Friday, April 27, 2007

Story about the Great Library in Alexandria, Egypt

posted by Blake

Larry Greenwood writes "What if you showed up for work at your library one day and the doors were locked, or worse, the building has been completely destroyed and the collection burned. That is what happened to Yarrl of Alexandria in 415 AD. You can follow the story of Yarrl at: alexandrinelibrarian.blogspot.comLarry Greenwood, a retired academic librarian, has begun a story about the life and times of a librarian working at the Great Library of Alexandria in early 5th century. It is an interesting look at religious fundamentalism and its influence on ancient libraries and librarians. The story is serialized in blog format."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Man Threatens Legal Action Against City

Bentonville Resident Unhappy Because Of Sex Guide Book

Thursday, April 19,
By Richard Dean Prudenti

A Bentonville man asked the city to pay his two sons $20,000 and to fire the library director for including what he called "pornography" in the Bentonville Public Library collection.

"The Whole Lesbian Sex Book" by Felice Newman was removed from the library shelf after Earl Adams of Bentonville complained it is "patently offensive and lacks any artistic, literary or scientific value," according to a letter he wrote and faxed Feb. 16 to Mayor Bob McCaslin.

Adams said his 14- and 16-year-old sons, Kyle and Ryan, looked at the book while the 14-year-old was browsing for material on military academies. He requested the city pay him $10,000 per child, the maximum allowed under the Arkansas obscenity law.

"My sons were greatly disturbed by viewing this material and this matter has caused many sleepless nights in our house," he said in another e-mail to McCaslin earlier in February.

Library Director Cindy Suter initially relocated the book to a less accessible location as Adams requested in his first e-mail complaint. Then Adams asked Feb. 16 for the book to be removed and sent McCaslin a letter threatening a lawsuit.

"God was speaking to my heart that day and helped me find the words that proved successful in removing this book from the shelf," Adams stated Thursday.

Advisory board members voted unanimously April 3 to remove the book from circulation and find a similar resource book, if possible. If not, the book will likely go back on the shelf, Suter said.

Library Advisory Board member George Spence said he found the book crude and agrees it ought to be replaced with a suitable book on the same topic.

"A more sensitive, more clinical approach to same material might be more appropriate for the library," Spence said.

Adams said in an e-mail Thursday he will fight the book's return.

"Any effort to reinstate the book will be met with legal action and protests from the Christian community," Adams stated in an e-mail.

Adams asked to answer questions by e-mail because he said he feared being misquoted.

The city attorney said the book is not pornographic and the city won't pay Adams.

"There is not a valid legal concern here," Camille Thompson said. "In fact, (the request for money) made me question his motivation."

The flap about Newman's book happened shortly before Suter announced her intention Monday to resign effective May 31, but Suter said it had nothing to do with her decision.

Both Spence and McCaslin concurred that there is no connection between the two.

"I know Cindy, and she is not an impulsive person. She would not have done it without a lot of thought," McCaslin said. "Assumptions can get you in big trouble."

Suter said she needs to devote more time to her downtown business, Fusion Fine Art Gallery, which she opened in June 2005.

Suter has given most of her attention the last few years to planning the new Bentonville Public Library, which opened in October at 405 S. Main St.

Suter said the Library Advisory Board considered Adams' complaint as soon as it could and invited Adams to attend. He was not present at the meeting.

Spence, who also serves as the City Council's attorney, said the board discussed both Adams' complaint and the library's policy for reconsidering library materials.

"I thought we had a very intelligent -- I almost want to say 'high-minded' -- discussion about the book and about the policy," Spence said.

In addition to removing the book, the board asked that the policy be revised to give board members the final say on reconsideration of library materials. That decision now rests with the library director.

"In my opinion that decision should ultimately be up to more than one person," Spence said.

Spence said there was no "tug of war" over who should have final authority.

Suter supports the action.

"We had an excellent meeting and discussion. I've very supportive and pleased," she said.

Spence anticipates the City Council will have to approve the change.

Suter disagreed with Adams' conclusion that having Newman's book in the library pushes an "immoral social agenda," as he stated in his Feb. 16 letter.

The book is a sex guide deemed suitable for all public libraries, according to the Library Journal, which the Bentonville library uses to select materials.

Libraries must have a diverse collection to "meet the needs of all the people in the community," she said.

"My focus is to develop a inclusive collection and not an exclusive collection," Suter said.


Reconsideration Process

A formal complaint about specific material in the Bentonville Public Library collections sets in motion the following:

* A committee evaluates the item and recommends action

* The library director decides whether to keep or remove material

* The Library Advisory Board determines whether the reconsideration was handled according to the stated policies and procedures.

Source: City of Bentonville

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Caution on Violent Writings

Weekend Edition essayist Diane Roberts teaches English at Florida State University. She says the tragedy at Virginia Tech is creating a special kind of chill among writing students.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

On National Library Workers Day, AFSCME Vows to Press Fight for Critical Funding

— America’s largest union for library workers today commemorated National Library Workers Day by calling on federal, state and local lawmakers to properly fund library services and honor the professionals who educate our youth and nourish the minds of readers of all ages.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO, represents more than 20,000 library workers nationwide and has been a leading advocate for pay increases for library workers and for adequate funding for the public facilities they operate.

“In these challenging economic times, libraries are being used more than ever, even as their budgets are cut and workers are laid off,” said AFSCME President Gerald W. McEntee. “It’s time for our leaders to recommit to funding libraries as a critical investment in our future by providing library workers with the pay, support and respect they deserve.”

National Library Week began on April 15, and AFSCME took the opportunity to recognize children’s author Susan Patron—a senior librarian with the Los Angeles Public Library and a member of AFSCME Local 2626 (Council 36)—for her latest literary achievement.

In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, AFSCME took out an ad to celebrate the special accomplishment of Patron, whose newest book, “The Higher Power of Lucky,” was awarded this year’s prestigious John Newbery Medal, the highest honor in children’s literature.

“Library workers are among the most talented, dedicated and resilient public employees serving our communities,” McEntee said. “They are fighting to ensure the privacy rights of readers while promoting reading and lifelong learning. They have deftly adapted to the demand of the digital age while keeping libraries running on shoestring budgets. On National Library Workers Day, we are proud to pay tribute to these extraordinary public employees for all that they do.”

Wisconsin Law Hinders Lewd Library Case

Apr 17, 5:04 PM (ET)

NEENAH, Wis. (AP) - A law protecting library records' confidentiality has hamstrung officials pursuing a man who reportedly masturbated among the books at the Neenah Public Library earlier this month. City Attorney James Godlewski said the library can't turn a surveillance video of the man over to police without a court order.

"That is state law," Godlewski said Monday. "The library is merely following what state law says."

The Wisconsin attorney general's office said in a Nov. 27 opinion that library surveillance videos fall under the state's public library records confidentiality law. The law prevents libraries from releasing records that indicate a library user's identity unless someone's life or safety is at risk.

A library patron saw the April 2 incident and reported it to a reference librarian, who called police. But the suspect left before he was identified. He was described as 25 to 30 years old, 5 feet, 10 inches tall and about 200 pounds with short blond or brown hair.

Library Director Stephen Proces said he wants the suspect caught. He has shown the surveillance video to library employees and directed them to call police if they see the man enter the library again.

"We think that this guy has been here before doing something similar but not as graphic," Proces said. "This may be someone who is going from library to library doing this."

Police Chief Ray Appel said investigators would seek a court order to view the surveillance tapes.

But he also said the offense might amount to an ordinance violation, not a criminal charge handled by the district attorney's office and heard by a circuit court judge. If that's the case, it's not clear whether a municipal court judge would have the authority to order the video released, Appel said.

"This is the first time we have ever run across this," the chief said.

Alan Lee, the assistant attorney general who wrote the Nov. 27 opinion, said he would recommend the confidentiality law be amended to allow library staff to provide surveillance tapes to police when criminal activity is suspected or witnessed.


Information from: The Post-Crescent,

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Librarians 'suffer most stress'

Fighting fires may sound taxing, chasing criminals demanding, but a new study says that working in library is the most stressful job of all.

Librarians are the most unhappy with their workplace, often finding their job repetitive and unchallenging, according to psychologist Saqib Saddiq.

He will tell the British Psychological Society that one in three workers suffer from poor psychological health.

The study surveyed nearly 300 people drawn from five occupations.

They were firefighters, police officers, train operators, teachers and librarians and were intended to cover the spectrum, with the librarians first-thought to be the least stressful occupation.

Unchallenging, repetitive

The research, being presented at a society conference in Glasgow, looked at nine "stressors", such as how much control workers thought they had over their working day, their workload and how much they earned.

It also looked at absenteeism, job satisfaction and whether work stress spilled over into their private life.

I'm a librarian in a middle school and I love it! I'm hardly stressed at all, nothing like the teachers are
Sarah Allen, Wedmore , UK

Librarians complained about their physical environment, saying they were sick of being stuck between book shelves all day, as well as claiming their skills were not used and how little control they felt they had over the career.

They were also more likely than other professions to be absent from work.

Mr Saddiq urged all employers to tackle the problem of stress.

"Although these findings seem strange at first, they actual show how insidious stress can be, and how it can have an unhealthy impact in any organisation," he said.

"Firefighters and police are trained to deal with the stresses that their jobs undoubtedly entail; librarians and school teachers are less likely to have these support systems in place.

"In addition, stress impacts different personalities in different ways, and different personalities may be drawn to different roles."

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Right Tool Right Job- Social Media

I had this idea that I bet Leon and the others can riff on. Basically: there are plenty of tools out there for lots of aspects of life. Let’s make sure we propose the proper tool (or our take on a good tool) for the right job. From managing our tasks and priorities to determining how best to engage our communities, let’s all start looking around for the right tools.

My first swing at this: Social Media.

Blogs are a Platform

Use blogs to communicate with a community about what interests you. If you’re a corporate blogger, write about the good and the bad about your subjects. If you’re just writing about yourself and your passions, great, but try to make the posts relevent to people outside of yourself. Be real. Be fresh. Communicate in both directions. Enable comments. And write back to those who comment. (Disclaimer: as a blog is a very multi-purpose tool, some of you will disagree with me on this all- comment!)

Blogs can also be used as a knowledge base, but aren’t *as* good at that function, because that relies on updates, and/or edits to fix the problems. (my favorite knowledge base is a wiki- see below).

I prefer Wordpress (or hosted Wordpress), but Blogger, Vox, and several others are equally good.

Wikis are Good for Knowledge Bases

Wikis are editable websites that permit multiple users to interact and easily edit details on a page. We used a wiki as the core organizing tool for PodCamp, our unconference about new media community tools. We used it for everything from posting up hotel deals for the area, to scheduling the sessions, to registration.

I prefer PBWiki and also Wikia, but there are tons out there.

Twitter is for Presence

Lots of people have opinions in all directions about Twitter. Briefly, it’s a tool that lets you post 140 characters to a group of friends via SMS, the web, IM, or several 3rd party apps. The site officially asks the question: “What are you doing?,” but you can use the tool however you want.

Use Twitter to point out items of interest on your blog, on other people’s blogs, and in the world around you. Contribute to the larger conversation amongst your friends lists (Twitter works best when you add lots of friends). Use it to show you or your organization’s presence. (And if you want to add me, I’m chrisbrogan.)

Flickr is for Color and Vibrance

Using a photo sharing site like Flickr adds a visual appeal to your social media toolkit. If you’re an organization, take snaps of the people in the company. Take pictures at your social events. Post pictures from your public excursions. And/or take pictures of things that interest you specifically as a human working within that organization.

One of my all time favorite examples of this is following Dave Gray, CEO and founder of XPlane. His personal passions translate well into the nature of his business, which is a visual thinking practice (they help organizations explain complex things with clever visualizations).

Other similar sites are Zooomr and Photobucket. There are plenty more.

Podcasts and Videoblogging are for Relationship

Building an audio podcast or a video product for your organization or yourself is a great way to bring even more humanity into the picture. Not unlike the pictures, a podcast adds another content experience, and also adds a voice (and better still a face) to the experience. Podcasts can be in the “how to” vein of using a product or service. They can be advice podcasts, which also build up your reputation as a thought leader in your space.

It’s hard to recommend tools here. There are lots of ways to skin this cat. The most important advice? Don’t spend a lot. Don’t buy some fancy solution from someone charging you thousands to make a podcast. You can do it for free or cheap, including hosting, by just looking around a little.

I recommend Odeo for the easiest audio recording experience. I recommend as a good hosting site for videoblogging/video podcasts (don’t get hung up on the names). If you want to edit things a bit, for audio, try Audacity. For video, use either the built-in Windows Media Maker or iMovie on a Mac before trying anything tricky and expensive.

RSS Readers and Search Tools for Ego-Surfing

It’s great that you’re going to engage with all the tools above to reach out to people, but are you listening? If you’re lucky, there are lots of blogs and podcasts and other websites talking about you or your product or your service. Not everything is going to happen on your site. You’ve gotta find the conversations and engage people on their own turf.

Use a good RSS reader. These are tools to let you subscribe to blogs and podcasts such that you read lots of things from one website or application. (Talking further about RSS- Really Simple Syndication- would take up another 2000 words) I like Google Reader, or you can use Bloglines, or one of the built-in RSS readers. The better you get, the more you should demand from the reader.

To track what people are saying about you elsewhere, use sites like Technorati and Google Blogsearch. Both let you make RSS feeds from your searches, which you can then just throw into your RSS reader for “ego surfing.” This tool, more than any others, is vital to understanding how you or your brand or your product are perceived. Hint: if there’s nothing out there, you need more work promoting what you’re doing.

And Now, Your Take

What else have I missed? What other social media tools would you recommend to do the job right? Do you feel I’ve used these tools inappropriately? Jump into the comments section and let us know. That’s the beauty of it, after all.

Chris Brogan is co-founder of PodCamp, a free unconference about new media community tools. He keeps a blog at []

Author: Chris Brogan

Books give kids the wrong picture, study finds

Images of men continue to dominate children's picture books, according to the study done by psychology professor Mykol Hamilton and economics professor David Anderson of Centre College in Danville, Ky., and Michelle Broaddus and Kate Young, recent graduate students at the college.

The study, published in the journal Sex Roles, showed that there were twice as many male as female main characters in the books examined and that male characters appeared in 53 percent more illustrations. Men, in general, were depicted in stereotypical jobs and frequently outdoors.

Not one image showed a father kissing, hugging or feeding a baby.

More women than men appeared to have no paid occupations in the books, and those occupations attributed to women were gender stereotyped, as were the occupations of men.

Studies since the early 1970s have documented such stereotypes in children's picture books. Little progress has been made in eradicating them in the last three decades, Anderson and Hamilton said.

Both of the authors are parents who read picture books to their children. Several years ago, it appeared to them that gender bias was "ingrained in those books," Anderson said. Many other parents may have noticed the bias, as well, he said.

"But I don't think they are aware of the extent of the bias," he said. "We were surprised when we actually quantified it. We would suspect some bias, but not to the extent that it exists."

Monday, April 09, 2007

Join the 365 Library Days Project


Will you join in? What do you think of the idea? The group is up and ready to go, so why not learn more? Here’s the idea:

Let’s get as many libraries as we can to sign up for and actively participate in a customized, library friendly version of the 365 project.
That would mean that if you decide to participate, you would commit to downloading at least 365 pictures from in, around or about the library you work in, for and/or with. Uploading a picture every day for 365 days in this case wouldn’t be practical for most folks, but committing to 365 images in a year could be done fairly easily. It could also have HUGE value for your library.

Just imagine what a valuable historic document you could create for your library with this project! And while you’re at it, at the end of your year commitment, you could contact your local newspaper and tell them about the project, where they could do a story and print selected pictures that you took over the year. Such a substantive advocacy project! It would demonstrate in very real ways, ways that get lost to many people in your community, that you and your library are doing important work every day of the year!

If you decide to take part, please add the photos you upload for the project into this group.

If you take part, please also tag the pictures you take for this project with the tag: 365libs

Finally, if you have any questions, I am willing to help. Drop me (Michael Porter, libraryman on flickr) a line via flickr mail or email me and I’ll help you get things running if you have any trouble.

Take pictures in/about/for your library! Share them! Join this community! Use this project and it’s collection as a powerful advocacy tool!

See you around the 365 Library Days Project Page!

PS-I almost never ask for this sort of thing, but this is a real community based project. So… if you think this 365 Library Days Project is a good idea, please give it a plug on your blog or in your conversations with your fellow library folks out there so we can get more libraries involved. The potential here from an advocacy perspective really is substantial!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Program's Creator Is Hired to Assess It

The government contractor that set up a billion-dollar-a-year federal reading program for the Education Department and failed, according to the department's inspector general, to keep it free of conflicts of interest is one of the companies now evaluating the program.

Reading First, part of President Bush's signature No Child Left Behind education law, provides intense reading help to low-income children in the early elementary grades. RMC Research Corp. was hired to establish and implement the program starting in 2002, under three contracts worth about $40 million.

Recently, the Education Department's inspector general reported that RMC failed to keep the program free of conflicts of interest. For example, RMC did not screen subcontractors for relationships with publishers of reading programs.

Now, Reading First is in the midst of a congressionally mandated evaluation under a 2003 contract with a team that includes RMC, based in Portsmouth, N.H.

Lawmakers who have been investigating the Reading First program criticized the connection.

"If it's true that RMC was also hired to evaluate the effectiveness of the very program it was hired to help implement, then the conflict of interest could not be any clearer," Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House education committee, said Friday.

"It's a classic case of the fox guarding the chicken coop," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who chairs the Senate education committee.

The inspector general found that federal officials intervened to influence state and local decisions about reading programs, a potential violation of the law.

RMC did not return calls seeking comment. Nor did Abt Associates, a contractor based in Cambridge, Mass., that hired RMC as a subcontractor.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Are spammers using public records requests to get your patrons' email addresses (off their library card registrations)?

I'm starting to hear about this trend. Is it happening to your library? On the one hand, it sounds so far fetched that anyone would go to the trouble to get patron email addresses by making public records requests to libraries. Further, it seems so obvious that this personal information would/should be exempted, but you'd have to look at the wording of your state law to see if it is. On the other hand, maybe its cheaper and better information than spammers could buy off other types of marketing lists. After all, library patrons are, whatever else you can say about them, usually real people.

Library folks in Oregon recently told me that SB 950 is moving (and quite likely to pass) in their state legislature. It would exempt patrons' email addresses from public disclosure under the state public records law.

74th OREGON LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY--2007 Regular Session

NOTE: Matter within { + braces and plus signs + } in an
amended section is new. Matter within { - braces and minus
signs - } is existing law to be omitted. New sections are within
{ + braces and plus signs + } .

LC 2093

Senate Bill 950

Sponsored by Senator BURDICK; Senators AVAKIAN, CARTER, FERRIOLI,
KRUMMEL, NATHANSON, ROBLAN, SHIELDS (at the request of Oregon
Library Association)


The following summary is not prepared by the sponsors of the
measure and is not a part of the body thereof subject to
consideration by the Legislative Assembly. It is an editor's
brief statement of the essential features of the measure as

Exempts patron's electronic mail address in library records
from public disclosure.

Relating to public records; amending ORS 192.502.
Be It Enacted by the People of the State of Oregon:
SECTION 1. ORS 192.502 is amended to read:
192.502. The following public records are exempt from
disclosure under ORS 192.410 to 192.505:

America Gone Wrong: A Slashed Safety Net Turns Libraries into Homeless Shelters

By Chip Ward,

A dirty little secret about America is that public libraries have become de facto daytime shelters for the nation's street people while librarians are increasingly our unofficial social workers for the homeless and mentally disturbed.

Ophelia sits by the fireplace and mumbles softly, smiling and gesturing at no one in particular. She gazes out the large window through the two pairs of glasses she wears, one windshield-sized pair over a smaller set perched precariously on her small nose. Perhaps four lenses help her see the invisible other she is addressing. When her "nobody there" conversation disturbs the reader seated beside her, Ophelia turns, chuckles at the woman's discomfort, and explains, "Don't mind me, I'm dead. It's okay. I've been dead for some time now." She pauses, then adds reassuringly, "It's not so bad. You get used to it." Not at all reassured, the woman gathers her belongings and moves quickly away. Ophelia shrugs. Verbal communication is tricky. She prefers telepathy, but that's hard to do since the rest of us, she informs me, "don't know the rules."

Margi is not so mellow. The "fucking Jews" have been at it again she tells a staff member who asks her for the umpteenth time to settle down and stop talking that way. "Communist!" she hisses and storms off, muttering that she will "sue the boss." Margi is at least 70 and her behavior shows obvious signs of dementia. The staff's efforts to find out her background are met with angry diatribes and insults. She clutches a book on German grammar and another on submarines that she reads upside down to "make things right."

Mick is having a bad day, too. He hasn't misbehaved but sits and stares, glassy-eyed. This is usually the prelude to a seizure. His seizures are easier to deal with than Bob's, for instance, because he usually has them while seated and so rarely hits his head and bleeds, nor does he ever soil his pants. Bob tends to pace restlessly all day and is often on the move when, without warning, his seizures strike. The last time he went down, he cut his head. The staff has learned to turn him over quickly after he hits the floor , so that his urine does not stain the carpet.

John is trying hard not to be noticed. He has been in trouble lately for the scabs and raw, wet spots that are spreading across his hands and face. Staff members have wondered aloud if he is contagious and asked him to get himself checked-out, but he refuses treatment. He knows he is still being tracked, thanks to the implants the nurse slipped under his skin the last time he surrendered to the clinic and its prescriptions. There are frequencies we don't hear -- but he does. Thin whistles and a subtle beeping indicate he is being followed, his eye movements tracked and recorded. He claims he falls asleep in his chair by the stairway because "the little ones" poke him in the legs with sharp objects that inject sleep-inducing potions.

Franklin sits quietly by the fireplace and reads a magazine about celebrities. He is fastidiously dressed and might be mistaken for a businessman or a professional. His demeanor is confident and normal. If you watch him closely, though, you will see him slowly slip his hand into the pocket of his sports jacket and furtively pull out a long, shiny carpenter's nail. With it, he carefully pokes out the eyes of the celebs in any photo. Then the nail is returned to his pocket, a faint smirk crossing his face as he turns the page to pursue his next photo victim.

Scenes from a psych ward? Not at all. Welcome to the Salt Lake City Public Library. Like every urban library in the nation, the City Library, as it is called, is a de facto daytime shelter for the city's "homeless."

Where the Outcasts Are Inside

In bad weather -- hot, cold, or wet -- most of the homeless have nowhere to go but public places. The local shelters push them out onto the streets at six in the morning and, even when the weather is good, they are already lining up by nine, when the library opens, because they want to sit down and recover from the chilly dawn or use the restrooms. Fast-food restaurants, hotel lobbies, office foyers, shopping malls, and other privately owned businesses and properties do not tolerate their presence for long. Public libraries, on the other hand, are open and accessible, tolerant, even inviting and entertaining places for them to seek refuge from a world that will not abide their often disheveled and odorous presentation, their odd and sometimes obnoxious behaviors, and the awkward challenges they present to those who encounter them.

Although the public may not have caught on, ask any urban library administrator in the nation where the chronically homeless go during the day and he or she will tell you about the struggles of America's public librarians to cope with their unwanted and unappreciated role as the daytime guardians of the down and out. In our public libraries, the outcasts are inside.

"Homeless" is a misleading term. We have homeless people in America today, in part, because we have no living wage, no universal healthcare, disintegrating communities, and a large population of working poor who can end up on the street if they lose one of their part-time jobs, experience an illness or an accident, or have a domestic crisis. For them, homelessness is generally temporary, probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There is little to distinguish such people from the rest of us and we usually do not notice their presence among us. Programs to help people in such circumstances may be inadequate -- and it is a shame they are needed at all -- but they usually work. For the people we point to on the street or in public places and normally identify as homeless, however, homelessness is a way of life and our best attempts to rescue them continually fail.

We commonly refer to them as "street people." We see them sleeping in parks, huddled over grates on sidewalks, resting or sleeping on subway cars, passed out in doorways, or panhandling with crude cardboard signs. Social workers refer to them as the "chronically homeless." Although they make up only about 10% of the total number of people who experience homelessness in a given year, they soak up more than half the dollars we spend on programs to address homelessness. There are at least 200,000 people across the nation living more or less permanently on the street, enough to fill a thousand public libraries every day.

Drunk as a Skunk

The term "chronically homeless" is also inadequate when it comes to describing these individuals -- it only tells you that their homeless state is frequent. It neither indicates why they are homeless and stay that way, nor says anything about their most salient characteristic: Most of them are mentally ill. The published data on how many homeless are considered mentally ill by those who study them varies widely from 10% to 70%, depending on whether all the homeless, or just the chronically homeless, are included (and depending on how you define illness or disability). How, for example, do you categorize alcoholics and drug addicts?

When Crash is sober, for instance, he reasons like you or me, converses normally, and has a good sense of humor. Unfortunately, he is rarely sober. In one of his better moments, he petitioned me to let him stay in the library even though he was caught drinking -- an automatic six-month suspension. "You know I'm a good guy and I don't bring that stuff into the library," he pleads. "C'mon, give me another chance."

Crash is sitting in his wheelchair in the foyer outside my office where I serve as the library's assistant director. It's hard for me to address Crash without staring at the massive scar on his face -- a deep crease that neatly divides it down the middle from scalp to chin. Unfortunately, his nose is also divided and the sides do not match up, giving him an asymmetrical appearance like a Picasso painting on wheels.

"Alcoholics pass out in the library's chairs," I explain, "and if we can't wake you up we have to call the paramedics. If you piss your pants or puke, the custodians have to clean that up and they hate that. You guys fall down and knock things over. You're unpredictable when you drink. You disrupt others. Public intoxication is against the law..."

"Okay, okay," he interrupts me, "I get it. Hey, just thought I'd try and get back in is all -- no hard feelings, man."

No hard feelings I assure him. He smiles and we shake hands. I wish I could cut him some slack -- after dozens of confrontations with angry and threatening drunks, I appreciate a cheerful drinker like Crash -- but I can't afford to establish a precedent I can't keep. The rule is clear: no drinking in the library and no exceptions. As he waits for the elevator doors to open and take him down, I venture a question I've been holding onto for awhile. "I know it's none of my business, but how did you get that scar?"

"Car accident," he replies, "same one as put me in this wheelchair. That's why they call me Crash."

"Were you drinking?" I ask.

He shakes his head and sighs. "Drunk as a skunk ... drunk as a skunk." As the elevator descends I think about just how hard it must be to be both wheelchair-bound and homeless. I wonder about the commonly held notion that alcoholics must "hit bottom" before they can rebound. Is there such a thing as bottom for guys like Crash? Is he any more capable of controlling his urge to drink than Ophelia can control the voices in her head?

Our condemnation of transient-style alcoholism is both hypocritical and snobbish. If you are unhappy and caught without a prescription in America, you self-medicate. Depressed lawyers do it with fine scotch. An unemployed trucker might turn to beer or meth. Anxiety-ridden teachers or waitresses might smoke pot or order just one more margarita. Indigent people who want relief from their demons drink whatever is available and affordable or swallow whatever pills come their way. Dr. Tichenor's mouthwash is a popular choice for street alcoholics and "Doc Tich," as the brand is commonly known, doesn't offer a pinot noir.

What Library School Didn't Cover

The strong odor of mouthwash on the breath of transient alcoholics who shelter with us is often masked by the overwhelming odor of old sweat, urine-stained pants, and the bad-dairy smell that unwashed bodies and clothes give off. It can take your breath away long before you can smell theirs.

The library wrestles with where to draw the line on odor. The law is unclear. An aggressive patron in New Jersey successfully sued a public library for banning him because of his body odor. That decision has had a chilling effect on public libraries ever since. When library users complain about the odor of transients, librarians usually respond that there isn't much they can do about it. Lately, libraries are learning to write policies on odor that are more specific and so can be defended in court, but such rules are still hard to enforce because smell is such a subjective thing -- and humiliating someone by telling him he stinks is an awkward experience that librarians prefer to avoid. None of this was covered in library school.

It's a chicken-or-egg world for the mentally-ill homeless. Are they on the street because they are immobilized by severe depression or is deep depression the consequence of being on the street? Any tendency towards a psychological problem is aggravated and magnified by the constant stress, social isolation, loss of self-esteem, despair, and relentless boredom of street life. Imagine the degradation of waiting an hour in the cold rain to get into a soup kitchen for a meal; the hassle of hunting endlessly for an unpoliced spot to sleep; the constant fear of being robbed or attacked by other street people; or the indignity of defecating in a vacant lot. It's a combination that would probably drive a mentally healthy person to psychosis and substance abuse. Street people, who suffer serious psychological disorders, are often substance abusers, too, and the drug that a psychotic person prefers, often matches the psychosis. I have learned, for example, that bi-polar users prefer cocaine when in their manic phases and schizophrenics gravitate, naturally enough, to hallucinogens.

Alcohol and drugs mix with depression, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and paranoia in complex ways, so it is hard to pull any given disorder apart and understand just who this person in front of you, cursing or pleading or thrashing on the floor, may be. Public librarians, of course, are not trained to do this. We deal with behaviors that are symptomatic without understanding why someone is suffering or what we can do about it. And even if we did understand and had been trained for such situations, healing the homeless is not our mission. Taxpayers expect us to provide library services and leave the homeless to social workers. They give us resources only for one mission, not two.

What about those social workers then? They turn out to be too few, under-funded, over-worked, and overwhelmed. My initial unsuccessful attempts to get the social workers who operate the "homeless van" to stop in and assess a "regular" homeless patron who, we suspected, had suffered a stroke, reminded me that they had more pressing priorities. In the dead of winter, they struggle to get people sleeping in alleys or passed out on sidewalks indoors so they don't freeze to death. Theirs is an everyday "life or death" race. If a homeless guy is inside the library, then, "Hey, mission accomplished."

Navigating the Archipelago of Despair

A workshop I attended on treating Native Americans for alcoholism compellingly described how incorporating sweat lodges, healing ceremonies, and other elements from Native American culture into established treatment methods can improve their effectiveness for Native American patients. Of course, the social worker added, it's essential to provide a halfway-house option between rehab and release and that remains a huge problem. Typically, he told us, his clients wait three to six months to get into a halfway-house after rehab.

"And where do they go while they wait?" I asked, naively enough.

He shrugged and sighed. "Back with their drinking buddies in the park, under the bridge, wherever."

The inadequacy of existing resources and the absurdity of the conditions they endure are just part of the landscape, a given for social workers. Public librarians can cooperate with (and learn from) them, but we understand that they are overwhelmed and often unavailable. So, like it or not, we are ushered into the ranks of auxiliary social workers with no resources whatsoever.

Local hospitals are also uncertain allies. They have little room for the indigent mentally ill for whose treatment they often can't get reimbursed. So they deal with the crisis at hand, fork over some pills, and send the hopeless homeless on their way.

A manager at a shelter-clinic told me that he keeps a stash of petty cash handy because sometimes a taxi arrives at his door from one of the city's hospitals, carrying an incoherent patient without ID or any possessions other than the hospital gown he or she is wearing. When that happens, clinic workers are instructed to rush for the cab before it can unload its passenger and pay the driver to return to the hospital, puzzled cargo still in hand.

Throughout the fragmented system of healthcare for homeless people, from rehab to hospitals to jails, there are few ground rules or protocols for discharging the mentally ill and next to no communication between healthcare providers, police, social workers, and shelter managers in this archipelago of despair. Public librarians are out of the loop altogether; our role in providing daytime shelter for the homeless is ignored. When, in an attempt to build my own useful network, I attended conferences on homeless issues, I was always met with puzzlement and the question: "What are you doing here?"

"Where do you think they go during the day?" I would invariably answer.

"Oh, yeah, I guess that's right -- you deal with them, too," would be the invariable response, always offered as if that never occurred to them before.

Paramedics are caught in the middle of this dark carnival of confusion and neglect. In the winter, when the transient population of the library increases dramatically, we call them almost every day. Once, when I apologized to a paramedic for calling twice, he responded, "Hey, no need to explain or apologize." He swept his arm towards the other paramedics, surrounding a portable gurney on which they would soon carry a disoriented old man complaining of dizziness to the emergency room. "Look at us," he said, "we're the mobile homeless clinic. This is what we do. All day long, day after day, and mostly for the same people over and over."

Sanitizing Gels and Latex Gloves: Plying the Librarian's Trade

The cost of this mad system is staggering. Cities that have tracked chronically homeless people for the police, jail, clinic, paramedic, emergency room, and other hospital services they require, estimate that a typical transient can cost taxpayers between $20,000 and $150,000 a year. You could not design a more expensive, wasteful, or ineffective way to provide healthcare to individuals who live on the street than by having librarians like me dispense it through paramedics and emergency rooms. For one thing, fragmented, episodic care consistently fails, no matter how many times delivered. It is not only immoral to ignore people who are suffering illness in our midst, it's downright stupid public policy. We do not spend too little on the problems of the mentally disabled homeless, as is often assumed, instead we spend extravagantly but foolishly.

And the costs could grow far beyond the measure of money. If an epidemic of deadly flu were to strike, if an easily communicable strain of tuberculosis or some other devastating disease emerges, paramedics will be overwhelmed by their homeless clients who are at high risk for such illnesses. People who drink until they pass out tend to aspirate and choke, and people who sleep outdoors at night breathe cold, damp air. People who sleep in crowded shelters breathe each other's air.

Serious respiratory problems among the chronically homeless in a shelter are as common as beer guts at a racetrack. If an epidemic strikes, the susceptibility of the homeless will translate into an increased risk of exposure for the rest of us and, eerily enough, our public libraries could become Ground Zeroes for the spread of killer flu. Librarians are reluctant to make plans for handling such scenarios because we do not want to convey the message that America's libraries are anything but the safe and welcoming environments they remain today.

But here's the thing: It's not just about libraries. The chronically homeless share bus stops, subways, park benches, handrails, restrooms, drinking fountains, and fast-food booths with us or with others we encounter daily, who also share the air we breathe and the surfaces we touch. When sick or drunk, they vomit in public restrooms (if we are lucky). Having a population that is at once vulnerable to disease and able to spread microbes widely to others is simply foolish -- and unnecessary -- public policy, but in the library we focus on more immediate risks. We offer our staff hepatitis vaccinations and free tuberculosis checks. We place sanitizing gels and latex gloves at every public desk. Who would guess that working in a library could be a hazardous occupation?

In Place of Snake-Pit Hospitals, Snake-pit Jails

Ultimately, the indigent mentally ill are criminalized. If their presence in our libraries is a common and growing problem that we librarians would like the rest of society to be aware of, acknowledge, and commit themselves to helping us solve, here is a secret we would like to keep to ourselves: We are complicit. No matter how conscientiously and compassionately we try to treat our mentally disturbed users -- and at the Salt Lake City Public Library we work very hard to be fair, helpful, and tolerant -- librarians often have no good choices and, in the end, we just call the cops.

Take, for example, the case of a young man who entered the library fuming and spitting racial and ethnic slurs. He loudly asked some Hispanic teenagers, who were doing their homework, when they crossed the border and they reported his rude behavior. When a security guard approached, the young man started yelling obscenities and then took a swing at him. To his credit, the guard backed off and tried to calm him; but, on the next lunge, the guard took the kid down, cuffed his hands behind his back, and called the police. They recognized him. He had been let out of jail just two days earlier. Putting him back there, staff members argued, obviously wasn't going to make a difference. Shouldn't he be taken to a hospital for treatment?

The police pointed out that he was simply too strong and violent to be handled at a hospital, so he would have to go to jail. While waiting to be taken away, the kid turned some corner in his mind and left sobbing.

His behavior was not a measure of his character or even of his civility, but of how severe his psychosis had become without treatment and under the stress of prison. The man was sick, not bad. If we accept that schizophrenia, for instance, is not the result of a character flaw or a personal failing but of some chemical imbalance in the brain -- an imbalance that can strike regardless of a person's values, beliefs, upbringing, social standing, or intent, just like any other disease -- then why do we apply a kind of moral judgment we wouldn't use in other medical situations? We do not, for example, jail a diabetic who is acting drunk because his body chemistry has become so unbalanced that he is going into insulin shock, but we frequently jail schizophrenics when their brain chemistries become so unbalanced that they act out, as if punishment were the appropriate and effective response to a mental disorder.

And the police aren't happy about their role either. Cities are responding to such problems with mental health courts and the like for sorting out the mentally disturbed from other prisoners. Salt Lake City now has a model program, but nationally there is a long way to go.

According to the Department of Justice, there are about four times as many people with mental illnesses incarcerated in America today as under treatment in state mental hospitals. Some jails devote entire wings to the mentally ill.

Jails, of course, are intended to control, intimidate, and humiliate. Such a dehumanizing environment can be especially devastating for the mentally ill. I am particularly wary when dealing with street people who are recently out of jail because they are likely to be in an especially agitated state. Of course, cops and jailers are no better trained or prepared than librarians to handle people with serious psychological problems. This is a bond we share -- our unacknowledged charge and our inevitable failure to meet it.

In the 1980s, during the Reagan administration, the discharged mentally ill began to be "deinstitutionalized" from crowded hospitals with "snake pit" conditions where they got inadequate treatment. They were supposed to be integrated into local communities and cared for by local clinics. That was the dream anyway, but such humane alternatives to indifferent hospitalization failed to materialize.

The clinics were never built and the communities that were supposed to embrace the mentally ill didn't get the memo. The safety net that was to catch them proved to be chockfull of holes. Instead, they migrated to urban psychiatric ghettoes -- alleys, parks, abandoned buildings, vacant lots, and flophouses. As housing became more competitive and costly in the 1990s, they were further compressed into the margins of society where their suffering festered like an open wound. Now, it is up to the police to re-institutionalize them -- but this time in snake-pit prisons where they generally receive no treatment at all. So, in the last couple of decades, we have exchanged revolving doors to padded cells for revolving doors to jail cells with steel bars.

The cost of keeping a mentally-ill person in jail is not cheap. In Utah, it turns out to be the yearly equivalent of tuition at an Ivy League college. For that kind of taxpayer money, we could get our mentally ill off the streets and into stable housing environments with enough leftover for the kinds of support services most of them need to stay off the street. Again, the right thing to do for them may also be the most practical choice for us. We could solve the problem for less than it costs to manage it. In the meanwhile, they will cycle between the jail and the library. Is it any wonder that they crave a calm and entertaining environment after weeks, months, or years of fear and noise in jail? From a taxpayer's perspective, however, it seems cheaper to warehouse them in the library, between stints in jail -- or simply to pay no attention to where they are at all.

Refusing Treatment

Even if treatment options were not so scarce and inadequate, many of the mentally ill would not get treatment because they refuse to be treated. Paranoia is rampant on the street and paranoid people do not willingly submit to strange doctors and nurses who might "implant" something in them -- or worse. The cops, paramedics, and social workers can't take a person to the hospital just because he is ranting incoherently. He has to be a danger to himself or others.

Committing the mentally ill, homeless or otherwise, to treatment facilities against their wills is a civil liberties conundrum. As a political activist with controversial ideas, I am sensitive to the issues raised when citizens are forced into treatment. Images of Soviet dissidents getting dragged into psych wards and drugged come immediately to mind. But when a person is hallucinating and clearly upset, it is hard to accept, as I have often heard from social workers and the police, that "nothing can be done."

Sid was in his twenties when he came to us -- a tall, lanky, blond kid with a scraggly beard who walked around rumpled and slump-shouldered, his head hung in a beaten-dog kind of way. He avoided eye-contact and was very quiet most of the time. He liked to read graphic novels and comic books. Occasionally, though, he would jump up and move quickly outside where he would shout and twitch uncontrollably. He seemed to sense when his Tourette's Syndrome would strike and wanted to spare us.

On his worst days, he was troubled by hallucinations and voices he would answer in exasperated whispers. The police told me he had been raped by other transients -- a common occurrence on the street, bound to aggravate and complicate existing psychological disorders. When addressed directly, Sid was unfailingly polite and soft-spoken. Sometimes, we saw him eating scraps from garbage receptacles. The library staff worried about him, replaced his clothes when they fell apart, and bought him food when he grew thin and pale.

Sid, however, refused treatment. The case could be made that Sid was a danger to himself. After all, he often wasn't coherent enough to acquire food for himself. But nobody made that case. One day Sid disappeared. Staff members looked for him on the street and asked other homeless patrons if they had seen him. No one knew a thing and we never saw him again. I often wonder what happened to him. I like to imagine that he was rescued by family members who had been looking for him. It's far more likely that Sid's demons led him to a bus and that he's wandering the margins of another alien city where "nothing can be done."

We see so much despair of Sid's sort among the lost souls who shelter at the library that, by winter's end -- our "homeless season" -- we often find ourselves hard put to cope with our own feelings of depression and frustration. As one library manager told me, "I struggle not to internalize what I experience here, but there are days I just go home and burst out in tears." She is considering leaving the profession.

Another colleague started out in social work and transitioned to a library career when she found she couldn't handle the emotional stress of dealing with her down-and-out clients. Imagine her surprise to rediscover her feelings of despair while working in the library. "I deal with the same clientele," she told me one day, "but now I have no way of making a difference. I still go home feeling sad and discouraged that, in a nation as rich and powerful as ours, we abandon mentally ill people on the streets and then resent them for being sick in public."

There is hope, however. After decades of studies by various task forces, followed by experiments by local governments, a consensus has emerged that the most effective way to help chronically homeless people is to stabilize them in housing first and then offer treatment. Social scientists and policy-makers have concluded, logically enough, that it is hard to "get better" while living in a stressful, demeaning, and unstable environment and easier to recover when one feels safe and secure.

This "housing first" strategy isn't cheap, but it is far more realistic and effective than requiring people to get better as a prerequisite for housing -- and it costs much less than failing the way we do now. Salt Lake County, like many local governments, has created a ten-year plan to end homelessness based on housing-first principles. The wheel of reform is moving slowly, however, and many people who need help now will suffer and die on the street before things can turn their way (if they ever actually do). And the librarians at the City Library and the good citizens of Salt Lake will watch them struggle daily, while waiting for saner policies to take hold.

Gaining the World and Losing Each Other

In the meantime, the Salt Lake City Public Library -- Library Journal's 2006 "Library of the Year" -- has created a place where the diverse ideas and perspectives that sustain an open and inclusive civil society can be expressed safely, where disparate citizens can discover common ground, self-organize, and make wise choices together. We do not collect just books, we also gather voices. We empower citizens and invite them to engage one another in public dialogues. I like to think of our library as the civic ballroom of our community where citizens can practice that awkward dance of mutuality that is the very signature of a democratic culture.

And if the chronically homeless show up at the ball, looking worse than Cinderella after midnight? Well, in a democratic culture, even disturbing information is useful feedback. When the mentally ill whom we have thrown onto the streets haunt our public places, their presence tells us something important about the state of our union, our national character, our priorities, and our capacity to care for one another. That information is no less important than the information we provide through databases and books. The presence of the impoverished mentally ill among us is not an eloquent expression of civil discourse, like a lecture in the library's auditorium, but it speaks volumes nonetheless.

The belief that we are responsible for each other's social, economic, and political well-being, that we will care for our weakest members compassionately, should be the keystone in the moral architecture of a democratic culture. We will not stand by while our fellow citizens are deprived of their fellowship and citizenship -- which is why we ended racial segregation and practices like poll taxes that kept disenfranchised Americans powerless. We will not let children starve. We do not consign orphans to the streets like they do in Brazil or let children be sold into prostitution as they do in Thailand. We are proud of our struggles to meet people's basic needs and to encourage inclusion. Why, then, are the mentally ill still such an exception to those fundamental standards?

America is proud of its hyper-individualism, our liberation from the bonds of tribe and the social constraints of traditional societies. We glorify the accomplishments of inventors, innovators, entrepreneurs, pioneers, and artists. But while some individuals thrive and the cutting edge of our technology is wondrous, the plight of the chronically homeless tells me that our communities are also fragmented and disintegrating. We may have gained the world and lost each other.

The Penan nomads of Sarawak, Borneo, members of an indigenous and primal culture, have no technology or material comforts that compare with our mighty achievements. They have one word for "he," "she," and "it." But they have six words for "we." Sharing is an obligation and is expected, so they have no phrase for "thank you." An American child is taught that homelessness is regrettable but inevitable since some people are bound to fail. A child of the Penan is taught that a poor man shames us all.

Ophelia is not so far off after all -- in a sense she is dead and has been for some time. Hers is a kind of social death from shunning. She is neglected, avoided, ignored, denied, overlooked, feared, detested, pitied, and dismissed. She exists alone in a kind of social purgatory. She waits in the library, day after day, gazing at us through multiple lenses and mumbling to her invisible friends. She does not expect to be rescued or redeemed. She is, as she says, "used to it."

She is our shame. What do you think about a culture that abandons suffering people and expects them to fend for themselves on the street, then criminalizes them for expressing the symptoms of illnesses they cannot control? We pay lip service to this tragedy -- then look away fast. As a library administrator, I hear the public express annoyance more often than not: "What are they doing in here?" "Can't you control them?" Annoyance is the cousin of arrogance, not shame.

We will let Ophelia and the others stay with us and we will be firm but kind. We will wait for America to wake up and deal with its Ophelias directly, deliberately, and compassionately. In the meantime, our patrons will continue to complain about her and the others who seek shelter with us. Yes, we know, we say to them; we hear you loud and clear. Be patient, please, we are doing the best we can. Are you?

Library of Congress to Outsource Auxiliary Cataloging Functions

Washington, D.C.
March 30, 2007

The Acquisitions and Bibliographic Access Directorate of the United States Library of Congress this morning announced a new initiative for its cataloging workflow. A pilot program -- expected to launch by late spring -- will involve outsourcing several resource description operations to Mountain View, California-based Google.

Under the new arrangement, MARC records for titles from Google Book Search publishing partners will be created by the Google indexing system. The original cataloging of these works will be accomplished automatically by a software program.

“Think of it as an electronic brain,” said Richard Sumner, a Google representative speaking about the computing equipment involved in the new alliance. “Our artificial intelligence systems can fully handle descriptive and subject cataloging.”

A senior administration official at the Library of Congress, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the pilot program has the potential to expand to the point of eliminating the need for any professional catalogers. The source also mentioned plans to migrate the OPAC to LibraryThing and turn the American Memory site into a Wiki.

ALA president Laura Schlessinger could not immediately be reached for comment about the announcement.