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Wouldn't be happening

If we didn't have volunteers, we'd be in deep trouble here at the library.

Unlike some libraries across the state -- even small ones like ours -- where volunteers are restricted to doing the most mundane and simple tasks, we have folks doing a wide variety of jobs.

Some catalolg materials, some decomission materials, some prepare items for shelving. And others, of course, staff the front circulation desk, providing great customer service.

Last year, our volunteers donated a total of 6,270 hours of their time.

If we had paid them just minimum wage, that value would have been $4,545.

But their time was universally worth much more than the minimum.

Thanks to all of those who love the library, especially those who give of their time and talents.

What to save

A friend sent me an e-mail with a screen shot from a Facebook posting.

The item posted was a newspaper clipping from the Amarillo newspaper, a story I wrote when I was first hired by the Daily News and Globe Times and was written in 1966 or 1967.

The story was about an Amarillo high-school student tradition: "dragging Polk," or the habit of bored teenagers driving up and down the city's main street, out to be seen and heard and sometimes to do a little between-the-stop-lights drag racing.

I don't know who found that article, but it was the only one I'm aware of that actually chronicled this particular activity, thus preserving a fun and interesting memory for those hundreds and hundreds of kids who were involved in the ritual.

It's not crucial that this story was saved somewhere. It's just nice.

But, there are stories out of Amarillo and everywhere else that are, in fact, crucial to our understanding of history. And those we absolutely need to preserve in some accessible form.

The operative word there is "accessible."

Library Journal has an article this morning about how the State Historical Society of Iowa, once tasked with microfilming that state's major newspapers, has been out of money since 2009 to pursue that goal. Between 1,600 and 1,700 bundles of newspapers are lying around waiting to be processed. It will take $255,000 to microfilm them.

What a shame.

But, then, the University of North Texas newspaper preservation project is woefully behind on its pursuit. And, that's a shame, too.

At UNT, the newspapers that are archived are available on the Internet. Double shame, shame on Iowa, though, for going to microfilm. I say that because the last two newspapers I worked at had microfilm readers that DID NOT WORK, and they had no plans to replace them.

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.

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.


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.

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