Showing posts with label Libraries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Libraries. Show all posts

13 August 2021

Mystery in the Library


Virus? What virus? It’s a bit like that here in New Zealand. We had a couple of lock downs and our share of mandatory mask wearing, but we’ve gone several months now without any further trouble.

The point is: public gatherings here (sans masks and distancing) are fine, and lately there’s been a bunch of them in libraries around the country, where panels of mystery authors have talked about their books and the craft of writing in front of an audience.

I moderated one recently at the Takapuna Library on Auckland's North Shore. 

The Mystery in the Library events began at the Takapuna library in back in 2015. Conceived by Craig Sisterson (more on him in a moment). The format is your basic author panel: a handful of authors, and a moderator to guide a low-key, coffee shop type of conversation about the craft of crime and mystery writing, with an audience eavesdropping on the chat. Book signing afterward. Refreshments (wine, juice, snacks) provided.

Each year since 2015, more and more libraries around the country have hosted MITL evenings, with this year (April, May, June) seeing more than a dozen scheduled. So many, in fact, that each event has now gotten its own subtitle. Ours was BLOOD BY THE BEACH. Because the Takapuna library is right next to Takapuna Beach.

At our event, we chatted about what makes a mystery compelling, tools of the trade, do you plot or pants, advice for aspiring writers, and so on (with digressions into writing as meditation and how do you 'write what you know' when the know is murder?). I was blessed with four authors who were happy and eager to chat, and a captive audience of about 100 who had lots of questions. We all had a thoroughly pleasant evening. I've said it before, I'll say it again: Mystery writers (and readers) are the nicest of people.

(L-R) Me, Ben Sanders, Patricia Snelling, Madeleine Eskedahl, SL Beaumont

The authors on the panel, in alphabetical order:

SL Beaumont is the bestselling author of eight books, all of which are set in her native England. Shadow of a Doubt won the 2020 Indie Reader Discovery Award for Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, and her latest, Death Count, has been long listed for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel.

Website

Death Count (at Amazon)

Madeleine Eskedahl's recently released debut novel, Blood on Vines, is already a bestseller and is set in the wine growing region of Matakana (about 30 minutes north of Auckland).

Website

Blood on Vines (at Amazon)

Ben Sanders is the bestselling author of eight books (three have been short listed for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel). His first three were set in Auckland and the following five in the US; American Blood was optioned by Warner Bros. His latest book is The Devils You Know.

Website (appears to be under construction)

The Devils You Know (at Amazon)

Patricia Snelling has written nine books, all set here in New Zealand, and her latest,

Last Ferry to Gulf Harbour, has been long listed for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel.

Website

Last Ferry to Gulf Harbour (at Amazon)

A decade ago (time flies), I wrote an article for Criminal Brief about New Zealand's crime/mystery writing scene, and I had to really scratch around to find any local authors to mention. Now there are lots. The scene is growing. We don't have an MWA type of organization here yet, but the roots for one are in place. The Auckland Crime Writers group (a private group on Facebook) has 60+ active members. We hang out, real time, in coffee shops or on Zoom meetings. The local scene is growing and lively; we even have our own local label for it: Yeah, Noir (a play on the Kiwi slang expression, "yeah, nah").

About Craig Sisterson. Craig is New Zealand mystery writing’s Wizard of OZ; he’s the man behind the curtain. He’s the leading reviewer, blogger, interviewer, and authority in the field. His book, Southern Cross Crime, is the definitive guidebook to NZ and Australian crime fiction. As I mentioned, Craig set up the very first MITL (and every following years' events, including all of this year's). Craig was also the principal instigator and administrator of the Ngaio Marsh Awards, which is New Zealand's highest (and only) award for mystery writing (sadly, gripe, no category for short stories). 


I won't leave it another ten years before I write about New Zealand crime writers again. Promise.

Stephen

www.StephenRoss.net

22 March 2021

Little Library Heist



We have a special treat today.  Jeri Westerson is best known for her critically acclaimed Crispin Guest Medieval Noir novels, the latest of which is the penultimate in the series, SPITEFUL BONES. See more about Jeri’s LGBT mysteries, and two paranormal series at JeriWesterson.com. And…don’t mess with her library.  -Robert Lopresti


Little Library Heist

by Jeri Westerson

Little Free Libraries are just what the name implies. They’re free. You might have seen them on various street corners, little boxes of varying designs with books to borrow. Residents install them and register to the non-profit network LittleFreeLibrary.org and get listed on a map. Strangers with kids come up to it. Joggers stop by. People walking their dogs are frequent browsers. The motto of the Little Free Library—that is also posted on a little metal plate LFL will send you—says, “Take a Book, Leave a Book.” Owners of the libraries are “stewards” and it’s a literacy benefit to one’s community, a visible symbol of the good that is still in the world, free of charge.

I have one too. A little medieval cottage-looking thing, since I write medieval mysteries. It’s just at the front of my property, situated on a corner of a busy street that leads up to an elementary school. I can see it from my front window.

Take a book, leave a book. 

But not…all…the books!

It was not too long ago that I saw a car pull up and a woman get out with a bag that looked filled with books. This is a common enough thing. I see it all the time. My husband and I were having lunch on our porch. We can’t be seen from the street but we can see out. I assumed that the woman was dropping off, and she also grabbed a few for the inhabitants of the car. I figured they were kids. She never left the bag but kept on taking books (my library usually holds about forty). When she started tossing some toward the open passenger window of her car, I started getting suspicious. I stood up—now easily seen—and shouted to her, asking what she was doing. She ignored me. 

For anyone who knows me, they are well acquainted with my loud and projecting voice. There was no way she couldn’t hear me. Her tossing of the books was getting hurried and sloppy. Some were bouncing off the car and hitting the gutter. It was time to confront her. Instead of grabbing my phone, I grabbed a mask and marched over there. 

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

She continued to ignore me. She and her maskless driver, an older man—overweight, smoking a cigarette, possibly her father, with a day-old salt and pepper beard—just stared at me. She was between thirty and forty and looked fed up with what she was—to my eye—being asked to do. 

“What the hell are you doing?” I asked again, because she was finally done taking books and got into the car. “Just drive off,” she told the driver. They were there so long I was able to walk behind the candy apple sedan several times and get the license plate—a handicapped plate—and a good thing, since the number was shorter. “I’ve got your license number.” Didn’t matter, because they had driven off. When I looked at the library, every single book had been taken. 

I was incensed. Enraged. And…curious. Why would anyone steal used books? If you sold them online, you’d get next to nothing for them (let’s face it, some of them were pretty rugged). My first thought was drugs. They needed the money for drugs. Then my next thought was, were they owners of used bookstores? I had heard some of these guys would steal books from Little Libraries to stock their shelves. 

Whatever the situation, you don’t get to pull that crap on me. Yes, I’m an eye-for-an-eye kind of gal, for sure. 

My husband was equally shocked that someone, in broad daylight, would be so bold. I told him I was calling the police.

He scoffed. It was a Little FREE Library, after all. Truth to tell, I figured the police wouldn’t do much, but, with vengeance in my heart, I called.

Of course, when they answered, the situation hit me. “Uh…I don’t know if this is actually a crime. But I’m going to report it anyway.” My thought was, if they did this, maybe they were doing other more unsavory things. I told the dispatcher my info, tried to remember enough about the people to give a decent description of them and their clothes, had no idea what kind of car it was, but did tell them the license plate. “An officer will get back to you.”

Sure they would.

Actually, it was a few hours later. The officer was polite, took more information, and informed me that it wasn’t a theft. After all, it was a Little FREE Library. “Yeah, I get that,” I said. But it was the spirit of the thing. I had gotten their license plate so the police retrieved their local address. He was just going to give it a looksee. 

He called me back not too long thereafter. He had talked to his captain. Turns out the “book lovers” had a warrant out for them. She for a drug charge, he for driving without a license…which he was doing again. And then he asked me what I wanted to do.

“Well, I’d like my books back, if possible. But if that’s out, I’d love for you to put the fear of God into them. That would be enough.”

He chuckled. “I’m going to arrest them anyway.”

“That’s even better!”

Did I get the books back? Will I be called upon to testify? Only time will tell. 

I guess the moral of the story is, don’t mess with Little Free Library stewards…and definitely don’t mess with me.

ADDENDUM

A week later, the books were surreptitiously returned to my porch by the officer. The "theft" wasn't technically a theft. So by returning the books he was just doing me a favor off the record.

 _____________

For info on these neighborhood libraries, go to LittleFreeLibrary.org.


19 August 2020

Heard Any Crimes Lately?


About three years ago (back before retirement and COVID, when time still had meaning) I discovered a very cool service available through my public library.  LIBBY provides access to thousands of ebooks and audiobooks.  Quite possibly your local library offers it or a similar service.  What I want to talk about here are some of the audiobooks I have listened to; specifically examples where the performance by the narrator improved the experience with the books for me.  I have listed the first book in each series.


Joe Ide, IQ.  Narrated by Sullivan Jones.  At the New Author's Breakfast at a Bouchercon each writer had two minutes to explain their new book.  The most memorable performance was by former screenwriter Joe Ide whose entire speech was: "IQ is Sherlock in the hood.  Thank you."  That's what the movie business calls "high concept."

 The IQ series stars Isaiah Quintabe, a brilliant young African-American man in LA who serves as an unofficial private eye.  They are excellent.

The novels have dozens of characters with different accents and vocabularies.  Sullivan Jones makes them come alive.



Alan Bradley,  The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Narrated by Jayne Entwhistle.   Flavia de Luce is an eleven year old girl in 1950, the youngest daughter of a landed (but no longer wealthy) family.  She drives her sisters crazy because she is brilliant, curious, inclined to pranks, and obsessed with her chemistry lab, left over from a long dead relative.

Jayne Entwhistle perfectly captures Flavia's gleeful and dangerous enthusiasm - especially when she is describing poisons in loving detail. 


Dorothy L. Sayers.  Whose Body?  Narrated by Ian Carmichael.  I don't think I need to explain who Sayers is.  Carmichael played Lord Peter Wimsey on television and he doesn't so much read these books as perform them.  Delightful.



John Le Carre.  Agent Running in the Field.  Narrated by the author. At age 87 Le Carre has not only provided a new tale of espionage but also gave us his own reading of it.  The hero is an over-the-hill spy, freshly returned from decades of managing agents overseas.  As he is trying to adjust to running a small hatch of not-very-good analysts in London, he  meets Ed, a gruff, antisocial young man who shares his passion for badminton.  We know Ed is going to get tied up in the spy business but don't know how.  This is not one of Le Carre's best, but it has a few moments that are utterly jaw-dropping.



Anthony Horowitz.  The Word is Murder.  Narrated by Rory Kinnear.  Horowitz created Foyle's War and wrote many episodes of Midsomers Murders.  In this series he is the narrator, and gets invited to serve as Watson to Daniel Hawthorne, a truly annoying ex-cop, now serving as a consultant to the police on difficult cases.  The plots are truly mindboggling and Rory Kinnear does a good job of distinguishing between Anthony and Daniel. 

And a few different experiences available from Libby...



Raymond Chandler, the BBC Radio Radio Drama Collection.  Sure, Chandler spent some of his developmental years in Britain, but that's no excuse for us depending on Old Blighty for creating this excellent collection of radio plays based on all seven of the Marlowe novels, plus The Poodle Springs Mystery, which was finished by Robert B. Parker. 

Biggest surprise for me was Playback, which I had never read, because I had heard it was terrible. I enjoyed it more than The High Window.

Toby Stephens stars as Phillip Marlowe.  I assume that, like him, the rest of the cast is British. But, boy, they have the accents perfect.



Black Mask Audio Magazine.  Stories from the classic hardboiled periodical.  Some are read, some are acted out.  Great fun.


And one more I highly recommend, although it is not crime fiction.


Hilary Mantel.  Wolf Hall.  Mantel's trilogy of novels tells the life of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's bag man.   It is a stunning tour de force.  On Libby each of the three books has a different narrator.  I prefer Simon Slater, who did the first. 

05 June 2019

Five Red Herrings, Volume 11


1. Pictures from a Prosecution. Back in 2017 the Library of Congress held an exhibit of unusual art: drawings by courtroom illustrators. Fascinating stuff including such sinister types as Charles Manson, Bernie Madoff, and (?) J.K. Rowling.

2. Man, that's succubustic. I have mentioned Lowering the Bar before. A wonderful website about all that is ridiculous in the world of law. This entry concerns a California attorney who used (invented, really) the word "succubustic' to describe the behavior of a female judge who refused to grant him the attorney's fees he wanted. (Apparently the lawyer worked very hard on the case, clocking 25 hours in a single day, for instance.) He also referred to the "defendant's pseudohermaphroditic misconduct." Stylish.

3. Write like a girl. Useful for all of us boy author types: Women Share the Biggest Mistakes Male Authors Make with Female Characters. Here's one from jennytrout: "We have never, ever looked in a mirror and silently described our nude bodies to ourselves, especially the size/shape/weight/resemblance to fruit, etc. of our breasts."

4. Write like a cop. From Robin Burcell, Top Ten Stupid Cop Mistakes (in Fiction). "Only some of the bosses are evil or stupid..."

 5. "Dieoramas." Article from Topic Magazine about Abigail Goldman, who  is an investigator for the Public Defender's office in my county. Her hobby is making tiny 3-D "reproductions" of entirely fictional murder scenes. Creepy...

03 April 2019

To Catch A Map Thief


Back in 2008 I wrote at Criminal Brief (here and here) about a massive theft that my library experienced.  I retired last year but I was invited to come back and talk about it in February.  The Map Collection had just moved to a new, more accessible, space in the Libraries and I was sort of a guinea pig, being the first speaker in the new space.  Everything worked out (and we will filled the area). The talk was videoed and you can see watch it by clicking here.



And here are the answers to the movie quotations quiz from last time.

POPCORN PROVERBS 4


Remember you're old. - Warren Lipka (Evan Peters) American Animals

You said to me this is a family secret, and you gave it up to me, boom just like that. You spill the secret family recipe today, maybe you spill a little something about me tomorrow, hm? -Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) Black Mass

-Aren't you worried?
-Would it help?  -James Donovan (Tom Hanks) / Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) Bridge of Spies

When they send for you, you go in alive, you come out dead, and it's your best friend that does it. -Lefty (Al Pacino) Donnie Brasco


-You can't give back what you've taken from me.
-OK, then... Plan B, why don't we just kill each other?  -Sean Archer (Nicholas Cage)/ Castor Troy (John Travolta)  Face/Off

-I didn't kill my wife!
-I don't care! -Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford / Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones The Fugitive

-In this family, we do not solve our problems by hitting people!
-No, in this family, we shoot them! - Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) / Jack Stall (Ashton Holmes) A History of Violence

The competitor is our friend and the customer is our enemy.  - Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) The Informant!




How did you ever rob a bank? When you robbed banks, did you forget where your car was then too? No wonder you went to jail. -Melanie (Brigit Finda) Jackie Brown

It takes more than a few firecrackers to kill Danny Greene!  - Danny Greene (Ray Stevenson ) Kill the Irishman

Men would pay $200 for me, and here you are turning down a freebie. You could get a perfectly good dishwasher for that. -Bree Daniel (Jane Fonda) Klute

A man abandoned his family and wrote his son a story. He wouldn't be the first to cloak his cowardice in a flag of sacrifice. -Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) Mr. Holmes

You can add Sebastian's name to my list of playmates. - Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) Notorious


-There's a ninety-five pound Chinese man with a hundred sixty million dollars behind this door.
-Let's get him out.  - Danny (George Clooney) / Linus (Matt Damon) Ocean's Eleven

We should all be clowns, Milly. -Jim Wormold (Alec Guinness) Our Man in Havana

You get four guys all fighting over who's gonna be Mr. Black, but they don't know each other, so nobody wants to back down. No way. I pick. You're Mr. Pink. Be thankful you're not Mr. Yellow. -Joe (Lawrence Tierney) Reservoir Dogs


- I am a moral outcast.
-  Well, it's always nice to meet a writer.  -Dante (Klaus Maria Brandauer) / Barley Scott Blair (Sean Connery) The Russia House

Frank, let's face it. Who can trust a cop who don't take money? -Tom Keough (Jack Kehoe) Serpico


-Looks like trouble. -Looks like Christmas.  -Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) / Marv (Mickey Rourke) Sin City 2: A Dame to Die For


If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one. -Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) Spotlight



- I read where you were shot five times in the tabloids.

- It's not true.  He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids.  - Nora Charles (Myrna Loy)/Nick Charles (William Powell)/  The Thin Man.


To protect the sheep you have to catch the wolves and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf.  -Alonzo (Denzel Washington) Training Day

-Not everyone loves us, Rex. -Save the punditry for someone whose paid to have an opinion.
-I'm cool with censorship, I know the American people love that.

-Angie Jones (Zoe Saldana) / Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver) Vantage Point


I do favors for people and in return, they give me gifts. So, what can I do for you? -Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) A Walk Among The Tombstones



-Man, I get so mad I want to fight the whole world.  You got any idea what that feels like?
-I do.  I decided to fight the feeling instead.  Cause I figured the world would win. - Chip (Martin Sensmeier) / Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) Wind River




17 October 2018

Based on an Untrue Movie


When the movie American Animals  came to town this summer it was pretty much foreordained that I would see it.  The subject is attempted theft of rare books from a college library, a subject with which I am not unfamiliar.  In fact, the flick was based on an event I had already blogged briefly about.

To summarize,  four college students decided to get rich by stealing some valuable books from the Special Collections room at the library of Transylvania University in Kentucky.  Their planning technique consisted mostly of getting drunk/stoned and watching heist movies.  The resulting event  was a disaster and about the only positive things you can say about it are: 1) The victims did not suffer lasting physical damage, 2) No books were destroyed, and 3) All four of the fools went to prison.

The movie is worth seeing but I want to bring up one specific complaint about it.  It begins by pompously announcing that: this isn't based on a true story; it is a true story.

And, of course, it ain't.

The gimmick that makes American Animals unique is that while the main part of the story is carried out by actors, it also contains interviews with the actual culprits, and sometimes even shows the same scene more than once, to reflect the version of whoever is talking.  It's clever and interesting, but like I said, you are not seeing a true story.

I have complained before about a better movie that played fast and loose with the facts.  So call me a serial grumbler.

The important things that American Animals got wrong, as far as I am concerned, involved (surprise!) librarians.  The burglars in the movie showed much more concern about harming the rare books librarian than their real life counterparts did.  And the "true story" completely erased the library director who put herself in harm's way to try to stop the theft.  Maybe she didn't give the producers permission to include her?  I don't know but leaving her out was not the truth.

A few more questions and I am not the first person to ask them: If instead of white suburban guys the crooks had been African-American urbanites would this movie have been made?  If so would the script have tried so hard to show them as Good Boys Gone Wrong?  Hell, would they have even survived their arrests?

Unanswerable, of course.

By coincidence I just rewatched another movie based on a true story, one I liked better than American Animals or Argo.  The Informant! concerns Mark Whitacre who is apparently the highest executive to ever voluntarily turn whistleblower about his company's wrong deeds.  In the 1990s Whitacre was a biochemist and high-paid executive for ADM, one of the world's largest food processors.

And he told an FBI agent that his company was involved in an ongoing world-wide conspiracy to fix the prices for corn syrup, which finds its way into everything. As one agent says in amazement "Every American is a victim of corporate crime before he finishes breakfast."  So Whitacre agrees to wear a wire.

This sounds like we are building up to a dark brooding movie with heart-pounding suspense.  That's not what we get.  The flick is full of bright colors and Illinois sunshine and most of the time Whitacre seems to be having a marvelous time doing his spy gig.  At one point he shows his secret recorder to a virtual stranger and explains that he is Secret Agent Double-oh-fourteen "because I'm twice as smart as James Bond!'

Whitacre often provides a running narration on events, which is not surprising.  But his narrative almost never relates to what's going on.  As he is about to plot price-fixing with fellow executives he tells us: "I think I have nice hands.  They're probably my favorite part of my body..."

By now you may have the idea that Whitacre was not playing with a full corn silo.  In fact, as near as I can tell the place where the movie may depart most from the facts is in choosing to show us whether he was crazy from the start, or cracked under pressure.  (As his lawyer points out, FBI agents going undercover get training on coping with a double life.  All Whitacre got was a recorder and a firm handshake.)

I have simplified the story considerably.  The complications are what makes it so fascinating.  I loved watching Scott Bakula and Joel McHale playing FBI agents looking on in stunned horror as shoe after shoe after shoe drops on their case.

One person who seems to have had a wonderful time with this movie is composer Marvin Hamlisch.  In keeping with the spirit of the film, his music usually has nothing to do with the plot of the film.  When a character is taking a lie detector test the accompanying music is -- a square dance?

In closing, let me just wish that if they make a film of your life it has a happy ending.

01 October 2018

Doing It Right


by Steve Liskow

Two weeks ago, I joined fourteen other authors at a fund-riser for the New Britain (CT) Public Library. I taught high school English in the town for thirty years and some of my former students showed up, one of them as a fellow author (see? I did something right). Another former student works at the library, and several of my books are set in central Connecticut, so I had some sales advantages.

I usually avoid events with more than five or six authors because we tend to cancel out each other's sales. Such affairs generally offer "exposure" (try paying your dentist with "exposure" and let me know how it works) instead of a fee, too. Selling books is always iffy, but this event gives the authors better odds.

Literary Libations occurs every other year, and the organizers host authors in various genres who have released a new book since the previous event. I only knew three of the other writers (including my former student) and only two others write mysteries. I was between a young poet (who had a great sense of humor and made out like Charlie Sheen) and a college professor with a new textbook. No competition there, right?

The organizers charge a hefty admission fee--in advance--because it is a fund-raiser (authors get in free and they even feed us). That large fee conditions people to spend money on new books. A local caterer offers everything from hors d'oeuvres to pasta to ice cream, and they have a cash bar. If you've never worked an event where alcohol flows, you won't believe how it can spike your sales.

This year, the librarian greeted me by asking, "Have you seen your gift basket?"

I had no idea what she was talking about, so she showed me the prize table.

Fifteen people assembled gift baskets as raffle prizes, and one couple liked my first novel Who Wrote the Book of Death? (set in New Britain, of course, and mentioning local landmarks) so much they gathered the various wines and snacks the book mentioned into one lavish gift. That floored me, and it got even better when I learned that same book was the topic of the library's book group the following week.

Guess what? I sold a lot of books (ate well, too). The picture shows Alderman Don Naples and his wife, who assembled the gift basket, along with Arnaldo Perez, the lucky winner. The seedy-looking guy on the right  autographed the book for him.

Within two days, the organizers sent me a thank-you note for appearing and asked for suggestions to make the next event even better. I told them I wished every event went as smoothly as this one had, and hoped they made as much money as their planning and hard work deserved. Then I suggested that the library discuss another one of my books in two years.

19 September 2018

Lost in the Stacks for 41 Years, Part 2


My published works.  Photo by Tamara Belts
This is my second column celebrating my retirement by reviewing high and lowlights of my career as a librarian.

My third professional job was at a university.  I was still a government documents librarian.  One day an older community member wandered into my department.

"So you get federal documents here."

"That's right."

"Do you have classified publications?"

I laughed.  "I can barely get them to send us tax forms."
                                                         


But let's talk about something they did send us.  One day David, my assistant,  placed one newly-arrived publication on my desk, as opposed to the usual location.

I figured out why pretty quickly.  A the bottom of the cover it said: FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT USE ONLY.  There are certain kind of publications that are not supposed to be sent to depositories, and that is one of them.

What's disturbing is that we are thousands of miles from the GPO.  Many libraries must have received that publication before we did, but David was the first to spot the problem.  Hmm.

The publication was about an organization that does not approve of certain activities and allegedly had a habit of blowing up buildings in which those activities took place.  This publication explained to law enforcement officials the methods these people had allegedly been using.

This was before email so I called the GPO.  "You didn't mean to send us that publication."

"Why not?"

"Because it's full of diagrams of explosive devices.  It's basically a manual for bombmakers."

"We'll get back to you."

Later that day they did.  "You're right.  Destroy it."  Now, I should explain that any publication the federal government sends for free to a depository library remains federal property.  They can demand it back or tell us to shred it if they want.  (What they can't do, minus a court order, is ask who has read it. Librarians are fussy about that.)

So  I destroyed the publication.

A few days later I got a letter from GPO, addressed to all depository libraries.  It said that the publication was sent by mistake and we should return it immediately.

Back to the phone.  "You told me to destroy it.  How am I supposed to return it?"

"We'll get back to you."

They did.  "Send us a letter explaining how you destroyed it."

I was sorely tempted to say "I used the method shown on page seven."  But who needs that kind of trouble?

             

I have lost track of how many offices I had in this library.  At least eight.  At one point my desk was in an open area.  A fellow employee told me that as a supervisor I needed an enclosed office.  "In case you need to yell at someone."

The view from my last office.

And speaking of moving, I supervised the shifting of the 200,000 government publications at least five times.  On the day we finished one move we had the windows open and a squirrel hopped in.  He went straight to the A 13's: the publications of the Forest Service.  "Boy," I thought, "if only the students could find their way as easily as you!"



I wish like hell I could tell you the exact day this happened.  It was one of the most significant dates in my career.  I was at the reference desk and a man asked "Do you have the German railroad timetables?"

"Wow," I said.  "No.  The best I can do is give you the phone number for the German consulate in Seattle.  But wait!  There's something brand new called the World Wide Web and we can access it from this computer."

Google didn't exist yet.  I think I went to Altavista.  He typed in the words German railroad timetables, in German.

And boom, there they were, your choice of English and German.  Up-to-date and free.

"Okay," I said.  "Right now, this moment, my job just changed completely."

And it had.  For example, my library no longer has a reference desk because people don't come with easy questions anymore, the kind Google can answer.  Now we specialize in helping with longer research projects.  But students still need help.



A student had been asked to find out everything she could about someone - anyone - who lived in our county in 1880.  I took her to the microfilm reels for the 1880 census, showed her how to use them and went back to my desk.

Soon she reappeared with a question: "What's a demimonde?"

I knew the answer but, following the old rule,  I took her to a dictionary to check that it indeed meant prostitute.

She had found an entire building full of demimondes: a brothel.  She was thrilled.

I told this to another librarian who nodded gravely.  "In Seattle they called them seamstresses."


Most of the librarians served as liaisons for academic departments.  Among other things, that meant teaching sessions on library resources.  I had recently taken that role for a new subject when I was strolling across campus and a professor saw me.  His eyes lit up.  "Rob!  Looking forward to your teaching my class tomorrow!"

"Me too!" I assured him.  Then I rushed back to my office and checked my calendar.  No mention of a class.  Had I reserved a classroom?  No.

So who was this professor who was expecting me?  I knew some of the profs in that department by sight, but not all.  This was before the time when you could find a picture of everyone in the world by going to the Web.  (I especially like LudditeHermitGallery.com)  I narrowed it down to about four.

I called the department secretary (if department secretaries ever went on strike at any university, the place would collapse within a day).  "You gotta help me," I begged.

Between us we figured out it had to be Professor X.  I sent him a grovelling apology.  Which class was I supposed to be teaching, and what did he want me to cover?

He wrote back with his own apology.  He had gotten me confused with a different Rob.

Whew.





In my city we only get measurable snow in about half the winters.  1996 was one of them.  Woke up one December morning to well over a foot of white stuff. My city didn't own a snowplow.

I normally bike to work; that wasn't going to happen. Driving was out and the buses weren't running.  So I walked the three miles.

All the way I had my headphones on and the disk jockey kept listing an ever longer list of closures.  I should explain that back then the university seemed to take a perverse pleasure in staying open whatever the conditions were.  They always sent out po-faced statements urging personnel to decide for themselves if it was safe to come to work, but they wouldn't close (so workers who didn't show up wouldn't get paid).

So I am almost finished with my two-hour trudge and am starting up the hill to the campus proper when the DJ says: "Here are the closings."  Dramatic pause.  "The university is open.  That's it.  Everything else in town is closed.  When the world ends the school paper will be the only place that reports it because the university will refuse to close."

The boss bought pizza for everyone who showed up.  (And someone actually drove out to pick it up.)  The next day the university closed and the DJ bragged that he shamed them into it.


                                                     

One day a young woman told me she was having trouble finding sources for a paper.  I had developed a quick technique for finding out how far a researcher had gotten and I applied it.

"Have you tried Database X?"

"No."

"Have you tried Database Y?"

"No."

"Have you tried Database Z?"

She burst into tears and ran out of the room.  I couldn't coax her back.

I never used that technique again.

                                          

One of our regular patrons was a Vietnam vet who was having trouble with the VA.  As he told the story he wanted to receive disability payments because his time over there drove him crazy.  The VA's defense was - again, according to him -- that he was already crazy when the army drafted him.  Not a great argument.

A member of the public is welcome to use our collection and anyone could borrow our federal publications, if they showed ID.  This veteran wanted to borrow some but he refused to show his ID because he thought the VA might be tracking what books he read.

I told him that didn't match my experience of reality but I respected his right to his own.  Nonetheless, he couldn't borrow the documents.

He used them, over several years.  I don't know how his case turned out but he started taking better care of himself and bringing in fellow vets whom he helped use the docs.  I counted that as a win.

                          

The worst and the best: someone stole more than 600 pages out of our old Congressional Serial Set volumes.  After more than a year and a half of sleuthing by various people at our university we got the evidence that led to the thief's conviction.  You can read all about it here and here.



One day I picked up the book on Occupations from the 1920 Census and read about "Peculiar occupations for women."  The introduction explained that census takers had reported women in a lot of occupations that women obviously could not have been working in, like masons and plasterers.  And so, the census bosses explained solemnly,  the records were carefully examined and if they could figure out what the mistake was they corrected it.  Or should I say if they figured out what the "mistake" was they "corrected" it.  And how many female pioneers in their fields were erased from history?

Years later, that led to my first nonfiction book.



One night I took my family to the best ice cream parlor in town.  The young man behind the counter said: "Last year you helped me with a research paper.  Not only did I get an A but the teacher kept it to use as an example.  Your ice cream is on me."

The super chocolate tasted particularly sweet that night.


 Back in January I taught a workshop on library resources and, as usual, handed out a quick feedback form.  One student wrote: "You introduced me to subjects I didn't even know to ask about."

My pleasure, friend. 


I would like to end by saying something I have not said in forty-one years on the job: Shhhhh!