Tuesday, March 17, 2009

New Orleans musing on June 29, 2006

Listen to the NPR report on this adventure @ http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5521911

New Orleans is a city of paradoxes, many of which have been obfuscated by the patina and vitality of the French Quarter, Uptown Convention Center and the business district. This became very evident as I volunteered with a Christian relief agency in the Ninth Ward while attending the ALA Conference in June 2006. Leaving our comfortable hotel rooms, our bus load of eager, enthusiastic library workers was driven to our assignments in a large air–conditioned bus through devastated areas filled with small residential and commercial buildings, densely clustered on narrow streets. The scene was reminiscent of the desperation seen in the Great Depression photos of Ben Shahn and Walker Evans.
All eyes were upon us as we disembarked at a small school attached to a Catholic church. The school entrance was filled with young volunteers resting on lawn furniture from their early morning labors; others were filling sprayers with a mix of water and chemicals for the task of killing the mold growing in homes designated as salvageable. Our fresh, well-scrubbed appearance and clean clothing contrasted dramatically with those already at work, many of whom had not showered or had a change of clean clothes for several days or longer.
I opted to help the volunteers by repairing their toilet facilities, which were totally inoperable. I did a bit of auguring, replaced several drain traps, faucets and valves and got the place working as best I could with very low water pressure. When I was finished I decided, on the spur of the moment, to walk the six, very hot miles back to my hotel. I had not eaten anything nor drunk any water all day because the environment and the job I had undertaken were so odious that the thought eating and drinking was repugnant.
At any rate, I ventured forth and soon realized that I was the only pedestrian on those storm-ravaged streets, and a very noticeable one at that, with my bright yellow “Librarians Build Communities” T-shirt announcing not only my tourist status but my vocation as well. As I walked, I eventually came upon several people with whom I interacted. The first asked if I was interested in specific services, which I declined. The second wanted to know if I was a part of the librarians’ convention and was glad to find out that I was.
I began to have second thoughts about my journey, but realizing that I was well beyond the point of no return, I asked a woman on a bike for the best route back to Canal Street. She was very helpful and instructed me on the safest way to go. Not long after, a car came screaming up to me, easily identified as a mark in my yellow shirt, and the driver begged me for four dollars to buy gas. I gave her the money; she blessed me and sped off. I continued onward--hot, tired, thirsty, desperate for a shower and eager to discard my irreparably filthy clothes. Late in the afternoon, I approached the first pedestrian I had seen in nearly an hour. I greeted him with a “Hi” but he looked away and accelerated by with a disdain I could smell. Finally, I recognized a few landmarks and found my way back to my hotel, transformed by my surrealistic experience.
I suppose we all have a propensity to either exaggerate or minimize new experiences in order to fit those moments into what we’ve known before. I was and remain stunned by the socioeconomic and physical mayhem rendered by Katrina; the disastrous results of that cataclysmic event are far beyond the range of my previous experience. The desolation and forlornness I experienced persists. The old New Orleans is gone and all that remains is the memory of what once was.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Winding Trails Home School Group

Left to right: Jason Myers, Sean Perreault,Joseph Henares, Cameron Pitre,Mackenzie Martinez,Michael Martinez are working here to compete at he Odyssey of the Mind Competition.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Farmington Libraries FY 2008-2009

Farmington Libraries FY 2008-2009
Budget Remarks
Farmington Town Council
March 10, 2009
by Jay Johnston, Executive Director

As we are reminded daily, these are difficult times. Surely there are no easy solutions to the problems presented by this complex economic downturn. All of us must be responsible for taking measures to operate efficiently and effectively in this distressed economy. To that end, I am here to tell you that your libraries are taking actions to help our citizens cope with the economic downturn and, with your help, we will continue to do so.

How do the libraries help? We provide essential services such as high speed internet access, high quality printing, and books on specialized topics like refresher skills on computer assisted drawing, CAD, for job interviews and vocational and testing guides. We have books and DVDs on colleges, SAT testing, medicine, and nutrition. The libraries offer FAX services, free notary, and national newspapers. In addition, the library is a place where more people now come for the day with their children, and where people looking for work spend long periods of time studying, searching for prospects, and preparing for job interviews. Other people just love the library as a place to be and use it regularly.

We are planning a new online service, “JobNow,” to provide resume review, interview practice, and cover letter assistance to job seekers. The libraries provide social networking opportunities for those who have lost their jobs, and they are a place to network with employers and others to develop new models in small groups.

As a result of these initiatives, our overall service delivery increased almost three times the town’s population in the six month period between July 1 and December 31, 2008. In order to respond to the economy, we focused on increasing the social, economic, and educational opportunities which the libraries can provide to our residents. We developed new programs by identifying current changes in technology, now incorporated into programs like using departmental blogs to communicate programming and events. Library staff teach software application classes through Computer-U, our newest service, and the library has a Job Center developed through a partnership with the Chamber of Commerce. These programs have increased participation and added value to all of our service areas, as revealed in the statistics from July 1 to December 31, 2008. Lending is up 10% or 22,436 items; visits are up 13% or 16,297 more visitors; program attendance is up 5%, or 722 attendees; information requests are up 39% or 8,649 transactions; and computer use is up 26% or 3,665 sessions.

Farmington Libraries function as a community gathering place and learning center for pre-school children, adults, business people, professionals, teens, and all our residents. The libraries support the entire community in very personal, individual and special ways. They are the social and learning hub of the community and now face extraordinary challenges in meeting the new and expanding needs of our citizens brought on by the economy. We are committed to outstanding service to our citizen customers and look forward to being a part of the solution in these troubled times.