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Librarian Blog

Enabling bigotry

That summer and fall of 1963, I was working at Uncle Zeke's Pancake House in Wolflin Village in Amarillo.

I had worked my way up from bus boy through the dishwashing station and the grill and was a host, greeting people as they came in the front door and then seating them at the right booth or table, depending on which waitress was up next, and then giving them a menu, a glass of ice water, a placemat and silverware.

One night after the dinner rush, I heard a sound coming from the front door that I had never heard before. Someone was knocking.

Perplexed, I pushed the door open.

And standing there, hat in hand, was a black man dressed in a brown suit. Beside him were a woman and two children.

"Excuse me," he said, "but do you serve Negroes in this establishment?"

I had no idea, and the owner was gone for the day.

So, I answered him in the way I had been raised.

"Yes," I said. "Come in."

After I had sat the family in a booth in the southeast corner of the restaurant, I went to the back to find the waitress.

When she turned the corner to enter the dining room, she stopped dead in her tracks and turned to me with a face redder than her hair.

"I'm not waiting on no niggers," she hissed. "Get them out of here. Now."

I wanted to be anywhere in the universe at that moment but in Uncle Zeke's Pancake House in Wolflin Village in Amarillo.

But, I had no choice.

I can only imagine how humiliated these nice folks felt as they walked out the door and into the night -- all those fifty years ago right now.

THE question for James Patterson

The prolific author James Patterson was the subject of the Q and A in the New York Times book review section yesterday.

The operative word in that sentence is "prolific." The guy beats anything I ever saw in terms of productivity. His name is on almost everything that comes through the library other than the Wimberley View.

So, an in-the-know reader might expect the editors of the book review section to ask the single most obvious question that the curious in-the-know reader would ask if sitting down with James Patterson.

That question would be: How in the heck do you write so many darn books in such a short period of time?

And the follow-up would be: Who is helping you out with these writing chores, man?

But, that question just didn't occur to the editors?

Guess not. Because it's not asked and, thus, not answered.

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.

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.

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.