Doctors heeding the call for books to Afghanistan

Nearly three decades of war and religious extremism have devastated medical libraries and crippled the educational system for doctors, nurses and other health professionals. Factions of the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, singled out medical texts for destruction, military medical personnel say, because anatomical depictions of the human body were considered blasphemous.

“They not only burned the books, but they sent monitors into the classroom to make sure there were no drawings of the human body on the blackboard,” said Valerie Walker, director of the Medical Alumni Association of the University of California, Los Angeles.

Ms. Walker is helping lead an ambitious effort by American doctors and nurses, both civilian and military, to restock Afghanistan’s hospitals, clinics and universities with medical textbooks and other reference materials.

The project, called Operation Medical Libraries, began modestly in 2007 with a plea for books from a U.C.L.A. medical graduate serving in the Army. It has since been embraced by 30 universities and hospitals, more than a dozen professional organizations and scores of individual doctors and nurses…

Like most others involved in the program, Dr. Maldonado heard about it from a colleague. And word has spread among medical officers stationed in Afghanistan, who act as volunteer points of contact to shepherd books to the libraries…

By Ms. Walker’s estimate, 27,000 medical texts have reached Afghanistan through Operation Medical Libraries, but she adds that the number is probably much higher. Donors can contribute directly by visiting the project’s Web site to find a military volunteer’s address, then shipping the books on their own.

Please, join in. Collect books. Get folks to collect and ship them to the Project.

RTFA. Reflect on the “joys” that fundamentalist religions almost inevitably bring to whatever part of the world is under their subjugation.

Books in home increase children’s education level

Whether rich or poor, residents of the United States or China, illiterate or college graduates, parents who have books in the home increase the level of education their children will attain, according to a 20-year study led by Mariah Evans, University of Nevada, Reno associate professor of sociology and resource economics.

For years, educators have thought the strongest predictor of attaining high levels of education was having parents who were highly educated. But, strikingly, this massive study showed that the difference between being raised in a bookless home compared to being raised in a home with a 500-book library has as great an effect on the level of education a child will attain as having parents who are barely literate…compared to having parents who have a university education… Both factors, having a 500-book library or having university-educated parents, propel a child 3.2 years further in education, on average.

Being a sociologist, Evans was particularly interested to find that children of lesser-educated parents benefit the most from having books in the home. She has been looking for ways to help Nevada’s rural communities, in terms of economic development and education.

“What kinds of investments should we be making to help these kids get ahead?” she asked. “The results of this study indicate that getting some books into their homes is an inexpensive way that we can help these children succeed.”

Evans said, “Even a little bit goes a long way,” in terms of the number of books in a home. Having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit…

The researchers were struck by the strong effect having books in the home had on children’s educational attainment even above and beyond such factors as education level of the parents, the country’s GDP, the father’s occupation or the political system of the country.

Having books in the home is twice as important as the father’s education level, and more important than whether a child was reared in China or the United States. Surprisingly, the difference in educational attainment for children born in the United States and children born in China was just 2 years, less than two-thirds the effect that having 500 or more books in the home had on children.

I presume the benefit was from having access to the books. It certainly was an advantage for me and my sister.

Though both of us were taught to read before entering kindergarten, though both took those long Saturday roundtrip walks to the Carnegie Library in our community – our parents had belonged to a couple of book clubs for all their lives together. It took me years – enjoyable years I might add – to catch up to both of them reading through our home library.

Christian state in India confiscates ‘blasphemous’ Jesus textbooks

The government in the Indian state of Meghalaya has confiscated textbooks showing pictures of Jesus Christ holding a cigarette and a can of beer.

The book has been used for primary classes and has caused a furore in the north-eastern state, where more than 70% of the population are Christians.

State Education Minister Ampareen Lyngdoh said legal action against the publishers was being contemplated.

The controversial picture of Jesus was discovered in cursive writing exercise books being used at a private school in the state capital, Shillong…

The minister said that…his government has taken speedy action by seizing all the copies of the textbook from schools and bookshops.

We are deeply hurt by the insensitivity of the publisher. How can one show such total disrespect for a religion?” asked Dominic Jala, the Archbishop of Shillong…

The Catholic Church in India has banned all textbooks by Skyline Publications from all its schools.

Doesn’t it warm the cockles of your heart to see such understanding and tolerance for all rational religious points of view?

France joins race to digitize world’s books – sort of

Amid the flat, wide fields of central France, a team of re-trained secretaries and IT experts is packaging Europe’s literary heritage for the digital era…

The company they work for, Safig, is one of the few European firms to digitize books, using automatic and human page-turners. That places them right at the center of France’s plan for a massive online library, and its attempts to negotiate a digital books deal with U.S. internet giant Google…

Fans of France’s 750 million euro scheme to digitize its libraries and museums see it as a union of cultural pride and industrial strategy — Bruno Racine, head of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, is also a strategic advisor to NATO, the military alliance.

Skeptics point out that Google’s 10 million digitized books dwarf any French effort so far, such as Safig’s three-year contract to scan 300,000 books for the Bibliotheque Nationale.

One possible outcome is a compromise with Google that would accelerate mass digitization…

France has said it is ready to talk to Google over a joint project, but wants to extract far more generous terms than other partners — for example, through a free book swap.

That stance marks a shift in attitude following the departure of Jean-Noel Jeanneney as director of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France in 2007. Jeanneney was a fierce Google critic and even wrote a book attacking the company’s book project as a threat to non-Anglophone culture.

Under the deal, the Bibliotheque Nationale could let Google use the digitized books and in return would have free access to Google’s far bigger collection.

“We welcome the spirit of the proposal,” Google spokesman Simon Morrison said. “We are happy to talk.”

It’s always good for a chuckle to watch nations fight cultural battles against global communications. There are people in French letters who still oppose translations into other languages. Or they will only allow specific languages in translation.

I had a friend in Warsaw who quite legally translated French classics into Polish – and also enjoined by the owners of IP rights not to translate the same works into English on occasion.

Bigot blacklists have opposite effect on children’s book

Its denigrators will be kicking themselves: a children’s book about two male penguins who raise an orphaned chick has shot up Amazon’s bestseller charts after it was named as the title which people have tried hardest to ban in the US.

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell is a children’s picture book based on the true story of a zookeeper at a New York zoo, who spotted two of his male penguins attempting to hatch a stone, and “realises that it may be time for Roy and Silo to become parents for real”. Parents in the US have complained about its “homosexual undertones” (it’s “a homosexual storyline that has been sugar-coated with cute penguins”, said one) according to the American Library Association, which puts together a list of the most challenged titles in the country every year. And Tango Makes Three has topped that list for the last three years…

Richardson himself said today that it was “regrettable that some parents believe reading a true story about two male penguins hatching an egg will damage their children’s moral development”. “They are entitled to express their beliefs, but not to inflict them on others,” he added.

I sincerely hope that as the gradual march up the incline of knowledge and education includes more and more of our species – bigots and fools will continue to pitch themselves over the side of this cliffside path.

Welcome to the library. Say goodbye to the books.

James Tracy looking over conversion of library to learning center

There are rolling hills and ivy-covered brick buildings. There are small classrooms, high-tech labs, and well-manicured fields. There’s even a clock tower with a massive bell that rings for special events.

Cushing Academy has all the hallmarks of a New England prep school, with one exception.

This year, after having amassed a collection of more than 20,000 books, officials at the pristine campus about 90 minutes west of Boston have decided the 144-year-old school no longer needs a traditional library. The academy’s administrators have decided to discard all their books and have given away half of what stocked their sprawling stacks – the classics, novels, poetry, biographies, tomes on every subject from the humanities to the sciences. The future, they believe, is digital.

When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,’’ said James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing and chief promoter of the bookless campus. “This isn’t ‘Fahrenheit 451’. We’re not discouraging students from reading. We see this as a natural way to shape emerging trends and optimize technology.’’

Continue reading

A plunge in most consumer goods – but, not in books…

Bookbarn International stocks 5 million titles in 2nd-hand books
Daylife/Getty Images

Some people are seeking explanations for the global economic crisis. Others want to escape into the fanciful world of vampires. Still others are just looking for a nice plate of comfort food.

Whether they are picking up “La Crise, et Après?” by the French economist Jacques Attali, one of umpteen translations of the American author Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series, or “Jamie’s Ministry of Food,” by the British television chef Jamie Oliver, they are buying books. As the recession leaves other media industries in tatters, the oldest mass medium of all is holding up surprisingly well.

“It’s a happy message,” said André Breedt, research and development analyst at Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks book sales. “People have been reading and they will keep reading, no matter what happens…”

Publishers and analysts offer a variety of reasons why books have done better, at least so far, than many had feared. Compared with a new television or video game console, books are inexpensive. With unemployment on the rise and working hours in decline, people may simply have more time on their hands. After the excesses of recent years, reading is an activity well suited to a more contemplative era.

“Books are a very cheap treat,” said Helen Fraser, managing director of Penguin Books in London. “When you are reading all this dreadful news in the paper, a lovely 500-page novel by Marian Keyes or a classic by Charles Dickens takes you right away from all that.”

But downturns have also created opportunities for publishers. Penguin was founded in 1935, during the Great Depression, by the publisher Allen Lane, who wanted to sell quality books for roughly the price of a pack of cigarettes.

First thing I did after acquiring more spare time when I retired – beside adding a commitment to a second blog – was reserving one day a week as my reading day. It makes nothing but good sense to me.