Monday, December 29, 2014

How Libraries Die

Back in the day when libraries were funded because books were thought to be important, here in Charleston we had a generous -- and sensible -- book purchase policy.  Eight copies -- one for each large and regional branch plus Main -- were purchased for pretty much anything that wasn't totally obscure.  Before our current director hit town, there was a copy at each branch.  Since he decided we had too many couriers carrying books back and forth, and for that matter, too many books, there is no longer an owning branch.  When you return a book, it stays wherever it was returned.  So there may be five copies of a book in tiny James Island, and none at St. Andrews Regional.

Since so many of us request books online these days, the tragedy does not so much begin with those older books, although it certainly ends there as they get discarded prematurely.  People that go into the library to borrow books encounter the New Books section first.  And many of us, even those who do most of their shopping online, browse those New Books.  That's where they see titles they would otherwise never know about.

Except that over the years our library has cut back on their purchases.  Especially for books that are not best-sellers.  You can always find copies of Bill O'Reilley's latest tome, but some books disappear before we ever see them.  Painful, awful decisions about what books not to order, and of what books to order only one copy.

For example, and this is enraging me as well as breaking my heart, is the book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt.  Even though there is a dearth of books about abortion rights, and the reviews of this book by this established author have been quite good, making the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2014, Charleston County Public Library owns ONE copy.  There are only four holds on this book, so it is unlikely that more copies will be purchased.

And here's the thing.  With only one copy, far fewer patrons will know it exists.  When they browse those new books, they won't see it.  When those holds are exhausted (in two months), there will only be one copy of this book on the shelf at one branch.  People who browse the shelves won't know it exists.  People who are interested in abortion rights won't know it exists.  And if that one copy doesn't get lost or damaged in its short life as a New Book, it will go off into the non-fiction stacks to die.

Imagine this happening on way too many topics.  Not only do we not have the opportunity to learn about these important new books because we don't see them on the shelves.  We fail to see topics that might catch our eye, stir our interest.  We become smaller.

And that is what is happening as we downsize our libraries.

Here is what you can do:

1.  If you hear about books like Pollitt's Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, place a hold on it at the library.  A long waiting list gets the attention of the people who do the ordering and they are more likely to order more copies when the topic comes up again.  They may even order more copies of the current book if the waiting list is sufficiently long to prove an interest.

2.  If they don't order more copies, call, email, visit and ask them to order more copies.  Don't let them get away with making decisions about topics that affect our communities, and our lives.

As our library shrinks down to best-sellers and cookbooks, please join me in the fight.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Say No to the Stinkers

The battle over the passage of a budget clearly demonstrates why we need Elizabeth Warren in the Senate, not in the White House.  In the past, when those last-minute, late-night budget bills came for a vote just before Christmas (or any other) break, you could count on House and Senate members holding their noses and voting yes.  Especially Democrats.

But Warren found those two stinky amendments snuck into the bill, and blasted both houses of Congress for even considering passing the legislation.

One of those most offensive amendments would repeal a critical part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation that would hold banks responsible for risky derivative trading rather than the federal government.  The other nasty little piece of work would raise the limit on amounts of campaign contributions that can be made to either Republican or Democratic national committees.

Since Bill Clinton, the Democrats in Congress and the White House have been more than willing to compromise in order to get things done, and the hustlers in the Republican party have been all too happy to hold the government hostage in order to pass legislation that continues to weaken the middle class while increasing the control of the plutocrats.

But Warren has said NO.  And in the House, Nancy Pelosi must be delighted to finally have a senator stand with her in this fight.  Since Ted Kennedy's death, there have been progressive voices, but none has held the attention of the media and the American people as has Elizabeth Warren.  She is an orator reminiscent of Barack Obama, and she has the intellect and determination to carry the argument.  She may be the one to cause weak-kneed Democrats in Congress to stand taller.

In the sorry state of the Democratic Party since the 2014 mid-term election, we could do no better than to have Elizabeth Warren locate our missing voices.  Blue dogs may even figure out that being Republican lite is not the way to rouse the American voter.  It may be that even here in South Carolina Elizabeth Warren's strength and willingness to fight for true democratic values on the national stage will help our battle weary progressives move into the political spotlight.

So let us all take advantage of this opportunity.  Now is the time for our state and national progressive leaders to be loud and stand tall.  Instead of whining about all those anti-Obama, anti-LGBT, anti-women and family bills that a few rabid legislators are introducing at the state house and in Congress, let's urge those good people that are there to take the offensive.  We need them to introduce bills and amendments that assert and protect our rights, every one of us.  We need to stand together with all the groups who have been attacked and form a solid coalition that will not sell out one group in a sad attempt to protect another.

We have been losing ground for years out of fear.  2015 could be the year that we stop being afraid and fight back, if only we look to leaders like Elizabeth Warren to light the way.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Not Too Bright, But Busy

Arlo Guthrie once said about Ronald Reagan that he doesn't mind our President nodding off because, "The more he sleeps, the safer we are."

These days I am wishing that folks like South Carolina state senator Lee Bright would take a few naps.  He has been using his pent-up anger and frustration at being passed over for Congress (in favor of the ultra-liberal Lindsey Graham) by redoubling his efforts to fill the state dockets with the same worthless bills he failed to get through in the last legislative session.  In fact, he has thus far already sponsored some forty bills.

Why this self-aggrandizing good Christian can't take a break for the Christmas holiday just defeats me.  He sure could stand to say a few prayers for guidance.

The bills he has sponsored (and co-sponsored with fellow idiot Larry Grooms) are mostly anti-abortion and pro-gun bills, with a smattering of anti-Obama.  Not too bright, and no new ideas, but enough vitriol to keep all his right-wingnut supporters happy -- well, actually, to keep them angry.  Maybe if he can raise the level of ugly just a little tiny bit more he'll be able to oust Graham in six more years.

Lee Bright's dream for South Carolina is a state where the fed'ral gub-mint keeps its hands off our weapons, and the state is free to stick its business in women's private parts, if you know what I mean.  Don't need the feds to help make sure the women -- and the girls -- stay pregnant and stay home; South Carolina has been fighting hard to maintain that status quo all by its own self.

No new ideas from Lee Bright

Here is what I want to know:  why do our reasonable legislators (and we really do have some) always seem to be in the position of chasing after the nutcases?  People like Lee Bright clog our legislature with destructive bills, bills that attack freedom of religion, right to privacy, the right of licensed medical professionals to provide the best care without government interference, the right to be safe from people of poor judgment carrying weapons, the right to vote.  We could wallpaper the State House with bills that seek to prevent the state of South Carolina from having to follow federal laws.

I would like to see our reasonable legislators (have I mentioned that we do have some?) pre-filing bills that would enforce federal health care laws and force the governor to accept Medicaid funding, assure voting rights to all, bills that would require that the government not invade the privacy of women in their doctors' offices, and that medical professionals are allowed to practice freely and without fear of government intervention.  How about bills that keep guns out of public places?  And bills that require additional police training in use of physical force and weapons so that citizens no longer risk getting shot by a panicked officer as they reach for their license and registration.

We don't need to always be finding ourselves on the defensive.  Our legislators need to be as passionate about protecting the rights of South Carolinians as are idiots like Lee Bright about taking away those rights.

So sharpen your pencils and get out the paperwork.  Maybe while Lee Bright is at Christmas mass schmoozing with the holy rollers we can get some good bills filed, and give him and his buddies something to keep him so busy he won't have time to file another stupid bill.
Praying for a good idea