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Stolen

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.

Wrong assumption

What's the future for American libraries?

Seems like every six months or so, that question bubbles to the surface in librarian circles.

To kind of get a better handle on the answer to that question, the American Libraries Association sponsored a panel discussion on that topic yesterday afternoon. So, what did they decide?

Well, they didn't decide much of anything.

But, they did identify something that is a matter of increasing concern among librarians: That is that policy-makers, people with power, these people seem to believe that books and libraries are something of the past and are not really part of the future.

Libraries have probably never been very important to the rich and powerful. And it's not that group of people who we try to or want to cater to: it's the powerless, the people without resources, the people who can't buy a Kindle and download a $10 book every day or every week -- those are the pepole we historically have tried to reach.

And those are the people we will continue to try to reach and we will be important to them as a place where they can get the information and knowledge that helps level the playing field just a little bit.

We've been important to democracy in the past, we are right now and we will be in the future.

 

It makes sense

Educational specialist Kevin Carey has written a piece about massive online classes that's making its way around the country on FaceBook and in print.

The article appeared in The New York Times editions on Sunday, but I saw it on the internet last week.

Carey basically argues that it is past time for someone to create worthwhile, trustworthy credentials to be awarded to people who complete massive online courses.

I agree. If college is to become affordable again, and if more Americans are going to be able to experience a college education, MOOCs are the way to go. But they will never be the way to go if professors aren't compensated and recognized by their peers for offering these classes and if colleges don't provide something equivalent to course credit, leading, perhaps, to a good online degree that everyone recognizes as valid.

I took a MOOC last fall offered by a physics professor at the University of Virginia. It was great and it was a lot of work, and for completing it I got a certificate. That and a dollar will buy you a cup of coffee.

The professor apparently got Zero for his efforts. Not much there to  motivate him to do another. And not much there to motivate me to do another, either.

This is a pressing issue that state legislators need to get on their radar and deal with.

The sounds of silence

Clearly Matthew B. Crawford has had plenty of quiet time to just sit and think.

He's been thinking about silence.

His put his thoughts into words that can be found in the op-ed section of The New York Times last Sunday. They are worth tracking down and reading.

Crawford goes way beyond the common and commonly held complaint that we Americans are exposed to too many messages day in and day out, messages that come from absolutely everywhere. Everyone is trying to get our attention, and it robs us of the ability to actually pay attention to much of anything.

He points out that people's minds are treated as a "standing reserve of purchasing power to be steered according to the innovative marketing schemes hatched by those enjoying silence" in their various well-guarded preserves.

"There are many causes for the increasing concentration of wealth in a shrinking elite, but let us throw one more into the mix: the ever more aggressive appropriations of the attentional commons that we have allowed to take place," he writes.

We should have a right not to be addressed, Crawford concludes, just as we have a right to privacy (that, I add parenthetically, is more and more eroded by every conceivable means).

A moment of silence to address whatever superior authority you believe in about this issue might be appropriate.

It's Satire. OK?

I have tried my hand at writing satire from time to time, and inevitably a lot of people don't get it.

Maybe it's because I didn't do it very well.

Or maybe people just have a problem recognizing satire.

Given the popularitiy of The Daily Show and SNL, you'd think the genre would be pretty easy for readers to spot.

When I picked up "The Zone of Interest" before Christmas and started reading, I was struck by Martin Amis' writing, but I found myself, an experienced satirist, wondering, "Is this satire or not?"

It took a little, but soon became obvious. Yes, it was satire.

I guess part of the reason his traditional German-language publisher declined to print the German tranlation of "The Zone of Interest" was because it was satire and a lot of folks wouldn't realize it, and you wouldn't want to start hacking off Germans who are understandably sensitive about the Holocaust.

See, the book is a satire about a key German concentration camp during World War II.

Now I see that Amis does have a publisher, and the book is due out later this year.

I can't wait to see what kind of reception it receives.

I predict it will not be favorable, even though the book is terrific.