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New Innisfree library serves rural Alberta population of 220

Innisfree, Alberta, has opened its first permanent public library. The 220 residents of the rural village now have access to free DVDs, CDs, e-readers, books (about 2,600 books have been catalogued so far, with another 1,000 on the way, the Vermilion Standard reports), and literacy programs.

The Innisfree Public Library, which occupies 1,400-square feet of the village’s community centre, has been in the works for the past four years, since the village became part of the Northern Lights Library System. In the year preceding its July 4th opening, the library board and volunteers had generated community interest by running the village’s first-ever youth summer reading program, hosting the Alberta Prairie Classroom on Wheels bus, and organizing a book swap and donation drive.


Should the incarcerated have access to books?

Residents of Toronto’s provincial detention centres have gone without regular access to books for about two years, the Toronto Star reports. Funding cuts have forced volunteers to take over responsibility for libraries in the province’s correctional facilities, and the candidate pool seems to have run dry.

From the Star:

At the Toronto East Detention Centre, library service has been sporadic for 16 years because of a lack of volunteers, said Brent Ross, a spokesman for the Correctional Services ministry. Student volunteers have filled in occasionally during the last two years, he said, adding that jails have relied on volunteers since 1996 when the province laid off all librarians in correctional institutions…. Toronto West and East are the only two of Ontario’s 29 detention centres without library volunteers, Ross said.

The article was sparked by a blog post by Alex Hundert, who was an inmate at Toronto West Detention Centre after pleading guilty to charges related to 2010’s Toronto G20 protests.

From Hundert’s blog:

When I requested to have the library cart sent to the range so I could borrow a book, the guards told me they haven’t seen the cart in ages…. [T]hose of us locked up here, most not yet having been convicted of any crime, have had no access to books to read…. I have no idea why those in charge of the system would want to deny people books. I would think Corrections would encourage literacy in here, especially when so many of those incarcerated are so young and undereducated…. Denying people books feels like somewhat cruel and unusual punishment.

Hundert goes on to note that though inmates can purchase some books from the canteen, or have books sent in from the outside under very strict conditions, a recent search of the unit he lived in saw all books and magazines confiscated.

The article and Hundert’s post raise a few important questions: if part of the purpose of incarceration is to rehabilite criminalized people and prepare them for re-entry to mainstream society, what role can books play in these processes? And provided books and libraries have their place in detention centres, should these resources be government- or volunteer-funded and operated? Should the responsibility of promoting literacy and access to books fall to average citizens?

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Book links roundup: The Hunger Games attracts older audiences, no one is buying Mike Daisey’s book, and more

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Canadian literary event roundup: Feb. 24-March 1

Freedom to Read Week kicks off Feb. 26. For a complete list of national events, visit the program’s website.

Here’s a sample of other literary events happening across the country:

  • Galiano Literary Festival presents a weekend of readings and workshops with Kit Pearson, Audrey Thomas, Grant Lawrence, Gary Geddes, and others, Galiano Oceanfront Inn and Spa, Galiano Island, B.C. (Feb. 24–26)
  • Dr. Shelagh Robinson invites parents and children to read reversed text with Mirror Read Books, Babar Books, Montreal (Feb. 24, 2 p.m., free)
  • Jo Walton reads from her fantasy novel, Among Others, Bakka Phoenix Books, Toronto (Feb. 25, 3 p.m., free)
  • Calinda B reads from her erotic paranormal romance, A Wicked Awakening, Caffe Misto, Victoria (Feb. 25, 3:30 p.m., free)
  • Ontario Poetry Society presents For the Love of Poetry Festival with member readings, Rivoli, Toronto (Feb. 26, 12 p.m., free)
  • Douglas Gibson presents his one-man show, Stories About Storytellers, Lower Ossington Theatre, Toronto (Feb. 26, 3 p.m., $25)
  • Readings by Charlotte Gill, Robert Hough, and Kim Thúy, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto (Feb. 29, 7:30 p.m., $10)
  • Iain Baxter& book and catalogue launch for Iain Baxter&: Works 1958–2011, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (Feb. 29, 6 p.m., free)
  • Peggy Blair launches her novel The Beggar’s Opera, Mambo Lounge, Toronto (Feb. 29, 6 p.m., free)
  • World Literacy Canada presents readings by Randy Boyagoda, David M. Malone, and Syeda Nuzhat Siddiqui, Park Hyatt, Toronto (Feb. 29. 6:30 p.m., $60)
  • Donna and Bridgitte Morrissey launch their picture book Cross Katie Kross, George Wright House, Halifax (March 1, 6:30 p.m., free, email RSVP)


Carmen Aguirre wins CBC Canada Reads

Carmen Aguirre came out victorious at this year’s CBC Canada Reads. The B.C.-based author and playwright’s memoir, Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter (Douglas & McIntyre), about growing up in the underground among South American revolutionaries during the 1970s, beat out Ken Dryden’s The Game (Wiley Canada), the former Habs goalie’s recollections of pro hockey and a very different version of the ’70s.

Something Fierce defender Shad had his work cut out for him, winning three votes to two against The Game’s champion, Alan Thicke, Thursday morning at the CBC studios in Toronto. The hip-hop artist was backed by Arlene Dickinson and Anne-France Goldwater (one of the rare instances when these two panelists agreed), while Thicke was seconded by Stacey McKenzie. The final showdown proved to be one of the tamest panels yet in a contest that included allegations of lying, bullying, terrorism, and lots of tears (we’re looking at you, Stacey).

Aguirre, who is currently touring her one-woman show, Blue Box, called into the studio from Ottawa after she heard the news. “It was a very interesting week for me because I’m alone in Ottawa right now,” she said. “I’d had to go every night to do my 80-minute monologue and then not sleep at night because I was waiting to see what will happen the next morning, but I’ve had a lot of virtual support.”

The Game and Something Fierce (a Q&Q Book of the Year for 2011), were the last titles standing after one by one panelists voted off Dave Bidini’s On a Cold Road (McClelland & Stewart), John Vaillant’s The Tiger (Vintage Canada), and Marina Nemat’s Prisoner of Tehran (Penguin Canada).

D&M is preparing for the expected increase in sales, often referred to as the “Canada Reads effect,” with a reprint of the book. As part of its participation in the contest, the publisher will make a financial donation to Frontier College’s Aboriginal Literacy Program.

Something Fierce will be released in the U.S. in August.

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Toronto Public Library Board balks at 10 per cent budget cut

Last night, in its final meeting of the year, the Toronto Public Library Board approved a cut of 5.9 per cent to its 2012 operating budget. The 2012 budget now stands at just over $164 million, though more cuts may be on the way.

Going into budget negotiations, Mayor Rob Ford required all city services to slash their operating costs by 10 per cent. The TPL board has struggled to find savings. Recently, it shot down a recommendation by chief librarian Jane Pyper to reduce hours and collections at certain branches, and last night they passed on her last-ditch proposal to end bookmobile services, as well as literacy and student outreach programming. To increase revenues, the board voted for higher auditorium and room rental fees, a new fee for materials on hold that go unclaimed, and the phasing in of four new automated sorters.

The decision comes as a surprise, reports The Globe and Mail, in part because the mayor virtually appointed the library board to implement his financial vision:

“I simply can’t support a reduction in hours,” said [board member and City Councillor Jaye] Robinson. “I think in January you will find most of council backing this up and supporting keeping libraries open and accessible.”

While a board-room packed with library staff celebrated, [board chair Councillor Paul] Ainslie didn’t hold back his disappointment. “As far as I’m concerned, a majority of the board just abrogated their duties, shirked their responsibilities,” he said.

“I’m fully expecting the city manager to be furious, I think the mayor’s going to be furious, I think the budget committee will be furious, I’m furious.”

The budget now goes before the City of Toronto budget and executive committees before approval by City Council in January. The next TPL board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 30, 2012.


Where to watch the Scotiabank Giller Prize gala

Tomorrow night’s Scotiabank Giller Prize awards ceremony will be broadcast live on CBC’s new cable channel Bold at 9 p.m. (EST), followed by a rebroadcast on the same channel at 11:05 p.m.

For viewers with digital cable subscriptions, Bold is free for the month of November. Online viewers can catch the livestream on CBC Books or follow the Twitter feed @cbcbooks.

If you prefer the thrill of watching in a crowd, there are Scotiabank Giller Light bashes in Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver, all of which support literacy programs at Frontier College. Halifax is hosting its own Giller Lite party, with proceeds going to the Atlantic Book Awards Society.

Photos: Pam Westoby

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Book links round-up: digital imprint to revive old titles, the world’s coolest libraries, and more

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Endicott to launch Good Reads series on International Literacy Day

Good Reads, a partnership between Edmonton’s Grass Roots Press and ABC Life Literacy Canada, is set to release its second series of books for adult literacy learners. For 2011, the series of short titles written in an accessible language and easy to read format will feature titles by Marina Endicott, Joy Fielding, Robert Hough, Anthony Hyde, and Francis Itani.

Endicott will launch her book, New Year’s Eve, on Sept. 8, UNESCO’s International Literacy Day, in Edmonton.

The inaugural Good Reads list included Easy Money by financial adviser and TV personality Gail Vaz-Oxlade. The book was a surprise hit, spending a few weeks on Canadian bestseller lists.

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Daily book biz round-up: Mankell still missing; Rick Warren goes AWOL; and more

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