Monday, March 30, 2015

URGENT: March 31 deadline to let Canadian Libraries know what you think

Sorry not to know about this sooner, but as it turns out, the Canadian Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Advisory Committee has been conducting a survey on customer satisfaction. They are asking customers for feedback on any "challenges to library materials and intellectual freedom-related policies" in "publicly funded Canadian libraries (e.g, public, school, academic, and government)" in 2014.

The deadline is March 31st: tomorrow! So this is truly a last call chance to participate.

Please speak up about how completely unacceptable it is that many public libraries and school libraries across Canada have no filters to block pornography. In fact, many don't block even child pornography!

Remember what I was told by Coun. Tim Tierney, the Chairman of the Board of the Ottawa Public Library: "OPL uses more filters than most libraries in Canada ...(e.g. child pornography for which we filter – other libraries do not)."

To let the Canadian Library Association know what you think, please go here:

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Answering the Libertarian Librarian, Part 2

This is a continuation of my post Answering the Libertarian Librarian, in which I address the arguments against filtering pornography in school libraries, as raised by the staff at Dr Frank J. Hayden Secondary School in Halton, Ontario.

1. Filters show distrust in young people

In my previous post, I answered their argument that filters would undermine the trust relationship that teachers and staff have with students.

2. Filters would block out LGBT content, and other useful content

Halton's teachers next pointed out that filters would create an unacceptable risk of blocking out LGBT content. They wrote:
We value and are committed to the principles of equity in our schools. It has been demonstrated in the past that when filters for sexual content have been placed in schools some of the first sites to be blocked are public health sites that are accessed with information for and about our LGBT population. What happens when there is a disagreement over a particular site being filtered?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Answering the Libertarian Librarian

The liberal elites of Western society seem to be retiring freedom of religion and freedom of conscience into the dustbins of history. Here in Canada, we just recently witnessed Ontario doctors being told that they must refer even for treatments like abortion which violate their most deeply held values, and law graduates who object to same-sex marriage have been refused professional accreditation in three provinces, including Canada's largest.

So here is a surprise. North American associations of librarians have bucked the "progressive" trend of reducing freedoms. Instead, legions of librarian leaders across the continent have staunchly embraced a free-for-all libertarianism. Result: many public libraries, even school libraries, now allow Internet access to everything under the sun, including pornography and often child pornography.

It's nice that librarians are perhaps the last standing bureaucrats who will protect my freedom to think outside the liberal agenda. But it would be great if my freedom didn't come at the cost of permitting obscenity in formerly safe zones for children and families. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Saying goodbye to homeschooling

Tomorrow will be a big day for us. After two years of homeschooling, my oldest daughter Hannah will be going to school. Okay, kindergarten. For half a day. But still, this is a big change for us. If all goes well, in September she will be going to Grade 1.

The obvious question: why? When I first started homeschooling two years ago, my husband and I told each other that we would take it "year by year and child by child", but we were both hoping to homeschool all our kids until high school.

It's not really the academics - at five years old, Hannah is reading chapter books and is doing well in every subject.

It's mainly the social aspect. I have heard it said that Ottawa has a large homeschooling community, but frankly, I have been feeling very isolated as a Catholic homeschooler in this city.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Overwhelmed, Part IV: Leisure time is medicine for the soul

Visit the book's website.
This is the fourth and last part of my book review of Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2014). (Also check out Part IPart II and Part III of my review).

Schulte starts the fourth part of Overwhelmed in Denmark, which ranks first in the UN's World Happiness Report.  Schulte has come to see how the Danes do it. She spends time with various Danish families, trying to learn why Danish mothers get so much free time:
"Danish mothers have the most leisure time of mothers in any much as an hour more leisure a day than mothers in the United States, Australia and France, and an hour and a half more than Italian mothers." (216)
One reason why Danish mothers have more free time is because Danish fathers appear to be far more willing than most men around the world to split housework and child care equally with their wives. Other reasons include the very generous government benefits and policies to support families, such as a long maternity leave and more public holidays.

But among all the various reasons why Danish mothers have so much free time, perhaps the most insightful is this statement made by a Danish husband and wife: "Americans seem to value achievement above all, and Danes make it a priority to live a good life."

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Overwhelmed, Part III: We expect too much of modern mothers

Visit the book's website.
This is the third part of my book review of Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2014). (Also check out Part I and Part II).

Here, I discuss Part Three: Love, where Schulte examines our societal beliefs about motherhood and fatherhood, discusses the new "cult of intensive motherhood," and thinks about how we can change our culture for the better.

Schulte starts out by discussing how married women still do most of the unpaid work inside the home. "[T]ime studies have found that married women in the United States still do about 70 to 80 percent of the housework, though most of them work for pay, and that once a woman has children, her share of housework increases three times as much as her husband's." (156)

This turned out to be true in Schulte's own life. Both her and her husband had demanding careers as journalists, and both tended to stay late at the office. But at home, Schulte's husband would smoke a cigar and relax, while Schulte would scramble to get things done, taking care of the house, setting up birthday parties, preparing meals, and so on. Their "unintended slide into traditional roles" had happened especially after their children were born, and Schulte felt stuck in a situation that was draining her of all her energy and sanity.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Dissecting Ottawa Library's official letter re pornography on library computers

Last response from Ottawa City Councillor Tim Tierney,
Chair of the Board of the Ottawa Public Library,
sent to me on March 12 in reply to my follow-up letter.

by Vladimir Sevcik 

(Guest Post)


This is a perfect example of a disingenuous, evasive and dismissive answer - Coun. Tierney hides behind phrases with which he wants to assure you how well they mean it (“ ensure a safe and welcoming place”), but almost simultaneously, he actually assures you that the library will be a welcoming place especially for perverts.

Then, instead of addressing the issue, he talks about things that they supposedly can’t change (customers personal devices and technical problems). In the next sentence he proves that he doesn’t really take all this seriously anyway, by trying to educate you with the phrase “may be CONSIDERED offensive by SOME”, and, in case you need some more educating, he also adds that your complaint is groundless because “the term objectionable is itself subjective” and “what is considered objectionable to you is not to me” - he doesn’t say the second part, but he means exactly that. Terrorist for some, freedom fighter for others. In this case: pervert for some, free-speech fighter for others. Filth for some is information for others.

Coun. Tierney is also evading the essence of your complaint and placing it into a different light - for instance, by talking about “sexual content” (which could mean morally neutral education about anatomy, etc.), while you are talking about a specific case of sexual content - pornography.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Planning for a petition against pornography in public libraries

Yesteday, I received an email response from Coun. Tim Tierney to my follow-up letter of March 10. Here is the text of his reply, which appears to have been written by him (there is no "sent on behalf of" in this email).
CC: Timothy Tierney, Danielle McDonald (CEO)
Ms. Singh,
Thank you for your follow-up questions on this matter. The Ottawa Public Library strives to strives to provide a safe and welcoming space for all our customers while balancing individual needs and rights. As previously stated, we have one of the strongest filtering systems in place for public libraries regarding our Public Internet Computers and our wifi network. However, with more and more customers using their own mobile devices, the ability to control the content within the library space, and prevent with 100% certainty content that may be considered offensive by some, becomes increasingly challenging.
The request for a technical solution to address your concern (that is, filtering all content) is difficult to achieve. Firstly, filtering is a reactive process in its very nature in that the site must exist and be found before it can be blocked. Secondly, filters are not perfect and often tend to over-filter, often blocking credible sites. Thirdly, the term objectionable is itself subjective and does not necessarily apply simply to sexual content; what is considered objectionable to one person is not to another.
Ultimately to ensure that our library space is a safe and welcoming place for all we need to rely on a number of elements such as tools, policies and practices.
With respect to the results of our investigation, I regret that I cannot share those details with you. We do not comment publicly on internal, employee matters.

Sounds like the library administration is digging in their heels at this point. Coun. Tierney is now explicit about rebutting my request of filtering pornography. Moreover, he informs me that I will never find out the results of their internal investigation of the incident at the Ruth E. Dickinson library branch.

This letter feels like the end of the road for my letter exchange on this topic with the Board of the OPL. Obviously, one person will not move that mountain, and I didn't really expect to, though I'm glad they are forced to think about this issue again as they carry out their investigation.

The next step

The time is now here to seek other avenues of redress. And what springs to mind is legislation.

Yesterday, after reading about Bill 128, 2008, I contacted Gerry Martiniuk, the former (Conservative) MPP who introduced this Private Members' Bill at Queen's Park. He wrote back to me today, and among other things, I found out that this Bill was born from the efforts of one person in Martiniuk's riding, who observed someone viewing pornography at a public library in Cambridge, and who then started a petition and collected signatures. I find this very encouraging!

Mr. Martiniuk pointed me to the Ontario Legislature's public petitions webpage, which details the format that a petition must comply with in order to be valid. 

Next step: I need to contact my (Conservative) MPP, Lisa MacLeod, and see whether she would be willing to introduce a Private Members' Bill on this topic if I collected enough signatures. 


Below are all my posts on this topic. The most recent are listed first:

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Lessons learned, and gearing up to fight pornography in libraries

Wonderful Andrea Mrozek informed us that CFRA played a short quote from me on their morning news at around 7:50 am yesterday. I didn't hear it or know about it, as it was a clip from a pre-recorded interview. I'm so happy to hear that they mentioned this story!

Until last week, I would have bet $1000 that our local "very child friendly" public library used a filter to block out pornography from their computers. Now I know better. A whole new and disturbing world has been opened up to me. I have learned that my safe little bubble was only in my head - it hasn't actually existed for decades.

Today, many libraries across Canada and the United States have no pornography filters at all, not even for illegal graphic images of the sexual exploitation, rape and abuse of children.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Ottawa Public Library responds to my letter

Yesterday morning, the Board of the Ottawa Public Library responded to my complaint. I am very happy that they responded quickly and that they are taking my complaint seriously. Below is the full text of their letter, followed by my response. Notice that the current chair of the library board is Ottawa Coun. Timothy Tierney:
Sent on behalf of Ottawa Public Library Board Chair, Tim Tierney
CC: Timothy Tierney, Jan Harder, Danielle McDonald (CEO)
Ms. Singh,
On behalf of the Ottawa Public Library Board, please accept our apologies for your recent experience at the Ruth E. Dickinson branch of the Ottawa Public Library, and thank you for bringing it to our attention. We assure you that we support a safe and welcoming public library environment. We care about our customers and we have in place a number of policies that ensure that the library is a safe place for anyone to visit, including children and families.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Update: Only child pornography is blocked out by Ottawa library filters

I just received a link to this 2013 article from Ottawa Community News, and it helps clarify a lot. According to that article, in 2013 the Ottawa Public Library moved for the first time to install pornography filters. (Perhaps they are indeed, as was told to the CFRA reporter, the "best in the country"). BUT - these filters are only being used to filter out illegal pornography - which means, only child pornography:
The Ottawa Public Library already filters content viewed by children by using their library cards to block sexual, hateful, violent or gambling-related content, said Jennifer Stirling, the library's manager of technology and innovation.
Now, the library is in the process of acquiring software that will prevent child pornography from being viewed on any library computer throughout the city.

Update: is pornography allowed at the library, or maybe not?

So hold on to your heads, to keep them from spinning. Here is a new twist to my run-in with pornography at the library last Thursday. Ottawa's talk radio station CFRA called me back this morning - I had called their newstip line on Thursday after getting back home from the library. The reporter who called me had already contacted someone from the City/library board. Apparently, this person told her "we have the best filters in the country" and claimed that pornography is not permitted at the library.

Wow. While I am very happy to hear that, I can't figure out how that could be true at the same time as what I experienced on Thursday. What a confusing tangle. So what in the world happened at Ruth E. Dickinson on Thursday? It couldn't have been just a failure of the library filter, since the librarian told me that the library permitted pornography under "freedom of information." Was she wrong? Why did she think this was the case?

Baby steps: Throwing pornography out of the public library

My husband and I have been thinking about what to do regarding my discovery that pornography is freely accessible at the Ottawa Public Library.

We both feel very strongly that this battle must be fought. As parents, we are outraged at this failure by the Ottawa Public Library to protect our children. As citizens, we are shocked that public morals and norms have sunk so low in a privileged public space that is tasked with representing our shared cultural values. The library's policy must be revised.

To get the ball rolling, I have written two letters. The first letter is to the Board of the Ottawa Public Library. They have an online comment submission form, so I made use of this. Here is the text of my letter:
As an Ottawa resident and a parent of three young children, I am outraged that Internet pornography is freely accessible at branches of the Ottawa Public Library.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Internet pornography is welcome at our local public library

At 5:35 p.m. on Thursday, March 5, I found myself at the Ruth E. Dickinson Branch of the Ottawa public library. I was standing by the librarian’s desk on the teen and adult floor when a lady came rushing towards the librarian, looking upset and saying: "There is a man viewing pornography at one of the computers!"

The librarian didn't seem shocked by this information, She walked away to the computer section, and came back rather quickly. I was still standing there, aghast. A father and a teenage girl were standing next to me. When the librarian came back, I said to her: "I hope that you told him to stop."

She shook her head. Apparently, all she can do is "suggest that he move to a more discreet computer" if one is available. 

What I didn't know until then, you see, is that the Ottawa Public Library has no anti-porn policy at all, and doesn't appear to have Internet filters for that smut. Instead, the library allows people to freely view pornography under their "freedom of information" policy.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Overwhelmed, Part II: The ideal worker is exhausting us

Visit the book's website.
This is the second part of my book review of Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2014).(Part I can be found here.)

In this post, I discuss Part Two: Work, where Schulte looks in detail at how the American workplace contributes to people feeling overwhelmed, and how things could change.

The Ideal Worker

Schulte starts the section by explaining that most workplaces have not changed since the 1950s. They are designed for the traditional, linear career trajectory of men: they expect people to enter the workforce and work "full force for forty years straight".

Looking deeper still, our workplaces are built around a subconscious cultural stereotype which Schulte calls the "ideal worker". What does this ideal worker look like? "He is a face-time warrior, the first one in in the morning and the last to leave at night. He is rarely sick. Never takes vacation, or brings work along if he does. The ideal worker can jump on a plane whenever the boss asks...he is the one who answers e-mails at 3 a.m., willingly relocates whenever and wherever...and pulls all-nighters on last-minute projects at a moment's notice. In the blue-collar workplace, he is always ready to work overtime or a second shift." (77)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Overwhelmed, Part I: Most of us are stressed for time

Visit the book's website.
I've just finished reading Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2014).

The boring book cover underplays the tour de force that is unleashed within its 286 pages of text. Schulte is a veteran journalist, and it really shows. Her book is written with exceptional rigour, quality and depth. This book should be game-changing.

Overwhelmed is nothing less than a manifesto for an entirely new and better way of structuring our workplaces, reforming our culture, and consciously improving our own lives.

This book is brimming with exceptional research. It's not just statistics. Like a true reporter, Schulte has actually taken the trouble to travel extensively, personally interviewing experts in many different areas, attending conferences, visiting foreign countries, and spending days in the lives of many real mothers and fathers from different walks of life. She brings those interviews and experiences to life in this book with just the right amount of length and detail.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Are stay-at-home mothers selfish for regretting their careers?

As a stay-at-home mother for the last six years, I've come a long way in my views on the working vs. homemaker "mommy wars". When I quit my job and started my homemaker journey after the birth of my first daughter, I wanted to be the ideal mother who sacrifices herself for her family. I had come to believe that this was God's will for me as a woman and a mother. My not-so-subtle prejudice was that working moms of young children are being selfish and failing their kids.

I was hardly unusual in my beliefs. While not many women choose to stay home anymore, negative opinions of working moms are still widespread in our society. Despite the gains made by women in the workforce since the 1970s, American society remains very ambivalent about whether mothers should be working at all.

But now that I've been home for the last few years, I've learned the hard way that there are heavy costs associated with completely abandoning one's career in order to stay home. Looking back, I was not quite aware of how these costs would make themselves felt in my own life.

Many of these costs were discussed recently by stay-at-home mother Lisa Endlich Heffernan, in a column where she broke the unspoken solidarity on her side of the 'mommy wars' by publishing a list of regrets about staying home with her children.