“If an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist”: Star Wars and archives in popular culture

Last night, partially in preparation for next week’s discussion, on March 27th at 8 PM, of the SNAP (Students and New Archives Professionals), a division of the Society of American Archivists (SAA), which will be on “the representation of archives and archivists in popular culture” I watched Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, a film that came out 17 years ago. The  movie itself has the theme of archives throughout at least part of it, as it is a major plot point. I don’t wish to tread on the same ground as Samantha Cross, the archivist whom combined her passion for pop culture and archives together on POP Archives, who wrote an article about how “two movies in the Star Wars franchise have made use of the archive as an important setting within the narrative” and in doing so “highlighted the importance of archives as institutions of memory and accountability while simultaneously showcasing the shortcomings of archives to protect the people they serve.” She also focuses on Rogue One, but I’ll talk about that in a later post on here. With that, I’ll begin my post in earnest, focusing on the interconnection of archival themes with Star Wars Episode II. All images in this article are used under the fair use exception to U.S. copyright law, as  they are used as a means of criticism and education, nothing more.

The first mention of archives in the film is not when Jedi Master Obi-Wan (played by Ewan McGregor) comes to the archives of the Jedi Temple in Coruscant. Rather it is when he talked to his old friend Dex, whom owns a small restaurant, complaining that the analysis droids in the archives were no help in identifying the poison dart fired from a bounty hunter, with Dex telling him it is from the cloners on Kamino:

While the photos above are not their whole conversation, the screencaps I show above are the most relevant parts. In fact, there is a deleted scene from the movie, where, according to Wookiepedia (the premier Star Wars encyclopedia), Obi-Wan has “the Kamino saberdart analyzed in the Analysis Rooms in the Jedi Temple,” which he considers in some sense to be part of the archives!

From there, the movie transitions to the archives of the Jedi Temple, said to contain “possibly the single largest source of information in the galaxy,” a bit like the Library of Congress, having blue-glowing books/records:

Soon enough, Jocasta Nu (played by Alethea McGrath. ), the lone arranger of the Jedi Archives, asks him if he needs any assistance, helping  him try to find the planet of Kamino, which does not appear in the archival star charts. Some of the more memorable parts of their interaction are shown below, with a focus on the archivist’s responses particularly:

And the line that undoubtedly defines the whole interaction not only for the viewer, but for Obi-Wan, in the sense of the movie’s plot:

After not helping him, declaring that the archives is totally immutable, Obi-Wan is literally left to contemplate, like he is in the wrong and she is in the right:

As the Star Wars Databank describes the interaction, the archives were of “disturbingly little help,” containing no record of the “planet Kamino” and that “the caretaker of the records, Madame Jocasta Nu, proclaimed the Archives complete and secure, and instead faulted Kenobi for chasing a phantom planet.” The entry goes onto say that further investigation showed that “the planet did indeed exist” with “sensor data of the surrounding space show[ing]…the gravitational influence of the system, even though the system itself was missing,” proving that “the Archives were tampered with, something that could only have been accomplished by a Jedi.” It is here I am reminded of what the former president of the SAA, Randall Jimmerson, whom said in his 2005 presidential address said about the movie, which is also noted by Cross, that “George Lucas presents a more confident view of archives.” Jimmerson says that the movie highlights how “Archivist Madame Jocasta Nu, a frail elderly woman, provides reference assistance, but Kamino does not appear on the archives’ star charts” and tells Kenobi that “the Archives are comprehensive and totally secure, my young Jedi,” followed by her terse response “One thing you may be absolutely sure of: If an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist.” He adds while it was clear that “the existence of the missing planetary system had been erased, in an act of archival sabotage” that this futuristic vision “shows the limits of archival control” as the “archivist’s pose of omniscience is truly an illusion.” Even so, the fact that “Obi-Wan must physically enter the Jedi Archives in his search shows the power of the archivist,” making clear that “the role of the archivist is crucial and powerful.”

Cross’s comments on this interaction are also worth noting. She writes, rightly, that Obi-Wan suggests that “the record may be incomplete is met with immediate reproach by Jocasta Nu,” a woman of “age and experience” which comes with “a confidence in the institution she serves” and that since we never learn if there “are other archivists serving the Republic, but if we’re to assume Jocasta is the lone archivist, then it makes her complacency and confidence far more worrisome.” She goes to add, later on in her article, that while Madame Nu is “confident in the security afforded the records, there’s a distinct lack of scrutiny and curiosity in Jocasta that’s endemic throughout the Republic,” leading to a number of questions.

I would also like to add that Madame Nu “served as Archives Director for over 30 years,” after being on the Jedi Council for 10 years, with her robes indicating  a “devotion to knowledge and learning” and that while she served as “custodian of the records,” she would also “prepare mission briefs for Jedi taskforces and Knights on assignment.” The same entry on the Star Wars Databank also describes her as “caretaker of this [Jedi] lore” and that while she had an “appearance…of a frail, elderly woman, she possessed a sprightly demeanor and an abrupt temperament,” noting that since Kamino did not “appear in the Archive records, Nu instantly concluded that the planet did not exist.”This showed, argues the entry that since she was so “reliant…on the Jedi Archive’s data, she neglected to consider that perhaps the information could have been tampered with,” indicating that “this was but one example of Jedi complacency getting in the way of their service.” This has a number of implications for archivists, specifically on the fact that the perception of archivists that everything in their collections is all there is, that they have everything, that records could not be tampered with, which is absurd, to say the least.

After his lackluster visit to the archives, Obi-Wan talks with Master Yoda and the younglings he is training, one of whom says that the record of the planet must have been erased. Below are some screencaps from that interaction:

Then Obi-Wan basically declares it is impossible to delete the records but Yoda corrects him, saying that Jedi can delete records, and that this creates a quandary which he will have to mediate on:

Of course, as we all know, Obi-Wan finds the “missing planet” of Kamino and discovers a clone army “built for the Republic”:

Later on, as a group of probably 20 Jedi, along with Padme Amidala (played by Natalie Portman), Obi-Wan, and Anakin Skywalker (played by Hayden Christensen), are hopelessly outnumbered, surrounded by groups of battle droids, Count Dooku (played by Christopher Lee) says that Jedi Master Mace Windu (played by Samuel L. Jackson) has “fought valiantly” and that his conduct will be  recognized in the “archives of the Jedi order”:

Just as they are going to die in the arena, Clones come in, on gunships and save them. The film has one more records-related moment: the passing of the plans for the Death Star from the Geonosians to Count Dooku (the figurehead leader of the separatists, whom is played by Christopher Lee), which connects to later films (like A New Hope and Rogue One). So, its  not really archives-related persay, but it is related to records transfer, which is relevant here:

This whole movie, for me, brings up a number of questions. First of all, as I said on Twitter, “why are Jedi allowed to delete records from the archives? After all, if the archivist Obi-Wan met is a lone arranger, then why would this be allowed? Also, don’t they have records on whom last accessed the archival star charts?” Furthermore, I wonder if they even have backups of the deleted records and if so, couldn’t Madame Nu have looked there. I also still believe, as I noted on Twitter, that this “Hollywoodified archival experience…started out good, but ended badly, painting archives as a bit incompetent” but some of you may see it differently, perhaps.

I’m not that surprised by this, however, as this was a movie where a quarter to half was taken up with the romance between Anakin-the-creeper and Padme, the Senator and leader of the opposition, so this movie isn’t really something to write home about. Films like this do not have very good internal logic and often fall apart when you really examine them, with this film somewhat falling into this category. You could also point out the racism in characters like Jar Jar Binks (like Stepin’ Fetchit) and Nute Gunray (negative characterization of Asian people perhaps), along with a number of others, making it clear this movie undoubtedly has problems to say the least! I understand why more hardcore Star Wars fans would hate this movie with a passion.

There’s also something else I’d like to say about Madame Nu, which Wookiepedia calls either “chief librarian” or “master archivist,” with the entry saying  that she had absolute confidence in her collections, implying it was perhaps too much, and seeming to say she continued her archival practices after the Jedi Purge (beginning with Order 66 in Star Wars Episode III). Apparently, in issue 75 of the Star Wars Insider (likely within “Appearing Knightley (and the Women of Star Wars)” article), it says that “a lot of Nu’s backstory and scenes from Attack of the Clones were cut before filming and during editing, including the revelation that Nu and Count Dooku used to be in love during Dooku’s days in the Jedi Order,” as noted on her Wookiepedia entry. [1] Now, this creates an ulterior motive for her, perhaps, for saying that the archives are complete and that the record was deleted. Is she part of a cover-up of the record in that her previous love with Dooku clouded her judgment and/or that he took advantage of her, allowing him to delete the record? Lots of questions are raised from this fact.

Funny archives notation on Wookiepedia, deriving from what Obi-Wan says in this film

In future articles I’ll focus on portrayal of Nu beyond this film, specifically in the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars series, along with focusing on other portrayals of archivists and librarians in popular culture since movies produced by Hollywood are one of the ways that people’s perceptions of archives are shaped.


Notes

[1] While I’m not going to buy it, apparently Issue 75 of Star Wars Insider is being sold for four to eight dollars on eBay, to go by a very quick search of the topic.

I’m part of a wonderful research cohort this semester

Just thought I’d share the most recent news, that I’m working with the DCIC (Digital Curation and Innovation Center) at UMD to “conduct research using computational tools and archival data to illuminate the history of enslaved people in Maryland,” with two other MLIS students (Chrissy Perry and Ben Shaw), and one sophomore in the iSchool (Ali Bhatti). I’ll also be working, with these wonderful people, Ryan Cox of the Maryland State Archives, faculty sponsor Katrina Fenlon, project manager Noah Dibert, and programmer Greg Jansen “to tell the stories of people represented in the data using mapping and digital storytelling tools; to identify connections between the data and related projects on the history of enslavement; and to develop and explore visualizations to support discovery, use, and interpretation of the Archives.” Read more about it on the DCIC’s website. Also see photographs of me, and other fellow students, at the student showcase last semester in that horrid ugly sweater, lol, with most of the charts on the poster made by yours truly:

The Diamondback and the College Park housing dilemma

As you may or may not know, I was recently quoted in the student newspaper of University of Maryland, The Diamondback, as shown above. I recommend you read Samantha Subin’s interesting article as it shows I am not the only one with concerns about the lack of affordable housing in the College Park area while luxury housing that no one can afford is built instead! Some on Twitter have scowled at the article, calling it “extremely misleading” or acting like they are unpaid boosters for The Varsity/University View, claiming there is magical “affordable housing,” its just that you “have to look.”

As it usually goes in journalism, Ms. Subin only took one of my quotes from what I had sent her through Twitter DMs, but it was still powerful:

Burkely Hermann, a 25-year-old College Park resident, said housing in the area shouldn’t exceed $1,500 a month.“Places like Alloy should stop treating students as literal cash cows,” Hermann said. “They are clearly not full of money, but are heavily in debt.”

As you probably know from reading this blog, I said a LOT MORE than this. As such, this article reprints what I sent her, while protecting my own privacy.

The conversation with Ms. Subin was prefaced by her tweet on February 7th asking “A new apartment complex is opening in College Park this spring. If you live in the area or attend UMD, The Diamondback wants to hear your thoughts! DM me” to which I replied “You mean the really expensive one near U Club? Or is there another one?”

From there, the DM’ing was on. She first asked about my thoughts on the Alloy by Alta apartment complex in Berywn, to which I responded

Sure. I have thoughts about it. My thoughts are that it is too expensive for the students that go to UMD and that there should be more affordable housing. I also think the OCH database should prohibit rental prices above $1500 a month, at minimum, if not lower (maybe as low as $1000). Places like the Alloy should stop treating students as literal cash cows as they are clearly not full of money but are heavily in debt as shown by the ever-expanding student loan debt. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask them.

So, the part of Subin’s article when she took the quote about tweeting students as “literal cash cows” is from the beginning of the conversation, but I didn’t exactly say that “housing in the area shouldn’t exceed $1,500 a month” but rather that $1500 should be the utmost limit for entries on the OCH (Off-Campus Housing) Database, with the lowest limit being $1000. I say that because I remember seeing some apartments on there which were over $2,000 a month. Current searching on the OCH database you find 10 entries charging over $4,000 a month, 24 entries charging $3,000-$3,999 a month, 35 entries charging $2,000-$2,999 a month, and 34 entries charging $1500-1999 a month, if charged per unit.

Subin followed up by asking for one if there were any benefits of Alloy by Alta for the graduate community, clarifying if I was a College Park resident. I responded by telling her that while in theory it “will provide residency for college park residents, in reality it will be too expensive for people to afford” and clarifying I am a resident, while also adding that:

…while casually observing the construction of this apartment for months as walking by it, there is no doubt in my mind that the Spanish-speaking workers building it would not be able to afford living there. As such Alloy by Alta is not only an insult to UMD students but also an insult to the working class that worked on building the structure (and grounds around it) as well.

I would have been nice to have at least part of this in the article, but perhaps it was too far along at that point. I also told Ms. Subin, after she asked how long I lived in the College Park area, that I had lived there since August 2018, since “last fall was first semester as a grad student” and…that was the last I heard from her.

I thought it would just be best to put all this out there, as I don’t mind speaking out on issues like this. While this post is not the same as other posts on here, I think it deserves a space as well.

The Library of Congress, its digital strategy, and crowdsourcing

Screenshot of the homepage of the Library of Congress’s Crowd program

In late October, I asked the Preservation Directorate of the Library of Congress (LOC), about what they decide to digitize and if they have a process similar to NARA (National Archives and Records Administration, called National Archives in the rest of this article), with their own digitization priorities including working with external partners. After thanking me for my interest in the LOC’s preservation work, Jon Sweitzer-Lamme of the Preservation Directorate responded by saying:

The Library’s digital strategy is available here: https://www.loc.gov/digital-strategy. Our prioritization is driven by demand, such as demand for our presidential papers collections like the newly released Theodore Roosevelt Papers (https://www.loc.gov/item/prn-18-132/), and preservation needs, especially if an item can’t be served to researchers anymore due to its condition. We have excellent in-house digitization capabilities and also utilize external contractors and partners to digitize our content.

Generally, that does answer my question, but unfortunately the answer from LOC did not come soon enough for a class assignment I had where I asked reference questions in the same vein of different institutions (AskUsNow!, Maryland State Archives, and UMD Archives). I’ll post that on Academia.edu likely later this month.

This also shows the site is made possible with a partnership via Amazon’s SES [Simple Email Service], a worrying infiltration of public institutions with those from the corporate world. Even so, the Crowd program runs on open source software, so that is a positive.
Most exciting of all is not the digital strategy, but LOC’s new “crowd” program, which is a bit like the citizen archivist initiative of the National Archives which I have participated a bit with in the past. While there are only five campaigns to transcribe, review, or tag information currently, but it is only in its beta stage, so this will likely be expanded in the future, without a doubt. This could become something of linked open data at its finest, not only connecting people with content, but bringing them further into the process to make the usage of records more collaborative for all, going beyond past efforts. In the coming days, I will test out the site and let the rest of you know on this blog what it is like. They even tied in the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address to this program.

With that, this new program fulfills the digital strategy of LOC (without a doubt different than the one in 2000), which states that their mission is to “engage, inspire, and inform the Congress and the American people with a universal and enduring source of knowledge and creativity,” with initiatives such as this one trying to ensure that “all Americans are connected to the Library of Congress.” This is also connected to their strategic plan which has four major goals: expanding access, enhancing services, optimizing resources, and measuring results. As for the digital strategy it also notes the role of digital technology in fulfilling the mission of this institution, while also “throwing open the treasure chest, connecting, and investing in our future.” This strategy is also forward-thinking, stating that:

The Library’s content, programs, and expertise are national treasures…We will make that content available and accessible to more people, work carefully to respect the expectations of the Congress and the rights of creators, and support the use of our content in software-enabled research, art, exploration, and learning The Library will continue to build a universal and enduring source of knowledge and creativity…We will expedite the availability of newly acquired or created content to the web and on-site access systems…We will explore creative solutions to reduce the barriers to material while respecting the rights of creators, the desires of our donors, and our other legal and ethical responsibilities…We will continue to enable computational use of our content and metadata…The Library offers an incredible wealth of content, programs, and services to Congress and the American people. We strive to connect with more users by making those services and content accessible for all…Many of the Library’s digital users come directly to our websites to discover content. To expose even more people to the Library’s content and services, we will bring digital content to users by making more of our material available in other websites and apps that they are already using…We will continue to participate in professional organizations and cooperatives that expand our perspectives and enable us to share our experiences. Additionally, developing partners in industry can allow us to connect the Library with new areas of expertise and resources…We will cultivate an innovation culture by empowering our staff, who have expertise in a wide range of subject areas, including the work of Congress, United States copyright law, American and foreign law, and our collections..Our plans for the future must entail preserving and protecting our collections and content…While we plan for our future, we are also paying close attention to innovations and trends that will present future challenges and opportunities. Newer tools, such as augmented and virtual reality, computer vision, natural language processing, and machine learning, are already transforming how we live and work.

Screenshot of the opening section of LOC’s digital strategy

There aren’t many other articles on this subject [1], from a quick online search, but all of the ones I found are relatively positive, although some are more critical than others. Roll Call, in their article on the subject, described how the digital strategy is “digital forward,” advocated strongly by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden (who heads LOC, and formerly the Pratt Library in Baltimore), and Kate Zwaard, the Director of Digital Strategy. Most interesting in this article was not that Accenture, a huge contractor, won a contract “to build the long-planned new data center” for LOC, or that the plan includes “employing user-centered design to invite digital and physical visitors to explore more offerings” but that the organization has been stuck in the past, trying to shed this past, because it has “a computing system built in the 1970s to static processes for staff.” Having a 21st century computing system is important for LOC, which holds over 167 million items in its collections which sit on “approximately 838 miles of bookshelves,” making it the “largest library in the world.”

FedScoop also wrote about the digital strategy, noting that the “The Library of Congress…is interested in exploring what artificial intelligence and similar technologies can do for its mission,” saying this focus on digital aspects is not “out of the blue” as LOC launched labs.loc.gov, “a home for digital experiments…last year…[and] it…recently began experimenting with geographic information systems mapping as a way to explore collections online.” Both are positive aspects, to say the least.

Finally, there is Cory Doctrow of Boing Boing, which often has short articles with little content other than the document(s) they are quoting from. Regardless, Doctrow describes how the digital strategy supports “data-driven research with giant bulk-downloadable corpuses of materials and metadata…crowdsourc[ing] the acquisition of new materials…[and] preserv[ing] digital assets with the same assiduousness that the Library has shown with its physical collection for centuries,” among other aspects. He interestingly notes how the LOC has an “outsized role” in the current digital era because it contains the Copyright Office, which is “patient zero in the epidemic of terrible internet law that reaches into every corner of our lives.” This clashes with the fact that Carl Hayden, the Librarian of Congress “is the most freedom-friendly, internet-friendly, access-friendly leader in the Library’s history, replacing unfit leaders who were brought down in grotesque corruption scandals” even though her leadership has fallen short, in Doctrow’s view, because “the Copyright Office is still a creature of Big Content, and it has direct oversight over your ability to modify, repair, sell, and use all of your digital property.” Still, he argues that

…this digital strategy is a very bright light, but it shines in a dark and menacing cave. I love the Library — I love its work, its collections, its diligent and thoughtful staff, its magnificent building. But for all that, the Library has become a locus of terrible policy that runs directly counter to its mission. The contradiction between the Library’s mission and its real role in policy has never been more clear than it is in this wonderful document. [2]

That brings me to the end of this article. What are your thoughts on this new digital strategy of LOC and its new Crowd program?


Notes

[1] Through a further search I found a snippet from the report on infodocket, dh+lib blog of the ALA, Digital Journal,

[2] James Tanner of Genealogy’s Star makes a similar point, but says that LOC is not “certainly not the leader in the number and value of their online offerings” since the “the recent history of the Library of Congress is far from promising” with the closure of the Local History and Genealogy Reading Room in 2013, and the “inherent contradiction in the current efforts of the Library of Congress due to the fact that they are also the agency responsible for the controversial access policies inherent in the United States Copyright Law because the Copyright Office is an integral part of the Library.” This means, as Tanner argues,due to “Congressional action, use and access to many valuable research materials have been overwhelmingly restricted” while adding that
“policies and budgetary constraints at both the Library of Congress and the National Archives have severely limited the number and availability of digitized records from both institutions. It would be a huge change if this present plan includes real changes in the number and availability to access items in both institutions collections.” Still, he is optimistic, saying that “it will be interesting to see what will happen, although I do not expect any significant changes during what is left of my lifetime,” although he says that the Internet Archive “may become the largest library in the world considering its growth during the past few months and years assuming they catch up with the National Library of Australia.”

A novel idea: a library on wheels to serve the homeless?

Since the 1980s, the homeless population in the United States has expanded due to Reagan administration policy which deinstitutionalized those deemed mentally ill, coupled with a breakdown of marriages, stagnant wages, spread of illegal drugs in cities, increased poverty, and expensive housing, all putting strain on public services. In the city of Baltimore, the main library, the Enoch Pratt Free Library (herein called the Pratt Library) has a mobile jobs center, book mobile, and other services that help the homeless. However, their policies of no loitering, having offensive body odor, sleeping, lying down or appearance of sleeping on library premises, undoubtedly lead to conflict with those who are homeless, a population which does not have means of other individuals and may have mental illnesses. Homeless people are sometimes restricted by existing library systems, even though libraries are becoming pseudo-homeless shelters since libraries provide necessary services for these unique library patrons. [1] While the exact number of homeless Baltimoreans is not known, possibly numbering in the thousands or tens of thousands, 90% of whom are either Black, White, or Latino, who could be assisted by library services. [2] This blogpost, which was part of a submission which was unceremoniously rejected today by the board of In the Library with the Lead Pipe, focuses on the idea of a library on wheels, without a fixed location, that serves homeless Baltimoreans. It is my hope that this post will either inspire individuals to create an institution like the one posed in the scenario or to improve their public libraries to be more accommodating to the homeless populations in their respective cities.

A library without a physical location has been rarely been realized beyond the efforts of the Quaker Mobile Library in London, Street Books in Portland, Words on Wheels in Texas, Endita Kelley and her Book Bike in Los Angeles, a floating library in Norway, the Bibliomotocarro in Italy, Dashdondog Jamba and his library on a camel’s back, to name a few apart from mobile bookstores like the Book Barge, or bookmobiles of different types, with the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions even creating guidelines for “mobile libraries.” Sharlee Glenn wrote about the latter in her recent nonfiction picture book, Library on Wheels: Mary Lemist Titcomb and America’s First Bookmobile, which focused on Mary Titcomb, a librarian who created the first bookmobile in the U.S. Let us suppose there is an institution called the Baltimorean Homeless Library, or BHL for short, which allows homeless individuals access to information, like usual patrons of library, and use other resources. It would have no physical building, but have bookmobiles, colorfully painted by kids in Baltimore City schools, displaying their name, website, and other contact information, let us suppose. This institution would hand out cards with food, legal assistance, shelter, employment, and welfare information like the Baltimore County Public Library (BCPL) system. It would also, in conjunction, not charge fees for their service like the Pratt Library, would allow homeless individuals to use shelter addresses as their permanent addresses, and some members would give informational talks at Pratt Library branches, universities, and at other public institutions. With such resources at their fingertips, homeless patrons would be able to effectively participate in the U.S. society, including creating their own books, which would be added to the collection of such an institution. This library on wheels would, furthermore, go to where homeless people are living, whether in Baltimore’s varied shelters, tent cities, or wherever, having social workers, job counselors, and licensed practitioners on staff to serve their needs, including helping the homeless get more permanent places to stay, be that a home or a rented space. In order to accomplish this objective it would work with the Behavioral Health System of Baltimore, the BCPL system, Housing Our Neighbors, Homeless People’s Action Network, Youth Empowered Society (YES), St. Vincent De Paul of Baltimore, Archdiocese of Baltimore, Baltimore Outreach Services, Health Care for the Homeless, the Baltimore Station, United Way of Central Maryland, the Interagency Council on Homelessness in Maryland, The Journey Home, and the Baltimore City Government, including the Mayor’s Office of Human Services and the Baltimore City Health Department.

What has been outlined so far is only part of this scenario, as what would be needed is a collection development policy for the institution itself, which would serve as a way of developing the collection of such an institution. This policy, let us say, would be modeled after Goddard College’s collection development policy for the Eliot D. Pratt Library, and would be periodically reviewed and revised every two years, with input from all staff members, in order to make sure it is in tune with current trends and developments. Furthermore, this policy would support information needs of the homeless Baltimoreans by working with advocacy groups and governmental institutions, and making sure that selected materials led to social growth and information enrichment. Since such an institution would not have the resources of the Pratt Library, printed books, newspapers, and other publications would be the mainstay of its collections, but would have a few e-readers. Additionally, in order to encompass the whole swath of the homeless population, most of the materials of such an institution would be in English, but some would be in Spanish, and others would be specifically for those who visually impaired. In addition to these aspects, materials would be selected by the staff of such an institution, allowing recommendations from the served population, and weeding out any materials deemed unnecessary, ensuring that selected resources have high quality in their factual, artistic, or literary style. At the same time, the collections of this institution, let us say, would have a wide diversity of expressions and views, including the religious texts of all the world’s religions, some of which may be controversial to either users or staff, even when not every idea or representation within the collection is endorsed, and any items published by hate groups listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) not be stocked as part of our collection or any other content deemed hateful after consulting with advocates, and other institutions. Any materials that would be damaged by bugs, by mold, or smell smoky would not be brought into the collections of such an institution, and any challenges to materials would undergo a specific procedure.

Without getting into the specifics of this institution too much, it is worth noting what its organizational structure, based on the organizational structure of the Pratt Library let us say, would look like. It include a chief coordinator, individuals concerned with public relations and institutional enrichment, and four departments: administration, patron services, collection development, and external relations to serve its homeless patrons. Let us also suppose that this institution is a public non-profit since its startup money came from a Mighty Cause crowdfunding campaign, with those who give money to an ongoing campaign getting perks for their investment in this effort, including hats, t-shirts, and tote bags. Let us also say that this institution would follow all applicable SEC (Security and Exchange Commission) regulations and federal laws, including the JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) Act, which specifically mentions crowdfunding. In the case of this scenario let is suppose that in 2017, $100,000 would be raised from crowdfunding, and $50,000 in projected 2018 costs. Once the transaction fees from crowdfunding, rewards to crowdfunders, crowdfunding plan, and all elements of library operations were considered, the general fund would only be $67,812 in 2017 and $26,124 in projected 2018 costs.

With this scenario roughly outlined, I hope it has given another perspective to this topic which was not deemed “academic” enough for those In the Library with the Lead Pipe. I had hoped to publish there, but that isn’t going to happen, unfortunately.

P.S. The original article I wrote and sent to them in early October, minus the unnecessary beginning section, which I have uploaded to academia.edu for your consideration. They claimed this wasn’t academic enough, saying I hadn’t dug into the “literature on the homeless/diverse users and libraries” and that it “reads like a paper for a lib school class,” adding that at the time it was “not a journal article in its current form, even though it may be an interesting way of approaching the issue…I would suggest that the author rework the material and ideas, do deeper scholarly research on the topic.” I did rework it, and they STILL rejected it, which annoyed me.


Notes

[1] For varied perspectives on this topic, please see the Annoyed Librarian in 2015, “Libraries Don’t Need the Homeless,” a webpage about the Kansas City Public Library’s efforts, the I Love Libraries website, and a librarian writing about the homeless, along with articles in AP, Book Riot, Capital News Service, Delaware State News, Detroit Free Press, Fox2, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Reuters, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Salon, Sioux City Journal, South Seattle Emerald, The Guardian(second article here), and Washington Post (second article here, third article here).

[2] For more information, please see Colin Campbell’s Baltimore Sun articles in 2013 (“As Winter Approaches, Baltimore Struggles to Deal with How to House Homeless”) and 2016 (“Youth Homelessness in Baltimore Higher than Previously Thought”), Linda Loubert’s “Mapping Urban Inequalities and Analyzing Homelessness with GIS” in 2010 and a 2016 article in Afro titled “Baltimore’s Homeless Population Continues to Grow.”))

[3] For more on this topic, specifically on crowdfunding, please see “9 Things You Need to Consider for Your Crowdfunding Budget”; “7 Crowdfunding Tips Proven To Raise Funding”;  “Top 10 crowdfunding sites for fundraising”; “Top 20 crowdfunding platforms”; “The Real Cost of a Crowdfunding Campaign (And How to Budget Correctly)”; “6 Step Low Budget Guide to Getting Crowdfunding Backers”; “How Much Does Crowdfunding Really Cost?”; “Benefits and Drawbacks of Crowdfunding”; “How to Set Up A Crowdfunding Campaign”; “How to Choose a Crowdfunder”; “What Is Crowdfunding?”; “Crowdfunding 101: Writing a Budget”; “Crowdfunding Campaigns Come With a Growing Price Tag”; “What is Crowdfunding and how does it benefit the economy”; “The Basics of Crowdfunding”; “How to Set a Budget for Your Crowdfunding Campaign”; “What is crowdfunding?,” along with the small entity compliance guide of the SEC, appropriate SEC regulations as noted here and here, a SEC press release on crowdfunding rules, and specific parts of the Code of Federal Regulations which mention crowdfunding.

UMD, the tornado warning, and the privatization of weather prediction

Front of the Diamondback in 2001. Courtesy of the UMD Archives.

On September 17th, sirens rang across the UMD College Park campus, with the issuing of a tornado warning by University of Maryland Police Department (UMPD) through an email alert and some students, like myself, being herded to the bottom of buildings like the Hornbake Library, as a result. As it would turn out, this warning was issued based on information from a private weather company, Accuweather. This led to stories in the Baltimore Sun, ABC 7, and Patch, coupled with comments from the UMD community, varied meteorologists and reporters. The rationale behind the UMPD issuing this tornado warning is understandable. In 2001, there was a tornado on campus which killed two female students, and seven years ago there was a similar case to what is happening now. While recognizing this history,  one question which arises: should UMD be relying on a private company to issue weather alerts?

While it is good to rely on multiple sources of information it is a step too far to choose a private source over a public source. As the UMPD stated in a press release on September 17th, “in the interest of public safety, the University of Maryland Police Department contracts with AccuWeather to receive real-time information on storm paths approaching the footprint of our campus community,” which sounds like UMD is outsourcing its weather warnings to a private company. Some may say that such a state of affairs is fine because Accuweather may have better information. While meteorology is not a perfect science, Accuweather is concerned about its bottom line and its shareholders, while public institutions like NWS are accountable and answerable to the public, but an institution like Accuweather is not in the slightest.

The company has engaged in despicable practices in the past. This includes putting out a false tsunami warning earlier this year, then blaming the NWS for “giving them” the information, and slamming the NWS three years before that for not covering a tornado which hit Moore, Oklahoma, even though they didn’t cover the tornado either! They also continue to employ predictive analysis, which includes long-day predictions of 45-90 days which are broadly inaccurate. The company also has violated people’s privacy, by their mobile app storing and sharing a user’s location even when they opted out, something that the company claims it has fixed after such privacy concerns.

There is a more nefarious element to Accuweather and other private weather companies: they are part of an effort to privatize weather prediction in the United States. In 2005, then-Representative Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania, proposed a bill which would have prohibited “federal meteorologists from competing with companies…which offer their own forecasts through paid services and free ad-supported Web sites.” While this effective privatization of weather prediction failed, the bill’s goal is something that private weather companies want.

Accuweather’s CEO, Barry Myers, brother of company’s founder (Joel), is a problematic figure. Putting aside that he is a lawyer by trade, he (and the company itself) said that Hurricane Florence wasn’t that bad, despite the fact that 44 people have died, along with the death of 3.4 million poultry and over 5,000 hogs in North Carolina alone. Myers is a big political contributor, not only to Republicans, like Mitt Romney, but to Democrats like Hillary Clinton.

In October 2017, the current U.S. president nominated Myers to head NOAA, at a time that his administration proposed “cutting the NOAA budget by 17 percent. Currently, Myers’ nomination is pending before the U.S. Senate, meaning that privatization of weather prediction will be up for a vote in this legislative body.

As a first step, the campus community and other concerned citizens should push UMPD to cancel their contract with Accuweather to receive “real-time information on storm paths” and push it to use information from public institutions like NWS to issue weather warnings or gain information on the paths of storms. The flagship educational institution of Maryland should be doing all it can to keep the campus community safe, using information from public institutions, rather than private ones.

This was originally slated to be published in the Diamondback but they never responded to me, and then I sent it to the Baltimore Sun on October 3rd as an op-ed with Tricia Bishop, the Deputy Editorial Page Editor, telling me “Thank you for the submission, but we’re going to respectfully decline to run it.” As such, it has been published here. Due to those denials, it likely will not reach the audience I originally intended, but I’m not completely sure what to do about that. I delayed the publishing of this article in hopes that my letter to the editor is published.

Baltimore region needs transit not transit phobia

Southbound train at Lutherville station, August 2014, courtesy of Wikimedia

Note: Below is a recent letter I wrote, which was published in the Baltimore Sun, online and in print. The bolded phrase, which is bracketed in the text below, is one I should have added before sending in the piece, but did not realize the error until after the letter was published. Oops. Some phrasing and such was changed when it was finally published, as I originally called Sandra German, Mrs. German due to her marriage noted in the letter, but the Sun changed this to Ms. Since this was published it has been shared on Facebook and by those in the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, some of whom I have been communicating with. In sum, Baltimore is my city, so I can’t just stay silent and I refuse to stay silent.

Recently, Greater Fern-Glen Community Association President Sandra German wrote a screed against the light rail (“Why Glen Burnie is opposed to light rail,” Aug. 2). As a user of the light rail and buses in the Baltimore area, Ms. German’s commentary deeply concerns me. The public transit system in the Baltimore area shouldn’t be cut back further, but rather should be expanded.

In 1965, as a recent article by D.W. Rowlands on the web site Greater Greater Washington noted (“Baltimore once had an elevated streetcar along Guilford Avenue,” July 31), Baltimore received money from the federal government to study a regional rapid transit system. Three years later, the city released a report proposing a “71-mile system with six branches radiating from downtown.” If the system had been built, Baltimore’s subway system would be comparable to the Washington, D.C. Metro. In 1971, rather than approving a complete transit system, a 28-mile initial plan was proposed, consisting of two lines which would later become the Baltimore Metro subway route (opened in 1983) and light rail line (opened in 1992). Sadly, the southern branch of the subway was cut due to opposition from Anne Arundel County residents. In this sense, the commentary by Ms. German is in keeping with historical mores!

As for what Ms. German had to say, it is not fair to paint the light rail’s users as a bunch of criminals. The majority of those who use the service are well-natured individuals going to and from their jobs, those going to sports games, tourists, or those going to the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, to name a few reasons. The point of a mass transit system is that everyone can use it, including some who are seen, rightly or wrongly, as unsavory types. [1]

The same applies to the bus system. Recently, Baltimore County Council members David Marks and Cathy Bevins have said that the bus service stop at The Avenue in White Marsh should be closed at 11 p.m. because of “large crowds of youth in the evening on the weekends,” claiming the youth are disruptive, uncontrollable and harming their own safety, after a recent fight at the White Marsh Mall (“Baltimore County council members urge MTA to reduce bus service to White Marsh Mall area after fight,” Aug. 8). For those who use such mass transit, especially those who are transit-dependent, it is not right to stigmatize them because doing so makes it clear there is a “race issue” at play rather than a concern about public safety, despite what Ms. Bevins told The Sun.

Eliminating the Glen Burnie stop of the light rail [2] would be another blow at the inadequate public transit system of Baltimore. Apart from having a better-run light rail or a Red Line in Baltimore, which is advocated by many, including the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, there needs to be a full-throated mass transit system for Baltimore. Already, the SmarTrip Card is part of the WMATA system, so why not have a physical connection [other than the MARC train*] between Baltimore and D.C. by rail? Additionally, Annapolis should be connected to Baltimore, possibly by extending the light rail beyond Glen Burnie, in order to further tie the state together. Having a complete and working mass transit system for the Baltimore area, rather than one outranked by those of Miami, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Atlanta, San Francisco, D.C., Chicago, Boston, and New York, is vital.

It is time that Baltimore live up to its motto still inscribed on many city benches (“The Greatest City in America”) by creating a world-class transit system, building upon the existing and inadequate transit system to make something that will benefit the people of the Baltimore area.

Burkely Hermann, Towson


Notes

[1] On ipetition is a petition (strongly pushed) to close the Cromwell and Ferndale Light Rail Stations started by none other than Ms. German. Currently 395 people have signed it. Some even say the Linthicum station should be closed too! Hilarously are the comments on the community association’s Facebook page that it is “horribly unprofessional and clearly not in support of any type of “community”…this person clearly has no idea what they’re talking about. Whoever is representing this association is the kind of person who ruins communities, not builds them up for the good of the people living there” and another saying “Horrible site run by a nasty racist woman. Not accurate about the area at all.” There are some positive comments of course, but many negative ones. The organization, with the page run by Ms. German herself as it seems from some of the comments, takes a clear anti-immigrant stand, saying that “I think it’s time to secure the boarders, build the wall, and make sure these kids are given back to their parents” and talking about the “illegals” (undocumented immigrants). They also oppose affordable housing, watches for what they see as crime (like this post), and praised those in the Sun who did not call her racist, reprinting her screed, which was also published in the Gazette in a shorter version. She is clearly preparing for some sort of fight, possibly even in court, apparently, angry at efforts to keep the light rail open, even threatening the Baltimore Sun with newspaper cancellations if her letter was published. She thanked the Maryland Gazette for covering a protest of the association opposing the light rail, which she claims is “unaccountable.” I have a strong sense she supports the current U.S. president.

[2] Its officially called the “Glen Burnie (Cromwell)” stop of the Light Rail, or Cromwell Station. It is in Glen Burnie, despite one of the comments which said it isn’t…