Building Social Captial in Libraries

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:06 pm

Social capital – a sociological concept which refers to connections within and between social networks – is something I’ve been thinking and reading about lately.  This is largely due to the fact that it’s highly relevant to the topic of a conference paper I’m co-authoring (more on that later), but also just because it’s so interesting.

All the passionate public librarians I’ve ever known or worked with – and not just Children’s and YA folk, although that’s obviously where my bias and connections lie – have been heavily into developing the social capital of their libraries, even if that’s not the term they’ve used for it (and I admit it’s not a term I was familiar with until my co-author introduced it to me).  It seems very obvious that libraries need to develop relationships with their users, but this sometimes seem to be something that goes over the heads of decision-makers, sadly enough.  Many hands have been wrung and much ink has been spilled on the topic of libraries remaining relevant to their users, and it’s a good and relevant question, particularly for public libraries, whose funding must frequently be justified in terms of statistics – bodies through the door, loans statistics, program attendances, and the like.  Intrinsic value won’t get you very far, but at the same time, a library that isn’t relevant to the needs of its users doesn’t have much intrinsic value, a fact which I think sometimes the hand-wringers forget.  Yes, it sucks to have to run a library like a business minus the profit, but if your shelves are full of things that people don’t want then you’re not providing much of a service.

I’m still thinking through a lot of this stuff as it will relate to the paper, and just in general, but I wanted to share a good quote from an article by Carolyn Bourke, which is available for reading here (PDF):

“We want people in our Council, State Government Departments, local organisations, the business community and the general community to think of the Library when they have a great idea to build social capital.  We want to be one of the obvious places people think to come not just for resources but also for the broader community issues.  If we are truly to be facilitators in a knowledge society we have to be visible and active in our communities, constantly looking for new ways to build bridges to the excluded and the marginalised.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts if you have anything to share.


Razer on Nowra on Greer

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:03 pm

Helen Razer has written a brilliant takedown on Louis Nowra’s Monthly article “commemorating” the 40th anniversary of The Female Eunuch.

Part of the problem with Nowra’s article, which other writers have pointed out, although none, so far, with as much rage-filled aplomb as Razer, is that it’s a personal attack that criticises Germaine Greer – now in her 70s – for growing old. Apparently being a brilliant author, academic and incendiary public figure does not excuse one from being criticised for being a slave to chronology. I know, I’m shocked too. In addition, like many antifeminist naysayers, Nowra seems both gleeful and quick in regarding the fact that Greer’s full revolution has not taken place as evidence that feminism has failed completely. Yeah, sorry, no. Societal change doesn’t happen overnight, and especially not while there are still people ready to jump all over the fact that those pushing for it are human, too.

I am not always Greer’s biggest fan myself – like many people, I find her a fascinating, important and occasionally incredibly infuriating figure – but there is no “politcal correctness” at play in objecting to Nowra’s piece, as his supporters have tried to argue. Pointing out that someone is making a hackneyed, sexist and pointless argument to debase a powerful woman isn’t political correctness, because there’s not a level of endangered speech going on – criticising women for being outspoken – sorry, “shrill” – and not measuring up to arbitrary notions of attractiveness is something that has never moved out of the mainstream long enough to become endangered. And that’s part of the reason why we’ll still need feminism for a while yet. To slightly mangle a popular catchphrase, the time for post-feminism will be when we’re living in a post-patriarchy.

On a lighter and more personal note, that entry was the first I’d read on Helen’s blog, and as someone who’s occasionally been a bit alienated by her writing in the past, I have now well and truly been converted into a fan. While they may have wildly different styles and different viewpoints, I think that both Greer and Razer can be counted as larrikin ratbag Australian feminists, and I wish we had more of those.


Book Review: Dear Diary by Lesley Arfin

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:17 am

Based on the Vice magazine column of the same name, Dear Diary is a genius idea: Arfin’s diary entries from ages 12 – 28, with commentary and interviews with some of the major players throughout various stages of her life. Anyone who’s ever been a teenage girl with squirm with recognition at the raw emotion of Arfin’s teenaged writings; the urge to fit in and the sense that she’s failing at doing so, the complicated friendship structures that fall away without notice or reason.
This alone would be enough, but there is a darker grain to the book. Arfin began experimenting with drugs in high school, and by midway through her college degree was a fully-fledged heroin addict. The latter part of the book deals with her stints in rehab, her ambivalence towards kicking her habit, and her occasional startling moments of clarity about what her life has become.

Arfin’s prose style is a dream; the diary entries themselves as well as her commentary sing with life and pull the reader into her world. Reading the book was like having a coffee with an old friend who’s disappeared out of your life for many years and has now come back with some amazing, heartbreaking, funny and cautionary tales to tell. It’s kind of like Go Ask Alice would have been if it was a) well-written, b) not made up and c) not misogynistic, anti-drug propagandist crap.  Dear Diary has the kind of hipster veneer that you’d expect from an offshoot of Vice, but it doesn’t glorify addiction; the poetry is in Arfin’s writing and how she perceives the world, not in the drugs she takes.  The romance comes from her eventual falling back in love with the world and herself, not some hackneyed form of drug worship.

This is the kind of book I would have loved as a teen; okay, it’s the kind of book I do love as a non-teen.  But, riveting as Dear Diary is now in my latemid twenties, I can imagine that it would have been even more compulsive reading for my teenaged self, with Arfin being middle class and familiar enough that I could feel like I shared some parts of her life, while other parts – the obvious drama of her story – making it alien enough to be captivating.  Dear Diary is definitely something I’ll be sharing with the other ex-teenage girls in my life, and probably the actual teenaged girls as well.