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Librarian Blog

More on a broken system

As noted in this space earlier in the week, it's getting no easier for U.S. citizens and taxpayers to find out what their governments are up to and in some cases it's getting harder.

Gary Pruitt, president and CEO of The Associated Press, issued his organization's report on open government this past week, and it's just as depressing as studies from others who watchdog government.

Just one of hundreds of examples from an AP study: "A few months ago, the Treasury Department sent us 237 pages in its latest response to our requests regarind Iran trade sanctions," Pruitt wrote. "Nearly all 237 pages were completely blacked out, on the basis that they contained businesses' trade secrets. When was our request? Nine years ago."

The examples go on and on and on, and don't even include sunshine problems with local governments, many of whom actually train their front-line workers to stonewall or refuse to give out information.

This sort of thing is an absolute outrage. We must take our governments back.

Where the sun doesn't shine

For nearly 50 years, I've been a strong advocate for open government. And that's a little bit longer than open government has been a legal requirement at the local, state and national efforts.

I guess the high point in the move toward open government came about before the events of 9/11, when the federal government all but shut down access to information, thus setting a tone readily and eagerly adopted by local governments who never believed much in open government anyway.

Slowly since then news media and others interested in the issue have been pushing back governments have been responding as they should under the various laws.

But much remains to be done, as noted in a report issued this week by the Center for Effective Government. The Center grades federal agencies on how well they comply with open records laws. None of the 15 key agencies graded received an A. The U.S. Department of Agriculture got the highest score, a B. The worst score, a solid F, went to the Department of State, which apparently continues to try to exist as if we were still in the weeks post 9/11.

I'm not aware of anyone who gives out grades to state governments, and I know no one watches local governments. But, that's where a lot of our tax money goes, and folks in state and local governments need to be held accountable just like the big boys in Washington.

Wrong assumption

What's the future for American libraries?

Seems like every six months or so, that question bubbles to the surface in librarian circles.

To kind of get a better handle on the answer to that question, the American Libraries Association sponsored a panel discussion on that topic yesterday afternoon. So, what did they decide?

Well, they didn't decide much of anything.

But, they did identify something that is a matter of increasing concern among librarians: That is that policy-makers, people with power, these people seem to believe that books and libraries are something of the past and are not really part of the future.

Libraries have probably never been very important to the rich and powerful. And it's not that group of people who we try to or want to cater to: it's the powerless, the people without resources, the people who can't buy a Kindle and download a $10 book every day or every week -- those are the pepole we historically have tried to reach.

And those are the people we will continue to try to reach and we will be important to them as a place where they can get the information and knowledge that helps level the playing field just a little bit.

We've been important to democracy in the past, we are right now and we will be in the future.

 

Stolen

Twenty or so years ago, the then-pastor of First Baptist Church of Wichita Falls stole two books out of the public library there.

They were children's books aimed at helping kids understand the sexual orientation of parents who were homosexual.

I took him task in the newspaper I edited. It didn't matter to him. He was launching a building campaign, and he needed the publicity.

Now that I'm a librarian, I worry about things that go missing from our stacks.

A couple of years ago I found out we had no more books about Mormonism.

Today, I'm not sure the broad categories of items that are stolen, but, in general we lost a lot of DVDs made from TV series like Game of Thrones and Mad Men.

I know that lots of items do walk out the front door, though.

I subscribe to a blog called Quora Digest, which is sent daily and lists a dozen or so questions about stuff with answers from experts or, perhaps, nonexperts.

A question asked over the weekend was what books most often go missing from a library. Ann Litz, who describes herself as an obsolete librarian, responded in a comprensive manner, and her answer was validated by several others. Here is her list:

  • Books on drug legalization, especially those that address cultivation or manufacture
  • Sex manuals and erotic novels, particularly those dealing with S&M (Surprisingly, books aimed toward women often tend to get stolen more often those for men.)
  • Books on militias, lockpicking, identity concealment or how to "disappear"
  • GED, SAT and other test-preparation materials
  • Books on controversial topics such as abortion, gay rights and evolution -- especially in conservative communities
  • Books of legal advice or legal forms such as the Nolo series
  • Irreplaceable historical materials or rare first editions (There should be a special Hell for jagoffs who do this!)
  • The Bible and the Qur'an -- this has always puzzled me; do people ever actually read these books before deciding not to return them?


But perhaps the most amusingly titled book ever stolen from my library was The Art of Bookkeeping. It was about accounting.

The sounds of silence

Clearly Matthew B. Crawford has had plenty of quiet time to just sit and think.

He's been thinking about silence.

His put his thoughts into words that can be found in the op-ed section of The New York Times last Sunday. They are worth tracking down and reading.

Crawford goes way beyond the common and commonly held complaint that we Americans are exposed to too many messages day in and day out, messages that come from absolutely everywhere. Everyone is trying to get our attention, and it robs us of the ability to actually pay attention to much of anything.

He points out that people's minds are treated as a "standing reserve of purchasing power to be steered according to the innovative marketing schemes hatched by those enjoying silence" in their various well-guarded preserves.

"There are many causes for the increasing concentration of wealth in a shrinking elite, but let us throw one more into the mix: the ever more aggressive appropriations of the attentional commons that we have allowed to take place," he writes.

We should have a right not to be addressed, Crawford concludes, just as we have a right to privacy (that, I add parenthetically, is more and more eroded by every conceivable means).

A moment of silence to address whatever superior authority you believe in about this issue might be appropriate.

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