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Academic Learning: A Changing Landscape

Kevin Smith, Dean of Libraries at University of Kansas, spoke on the myriad of changes and challenges facing today’s academic students and librarians.  Smith is well qualified to address the topic as his academic credentials are extensive.  He did his undergraduate work at Hamilton College in New York, earned an MA Degree in Religion at Yale, a Masters in Library Science at Kent State, and a law degree from Capital University.  Before arriving at KU, Smith served as Director of Copyright and Scholarly Communications at Duke University.  In addition to his duties as Dean of Libraries, Smith is Director of Universities Press and teaches copyright for the KU Law School. 

The focus of Smith’s talk was on changes and challenges for academic libraries and academic students in the digital age.  The digital age has actually increased the importance of librarians as the challenge today is not so much finding information but navigating and evaluating the overwhelming amount of what is available.  Accordingly, librarians still have an important teaching role, including information literacy with an emphasis on authentication of sources and material. 

Present copyright laws were not created to deal with digital information on the Internet.  Information is mostly proprietary, and users must engage complex user agreements, licensing, and an array of new services.  These challenges come at a time when we have lost our traditional “canons of authority” for creating and conveying information.  Authentic information exists on the Internet along side false and purposefully slanted information. 

Smith also addressed new models of publication, including publishing on-demand and open source text books.  University students face great challenges in the digital age, but professional librarians are prepared to provide guidance and assistance.

John Brown: Terrorist or Martyr?

On Wednesday, October 13, a group of Rotarians and their guests toured the Encountering John Brown exhibit at Watkins Museum.  LCR is one of the sponsoring partners of the exhibit which will be open noon to 8:00 p.m. through November 6. 

The exhibit tells the story of the radical abolitionist John Brown by utilizing first-hand accounts and illustrations from his time period.  Kansas artist Brad Sneed created large illustrated panels which serve to emphasize significant points in his story. 

Brown grew up in Ohio where he encountered strong abolitionist ideas.  He came to believe that he was an instrument of God in the fight against slavery and that violence was a just response.  Brown married Dianthe Lusk, and together they had seven children.  He worked as a tanner and a stock man through out his life, and was not always successful in business.  Brown also lived in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts and became involved in the underground railroad.  In 1883 he married Mary Ann Day, and they had 13 more children. 

In 1856, Brown moved to Kansas to engage in the fight to keep slavery out of the territory.  He lead a bloody reprisal raid on a pro-slavery family near Potawatomie and fought in skirmishes at Black Jack and Osawatomie.  Brown then led an 1859 raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, hoping to spark a slave rebellion.  However, Brown was captured and several of his party were killed. 

Brown’s trial and execution gained national attention.  His actions inflamed the South and emboldened abolitionist, pushing the nation closer to war. 

At a meeting after the tour, Rotary members commented on the variety of Brown’s life experiences and on the number of famous people he encountered along the way (Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, Robert E. Lee).  There was a good discussion about whether Brown was a martyr or a terrorist.  The jury is still out on that point, but there is no doubt that John Brown had a huge impact on his time.

Aquifer in Peril

The Ogallala Aquifer is a remarkable natural resource that lies under eight states in the high plains, including Kansas.  The aquifer makes up an area of some 174,000 square miles in the heart of the country.  The name comes from the underlying geologic strata that serves as an ideal subterranean catch basin for rain water that seeps into the ground. 

“Crisis on the High Plains”, an article by Jeremy Frankel, and a CBS news report video provided our program. 

The use of central pivot irrigation after World War II provided a great boost to agriculture in the region.  Today the aquifer is the source of 27% of irrigation in the United States and provides drinking water for 2.3 million people.  This remarkable resource is now in danger from agricultural chemical pollution and over extraction.  The depth of the aquifer varies from 400 to 1,400 feet and every year the depth drops several feet due to overuse.  The aquifer is recharged by annual rainfall that slowly seeps into the ground.  Presently extraction far outpaces the rate of renewal.  Agricultural chemicals have polluted portions of the aquifer.  At the present rate, the aquifer will be depleted and unusable before the end of the century, creating an economic disaster. 

Scientist believe that changes in agricultural practices and other conservation measures could extend the life of the Ogallala considerably.  Some farmers have adopted dry land farming techniques that require less irrigation.  Scientist and environmentalists call for a dramatic change in the culture of agriculture. 

Farmers disagree about how best to address the problem.  Some states have begun to implement regulations intended to reduce the depletion of the aquifer, but other states are taking a voluntary compliance policy with conservation measures.  Time will tell if the Ogallala Aquifer can be saved.

Humanities Kansas Reaches Out

Leslie Vanholten, Director of Grants and Outreach for Humanities Kansas, relishes talking about the humanities.   The core of her message is this statement from the Humanities Kansas website:  “We believe that stories carry our culture and ideas change the world.”  

Defining the word “humanities” is often difficult.  Many associate it with a high school or college survey course in literature.  But Vanholten broadens the concept, emphasizing that “the humanities help us understand what it means to be human — to seek connections with people and place.  As we draw on our diverse histories, literature, ethics and cultures, we see more clearly who we are as people and define ideas that will shape a future worthy of generations to come.”

Humanities Kansas is a non-profit funded primarily by the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH).  NEH was established in the late 1960’s as a part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.  The Kansas entity was established in 1972.   Money from the State of Kansas and from private donations make up the balance of the annual budget.  

Humanities Kansas distributed  grants to fund a variety of initiatives.  The primary criteria is that the humanities needs to be central to the proposal.  Many rural communities take advantage of the Speakers Bureau to stimulate ideas among residents.  Others use the book discussion leaders provided in the Talk About Literature program.  Museum on Mainstreet brings displays from the Smithsonian Institute on the road to small-town Kansas.  Collaboration on “Words of a Feather” has brought poetry and art together in a small book that has been placed in hotel rooms and cabins at state parks, on food trays for Meals on Wheels recipients, in local arts centers, and elsewhere across the state. 

Pedestrian/Cycle Bridge Proposed

Steve Evans, retired architect and member of the City’s Multi-Modal Transportation Committee, introduced a proposal for a new pedestrian/cyclist bridge crossing over the Kansas River.  Steve, an avid cyclist and resident of North Lawrence, has long had concerns about pedestrian and cyclist safety on the bridges crossing the river.  He and other people who shared his concerns formed a work group called RiverFront & Center to discuss the issue. 

Steve explained how the present walkways on the bridges are narrow and congested. The southern end of both bridges are particularly hazardous for pedestrian and cyclist traffic.  The work group developed a new bridge proposal that not only could solve congestion and safety issues but also serve as an aesthetic asset for the river front area.

Kent Williams describes options

Kent Williams, an artist, architect, and urban aesthetics collaborator, presented several illustrations and details on three possible bridge designs.  Kent spoke of the historical importance of the riverfront area and of the great potential for making it a focus of development and activities as many other communities have done.  All of the proposed designs would be ADA accessible and connect with the Lawrence Loop trail, the downtown, City Hall, green space and parks, and other cultural amenities. 

Also in attendance in support of the new bridge concept was Sujoy Dhar, an architect and urban designer, and City Commissioner Courtney Shipley.  The City Commission will hear a presentation on the Kaw River Commons bridge concept on September 21st.

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