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Librarian Blog

What a bad decision looks like

Cash-strapped public officials in Miami, Fla., are about to gut their public library system.

They plan to close 22 of 49 libraries and fire 250 staffers.

This will effectively keep millions of people from having access to vital information, including the Web.

The result will not only be immediate, but also long-term.

Lack of money is the problem as Miami continues to deal with the 2008 meltdown and its aftermath, and it appears that all public services, not just libraries, will be affected.

It is hard to argue that if and when cuts are made in a fair and equitable way libraries should be exempted from the axe. Are they more vital that firefighters' or police services?

Librarians across the country are making that argument, though, including Rebecca T. Miller, editor of Library Journal. When officials fold libraries, she writes in the August issue, "They are cutting a lifelong education booster. They are cutting an economic driver. They are cutting a safety net from a culture with all too few safety nets."

True enough. But I'm wondering what the alternative might be.

I do believe libraries are vital to communities. But, I'm not prepared to make the case that libraries should be open if fire and police services are shut down.

Reading magazines online

Many years ago as the newspaper industry was trying to figure out how to migrate to the web, one Texas early-adopter began publishing online with a program called Olive.

If you wanted to read the online version, you pulled it up on your computer screen and then clicked through pages that looked exactly like they were in the print version. In other words, they put something like a PDF online.

Pretty soon, some magazines began publishing that way, too, and I recall getting an industry journal that had an additional feature: You could use a "magnifying glass" tool to zoom in on parts of the page.

I thought this was all pretty clunky, definitely not the wave of the future for print publications.

But, recently I signed up to join a national organization, and one of the perks was supposed to be a subscription to the group's monthly magazine. Yesterday, the "magazine" came via an emailed link to an Olive-type, PDF-like version of the publication.

I do understand -- far better than most -- why publishers want to go to this kind of technology to deliver their products because I know how much it costs to run a print-media organization almost down to the cent.

I am not a satisfied customer, however, because I was not told up-front that the subscription would be filled with a virtual edition rather than a mailed priinted piece, and because the experience of "reading" this kind of publication is not for me.

Publishers are going to have to figure out a way to survive that gives readers a great experience not one that turns them off.

When pressmen could read

Right up to my last day as a newspaper editor, I trusted our pressmen to catch mistakes.

Sometimes, they caught headline errors, sometimes errors in captions, sometimes factual problems.

But, when the papers came down the line, they picked them up and looked at them and also read them, watching for those kinds of problems as well as how well the color was laying down or whether images were in register.

I guess at the U.S. government print shop in Washington, D.C., they just don't bother. Or didn't in the case of millions of dollars in $100 bills that were printed with mistakes that were so bad the bills have to be replaced.

There is some dispute about how much the printing error cost, according to a story on the Atlantic Wire by David Wolman.

But, some other folks have done some number-crunching and put the cost of the error at millions of dollars.

Heads should roll.

It's always been hard to find good pressmen.

But, the government needs to make a better effort at hiring the kind of people who work at many of today's newspapers.

Playing games

In a newspaper column published last week, Ruben Navarrette endorsed the idea that libraries should have video games for kids to play.

Given that libraries face the prospect of losing a few generations of readers because of disruptive technologies (that have, coincidentally, severely disrupted the newspaper industry), anything that leads them to reading is to be encouraged, he wrote.

I don't disagree with the sentiment.

But, I wonder if there's really a connection between reading and playing video games. I doubt it.

I do not doubt, though, the fact that the future for libraries is not necessarily exclusively tied to reading.

Instead, our future is to become the center of the community for intellectual activity, particularly in a community without an institution of higher education. A college, even a community college, will be looked to for that function. So many towns and cities don't have a college, however, and libraries should be the place where people gather to discuss important matters and where information about civic (and non-civic) life is available. Libraries must also function to bridge the gap between information haves and have-nots.

So, yes, video games will be available in the library of the future. But so will government budgets and guest speakers and 3-D printers and all kinds of other materials to spur creativity and energize a community.

Spicy stuff ... yum

I had planned to go into Austin to hit Central Market during its weekend Hatch Chile Festival, but did not make it.

Instead, I went to HEB in San Marcos, where they had the chiles without the festivities.

We moved here two summers ago, and that's the first time I ever tasted a Hatch chile. I was hooked. I love chiles, but especially that Hatch kind, because of their smokey and spicy flavor. And I love chile rellenos. Unfortunately, last summer when I tried to make rellenos with Hatch chiles, the end result was less than satisfactory.

So, I invented a recipe: Deconstructed Hatch Chile Rellenos or Chile Rellenos Without the Grease. I made this dish Saturday night for my wife and me, and we had enough for two meals.

Here's the recipe:

DECONSTRUCTED HATCH CHILE RELLENOS

6 Hatch chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded and slit to lie open and flat

1 1/2 packages Mexican four-cheese mixture

3 eggs

1/3 cup cream

1/2 package goat cheese

In an 8x8 casserole dish, spread three chiles in the bottom. Cover with one-half the cheese. Layer three other chiles on top of that, and cover that layer with cheese. Mix the eggs and cream, then pour evenly over top of casserole. Crumble goat cheese on top. Cook 35 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven or until bubbly and cheese is well melted. Serve with salsa.