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From the week of August 14, 2003

Throwing Away the Book

Trash landing:I guess Stuart Steers's "Checked Out," in the August 7 issue, explains what I've noticed lately at my beloved Denver Public Library (where I've borrowed books for over thirty years): first, the de-emphasis on serious works, then the de-emphasis on books themselves, attended by the introduction of tapes, art displays, films, Net surfing, CDs -- anything but reading material -- and then the mysterious closure of the library store. Here I've been saying to myself, gee, isn't it time for the book sale? Rick Ashton has made a huge mistake in conceiving of the book sale strictly as a fundraiser. It has traditionally been a joint celebration of the people of the metro area and their library: The DPL distributes its beloved excess to the people for cheap, and the people come to buy with gratitude in their hearts for the library. Great PR.

Casting out the Friends is the last straw. If he thinks the high rollers who attend his private functions or the WWF video fans can carry the vote on whether to fund his library district, he may well discover that his real demographic -- teachers, students, researchers, historians, bibliophiles and other somewhat intellectual middle-class citizens -- has abandoned him. A library throwing books in the trash is sacrilege, a sin, a crime. It is anathema!

Susan Williams
Denver

Cheers for volunteers:I am an employee of the Denver Public Library, and I am very concerned about the impression given by Stuart Steers's article concerning our volunteers. Morale is low as we face all these difficult changes, and we could not continue without the support and help of our volunteers. It has been very difficult, as we work twice as hard to make up for our losses in staff and resources. We could not continue to provide effective service without the help of our volunteers. They are our most valuable asset, and it pains me to hear that some feel they are not appreciated. I assure you that we all know we could not function without them -- especially in times like these. If it weren't for our volunteers and their dedicated efforts, the library would not be able to operate.

To all the library volunteers, thanks for all you do -- and know that the employees appreciate your efforts.

Name withheld on request

Living on borrowed time:Stuart Steer's "Checked Out" was a very fine and detailed article about this subject; many other communities face the same difficulties. Great writing and research; thanks very much.

Michael McGrorty, library student
Altadena, California

Broken bindings: I worked once a week as a volunteer book sorter at the Belmar Library for two years. The volunteer who trained me had worked in the Jefferson County library system for many years and was excellent at her job. I never witnessed good books being thrown away, and their sorting system over the years had been refined and rerefined until the donated books ended up in approximately three dozen categories. Actually, the library's problem was that hundreds of books were being donated each week for their yearly book sale and for resale in their library bookstore -- and the only place to sort the donated books was in an employee hallway. They were woefully short of shelves to store the incoming books and had no tables where books could be sorted and boxed. They were also almost always short of library carts, so the bulk of the sorting I did was into boxes placed on the floor with employees constantly walking around the boxes -- and me. I had to sort books and keep out of the staff's way at the same time. The final straw was when I came in one day and found around thirty books that wouldn't fit on the already loaded shelves piled on the floor, which further eliminated what little cramped space I had to work in. And, due to poor planning, this condition existed in a brand-new library! I haven't been back to the Belmar branch library since I quit a year ago. Also, as of this date, I still haven't received a letter from the library stating, "Thank you for helping us. If you have time to volunteer in the future, please keep us in mind." But I was mildly berated by my paid supervisor for not giving her two weeks' notice or helping train a new person to fill my job.

Robert R. White Jr.
Lakewood

A real page-turner:Mayor John Hickenlooper shouldn't have difficulty seeing the policy problems reflected in "Checked Out." In a "Democratic" city, criticizing unnecessary expansion of government spending is unpopular. While Representative Diana DeGette's publicly funded Web site screams "cradle-to-grave health care," the majority believe "the People" should not pay for services the private sector already provides.

Choosing priorities is basic business/government partnership process. Could Rick Ashton actually believe he has succeeded? Is $140,000/calendar-year salary not enough incentive to rise above politics and make solid business decisions? Even when the Friends' costs are $.78/dollar raised, they provide services deducted from costs to "the People" and $.22/dollar, free. And why buy any "best-sellers"? Within a week of the publishing date, thousands of "members" have read their own copy, which they'd probably donate to the library, if asked.

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