January 2, 2007

About those libraries.

For some reason, both the WaPo and the NYT have front-page stories about libraries today. Is it National Library Day or something? Are libraries the first item on some annual list of things to write about on a slow news day?

The NYT article is about how libraries may like the idea but not the reality of teenagers stopping by after school:
[The Maplewood Memorial Library that], like many nationwide, strives to attract young people, even offering beading and cartooning classes, will soon be shutting them out, along with the rest of the public, at one of the busiest parts of its day.

Library employees will still be on the job, working at tasks like paperwork, filing, and answering calls and online questions.

“They almost knocked me down, and they run in and out,” said Lila Silverman, a Maplewood resident who takes her grandchildren to the library’s children’s room but called the front of the library “a disaster area” after school. “I do try to avoid those hours.”
I love the way these articles get the perfect person to quote. Lila Silverman is the Stephanie Moritz of this article. Can't you tell which side the newspaper is on when a quote like this is served up?

The WaPo story is about how libraries get rid of books nobody checks out:
Along with [classics like "The Education of Henry Adams,"] thousands of novels and nonfiction works have been eliminated from the Fairfax County collection after a new computer software program showed that no one had checked them out in at least 24 months.
So, not only are computers taking up the space where books were once shelved, computers are now telling the librarians which books to toss out. Oh, but you say, computers are also storing all the books in world and making them searchable. True enough, but computers are also changing the way we read, making it harder and harder to sit down and really read a book. You'll find that book on line and then just search for one thing inside that book and read that, that dart off to read some other snippet... like this blog post.


goesh said...

My wife worked in a library for a number of years. A few people would drop off their small children believing they would be supervised/watched by library staff - free sitter services at the expense of the tax payers. After the police were called a couple of times, it stopped.

Simon said...

"[C]omputers are also changing the way we read, making it harder and harder to sit down and really read a book. You'll find that book on line and then just search for one thing inside that book and read that, that dart off to read some other snippet."

That has postitives and negatives. It's good, to the extent that one can quickly find a reference in material one has already digested, but it is an intensely seductive power that practically invites people to look out over the crowd and pick out their friends: as easy as it is to search a book one has read, it also becomes very easy to search a book one has not read, and to cherry-pick (often out of context) a seemingly helpful line. It becomes too easy to be lazy, to miss the forest because you can be transported directly to your favorite tree.

MDIJim said...

More on the struggle between geezers with money and political influence and everyone else.

My wife visits the local library and takes out books. I buy books that cannot be found in the library. To meet the demands of summer residents, who pay $20 for the privilege, and, I guess, local geezers who are the only people likely to read books these days, our library stocks murder mysteries and gardening and cook books to the exclusion of almost everything else.

In my state I could get almost any book I want through inter-library loan; but who wants to deal with the librarian bureaucracy (yes, they are much kinder and gentler than state and municipal bureaucrats) when books can be bought so cheaply in today's economy? Plus, if you buy books you can line your walls with shelves full of books and thereby impress visitors with your intellectual tastes.

God bless our libraries, though, they are the only quiet and peaceful indoor communal spaces left. That is important in climates enjoyed by places like Maine and Wisconsin. Cannot blame libraries for wanting to preserve that ambience for their paying customers. In my state tax dollars support only a fraction of library budgets. The rest comes from endowments left by robber barons in the bad old days before income and estate taxes.

hdhouse said...

Watermarks Ann. Don't forget watermarks and primary sources and graduate research methods and techniques.

Libraries are the holder of truth in a number of ways and the Internet comes at us without much attribution and certainly nothing that differentiates between "opinions of" rather than original writing.

Tossing out unread books is akin to burning them and is a tragedy.

tjl said...

Virginia libraries are tossing out "The Education of Henry Adams?" My revered high school English teacher loved that book -- it's a good thing she never lived to see this day. The WaPo article contained some other shockers. Emily Dickinson? Out. Voltaire's "Candide?" Gone. Forget about the best of all possible worlds, and make room for Oprah's book club.

David said...

Search engines are the new Cliff's Notes.

All substance and no style! I thought books became more valuable with age! I should cross the Dewey Decimal System reference off my resume.

KCFleming said...

Once the decision about whether to retain certain books becomes exclusively a popularity contest, all that wil remain will be the computer terminals and DVD/CDs. Who needs books anyway?

24 months without a checkout means a book gets ousted?
Say goodbye, Chaucer!
So long, Minnesota history books from before 1900.
Adios, obscure newspaper comics from the 1930s.
Au revoir, unread Gibbon sets, long forgotten Chesterton volumes, New Deal tracts, and Tom Wolfe nonfiction.
Soyonara serendipitous discoveries, and idle browsing.

Civilization is now just a 2-year moving frame.

Ron said...

Fear not -- Google will scan them all. Someday. Don't worry, be happy!

James said...

Technology has also given us abebooks.com, the Advanced Bookseller Exchange, which allows you to search (and buy from) used bookstores around the world.

Eric said...

Having lived in Maplewood for a few years, walking distance from the library, I can attest that the problem is everything the Times says it is. It's been a while since I've lived there, but as soon as I saw the headline, I knew what the dateline would be.

Anonymous said...

Certainly you can see the position of library officials. It wasn't that long ago I would hear complaints that we had these grand old libraries that nobody was using. You could fire a cannon ball through them without fear of hitting anyone is the phrase I most remember. If being sensitive to the desires of their "customers" has libraries at the point where they are in danger of becoming rowdy because they are so full of people then isn't that a wonderful thing? Does no one remember the incessant criticisms of the populace as being dull boob-tube watching fools eschewing the delights of the written word?

Those of us on the right often urge privatization of government services in the hope companies following a business model would be more apt to listen to the desires of their customers. Here is a government funded group doing just that and the inevitable result. So, if you are a libertarian or conservative and grumping then take this as a data point against our position.

Living in China it is difficult to get modern fiction and I often am forced to read classic literature used in University English courses. I can't tell you how often I am delightfully surprised at how much I enjoy these books I would never have given an opportunity in America. Now, for example, I know why Dickens is revered. I hate to see such gems lost from the public consciousness but confess I'm just glad people, especially young people, are back to reading. I give much of the credit to the Internet which, at the moment at least and excluding porn, is inherently text biased.

I will end by saying that the primary, and most difficult goal, is to get people hooked on reading to begin with. Once that is done then a lifetime of curiosity will take them all sorts of places. Who knows but that todays Oprah Book Club reader will be reading "The Education of Henry Adams" for pleasure in a few decades. And should a library become so radical that they start adding comfy chairs, branded merchandise and coffee baristas then I wouldn't complain at all.

Simon said...

Wow, mark it on the calender. I totally agree with HDhouse's 7:21am comment.

So here's the question: would the pure libertarian shut down public libraries? Now that would be scary.

yetanotherjohn said...

At first when I read the "no checkout for 24 months and your out", I was a bit offended. Like most, I thought about the impact this would likely have on the books I loved. Then I thought how easily this is thwarted by simply checking out the books I love every year (even if I don't read them).

Of course the next stage would be for the computer program to note that only one patron has checked out the book...

tjl said...

"no checkout for 24 months and your out"

What a great idea to save classic works by checking them out every two years. Let's check out Jane Jacobs' "Death and Life of Great American Cities" and send it to Ms. Moritz in Madison by inter-library loan. Two birds with one stone!

altoids1306 said...

For what it's worth, I just read an entire book on the internet - albeit a small one, at 96 pages.

While I don't disagree in principle with automated inventory control, it does make browsing a library less enjoyable - I generally search for a specific book, then browse around that shelf to find similar books of interest. Some of the books I borrow haven't been opened in ten years - although there is little danger that university libraries will be throwing out any books soon.

(BTW, I am almost religiously opposed to buying anything but reference books - why buy when, for the slightest amount of effort, you can borrow it at no cost? It has the added benefit of keeping my apartment sparse and minimalist. A few strategically placed library books or journals provide all the intellectual pretension I might need .)

CB said...

The WaPo article doesn't mention what I think is the bigest factor here: books are so cheap now that eople don't need to borrow them from the library. You can probably find a paperback copy of The Education of Henry Adams, and any other classic you could want, for less than a dollar at any used book store. The only reason lending libraries ever existed was that books used to be very expensive--not any more. My wife and I own thousands of books, and we aren't rich.

hdhouse said...

Thank you Simon.

While researching my dissertation, I came to know a reference librarian to the point of asking her what she was cooking for dinner..books were sacred to her and she was a keep of the truth...always insisting there had to be yet another primary source to check. She was a treasure to me.

Our own free public library is over run with patrons. It has a staff that helps, tries, and an interlibrary loan person who literally jumps with delight at the prospect of the search.

How valuable it is to have these shrines to thought and inquirey.

2 years without a check out. How arbitrary. How silly.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

1. I encourage friends and family to check my books out of the library for that very reason. (Ann: hint.)

2. Someone once said that the public libraries have saved as many lives as the fire departments. All you have to do is go to the Brooklyn Public Library on a weekend morning and see the working people and teenagers, of all ethnicities, filling the seats of the reference section, quietly studying for civil service tests or college admission tests, and you'll believe it.

3. The thing I like best about that NYT article was that research was contributed by someone called Happy Blitt. A name to cherish.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that the idea of closing the library at its busiest times of the day is an inane one at best (the problem would be better solved through hiring more staff; ie. more disciplinarians who actually can enforce discipline to rowdy teenagers), you and (some of) your readership never cease to astound me, Ann. Rather than acknowledge that these libraries are in fact dealing with a problem that needs solving, you turn instead on the older people filing these complaints! Let me guess, (just as downtown Madison was just made for drunkeness and loudness) libraries are supposed to be filled with rowdy, loud, disrespectful teenagers doing no sort of studying or reading? Granted, it's easy for you and your charming former husband (RLC!!!) to come to such conclusions, since the both of you have the privacy of your own abodes or university offices or libraries in which to indulge yourselves in your reading/work, but what if you were a lonely 80 year old woman, and your only recreation was to take a daily afternoon trip to the library to read a book or even chat with the library staff, or what if you were a 13 year old girl attending the local school and you actually DO care about your studies; your home life is horrendous and the only place you can study and keep up with your readings is the library, but you can't because its overrun with your loud, obnoxious and distracting classmates. The problem in these libraries is not the people filing the complaints (it may not necessarily be the loud kids either--maybe the library is understaffed or poorly staffed, who knows).

Bonnie Shucha said...

As a librarian, I feel that I have to chime in. Regarding the NYT article, it is certainly unfortunate that the library staff felt that they had no alternative but to shut its doors. Sounds like some creative after school programming and cooperation with school and community leaders is much needed.

About the WaP story, its important that people realize that shelf space in a library is relatively constant. In order for new materials to make their way to the public, it's a hard truth that some older, lesser used items must be weeded.

Does that mean every locally available copy of Hemingway gets tossed to make way for the new Grisham? Of course not. While it may not be available at every local branch, it is very likely available at a larger central library. Or, if not, it's quickly available via interlibrary loan.

And, yes, one of the tools that libraries use to help them determine which items to weed is their automated circulation systems. Does that mean that librarians leave it solely up to computer to make the tough decisions? Again, of course, not. But faced with the tough choice, which do you think the librarian is going to weed: the item that hasn't been checked out in the last year or the one that has?

For libraries to remain vital to the communities they serve, it is imperative that collect new and interesting materials to match the interests of their patrons. And to do that, something has to give.

And BTW - it's not National Library Day. We have the honor of celebrating that day with our patrons each April.

Palladian said...

"For libraries to remain vital to the communities they serve, it is imperative that collect new and interesting materials to match the interests of their patrons. And to do that, something has to give."

Like, the foundation of Western civilization.

I'm glad my two favorite libraries don't follow that policy. Hell, they don't even loan books.

KCFleming said...

Looks like we'll need a modern monastic movement to safeguard the books of Western civilization from the current barbarian invasions: both the violent islamist branch and its nonviolent Western cousin.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to express my veneration for what a library used to be, and still represents a little, to me.

Ann kindly linked to a story of mine last year about all the time I spent as a child in the first public library in America. A kind of dream, really; a beautiful and serious place filled with all the things in the world, if you would just find them. A library used to make a poor man smart.

These libraries are trying to open up a hardware store next to Home Depot. They will disappear entirely unless they offer that which Amazon and Blockbuster and Barnes and Noble do not. Foolishly they feebly ape that which will consume them.

We go all the time to what is likely the prettiest library in all Christendom: The Millicent Library

Sublime. And doomed. Just like Millicent was.

Anonymous said...

Palladian, Pogo: Libraries are undermining Western civilization because they are getting rid of all the books that nobody wants to read? Because, clearly, if the tattered and colored-on 1967 edition of "Martin Chuzzlewit" were removed from the Palmdale Public Library after collecting dust for years, the world would just totally collapse. Classic novels aren't going to be forgotten when they're being released every other month with a different cover design by Barnes and Noble.

I don't see a problem with letting people read what they want to read. Okay, it might be frivolous. There might be something much more intellectual. But it isn't necessary to study 14th century epic poetry or philosophy to appreciate books and reading. There are so many books in this world that it is simply a waste of time to plod through "The Education of Henry Adams" when all you want is a good legal thriller. In fact, please (please!) just read the Grisham. At least "The Firm" won't influence anyone to write like this:

"Foolishly they feebly ape that which will consume them."

I've always wondered where I could find this mythical "liberal elitism", but now I see that I've found it. Except that it's being spouted by conservatives. Odd.

By the way, Palladin, is there any reason in particular why you're incapable of disagreeing with Althouse?

Anonymous said...

I apologize if your library lips got tired reading my sentence.

You are very prescient. John Grisham, and all the other books women on Prozac read while they are pooping, have had precisely zero effect on me.

Now go dust the comic books.

Oligonicella said...

Computers make it harder and harder to sit down and really read a book?

Please explain how. They block you from turning the pages, stop you at the book-store door? I'm not sure how you find the cause and effect. They don't seem to inhibit my reading, so I have to presume they don't inhibit anyone else's.

Perhaps the fault of not reading lies in the breast of the nonreader?

Palladian said...

"By the way, Palladin, is there any reason in particular why you're incapable of disagreeing with Althouse?"

By the way, Susan Brindle, is there any reason in particular why you're incapable of reading and spelling my screen name correctly? See, if you'd read any of those silly, musty, un-checked-out books, you might have some idea what "palladian" might mean. But why bother; why not get back to your Dan Brown novel.

Anonymous said...

I am oh-so-sorry, Palladian from the Internet, that I didn't spend more time examining your Blogger screen name. In turn, if your exploration of the internet went further than Althouse's paypal button, you would know that, when usernames are concerned, most people simply don't care about proper spelling. "Paladin" happens to be a real word, one just as grandiose as "palladian", so I have no idea why you're offended.

SippicanCottage: Excuse me, but "women on Prozac"? Oh but nevermind, that's not sexist because you're a conservative and not named "Brenda Thompson", or whatever. Sorry!

Cat said...

Bonnie Schucha and others:

Common problems are teenagers graffiti, public urinatiion, being surly with staff...you think this is a "shush" problem? You think THESE kinds of teens would join a teen program? This library has them, by the way, but perhaps they aren't "creative" enough.

The library has been trying to get the community, parents, the schools, the police to help with the problem for 10 years. No one wants to deal with it.

Access to the library is a not a "right." There are consequences for bad behavior. It's unfortunate that other people have to be inconvenienced for a few hours a day thanks to these hooligans, but then maybe the community will act and MAYBE the parents will act too and finally discipline these children. Closing the library during teen.

Anonymous said...

Susan- I am trying to follow along. But I speak engrish, not these Grisham dialects you seem to have picked up.

Are you telling Palladian that you misread his name as Paladin, and then misspelled that? Or are you saying you're confused about the whole thing? I'm a terrible typist, so I rarely correct others. What are you trying to tell him?

Are you unaware that the command "never mind" is two words? Or are you speaking in vernacular, using "nevermind" as a noun, as in: it makes no nevermind.? You used it in the sentence as an imperative verb, sorta, (Please follow along here, "sorta" is a vernacular jocularism for "sort of." Don't try to look up "jocularism" in the dictionary your library doesn't have any more, it's a neologism I just coined, based on "jocular, which you can look up in a real dictionary in a real library after you look up "neologism.") so I assumed you did that purposely. Does your library only stock Nirvana records and Beverly Hillbillies videos?

What is the idea you are trying to get across? Is it that you feel you are smarter than Palladian, as you are misspelling two words simultaneously? A kind of nifty carnival trick,I must admit. But I doubt you are smarter, as Palladian is the smartest gink I know, after Herbert Hoover.

If your library had a book about Calvin Coolidge instead of only books about lawyers in love you'd get that joke.

The last refuge of the intellectually bankrupt is to feign offense. Actually, now that I think of it, it is the first. So your last comment was not unexpected. If you need a fainting couch over an innocuous comment about John Grisham readers, don't come crying to me.

Unless you are John Grisham, writing under an assumed name. In that unlikely event, let me be the first to laud you on your prodigious output. They burn nicely and give off all sorts of BTUs on a cold winter's day. I am told they have words inside the covers, but I do not listen to such gossip. Let people talk, John; you just keep putting out those Yule logs and hold your head high.

It is instructive that both Palladian and I have both gone on at some length about our reverence for libraries. Mine has almost been an obsession. I have written thousands of words, freighted with meaning and accompanied by pictures, linked or written right here, extolling the virtues of libraries in the abstract and in the particular. I spent the largest part of my childhood inside the contemporary iteration of the first public library in the United States. I was the youngest person in the history of the town to granted permission to take out books from the adult library. Everything of any value that I learned until I was an adult I learned in that library.

And you want to turn that temple, that monument to learning and equality and generosity and exceptionalism and intellect into the crummy lending shelf, stuffed with paperback bodice rippers with a Frank Frazetta airbrush painting of Fabio holding a panting dingbat on every cover, that I can find outside the ladies room in any factory.

No thanks.

Anonymous said...

SippicanCottage, nowhere in my post did I make any comment about the type of books that I read. So maybe instead of mocking me for my unintellectual tastes, you should address my actual argument. Trust me, that will make you look much smarter than your autoerotic gushing over your childhood and blogging. You were the youngest person to be given permission to check out books from the adult section? That's nice, but completely irrelevant. I am not arguing with your sixteen-year-old self.

I'd like to see some of the innumerable lessons that libraries have taught you, because so far it seems that the most intellectual tricks that you know are quick, mindless ways to make an ordinary thought seem deep. That comment of yours that I quoted from is heavy with them--extra adverbs, uses of ridiculously sweeping terms like "Christendom", archaic sentence structures, big flowery adjectives. It's so overdone and pretentious that it's actually kind of hilarious. The Millicent Library is the prettiest library in all of Christendom? Forgetting for a moment that you actually used the term "Christendom" (because, clearly, the world and everything important in it revolves around your religion), how dare you make such a overblown assertion? The Millicent Library is twenty minutes from that city that (I'm assuming that) you live in! Christendom is certainly not limited to Southcoast Massachusetts, and I highly doubt that you've traveled all over it, so, please, spare us the grandstanding.

So, while it's nice that you decided to pick over all my little errors, next time I think that you should tend to your own pretentious sloppiness first. If "nevermind" was the biggest error in my comment, I don't think you have any business criticizing me at all.

Just because libraries are throwing out a few books that nobody reads does not mean that they are getting rid of all dictionaries or becoming shrines to John Grisham. And it is not preventing you from reaading whatever highbrow drivel pleases you. (If you travel all the way to the library every time you need to peek in a dictionary, I'm sure that you can handle a few days wait on an inter-library loan.)

By the way, if you can't see how it is even a little bit sexist that you, a man who believes himself to be the pinnacle of intellectualism, characterize people that are so ignorant as to read John Grisham as hysterical women...well, I guess books alone can't make a person smart.

Anonymous said...

Sixteen? Try eight. No matter. Believe myself to be the pinnacle of intellectualism? I have a high school education. But I had access to a library that was full of Gibbon and Twain and Churchill and Faulkner and deMaupassant and, well, The Education of Henry Adams.

You're actually trying to make fun of me because I don't write like a dolt? Somehow I'll bear up under the shame of it.

"The prettiest library in all Christendom" was good enough for Mark Twain when he dedicated that library, along with his friend HH Rogers, and so it was good enough for me. I read the notes of Twain's speech, written in his own hand, on the wall in the library. Libraries used to contain such things.

It was dedicated to the memory of Roger's daughter, who died in her teens, and whose father remembered how she once wished Fairhaven had a library.

Maybe Grisham can dedicate a library someday. He can say it's swell or bitchin' or something.

I'm going to stop japing for a minute, and bring something to your attention. My family is, and always has been practically the paradigm of the target audience for a library. The day people like me don't want to go to the library because it's just a dump for pulp paperbacks and scratched Deuce Bigelow DVDs, they'll be nothing but bums downloading porn on the computers in there. They'll just be a crummy Barnes and Noble that bills once a year. Not a business model likely to have legs.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad that you decided to attend to the really important parts of my comment. In the last paragraph, my main argument was not "Hey you must have gone to college"; instead, it was "Your comment was sexist". I hope you don't read Gibbon and Twain and Churchill and Faulkner and deMaupassant the way you read Althouse, because the meaning must fly right over your head.

If the only two categories of writers are dolts and those who are not dolts, I guess that I should stop criticizing you, because it's clear that you've tripped onto that low platform of achievement. However, because I think that there's more to writing than simply not failing at it, I have to point out that you're still a pretentious twit. You may have the vocabulary to write sweeping melodrama about libraries that commit the sin of stocking a few Grisham novels, but that doesn't mean that you should. "Libraries used to contain such things"? I'm sorry that not every library can be as extravagant as the Millicent Library. I'm sorry that most libraries aren't built by grieving millionaires (who also happen to be good friends with literary icons) in order to memorialize dead daughters. All that would seem to point to the Millicent Library being at least an above-average example of a library, and yet you whine because it isn't the standard anymore.

I'm sorry, I thought that you made up the thing about Christendom on your own. Mark Twain is allowed to make that sort of comment because, well, the event probably called for a little hyperbole and I don't think that the term "Christendom" was archaic in the 1890s. If it was, then I suppose that I can't agree with him saying that phrase. Sorry if he's not as trendy a target as Grisham.

You, in your immense egotism, claim that libraries are not following a good business model because they alienate customers like you. Well, if the only people that visit the library are bums and those with your exact tastes, then why do libraries even have to trim their classics collections? By that logic, precocious eight-year-olds should be getting into fistfights over just who gets to take home "The Education of Henry Adams" this week. Clearly, those pulp paperbacks actually have an audience.

Anonymous said...

Does it get to a point within an argument where you no longer even read/listen to what the opposing party is saying to you, sippican? No one here is suggesting that libraries be stripped bare, and then replenished with Grisham novels, Dumb and Dumber: the Novel and Better Home & Gardening Magazine or whatever. Yes, a good, complete library would be filled to the ceilings with the classics, Plato, Chaucer, etc., but where do you get off judging the libraries that aren’t? Ideally, a library could keep well-stocked in the classics and cater to the desires of their patrons, but not all libraries, nor all towns, can afford to do this. So what do you suggest these libraries do when their ten loyal customers happen to be interested in romance novels, or science fiction or whatever other possible subject you think is a horrid waste of time? Turn them away? Send them to Barnes and Nobles or Amazon.com? Pardon my grandmother of 87 years old for wishing to read a tawdry romance novel while she sits in her sunroom waiting for the air conditioning to kick in, but Dante’s Inferno doesn’t seem quite appropriate for the occasion.

Furthermore, do you misunderstand the meaning of the word ‘pretentious’? This is 2006 and you live in Massachusetts (as do I, this is hardly the holy grail or whatever); the only thing you accomplish when you form sentences such as, “Foolishly they feebly ape that which will consume them,” is letting everyone around you know just how well you know how to use alliteration and metaphor; the vast depth of your knowledge is an abyss tucked deep within the bitter berry bogs of Buzzard’s Bay bound brutally to the brainless boobs bumbling before you, or something. Suggesting that your sentence structure is a bit pretentious is hardly an attempt to insult your non-doltness; in fact, it’s kind of a gentle suggestion that you’re a bit pretentious.

Finally, as I said, I also live in Massachusetts (North Shore). I grew up using the Malden Public Library as my hometown library; this is one of the oldest public libraries in the state, with something of a history itself. Lovely as it may have been, I still prefer the convenience of Barnes and Nobles or Amazon; sorry to offend your old world tastes.

Anonymous said...

I feel like I'm talking to a four year old.

That's unlikely, as I enjoy talking to four year olds.

In closing, I dearly hope you have a long and lovely life, filled with all the joys and contentment possible while allowing for your idea that Grisham is a writer and not a typist, that it's appropriate for libraries to be a sort of dump you pick through for barely edible offal, that the word Christendom refers to some sort of religious idolatry and is not a vague hyperbolic geographical term, that Fairhaven is a wealthy place and I'm a big swell, and that calling anybody you have the slightest disagreement with over mundane affairs a sexist is like whipping out some earthshaking argument kryptonite.

There's trouble in River City, but you ain't no Shirley Jones. Got it.

tjl said...

"while she sits in her sunroom waiting for the air conditioning to kick in, Dante’s Inferno doesn’t seem quite appropriate for the occasion"

She really ought to try it, I'm sure she'd enjoy it. Sippican could whet her interest in Dante by suggesting which circle of Hell offers the right punishment for Susan Brindle.

Anonymous said...

tjl- Heh.

Dante Alighieri's head is on the front facade of the Millicent Library, right over the name.

Hey, Brad. "A library with ten loyal customers" should close. It serves no purpose. A library that throws away important and rare books to make room for drivel that is available anywhere at a pittance eventually will have ten loyal customers. I won't be one of them.

But I'm on board here. The reason for establishing libraries --the rarity and expense of noteworthy books, and making them available to persons who can't afford to buy them or can't find them as they are out of print-- has changed. Books are no longer particularly expensive or rare, but you guys desperately want to hand out anything as long as it's either "free" to you or allows you to draw a government paycheck without working very hard at keeping a meaningful supply of books.

OK. Burn all the books, and just hand out porn. Really nasty porn. I mean the absolute worst thing you can imagine. Some of it might even be... ahem... sexist, I know, but that's your problem, not mine. I'm not your target audience any more.

They'll be a line out the door. You'll have to buy ink by the fifty gallon drum for the little date stamps. And you won't have to worry one bit about whether the stuff you're assembling is any more worthy of attention than anything else. You can throw in some comic books too so the kids have something to look at. Oh, and OJ's murder cookbook. And you can pipe in death metal music interspersed with Celine Dion songs and The Achey Breaky Song. That's what people want. It makes no difference what you have, as long as people check it out, right?

I've been in a big city library, and seen the winos furiously working at themselves under their coats as they sit at the internet terminals you supply for them. So you've got a head start. Keep going, you'll get there eventually.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's right, sippican. I would love nothing more than to see libraries filled with Grisham; truly, I can't get enough of him, an amazing author indeed. In the end, that is the extent of my argument, just how wonderful John Grisham's literary achievements are. You just continue patting yourself on the back, misinterpreting the things people say to you and being convinced that there are two categories of media: classic enriching old-world media and porn. Very good!

Also, good luck with your business down there in Marion! I'm sure many people in that area are interested in spending $1000 on an ugly weather-worn bench! (Do you find your business suffers because you're too often patronizing peons on the internet?)

Anonymous said...

tjl: What a charmer! I love people that patronize the elderly! So when your bedridden, sick mother picks up a Reader's Digest do you slap it away and throw the Canterbury Tales at her? I'm sure you're her favorite child.

tjl said...

"when your bedridden, sick mother picks up a Reader's Digest do you slap it away"

Brad, if you handed my elderly mother a copy of the Reader's Digest, she'd think YOU were patronizing HER. She actually prefers playing bridge, because it requires thought -- something not demanded by your proposed reading list.

Anonymous said...

Oh SippicanCottage, you are so adept at this argument thing. I called you a sexist...like I was "whipping out some earthshaking argument kryptonite"!! Well, you just destroyed that argument. I didn't put forth my assertion that you were sexist quietly and modestly enough, so there isn't any way you could possibly be one. Of course.

By the way, you are never allowed to use the word "kryptonite" ever again. You can't act contemptuous of comic books (as in your 9:22 post) and at the same time demean words created in comic books by using them in your pretentious whines. You despise John Grisham so much, but if some phrase from The Firm became a part of popular culture, you'd have no problem using it in your artsy little rants?

An aureately splendid childhood beneath the opulently sovereign arc of a bookshelf--verily, o'er a flip of the dossier, that time is past.

Whatever makes you look more intellectual, right?

Also, I wrote that the Millicent Library is most likely so lovely because Millicent's father had the money to make it as extravagant as he wanted. Somehow (I have no idea how, especially for someone so allegedly well-read), you managed to twist this into "Fairhaven is rich". Okay. Fine.

But then you link to your blog, where you wrote, "Old Hell Hound Rogers had a lot of money, but I bet he would have traded every bit of it to get his daughter Millicent back when she died". Oh look, two of my exact points! Rogers was rich and he loved his daughter. So, I must ask: What makes YOU think that Fairhaven is so rich??

Anonymous said...

I just finished making my ugly furniture.

Fairhaven is rich because my sons walk its streets and haunt its library.

Fairhaven is rich because a man, dirt poor, and his wife, poorer still, went away to make a fortune and returned to the place of his birth to bestow the blessings of his work on the only place he ever loved. That, and to try to commemorate the loss of their beloved child by building a confection of stone to hold a monument to all humanity, impressed onto the many and many pages of a book.

Fairhaven is rich because Mark Twain trod its streets, and John Singer Sargent -- fresh from painting Henry James --you've heard of Henry James, haven't you? -- went sailing together here, while the wood shavings from the plane iron of Joshua Slocum still whorled in devils on the hardpacked dirt of the neighborhood called Poverty Point.

And I read, in his own hand, Twain's message to us of the meaning of a library, from a man that knew what it was to teach yourself when no other would do it:

I am glad to have seen it. It is the ideal library, I think. Books are the liberated spirits of men, and should be bestowed in a heaven of light and grace and harmonious color and sumptuous comfort, like this, instead of in the customary kind of public library, with its depressing austerities and severities of form and furniture and decoration. A public library is the most enduring of memorials, the trustiest monument for the preservation of events or a name or an affection; for it, and it only, is respected by wars and revolutions, and survives them. Creed and opinion change with time, and their symbols perish; but Literature and its temples are sacred to all creeds, and inviolate. All other things which I have seen today must pass away and be forgotten; but there will still be a Millicent Library when by the mutations of language the books that are in it now will speak in a lost tongue to your posterity.

Fairhaven is rich in all the things that matter, but not in money, really.

Fairhaven is rich because you're not in it.

I'm done now.

Anonymous said...

Yes, SippicanCottage (you irrelevant hack), I have heard of Henry James.

I have heard of Henry James under the dismal moonlight of that Antelope-caressed desert, where a man must be careful where his thoughts wander, lest he be driven mad by that cruel nymph of the lonely void.

I have heard of Henry James on the earthy floors of hell-soaked shanties, eyes shut tight against the greedy screams of my neighbors, my dearest neighbors, as they succumb to the sweet sere whisper of a new life in the Northern throes. And I have heard of Henry James in the sweeping gilt channels of those lavish meccas of sale and trade, where men stumble without tiring, hunched beneath the savage splendor of their sublime lust, and the antelope is a mere plastic shadow of its wild self.

I have heard of Henry James in words, glorious words, words that might infect a man with the curiousity of princes and scholars if he is not watchful:

"Warmly attached to America, James was usually eminently fair about it, pointing out but not condemning what he did not like, always making an effort (in his words) to 'do justice' even to what he did not like. A ready-to-take-offense attitude can always find much in little. A Portland, Oregon, paper even aggrievedly resented James's registering at his hotel as 'Henry James, London,' feeling that he thereby showed that 'he did not consider this country his home'--disregarding the fact that James had been making his home abroad for over thirty years."

I have heard of Henry James in cinemas and outhouses, cathedrals and microbreweries; where men are exhalted, where men have stumbled, where they crawl sightlessly without panacea and where they trot gladly without shame.

Over hill and dale, mountain and canyon, heaven and hell; verily, I have heard of Henry James. Places you have been many times, places you will never tread--these are the places where I have heard of Henry James.

Anonymous said...

The Washington Post has screwed this up a bit by confusing a “title” with a “copy.

Believe me, libraries are not dumping “To Kill a Mockingbird”, or the other titles that are so ominously listed in the article and on your blog. Libraries are simply weeding out individual copies of that title; copies that are often stained, torn and/or falling apart at the seams.

Searching the Fairfax Library catalog (
) I count 23 print copies of “The Education of Henry Adams”.

Take a look here for the library's response to the title/copy confusion:


I invite you to log in to the catalog and search the other titles yourself.

So take a deep breath library lovers. You local library is not weeding the great titles, just the tattered copies. Another note on weeding: Every time I’ve ever done significant weeding in a library the customers’ invariably comment, “Gee, you got so many new books…” (getting rid of all the old, dirty, falling-apart books makes it easier to find the new ones!)