Thursday, March 6, 2014

Mark Sanford and Me

Do you remember with some fondness, as I do, those years with W. in the White House and Mark Sanford in Columbia?  Yes, fondness.  Each Christmas I bought my son a 365-day calendar with a quote from our president -- who knew one man could say so many dumb things?

And as for our governor, before we learned of his hikes across the Appalachian Trail, even then he gave us much cause to feel superior.  I recall tales of his quirkiness, and there is one that comes to mind today:  in his frugality, he insisted that staff use the backs of post-it notes before they could throw them out.

I can identify with that, to a point.  I am also frugal.  Not only have I had to live on a shoe-string much of my life, but I've been able to do it.  And without stealing funds from the government, I add proudly.  Admittedly, using the back side of a post-it note is ridiculous, and a testament to our former governor's bad judgment.  If I don't need to stick a little piece of paper on something, I won't use a post-it note, but instead a scrap of paper.  And I do mean scrap.  It would pain me enormously to use a whole piece of paper when a scrap of formerly used paper would do.

It's not just financial considerations.  I know that part of living in the style to which we Americans have become accustomed requires waste.  Plastic utensils at fast food places.  Old computers and iPods.  Snail mail.  But I do believe it is our responsibility to measure that waste against need.  To me it is unconscionable to use a marker when a pen will do, or a pen when a pencil will work.  Who would buy plastic single serving containers when so many foods sold in groceries and take-out restaurants serve the same purpose?  And yet we waste where we need not every day, every one of us.  Small amounts that add up.

One of the great things about libraries has always been that they maximize use:  of books, DVD's, computers, magazines.  And our own Charleston County Public Library lately contends that the reasons they are pushing for electronic borrowing are financial and environmental.  And yet.

And yet they throw away books that have only sat unread for one year.  Throw them out.  And when voracious readers like myself are looking back even a few years for popular authors like Terry Pratchett or important biographies of say Clarence Thomas, our library no longer owns them.  One of our options is then to have the library search outside of Charleston County, which is called Interlibrary Loan.  It's an amazing program which has always stretched a library's holdings by virtue of exchanging with other libraries.

A few years ago, the free ILL service imposed a fee of $2, in order to partially cover the cost of transporting items.  Given the things our library system spends money on, and how relatively infrequently ILL was used at the time, I grumbled.  But now, with our collection shrinking (which is happily promoted by the director as a good thing), we can either pay the two bucks or skip the book.

Then there are date due cards which were formally date due slips, another blast from the past.  Librarians (like Marian the Librarian) spent hours stamping the dates due into books being checked out.  And then came the mixed blessing of date due receipts, printed slips that listed all the items being checked out at one time.  Waste of paper, harder to use than a card that could be stamped many times, and which would inform us of the date due just by opening the book.  But given the volume of check-outs, maybe a necessary evil.

So the other day I checked out some items.  When I got home, I pulled out the slip that lists the check-outs and due dates in order to throw it out, as do many of you who follow your record online or have developed other ways of keeping track of items to be returned.

Imagine my surprise when I saw, at the bottom of the slip, the following:

Shameless, indeed.

So each time each person checks out one item or many, they will learn that:  "Charleston County Public Library connects our diverse community to information, fosters lifelong learning and enriches lives."

I had no idea.

For every wasteful government project, there is a salesperson who has reeled someone in.  And in this case, someone at our library was convinced that adding the empty blurb to the bottom of each date due slip would... what?  Presumably if you're checking an item out, you use the library.  I would like to meet the person that reads that blurb and says, "Aha, I had no idea."

Actually, I'd like to meet the person that reads the blurb.  I actually showed a friend two slips, one I dug up from 2012, and the one I got last week (I have no idea when they started adding the blurb because I never read the damned things).  I asked her to tell me what was different.  She looked carefully and couldn't come up with anything better than different due dates and different items.  Even when we read the slip, we don't read the blurb.

So please, please, if you have any influence at the Charleston County Public Library, of which I have none, please convince them that this is a waste of money, paper and ink.

And maybe you can suggest that, with the money they save from printing "the blurb" they can remove the Interlibrary Loan Fee.

Thank you.

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