Monthly Archives: January 2014

E-books expand options for Spanish readers — and writers

Some years ago I lived for a time in Abu Dhabi, a beautiful, sophisticated city, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.  The living accommodations were extraordinary, the food was exquisite, the Emirati people were welcoming.  So what was missing?   BOOKS!  There was no public library, one bookstore stocked with English language titles, and a lively book exchange among English-reading colleagues.  When I heard there was a book fair coming to the city I was ecstatic – soon deflated to learn that the aisles of books were (understandably) in Arabic and the English language books were of the how-to-succeed genre.

Having experienced literary deprivation I was thrilled for Spanish-speaking readers in this community when I learned that the surging popularity of e-book readers is offering reasonably priced Spanish language books to U.S. readers.  The trend is growing throughout the nation.

There are now over 50 million Spanish-speakers living in the U.S.  A rapidly increasing number are equipped with Kindles, Nooks, and tablets — and an appetite to read good books in their native language.  As usually happens, demand creates supply so publishers of Spanish-language content are now marketing e-books to U.S. residents eager to light up the reader to catch a good story or to delve into an historic tome.

A recent article in the LA Times offers some statistics.

In the last two years, the number of Spanish-language titles available in the U.S. has tripled at some online booksellers.  Imported hardcovers such as Colombian author Alvaro Mutis’ “Maqroll” trilogy that once retailed for more than $100 can now be had online for less than $15.  And entire genres of Latin American literature – think contemporary Ecuadorean poetry – that were all but impossible to acquire at any price are now a few mouse clicks away.

Even as the sale of English-language e-books has waned a bit, Spanish-speaking bibliophiles are reading books written in their native language as well as Spanish language translations of books originally published in English.  According to a the most recent study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project the number of Hispanics owning e-readers or tablets has grown from 1 in 20 in 2011 to 1 in 5 in 2012. 

The Pew study may have persuaded publishers that there is an untapped market.  Today, for example,  Barnes & Noble en Espanol offers 65,000 Nook books in Spanish while Amazon’s Spanish-language page, eBooks Kindle en Espanol, now stocks more than 70,000 titles.

The increased popularity of affordable e-books has been an inspiration – and a boon – to print publishers that had long ignored the Spanish-speaking market in the U.S. Given the 50 million people of Hispanic origin now living in the U.S. publishers from other countries have taken note, opening offices in the U.S. and initiating Spanish language web pages while American publishers have launched domestic imprints in Spanish.

Haste makes waste, even in the book world, it seems.  The LA Times reports that problems include too few Spanish speaking booksellers, sloppy translations, selections ill-suited to readers’ tastes – and the slow pace at which good news travels through the nation’s reading circles.

Glitches notwithstanding, the crest of the next wave is likely to be ridden by authors who publish their works at the same time in English and Spanish.  For the first time in his career, Nicholas Sparks is simultaneously publishing his latest, The Longest Ride, in both Spanish and in English. Meanwhile, Random House will release Isabel Allende’s new novel, El Juego de Ripper, simultaneously in the U.S, Spain and Latin America.

Bilingual readers rejoice that the book is no longer print on paper and bilingual now means the written as well as the spoken word.


Exploring the Legacy of MLK in the Digital Age

Long ago I learned from my friend Marvin Roger Anderson that commemoration of the MLK birthday holiday should involve community building, connecting with friends and neighbors to share celebrate the dream.  He insisted that public libraries should throw open their doors to serve as gathering sites. MLK’s birthday, he reminded us, is the only holiday that’s not about family or gifts or escape but an occasion to experience, share and build community committed to MLK’s dream.

Those who have the day off and no home obligations might well heed Marvin’s wise counsel. There are mega-gatherings today at the Convention Center, the Minnesota History Center, the Cathedral as well as less formal events in neighborhoods, places of worship, colleges and public places.   For the homebound our community engagement can be a virtual learning adventure.

Public media do a good job of sharing their audio and video rich resources – in yesterday’s post I mentioned one of many.

Less well known are the vast digital resources to which digital age armchair learners enjoy unprecedented access.  Many of these resources are collected, preserved, digitized and shared by agencies of the federal government, the most prominent of which is the Library of Congress.  LC is digitizizing humungous collections of documents, photos, recordings, diaries, artifacts, virtually anything that helps to tell the story of this nation.  Further, the Library produces online guides to resources of a host of other collections within and outside the federal bureaucracy.

MLK Day provides a great opportunity for a digital dip into the treasures of LC.  The problem is that to dip may be to drown.  A significant problem in using digital resources is that the tidal wave is too much and the searcher washes ashore.

One approach is to start with a guide that LC created in 2010 to complement The African-American Mosaic exhibit.  Click here: ( .  When you search under “Martin Luther King” the guide will send you to two sites:

Your learning curve has just begun.  Within LC lie countless caches of digitized history including, for example, the American Folklife Center ( as well as the Afro-American Genealogical Research collection, the National Women’s History Project, the records of the NAACP, and the National Museum for African American History and Culture (  still a work-in-progress set to open next year

The guide will lead you beyond the walls of the Library of Congress (not that walls matter to the armchair searcher).  The National Archives and Records Administration ( is the repository of the records of the government itself.   “Celebrating MLK’s Legacy and Birthday” offers a quick glimpse of the National Archives resources on the King era – a smidgeon with links (

Armchair searching of the photos, videos, artifacts, posters, diaries, pamphlets – the stories — is a healthy addiction.  For some, the story of the process itself is as important as the stories that emerge from the records.  Such digital enthusiasts will enjoy this YouTube intro to digitization: (

With African American History Month just weeks away venturing into the MLK stories may whet the appetite for more – including, perchance, another post.  In the meantime, this just popped up on Twitter – take a minute to click, read and listen:
















Reflections and Resources for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2014

First I was aggravated at Oliver Stone for throwing in the towel on the much-touted film on the eve of the Martin Luther King holiday.  He knew the announcement would grab the headlines and further sully the great man’s name.

Then I turned my anger to the keepers of the MLK legacy, the King family and their advisers.  Why not just admit that MLK had feet of clay that are far less relevant than his leadership of a movement that has forever restructured the political, social and cultural contours of this nation.

When I turned on the radio for my Sunday morning ritual listen to On Being I was delighted to realize that the gurus at MPR had wisely chosen to air a conversation that Krista Tippett shared some weeks ago with Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons and Lucas Johnson.  Listening to that thoughtful discussion relieved my angst and inspired reflections far more appropriate to the occasion.  Though my original intent was to share the podcast and transcript, a click on the website disclosed that the interview was actually videotaped in December in front of a live audience at National Public Radio in Washington, DC.

Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, an early black power feminist, is the older of the two guests.  She well remembers blatant racism, picketing and marching, the subtleties of the leaders’ philosophies and the distortion of the facts over time.  She has written about her experience as a SNCC activist in Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC.  Today Dr. Simmons is assistant professor of religion at the University of Florida.  She is also a member of the National Council of Elders (about which I want to learn more.)

Dr. Lucas Johnson, a younger man, speaks more of the impact of the civil rights movement on him personally and on his generation.  He is Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Regional Coordinator of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation.  His conversation revolves around the impact of the civil rights movement on current issues of peace, non-violence and reconciliation.

  • MPR has posted a short video discussion starter based on MLK’s I Have a Dream speech. View the video here:

Ideas + Influence Inspire Change – The Challenge of International Women’s Day 2014

[Fighting] to give women and girls a fighting chance isn’t just a nice thing to do….It isn’t some luxury that we only get to when we have time on our hands. This is a core imperative for every human being in every society. If we do not continue the campaign for women’s rights and opportunities, the world we want to live in — and the country we all love and cherish — will not be what it should be.  Hillary Clinton

The quote is from the The Shriver Report – and it may be because I have been following the reaction to that report that I review with mixed feelings the stories I’ve been gathering for a Minnesota Women’s Press calendar of activities planned to commemorate International Women’s Day 2014.  ( Pre-pub tip –there are some great events in the works – check the next issue of MWP)

On the one hand it may seem quaint to be celebrating the century old IWD custom, a day designated in a time when women had no right to vote much less to have a say about how the home, the church, the town or the world was being run.  We’ve come a long way since those feisty women of the Socialist Party of America observed the first National Woman’s Day in February 1909.

Maybe it’s time to count our triumphs, bank the benefits, and exhale.

Or not.  Though the focus of IWD is global, clarity begins at home where it seems the urgency to categorize the rights, contributions or welfare of women has waned. Many institutions, even those that once made an effort to schedule events and raise issues, seem disinclined to budget the money or time to pause on March 8 to commemorate International Women’s Day 2014.

Maria Shriver and the raft of women and organizations that have joined her initiative suggest we think again about today’s domestic realities.  To wit:

  • 1 in 3 American women, 42 million women, plus 28 million children, either live in poverty or are right on the brink of it.
  • The Violence Against Women Act continues to languish in the U.S. Congress.  The fact is that violence against women is major health problem and an horrific violation of women’s human rights.  35% of women worldwide have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • SNAP benefits, upon which countless women and their children and “invisible” elderly women depend, remain a political punching bag in Congress.
  • Nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women who often get zero paid sick days.
  • Two-thirds of American women are either the primary or co-breadwinners of their families.
  • The average woman is paid 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, and that figure is much lower for black and Latina women; African American women earn only 64 cents and Hispanic women only 55 cents for every dollar made by a white man.
  • Even though women outnumber men in higher education, men still make more money than women who have the same level of educational achievement, from high school diplomas to advanced graduate degrees. In 2011, men with bachelors’ degrees earned more than women with graduate degrees.
  • There were 135,000 more elderly women living on less than $5,500 per year in 2012 than in 2011, pushing the total size of that group to 733,000.
  • In 2012 6.2 million children lived in families with unemployed parents. Many of these children live with parents who have been out of work six month or longer. Unemployment insurance covers only 36 percent of children with unemployed parents; unemployed parents are more likely to receive SNAP benefits than unemployment benefits.

Though the human mind can absorb just so many stats this small sampling makes the point that there are millions of women in this nation who are not swept along by the tide of women’s progress.

The good news is that there are women in positions to make change.

The theme of International Women’s Day 2014 is “Inspiring Change”.  Decision-makers are “inspired to change” by those who elect, appoint, support, contact, or otherwise express their concerns and their ideas for change.  That’s where most of us come in.  IWD falls on Saturday this year – good time to think about how to inspire changes that will cast in legal concrete the rights and opportunities of women and girls, now and for generations who will someday walk in the path we forge for them.

Open Data Jam set for February 22 – Unleashing the power of government information

It’s a lot like spinning straw into gold….transforming dormant information by and about the government into powerful info-tools that people can actually use to solve problems, create new products and services, learn about their community – and hold their government accountable.    It’s happening at the national level (at this week’s Datapalooza launched by the White House) and in vibrant communities around the country.

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has announced that his office will host Minnesota’s first statewide mash-up between information mavens and the enormous wealth of public data just waiting to be brought to life.   Capitol Code: An Open Data Jam, is set for Saturday, February 22, at CoCo in Uptown Minneapolis. (

Participants will have a chance to muck with data ranging from the vast resources of the Bureau of the Census to stashes of state stuff housed in a host of federal, state, regional and local agencies.

Capitol Code is open to citizens, analysts, business and community leaders, designers, government officials, media, software programmers, elected officials, advocates – well, anybody who wants to share ideas, learn – or model – some tricks of the trade, basically find out how to be a agile player in the information game.

The day is free and open.  Active partners in the project include MN.IT,, the Minnesota State Demographic Center and community technology groups including Open Twin Cities.

Be on the watch for information to follow through traditional and all the latest social media channels Capitol Code planners have at the ready.   Or call Nathan Bowie at the Secretary of State’s Office 651 297 8919.

NOAA – Keeping the nation’s eye on oceans, atmosphere and, yes, the weather!

Since its founding in 1970 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) ( has been the dynamic backbone of the nation’s massive system of timely and precise weather, water and climate forecasts, environmental monitoring, management of fisheries and coastlines, safe navigation and oceanic changes.  Today the vigilant eye of NOAA staffers is focused more than ever on climate change.

Americans may recognize and definitely depend on NOAA as the omniscient source of the weather warnings that blast over the airwaves or quietly tweet on their smart phones.  All of that data  comes from federal employees at NOAA  who, aided by the latest satellite and other high tech equipment, sound the alarm about deadly storms, wildfires, volcanic ash, and oil spills, not to mention blizzards and dangerous arctic temps.

Though weather forecasting is perhaps the most visible of NOAA’s resources, the National Weather Service is the tip of the NOAA iceberg (so to speak).  The record-keeping, regulatory and conservation work of NOAA has deep roots and famous pioneers.  Thomas Jefferson established the first science agency, the Survey of the Coast, which morphed into the Coast and Geodetic Survey.   (CGS)  Today, aviation safety depends heavily on the work of the CGS.   CGS has introduced electronic nautical charts which, together with GPS, have enhanced the safety and efficiency of navigation on the nation’s waterways.  NGS is also the nation’s principal advocate for coastal and ocean management.   CGS is responsible for the nation’s underwater parks, sanctuaries to breeding, preservations of history shipwrecks and protection of reef colonies.

The nation’s first federal conservation agency, initiated in 1871 to “protect, study, manage and restore fish” was home to the first marine fisheries research lab in the nation; it is still one of NOAA’s five fisheries science centers.

The organizational evolution of the National Weather Service as a component of NOAA says a lot about our nation’s history.  Again it was Thomas Jefferson who began the practice of meticulous collecting weather-related information.  He tracked weather conditions from as far West as the Mississippi and as far North as Quebec.

It was President Ulysses S. Grant who signed a joint resolution of Congress authorizing establishment of the NWS in 1870.  The assignment went to the Secretary of War because “military discipline would probably secure the greatest promptness, regularity and accuracy of the weather observations.”  Within the Department of War, the NWS was assigned to the Signal Corps where it was christened the Division of Telegrams and Reports for the Benefit of Commerce.

In 1890 the US Department of Agriculture created the Weather Bureau climate and crops services which began publishing the Weather and Crops Weekly Bulletin which is still published today.  Much later, in 1970 a mix of federal weather and climate functions were consolidated into the National Weather Service and placed under the new NOAA.

On the behemoth organizational chart of the U.S. Government NOAA falls under the purview of the U.S. Department of Commerce.  Every state has its own diverse and distributed network of National Weather Service activities, each with its own focus – weather, coastline, fisheries, climate and more. The quantity and quality of data emanating from these work stations must be explored to be appreciated.   It’s all on the web including a map and listing of each state’s weather report communications system.  (

Today climate change tops the list of issues on NOAA’s global agenda.  Just last week Secretary of State John Kerry released the U.S. Climate Action Report 2014. The 310 page report details actions the United States will take domestically and internationally to address climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. It also outlines the President’s Climate Action Plan ( which includes cutting carbon pollution from power plants, doubling renewable electricity generated from wind and solar by 2020, and increasing clean energy research funding by $7.9 billion.

This is all heady stuff.  Minnesota readers may be more interested in what’s happening on the weather front this week closer to home.  Here’s how local meteorologist Paul Douglas uses NOAA information to explain the frigid facts:

There’s even a fun Young Meterologist Program ( that features a storm preparedness game– I played the winter storm game and picked up some crucial survival tips.

The NOAA website and the websites of all of the NOAA agencies and programs, only a few of which are mentioned here, are open to scientists, politicians, corporations, nonprofits, scholars and  citizens with an interest or need to know about the ever-changing global atmospheric and oceanic environment.

Where facts and roll calls hit the road

Contrary to the snap judgment of some, many politicians are not automatons, indentured to major contributors or mindless partisans.  Called upon to contemplate an infinite range of issues, a relentless clock, and an unquenchable thirst for instant response on the part of the public – and the media – elected officials are in a constant learning mode.  Their sources of information range from scholarly research, to government data, to corporate PR, to the earnest opinions of voters whose ideas are influenced  by a span of human and recorded resources.

Today’s New York Times carries a revealing saga of one elected official’s journey through the information maze. ( In this thoughtful piece by Amy Harmon, the issue facing the newly elected member of the Kona, Hawaii, City Council, Greggor Ilagan, is the impact of GMOs on the papaya crop.

Though the topic may not be of immediate concern to folks coping with subzero temps, that lack of emotional involvement sets in relief the narrative of the elected official’s struggle.  The scenario is transferrable  and scalable to myriad choices with which honest decision-makers grapple every day.

As members of U.S. Congress return to their offices and lives on Capitol Hill, it’s worth thinking for a moment that these men and women are not just escaping the cold.  They are people who face every day a maze of complicated issues, a barrage of vested interests, information overload – and a roll call vote for which they are accountable to their constituents – and to themselves.

The NYT article is just one reminder that the democratic process, at its very core, is a human drama with a speaking role for every member of the body politic.

Open Government – A global challenge with high stakes

How long shall we blunder along without the aid of unpartisan and authoritative scientific assistance in the administration of justice, no one knows; but all fair persons not conventionalized by provincial legal habits of mind ought, I should think, unite to effect some change.  ~ Judge Learned Hand, judicial opinion rendered in 1911

Let’s face it, these days of forced hibernation can either depress the spirits or inspire grand thoughts of ways in which “all fair persons not conventionalized by provincial legal habits of mind” might “unite to effect some change.”

Genetically predisposed as I am to “taking arms against a sea of troubles,” let me propose a profound thought appropriate for a long winter ponder.  Try thinking, even briefly, about the Open Government Partnership.  (

Once a dream, now a reality, the OGP is raising the issue of open government to a place of honor on the international policy agenda.  The global power of the concept lies in the shared recognition of the work required of national governments and non-government organizations to come to grips with the enormity of the world information infrastructure.  The hope of the concept rises from the shared vision of how, working in tandem, the world’s democracies can metaphorically get their arms around the behemoth challenge of assuring open government in the 21st Century.

The OGP is “a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.”

Reflecting the enormity of today’s information reality – and the challenge to establish policies and procedures that cope with the challenge – the OGP formally launched on September 20, 2011, when the eight founding governments (Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States) endorsed the Open Government Declaration and announced their country’s action plans.  Critical to the essence of OGP is the fact that the stakeholders include both governments and civil society organizations, a broad term that encompasses NGO’s, nonprofits, and other advocacy groups.

The mission of OGP is to establish an action agenda, individually and collectively, that will track the ways in which participating governments take meaningful, measurable, steps to be more transparent, more accountable, and more responsive to their own citizens.  The ultimate goal is to improve the quality of governance, as well as the quality of services that citizens receive. Visionaries who are working on shaping the OGP action agenda admit that “this will require a shift in norms and culture to ensure genuine dialogue and collaboration between governments and civil society.”

Bottom line, the goal of OGP is to support both government and civil society reformers by “elevating open government to the highest levels of political discourse, providing ‘cover’ for difficult reforms, and creating a supportive community of like-minded reformers from countries around the world.”

A thousand OGP advocates met in recently in London to assess progress to date and to agree on an aggressive action agenda. The key objective over the next two years is to monitor and validate that real change is happening on the ground in a majority of OGP countries, and that this change is benefitting citizens.

Ambitious next steps are these: 1) to maintain high-level political leadership and commitment to OGP within participating countries, 2) to support domestic reformers with technical expertise and inspiration, and 3) to foster more engagement in OGP by a diverse group of citizens and civil society organizations.  The overarching goal is to ensure that countries are held accountable for making progress toward achieving their OGP commitments.

To date over 60 nations have made formal commitments to the Open Government Partnership. Following the original cohort of eight nations, the next cohort included Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Israel, Jordan, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, Paraguay, Peru, Romania, Slovak Republic, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, Tanzania, Turkey, Ukraine and Uruguay.  These were followed by  Argentina, Costa Rica, Finland, Ghana, Hungary, Liberia and Panama, Australia, Ireland, Malawi, Mongolia, New Zealand, Sierra Leone, Serbia, and Trinidad and Tobago.  And Yes, there are some surprises on that diverse list.

Participating nations have made nearly1000 specific commitments to make their governments more open and accountable. These commitments reflect honest and serious effort on the part of both the governments and the civil society organizations.

Though civil society organizations do not formally join the Partnership in the same way that governments do, they play a critical role in OGP at both the national and international levels.  Within every OGP participating country, civil society organizations work with their governments to develop, implement and monitor their country’s OGP action plan.

To track the progress OGP has established an Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) which produces biannual independent progress reports for each participating country.  The progress reports assess governments on implementation of action plans, track progress in fulfilling open government principles, and make technical recommendations for improvements.  The intent is to encourage a public discussion of what’s been done and what is needed.

On October 23, 2013 the IRM issued its report on the status of US effortsThe IRM report is available at

Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of, responded the next day.  Find her response at

The next step now is for individuals and organizations, everyone who has a stake in open government (and who does not?) to review – and respond to –  the President’s National Action Plan for Open Government, a copy of which is available at

The work of OGP is not the work of wonks but of citizen advocates for whom open government is now and always was the core value of a democracy.  The spirit of the OGP is fueled by informed citizens who know that, though the technology may change, first principles are firm and fundamental.

The US commitment to the Open Government Partnership – and to the American people – demands serious commitment not of words but of resources, including time and energy.  It remains to the American people to monitor the follow through and to capitalize on the opportunity.  Open government is difficult to define, more difficult to track.  Still, we know it when we see it….and we have some sense of what it means when the portals to open government are shuttered.

It’s neither too late nor too cold for a 2014 Open Government resolution:

Be it resolved that all fair persons not conventionalized

by provincial legal habits of mind…

 unite to effect some change.

Thought for 2014: Government ought to be all outside and no inside

Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States on January 1, 1914, wrote these words a century ago: “Government ought to be all outside and no inside.”  A century later we have an unprecedented opportunity to heed his counsel.

My association with government information has always been somewhat personal.  Decades ago Superintendent of Documents Carper W. Buckley was my Government Documents professor in library school.  At one point I worked for a Wisconsin Congressman where one of my assigned tasks was to pack up and mail the surplus volumes of the Agriculture Yearbook, generously exchanged by his fellow Congressmen who traded for titles they thought more relevant to their urban constituents.  I also remember a summer during which temp employees  in the House of Representatives mail room were assigned to rip the covers off Your Child From One to Six – Southern members couldn’t send their constituents a government publication that featured a Black doctor treating a white child….

At one point I worked at what was then the Bureau of the Budget.  I was intrigued by the off-limits corner where the “classified” documents were shielded from the view of “non-professionals.”. I think I had the misconception that they were like the banned books on The Index.

Bottom line, I always knew that the business of sharing information by and about the federal government was an intensely human enterprise, subject to politics, budgets, human proclivities – and inattention.  The power of information is perhaps too overwhelming, and too implicit, for us to grasp.

With time and experience my anecdotal interest has evolved to a deeper understanding of the unparalleled power of the government information chain to shape our very democracy.  Each link has a unique and powerful role – from who decides what research in conducted and what data are collected to who is watching the surge of power pulsing through the information chain.   Though the power is palpable, warp speed technology, the interference of economic and political forces with their own agenda, inattention to oversight – and a heavy dose of malicious intent – have transformed the concept of open government.

Still, at the core, I maintain my firm, if naïve, conviction that information by and about the government, information that is the lifeblood of a democracy, belongs to the people.   As James Madison warned,  “popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both.”

We are at a crossroads.  If there is good to be found in recent leaks it is that, finally, the American people are taking a serious look at the ways in which our government deals with the coin of the realm of this or any democracy – information by and about the government.  At the dawn of the digital age  Swedish philosopher  Sissela Bok cautioned that “a guarantee of public access to government information is indispensable in the long run for any democratic society….If officials make public only what they want citizens to know, then publicity becomes a sham and accountability meaningless.”