Blight

I drive down my city streets and I am mostly embarrassed by what I see:

  • Long boarded up buildings covered in graffiti and overgrown weeds
  • Piles of rubble
  • Muddy roads where streets used to be
  • Pot holes that will swallow your car
  • Day laborers on every corner
  • Opportunists trying every car door as they walk down the street
  • And so much more

This isn’t the city I grew up in.  This is a city that nobody cares about any more.

The roller skating rink closed down when I was a kid.  The property wasn’t sold, leased or redeveloped in any way.  It was left vacant for almost 20 years.  Each year it looked a little sadder, a little droopier, a little more neglected.  Inevitably squatters came in and set fires in garbage cans to keep themselves warm at night.  Three years ago it burned down.  There has been a pile of rubble in its place since then.

The bowling alley closed down about 5 or 6 years ago.  It’s not that it wasn’t turning a profit, it’s just that the original owner gave it to his son who decided that he didn’t want to “bother” with it any more.  He tried to sell the building and the land.  It has been vacant ever since.  Well, vacant if you ignore the prostitutes, drug dealers and vagrants who call that property their home base.

I often wonder if I’m looking back at the city I grew up in with rose colored glasses.  You know how it is: things were always better “back then.”  But then I see pictures of the way it used to be even just a few years ago and I know that my rose colored glasses theory is a fallacy.  Things really were better back then.

I know I don’t have all the answers, but I do wonder why our city doesn’t do more to address the problem of blight.  The city’s leaders claim they want to bring business and people to our community but I don’t see them doing anything to attract either group.  If I were to open a business, I probably wouldn’t open one here.  Why would I open a business in a community that doesn’t care enough about itself to look nice?  If I were to buy a house, I definitely wouldn’t do it here.  With all the rowdy people living in my neighborhood, crazy people, and the murders (can’t forget about those) I wouldn’t want to make my life here.

The people in a community have to want a better life for themselves too.  I say this, because I know that there’s only so much the leaders can do.  But I do believe that our leaders need to lead.  They need to get the ball rolling because most lay people see all this ugliness and despair as too big to handle.  If you lead, the people will follow.

Baptism and Church Service

Today we attended the baptisms of the children of our good friends.  It was nice but I left feeling a bit incomplete.

As I was driving to the place where the ceremony and service were to be held I had a feeling that DH would find a reason to duck out early.  After studying the Bible in multiple languages and world history during the time of the Bible, he’s got some pretty strong viewpoints on God, Jesus, and the way people should worship.  Add to that his discomfort in groups (which was exacerbated by the pastor’s very public welcome) and you’ve got someone who would prefer to avoid attending religious services.

I wasn’t disappointed.  We arrived early to meet with B and V and congratulate them and their children.  We met the pastor, members of the congregation, and people like us that were there for the baptisms.  Everyone was very friendly.  We were met with hugs and smiles.  It seemed as though everyone knew who we were and congratulated us on our wedding.  They saw me limping from my tendinitis and helped me to a chair.  It was a really nice group of people.

There was lots of singing, a blessing, then the baptisms.  B and V’s oldest child cried – he equated the baptism with getting dirty and he really didn’t like that.  Their youngest looked more shocked than anything.  There was a small break so that the children could go to kids’ church and the adults could grab some coffee before they went into adult church.  DH pressured me to leave even though I really wanted to stay.  I finally relented.  I didn’t want to force him to do something he didn’t want to do.  I cold tell the other parishioners were disappointed to see us go.

On the way home, DH asked me why I wanted to stay.  I couldn’t put it into adequate words.  I said that I’d been to very few church services, and most of those were Catholic Christmas services.  I was interested to know more about the way people worship, and what their pastor had to say.  I could tell that wasn’t “good enough”.  He explained why he didn’t agree with organized services and suggested I start by reading the Bible.

Later, I think I realized what I’m really seeking with my desire to attend services.  If I was only curious about religion and seeking religious fulfillment, I would focus on reading and analyzing the Bible.  But there’s more to organized religion than that.  I miss that sense of community that I had growing up in my neighborhood.  I miss that common belief structure and the knowledge that I could count on my neighbors to help no matter what.

I know that all congregations aren’t created equal.  I know that within your congregation you find people you “click” with and those you just can’t stand.  But I also know that beliefs help build communities.  I think that’s something that I need right now – a sense of belonging.

I don’t think DH will ever truly understand that.  He’s too much of a loner, and that’s not enough for me right now.

What I learned while out sick

Even when I’m sick at home, I can’t just sit around doing nothing.  I can only watch so much daytime TV, and there are only so many words I can read on a page before I go cross-eyed… So, today I decided to look at SJSU SLIS’ videos of various presentations and lectures that have been done over the past two years.

One of the most recent videos was a lecture by Susan Hanks on California Tribal Libraries.  Although we don’t have a tribal library in the area that I know of, there were a few things she suggested that intrigued me.  The biggest idea that she spoke of was making sure that there were positive Native American stories in our libraries.  She discussed the problem of stereotypical Indian characters, and incorrect information found within children’s non-fiction books.  Ms. Hanks also explained why it’s necessary to display culturally sensitive Thanksgiving books in addition to the traditional Thanksgiving stories, specifically suggesting Giving Thanks by Chief Swamp.

Since I’ll have to use Second Life with the SLIS program sometime soon, I watched the presentation Second Life: 20 Lessons by Jeremy Kemp.  In this presentation, Mr. Kemp discussed the ways in which Second Life (SL) is different from typical online role playing games, and the things he has learned from this program.  He explained that SL is very community driven, and very “flat” in that there is no heirarchy and everyone speaks the same language.  While this is good, it doesn’t come without its problems.  In his words “Second Life is very beta” so you wouldn’t want to hold a live meeting in it.  But for what it does, it’s great.

Patty Wong of the Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library presented on Community Outreach.  She discussed what her library has done to increase community involvement in their system. Ms Wong emphasized the importance of sincerity and genuine goodwill when creating relationships with the community. 

The SSJCPL recently underwent a complete overhaul, and created a dedicated unit for community outreach (they manipulated staff and resources).  Their unit focuses on literacy at all levels, mobile libraries, school visits, attending community events, partnerships, publicity and marketing.  Ms. Wong admitted that this is labor intensive and requires a lot of cultivation and negotiation, but she feels that this outreach unit has worked wonders.  They have gotten more books into more homes than they would have without community outreach.

The final presentation I watched was Young Adult Reading by Richie Partington.  This presentation was geared towards reading and school libraries for the Jr. High students, rather than High School students.  Having said that, Mr. Partington had some great tips that I thought translated well into public libraries.

Mr. Partington suggested a straight forward policy of allowing parents to deny the checkout of specific books for specific kids.  He said that the new circulation programs allow this, and that it will keep parents involved in what their kids are reading.  I don’t think something like this will work well on the scale of a public library, but it was intriguing.

He went on to say that it’s important for YA librarians to be knowledgable of what’s being taught in class so that they can make sure that they’re up to date on what’s new with books and make suggestions based on this knowledge.  Mr. Partington also explained the importance of teaching SLIS principles to the teachers first, and then to the students so that you can get the teachers’ help and backup when needed.  And of course, there’s the need to be tech savvy so that you don’t lose credibility when students ask you a question.

So that’s what I learned while I was sick.

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