Sunday, August 07, 2011

The Margaret Atwood Community Library

Or how about *The Warren Kinsella Library* ?

Now, there's an idea . . . the buildings are built already, the computers in place, they're fully staffed . . . our existing libraries simply need concerned citizens of considerable means to stump up and help with the operating costs.

latest column in the SUN about populism got me thinking. He's quick to point out how many concerned community members who voiced their opposition to library closures at City Hall last week. Funnily enough, I heard what libraries meant to them, their families, their communities -- yet I heard no ideas on how to keep them viable while costs go up for everything from hydro for the computers and air conditioning, to the gas that transports the books from Scarborough to Etobicoke, North York to East York or Downtown . . . not to mention the cost of city paid union library workers in an economy where everyone is having to pinch pennies. The mean-spirited, but populist Mayor was interested enough in regular folk's input to hold the meeting and listen (did David Miller ever do that?) but if he can't find a way to fulfill the hopes of these community members he will be vilified as dismissive of the concerns of regular people (what a poor excuse for a populist).

No one says that we don't need libraries, but books are fast becoming redundant and libraries are actually filling the dual role of Internet cafe and community centre -- both of which are necessary and laudable in a city with the diverse population of Toronto. People need a safe place to congregate where they can learn, read, converse etc. They need a place where they can access the larger world online if they haven't a computer or Internet at home. I don't think even the Fords are denying this . . . but when libraries have become more than just a book-lender and when there are more buildings and more union scale, publicly paid employees than are reasonable during times of austerity --- doesn't it make sense that the community at large begin to think of new ways to provide the same services?

Donations to support your local library, spearheaded and maybe started-off by some altruistic, activist, local celebrities who have a keen interest in books might be an idea.

Atwood is worried almost as worried about privatization of the library system as she is about closures. I guess it's too easy to whine rather than be part of the solution.

You don't have to be elected to make a positive difference in the community. Margaret? Warren? Any better ideas?


Anyone out there over 40 and unemployed?

Last week my husband and I watched The Company Men. Good movie, except for the ending. Throughout, GK (my guy) and I would turn to each other and shake our heads. It was like watching his life played out on screen . . . well, except for the Porsche and the mansion. GK had a good career, not great, and we have a simple life, not grand --- but beyond those small differences in status, the experience of the job-hunting character of Ben Affleck was so sadly similar to GK's that we suddenly realized how very universal this situation is today.

GK was laid off in 2009 when his division was moved to Quebec and the jobs went with it. Since then he's had dozens of interviews. He obtained occasional work through temp agencies taking jobs way below his capabilities and pay scale, just to be *contributing to the household*. Over that period, he's exhausted our pool of friends and neighbours for whom he can paint, do landscaping or other handiwork. Then, for eight months he worked a minimum wage job where he, along with the other workers, was yelled at, mocked, and put in dangerous situations without protection. When he finally pointed out safety violations within the company, he was fired. He couldn't file a wrongful dismissal claim because he'd been there under a year but he challenged his dismissal to EI and because they found in his favour, he's now receiving benefits. That was February.

I can't tell you how many jobs he's applied for since then. Five interviews. Two seemed promising. At one, the Director showed him around the place, where he'd be working, introduced him to some people . . . told him they'd call him early the next week. When GK called them at the end of the following week, he was told that the Director was busy, and oh yeah, the position was filled. This wasn't the first time he'd faced that kind of treatment by a potential employer -- enthusiasm and then silence -- that first year, 2009 when he was first laid off . . . interview after interview went that way. You almost wonder is HR people are trained to let everyone think they've got the job so that no one will leave the place ready to explode, but it's a really, really deceptive and cruel tactic. Having asked around, I've started to realize it's pretty typical.

Some people have suggested it's time he change tactics. He's revamped his resume, stuck in all the right keywords, but there's been no magic and still no job so he even thought about switching careers -- they advertise it still -- retraining through EI if you can get it . . . or if you can get your head around it is one of those *looks good on paper* sort of options.

As I watch GK deal with the emotional rollercoaster that comes with losing your life's work in a heartbeat, I know that for the 28 years he worked in his former industry (albeit for several different companies) he came to identify with the job. . . and now . . . he just doesn't know.
Retraining sounds good . . . is good . . . for some people. It's great that there are those avenues available, often with financial support of government, but there are many people out there who don't have whatever it is that allows some people to reinvent themselves in later life. In our day, you could leave high school and work yourself into a career. They trained you and you got first hand learning on the job, not in the classroom. GK is creative, energetic, innovative, smart, but school was never his thing.The rules have changed, but for GK and many of our generation, the idea of going back to school now is simply one more pressure that he isn't prepared for and even if he could reconcile himself to it, he would retrain ... as what? A chef? A photographer? A mechanic? GK worked at learning his position for nearly three decades. His real-life experience is invaluable because of the complexity of the role . . . and yet despite his credentials and his willingness to take lesser pay than his position would normally garner, he can't find a job in his field . . . why would some other industry hire this 48 year old, grey haired, white male when there are fresh, young kids coming out of the same training centres who would be just as capable?

GK doesn't say so, but lately, I see that he's wondering if he'll ever get another job. If there's anyone out there facing the same sort of frustration, I'd like to hear from you. Tell me your story.

canadianna (write to me at