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Sunday
Aug062017

BFTP: The neglected side of intellectual freedom

Intellectual freedom is the right to freedom of thought and of expression of thought. As defined by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is a human right. Article 19 states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

The modern concept of intellectual freedom developed out of an opposition to book censorship.  Wikipedia

Intellectual freedom includes having the right to create and disseminate information and opinions as well as having the right to access the intellectual products of others. Given the difficulty and exclusivity of publishing in print (primarily books, newspapers, and magazines) prior to online publishing, the expression side of the intellectual freedom coin has been largely ignored by school librarians and teachers. 

But given the increased importance of social networking, the availability of Web 2.0 tools, the realization that knowledge creation is a valuable skill, and the growing recognition of creativity as a primary means of securing a place in the contempory workforce. all educators should be advocating for students' rights to be read, heard, and viewed.

The library profession is only slowly acknowledging that our battle over student rights to access to digital information sources is as, or more, important that our battle over student rights to access print resources. (AASL has a Banned Websites Awareness Day vs. ALA's Banned Books Week.) But already the battle ground is shifiting once again.

Many of the websites schools are blocking are those that allow students to share information. Much of the fear associated with today's Internet is less about what students will find on it and more about what students will post to it. To some degree these concerns are justified - contact with dangerous strangers, cyberbullying, and online repution damage are all negative consequences of the ignorant or malicious use of Web 2.0 and social netwoking tools. Digitial citizenship training needs to address these safety issues, of course.

But there is also a real "danger" in probibiting students from accessing the tools needed to build and share digital portfolios of original work, of participating in collaborative online learning experiences, communicating with global experts and fellow students, and using Web2.0 tools to do primary data collection as a part of research projects. The modern learner needs to share his or her ideas, receive feedback about them,participate in discussions surrounding school topics, and use online tools for collaboration. Too many students find schools blocking or limiting the tools that make publication and communication possible.

Librarians, are we ready to fight for students' rights not just to access, but to produce? Get ready - this will be the real intellectual freedom battle for our kids this decade.

Image from zazzle.com 

Friday
Aug042017

10 photos from the Czech Republic bike trip

Blue Skunk readers know that this blog is both professional and personal, and the personal part includes short documentaries of my travels. I post these primarily to help me remember where I've been and what I've done. So if you are looking for stuff about libraries, technology, or education, jump to the next link on your "to-read" list...

In late July, a friend and I flew to the Czech Republic to do a week-long "boat and bike" trip that started in Prague and traveled north for 5 days along the Vtlava (Moldau) and Elbe Rivers. The boat served nicely as our hotel, restaurant, tour organizer, and bike provisioner. Here are a few shots ...

We had one and a half days in Prague before the boat sailed and the bikes rolled and three days there again when we got back. Using Rick Steve's guide to the city, we managed to work in the highlights (Old Town, Wenceslaus Square, Prague Castle, etc.) This ancient city received relatively little damage during WWII so the Soviets had little space in which to construct the ugly monstrosities you see in many Eastern European cities. Prague is truly a beautiful and fascinating place and easily walkable (if you don't mind hills). Oh, and I've never seen more statues in a city - every building, lamppost and bridge is covered with them! From Cubism to Baroque to Gothic to Renaissance, the city is an architecture lover's dream.

The purpose of this trip was to experience the Czech Republic (a new country for me) by bike. The floating hotel MS Florintina, shown here in the background, traveled to each day's biking destination where we would eat, sleep, and relax. Bikes were lifted aboard each evening and lowered each morning. These touring bikes, rented for a modest cost from the tour company, were simple 7 speeds that worked well and came with panniers and a handle bar bag.

The cabins were small but clean and comfortable, bathrooms ensuite. Lounge areas and an upper deck were comfortable for reading, game playing, visiting, or just watching the scenery roll by. Food was good although lacking in veggies to my taste. Breakfast was buffet style from which one could also make a sandwich to eat at lunch if out biking (along with daily provision of a water bottle and candy bar!)

Bike routes were prepared for us and the guides included both maps and written turn-by-turn instructions. The route was also described each evening at a meeting just before supper. It was great fun figuring out the day's sometimes tricky paths. Each day's ride was relatively short - 18-24 miles - which allowed plenty of time for touring castles and towns along the way. I doubt most bikers averaged 10mph.

The villages of Kralupy, Litomerice, and Melnik were highlights. Castles, cathedrals (one with ossuary), charming squares, and old cobblestone streets and alleys were parts of each visit. Each town had its own legends and histories, of course, and an optional guided tour was available for many sights.

As with much of Eastern Europe, the dark sides of history were evident, especially in places like Terezin where the entire town was used a Nazi holding area for Jews before being sent to extermination camps further east.  Our hotel in Prague after the bike trip was the Unitas - now a lovely place but the site of brutal torture by the Soviet secret police we were told. But even after years of both Nazi occupation and Soviet control and depravations of both goods and freedoms, the country has rebounded.

No bike ride is complete without some challenging hills and each bike route usually had at least a couple good ones. Castles perched high above the river created astounding views, including the one of our ship above, heading through locks to the evening's port. A few trails were muddy and some rain did fall during the week, but very little while actually biking.

75% or better of the bike rides were on well-maintained, well-marked bike trails (mostly paved) that followed the river banks. Another 25% were lightly traveled streets and roads. The well-marked bike trail system in the CR is extensive and there were a lot of both tourists and residents taking advantage on bikes, scooters, skateboards, roller blades, and on foot.

One would think that when biking or hiking everyday, one would lose a little weight on a vacation like this. Thanks to trdlos (pictured above and tasting much better than they sound) and lots of meats, sauces, breads, and pastries - oh, and the ubiquitous beer - I managed to put on a couple pounds. 

Given the number of damn tourists in Prague, I'm happy much of my vacation was spent in the countryside. Prague Castle and the streets of Old Town were especially crowded. Supposedly Prague has the reputation as a very "safe" city, contributing to its popularity with international visitors.

Even Mona Lisa was not immune to the charm of Czech "pivo." One evening I ordered my usual glass of red wine with my supper and the waiter seemed a little put out. Turns out I was in a micro-brewery's restaurant and I committed the gustatory faux pas of saying a Hail Mary in a Baptist church by ordering wine.

For those counting - a bonus photo...

The "Love Tester" chair sits in the lobby of Prague's Sex Machine Museum. Check your own score when you visit.

Great trip that combined exercise, culture, history, relaxation, and lots of good eating and drinking. I recommend it highly.

Thursday
Aug032017

When I say "I love books" I mean...

One of the true joys of a vacation is filling some of the time one would have spent working reading for pleasure. On my biking trip last week to the Czech Republic, I managed to read four novels including those by some of my favorite authors - Daniel Silva, Micheal Connelly, John D. McDonald, and Lee Child. (For my qualities of a great recreational read see Top 10 Manly Contemporary Authors and Homage to Travis McGee.) One my travel rules* for myself and my family has always been "Have a book to read" since travel often consists of a lot of waiting.

For nearly 10 years, I have done most of my reading, especially vacation reading, on a Kindle. (I got my first Kindle June 24, 2008.) An ebook reader means you are in no danger whatsoever of running out of something to read. It is light but tough enough for a backpack or bike bag. Reading is not dependent on an external light source. The battery has a week-long or better lifespan. And when I can't find my reading glasses, I can always enlarge the font size. And I can brag that I carried over a dozen books to the summit of Kilimanjaro.

The print edition of Slovenly Peter my grandmother read to my siblings and me that still bears the crayon imprint of my little brother - along side its replacement?

Ebooks, online reading, and digital resources are not without their detractors. Libraries are still struggling to find a good way to provide ebooks to their patrons. Readers' ability to understand and retain what they have read when reading on the screen is debated by educators. Equity issues seem more pronounced with ebooks.

Yet I wonder still how much sentimentality is still at the root of the dislike of ebooks? I hope we remember...

While I am as sentimental as the next person about the associative memories particular books evoke, I like to believe it is really the excitement of the story, the perspective of the author, or the lyricism of the language to which I am reacting. I don’t remember the color of many book spines as a child. Future of Books, 1995

The future of reading, if reading has a future, I am convinced will be digital. And we as educators should be helping our students read digitally whether we ourselves prefer to or not.

* The other two rules are "Never bring more than you can carry" and "Never eat what you can't translate."