A Bad Librarian Pits Me Against the City Council

As I’ve posted before, the City of San Jose has had to make major cutbacks in a lot of its services. It’s painful all around, but the state and the Feds are already trying to bleed us dry, and when it comes to forking over more out of my pocket to fund another governmental organization, even one I love as much as my own city, I’ve decided I’ll deal make do with less services, and thank the city council for accepting the reality of tough times, instead of imaging there’s some Scrooge McDuck character about who can be fleeced even further.

One of the cutbacks that’s been the toughest has been the one for the libraries. As a homeschooler with two passionate readers for children, I go to the library a lot. Last year, the library had to close on Mondays, and have only half days on Fridays, raised late fees to 50 cents/day/item, and limited reserves to 5 per card. Eventually, we got used to it. This year, they made more cuts, so each branch library is open only 4 days a week, but they also staggered the schedules, so some branches are open some days while others are not.

As with any change, there’s a transitional period when everyone adjusts. I hit the wall quickly. I had several books which were coming due, so I planned a visit to my branch on the first day it was open that week. To my surprise, I was hit with late fees for two books which had been due when my library was closed. Now, I’m not a schmuck when it comes to late fees. I’ve been hit with them when I don’t pay attention, and I’ll pay those, but with the higher late fees, I’m motivated to pay attention a lot more. But I thought it was somewhat reasonable not to expect me to return books to a closed library.

The librarian I spoke to was unsympathetic, which was unusual. I’ve come to know and love my regular librarians. They’ve admired Kelly’s drawings and helped her find books she wanted; they help Neil locate hard-to-find books from distant libraries; they put on fun and chaotic storytimes and events; they’ve even forgiven me for two books Kelly put in the bathtub, and which I would have had to pay $16 each to replace. So I figured, given the circumstances, I might get $1 waived since the library, as I said, wasn’t open.

But, no. Apparently the proper thing to do, according to the unsympathetic librarian (who I also had never seen at my branch before), was for me to have come to the closed branch and dropped it in; or to have driven across town to one of the branches open that day, never mind the inconvenience or pointlessness of that. I complained some more, and she told me I should write to my city councilman, Don Rocha.

Undoubtedly, she expected me to whine about the library cutbacks. But it’s tough all over in the city. The wonderful Fourth of July fireworks festival ended in 2008; the Cinco de Mayo parade was cancelled this year; the parks and recreation department lost most of its funding for programs for the disabled; and the San Jose police, who can find stolen cars, run down gangbangers, and chase the skeezeballs out of town, had to lay off a sizable portion of their force and reform their pension plans. What part of there is no money does not compute?

As it turned out, my problem wasn’t the city council, but rather a bad librarian. We had yet another issue when Kelly tried to check out a book which had been reserved but not yet pulled. I generally hate politicians, so I wasn’t pleased I was being goaded to write to one, and I was vocal about it. Thereupon, seeing my record, I also noticed the LINK+ book I’d given to the bad librarian to check in had never been checked in. LINK+ books are inter-library reserves, and the librarians I normally deal with advise me strongly to always turn them in in person rather than dropping them in the book slot, since the overdue fee on them is $1/day, and if there’s no proof they’re checked in and they disappear, that’s a sweet $125 you have to kiss goodbye. I suppose that’s one way an embittered librarian can earn her day’s wages off of people who are reluctant to shake down the city council, but it doesn’t really make for a positive long-term relationship like I have with the regular librarians at my branch. Luckily, this time, I was speaking to a librarian who wasn’t devoted to sucking every last possible penny out of library goers, and she bothered to go find the LINK+ book and check it in as it should have been done while I was being lectured on how I should now be driving all over town to return books, and if I didn’t like it, to go whine to the city council.

I did write to Don Rocha, but I praised him for being brave in making cuts, probably not what the bad librarian was hoping I’d do. As it turns out, she was also wrong about who my representative is, because, as I thought (and was hoping was still the case), my city council representative is the lovable Nancy Pyle, a frequent presence at community events, and one of the judges who awarded Kelly a “most beautiful” ribbon in the Memorial Day Parade. In any case, Don Rocha looks like a pretty good council member, too. I advised him that maybe the city should sell the Hayes Mansion and the Mexican Heritage Plaza if they’re not making money. As for the libraries, I see there’s just one librarian who need to be fired, because she obviously cares more about politics and her own hide than she does about the citizens of San Jose.

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