The Checkered Past of Public Libraries in America

Well, my goodness. I just read a fascinating and highly recommended article entitled A History of the American Public Library by Ariel Aberg-Riger, and I learned a great deal about libraries that I didn’t know previously. Some of the facts below are profoundly disappointing, but in an odd way, they give me hope. Because if our libraries can emerge from their dark past to become the amazing institutions that they are now, then perhaps there is hope for our government as well. Fingers crossed.

I’ve always known that one of the very first libraries in America was started by Ben Franklin in 1731. What I didn’t know was that this could hardly have been considered a public library. You had to pay an annual fee, so it was basically a collection for Franklin and his rich white male cronies. Women and African Americans weren’t welcome, and the working poor couldn’t afford a membership. This makes me think rather less of Ben. As enlightened as we’d like to think he is, without a doubt he was a product of his times.

In the wake of Ben’s library, I was pleased to see that women’s clubs cropped up as well, until I discovered that these, too, were exclusively for rich white women. They claimed to believe in the importance of having access to books, but they kept out Jewish, black, and working-class women.

So other libraries were established, each one every bit as exclusionary as the first. There were libraries for people of color, for example, and Jewish libraries. But women did seem to advocate public access to libraries long before men did. Funding was an issue, though, until Andrew Carnegie took up the torch and donated 60 million toward library construction.

It wasn’t really until the turn of the last century that libraries became truly public, but they still had to contend with segregation to a shocking degree. Many civil rights sit ins took place in libraries for that very reason.

Now libraries are a source of reliable information, internet access, education, and community gathering places, and all these services are basically free to all. That’s why I love libraries so much. Knowledge is power.

So naturally, Trump is trying to cut federal funding for libraries. Because he’s a man of the people. Sigh. Please support your public libraries, folks. They’re the last truly democratic institutions that we have, and it was a long and winding road to get them to that place.

Carnegie Library Dallas Oregon

Read any good books lately? Try mine! And ask your library to put it on its shelves!

Encountering Fame

I’ve crossed paths with several famous people in my lifetime. Each encounter was different, of course, but they all had one thing in common: I always walked away ever-so-slightly disappointed.

Part of that is due to my own expectations, I’m sure. If you watch a person enough, you feel like you know them. So when you talk to them and they don’t act as if they know you, it feels weird. What’s your problem? We hang out every Thursday night! Oh… that’s right. You’re on TV.

And it’s always a mild shock when someone’s public persona does not match their private one. But of course, it wouldn’t, would it? I’m sure you have to hold parts of yourself back for sanity’s sake.

Even in those encounters I’ve had in which the person was very gracious and kind, I’ve gotten the sense that they wanted to hurry me along, and get it over with. I’m sure I’d feel the same way, if I were in their shoes. But I’m in the shoes of someone who is meeting a personal hero for the first time, so I don’t want to be shuffled out of the way, politely or otherwise.

But let’s face it. Everything I say, they’ve probably heard a million times before. And there’s this unremitting wave of people coming at them. That’s got to be exhausting, and a bit scary.

I think it’s probably better not to meet your heroes. But if given the opportunity, I don’t see how I could resist taking it. Because, I mean, maybe one time there will be this connection. We could be pen pals. Yeah! Not.

Some of the famous people I’ve met with varying levels of success: Jacques Cousteau, Arlo Guthrie, Hillary Clinton, Rick Steves, Glynn Washington, David Sedaris, Tom Cruise, and one of the Harlem Globe Trotters (and he was rude as hell, so I won’t name him.)


Hey! Look what I wrote!


When you work for a government agency, all your office correspondence is accessible to the public. In my case, such scrutiny is highly unlikely, because my job is generally uneventful, and doesn’t inspire those types of inquiries. Thank goodness. Because I don’t really like drama.

So, I definitely could have lived without the excitement when one of my coworkers decided to send me an e-mail entitled “professionalism”, with a copy to two of my supervisors, saying that I was unprofessional and lazy. This really stunned me, because I take bridgetending very seriously. I am proud of the job I do.

Without going into detail, it boiled down to a difference of opinion regarding a gray area in our procedure. He suggested I should lie on the radio to my boaters to keep up appearances. I prefer to be honest, and my actions caused no inconvenience or complaint. And more importantly, no one’s life was put at risk.

But he would not let it go. He went on and on, saying he’d never heard anything so unprofessional in his 19 years as a bridgetender. That kind of made me scoff, because I’ve worked with him for 17 of those 19 years, and oh, I could tell you stories about some of the outrageous things we’ve heard from coworkers. Bridgetenders are a very unique breed.

But he didn’t stop there. After I came back from my days off, there was another e-mail from him, to me and my supervisors, calling me a liar. This was patently absurd, and I could easily prove it. He was really beginning to sound like he had lost every single marble he had ever had.

I basically said that I wasn’t going to have this discussion with him on this public forum, and that if he had a problem he should take it up with our supervisor, and that he needed to stop harassing me.

The weird part about it is that it’s much ado about nothing, and his outburst and name calling made it very clear that he was the one being unprofessional. The irony is that he retires in about a week. I guess he has decided to burn all his figurative bridges behind him. Let’s hope, in his heightened state of agitation, he doesn’t go all literal on us.

I used to respect this man. Now I’m not going to miss him at all. And that makes me really sad.

So here’s to professionalism. Here’s to being kind to one another and treating fellow human beings with respect and courtesy. Here’s to keeping it classy. And here’s to not pulling a b**** move on your way out the door.

Let it go

Like this blog? Then you’ll love this book!

Stop and Frisk

I find pretty much everything that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth to be outrageous. But when he claimed that New York City needs to reinstate its old stop and frisk policies because crime increased after their policy was deemed unconstitutional, I nearly hit the roof. These lies are just more of his “be very afraid” tactics, and they make me sick.

According to this article in the New York Times, crime has decreased since stop and frisk has decreased. You can still be frisked by a cop, mind you, but there has to be reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Gone are the days when cops can just frisk you because they don’t like the way you look. Theoretically.

The fact that Trump thought that this police state policy was a good idea just shows what a low opinion he has of the general public, and also what kind of country we could look forward to if we elect this man. I’m fairly certain that Trump has never been frisked in his life. I’m equally certain that if he ever were to be, there’d be a lawsuit.

I was frisked once. I was 19 years old, standing in line to see Rocky Horror Picture Show, and this low-class rent-a-cop frisked me. Thoroughly. It was an outrageous violation that I will never forget. It is but one more thing that has tainted my view of cops overall. Being just a kid, I didn’t raise hell. I would now. (But then I suspect he wouldn’t be interested in feeling me up now. Because that was exactly what he was doing, and he made quite sure I knew it.)

The upshot is that it was a physical and public relations abuse that I have carried with me for 32 years. I’m sure that is the case with every innocent person who is violated in that manner. It just adds to the ever-increasing tension between the police and the public. Who on earth would think that this is a good idea? Trump and his minions, apparently.

Oh, yeah, and the Vero Beach police in Florida. My late boyfriend and I lived there for two years, and he got stopped and frisked no fewer than three times during that period. Each time he was riding his bicycle. That’s all. Just getting some exercise on a balmy Florida evening after a hard day at work.

Because of medical issues, Chuck wore his hair long and had a beard to mask his lopsided face and the missing portion of his skull. He slurred his words. But a more intelligent, decent human being you will never find. He wouldn’t hurt a fly.

But simply because he didn’t look like a high class upstanding republican, three times he was pulled over, yanked off his bike and thrown down on the hood of a police cruiser. I think it made me even angrier than it did him. He was kind of used to being misunderstood. I wonder what he’d think of the public’s decreasing opinion of cops in general if he were alive today.

Please vote, everybody.


A great gift for the one you’re most grateful for. Check out my book.

Gotta Be This or That

My ex-boyfriend used to quote that song whenever he thought I was being indecisive. While I did enjoy the Ella Fitzgerald version that would then run through my head, I still found it to be an annoying habit. The man always did lack subtlety. He saw the world as nothing but black and white. I just happened to see the many shades of gray  as well as a range of colors, which is probably why it takes me a bit longer to make a decision.

I was reminded of this recently when I was talking to a friend about my ever-increasing cyber-presence. She was saying that in my blog in particular I’m wide open. I don’t keep any secrets. And it’s true. This blog is basically me on a page. I’d be easy to find, easy to recognize, easy to talk to as if you’d known me all my life.

But oddly enough, I simultaneously feel like a background person. In my day to day life, I still work in my isolated little bridge tower and most people pass by without even knowing I exist. I go home to my dogs, and only they watch as I reveal my soft underbelly in cyberspace. Or so it seems to me. Often it’s easy for me to imagine that I’m simply talking to myself. I can’t see you guys, after all.

Mine is actually a quiet existence at ground zero. It’s just when you pull back and look at the big picture that you see the buzz of activity and the publicity and the worldwide webbiness that is my life these days.

So which am I? Public or private? Quiet or outspoken? Behind the scenes or in the spotlight? It’s gotta be this or that, right?

Actually, no. Somehow I manage to blend both the black and the white into a varied spectrum of light and shade that seems quite colorful indeed. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.


A great gift for the one you’re most grateful for. Check out my book.

The Pajama Radius

At the monthly storytelling event that I attend I was introduced to a unit of measure that I didn’t know existed up to this point. It’s called the Pajama Radius. Basically, it’s how far you’re willing to go in your pajamas.

I immediately rushed home and Googled it. Much to my amusement, it is, indeed, a thing. It’s gotten quite a bit of discussion on line, particularly in blogs, so I’ll just be adding to the overall murmur, but I had to write about it because for some reason it just makes me happy that someone has come up with this concept.

I’m guessing that the average pajama radius extends out to one’s mailbox, or at least to the sidewalk to pick up the morning paper. (Remember those?) Heaven knows my neighbors have seen my jammies.

There isn’t much to see. In the winter I usually wear sweat pants and a sweatshirt. People who see me probably think I’m about to go out for a jog. (Ha! How little they know me.)

But I will posit the theory that if your Pajama Radius begins to increase and you find yourself going to the convenience store down the street, the grocery store a few blocks away, or dropping the kids off at school in your footie pajamas with the trap door in the back, then you might want to seriously contemplate your level of depression or your level of laziness.

But there’s something else to contemplate here. Why does anyone care? Why are pajamas supposed to be hidden from view? If I’m wearing a flannel ensemble with pink bunnies all over it, I’m still covered. My taste might be questionable, but my dignity should remain intact, more or less. And yet, it seems to be a point of shame or scandal.

I suppose it’s because pajamas in public are a symbol that you’ve given up. You’ve stopped caring. By not bothering to put on your “outside clothes”, you’re admitting to a lack of energy that society has decided is below the norm.

Am I the only one who sees how silly and arbitrary this is? Maybe that’s because I don’t sleep in anything that could even remotely be considered lingerie, and haven’t felt the need for a bathrobe in decades. I better watch out. I may be perched at the top of a slippery slope.

[Image credit:]

Service of Bibliomaniacal Proportions

According to Wikipedia, and contrary to popular belief, library usage is on the increase in spite of, or perhaps because of, our kindles and our nooks and our laptops. Unfortunately many local governments still target libraries first when they need to make budget cuts. The services a library provides can seem intangible to the public. They don’t rescue people from burning buildings or fill potholes or keep crime off our streets.

Unfortunately many libraries seem to be lax in promoting themselves, and that’s a tragedy because they provide a lot of amenities. Everyone knows that libraries are places where you can check out books and DVDs and use the internet, but there’s more to them than that. Many libraries offer research assistance, tax preparation assistance, homework assistance and a wide variety of classes from adult literacy to yoga to cooking to computer classes. They often host community meetings and conferences and are voting sites as well.

More and more libraries are also housing used book stores and cafes. They are great sources of genealogical information as well as archives of local history. They often provide programs to spark an interest in reading in children as well as book clubs for adults. Many coordinate summer reading programs.

Not satisfied with your library’s collection? Most of them participate in an interlibrary loan system and can get the material you desire that way, and they are also usually quite open to suggestions as to purchases they should make. People often don’t take advantages of this.

I recently convinced my library to buy the book “Crazy Town” by Robyn Doolittle, about Rob Ford, the crack smoking mayor of Toronto. I was very excited when it came in, not only because I then got to read it, but also because everyone who checks out that book from now on will have been influenced by my suggestion, and that’s a wonderful feeling.

It’s hard to put a price tag on information and knowledge and entertainment, but if we don’t support our libraries and actively participate in their programs, we will feel their loss acutely. So go to your library today, and bring a child or a friend with you. While you are there, thank the librarians for their service, as their praises go mostly unsung.


[Image credit:]