Remember Jerry Blue

Jerry Blue didn’t fit the mold. He was African American, he was huge, he thought that libraries were about ideas and learning and opening doors for people of whatever age or color or mindset. His stories will live in the minds of countless children who listened with rapt attention as he shared the wisdom of the stories.

In recent times he was my neighborhood librarian. We talked at length of his plans to work with the community, to carry the message to those on the fringe – to seniors, kids, immigrant people, those who think they don’t deserve to know. He was a passionate believer in the role of the public library as an active player in the community.

Jerry’s friends and especially patrons of St. Anthony, Sumner and St. Anthony are mourning his sudden death last week.

Jerry Blue was a good man who made a difference in this world and in his community. Though he will be missed, his spirit is with us.

 

Some non-partisan notes on 2014 votes

Have you ever found yourself alone and clueless in the voting booth, suddenly aware that there are whole columns of unknown candidates vying for positions you never knew existed? There’s an app for that!

My Ballot is now up and running for the November 4th election. The site provides the voter with a sample ballot complete with links to popular sites that provide information about each candidate. It covers any election in the state of Minnesota.

Find My Ballot at www.myballot.info – Enter your zip code and you’ll find the exact replica of the ballot you’ll face in the voting booth – with a digital crib sheet. You can’t vote online, but you can prepare yourself to make the best decisions when your turn comes.

Still, for some Minnesotans, getting to the polls this season will present a mighty challenge. The October 10 issue of Access Press, now on the newsstands, shines light on a harsh reality — voters with disabilities can’t depend on a lift to the polls this year. Since 2008 the Rides to the Polls Coalition, made up of several disability service providers and organized through Courage Kenny, has been funded by the Frey Foundation to provide rides to persons with disabilities. Those funds are no more, and no other provider has been able to continue the service.

The Secretary of State’s office encourages voters who need transportation to the polling place to contact family, friends or neighbors. It would seem appropriate to reverse the message to encourage mobile Minnesotans to consider family members, friends and neighbors who might need a ride.

Though Metro Transit in the Twin Cities must offer regular fixed-route transit service free of charge on Election Days the rule does not apply in non-urban areas. In some communities political parties provide rides.  In any event, this patchwork approach falls far short of the need, particularly since people with disabilities have long depended on the Rides to the Polls Coalition.

One option is for voters with disabilities to vote absentee by mail or by going to an elections office prior to Election Day. This means people need to know the rules of absentee voting in advance. For the rules on absentee voting and everything else you ever wanted to know about Minnesota election law and were afraid to ask, check Ballotpedia where the Secretary of State posts all the rules: http://ballotpedia.org/Minnesota_elections,_2014#Voting_absentee

 

 

 

Girls Explore Creative Coding at Katie DoJo

Since my return from the Code for America 2014 Summit I have replayed – virtually and literally – the images of the presenters. [One image keeps recurring – the image of creative young women working with users to craft techie tools that solve real-life human needs. For so many of these young women the story was not so much about the tool but about the ways in which the app improved someone’s life. That implicit purpose seemed uniquely explicit in the presentations of dozens of young female coders.

To wit: In Detroit one young woman delved into the water shut-off mess and created an app that group sourced rapid recovery assistance from around the world. A young woman from Chicago developed an app that eased the way for young felons to expunge their criminal record, freeing them to get a job, to find an apartment, to vote. In Somerville, Massachusetts it was a team of young women who created an ethnic festival that engaged all of that diverse community. [ The videos of these and all of the scores of coder presentations are posted online for easy viewing.]

So it’s not surprising that Katie CoderDojo, in spite of the inscrutable title, caught my eye during a recent visit to the campus of St. Catherine University..

The idea behind Katie CoderDojo is that girls and young women ages 8-16 will spread their creative coding wings in a special supportive environment.

Katie CoderDojo is a joint project of the National Center for STEM Elementary Education and the Master of Library and Information Science programs at St. Catherine’s. The CSU project is a partner program of Code Savvy, a Minnesota nonprofit.

The next Katie CoderDojo is set for Sunday, October 19, 2:00-4:00 p.m. Room 19 in the Coeur de Catherine building on the CSU Campus, 2004 Randolph at Cleveland in St. Paul. Future sessions are set for November 16 and December 14. These first sessions will include introductions to Scratch and Appinventor. There is no free for participants. For girls under 13 parents are asked to remain on site.

For more information or to register click here: http://www.codesavvy.org/p/katie-coderdojo.html

 

 

It’s National Newspaper Week — Read On!

Half of the American people never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President  One hopes it is the same half. Gore Vidal

 If you’re a tweeter, texter, app-addicted news junkie you may be blissfully unaware that this very week, October 5-11, 2014, is the 74th Annual National Newspaper Week.   Moreover Tuesday, October 7, is the first ever National News Engagement Day.

 Clearly the two commemorations relate and promote a common message. Still, they differ in focus. National Newspaper Week celebrates the nation’s democratic tradition of a free press that doesn’t just report the news but that holds both the nation’s leaders and the newspaper’s readers accountable for a robust democracy. The day of engagement, sponsored by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, focuses on promoting Americans’ engagement with the news as a national priority.

So where do newspapers fit in and why do we need a week, or even a day, to stem the rising tide of disengagement.   Robert Williams, President of the National Newspaper Association, observes that “newspapers sound the alarm with swift, accurate and thorough coverage when sensitive issues arise. We provide not just facts but clearly labeled editorials to help everyone weigh matters with sufficient information. We pay attention. We laugh. We cry. We hurt. We rejoice. We care. We share the pain and shed tears along with our readers. That is what well-run newspapers do.”

To be sure legacy newspapers – the ones that used to roll off the presses – are in distress.   Competition from formats that require less cost to produce and less time to “consume”, coupled with dramatic loss of advertising income have led to massive layoffs of investigative reporters, shifts in ownership, and plummeting reader confidence. The most recent Pew Research Center biennial news consumption survey identified 29% of young adults as “newsless”…..which ironically does rhyme with “clueless”.

What’s more, a recent Gallup poll reveals that Americans’ confidence in news media is at a record low. Far more troubling is a study conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. More troubling by far, the same study found that more than one-third of Americans are opposed to freedom of the press when it comes to stories concerning national security.

One appropriate way to observe Newspaper Week is to reflect on the role and tradition of this nation’s free press. What immediately comes to mind is the diversity. Just as the communities they reflect and inform are unique, each newspaper has its own special character, each news person reflects his or her own take on the task.

Consider the unique role of rural press: A recent study of rural Oklahomans 42.2% of respondents turned to their local newspaper as their primary source of information. Researchers concluded that “even in this age of endless Facebook feeds and dizzying arrays of other social media options, the good ol’ newspaper still has a beloved place in many rural residents’ hearts.”   One might suggest that the newspaper retains a beloved place in rural residents’ minds, as well — recent political decisions by Minnesota’s rural voters were no doubt influenced by the editorial positions of this state’s strong rural press.

Community presses also play a unique role as community builders, helping to define a community and carve out a market in mobile world in which geography is not the determinant of community. Keith Anderson, director of news at ECM Publishers in Coon Rapids, MN, looks at community newspapers with a his own lens: “Community journalism isn’t about paper and ink or websites and unique visitors….Community journalism is a living, breathing, shared connection of people that propels us to take chances, to realize that life is not always safe, clean and tidy, but that, through our connection, there is plenty to celebrate and adventures to explore.”

In the digital age we tend to forget the person who hatched the idea, ferreted out the facts, selected the words to tell the story – and fit the available column space. American Newspaper Association President Williams gives pause for thought when he observes that “newspapering is a job in the same sense that being a father or mother is a ‘job.’ Parents are responsible for the well-being of their family. Good newspapers take on that role with the communities we serve.”

Finally, lest you think that National Newspaper Week and National News Engagement Day are pedantic, even quaint, occasions of note, check out the lighter touch offered by the Poynter Institute: http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/272995/happy-newspaper-week-pssst-its-not-just-about-newspapers/

The fun facts and stories there will remind you just how human – and humorous – the newspaper industry is.

 

 

 

Timely Data Reduces Risk for American Workers

This is a belated Labor Day good news post. It’s the story of how one federal agency is putting critical data into the hands of workers who can use digital tools to hold employers immediately and effectively accountable for workplace safety

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency responsible for the workplace safety of millions of Americans, has stepped to the plate to give employees a better tool to watchdog their own work environment.

Observing that workplace injuries – and fatalities – are often preventable, Thomas Perez, who heads the Department of Labor, home of OSHA, is certain that the new rule will “help OSHA focus its resources and hold employers accountable for preventing them.”

The new rule takes a double-barreled approach:

First, the rule requires that employers notify OSHA within 24 hours when someone is injured – loses an eye, or a limb or is admitted to the hospital with a work related injury. Currently employers are required to report only incidents that result in “catastrophes,” i.e. incidents that result in three or more hospitalizations.

Second, the reports of injuries will be made public on OSHA’s website. In 2013 that would have meant prompt reporting of 3,929 workers who died in private industry workplace accidents.

The idea behind the immediate reporting and posting of the data is to expand access to the dangers on the part of employers and employees alike – to “embarrass” employers and to offer workers current and accessible data on workplace safety.

Though worker safety is the priority, there are economic benefits as well to what is being called the “name and shame” approach. Armed with data, workers themselves can spot problems and demand action. Writing in Bloomberg Businessweek Josh Eidelson notes the critical need for more eyes on the front lines: “Since 1981, OSHA has shed health and safety inspectors to cut costs while the number of U.S. employers has doubled, according to the Center for Effective Government. A report from the group estimated that at current staffing levels, it would take federal OSHA inspectors 131 years to visit every U.S workplace.”

This led me to the CEG website where I found an analysis of a complementary resource issued by the Department of Labor in conjunction with Workers’ Memorial Day last April 28th. Sofia Plagakis of CEG has plumbed the depths of the Department of Labor’s Online Enforcement database. (http://www.foreffectivegov.org/e-gov-spotlight-dept-of-labor-enforcement-data-tool-provides-access-worker-safety-information)

Don’t judge a database by its less than compelling title. In fact, the Online Enforcement database is a treasure trove of DOL data, including OSHA data on 100,000 inspections conducted annually, violations, citations, penalties and accident investigation data.

Other agency programs included in the merged database include reports from four agency divisions:

  • Wage and Hour Division – violations, back-wage amounts, number of employees due back wages, civil penalties assessed;
  • Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program – evaluations and compliant investigations;
  • Employee Benefits and Security Administration – data about enforcement efforts related to funding and investments of 800,000 retirement and welfare benefits plans; and
  • Mine Safety and Health Administration – data about mines, mine operators, inspections, violations and accidents.

Though the wheels of federal government may grind slowly, they do grind exceeding small. And it does behoove us to capitalize on the efforts, particularly when we think about the thousands of Americans who are directly affected by the data that the Department of Labor has put at our fingertips.

 

 

Code + Collaboration – Open government is greater than the sum of its parts

The challenge of genuine, sustained, respectful collaboration, both the hope and the life blood of the information age, fascinates me. Over time I have learned to value viable collaboration and to celebrate the power of a diverse community of human beings who share the serious work it takes to identify, then achieve, a common purpose. I understand that collaboration is organic. More important, I appreciate that, while people and organizations will pay for goods and services, no one wants to pay for collaboration.

At last week’s CodeforAmerica Summit I relished the experience of serious, mature collaboration for a mighty cause, to build an open government movement. In breakouts, hackathons, formal presentations and everywhere in the hallways geeks, gurus and gawkers engage in the real work of collaboration, with little time or inclination to ponder the fact that the “labor” in the term is not by chance.

Yes, there were lots of geeks, many of them volunteers, speaking in code and acronyms, feverishly enthused about open government and apps to make that happen.   And then there were the corporate types eager to share the systems their companies have designed to expand the market by making local, state, federal, even global information more accessible to more concerned citizens.

And there were droves of representatives of the public sector – elected officials, data gurus, librarians, analysts, planners, advocacy groups concerned about everything from public transit to clean water to food shelves, public education and emergency services.

Each of these constituencies assumed personal and institutional responsibility to hold their government accountable – and to help their neighbors, communities and institutions understand and engage in the open government movement.

Some resounding themes of the CodeforAmerica 2014 Summit that stand out in my reflections:

  • Focus on the user – how designers must learn to listen to and sincerely engage users, both end users and those whose job it is to serve end users;
  • The need to embed sustainability into the system and into the environment in which the system will survive and thrive;
  • Deep respect for the commitment and role of public servants who have ideas to share but are too often constrained by the system itself;
  • The expanding and change-making role of women in the field of technology for the public good;
  • The internal connections that link the many nodes of the open government movement — the continuum that spans from the individual member of the public to a world of government information that ranges from local transit to climate change and food security;
  • The role of broadly defined collaboration among government officials, public employees, citizen activists, and the information industry.

The participants in CodeforAmerica 2014 are designing the tools that improve interactive communication between government and those governed. I hope these same folks and pioneers of their ilk will find time and support to reflect on their experiences as builders of technologies that re-order democratic systems. I also hope that these dreamers and creators will record their ideas about the capacity of the tools and the needs of the people so that together the sectors they represent will see the wisdom of collaboration as the only path if we as a society are to create an enlightened market for open government that is accountable to the public and that befits the digital promise of the world’s democracies.

Daybreak Bookstore Brightens St. Paul’s Grand Avenue

A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking.

The source of this observation, skeptic Jerry Seinfeld, would be a welcome guest this evening for the grand opening of Minnesota’s newest indie, Daybreak International Bookstore at 1665 Grand Avenue in St. Paul. (http://daybreak.rabata.org)

In truth, opening festivities have been been going on all week with the Grand Opening Celebration set for later today, Friday, September 19, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. There will be live music, free food, performances by Ali & Patrick and the best and brightest of the TC’s bibliophile scene.

Though the word “unique” is much over-used, Daybreak truly deserves the adjective. For starts, the shop is organized by continent.   According to founder Tamara Gray, Daybreak “will focus on global books with themes including social justice, religion/spirituality, women’s issues, language, travel and children’s book, as well as literature.” Readers can take a break to view the news in Arabic, French, Spanish or language of choice (within reason). There will be guest appearances by scholars, book signings, performances, book clubs, language tutoring and classes on global themes. Gray adds that the hope is that Daybreak will also become a gathering place for the community.

What’s more, the bookstore is a nonprofit venture, a project of Daybreak Press, a division of Rabata (Rabata.org).

Gray brings broad experience to the book store. She manages the Rabata website and founded Daybreak Press and Ribaat, an online academic program that brings college-level Islamic learning to women around the world. Got 20 years Gray lived in Syria where she studied Islamic sacred texts and subjects. She has worked with schools globally to set up, evaluate and improve curriculum; today she is a doctoral student at the University of St. Thomas.

Store hours will be 10:00 am – 9:00pm Monday-Saturday and Noon-5:00pm Sunday.