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Book links roundup: Lost Katherine Mansfield story found, Kate Beaton’s world view, and more

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Regina librarians walk out, nix fines to protest stalled contract negotiations

Regina Public Library staffers temporarily walked out of work and are refusing to collect late fees in a bid to get administration back to the bargaining table. A post to the website for CUPE Local 1594, which represents RPL library workers, states union members are “refusing to collect fines on overdue materials or library fees as they continue their strike to achieve a fair agreement.”

More than 180 members of the library’s union have been working without a contract since December 2009 and negotiations with the library board stalled last month.

The announcement comes a day after library staff staged a temporary walk-out. The 4 p.m. strike that lasted until the end of the work day caused many RPL branches to close early and preceeded a scheduled rally at City Hall, reports Vanessa Brown at the Leader-Post:

[Library staffers] are particularly concerned with concessions that include working longer on Sundays with less pay and a reduction of dental and health benefits for new part-time employees.

“We think the concessions are significant,” [CUPE national representative Guy Marsden] said. “… We need them to take those remaining concessions off the table. We don’t think that’s much to ask for because other civic employees didn’t have to take concessions like that.”

It might be “business as usual” at RPL today according to one library staff member who spoke with Quillblog, but the union will continue to press its case. The job action appears to be part of a ramped up public outreach campaign, which also includes the release of a TV commercial this week.



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Book links roundup: Saddam Hussein’s daughter seeks publisher, World e-Reading Congress happenings, and more

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Book links roundup: reaction to Pulitzer brush off, BNC Tech Forum talks online now, and more

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Global reading honours imprisoned Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo

A global reading in honour of imprisoned Chinese Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo is scheduled to take place today at over 160 global institutions.

Organized by Berlin’s International Literature Festival, the goal is to “share Liu Xiaobo’s works with a broader readership, to remind the world that a humanist, a freedom fighter, an outstanding writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner is still in a Chinese prison and to express the protest against it,” according to a press release.

Participating Canadian organizations include Amnesty International, China Rights Network, PEN Canada, Simon Fraser University, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, and the Festival international de la Poésie de Trois-Rivières.

Authors who called for the worldwide protest include Salman Rushdie, Rawi Hage, Doris Lessing, and Madeleine Thien.
Marian Botsford Fraser, chair, PEN International’s Writers in Prison committee, and Jiang Weiping, honourary member, PEN Canada, read Liu Xiaobo’s poem, “You Wait for Me with Dust.”

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What Toronto budget cuts could mean for libraries

As Toronto’s city council enters final debates on the 2012 budget, here’s a look at what could be ahead for the Toronto Public Library.

TPL has been asked to meet a 10 per cent reduction target (cutting about $7 million from its annual budget) despite having the busiest year on record in 2011, with more than 19 million visitors borrowing over 33 million items.

A few motions on the table at city council argue for reversing budget reductions. One motion asks TPL to meet its 10 per cent target without cutting back on hours, instead saving money by buying fewer movies and magazines. Chief librarian Jane Pyper estimates that cutting 19,444 hours at 59 branches could save TPL $5.4 million, but this would likely affect all branches.

Another motion proposes that the $7 million in library cuts be scaled back to $4 million, using new revenue from property tax assessment growth to make up the remainder.

Toronto’s literary community has unleashed protests against proposed cuts, too. More than 100 well-known literary figures signed an open letter to Mayor Rob Ford and city council, and the Toronto Public Library Workers Union placed an ad in the Toronto Star this week.

Meanwhile, TPL continues to search for ways to bring in more money. The National Post reported on one new membership program designed to attract the bookish under-40 set to exclusive library events for a roughly $300 annual fee.

Just this morning, the TPL Foundation announced a $1.5 million donation from Toronto philanthropists Marilyn and Charles Baillie to support the Toronto Reference Library’s revitalization, an ongoing program with a $34 million price tag. The Baillies’ donation will go towards the Special Collections Centre, a new reading room set to open in 2013 that will display items related to Canadiana, performance, and documentary art.

Library cuts are on the agenda for debate this afternoon. Check out the liveblog at Torontoist for the latest updates, and keep following Quillblog for more information.

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U.K. poets band together to protest cuts

It’s National Poetry Month here in Canada, an annual initiative by the League of Canadian Poets to bring public attention to poetry. But across the Atlantic, the beginning of April more closely resembles T.S. Eliot’s characterization as “the cruellest month.” On March 30, Arts Council England (ACE) announced cuts to over 200 arts organizations, including the Poetry Book Society, which Eliot himself established in 1953. Responding to the cut in funding, British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy said that it was “a national shame and a scandal” that “goes beyond shocking and touches the realms of the disgusting.”

In response to the denial of funding for the Poetry Book Society, a letter of protest has been signed by more than 100 poets. The Poetry Book Society claims it will have to shut down entirely if the proposed cuts kick in as of April 2012.

This reaction is to some extent predictable; what is less predictable is the reaction in opposition to proposed funding for British publisher Faber. In light of cuts to the Poetry Book Society and certain smaller publishers, the decision to give money to a relatively well-off publisher such as Faber has ruffled some feathers. From the Guardian:

Former Faber director Desmond Clarke, also a former chair of the board at the Poetry Book Society, said he found ACE’s decision to favour the publisher over the Poetry Book Society “extraordinary.”

“As a commercially profitable publisher, Faber is more than capable of investing in a small number of poets each year,” he said. “The reality is that Faber has made enormous amounts of money by publishing poetry, and out of the royalties of Cats which has provided it with many millions over the years.” T.S. Eliot, author of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which inspired the musical, left his literary estate to Faber.

Clarke added: “If I were still a director of Faber I would actually be embarrassed that we should take money when the Poetry Book Society has lost funding.”

The broader picture shows that literature is actually the biggest winner in ACE’s new budget, seeing a 10 per cent increase in funding, while all other cultural arenas experience a net loss. The same article quotes Rachel Feldberg, director of the Ilkley Literature Festival (one of the organizations that will benefit from ACE’s allocation of funds) as feeling “torn” between her own elation and sadness for those who lost out:

“It’s exciting for us but for our colleagues the outlook may be bleak,” she said. The increased funding will enable the festival to continue and expand projects including work with young people in Leeds and Bradford schools.

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Book biz roundup: Yann Martel calls it quits; HarperCollins “friends” teen talent; playwrights get a hand from Harold Pinter; and more

  • Yann Martel, “tired of using books as political bullets and grenades,” quits his book club
  • Jeff Lemire, Kate Beaton, and Conundrum Press among nominees for Joe Shuster Awards
  • HarperCollins to publish crowdsourced novel by teen
  • Apple’s App Store gives Sony the boot
  • London’s Royal Court Theatre announces new Harold Pinter Playwright’s Award
  • This Saturday is Save our Libraries Day in England. “We Love Libraries” is a video made to fuel the flames of protest. It’s even got a hip-hop soundtrack…
  • Authorities in Idaho finally catch up to the condiment bandit, the natural enemy of state-wide library drop boxes

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Two views of Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy, the Booker Prize–winning author of The God of Small Things, has been in the news recently for her outspoken comments about Kashmiri secession from India. Last week, rumours began circulating that the author might be charged with sedition for a speech in which she said, in part, “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. It is a historical fact.”

Although the Indian government appears to have backed away from charging Roy with sedition, on Sunday a mob gathered at the author’s Delhi home to demand she retract her statements. From the Guardian:

Around 150 members of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s women’s organisation surrounded the house chanting slogans such as: “Take back your statement, else leave India.” The BJP is fiercely opposed to Kashmiri independence.

Although Roy has received support from left-leaning commentators at the Guardian and on other websites (notably that of fellow author Hari Kunzru), Leo Mirani, also writing in the Guardian, feels the author’s overheated rhetoric has made her statements “irrelevant in Indian public discourse.” Mirani writes:

Who would want to live in Arundhati Roy’s India? Who would even want to read about Arundhati Roy’s India? The government of India has many faults, but even Roy has to admit that living in this country isn’t entirely intolerable. Confronted with the relentlessly bleak picture she paints, one in which the only good guys are murderers and mercenaries, who can blame middle India for retreating into their iPods and tabloid newspapers?

Roy has important things to say, but her tone and bluster ensure the only people listening are those who already agree with her. She is preaching to the converted. To the left-leaning publications of the west, she is an articulate, intelligent voice explaining the problems with 21st-century India. For the university lefties in India, she confirms their worst fears of a nation falling apart. But to any intelligent readers who may be sitting on the fence or for anyone from middle-class India taking their first tentative steps towards greater political involvement, her polemic serves to terrify and alienate.

Clearly, the 150 people who stormed Roy’s house on Sunday don’t feel that her statements are irrelevant. As for Roy herself, she has issued a press release in which she insinuates possible collusion between the protestors and the media (TV vans had appeared in the neighbourhood prior to the demonstrators descending upon her house):

What is the nature of the agreement between these sections of the media and mobs and criminals in search of spectacle? Does the media which positions itself at the “scene” in advance have a guarantee that the attacks and demonstrations will be non-violent? What happens if there is criminal trespass (as there was today) or even something worse? Does the media then become accessory to the crime?

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Atwood-bashing begins over “Fox News North”

Margaret Atwood is once again lending her name to a worthy cause, and like her support for the environment, brown-bag lunches, and stay-at-home book tours, the celebrated novelist’s actions have generated some mild controversy in the Canadian media.

The latest episode erupted on Tuesday when Atwood announced (via Twitter) that she had added her name to a petition protesting Sun Media’s efforts to launch a Fox TV-style news channel in Canada (the channel is being dubbed “Fox News North” and “Tory TV”). That immediately prompted a response, also via Twitter, from Sun Media national bureau chief David Akin accusing Atwood of supporting “an anti-free speech movement” and effectively accusing “me and my colleagues of hate speech.”

Atwood in turn replied that the issue isn’t about free speech per se, but rather Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s meddlesome involvement with the CRTC, which recently denied the network a top-tier broadcast licence. As Atwood puts it in fewer than 140 characters, “we shouldn’t B Forced to Pay for it, & CRTC chair should be arms’ length, not Harper tool. Fox free 2 set itself up.” She elaborates her position in The Globe and Mail:

“Of course Fox & Co. can set up a channel or whatever they want to do, if it’s legal etc.,” she told The Globe and Mail in an email. “But it shouldn’t happen this way. It’s like the head-of-census affair – gov’t direct meddling in affairs that are supposed to be arm’s length – so do what they say or they fire you.

“It’s part of the ‘I make the rules around here,’ Harper-is-a-king thing,” she wrote.

In today’s National Post, columnist Kelly McParland hits back with an editorial deriding Atwood for “sign[ing] onto this silliness.” Atwood, McParland writes, “stands for good stuff like freedom of speech and freedom of the press, except when it comes to the case of people who don’t agree with her…. Right Peggy? Because you can’t be a good Canadian if you’re a Conservative. Everyone at the CanLit festivals agrees, so it must be true.”

The Post‘s paranoid speculation about a left-leaning CanLit cabal is nothing new. Assuming that at least some of Quillblog’s readers will want to follow Atwood in rejecting Fox News North, you can do so by adding your name to the petition here.

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