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois
    The first of these cookbooks (Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day) changed my life. I love to bake bread but work full time. I really do make bread throughout the week now. (It's easy, you make the dough and refrigerate it between the first and second rise, pull it out, give it a second rise, and deliciousness follows.) I love that these books give you all sorts of geeky technical details (what type of flour with how much glutens/proteins requires more/less water) that let me learn why a recipe works or what went wrong. And it is amazingly versatile bread. The first book is my most used book in my kitchen. I pulled this third book from the library the day we received it and fell in love immediately. With flatbread you skip the second rise and get to yumminess faster. I made pizzas for two. We each got our own pizza (important since I'm allergic to tomatoes and rather a downer to eat pizza with) and I followed the simple directions to make marinara and pesto sauces. Incredible. In later days the dough became breadsticks to go with soup. If someone you know cooks or bakes, then you can't go wrong with this book. It's on my wish list and if I don't get it, I'll probably buy it.

  3. Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living by Rachel Kaplan and K. Rudy Blume
    DIY, homesteading, gardening, all of these things are becoming more popular as our economy continues to sink and more people are concerned about the environment, chemicals in their food, and a sustainable lifestyle. This book is a great overview of a range of skills. I already knit, crochet, bake, and garden (poorly). I'd love to have some chickens and figure out canning. Maybe in 2012.

  4. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
    Fiction taste varies so much that I hesitate to suggest anything. However Zafon is the best author that I've discovered in the last five years. Spanish Magical Realism is my favorite genre. This, his first book translated into English, is an amazing story of literature, hauntings, mystery, and love. I can not recommend it enough.

  5. A blank book
    Know a kid who loves to draw? Get him a nice, artist quality sketch book. Someone like me who journals? A pretty journal. (But not me this year, I'm stocked up for several years.) A forgetful type? One of those little books that fits in a pocket and comes with a pen. (This is all presuming they don't have a smart phone.) Your religious aunt/friend/neighbor will appreciate a prayer journal. Even if they are swimming in tech, there is still a sense of magic about a really beautiful, well constructed blank book with quality paper. It just itches to be filled with poetry, sketches, collages, thoughts, ramblings, and all the other detritus we leave for those who follow us.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Five Things on a Friday - Holiday Displays

I love book displays! I love making them, I love browsing them, love them in general. However this time of year, they can get fairly repetitive. There are a ton of books (for kids and adults) specifically geared to the holidays (yes I'm looking at our display) and those should be put on display. After all those mystery writers wrote a special holiday version of their normal cat/dog/antique store owner/antique store owner with a pet cat solves a mystery series and it deserves to be read* (because your library spent money on it and you would like return on investment). Beyond that obvious display, here are five other options. Some obvious, some less so.

FYI - I'm assuming you're already doing your best to put up world holiday traditions, especially those that are celebrated by different ethnic groups within your area of service. These are more Western/Judeo-Christian related ideas, but you should stick up all holidays as you can (we have like 3 books on Diwali but I'm working on it).

  1. Entertaining
    Here is where you put those cooking books (and yes this time of year a display on just cookbooks wouldn't be amiss, even a display on just cookie cookbooks), but you can also put all those decorate/make gifts/all sorts of stuff for the holiday books in the 745s. (Better Homes and Gardens puts one out almost every year as does Martha Stewart, Debbie Mumm, Mary Engelbreit and others of that ilk). But also put up books on general entertaining tips, cocktail recipes, even fashion so people can look fantastic at those holiday parties. Then checkout a cocktail recipe and cookie cookbook for yourself. You need it.

  2. Classics
    There is something about this time of year that puts people in the mood for a classic. Of course definitions of classic may vary. For many the holidays are about nostalgia and they can convince themselves that this is the year they will finally read a Charles Dickens novel. I'm not saying they're actually going to read Great Expectations, but they'll probably check it out, leave on the bedside table for 2.5 weeks, realize they're way too busy this time of year and just rewatch The Muppets' A Christmas Carol instead. Or you can save this for after the new year and try "Start the New Year with an Old Favorite" as a display.

  3. Zombies and True-Crime
    Even Carol Christmas gets a little overwhelmed with all the music, store displays, holiday specials, preparations, and sugar cookie highs until all she really wants is to murder that chick at Wal-Mart who stole the last 3-pack of double-sided tape. So this year, consider an anti-Christmas display. You'll appeal to both the Scrooges and the burntout Pollyannas.

  4. Colors
    Grab all the books you can with a red cover (or mostly red), or green, or blue. It's fun. Don't make a sign, just line them on the shelf and watch the people react. Pure magic. Super easy. And pretty!

  5. "Cold" books
    Here are cool books to read by a warm fire! Anything with the word "cold", "chilly", "winter", "snow", etc in the title, bonus points if it has snow on the cover. A few sample titles: Cold Mountain, Snow Falling on Cedars, The Snow Angel, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, Chill Factor, and so forth.

Any other slightly off the wall suggestions for December/Holiday book displays?

*but not read by me because I still don't like mysteries