If city librarian Ken Dowlin were truly an "angel of death" out to destroy books, as Baker alleges, why has the library added more than 400,000 items to its collection in the past 18 months alone?
The card catalog, according to Baker, is "a vital backup to the [library's] on-line system"? Yeah, right. And if the Pacific Stock Exchange's computers crash, we'll revert to using blackboards to track stock prices.
Baker raised, inflamed, and admits he's "the ringleader" behind, these issues. Why? So he can peddle an article on the "controversy" to the once-great New Yorker, pocketing the profits. Pathetic.
Dale A. Carlson
Vice President, Corporate Affairs
Pacific Stock Exchange, Inc.
Of East Coast Luddite,
card catalog nut, I ask:
"Way too much free time?"
Noise in the Stacks
As one person who occasionally raises his voice in Library Commission meetings, I have some comments for Gordon Young.
If you perceived that a $143 million investment of yours was being perverted and generally trashed, might this not stir something more visceral than polite conversation?
The library records released as a result of Nicholson Baker's lawsuit show that between Jan. 1, 1995 and April 1, 1996, at least 75,000 library books were dumped. Of these, 13,000 were last copies. When the library starts dumping last copies in large numbers they need to explain why to the public. Those books belong to us.
As for the head of the Library Commission, Steven Coulter, and those Commission members who seem "uncomfortable" having to listen to the ravings of the public -- may they remember that democracy is a messy business, full of "frequent barbs." Rather than force themselves to listen, they could simply resign.
It's in the Cards
If the Great Library Debate is only about paper records vs. electronic records, then people are missing the point. The average library user is highly dependent on the information in the catalog. Why not have the S.F. Library staff take a random sample of the old cards and see if all the information has been transferred to the new system? There might be some surprises! At least, they would know if the new system is delivering as much information as the old.
Gordon Young's article on Nicholson Baker and the amazing S.F. Library brouhaha is the finest among many. No one is likely to top it for comprehensive understanding.
The massive publicity about the library since April for the most part has been very enjoyable and celebratory, to a librarian who spent 25 pleasurable years there, through thick and thin. But this whole matter of catalog, discards, and space has been obfuscated in many ways, convincing me that lousy communication and a personal vendetta are the main elements, although the basic facts are clear and simple.
Incidentally, Baker's e-mail auto-responder is now telling everyone he'll be in Europe for a year, with voice mail to an East Bay number and letters to be sent through his agent in New York. Maybe the air will clear some now.
Congratulations to Young for a really fine article.
Espert A. Sugg
Stacks of Intrigue
I was intrigued by Gordon Young's piece on Nicholson Baker and the S.F. Library. Intrigued in part because I'm one of the "ragtag collection of ... disgruntled activists," and that's the nicest thing he found to say about us.
I just wonder if the SF Weekly simply looks at the Bay Guardian's coverage of any given issue and decides to take an opposing view. Saving the card catalog is but the tip of the iceberg. If Young decided actually to go after a story, he could expose all sorts of nefarious matters.
The crux of the matter, whether Young likes it or not, is that "literature, words, and books matter very much to [us]," as Timothy Gillespie said of Baker.
It's these and other issues that drive Baker and "crew." As Young's article states, Baker is out of the country. I forecast that neither the subjects at issue nor the people who support them will die quietly in his absence.
The $200 Million Question
If you folks would stop your unproductive and juvenile pissing match with the Bay Guardian, you'd realize that the fate of SFPL's catalog, while important, is a sidetrack. Between the bond issue and Prop. E funds, the library's administration has managed to spend close to $200 million of our money. For this we've gotten a library system that is running a deficit, and a new Main that is inadequate and understaffed. This library administration is either incompetent or corrupt. If they are incompetent, they should be replaced. If they are corrupt, they should be indicted. Where is our money? Where are our books?
Arthur B. Kalson
Gordon Young does not do justice to the seriousness of the struggle over the direction of the San Francisco Public Library. His overexcited prose is a barrier to understanding what's at stake in the conflict between the SFPL administration and a number of individuals and groups concerned with problems at the New Main Library and the branches.
It's not dark metaphysical or ideological forces that drive Nicholson Baker and other library activists. They are working in the San Francisco tradition of resisting the kind of pseudo-progress that would have ripped out the cable cars, crisscrossed the city with even more freeways, destroyed more neighborhoods, and intensified the Manhattanization of downtown.
Do the experts and bureaucrats feel thwarted in their efforts to turn the library into an information mall of pay-per-use services? Are they bothered that someone has noticed that a great many books are missing and that the on-line catalog is a work of fiction? Are they upset that patrons complain that library workers have been replaced by corporate logos? Perhaps they are witnessing the beginnings of an information freeway revolt.
Many are discovering that "the information revolution" means the destruction of "the information commons" to the advantage of the fast-buck artists of computer manufacturers, conglomerate publishers, and communications companies. They are also finding out that "computer literacy" means training to become information burger-flippers at jobs that are no more "creative" than watching TV or ringing up sales at a cash register.
Library activists have made significant gains in recent months. The SFPL administration and the Library Commission find themselves in the unfamiliar and uncomfortable position of being watched by an informed public, which is, after all, what democracy is all about.
Great article by Gordon Young on San Francisco's World War 3 x 5! If library chief Ken Dowlin is as much of a technocrat as he sounds, he should take a look at the elegant golden oak card catalog which presides over San Francisco Zen Center Library's extensive collection of Buddhist books.
Librarian priest Celeste West has this baby wired with microchip memory, while maintaining the esthetics of wood and brass, as well as all the tactile, slightly fuzz-edged 3 x 5 cards of record. Leave it to the Buddhists to buck dualism!
The day I first saw Zen Center's card catalog, one drawer held a small crock of red chrysanthemums for a Zen Center priest in memento mori. I noticed several drawers had free seed packets interfiled with the cards plus a harmonica in the "H" drawer and other "artifacts" readers had left over the years.
Maybe our public library could hire an out-of-work artist or Zenoid to reify our card catalog as an "art installation," and end up pleasing both sides. Only in San Francisco!