Libraries in Peril

November 3, 2009 at 3:27 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 12 Comments

Our county’s libraries will be closed for ten days over the holidays due to budget cuts.  [Cue screaming]

They are short $1.7 million and elected to shut down temporarily rather than lay off staff.

Imagine my feelings, on the one hand.  In the final week of my 500-book challenge, I won’t be able to pick up anything new.  I grumble.

On the other hand, why is this happening in this way?  Our libraries draw over 90% of their funding from property taxes.  Personally, I’m a renter.  I don’t pay property taxes, and I imagine a large number of other library users don’t either.  The point is to provide media to people who couldn’t otherwise afford it, and I’ll fight to protect that until my dying breath.  Still, I can’t help but wonder whether a bit of marketing might convince others in my position to help out with library funds a bit.  Call it a sort of ‘sliding scale.’

Do you understand where I’m going with this?  I know intellectually that I could donate cash to my library.  But I don’t have a way of knowing how much they need or how much my personal usage costs the library system.  Do library fines actually defray the total cost of overdue or lost books?  If there is a way to volunteer time, what would be the most helpful to keep the doors open – shelving books?  Not that I’d want to put anyone out of a job, mind you.

I’ve lived with libraries that had a book rental system.  Several copies of new books experiencing high demand would be made available at $1 and $2 a day.  Business was brisk for those who didn’t want to wait 4-6 months but didn’t want to buy a new book they’d finish in a week, either.  I’ve heard complaints that this isn’t fair to people of limited means.  Speaking as a former slum resident who has gone hungry many a night, I think the book rental system would be a terrific impetus for someone to build literacy skills.  “I really want to read this, and if I can’t finish it this weekend, it will cost me a day’s bus fare.” [flip flip flip]

I’m reading What the Dog Saw, the new Malcolm Gladwell, and in his essay on fighting homelessness he says we get so caught up in doing things “right” that we perpetuate problems, rather than “give in” ethically and come up with a working solution.  I say it’s right to keep libraries open, as many as possible as often and as late as possible.  Whatever it takes to make that happen, let’s do it.

Some ideas:

  • Book rental.  Just do it and quit crying about it.  Keep some free copies in circulation but charge those who can pay up the wazoo for convenience copies.
  • Internships.  Get those unsupervised high schoolers cracking.  Can they open shipping containers, label new books, shelve returned books?  Vacuum the floors?
  • Special hours.  Create a program where a patron can pay, say, $2500 a year for a special ID card that allows library access at a time hoi polloi can’t get in.  Like ‘adult swim’ at the pool.  Maybe 6-7 one day a week.
  • Social services.  Bill the relevant city for babysitting frequent-flier homeless who have nowhere else to go during the day.  If you can’t provide public restrooms anywhere else, you need to subsidize the library for doing it for you.
  • Donations.  Simply put up posters estimating the cost per checkout for a book, CD, or DVD.  Put a locked donation box under it.  If I realized it cost exactly $3.75 for me to read the new Malcolm Gladwell, heck, I’d pay it.  Tip jars are an automatic response for a lot of people.
  • More donations.  Put a sticker with the patron’s name in it if someone donates enough to buy a specific new book.  Do it like the Giving Tree.  “The library wants 10 copies of the new Alison Weir.”  Patrons pull off the tag and bring it back taped onto a new item.
  • Fee per service.  All those people who come into the library solely to use the computers to play poker or look at porn can pay.  Is $1 an hour excessive?  Kinko’s charges something like $8 a minute.

A world without libraries would be too dreadful to contemplate.  Let’s see what we can do to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Poll: Correct Me If I’m Wrong

November 3, 2009 at 10:08 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

What do you do?  You’re quite sure your friend just mispronounced a word.  Do you say something?  Do you ignore it?  If you say something, does it make it a bigger deal if you point it out on the spot – like spinach in the teeth – or if you wait and do it later, in private?  If you ignore it, are you in effect damning your friend to years of potential embarrassment?

I have a friend who has mispronounced ‘gesture’ as ‘guess-ture’ as long as I’ve known him, which is over 15 years.  Sadly, it seems to come up in almost every conversation.  Every time he does it, I use it in a reply and pronounce it ‘jess-ture.’  I’ve even tried to tell him, “Honey, you’re saying it wrong,” and he just shrugs me off.  He’s a little flamboyant and I think he just prefers ‘guess-ture.’

On the other hand, I have a coworker who is very dignified and courtly.  He came in one day saying he felt ‘dis-heave-eled.’  I said, “You mean ‘dish-eveled’?”  He stopped and said, “I believe it’s pronounced ‘dis-heave-eled.'”  We went back and forth, deciding finally that neither of us wanted to be wrong and that it would be best to look it up online.  Dictionary.com agreed with me.  I felt really badly because my friend was clearly mortified, and as he’s in his forties, he must have used this favored word of his incorrectly over and over again.  Would it have been better to have pretended not to notice?

Audio books will often have mispronounced words.  I noticed one example in which the narrator changed his pronunciation a couple of disks later.  Evidently the issue had come up but it hadn’t seemed worth the expense or bother to go back and correct the earlier version.  I have to ask whether it’s possible for someone – anyone? – to go over the text and highlight unfamiliar words for the narrator.  Otherwise we audio commuters will go around mis-correcting our own pronunciation, and the very foundations of spoken English will crumble!

I’ve done it myself.  I’ve mispronounced words to the point that many of them are family jokes.  Chi-hooa-hooa for chihuahua; fat-i-gyoo for fatigue; vinn-uhl for vinyl… It’s a really common problem for kids who are big readers.  We encounter words in print that we never hear anyone use in conversation.  Or if we do, like my troubles at six years old with chihuahua, we don’t realize that it’s the same word.

I let it go in business.  How often do we hear per-iphreal or nucyulur?  What happened to the i in verbiage?  Are they joking when they say ‘ambiguish’?

But then there’s personal life.  A friend showed me the list she keeps of other people’s speech errors.  One of her examples of ‘fake words’ was actually a word:  orientate.  I said as much, and she and my other friend gave each other a look that I read as “what a jerk.”  We’ve also had a debate over whether it’s correct to say ‘an historian.’  I realize this is becoming antiquated and it’s more of a Britishism, but I feel I can use the older form when I like because, hey!  I have a bachelor’s in history.  I remember my ex-husband and I had to consult the dictionary over the correct pronunciation of ‘segue.’  He felt he’d won when we discovered that both pronunciations were equally valid.  I still prefer the French pronunciation, but in speech I say ‘seg-way’ and I wince every time, thinking of his unmerited scorn.

Probably I am a jerk.  The majority of the time, when I hear a word misused in some way, I keep it to myself, as when I recently heard ‘banal’ pronounced to rhyme with ‘anal’ instead of ‘canal.’  I’m quite sure I do it without flinching or making a face.  At home, my man Rocket Scientist and I had a discussion, and he asked me to make sure to correct him, but we acknowledge that it’s a strain sometimes.  I understand that people don’t like to be corrected, especially when it’s a family Scrabble game and I’m forced to challenge something that is definitely not a real word.  Do people really prefer to remain in the dark, though?  Let’s hear your response.

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