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Little Free Libraries

When Vancouver’s public libraries abruptly closed their doors as part of March’s Covid lockdown, my book-addicted family was suddenly forced to go cold turkey. Hallelujah for Little Free Libraries, which have sprouted all over town in the last few years.

As the lockdown dragged on and we all got sick of hearing each other’s audiobooks playing in the next room — who is she talking to? Oh, it’s William Hurt reading Ernest Hemingway / Jack and Annie from the Magic Treehouse / the cats from Warriors — I began taking my kids out on bike tours of the neighbourhood, trawling for good reads.

We slowly learned which libraries had the best pickings and the fastest turnover. Now we have a circuit we follow, a looping trajectory that takes us to five rich reading sources in half an hour. We come home sweaty and elated, showing off the latest discoveries.

Entrepreneur Todd Bol created the first Little Free Library in Hudson, Wisconsin in 2009, to celebrate his book-loving mother, who had just died. He carved wood from an old garage door into a mini, one-room schoolhouse, then set it up on a pole in front of his house and filled it with books. Passersby were asked to “Take a book, leave a book,” and they did. The movement, which became a nonprofit in 2012, spread fast; Bol’s original aim was to create 2,510 libraries, more than Andrew Carnegie; there are now more than 100,000, in 91 countries.

One of the many joys of working in publishing is free books. The salaries are pitiful, the wait for that prized promotion eternal — but the people are great and you receive lots of free books, which I’ve always loved to pass on. My mother, an ardent reader like Todd Bol’s mother, has never complained of all the birthday and Christmas presents with “Advance Reading Copy — Not For Sale” stamped on the spine.

Like many book lovers, I grapple endlessly with all the books I haven’t read yet, piling up by my bed and crammed into the bookshelves in every nook of the house. So Covid seemed made for “Take a book, leave a book.” Time to clear out the shelves and give away some great books that I’ve already read, or will never read, or that aren’t, truly, quite as great as the gripping copy on the front flap (which I may have written) claims.

Except I almost always end up taking more books than I leave. And having to find more space in those crammed shelves for more volumes I’ll probably never read.

Little Free Libraries are a fascinating window into the reading habits of your neighbours. A lot of airport reads, naturally: romance, mystery, crime, mostly well-thumbed and ruthlessly discarded. Computer manuals, academic tomes, travel guides, all worth reading once, all surely doomed to

never be re-read. And a surprising amount of CanLit, oversized B-format paperbacks with worthy endorsements, often pristine, i.e., bought with good intentions but never cracked (I ask myself the same question; should I read last year’s Giller shortlist? Really?).

Every trip I stumble upon wonderful books. My first discovery was “The Sisters,” Mary S. Lovell’s fascinating joint biography of the six extraordinary Mitford sisters. Minor aristocrats, the sparkling siblings took 1930s’ British society by storm — until two of them fell in love with Hitler and became pariahs (Diane spent most of the war in prison; Unity shot herself when war was declared). Nancy wrote bestselling comedies of manners that seem Cretaceous today; thank god for Jessica, a lifelong leftie who satirized her adopted home in exposés like The American Way of Death. Six hundred gossipy pages got me through the first month of quarantine.

By the time May rolled around I was deep into Music: A Subversive History by Ted Gioia and re-reading Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals, with the ITV characters in my head. Marvelling that someone had left Vera Cacciatore’s The Swing — who doesn’t judge a book by its cover? — and trying to believe in Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight. Except that time was now passing very slowly, and I wasn’t finishing any books. Just refining my bookshelves, like that (apocryphal?) purser rearranging the deckchairs on The Titanic.

By the time I stumbled into July all I was good for was Louis L’Amour, “the world’s bestselling Western writer.” I won’t defend him — there’s a PhD on settler colonialism in every pulpy volume — but I do love his author bio, which mentions no awards but 40 million books sold and the fact that “since leaving his native Jamestown, North Dakota, at the age of fifteen, he’s been a longshoreman, lumberjack, elephant handler, hay shocker, flume builder, fruit picker, and an officer on tank destroyers during World War II.” Note to self: publish more ex-elephant handlers. And how do you shock hay — with an elephant?

(Answer: no, you use string)

Scott Steedman


30 Days of Art & Design

What’s 30 Days of Art & Design?

To get better at something, one needs practice. I asked students to create an artifact every day for the duration of the Design Awareness in Publishing Process and Products. This course is all about challenging the students’ creative thinking and design practices (like wrestling with some of the dilemmas designers face and talking about our professional, social, and ethical responsibilities).  

I did mean every day (well, kind of). Some days off or cheat days were okay (let’s be realistic). To make it easier to keep up the practice, students could spend as little as 5 minutes a day. And to keep everyone accountable to this daily practice (to avoid doing 30 mini art projects in one day), every student had to share their work with their classmates or make it public. 

It could be messy, weird, and silly.

The goal of this project is not to create something pretty, amazing or flawless. Instead, it’s all about getting better at a creative practice and trying to push one’s creativity. It could be messy, weird, and silly. And I asked students to avoid selecting something they were already good at doing to explore something new. 

Students projects

The first task was to submit a creative brief, including what they wanted to learn and the scope of their project. Most students limited themselves to a medium (like calligraphy, photography, tea leaves, software, etc.), a subject matter (monsters, drop caps, logos, lyrics, etc.), and a time frame (ranging from 5 to 90 minutes). Second, was carving time out of every day for their daily creative practice. Third, was to submit a reflection on the process, discussing the evolution of their work. It was amazing how every student ended up with very different projects. Some explored particular skills in a familiar design world, others learnt new software from scratch, while others focused on gaining an entirely new art practice. 

The instructor tries … ish

To support my students in this daily demand for work (it’s not easy), both our TA and I participated. My own goal was to learn a new application, focusing on drawing things from my garden in 30 minutes. Thinking back on my process and progress, the results of my daily illustrations were mixed.  

I really liked focusing on one subject (my favourites being the slug and snail) and trying various methods to illustrate it. Since I was interested in learning a new tool and what it could offer, the drawings were very different from one another (I was using different brushes and blending tools). A few illustrations only took 5 minutes, while others took a couple of nights to complete. The time spent plus the tools selected dramatically impacted the level of detail in each post.

I go back and forth about which one I prefer or which one I would want to make “my” style. The more detailed illustrations felt satisfying and felt like “real” art. (Let’s not even get into what “real” art might mean!) But the looser (and quicker!) illustrations felt freeing and daring; a fantastic feeling! Strangely, the quick, fast, less perfect drawings were more challenging for me, not because they took more attempts to get the lines to work “perfectly,” but because they are rawer and made me feel more exposed.  

Daily accountability

Where all my students succeed, I failed terribly! I only did 15 of 30 posts! Many of us stopped posting for #blackouttuesday. Questioning what to post, if anything, was particularly important when, in class, we were talking about representation, cultural appropriation and decolonizing design practices. It felt important to talk about the impact our design artifacts have in our worlds. But without this project’s public accountability, I stopped my daily practice. Yet my students continued, some privately and some publicly, each at their own pace. Their thoughtfulness and their dedication humble me. So, I will keep doing this project, even though the class is done, and I’m submitting this assignment soooooo late. 

If you are interested to chat about daily creative practices fails, how to avoid using the computer to be more creative, or publication design, email me and check out the Master of Publishing program or the Undergraduate Minor in Print and Digital Publishing

Mauve Pagé is a Publication Design lecturer with Publishing @ SFU. She hopes to inspire students to find creative solutions through conceptual thinking, and get them excited about the unlimited potential to communicate ideas aesthetically.


Adobe InDesign: The Essentials – Feb 29/Mar 1

Indesign workshop

As the industry standard for layout design, InDesign is tightly integrated with Photoshop, Illustrator, and Acrobat. Starting with an overview of the InDesign workspace and its relationship to the rest of Adobe’s Creative Suite, students will use instructor-led projects to learn how to set up publications, import graphics and text, and build pages and tables. At the conclusion of this two-day workshop, students will know the benefits of master pages, type style management and type-fitting techniques, and the use many time-saving shortcuts. Read more and to register.


Biking to Publishing School

Bikes at SFU Harbour Centre

There are a lot of good reasons to cycle: it’s good for the planet, it’s good for cities and their congestion problems, and it’s good for you. We thought to take a look at cycling in the MPub program: why we do it and how we do it, and maybe we’ll encourage you to do it too!

Half the Publishing faculty are regular cycle commuters, and a good (though variable) number of students are too. Those of us who do ride know that it’s the best way to get around, for a number of reasons.

Why cycle?

Vancouver’s cycling infrastructure has developed hugely over the past half-dozen years,1 and there are good cycle routes through most of the city. The number of cyclists has grown accordingly, which is good not just for the planet, but also because more cyclists on the road makes cycling safer, as the people in Copenhagen and Amsterdam know well.

Commuting by bike is well established by research2 as one of the single best things you can do for your health. It also has the advantage of not taking up extra time in your day. You could take the bus and then take time to go to the gym; or you could just ride your bike!

Regular exercise is good for your heart and lungs of course, but it’s also very good for your head, which is especially helpful for students in the Vancouver winter—which tends to wet and dark as opposed to cold and snowy. Getting into a regular routine of riding every day gets your blood pumping, opens up your sinuses, and gives you an outlet for the stresses that otherwise pile up when we live and work indoors. Additionally, many of us find that commuting by bike gives a sense of agency and control that we miss when we’re dependent on transit schedules and crowds. Emma (MPub 2017) notes, “Have you ever been trapped on an overcrowded bus on a rainy day? Once you get your rain routine down, you will choose cycling over transit no matter the weather.”

Don’t I need special clothing?

You really don’t. While it sometimes seems like cyclists have to invest in a fluorescent lyrca outfit, this isn’t actually the case. You can totally commute in your regular clothes. Of course some clothes are going to be more comfortable than others, but you do not need fancy gear.

In Vancouver, you probably do need some waterproofing, at least if you’re going to ride on rainy days. You’ll need a good raincoat (one with pit-zips help with the internal humidity), a pair of waterproof rain pants, and a pair of gloves–the sum of which make you feel kind of invincible on a rainy day! But that’s about all you really need. And if it isn’t raining, you don’t even need those.

Won’t I get sweaty?

SFU’s Harbour Centre Campus is, as the name suggests, near the water downtown, so it’s downhill from almost everywhere – which means sweat likely isn’t a big problem on your way to school. Some of us like to bring a change of shirt and socks in our bags. Depending on where you live, you may have to go uphill to get home, so you’re more likely to sweat at the end of the day than the beginning. And if you want to get a little sweaty—and ride for the sake of it—SFU Harbour Centre has great access to the Stanley Park Seawall.

Everything inside the circle on this map is probably within a half-hour bike ride from Harbour Centre Campus. Plus, within this circle, you are almost certainly faster than buses and cars, which can’t get through traffic effectively. You can have a look at Vancouver’s cycle routes by turning on that layer on Google Maps, or by checking out the City of Vancouver’s website. We all like to share our tips about the best ways to get around the city: which routes are the flattest, quietest, prettiest… and so on.

I don’t even have a (good) bike!

This is solvable on a number of levels. First, Vancouver has, per capita, the most bike shops in Canada.3 Second, excellent community resources like Our Community Bikes and Kickstand offer really inexpensive, accessible refurbished bikes and repair service. There are also cheap bikes available on Craigslist, online marketplaces, or pawn shops. Vancouver has also implemented the Mobi bike rental system, where you can pickup and drop off bikes at convenient spots all over town. You’re never far from a shop or an available bike, really.

You don’t need a fancy bike; they’re theft targets anyway. What you need is a bike with at least three gears and working brakes. You do need a good lock, because university campuses are always bike theft magnets. At Harbour Centre there is also a bicycle lock-up room to which, with your student card, you can get a key. 

But is it safe?

Yes, but you have to be thoughtful about it, and to know and anticipate the risks.

For starters you need lights! A good front light (white) and a red one for the rear help you see and be seen on the road after dark. Lights are an essential, mandatory bit of safety kit—and which go nicely with reflective strips, panels, and bits of clothing. A reflective safety vest can be had pretty cheaply and may make you feel a good deal more visible on a dark, wet evening. 

By law you need a helmet, which, if nothing else, can also provide some protection from the rain. A ball cap under your helmet helps keep the rain off your glasses.

Vancouver’s bike lanes and paths—the fully separated ones and the painted-on ones—make cycling through the city much safer. But even the streets you share with cars are better now than they used to be, because the number of cyclists has risen, and so bikes are a normal part of everyday traffic in the city. 

Knowing how to ride safely is important too. Using proper hand signals when turning, being visible, and being polite and clear when passing people makes a big difference. This is about co-existing with cars but also about co-existing with other cyclists, especially in the warmer months when bikes almost seem to outnumber cars at certain intersections. 

And if you don’t feel like biking back home because you’re leaving campus really late at night after working on Book Project 😉 the bus or skytrain will allow you to bring your bike on board!

Learning more about cycling in Vancouver

There are a number of advocacy groups in the city, such as Hub Cycling, who organize the twice-annual bike-to-work-week events. The City itself is relatively pro-active. And of course every bike shop in town also advocates for cycling more generally.

Here in Publishing@SFU, we have a strong cycling culture of our own, which we like to promote (which is why you’re reading this now). We love to share our ideas about bikes and gear and riding, and our love for People’s Poncho cycling capes, Vessi waterproof footwear, Sidesaddle, a women-focused bike shop, and more. We like to trade info about bike routes and the best ways to get around. And we like to egg each other on to ride in wetter, darker weather each winter 🙂 Get in touch! 

Thanks to Mauve Pagé, Avvai Ketheeswaran, Alice Fleerackers, Emma Walter. and Leanne Johnson for their input into this article!


  1. https://vancouver.ca/streets-transportation/biking.aspx↩︎
  2. See, for example, this 2016 review article https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01441647.2015.1057877↩︎
  3. https://www.pembina.org/reports/cycle-cities-full-report-rev.pdf↩︎

Dr Teal Triggs on Katy Keene Fandom: Zines and the Politics of Participation – Nov 14th

4pm Thursday, November 14th, at Emily Carr University

Katy Keene Fandom: Zines and the Politics of Participation
Reliance Theatre at Emily Carr University
Thursday, November 14, 4 pm
Followed by a reception at READ Books

Please join us at Emily Carr University in the Reliance Theatre for a talk by Dr Teal Triggs.

This talk will present the comic book world of Katy Keene (1945-1961), a unique American character created by Bill Woggon.

Katy Keene made her debut in 1945, and today forms part of a history of comic strips written about independent career women. Although drawn to reflect the fashionable female image of America’s fifties post-war period – less exotic ‘pin-up’, rather ‘girl-next-door’ – this character exhibited the ambition and drive to make it as a successful career woman. As such, Katy Keene became the focus of a loyal fan club and pen pals, with merchandising to match, and whose clothes, houses, and cars were created by the fans themselves.

Triggs will explore the resurgence of interest in the character in the 1980’s fueled by the creation of the fanzine Katy Keene Fan Magazine by Craig Leavitt and discuss the way in which her creator and the fanzine editor, broke down the barriers between themselves and their fans; a number of whom who went on to become successful illustrators, designers, and writers in their own right.


Teal Triggs is Professor of Graphic Design in the School of Communication, Royal College of Art, London. As a graphic design historian, critic and educator her writings have appeared in numerous edited books and international design publications. Her research focuses primarily on design pedagogy, criticism, self-publishing. She is Associate Editor of Design Issues (MIT Press) and was founding Editor-in-Chief of Communication Design (Taylor & Francis/ico-D). Her recent books include: co-editor of The Graphic Design Reader (Bloomsbury), author of Fanzines (Thames & Hudson)and the children’s book The School of Art (Wide Eyed). She is a Fellow of the International Society of Typographic Designers, Royal College of Art and, Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

This event is presented by Publishing @ SFU in partnership with the Vancouver Art Book Fair, Graphic Research Group, READ Books and Emily Carr University of Art + Design. Thanks too for the support of SFU’s Faculty of Communication, Art, and Technology.




Subverting the Genre: Connie Walker on Podcasting and Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

As Connie Walker’s hit podcasts, Missing & Murdered—”Who Killed Alberta Williams,” and, “Finding Cleo”—approach the 20 million download mark, we take you behind the stories, into the editorial decision making, and into the struggles behind one of Canada’s most downloaded podcasts. How has the media transformed over the last five years when reporting in Indigenous communities? What is the importance of understanding the role of trauma in our communities in our news and feature stories?

Following a public talk, Connie will be joined by Ryan McMahon, creator, writer, and host of the Thunder Bay podcast, for a Q&A with the audience.

Connie Walker is an award-winning investigative reporter and host of the CBC News podcast, Missing & Murdered. In 2017, “Missing & Murdered: Who killed Alberta Williams?” won the RTDNA’s Adrienne Clarkson Award and was nominated for a Webby Award. Walker and colleagues at the CBC’s Indigenous Unit, won multiple awards including the 2016 Canadian Association of Journalists’ Don McGillivray investigative award, a Canadian Screen Award and the prestigious Hillman Award for its “Missing & Murdered: The Unsolved Cases of Indigenous Women and Girls” interactive website.

Walker is from the Okanese First Nation, in Saskatchewan. She currently lives with her family in Toronto.

This talk is presented as part of the Emerging Leaders in Publishing Summit

As Connie Walker’s hit podcasts, Missing & Murdered—”Who Killed Alberta Williams,” and, “Finding Cleo”—approach the 20 million download mark, we take you behind the stories, into the editorial decision making, and into the struggles behind one of Canada’s most downloaded podcasts. How has the media transformed over the last five years when reporting in Indigenous communities? What is the importance of understanding the role of trauma in our communities in our news and feature stories?

February 13, 2019

7:00pm  to 9:00 pm | Room 100 | Asia Pacific Hall

SFU Centre for Dialogue | 580 West Hastings Street

Admission is free, but reserve your seat through Eventbright


Publishing undergraduate design students exhibition: The Sum of Our Memories

The PUB 431 exhibition explores different facets of memory while investigating the formats of publication and the act of publishing itself, to explore how form and content can affect the experience of reading the material at hand. The exhibition features unique student projects on the theme of memory.

Nostalgic candy will be provided to enhance the experience while supplies last.

Find out more at fb.me/pub431memories

 


Checking In with Each Other in Grad School

A few days ago, the MPubbers who remain in Vancouver completing their professional placements got together after work to have dinner. They took a group photo and hashtagged it “CheckInTuesday.”

And I missed them so much.

Throughout the year, our class, at first led by some of our thoughtful instructors, would have biweekly check-ins. As class began, we would go around the room and talk about how we were doing—not just about what was stressing people out in school, but also about what was going on in our personal and professional lives. From exciting trips to dogs dying, we made it through the year in a large part because we learned how to listen and support each other.

After the check-in practice was modelled for us in class, we began to do it ourselves throughout intensive projects and continue to do it today in our private Facebook group. We may be spread out across the country now, moving in different directions as we tackle new projects, but my fifteen classmates are still the people that get it. Our program is unique and challenging, and I so appreciate having people to talk to and share with.

Grad school can take a serious toll on your mental health, and there are plenty of other articles on that that I’ll leave to the experts. But I did want to share this one simple thing that our class did and that I continue to deeply appreciate.

Remember to check in with your people—it can go a long way.

 


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