Monthly Archives: September 2013

Marvin Roger Anderson & Floyd G. Smaller Share a History, an Honor, and a Street

Librarians tend to get third paragraph thanks in the intro of historic works, or to merit a condescending note in a dissertation,  Librarians just don’t get streets named in their honor.  And then there’s Marvin Roger Anderson whose name and contributions will gain immortality this weekend.  Concordia Avenue between Lexington Parkway and Dale Street in St. Paul, Minnesota, will henceforth be named Marvin Roger Anderson Avenue.

In Marvin Anderson fashion, he will share the honor.  St. Anthony Avenue between Victoria Street and Western will henceforth by co-named Floyd G. Smaller Jr. Avenue, named in honor of Marvin’s lifetime friend and co-activist.

Marvin Anderson is a man of many talents and influence.  In his professional world of librarianship he is known as the Minnesota State Law Librarian who opened the doors and expanded the research capabilities of that renowned institution.  To young readers he is known as the idea person who built the “Everybody Wins!” reading promotion in the St. Paul Schools.  The program got a good start when Marvin inveigled Supreme Court justices to enjoy lunch and a read with early learners at Benjamin Mays School.  Though those kids are grown-ups now and the “Supremes” may be retired, the program continues to match caring adults with young readers.

The most important consideration of city fathers in naming of the street in his honor is the role of Marvin Roger Anderson as a power in preserving and promoting his home neighborhood, Rondo.  Marvin has turned a civic travesty into a celebration of the vitality of his home community.  Rondo Days, one of Marvin’s brainchildren, has claimed its place as a major community celebration, complete with a parade, jazz everywhere, and this summer a reunion of the Red Caps who served generations of travelers to and from St. Paul’s Union Depot.

Friends and fans of Marvin and his colleague Floyd G. Smaller may want to pull off Interstate 94 to check out the re-christened streets – and pause a moment to recognize the work of Marvin Roger Anderson and Floyd G. Smaller, two men who have collaborated for decades to shine a light on their community and the contributions of the people of Rondo.

Marvin Roger Anderson and Floyd G. Smaller will be recognized on the main stage of the Selby Avenue Jazz Fest, Saturday, September 14.

Minneapolis Candidates 2013: Assessing their Access Agenda

Open Twin Cities ( is an assemblage of local hackers with a timely cause – to harness technology for the public good.  The group involves geeks, hackers, public employees and activists willing to put their technological expertise – and political influence – on the line to make change happen.  Their current initiative falls into the latter category and meets one of the group’s goals: to “lead a public discussion on open data and civic technology.”

Members of Open TC’s have mounted an aggressive campaign to raise candidates’ awareness of the basics.  In a questionnaire sent to candidates for Minneapolis Mayor and City Council the group poses a lengthy list of questions intended to raise candidates’ concern for the implicit, even esoteric, details of what it takes to assure citizens’ access to downloadable city data, which is collected by, and for the public good.

The idea is basic:  the city, like every public entity, collects mountains of data about virtually every function of city government, from crime statistics to street repair, from public transit patterns to who uses water resources, from building codes to neighborhood development.  Historically, the massive data resources have been available but not accessible, i.e. residents need to make a formal request, and probably pay for, access.  Technology can either facilitate or create barriers for public access to public information.

The movement to make public data accessible has taken on momentum as groups such as Open Twin Cities have stepped forward.  Committed access advocates in cities throughout the nation are pushing public entities at every level to publish datasets on websites and data portals.  They are actively demonstrating ways in which a concerned citizen, neighborhood group, or activist can download and manipulate the information that belongs to the people in the first place.

It is axiomatic within the movement that action requires knowledge and commitment of decision-makers to make change happen.  Thus, the questionnaire to prospective elected officials ( raises some probing questions that elected officials need to consider.  The mailing includes some FAQs for candidates who may need a review of the concepts. Results, due by October 1, will be posted and shared with the media.

The intent of Open Twin Cities is to raise awareness and to generate discussion.  It remains to members of the public to seize the opportunity to join the access dialog by letting the squadrons of candidates know that access matters to the voters and to their prospective constituents.  Concerned citizens need not know the mechanics or how to make access happen within the city’s labyrinthine structures.  The devil in the details remains to the experts.  What the candidates need to know is that information matters, that good information leads to better decisions, and that the public, armed for action, will build a better community.

The bottom line is simple: public information in whatever format belongs to the people.  The technology exists to conceal the information, to use it for internal purposes only, to let it lie fallow, or to give it life by putting it to work in the hands of caring residents.  Informed residents offer the best hope – the only hope – of solving the city’s problems.  Today’s challenge to elected officials is establish as a priority strategies to make good information accessible – useful – to constituents of good will committed, as every candidate purports to be, to the public good.




Hispanic Heritage Month – Resources for the Armchair Learner

Though I have pretty much given up  hope of mastering the Spanish language that only fuels my hope to learn much more about the heritage of my neighbors.  Hispanic;Latino  Heritage Month seems aa good time to focus on a huge gap in my knowledge.  Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15-October 15 seem a good time to focus on a huge gap in my knowledge.  Some of the resources I’ve found might prove useful to others whose formal education pre-dates modern times:

First of all, I have always been confused about the terms.  Knowing more about the commemoration helps.  September 15 is the first day of the celebration because it is the anniversary of independence of five Latin American countries that declared their independence in 1821:  Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.  Mexico (September 16), Child (September 18) and Belize (formerly British Honduras (September 21).

In 1988 Congress passed a resolution calling on Americans, especially educators, to observe National Hispanic Heritage Month.  President Johnson declared a week which was expanded by President Reagan to a month.

In our community signs of Hispanic Heritage Month are ubiquitous.  Libraries and schools, universities, nonprofit agencies, the media, churches, health care providers and merchants will be taking note.  My emphasis is on digital resources accessible to anyone planning programs or promotions – or to individuals who just want to learn.

As Hispanic Heritage nears, I have just begun to explore the possibilities for armchair learning.  A quick overview is enough to get me excited the rich resources at my fingertips.  The possibilities are endless as these rich resources offer an overwhelming wealth of possibilities:

For starts, the U.S. Census Bureau has tons of data that reflect the most recent stats on people of Hispanic heritage living in the U.S.

Increasingly the rare treasures of the Library of Congress are accessible online:

The Minnesota Humanities Commission Voices from the Latino Community project offers close-to-home stories of Hispanic communities in Minnesota:

The Smithsonian Latino Center offers online access to a vast selection of digital resources.    Resources include a virtual museum and a virtual gallery.

The Hispanic Culture Online is a potpourri of everything from interviews to language lessons.

This is the proverbial tip of a grand iceberg.  There’s lots more to be listed but I’m eager to start the linking/learning adventure.








Poverty in the suburbs – Part II

As they analyzed and interpreted the data for their study (Confronting Suburban Poverty in America)  Alan Berube and Elizabeth Kneebone asked themselves the political implication, i.e. “which congressional districts are most affected by suburbanizing poverty, creating a stake in a broader agenda to reinvent place-based anti-poverty policy?”  Together with Jane Williams, also of the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, the researchers reached the following conclusions.:

  • Poverty increase in the 2000s reflected broader regional economic struggles, rather than partisan affiliation.
  • More than 80% of congressional districts contain at least some portion of the suburbs within the 100 largest metropolitan areas.
  • The suburbs of Republican districts were somewhat more likely to experience poverty increases than the suburbs of Democratic districts.
  • Democrats still represent poorer suburbs than Republicans on average, but the gap has narrowed.
  • Districts with the fastest growth in the suburban poor population over 2000s lean red.
  • Districts where the share of suburbanites living below poverty rose fastest during the 2000s lean blue.

The full report (Suburban Poverty Traverses the Red/Blue Divide) and map is available online at


Poverty in the suburbs – Hunger is a painful symptom

Americans moved to the suburbs after World War II to escape the problem of poverty in cities.  Running away is no longer an option – the cities ‘ traditional woes are now in the suburbs, too.  We have to recognize that the face of American poverty is an increasingly suburban one, and act accordingly.

The statistics came out last week from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  One in ten Minnesota homes is “food insecure” – translated this means that kids are going to school hungry, parents are missing meals so their kids can eat, old Minnesotans are giving up meals to pay their medical bills, food shelves are struggling to meet demands.

This is Hunger Awareness Month, a time look beyond the data.   As members of the faith community, nonprofits, schools and donors struggle to meet the challenge to cope with the results, A May 2013 Brookings Center study makes a strong case tor the imperative to frame the issue in a much broader and more contemporary context – to take an open and honest assessment of today’s map of poverty and to shape policies and procedures appropriate to the reality.

Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube, fellows in Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program, are the principal authors of a major report entitled Confronting Suburban Poverty in America. (Brookings Institution Press, 2013)   The authors reviewed fifty years of data, analyzed the trends, and ultimately concluded:

As poverty becomes increasingly regional in its scope and reach, it challenges conventional approaches that the nation has taken when dealing with poverty in place.  Many of those approaches were shaped when President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a national War on Poverty in 1964.  At that time, poor Americans were most likely to live in inner-city neighborhoods or sparsely populated rural areas.  Fifty years later, public perception still largely casts poverty as an urban or rural phenomenon.

Beginning in this century poverty in the suburbs began to accelerate at a fast rate than poverty in the cities.  As of 2011 suburban poor outnumbered urban poor by three million;  one in three poor Americans lives in the suburbs.

The authors note that there are advantages for poor people living in the suburbs – better schools, safe neighborhoods, greater diversity, depending on job availability,  shorter commutes.

Still, many other factors have driven poor people to relocate; among these are Section 8 housing vouchers, demolition of distressed public housing, the Fair Housing Act “were all part of a benign effort to de-concentrate poverty and open suburbia to low-income households, especially members of minority groups, who had been excluded for generations.

The problem is that the suburbs have not been able to keep up.  The authors cite a number of reasons that are inherent in the federal programs themselves.  .  Some federal programs, e.g. Head Start and Community Health Centers and Block Grants were targeted to urban areas.

Targeted programs are not the only issue, however.  Poverty in the suburbs is more diffuse, there may not be enough institutions or expertise to help the poor and, in some cases, “local leaders sometimes resist such programs, fearing they will only attract more poor residents.”

Furthermore, aid is fragmented among some eighty federal programs and at least ten federal agencies.  These programs are administered at the local level by a host of different agencies.  Programs cross jurisdictions and populations so that agencies responsible for delivery are required to deal with multiple bureaucracies, reporting procedures and regulations.   IT goes without saying that needy families, the elderly, those for whom language is a barrier find the systems confusing at best.

Bottom line, the authors conclude:  We need to transform social policy for the age of suburban poverty.  We should equip regions with aid that cuts across jurisdictional lies, help them use limited resources more efficiently, and reinvent the system from the ground up.

Poverty is pervasive and pernicious; food insecurity is just one observable  indicator.  Efforts to address hunger are local, visible, measurable and understandable.  Food Awareness Month offers a chance to focus on just one measure, a sort of swallow in the cave way to understand the reality and to reframe social policy in the light of 2013 reality.





“Book nerds” Pitch in for Indies on Small Business Saturday

Author Sherman Alexie is well known to Minnesota readers.  In fact, he will be in Minnesota next week to speak at Minnesota State University Moorhead. (Thursday, September 12, 7:00 p.m.)   His talk at Plymouth Congregational Church last fall drew an SRO crowd.  He’s been on “Talking Volumes” and was interviewed on Bill Moyers’ show.

His fans may want to heed his recent brainstorm:   Alexie is out with an idea that may resonate with Minnesota writers, readers, booksellers other “book needs”, as Alexie calls his colleagues.

The popular writer has proposed this week that writers enter the world of commerce by participating in Small Business Saturday, the national initiative of independent business;  more specifically, Alexis suggested that writers – and presumably other bibliophiles, join ranks with independent booksellers.   Small Business Saturday 2013 is November 30, Thanksgiving weekend– in the wake of Black Friday.

Alexie may be taking a lead from the Obama family who last year celebrated the day by shopping at One More Page Books in suburban Virginia.  Or he may be buoyed by the fact that Oren Teicher of the American Booksellers Association has reported that 2012 sales by independent booksellers were ten percent ahead of 2011 sales.

In a letter to a small group of authors (  sent over Labor Day weekend Alexie called on them to become “superheroes for independent booksellers“ by working at their favorite indie in whatever role is needed.  “We book nerds will become booksellers.  We will make recommendations. We will practice nepotism and urge readers to buy multiple copies of our friends’ books.  Maybe you’ll sign and sell books of your own in the process. I think the collective results could be mind-boggling …The most important thing is that we’ll all be helping independent bookstores and God knows they’ve helped us over the years.”

Though the drive is just aborning, the mechanics are actually in place The ABA has created a webpage for those who wish to sign up.  Authors sign up here:  ( and booksellers can sign up here: (

Minnesota “book nerds” may want to call or stop by an indie bookstore to learn more, express support, even sign up to lend on hand to sell, shelve, hype, to get up and do what needs to be done to help out the Indies First cause on Small Business Saturday.





Grandma Robot Works for Me

Alert:  Grandparents Day is Sunday, September 8, 2013. 

Alert:  Grandparents Day is Sunday, September 8, 2013

.Alert:  Grandparents Day is Sunday, September 8, 2013.

Pardon the repetition.  I am a Robot stuck on message

In fact, I am Grandma Robot, a title and role known to few.  I have been officially known as  “Grandma Robot” for a few years now, ever since my four-year-old grandson Will determined that unique title when he was not yet two years old.  It stuck.

Why the unique title I cannot say.  I have come to appreciate the distinct – if not distinguished – title.  How many Grandma Robots do you know?

I proudly fantasize that Will simply has a precocious perception of his robotic future.   Research shows that humans evidence a strong preference for robots that wear a friendly smile.  If we expect robots to provide compassionate health care or otherwise interact effectively with humans, people need to feel comfortable.  And still the regular run of the mill robot of today is cold, dispassionate, mechanistic.

We need robots that show they care.  Humans have to be comfortable hanging out with robots.  The challenge to researchers is formidable and the costs staggering. 

 Still, humans must embrace a vision before we start engineering.  What could be more genuinely comfortable than a Robot with the looks and demeanor of a grandma?   Are we planning to build a domestic robot that can help a kid bake ginger cookies?   Is anyone working on a robot that will operate an in-house bookmobile or read a half dozen bedtime stories in a soothing voice?

We’re not there yet.  For now I’m a proud Grandma Robot happy to celebrate Grandparents’ Day with my real live grandson who has better things to do than explain how he happened upon the Grandma Robot appellation.